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Challengers

VIII. Product design

Perfect harmony of functionality and operability

Akira Watanabe

Akira Watanabe

Product Designer

“Our passion for photography strengthens the user’s affection for a camera over the years.
That’s what makes us most happy.”

The shape of the pentaprism housing as the camera’s face

I believe that the single most prominent element of an SLR camera design is the shape of its pentaprism housing, the portion that is often seen as the face of the SLR camera.

For many years, the basic configuration of SLR camera design has meant a triangular top resting on a square body. In fact, cameras like the models of the PENTAX K-1 series and the PENTAX KP were designed in a style that emphasized the prominence of their pentaprism housing.

The PENTAX K-3 Mark III also highlights the optical viewfinder as its main design feature, but we also focused on optimizing a balance of the pentaprism housing, body and grip, to give the camera an ambience of unity and an appearance of lightness and speediness, without making it appear too bulky or heavy.

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Since previous models incorporated a built-in flash unit and a superimpose mechanism in the pentaprism housing, their design had the PENTAX logo section protruding slightly from the camera’s front surface. For the PENTAX K-3 Mark III, we made a comprehensive review of the design around the pentaprism housing, and worked out a new design that integrates the pentaprism housing more stylishly into the camera body.

When we design a camera emphasizing the pentaprism housing, such as for the PENTAX K-1, we can keep a body height low and make a top section look more pointed, by widening the space between the lens mount and the pentaprism housing to create shallower angles. This design, however, does emphasize the bulkiness of the camera’s face — that is, its pentaprism housing.

Since the PENTAX K-3 Mark III was designed to be the APS-C-format flagship that assured improved image-tracking performance and faster response, we wanted to give it an active, vibrant look to highlight these remarkable features. So we incorporated the ridgelines that gently sloped down toward the back along the sides of the pentaprism housing, to make the camera appear less bulky.

We also paid meticulous attention to every detail and conducted countless minute adjustments, all to create a design that harmonizes the pentaprism housing with the viewfinder optics and improves the overall balance.

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The most troubling thing in designing the pentaprism housing was how to work out the design around the hot shoe. Because the height at which the hot shoe is positioned is basically decided by the pentaprism’s internal mechanisms, we focused our attention on harmonizing the external design of the pentaprism housing with the rest of the camera body. If we adopted two separate designs for the hot shoe and the pentaprism housing, the hot shoe would protrude inelegantly from the rest of the camera body. When you look closely at the PENTAX K-3 Mark III, you will notice the unique multi-plane design of the pentaprism housing — an important design element that makes the camera more attractive.

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PENTAX-exclusive design process to perfect the camera body

In the design process for a PENTAX SLR camera, the finest adjustments are made in the shape of the grip. The grip shape is the very last element of the camera exterior design to be completed, because the grip affects the camera’s holding comfort and operability.

In fact, we continually revise the grip design, because we believe that if we can create a design that satisfies a group of our discerning designers, we will have a product that will please our users as well.

These grip designers, along with a select group of camera aficionados who are particular about their photographic styles, form a group that we secretly call “The Ten Musketeers” of grip design. We have a great respect for The Ten Musketeers, and often listened to their opinions as we created a variety of 3D models, which we would later revise based on their comments and opinions.

Naturally, The Ten Musketeers provide us with a wide variety of feedback, ranging from comments on photo-shooting styles and references to competing products to personal opinions and impressions. We then classified their remarks into four groups: good, acceptable, problematic and painful. The boundary between acceptable or problematic is where we know we need to make further improvements, and painful means immediate correction is needed.

One example of a painful remark concerned the lower right-hand corner of the camera’s back panel. With just a casual glance, this section might be overlooked. But just a tiny bit of discomfort caused by this section can cause a great deal of stress during photography. We need to resolve any issue that comes back as painful. We eventually smoothed out this section and eliminated any discomfort by referring to the design of our 645-series models.

We also were careful to listen to what seemed offhand comments by The Ten Musketeers. Together with the mechanical designers, I looked over these small but still problematic areas, sometimes taking actions such as shaving off a mere 0.05mm from a surface.

Improving the grip hold is also very important because this is the point of maximum physical contact between the photographer and the camera. Holding comfort greatly affects the overall impression of the camera, as a comfortable grip may actually strengthen the photographer’s affection for the camera.

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Positioning parts with a priority on operability

In camera design, PENTAX has always placed a higher priority on the camera’s operability during shooting, rather than on its appearance. This priority naturally determines the layout and positioning of control parts.

Even the slightest repositioning and reshaping of control parts can greatly change the photographer’s impression of operability and finger hold. With the PENTAX K-3 Mark III, we made numerous adjustments using a trial-and-error approach.

For the optional D-BG8 Battery Grip, exclusively designed for use with the PENTAX K-3 Mark III, we added a few control parts that are identical with the camera body, including an AF point selector lever and a Smart Function button. We made a number of fine adjustments to the relative position of the control buttons, and also to the distance between the photographer’s finger and specific buttons. This assures the photographer of the same holding comfort and operability in vertical-position shooting as in a horizontal orientation.

We could have made the battery grip larger in order to give more flexibility to the control parts layout. A larger grip size, though, would have spoiled the overall design balance and the sense of unity with the camera body. Any increase in depth or width could make it look rather heavy, cumbersome and unshapely, which could reduce some user’s fondness for the unit.

I believe that there are two crucial features of a good battery grip: a design which smoothly integrates the grip into the camera body design, and pleasant, easy-to-hold proportions.

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In conclusion

A slight difference in size — even at a level that might seem insignificant in everyday life — can make a great difference in determining the camera’s operability and the holding comfort of the grip, something that functions as almost an extension of the photographer’s hand.

Even for the rubber parts, for which it is difficult for users to detect slight differences in actual products, we produce and evaluate a large number of mockups during the trial production stage. This is because our passion is to develop the high-precision imaging devices known as cameras — by devoting a great amount of time, effort and imagination.

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