The Photo Marketing Association (PMA) trade show opened on Sunday, February 26, in Orlando, Florida. This is the largest photo industry trade show of the year in the United States, and an opportunity for camera makers and others in the industry to show their new products for 2006. This is a Photokina year (a biennial trade show in Cologne, Germany in late September, and the world's largest), and so there are likely to not be as many big announcements at PMA as there would be in an alternate year.
I will be at PMA, and will report on new products which catch my fancy. I will not, for example, be reporting on the 723 new digicams that will be introduced. There are other web sites that do a much better job of this that I can.
Below are some selected PMA related announcements and my observations. New ones will be added as PMA approaches, and as new products are announced before and at the show.
My report titled A View of the Photographic Industry From 30,000 Feet is now online.
February 28, 2006
I spent Monday the 27th at the show. This was an opportunity to see first-hand a number of the new products announced over the past week or so. Also, there were a few others which caught my eye.
There is a lot going on the the area of new printers, papers and inks. One paper that I had heard rumours of, but which I got to see first-hand at the show, is a new "glossy" fine art paper from Hahnemuhle. It doesn't have a name yet, it's that new. But some sample prints, especially a side-by-side comparison with Crane's Silver Rag, which has been reported on recently in these pages so favorably, really were an eye opener. I hope to have some samples for testing soon.
With the demise of Konica Minolta, and Pentax's new partnership with Samsung, the company appears to be taking a higher profile. Their latest iteration of the *stD though is simply a rebadging for marketing purposes, not in any way a significant new offering.
Pentax did show two prototypes under glass, a 10MP DSLR and a 645 digital. The 645 was more than a wooden mockup this time round, though not yet a working camera. It did appear very large and chunky looking, unlike Pentax's 645 film offering. At 18 Megapixels it will appeal to photographers who have an investment in Pentax 645 glass, but unless the price is really right I have to wonder who else it's for.
The 10MP DSLR and the 645 digital will likely be shown as functioning cameras at Photokina in September, with release before the end of the year.
Apple announced yesterday the release within the next 30 days of Version 1.1 of Aperture. This will be a free upgrade for current Aperture users. I had the opportunity to meet with members of the Aperture development team and have a hands-on demonstration of the new features. I was impressed.
The first item of note is that this is a Universal Binary release, which means that it will run on the new generation of Intel Macs. Secondly a number of processes have been speeded up. Put these two things together and you have a program which is starting to offer acceptable, if not downright energetic performance. How well it will perform on a previous generation Powerbook is something that will have to wait a few weeks till I can test it myself. Another welcome improvement is that Aperture now can save out as well as load .PSD files with layers.
The program will also ship with a free Applescript to allow shooting tethered. Basically what it does is allow you to set up a tethered shooting session in a program like Canon's DPP or Phase One's Capture One (using that company's Capture Script). The Applescript then automatically grabs any captured files and loads them into Aperture on a real-time basis via a hot folder. Very cool.
Raw processing in Aperture has been completely revamped, with reportedly greater image quality as well as the ability for the user to fine tune processing parameters. Finally, the metadata Export bugs which many people have complained about have reportedly all been fixed.
These improvements will help Aperture move toward the place in the industry that it deserves, since it has so much potential. Apple still needs to solve the database issues that prevent this program from meeting some photographer's needs (such as mine), but when Aperture can address multiple drives with its library, that issue will be resolved. I fully expect this to be the case some time later this Summer.
By Fall we're going to have a true horse race of next-generation photographer's software when Lightroom ships.
Eizo makes what are possibly the finest high-end LCD monitors on the market. Their new ColorEdge CG220 is a stunner (both in terms of image quality as well as price). It provides a true Adobe RGB color space image, and is in every way the current state of the art in display monitors.
With the Sony Artisan now being history, even those of us that already have them are going to have to look at what comes next, because CRTs only last for a few years when critical calibration is required. The CG220, or one of its somewhat less expensive cousins like the CG210 may well be the answer.
I expect to be able to do reviews of both of these monitors over the next few months.
February 26, 2006
Panasonic / Leica
Panasonic gave the Four Thirds format a boost today with its announcement of two products, the DMC-L1 DSLR and the LEICA D VARIO-ELMARIT 14-50mm/F2.8-3.5 ASPH lens.
The L1has many features already seen in Olympus' recently announced E-330 EVOLT, such as a supersonic vibration anti-dust device, and live video preview on the camera's rear LCD. The sensor used is a Panasonic CMOS design; a 7.5 Megapixel chip.
The lens is fascinating, offering a wide aperture and attractive zoom range (equivalent to 28-100mm in full-frame 35mm terms). Image stabilization is also included, marrying Panasonic electronic know-how with Leica's optical expertise. The lens is branded Leica, though marketed by Panasonic. And, since this lens is in the standardized Four Thirds lens mount it will work on Olympus as well as Panasonic cameras. Anyone buying a Panasonic L1 camera when they become available (no price or availability announced yet) will similarly be able to mount any Olympus E series lens on their camera.
Interestingly, the L1 features a top-mounted shutter speed dial, and the lens has real mechanical aperture ring. Holy analogue photography Batman – next thing you know they'll be handing out hand-held Weston light meters. (For all my kidding, I actually think that this is terrific move in the right direction. Clearly someone at Panasonic is focused on the act of photography as much as megapixels and resolution charts).
And, given that Lumix cameras have ended up being marketed by Leica as Digilux as well, it can't be too long before Leica has a version available for those wishing a bit of extra cachet.
Memory card capacity and speed have not always gone hand in hand. But Sandisk has today announced an 8GB version of their Extreme III CompactFlash card with a suggested list price of US $560.
I have been a long time fan of Extreme III cards. They are among the fastest available, and offer a very high degree of reliability as well as rugged construction. The new 8GB version is just the thing for the latest generation of high resolution medium format backs and also fast shooting DSLRs.
Pixmantec has announced that there are new versions of both Rawshooter Essentials and Rawshooter Premium, with support for numerous new cameras, including the Nikon D200.
A reader has brought to my attention that Imaging Resource is producing a series of video reports from the PMA show. I've looked at them and they are very professionally done.
February 25, 2006
Bibble Labs has updated its popular raw processor to version 4.6. Available for Windows, Mac and Linux, Bibble now adds native mode support for Intel based Macs. And, as announced previously, Bibble now integrates Noise Ninja technology directly within the raw conversion program itself.
February 24, 2006
Jobo GigaVu Pro
There are a number of portable image storage and viewing devices available for digital photographers. The most popular (and best) for the past couple of years has been the Epson's P 2000 (now 4000).
But Jobo appears ready to challenge that dominance with its GigaVu Pro. This updated version now comes with hard drives up to 120GB, USB 2.0 interface, and 4" LCD. It claims to offer both capacity and speed along with a few unique features. The direct reading of raw files is one of these. Rather than simply displaying the raw file's embedded JPG, Jobo claims to read raw files directly. Which ones and how quickly remain to be seen. So does the issue of new file formats and upgradability. (Where is DNG when you really need it?)
Another is the ability to connect directly to another USB device without the need for a computer. This would allow, for example, copying files to another portable hard disk or directly from a camera – any USB 2.0 device. The GigaVu also claims to have "an exclusive dust detector feature, DSLR camera users can recognize where dust is on the chip, therefore ensuring flawless photo results". Well – they've got my curiosity peaked.
As reported elsewhere a few days ago Canon has announced several new printers. It is clearly their intention to go head on against Epson in the high-end pigment ink photo printer segments. The two printers of note are the Pro9500 a 10 ink ink printer targeted at the Epson R2400 market, and the imagePROGRAF iPF5000 aimed squarely at the Epson Pro 4800. I expect to be testing and reporting on both of these printers in the months ahead.
HP is also upping the anti in the increasingly competitive photo printer marketplace with the introduction of the Photosmart Pro B9180. This is a pigment based 8 ink printer. Now all we need is a shoot-out between an Epson 2400, Canon Pro9500 and HP B9180. It'll happen eventually.
February 23, 2006
One of the most fascinating new products to be announced this pre-PMA week is the NuLOOQ Tooldial software from Logitech and NuLOOQ Navigator hardware device. (NuLOOQ is pronounced new look). The software and hardware can be used separately, but together they provide a novel approach to program menu item selection, navigation, and use. Imagine a combination between a mouse and stationary hockey puck, with a little bit of trackball thrown in, and you'll only be partially right. This really is unique.
The software, which provides pop-up menus and program feature customization can be used with traditional pointing devices, but together with the Tooldial device these appear to provide some fascinating capabilities. The software has been designed to initially work with program in the Adobe Create Suite, CS2, such as Photoshop. A 30 free trial of the software will be available from the Nulooq web site.
Both the Navigator ($149) and the Tooldial software ($49) will be available in early March for the Mac OS, with a Windows version to follow. I expect to have a full review online here once the Tooldial becomes available for testing.
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February 22, 2006
Yesterday's announcement here of the Canon 30D was quite sparse. The reason for this is that for reasons unknown Canon did not provide me with any in-depth information prior to announcement. So – if I don't get it, you obviously can't get it. It's as simple as that.
I write this for two reasons. The first is that a number of people have written asking why, whereas I usually am able to provide insights and information on new Canon releases in a timely manner, this did not happen. Secondly, because I found out this afternoon in an email from a reader that the 30D has a 3 second self timer with mirror lock-up in addition to the usual 10 second timer.
This is, as regular readers know, something that I've been begging Canon for for the past 5 years. I won't even say – It's about time. I'll simply say, on behalf of photographers everywhere who've been asking for this – our sincere thanks.
Update: On the other hand – maybe not. Another reader writes that what the specs say is "Self-Timer: 10-sec. delay, 2-sec. delay with C.Fn-12-1 (mirror lockup)". In this case, I retract my thanks to Canon. (This is why it's a good idea to get new products into the hands of reviewers. Hint, hint.)
Oh yes, and there are a slew of new Canon printers coming. Unfortunately I have no information from Canon on these that I'm at liberty to release, so I'll simply refer you once again to Robgalbraith.com who provides comprehensive details.
February 21, 2006
In what may be one of the more underwhelming new camera announcements of 2006, Canon has today introduced the EOS 30D. No, it's not Groundhog Day, and the camera is not the D30. It's the 30D. Got that? This is from the company that has brought us the confusingly named 1D, 1Ds, 1D MKII, IDs MKII and 1DMKIIn.
The 30D is essentially a revamped 20D (same imaging chip) but with a larger rear LCD (2.5"), larger buffer, spot metering, more durable shutter mechanism, and ISO adjustments in 1/3rd stop increments. Oh yes, and that absolutely vital new Direct Print button. In other words, similar features to those that were first seen in the Canon 5D last fall. (What's wrong with the name 20DMKIIn? At least it would have been consistent).
On a more serious note – all of these are worthwhile enhancements to an already fine product. The fact that there was no increase in megapixel count may mark an interesting transition point in the development of the industry, as we may be at or at least near the end of that particular race in some market segments. The D30 (ooops...30D) will be available in a few weeks at a selling price of about $1,399 in the US.
Canon has also introduced the EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM, a revised version of their popular but extremely expensive ultra-fast 85mm lens. It is claimed to have 1.8X faster autofocus that the first version. There is also a EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens for use on Canon's current reduced frame models.
If you want all the details there is a comprehensive report on the 30D to be found on Rob Galbraith's site.
And ... that's all folks. You can now turn the Winter Olympics back on. Let's see, how many months is it till Photokina?
My report titled A View of the Photographic Industry From 30,000 Feet is now online.