Film photography, driven by a mix of Gen Z demand and Gen Y and Z nostalgia, has been having an extended moment in the sun the last couple of years.
In the midst of the film resurgence, Ricoh announced last year that they were going to explore the idea of building a new film body camera under the Pentax banner. Details were scant; we knew that Ricoh was launching a ‘Film Camera Project,’ to formally house a research and development team, but we didn’t know timelines, form factor, price points they had in mind or what criteria they were using to use to decide if actually building a film body was a viable idea.
The last peep on that front from them was Pentax’s December 2022 announcement, until this past weekend when Ricoh published a pair of new YouTube videos that detailed the project’s progress.
In the first video (above) we meet film photographer Shiori Iwakura, whom we see visiting with Pentax engineers, looking for design documents and handling Pentax film bodies. Near the end of the video Iwakura, the only one heard speaking in the video, gives us our biggest hint that ‘Film Camera Project’ is still chugging along and may have made the decision to pursue manufacturing of a film body.
‘I was very grateful to Pentax for its decision to manufacture film cameras once again,’ Iwakura says. A moment later the video ends with a cheeky ‘to be continued.’
A hint of what’s to come
In a second video released the same day we learn more about the camera that Pentax has committed to building, along with a hint of a possible second film camera to come. Pentax’s first film body will be a compact fixed-lens camera, according to Pentax product planning/design team member Takeo Suzuki.
Pentax’s first film body will be a compact fixed-lens camera, according to Pentax product planning/design team member Takeo Suzuki.
Pentax says they choose this direction because it had the greatest appeal to younger photographers who may prefer a pocketable camera that emphasizes ‘joy’ above in-depth mechanics.
Pentax hasn’t shared any images of the forthcoming compact camera; they described it as a completely new form factor with some parts that come from existing cameras. Outside of the somewhat surprising revelation that the new camera won’t allow for interchangeable lenses (following the December 2022 announcement many speculated, DPReview editors included, that Pentax would leverage their extensive lineup of K-mount lenses and build an SLR body) the only other details we have are that the camera will use a lever-action mechanism to advance film frames and use hand-winding to rewind film.
The mechanical film advance and rewind mechanisms are another choice that was designed with younger users in mind. Pentax says these choices were driven by a desire to give users a more analog feel to using the camera.
‘This will be the first film camera to be born from this project,’ Pentax hints.
What’s more, in our clearest sign that there will be multiple film cameras from Pentax, Suzuki goes on suggest they may also use the mechanical film mechanism in a future SLR film body. ‘This will be the first film camera to be born from this project,’ Pentax hints.
It isn’t known what these future film cameras will be called. Suzuki name drops the Pentax LX, Pentax 67 or a whole new mechanical SLR as the most requested options. ‘I’d love to have such cameras , too,’ he says, but for now the compact camera is all they’ve committed to publicly.
Future of film
Pentax clearly sees an opportunity in film cameras and may be positioning itself to fill the void left by its competitors. The company has famously kept manufacturing DSLRs as other manufactures have moved to mirrorless bodies. Perhaps here too, Pentax is seeing gold to be mined with consumers seeking ways to discover or rediscover a classic style of image-making.
Film rolls and old film bodies have risen sharply in price. Today a single roll of Kodak Gold 200 can sell for $16.89, nearly five times what it sold for in 2010 and eight times higher than 2016, its lowest price point in the last decade. And that’s if you can find it; several retailers across the United States that DPReview contacted in December 2022 reported that film was hard to keep on the shelf, and a few said they had instituted strict limits on how much individual consumers could purchase, as single customers were buying up the entire stock of film.
Film photographers may not represent the mainstream today, but the community is growing. The closest parallel may be in the return of vinyl record albums, which grew from a small niche of buyers a decade ago to outsell CDs in 2022 (the first time since 1988), accounting for $1.2 billion, a 20% jump from the previous year.
So film photography could be a fad, or, if it goes the way of vinyl, a potential boon for Pentax.