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Photokina 2012 Location Report

By Nick Devlin

with Contributions by Edmund Ronald and Michael Reichmann

Photokina Gourmet

This report is by Nick Devlin, Contributing Editor to The Luminous Landscape. This reports will be filed from the show floor, as possible, and also at night from Nick's hotel room once he has had sufficient quantities of Wurst and Pils.

Each day will also see additional commentary and reporting by Edmund Ronald and the occasional gratuitous grump by Michael Reichmann.

The most recent entries will appear here, at the top of the page. Check back often.


September 22,11:41pm CEST

Bits and Bits of the Other Big Guys

Little Camera, Big Deal

Sony

Sony has been trying so hard, for so long, to be someone in the prosumer level camera world, that eventually someone will have to notice.  Or maybe not. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but in the west, Canon and Nikon still get way more of the public’s love.  In many ways this is unfair. The A900 and A850 were truly ground-breaking cameras, as was/is the Nex-7. However, the brand has never really caught fire. But it's not for lack of trying, as Sony threw-down at Photokina once again.

The big news from Sony at this Photokina is RX1.  This is another revolutionary camera.  It is the first full-frame Leica-imitating AF rangefinder-style camera.  Shamelessly aimed at the pro/dentist market with its fixed 35mm  f2 lens and $2,800 price tag, this little Sony could be a monster. 

Unfortunately, the camera was only visible under glass at this show, and Sony Europe was too anal to take it out for me to even hold, so I can’t report anything about it other than it is really compact, and less attractive than it could be.  Whereas Fuji has mastered the Leica gestalt, Sony designers continue use gluing beer cans to decks of playing cards as their design leitmotif.  Sad, because this camera could be an amazing tool. Looks notwithstanding, I’m really excited to try it, though for the price I am unlikely to buy it (with hood, mandatory EVF and taxes you won’t get a lot of change from $4,000).

But kudos to Sony for pushing the engineering boundaries once more. The industry is unquestionably richer for their robust participation in it. 

Their mainstay at the show is the A99, their latest full frame non-reflex ‘SLR-style’ camera.  It’s fine. I personally don’t care for the physical experience of Sony cameras, but it appears extremely competent. I just don’t think people will flock to an EVF solution when the same megapixel count and body size are available  with a proper glass finder.  The 6D is really nice to look through compared to the Sony.  While I have come to believe that EVFs are a necessary evil in pro-level compact cameras, you can take my pentaprisms when you pry them from my cold death fingers.

Panasonic

Panasonic is a quiet giant. One of the largest consumer electronics companies, they made taken a relatively low-key, though well conceived, foray into still photography.  For Photokina they were showing the GH3, the third iteration of their very successful 4/3rs inter-changeable lens system.  Personally, I think this will be a real winner. Despite its size, the GH3 is a serious camera. Not only that, it’s a serious video camera.  Chris thought very highly of the earlier GH cameras, as does my friend Jordan Drake who shoots the Camerastoretv’s reviews.  These are videographers who know their stuff. (speaking of Camerastoretv, their viedo review of the new Fuji XF1- which I discuss below - is now online and worth a watch).

Your Shoulder Called, it wants you to buy this.

The GH3 is basically the shrunken-down equivalent of a pro SLR. The body is metal and the build quality feels pro-ish.  Panasonic describes it as “splash proof and dust proof”. I take that to mean ‘weather sealed’ unless and until I hear otherwise.  Just as importantly, the autofocus is fast and really accurate (it’s contrast-detection off the sensor, so its absolutely accurate). The real advantage is size, and the fact that its 16MPs are laid out on the much more useful 4/3rds format.  The lens lineup now includes 14-28 f2.8,  24-70 f2.8 and 70-200f2.8 lenses which are only a fraction the size of their 35mm (or even APS-C) counterparts.  A full three-lens kit in this system will not break your shoulder, but will cover virtually any photographic need.  The picture below illustrates the camera and these two lenses, with a Fuji X100 in the corner for scale. I want one of these.

Pentax

Oh, god, poor Pentax.  They invented the SLR, though you would never know it.  Their cameras have always been excellent. Their lenses have always been excellent. Their marketing? Face-palm! Pentax had but a fraction of the physical presence of the other major makers, and nothing to push their innovative products. The foremost of these is the K-5IIs, which, hugely, loses the dreaded Anti-aliasing filter.  This is the first APS-C sized camera to take that brave step, following in the D800E’s lead.  This is potentially a big deal, but I could barely get anyone to even explain it to me. Ugh. 

I do, however, hope to have Pentax’s superb western Canadian rep, Bill Gouge, get me one to test, because landscape photographers should be seriously interested in this camera. If they ever hear of it.  

Phase One/Hassy/Leaf/Leica “S”

This was a status-quo show for the MF industry, with incremental advances.  Hasselblad announced the H5, which is a nice but incremental step up from the already decent H4, while Phase showed their DF+ body, which is the latest increment in their long (and reasonably successful) quest to de-shittify the old Mamiya 645D camera.  (Sadly, Phase’s home-grown camera solution, if one exists, is still some time away).  In the meantime, both of these cameras offered incremental advances in the little things that annoy pros about the cameras, and betterment of existing systems.  None of this will make people buy cameras who wouldn’t already but will, hopefully, help to keep existing shooters happy.  The Leica “S” comes in the same vein – basically a small touch-up of already good “S2”.

The well-discussed problem for MF, is that, short of a change to CMOS or a revolutionary new body, there is little place for them to go. There are no megapixel wars to be won, and the nature of the medium limits its size.  This relative stasis doesn’t indicate that MF is a dying industry necessarily, but more that it is a mature one. I took some time out from walking the halls to see the huge exhibition of Rankin's work staged by the NRW-Forum in Dusseldorf.  As a huge fan of Rankin, I was not disappointed. If you are anywhere close to Dusseldorf, go see it.  Most of this work was shot with Phaseone and Leica S cameras and, suffice to say, in the right hands these cameras are the business.

- N.

September 21, 5:00pm CEST

Year of the Super Lens

Back in the 80s and 90s, zoom lenses were all the rage. First simply because they existed. Then because of the ranges and f-stops they started to cover.  Finally because they came to rival fixed focal length lenses.  Well, all things come full circle, and the advent of the ‘super DSLR has made the fixed focal length lens all the rage once more. 

 

The D800 is what analysts refer to as a “disruptive technology”.  It shook the bedrock of the industry and changed the realities of what-was-what.  But even before the D800 blew the roof off, the latest range of 24MP DSLRs were already starting to stretch the seems of the lens world.  Simply put, most of the glass out there just isn’t good enough to take full advantage of 24, much less 36 megapixels much of the time.
And so the world turned.

Leica, which was the undisputed king of the optical world rose, like Lazarus.  Zeiss, too, is back.  The idea of building lenses as-good-as, or better than, the cameras they are mounted is the order of the day in the high-end market.  Companies who understand this (i.e.: FUJI and SONY) embrace it.  Those who don’t (Canon) fight it mightily.

But there must be something to it, because ‘super DSLR Lenses’ were one of the really interesting themes of Photokina 2012.  I have already written  about the Zeiss moves (below), but now Schneider is also in on the act, with a trio of fixed focal length lenses coming for Nikon , Canon, Sony and (interestingly) Pentax. Schneider describes the design brief of these lenses as meeting the “ever increasing demands resulting from a continuous decrease in pixel size.”  Nice to see someone has been awake.

Schneider’s offering are 35mm and 50mm f1.4s (shown only in pro-type) and an 85 f2.4 Marko.  The lenses are manual focus, and have a similar feel to excellent Zeiss offerings.  They are also likely to be priced similarly: i.e. between $2,000 and $3,000. What is interesting is that they are much smaller than the new Zeiss 55mm f1.4.  Unlike the Zeiss, these are likely not MF lenses masquerading as 35mm.  (Not to be critical of Zeiss – simply cutting out the corners is a good solution but-for size).  I wonder whether these lenses will truly match the performance that Zeiss will be able to produce.  Leica can do it, but Schneider?

Schneider’s press release stipulates that the lenses will be made in Bad Kreuznach, so these are not OEM’d.  It will be VERY interesting to try these out on the D800E.

Schneider is also showing 50mm and 90mm tilt shift lenses.  Now these are MASSIVE lenses.  The mechanisms are marvelously done, and I look forward to trying them out, but man they’re big! These puppies make Hassy H lenses feel insecure in manliness. To be priced by the pound, I fear.

- N.

 


The Future of Photography (imho)

Nikon's Android-Driven S800

Hard as it is to believe, not everyone in the world wants to carry a 195 mega-pixel digital camera costing two-year’s take-home pay.  Out there, a few billion of the great unwashed masses just want to take pictures.  And they want to share the pictures. And they want to do it quickly and easily.  And for all of those who are under the age of 25, the idea of twirling or twirling knobs or buttons or dials is cute, but, like SO 1999.  For this, the iPod, iPad, iPhone, generation, it happens on a touch screen or it doesn’t happen at all.

And thus, we ponder the future of photography.  Well ponder no more, the future of photography was on display in the Samsung booth at Photokina, in the hands of a bevy of white and blue clad beauties. There, we find a fully Android powered camera, that is basically a giant phone/tiny tablet with a tiny 21x zoom attached to it. The camera has every "smart" (aka dummy mode known to man, and they all seem to work well.  

Most significantly, this device is a fully equipped 3G/4G wireless tablet. It does not have a traditional  telephone, per se, but can run Skype calls, which work well over a good 4G connection. This is a fully on-line camera.

Android is rapidly becoming the OS of choice for smart phones, especially in the younger demographic, it is no surpirse to see camera companies embracing this convergence.

Since Samsung is about to take over the world (historians will probably come to say Apple jumped the shark circa 2010), it behooves us to see how the future will look. Herewith a humble  video on where it’s all going, imho:

 

- N.

September 20, 11:00 pm CEST

The Cutting Edge of Olde School

So-called “technical cameras” make up a relatively miniscule part of the global photography market, but account for some of its highest-quality picture making tools.  This year at Photokina, two companies showed really interesting cameras in this  category, at opposite ends of the cost spectrum. The first is Alpa of Switzerland, one of the truest artisanal craft equipment producers, and the other is Fotoman, a relatively recent entry into this niche market. 

Alpa  is run by the people who own it, and the people who own it are fanatical about making the best tools possible . Think Swiss watches that take pictures.  Many landscape photographers have found that the very best image quality comes from mounting purpose-built digital view camera lenses, like Rodenstock’s Digitars, onto an Alpa and mating a MF digital back behind. But far from being a simple, old fashioned company, Alpa has just launched what must count as one of the most innovative products at Photokina 2012, the Alpa 12 FPS.

The 12 FPS is hard to explain but so-easy to understand. At its most distilled level, it is a 8” x 4”  x 1.25” inch thick slab on aluminum with a 645 shutter on the left side and a camera-control computer on the right.  That barren description, however, doesn’t come close to doing justice to the genius that lies within.  The 12 FPS can take virtually ANY lens on the front with the appropriate adapter, including Nikon and Canon lenses, Hasselblad V, Mamiya M, Leica S, view camera lenses from Schneider and Rodenstock, and even Cine lenses from Zeiss and others.  On the flip side, one can mount ANY digital MF back. 

It is the ultimate open platform.

The engineering is superb. The mechanicals are beautifully executed, as one would expect from Alpa, but the electronics are as well.  I don’t think I have ever seen  a better thought-out control mechanism, covering shutter speed, aperture (when electronically controlled), back-latency (how you wake-up a snoozing digital back), bracketing and even flash-sync, with a couple of buttons and a single, knob. Phenomenal.

The 12 FPS is the ultimate in open format cameras.  It will allow photographers to use whatever high-end system-lenses they already own, together with the digital-back solution.  With many lenses, one can also insert a tilt module, which gives massive benefits for landscape work. 

All in all, an amazing product.  The camera is so new that the first ten final production units were made last week.  Alpa has had a terrific response at Photokina, and might end up selling a ton of these, even at the yet-to-be-determined price, which will be commensurate with its Swiss quality and heritage.

Because the Alpa is much better seen than described in words, here is a short video with Stephan Meier explaining the camera.  Please forgive the terrible videography. I am no Chris Sanderson.  

 

The other company showing neat product in a similar vein is Fotoman.This is another small company with a well thought-out line and nicely made products.  Fotoman makes three types of cameras: panoramics in formats from 6x9 to 6x24, hand-holdable cameras from 4x10 to 8x10 (yes, you read correctly) and now a pair of technical cameras to mount digital backs to view-camera lenses.

While made in China, attractively priced, Fotoman’s gear is neatly made and has a quality feel. Their technical solutions can accept a wide range of popular view camera lenses with dedicated cam-assemblies for focusing, and all popular MF backs. 

The top of the line “Dmax” allows for rise, fall and shift with many lenses, ground glass focusing with a sliding adapter, and very sturdy grips for potential hand-holding (though this really is a tripod-based solution with most MFDBs). The “DMini” does not allow movements, and is limited to digital backs rather than film (hardly a serious shortcoming nowadays). 

Both cameras are made of high-grade aluminum and are an attractive entry-camera for those interested in this unique mode of photography but have a more modest budget.  An excellently produced product.

 

 


 

 

September 20, 9:00am CEST

An Analog Oasis

My Favourite New Camera of Photokina 2012
Shenhao's 11x14 Mahongy View

Photokina is huge – a total nine giant exhibition halls, many of them two stories – with every square inch filled with everything to do with the photographic industry.  While  the public usually comes to see the big boys and play with the new toys that have all the buzz, the real gems of the show are often tucked away in corners that only the trade get too.

One of my very favourite little companies is Shenhao (properly known as the Shanghai Shenhao Professional Camera Company). Amidst the sea of plastic of silicon, there both is an oasis of wood and metal.  Shenhao, you see, hand builds view cameras.  And they do it in almost every size, from 6x9 up to 11” x 14” and maybe soon even beyond that.

The cameras are lovely, and good value. Relatively simple but highly functional, Shenhao’s models are crafted from teak, mahogany and aluminum.  My personal favourite are the cameras with black anodized aluminum, which look sharp as hell. A 4x5 can be had for well under a thousand dollars, and a 8x10s run around $2,000.  The 11x14, which has captured my heart, costs about the same as a 1Dx.

Shenhao also crafts wooden holders in all sizes, in wood, not plastic. These are nice people selling a really nice craft product. It ain’t Arca, but it has an organic authenticity I’m really drawn to.

Far from being luddites, however, Shenhao also now offers a range of sliding adapter plates for mounting high-end dslrs and MF backs onto 4x5 view cameras, allowing for multi-frame capture from the 4x5 image. The potential for landscape and still-life are obvious. Five to twelve stitched D800E frames could yield a very healthy file indeed. These adapters are nicely made and inexpensive, running from just about $150 to about $500 for the most complex.

In between rounds of DSLR and EVIL mania, I stopped in yesterday and had Stephen Zhang, their export manager took time out to give me a brief demonstration on video. Enjoy.

- N.
September 19, 11:00pm CEST

Fuji Sweetness

Fuji today formally announced their two new cameras, the X-E1 and the XF1. Confusing nomenclature aside, these are both sweet little cameras.  The X-E1 is a follow-up to the X-Pro1, which was one of the most fascinating new cameras of 2012, and which earned a mix of raves and pans when reviewed here in the spring and the X-E1 is a riff on the very popular X10.

Basically, the X-E1 is a slightly scaled-down version of the X-Pro1, loosing the hybrid optical finder and replacing with a straight OLED EVF.  The upside of this move is that it trims considerable weight and bulk from the camera, making it much more compact. The reduction in features also comes with a sizable reduction in price, with the X-E1 expected to be in a $1,000 range body-only. 

While I have always disliked EVFs, and was initially thrilled by the incredible clever (and I am sure incredibly complex to engineer) hybrid OVF, I found myself using the EVF more and more with the X-Pro1, just because it was 100% accurate in showing framing and focus. I have also developed a great affinity for the X100, which I also tend to use in EVF mode only as well.

Side-by-side reveals the X-E1's advantage

Consequently, I tend to think that the X-E1 is not so much a step-down from the X-Pro1 as it is a positive lateral move.  With the introduction of this model Fuji is offering photographers a real choice in features and approach – the sort few companies do.  Adding to the sense that this is not a downgrade is the fact that the X-E1 has an improved resolution OLED finder and, Fuji claims, faster AF because of some new on-chip technology. In brief use I did find the focusing snappier than with the X-Pro1 on its original firmware.

Of even greater interest were the prototypes of Fuji’s new lenses. As promised on their roadmap, 14mm f2.8, 23mm f1.4, 56mm f1.4!, 55-200mm f3.5-4.8 and 10-24mm f4 lenses are on their way by 2013. Fuji is clearly very serious about the “X” line as a system camera.

 

At their booth – one of the most attractive at Photokina – Fuji is pushing the usability of 3rd party lens on the “X” cameras very aggressively. Indeed, at their “Lens Bar” you can order up an “X” camera with any of a dozen new and old Leica, Zeiss and CV lenses to play with.  This is cool, and reflects a profound commitment to an open platform which is to be applauded.  Personally, I didn’t find that “M” glass performed all that well with the “X”, but I’m willing to give it another shot.

Much of the Fuji design team was on hand at today’s press conference and, despite their shy English, it was easy to tell that this young crew loves photography and has a deep pride of ownership in the cameras they make.  It’s always a privilege to be reminded that a camera is the result of thousands of hours of human effort, and meeting those people makes the tools feel more personal in an industry ever-racing towards an ever-more mass-market ethos.

And yes, I did tell them to please, please, please add functionality to permit user setting of minimum shutter speed in the auto-ISO function.  They took it with a smile.

The other camera launched today, the X-F1 is a sweet little toy.  I use the term advisedly, because this camera, a direct descendant of the X10, is capable of some really fine imaging (as Michael noted in his review here).  Equipped with the same 12MP 2/3” sensor as the X10, the X-F1 is a shameless attempt at a style-conscious carry-around camera.  It is smaller than the X10 and the lens retracts more fully, making this a true pocket camera.  It is, for its size, a lot of firepower.

As for the styling, I really like it.  Unlike like the Frankenblad, the styling on the XF1 does seem to be trying too hard, yet cuts a very attractive silhouette.  While not a serious high-end landscape camera, the sample prints on hand today show that this little device will make many user very happy.

While there is lots of competition in this compact segment, the XF1 pulls it off as well as any.

Keep up the good work, Fuji!

- N.

September 19, 10:00pm CEST

Canon's 6D and Other New Offerings

Canon has been a dominant player in the digital photo industry and, arguably, the leader up until recently. Today at Photokina I braved the morning crowds to see what Big Red had on offer, and was not disappointed.  The main attraction of course was the 6D, which was displayed in pre-production form along with the new 24-70 f2.8L version II.  This camera drew a huge crowd and long waits. 

While the 6D will not hit stores until just before Christmas, my experience with it is very positive. Nothing can be said about image quality for the moment, but the user-feel is excellent. The camera is quick in all respects and does not give up a lot to its much, much more expensive cousin, the 5D3.  It will be interesting to test these cameras side-by-side to see what that extra 50%  in price gets you, since the megapixel count is virtually identical. I will be very curious to see if there is any meaningful difference.

The frame rate is down to 4.5 fps, but that matches the D800 and is more than adequate for everything but sports.   The AF was, on a quick indoor examination really very fast and good at picking out the appropriate subjects.

One place where Canon is clearly in the lead over Nikon, however, is in wireless connectivity. Canon has clearly made this a priority, and I for one think that is a wise choice. On the 6D this takes shape in the form of what appears to be complete remote control from a pretty good looking App that will be available for both Android and iOS. The highlight is the ability to see what the camera is seeing, live off the sensor, coupled with fast transfer of files, including a full RAW + jpeg in under 3 seconds. Depending on final implementation, this could provide a complete wireless tethering solution, and answer wish #4 on my list of five technologies I want but never thought we’d see.

A couple of under-glass copies of the long-awaited 200-400 f4L zoom were also on hand, complete with a very interesting built-in 1.4x teleconverter.  Not so exciting is the price, which is likely to be north of ten grand (gulp).

-N.

 


 

 

September 19, 12:19am CEST

Zeiss on a Roll

Ok, time for some good news from Cologne.  One company which is really rocking and rolling is Zeiss.  This outfit knows what it’s about, and that’s lenses. There is no pretention to being a camera maker. Zeiss is all about putting something better on someone else’s camera body.  And they do it well.

It doesn’t hurt that we’ve reached a point in the industry where sensors have grown-up to the point that they recognize the disfunctionality of their home-life and that hanging around with mom and dad isn’t the coolest thing ever.  Indeed, many a D800 and 5D3 have given their parents pained looks and said, “You just understand me! Your lenses suck. I’m moving out.”

And therein lies the perfect niche opening for Zeiss – providing disenchanted camera owners with something (they think is) better.  Indeed Zeiss lenses obviously have to be better, since they’re made of metal, can’t autofocus, and cost more. 

 

Now, the joy is spreading to users of the burgeoning rangefinder-style camera category, with Zeiss introducing an entire lineup of lenses for both the Sony “E” and Fuji “X” mounts.

HEY! I’ve got it. The “A” mount Zeiss lenses will be out in time to meet the arrival of the Hasselblad Lunar!! Think about it: Hasselblad camera, Zeiss lens. And Angels sang! *(bitte ignoren-sie that this is a Cosina lens on a Sony camera)

But seriously, whoever makes Zeiss’ current range of lenses makes them well.  I liked the CV on Leica and I have no doubt I will like them even better on the Fuji.  The big news is that these lenses will be fully system-compatible, allowing all automatic functions, and, most importantly, will autofocus.

The first three lenses to be announced (and to appear at Photokina in prototype only) are: a 12mm f2.8 (18mm equivalent), 32mm f/1.8 (= 50mm) and 50mm f/2.8 macro (=75mm).  The pick of the litter will no doubt be the wide, where Fuji’s 18mm has shown ok but not brilliant performance. The 50 macro could also be a real winner. Fuji’s 35 f1.4 is so good that I suspect this focal length is more for the Sony crowd.

Zeiss was also not shy to say that these are the first of these lenses, strongly implying more to come.

Sadly, this announcement is really one for 2013, as these lenses are not expected to hit our stores until Q2/3 of 2013.  Start saving now.

 

These cruel bastards wouldn't take the lenses out from under glass

Save your Pennies (and dimes and hundreds)

Also on the ‘start saving’ front…Zeiss has introduced the most unusual and interest lens of Photokina – a 55mm f1.4 the size of large squash.  Seriously, this thing is the size of an average “H” mount lens from  ‘Blad. Think Nikon 14-24, just bigger. 

 

Yes, this includes the hood

And what’s all that size about? Well it’s about $3,000 or so.  For that, however, Zeiss is promising that the heavens will part and pixelly goodness will rain from the heavens for frustrated high-end 35mm DSLR users who feel they just aren’t getting the most our of their camera with conventional glass.

 Zeiss had some 13x19 sample prints on hand, comparing this behemoth to an ordinary (unnamed 50mm f1.4). I can attest from personal experience that my Nikon 50mm f1.4 is a total piece of shit (not all of them are, I know), so I have more than passing sympathy for the concept at play here.

The samples were tolerably impressive, until I was told they were shot at f1.4, at which point they became seriously impressive. Corner sharpness and contrast looked fantastic.  The real question is why Zeiss didn’t have 5’ wide prints of this on the wall??

My uninformed guess here is that is that this is really a much-bigger than 35mm lens, with an aperture larger than f1.4. In other words, you fix the corners by making the image circle bigger and using only the centre, and stopping down a half stop, even wide-open.  It’s just a guess, but it dovetails with the size and design brief.

Will people really pay $3000 for a fixed focal length 35mm lens? Time will tell. If it’s really that good, I suspect enough will to make the exercise worthwhile for Zeiss.

Again, the company hinted that more lenses of this sort could be on their way.  This is a great development, though it does beg the question of what advantage there is to shooting a 35mm DSLR with a lens this size and price…..

 A great show for Zeiss – look for those white boxes to proliferate on store shelves. 

- N.

 


 

September 18, 20:00 GMT

By Edmund Ronald

No offense to site owner Michael,  I quite like the brassy, baroque, in-your-face loonycam. We now have Leica who do "I'm rich, quiet, sober", and Hassy who sing "If you have it, flaunt it!". Nikon told us yesterday that dSLR sales in Russia are increasing like crazy, and I feel the Russians are going to love this.

According to CEO Dr. Hansen, Hassy are not going to stop at re-upholstering the NEX, they will be present in every market segment, which means bringing in some reworked dSLRs from Sony next year. I asked, and no, they have no cellphone plans, thank you very much. Although I guess that if the fad for live-linked cameras with apps (Samsung, Nikon, and rumors of Apple) catches on, never say never.

I see Hasselblad as following in the very successful alliance between Panasonic and Leica, with a range of cash-cow repackaged Japanese consumer products marketed alongside some niche-interest European technology. If this contributes to my finally being able to get a Sony NEX clone which is comfortable to hold in my western-sized paws, who am I to complain? 

And what about the reworked medium format H5D? This range is crying out for a new sensor with liveview, exactly like, dare I say it, on the Leica's S. I asked, and was told that an improvement of the current CCD technology might be on the books. 


 

 

September 18, 17:00 CEST

"Lunarcy" -- Take Two

By Nick Devlin

What’s in a name? Apparently, if you are a high-end niche camera maker, the answer is: the  economic survival.  At a secret meeting some time in the not too distant past, Hasselblad’s think-tank assembled to figure out how they heck they are going to stay relevant and viable in the modern photo milieu.  They went around the room and brain stormed what assets Hasselblad has that makes it special. Amongst the words scrawled on the whiteboard were:  “ brand recognition” and “first cameras on the moon.”

 

These unique historical assets made the path forward clear: build a consumer level mirrorless camera, stick a Hasselblad logo on it and name it “Lunar”. It’s really blooming obvious, when you think about it.

There’s a catch of course: building a modern mirrorless camera system requires a multi-billion dollar R&D and fabrication infrastructure. Hasselblad checked its warehouse, and found it didn’t have one of those. Which explains why Haselblad CEO Dr. Larry Hansen was joined on stage by Sony’s Tori Kastumoto.  In short, Hassy went to Sony and forged a partnership to build high-end point and shoot cameras.  Whatever you may think of the result, this  relationship has good historical roots. Hansen, you see,  was the former leader at Zeiss who negotiated the very successful lens-camera relationship between Sony and Zeiss for the “A” system. Hansen is a man who knows how to bring the Japanese and Nordic camera cultures together – a rare skill indeed.

 

Of course, the re-branding of consumer electronics made by Japanese Giants is not a an original idea. Leica has been pimping Panasonic’s excellent compact cameras for many years, adding an outrageous amount of value (from their perspective) in the process. Taking a further page from Leica’s how-to-make-more-money-from-useless-cameras playbook, the Lunar will be available in a variety of highly stylized colour/finish combinations.  This includes wood and leather finishes which are likely to be very attractive.

However, the bottom line is that this is a 5,000 Euro ($7,000?) Nex7. What you get for the sprinlking of extra cash is “Italian design”, which is de rigeur for virtually all luxury brands nowadays.  Not accidentally, the chief designer of the new Italy-based design Hasselblad design centre accented his presentation with detail photos from Ferarris and Bentleys to illustrate the concept of luxury finish materials.

However, it is difficult to see what Hasselblad, as a camera company, has brought to the table other than its name.  The design work is certainly original, but was custom-created for this project.  The guts of the beast appear to be pure Sony, since there was no mention of any Hasselblad role in the internals.  

 

See? It's a Natural Evolution of the C/M

The most charitable take is that this model essentially re-enacts the custom  coach-building industry of the early automobile days, whereby the mechanical components – requiring massively capital-intensive engineering and production – were finished with bodies created by small, artisanal workshops who built  bodies to fit custom orders.  Nothing wrong with importing that model to the camera industry, I guess.

From a photographer’s perspective, however, the upshot of this is that, if you have more money than brains, but not enough money for a real H-camera, you can now pay five grand for a Sony that, if you close your eyes, imagine real hard, and click your heels together three times, will make you feel like you own a Hasselblad.

 Personally, as a less expensive and more culturally authentic experience, I suggest the following:

1 . Open the internet

2.  Go to: www.ebay.com

3.  Type: “Hasselblad 500 c/m” into the search window

4.  Buy one.

Mahogany Makes Better Pictures

I grant that this project is commercially probably a good idea from Hasselblad’s standpoint, or rather that of its new owners, private equity fund Ventizz Capital. The idea is to leverage the brand’s only real remaining asset − it’s name − to sell relatively inexpensively made products to the consumer market at premium prices.

The collateral benefit of this approach is that the hyping of the brand will further enhance its value and prestige. This in turn will make it more desirable for professionals to own Hassleblads, in order to leverage the "H" reputation into their own professional image.

For photo professionals today, however, this announcement offers nothing, other than the hope that this marketing device will allow the real Hasselblad to survive.

Don’t Forget About the Real Cameras

Almost lost in all the hype over the Lunar is the fact that Hassy has also updated their MF camera body to the H5, which is a nice evolutionary step. A good product made better.

The digital X-Pan – which has been too much rumoured to be completely untrue – remains unseen and unknown.  Pity. 

 


 

September 18, 13:00 HRS GMT

Hasselblad Announces its NEX Step

By Michael Reichmann

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Hasselblad has announced what amounts to an OEM deal with Sony on the NEX camera. "...for the first time ever we are using carbon fiber, titanium, wood, leather and precious metals - including gold." In other words, these will be pimped-up bodies with Sony guts.

I understand the strategy. I really do. There are people (especially in China and other parts of Asia) for whom a camera is a lifestyle purchase, a statement on arrival, the way a Brietling watch or a BMW is. Nothing wrong with either of these per se, it's just what they represent to the nuvea riche.

We are now in the second major digital revolution. Digital imaging technology has reached a new level of refinement, and even moderately priced cameras can produce image quality that meets or surpasses the needs of the typical user. Prices are dropping and products are becoming commoditized. This is now the consumer electronics industry, ruled by Moore's law.

Where is there room then for the speciality camera maker, one without the tens of thousands of engineers, overseas manufacturing plants, and ultra-deep pockets of the Sony's, Panasonics and their ilk? The answer is – probably up shit's creek unless they can find a way to match technology that they can't develop themselves, and create a value added proposition. That's what Hasselblad has done with this new partnership with Sony. Take a Sony NEX body and add a reticulated ostrich testical leather covering, and a Genuine Imitation Carpathian Burled Elm grip. Oh yes, and with a gold shutter release button.

Don't laugh. They'll sell a boatload in some parts of the world. Elsewhere they'll be ridiculed (such as here), but in the end this may be what Hasselblad needs to do to survive. Leica has become fat and happy making speciality versions of their cameras with odd cosmetics. They all sell out before production even begins. But, and it's a big but, most of these are simply Leica's world-class bodies and lenses with a bit of gilt added. They also pimp up some Panasonic cameras for those that want a red button badge on their point and shoot, but that's OK too.

Time will tell if this becomes a working strategy for Hasselblad. It does appear though that as the medium format marketplace remains under assault becoming a vendor of fashion items is the future that Hasselblad's new VC owners have carved out for themselves. Hope it works for them.

 


September 17, 11:50pm CEST

LEICA MAKES A STATEMENT

This Party Cost More than a New "M"

Let the Champagne Flow

Photokina is home field for Leica, and so it was fitting that the first big event of the week was Leica’s invitation-only product launch, aka Leicapalooza.  Actually, the event was branded as “Das Wesenliche”  − The Essentials” . The party, however, was anything but.  Throwing down in the biggest way possible, Leica has taken over the entiry of Hall “1” at the  Cologne conference centre, and turned it into a gallery/booth/party space that probably matches to total square footage of the entire PhotoPlus show in New York.

The money-no-objection evening had an open bar, night-club lighting effects and hors d’oeurves that required translation.  Making a statement, anybody?

 


 

To continue with the statement (that being that they are all about photography) Leica has staged a huge gallery show of leading photographers from different genres, and spent the first hour of the presentation paying lengthy tribute to photojournalist Nick Ut, who is one of the twenty photographers features in Leica’s massive exhibition, along with Kim Phuc, the girl whose anguish he immortalized moments after a napalm strike in Vietnam, earning him a Pulizter Prize and changing the discourse around the Vietnam war.

 

All Things Old Are New Again

In short, Leica announced one new product: the “M”.  Just “M”.  That’s right, for USD $6950 you no longer even get a number. The message is clear: Leica has been taken-up into the Elysian Fields of super-brands, where model numbers are too gauche to mention.  Concurrently, the S3 was announced as simply the “S” – less confusing, since it is basically the same camera with beefed up electronics.

The M9 hasn’t gone away. It has found new life at the Leica “M-E”, signifying a scaled-down version of the “M”.  I couldn’t find anyone who could tell me how it differs from the M9, other than having the latest, most minimalist exoskeleton (which is truly beautiful) and a slightly lower list price of $4,800 euros.

The "new" Leica "M-E"
Mmmmmm....Prettty!

A Minor Upgrade for the "S"

The "S" system was clearly not Leica's first priority for upgrading. It did, however get somewhat improvement internals, the details of which remains a little vague. Curiously, the S2 remains in the pricelist with the “S”, though the latter bumps the price slightly the 19,000 euros. More interestingly, Leica announced a new tilt-shift 120mm lens and re-announced? the 24mm and 30-90 zoom lenses.  It will be nice to see these "in the metal" one of these days.

Owning a Leica gets you closer to god. Really.
Cologone, 2012, Leica Launch Party

 

Orange Camera, Anyone?

The X2 is totally unchanged, except for the fact that Paul Smith was asked to pimp it out with gaudy coloured top and bottom plates, and that it is now available full a-la carte.  Given how competitive the X2’s segment of the market has become, this is a sign that Leica is marketing this camera purely on brand (thought likely very successfully so).You have to be quite the dandy to pull this camera off.

 

The "M"ain Event

Of course, no one came to Cologne to drink champange and chat about orange point-and-shoot cameras.  The real action was the much-expected "M10". Dr. Kauffman -- doing his best Steve jobs impression -- coyly stated that there was no M10.  But by then, the crowd was in on the joke. 

The real question for the evening was not whether there would be an M10, but rather how good the boiz from Solms could make a camera that still can’t focus itself.

The short answer at this point is that no one has any idea, because the camera is only an announcement.  The scant few prototypes on hand were not offered for handling, and no sample prints or files are yet available. The camera is slated for availability in early 2013.

 

So Close and Yet So far...

The Move To CMOS

The key features are a 24MP CMOS sensor, co-designed by Leica and a European sensor fabricator, a 3” LCD and the use of the Maestro processor.  The move to CMOS may not have brought a big advance in resolution, but it is a big deal in several other ways.  First and most significantly, it allows for live-view and focus-peaking assisted focusing  <rousing applause>. This is a huge advance for it will make the “M” more useful and usable.  An accessory finder will also permit a completely EVF-based experience which, while un Leica-like, will make both wider and longer lenses infinitely more useful.

The stated ISO range is 100-6400.  It will be interesting to see what kind of quality Leica can achieve on their own, home-grown chip.

Finally an “R” Solution

Another obvious benefit of the move to CMOS is the ability to focus “R” lenses on the M.  Yes, one could theoretically do that already with a Visoflex, but this is 2012.  A proper adaptor will bring all that “R” glass out of obsolescence, and expand the usability of the camera. “R” owners should be rejoicing.

Video

CMOS also makes video possible.  It will be interesting to see Leica’s implementation of this, as video is a whole other kettle of fish. The apparent omission of a headphone jack, however, which marks the camera as a novelty at best, since any serious video users will need sound-monitoring capacity.  To be fair, video is not what this camera is about but it is a plus.

The Verdict?

At this point, all that can be said is that the move to remove numbering from the lineup is a marketing-driven affectation.  The cameras remain to appear and prove themselves.  Since it will appear next year, the new “M” is doomed to be forever known as the M(13).  Hmm…that’s so much better than just calling it the M10, isn't it???

The proof about this new, and exciting, camera, however, will be in the pudding, which is a ways off from coming out of the kitchen.  Leica, however, has shown that they are here to play and here to stay, assuming the price-is-no-object crowd continues to buy……which….to draw this full circle, kind of explains why Leica went over the top to show that they are all about photography. Because, in truth, a lot of their lineup is coming to be about image, as must be the case for all luxury goods.  If this keeps the venerable “M”s alive, bravo.

 


 

Additional Commentrary and Images by Edmund Ronald

September 17, 2012


 

The most eagerly expected Leica product was the M10. As shown earlier tonight in the hands of Mr. Kaufmann,  the camera now named simply "M" is built around a 24 Megapixel CMOS full-frame sensor, an update on the CCD in the company's previous flagship M9 rangefinder body.  This technology change enables liveview focusing on the back screen, and the recording of Mjpeg encoded video. 

Some details:

The M's brochure indicates that the microlenses on the new sensor have been optimised for the use of wide-angle lenses on the M body. An M with an accessory-shoe mounted miniature stereo microphone was on display in a glass case. 

Mr. Kaufmann also cited a new R to M lens adapter, and the fact that Liveview with manual focus assisted by peaking and the wide collection of available R glass now extends the domain of usability of the M series to telephoto and macro applications. I personally believe that third party adapters to mount third party lenses to the M will come out like mushrooms after the rain now that rangefinder coupling has been taken out of the equation: users will be able to buy a Leica body for use with their existing system glass. 

 

September, 2012


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