The first DSLR I ever used was a Pentax SP1000, some 20+ years ago. Back then, Pentax was a major player - Nikon had the pro market sewn up, Canon were advancing strongly, jumping on technologies like autofocus and image stabilization faster than Nikon, and Pentax were arguably in third spot.
Digital changed everything. DSLR manufacturers had to transition from being camera makers and engineers to being technology companies making consumer electronics.
Canons background gave it a huge advantage. Nikon has transitioned but now partners with Sony on sensor development. Sony bought Minolta, partnered with Carl Ziess for its lenses, and with its background as a consumer electronics company rapidly became the third player, and has been gaining market share ever since (at the time of writing, Canon and Nikon both enjoy around a 40% market share, Sony at 12%, and the other manufacturers, which includes Pentax, Olympus, Sigma et al are down to about 8% between them).
Combined with a tough global economic climate, that makes you question the viability of the smaller players in the space - Sigma's main business is lenses, but Pentax, which was bought by Hoya in 2007, is a big question mark. Indeed this week, reuters published an article stating the Pentax division lost $122 million in the financial year ended March 31st.
"Our digital camera business is not exactly a big operation. There are naturally questions among us whether it is big enough to go it alone," Hoya Chief Executive Hiroshi Suzuki told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.
"I'm afraid it will need some sort of alliance with another company in the long term."
So for Pentax to survive, it looks like they will need help - some form of consolidation with someone like Samsung, Sigma or Olympus perhaps? I have some very fond memories of learning to use a SLR with the Pentax SP1000, I'd hate to see them go.