PhotoPlus Expo 2002
An Opinionated Report
Every two years, Photokina, the world's largest photographic exhibition, takes place in Cologne, Germany. It is monstrously huge, occupying some dozen major exhibit halls. If you walked up and down the isles, past every booth, even without stopping it would take you several days. The show is for trade only with the public not admitted.
Most people can't get to Photokina, but if you live in the Northeastern U.S. or Canada then PhotoPlus Expo is a good alternative. About 50 million people live within a day's drive of New York city. This year the show took place on the first weekend of November. Because the show is open to the public it is heavily attended by professional photographers and enthusiastic amateurs.
The following is a brief report on the products that I saw at the show that I was either looking to specifically find out more about, or which caught my eye. Since it's not as big as Photokina it's possible to "do" the show in a single day, which is what I did. I may have missed something (in fact I missed a lot), because I used my time to examine the products that interest me the most. As always I call 'em like I see 'em. Some people may not agree with or even like what I have to say about certain products. So be it.
Canon had one of the show's largest booths and it was situated right in front of the main entrance. (Where does an 800 pound Gorilla sit? Anywhere he wants to.) Of course the big news of the show was the just introduced EOS 1Ds, Canon's full-frame 11 Megapixel lust object. Regular readers know that I have on this site the world's first hands-on review of a pre-production camera — with photographs.
There were several full-production cameras on hand for people to see and play with. The big news of the show was the official setting of the price, which is U.S. $7,999. Not as low as some had wanted, not as high as some had feared. I also have an article on the subject of this camera's pricing now on line. In addition to firming up the price Canon confirmed that deliveries will start toward the end of November and that supply will be extremely limited. If you think availability of the D60 has been tough, you ain't seen nothing yet. Now, some six months after the D60 was introduced, we are just starting to see the pipeline being filled and stores being able to deliver cameras without back orders. This is unlikely to be the case with the 1Ds for a very long time, possibly a year or more.
It was interesting to see some very large prints shot by some of America's top photographers with the 1Ds on the walls of the Canon booth. Imaging quality was, as expected, absolutely stunning. Readers know that I'm totally knocked out by the image quality I saw from my one week test, and the shots I saw on display only served to reinforce my opinion that the 1Ds will be pretty remarkable photographic tool.
I asked about the new 24-70mm f/2.8L lens but there wasn't one at the booth. I have been told that I can expect a review sample as soon as they become available though, so stay tuned.
I'll keep this brief. As a Canon user my interest in things Nikonish isn't that strong, but I'm always curious as to what this leading camera maker has to offer. It appears that Nikon is keeping its powder dry for now, as they introduced no significant new products at either Photokina or PhotoPlus. I wouldn't be surprised to see some major announcements though at the PMA show in Las Vegas in early March, 2003.
Kodak has made some big waves with the announcement of the DCS 14n, a 14 Megapixel full-frame CMOS chip based Nikon lens mount digital SLR, (whew). I was able to hold the camera and take a few frames with it, but that's about it. I was a bit surprised as how light the camera felt. I wasn't able to draw any conclusions about handling and functionality from just a few minutes at a trade show, and certainly it is too early to draw any assumptions about image quality. Certainly the price is right, now up somewhat at $4,500 from its original announcement at about $4,000. Delivery is promised for December, but a Kodak rep said that they were currently looking at a 7 week order backlog. I hope to have a sample for testing soon.
Sigma / Foveon
Sigma had its SD9 on display. This is a 3.4 Megapixel chip camera that is now shipping in Japan and which will be available in the U.S. within a few weeks. The price will be $1,800. There were numerous large display prints in the booth, and image quality was very impressive. The Foveon chip really does appear to deliver the goods when it comes to image quality.
The real problem as I see it is that Foveon chip size is now small compared to those from Canon, Nikon and Fuji with their 6 megapixel DSLR for just a few hundred dollars more. Moreover, Foveon appear to have been unable to get any other major manufacturer to adopt their chips. As good as the Sigma SD9 may be, it does only take Sigma mount lenses. This begs the question — who is going to buy an SD9?
If a photographer already own any lenses from Nikon, Canon, Minolta, Pentax or anyone else (even Sigma lenses in mounts for one of the major camera makers), these will have to be sold or traded in. This means that the likely buyers of the new Sigma DSLR will be beginners, or those currently without an investment in any existing lenses.
A couple of words of caution. If you buy a Sigma SD9 and wish to change bodies down the road, just be aware that your lens investment will be locked into Sigma bodies. If you go with a Nikon, Kodak or Fuji DSLR you can switch body brands down the road and also buy lenses from a half dozen different manufacturers. If you go with a Canon DSLR and there are some 50 Canon lenses available as well those from every third-party manufacturer out there. Don't say you weren't warned.
Although Sigma makes 35mm cameras, and now with the SD9, a DSLR, they are best known for their lenses. Some people swear by them, some swear at them, but it's my observation that their high-end (read — expensive) lenses are very good, mechanically sound and represent very good value for the money.
Since its announcement at Photokina I was very keen to see the APO 300-800mm f/5.6 EX IF HSM zoom lens. (No, it's not quite a huge as it appears in this shot taken with a 16mm lens — but it is big nevertheless, with an overall length of slightly more than 21" (without the massive lens shade)).
A zoom of this focal length and aperture will be very useful for sports and wildlife photographers. The price is quite a bit lower than people were expecting. I was told by a Sigma rep that it will come in at between $4,000 and $5,000, and that availability will begin in December.
I was able to put my Canon D60 body on the lens and to take a few shots with it, but in the limited confines of a trade show I found it almost impossible to find anything to shoot that was meaningful. The few frames I did manage to take though showed very good sharpness at f/5.6. If it can deliver good image quality and mechanical reliability, this lens, which will be available in both Canon and Nikon (D) mounts, could well turn out to be a hit with many photographers. Oh yes — it will come with a confidence building 4 year warranty. I'm interested.
Other new high-end Sigma lenses on display included a 120-300mm f/2.8, and an 80-400mm f/4.5-f/5.6 OS (optical stabilized) lens. This latter lens will be a competitor to Canon and Nikon's comparable offerings. The 120-300mm f/2.8 is a first with that kind of speed and focal length range. I'll look forward to seeing how they both perform when samples become available. It looks like Sigma is aiming to become a major force in the high-end lens market, as they already are in the consumer segment.
From a company that appeared to be at the edge of bankruptcy just a year or so ago Hasselblad has come roaring back with its new 645 format, autofocus H1 camera system. I was asked by photo.net to cover a by-invitation-only press event the day before the show at which Hasselblad provided an opportunity to closely examine and use the H1. That review is now online.
So too at the bottom of that page are comments by some of the self-appointed guardians of the Zeiss faith, who are miffed almost (but not quite) beyond words at the move by Hasselblad to Fuji manufactured lenses. There's little point in conversing (let alone debating) with this crew.
More to the point, the H1 is a bold and necessary move on Hasselblad's part and will provide a very successful platform for many photographers moving to medium format, and also existing ones moving to digital.
Mamiya 67 with tethered Valeo 11 digital back.
As can be seen from the cable tangle above this is not exactly an elegant solution
for field work, though not an issue in the studio.
There continue to be dramatic developments in digital medium format backs. There are lots of choices for studio work, but the only manufacturer currently with a completely self contained back remains Kodak with their DCS Pro Back. Costing approximately $12,000 this fits the Mamiya 645D, Contax 645 and the new Hasselblad H1. It has a 16MP chip.
All other back manufacturers like Leaf and Sinar offer either tethered systems (you need to be attached to a computer and either AC power or an outboard battery). Leaf is offering a so-called portable solution for their new Valeo 11 back. You can use a Compaq Ipaq PDA as a viewing screen, and an outboard battery and 5 GB "digital magazine" are available for power and storage.
An observation — The Leaf Valeo 11 has an 11 Megapixel 24mm X 36mm imaging chip, and costs $13,000. Of course you also need a medium format camera to put it on. Now let's consider the Canon 1Ds. It too has an 11 Megapixel 24mm X 36mm imaging chip and costs $8,000, and it is of course a complete camera. The Valeo 11's chip is smaller than 645 format and therefore medium format lenses will be cropped, just as they are with current 1.5X to 1.6X cropping factors on non-full-frame DSLRs. This is an impediment to wide angle lens use, which is important for fashion, product and commercial applications — exactly the market that this product is aimed at.
What's wrong with this picture? Accepting for the moment that image quality is comparable (and it appears to be), why would one spend $5,000 more and accept the portability and lens limitations of the medium format back approach? Now you know why the Canon 1Ds (and other future full-frame DSLRs) are going to be so popular among professional photographers. It really makes one wonder what's going to happen to the separate back makers over the next year or two.
Even the highly regarded 16MP Kodak DCS Pro back is caught in this dilemma. Of course its chip is larger than that found in the 1Ds at 36mm X 36mm square. But it still isn't medium format full-frame (not even 645), and so wide angle limitations apply to it as well. And, crop the image to a rectangle, which will be done for most print and commercial applications, and you have a working image size that's the same as a full-frame DSLR, like the Canon 1Ds. Food for thought.
One answer for the back makers is to move to larger chips. Sinar has done this with their 22 Megapixel Sinarback 54. At 37m X 49mm it is the largest digital imaging chip on the market. It also costs $29,900. (And you thought that the 1Ds was expensive!)
Adobe demonstrated a plug-in for Photoshop at its keynote speach on Friday morning that allows the import and conversion of RAW camera images directly into Photoshop. This was more a technology announcement than a product introduction. This is a very impressive bit of code and will, I predict, become the standard tool used by photographers when working with RAW files.
No price or release date has been set yet, but it shouldn't be too long from now, or too expensive.
That's it for the show season and new product introductions for this year. You can expect the next major flurry of product announcements (particularly in the digital area) in March, 2003 when the PMA show rolls around. See you there.