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Why Pentax's flagship DSLR announcement is too little, too late

Pentax DSLR
(Image credit: Pentax)

Pentax has returned from obscurity to reveal more details about its incoming flagship APS-C DSLR – and while the news will no doubt please hardcore Pentax fans, it felt like the echo of an era that's increasingly irrelevant in today's mirrorless world. 

Pentax still deservedly has a loyal fanbase among those who've prized its DSLRs' handling, modern features and superb value for money. The Pentax K-70, for example, offers advanced features like IBIS and weatherproofing at an entry-level price tag.

But the glacial pace of the release of its new flagship APS-C DSLR, which was first announced six months ago and still doesn't have a name, shows that it's struggling to keep pace with its bigger rivals. Canon and Nikon are both focusing on exciting full-frame mirrorless tech, while great APS-C mirrorless cameras like the new Fujifilm X-T4 show that hybrid cameras are increasingly the future.

Not that Pentax's new camera doesn't sound promising for those who have bought into the K-mount. In the video, Pentax claimed it will be the "best APS-C format SLR model ever produced by Pentax" and in particular highlighted its impressive-sounding optical viewfinder.

This viewfinder will apparently have a 1.05x magnification, which would mean it has a viewing angle as wide as the full-frame Pentax K-1. That's an impressive feature, but one that feels somewhat out of step with the latest advances in mirrorless tech, like Real-time Eye AF and 8K video.

Perhaps aware of its autofocus limitations for moving subjects, Pentax also promised in the video that its new DSLR, which is likely to be the successor to the Pentax KP, will have "improved tracking of active subjects" and said that it's "sure you will be pleased" by  its AF performance.

But with the global pandemic slowing the camera's already glacial release, it feels like these features are aimed at the rapidly diminishing number photographers who want a stills-focused, APS-C DSLR, rather than a wider, growing audience. 

Pentax DSLR

(Image credit: Pentax)

Out of time

It's still possible that the new Pentax APS-C DSLR will outperform many of its rivals, both DSLR and mirrorless, in outright image quality, just as the Pentax KP did when it was released.

But there are wider issues that suggest it could well be too little, too late. Within the steadily declining world of DSLR camera sales, Ricoh only has a fraction of Canon and Nikon's market share.

And then there's the issues of lenses. To be fair, Ricoh (which owns Pentax) did announce a new HD Pentax DA* 16-50mm F2.8ED PLM AW lens for its APS-C cameras. But in 2019 Sigma announced that it would stop supporting the K mount, leaving Pentax cameras with fewer lens options.  

In many ways, this means it might make sense for Pentax to join the L-mount alliance with Panasonic, Leica and Sigma, seeing as that mount supports both full-frame and APS-C cameras. 

But there was no sign of that happening in Pentax's most recent video announcement, which took the place of the cancelled CP+ show. And while we're looking forward to hearing more about its flagship APS-C DSLR, it feels like a slight anachronism in an increasingly mirrorless world that Pentax once helped pioneer with cameras like the Pentax Q