For our young readers, the name Pentax may not hold much meaning. However, for those in their 40’s and 50’s, the name Asahi Pentax certainly spelt magic. Pentax, along with Canon and Nikon, was one of three brands that held sway over the SLR market from the 50’s to the 80’s.
Pentax owes its origins to the Asahi Optical Company that was founded as early as 1890. The company started making eye glass lenses, and later on developed both cameras and lenses for cameras. In 1952, Asahi Optical made Japan’s first 35mm SLR camera, the Asahiflex. The Asahiflex was followed by the Asahiflex IIB which was the first camera in the world to feature an instant return mirror.
Asahi Pentax saw unprecedented success with the launch of the Spotmatics series in 1964. Extremely well engineered, the Spotmatic cameras from Pentax became instant best sellers, and were reputed for their Takumar lenses which featured a thread mount. The Pentax Spotmatic II, launched in 1971, was the first camera to feature super multi-coated lenses.
Pentax moved to a bayonet K mount with the launch of the Pentax K2 in 1975, and the K series of cameras followed. The K1000 in particular became a cult camera, and was the first camera that many a beginner bought if he or she wanted to learn photography.
The advent of the OM series from Olympus with smaller bodies led to Pentax introducing the M series. The MX, ME, MV and ME Super were extremely popular in their time.
The autofocus revolution resulted in Pentax taking a bit of a knock. However, it bravely soldiered on. The name Asahi was chopped from the original Pentax name. Pentax was the smallest of the major camera companies, and hence did not have the same R&D budget as leaders like Canon and Nikon. Its products, however, continued to be extremely well built and highly reliable. After Minolta closed down its camera business, Pentax was first bought by Hoya which in turn sold the company to Ricoh. With Ricoh in charge, a new resurgence has begun at Pentax. Welcome to India, Pentax.
H. S. Billimoria
Image courtesy : Marc Carlson