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Ricoh patents a mirrorless lens… but don’t get too excited just yet

Pentax K-3 Mark III
Ricoh, via its Pentax brand, is committed to the DSLR design, as used in the new Pentax K-3 Mark III... so why has it patented a mirrorless telephoto lens? (Image credit: Ricoh)

Camera and lens makers often register patents for products that may or may not go into production, but the fact that Ricoh – the parent company of the Pentax brand – is looking at mirrorless lenses is surely significant?

The news was picked up by Japanese-language photo site asobinet.com (Google Chrome will offer an English translation). In an article dated October 14, the site reports on three patent applications – including one for a 100-300mm F2.8-4 SR telephoto lens for “full-size mirrorless cameras”.

Pentax K-01

Does anyone remember the 2012 Pentax K-01? Pentax does indeed have a history of producing mirrorless cameras, even if it decided to drop this one. (Image credit: Pentax)

Pentax makes DSLRs, period

Ricoh, via its Pentax brand, does not make mirrorless cameras. It has in the past, with its ill-fated but interesting Pentax K-01 model, and its toy-like Pentax Q cameras, but currently devotes itself fully to APS-C and full frame DSLRs.

As recently as July last year, Pentax emphasised its commitment to the DSLR design, insisting "there is simply no substitute".

Indeed, two of the reported new lens patents are for DSLR telephoto zooms – a 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 and 100-400mm F4.5-5.6, both with SR (shake reduction) built in. As is pointed out in the article, while Pentax DSLRs do have in-body stabilisation, this only stabilizes the captured image, not the optical image in the viewfinder – which is why stabilized telephoto lenses make a lot of sense for Pentax.

However, the third patent, for a 100-300mm F2.8-4 SR lens, is different. As asobinet.com observes, the short back focus of these lens design rules out DSLRs and suggest it’s designed for mirrorless cameras.

The article does not suggest, however, that this is evidence of Pentax’s return to mirrorless cameras. Camera and lens makers often patent designs that never make it into production, and many lens makers produce lenses for other brands, not just their own cameras.

Nevertheless, this patent application does offer a tantalising hint at Ricoh’s future plans, or at least its thinking.

Rod Lawton

Rod is the Group Reviews editor for Digital Camera World and across Future's entire photography portfolio, with decades of experience with cameras of all kinds. Previously he has been technique editor on N-Photo, Head of Testing for the photography division and Camera Channel editor on TechRadar. He has been writing about photography technique, photo editing and digital cameras since they first appeared, and before that began his career writing about film photography. He has used and reviewed practically every interchangeable lens camera launched in the past 20 years, from entry-level DSLRs to medium format cameras, together with lenses, tripods, gimbals, light meters, camera bags and more.