Ko Torigoe, head of Pentax's Imaging Division, leaned forward and asked in a conspiratorial manner, "Can we have a little secret conversation? Please forget about what I'm going to ask you."
"What would you think of a digital successor to the Pentax K1000?"
"Go do it," I replied.
|K1000's successor? Is the Pentax K100D bare enough, that is the question.|
This inquiry took place three years ago in Pentax's Tokyo office. I wouldn't have revealed it if a digital variation on a K1000 theme hadn't recently appeared on dealers' shelves. But first, for those uninitiated in the mysterious K1000 cult, let me explain why I think it's such a nifty idea.
In 1964, at the Cologne, Germany, Photokina international trade show, Asahi Optical Company (Pentax) showed an attractive, compact, 35mm eye-level prism SLR called the Spotmatic. Its technical claim to fame was a swing-out arm with a sensor beneath the focusing screen that read the light on a central picture spot when you pushed a button on the camera's back.
The spot device was never made. Instead, two cells on either side of the viewfinder eyepiece measured the light from the entire viewing screen. But the name "Spotmatic" stuck to the camera, spot or no spot.
In ensuing years, the usual gingerbread was added to various Spotmatic models: self-timer, hotshoe, autodiaphragm, autoexposure, bayonet lensmount, mirror lockup, exposure information in the finder. Accessories included bulk film and data backs and autowinders.
In 1977, 13 years after the first Spotmatic, Pentax took the unusual step of producing a similar camera model, but one that was stripped bare: no autoexposure, self-timer, provision for back accessories or motors. All that was left on the K1000 was a plain focusing screen (sometimes with a split-image rangefinder) plus a meter needle that provided proper exposure when centered by the correct mixture of shutter speed, aperture, and ASA film index settings.
To everyone's surprise, including Pentax's, the K1000's simplicity and modest price proved a success for nearly 20 years, selling particularly to beginners and students. It was first made in Japan, then in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and finally wound up in China where, alas, it was said, Pentax ran out of sources for reliable meter needle galvanometers. So the K1000 became history.
Scratch a former K1000 owner's memory and you still find affection if not love. And a good used K1000 will run you around $200 or more.
The name K100D was not chosen by Pentax without knowledge of its closeness to K1000. And while many camera writers have lauded 10MP DSLRs in recent months, at least two reviewers have now joined the chorus Pop Photo started in October 2006, showing great enthusiasm for the 6.1MP K100D. Veteran photo writer and Photo Trade News columnist Don Sutherland devoted an entire king sized February page to praising the K100D and its features. And DPReview.com stressed Pentax K100D's Shake Reduction, use of easy-to-find AA cells, good image quality at high ISO equivalents, and mused, after making comparison tests, whether there was much difference between the K100D's 6 megapixels and another's 8, and whether even 10 would show much difference in detail. There was great enthusiasm from these two sources, so cut me in too, especially with the $50 rebate (as I write this), which brings the street price of the K100D body down to an incredible $430.
|Crisp at ISO 1600: With Shake Reduction, the Las Vegas Excalibur's turrets at night are rendered cleanly by my handheld Pentax K100D at 1/30 sec and f/5.6, using a 18-125mm f/3.5-5.6 DC Sigma lens at 80mm.|
But now we come to a user dilemma for students of digital photography. How can a learner's instrument have "Auto Pict" and auto ISO selector modes? While these may be highly desirable for mass-market snapshooters seeking as much automation as possible, they're counterproductive for those who really want to learn photography. In addition, much of the shooting information for the K100D is contained in multiple LCD menus, unlike the discontinued Pentax *ist D, where critical controls such as ISO and white balance are accessed far more swiftly and conveniently by the main selector knob.
If stripping bare is still a must for a learning camera, and Pentax finds enough of a market for one, these eliminations and changes are what I would recommend in a Pentax K100D2, in addition to the well dressed Pentax K100D.
Would the beginner-aimed Nikon D40 and D40x sink a Pentax K100D2? Not necessarily. Pentax does have Shake Reduction, and it is compatible with a much wider range of older autofocus lenses. And Pentax could provide a 10MP K100D if competition with the D40x became a reality.