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PMA 2003

A Selective Look at
New Product Announcements

The annual PMA show took place this year from March 2-5, 2003 in Las Vegas. This was an opportunity for the photographic industry to display its latest offerings — the products that you and I will be buying (or at least coveting) in the months ahead. Other than Photokina, which only takes place every 2 years, this is the international photographic show.

This report features selected brief product announcement and links as they became available. Most web sites seem to focus on digital developments almost exclusively. Here I tried to cover non-digital products as well. I did not specifically cover the 2,312 new digicam models that were announced, but I gave emphasis to new digital SLRs that appeared.

I attended the show only briefly, on March 3rd and 4th, so most of the information posted here was from online sources.

March 4, 2003 — final report

I spent yesterday afternoon at the PMA show in Las Vegas. I was interesting in reporting on the non-digital products at the show, because it appears that there is no one reporting on this on the Net. Lots of coverage of the umpteen new digicams announced this week (you wouldn't believe how many there are — or maybe you would), and nary a word online about new non-digital products.

Well, I have to tell you, there simply aren't that many. The action is in digital, and even there, with the exception of the products that I've already reported on here in the past few days, there isn't all that much of great interest. So here are my observations of what caught my eye at the show. Certainly not inclusive, and definitely not objective.

In no particular order here's an irreverent look at what I found to be interesting...

— The Pentax *ist D is small and nicely designed. I predict that it's going to be a huge hit with folks that own the hundreds of thousands of Pentax lenses out there and who are ready to make the move to digital. Pentax says summer delivery and I expect that the price will be competitive. But, the name is still dumb.

— The Olympus Four Thirds prototype didn't impress. Still behind glass and clunky looking. Sorry, but I just don't get it. I predict that Four Thirds will be as big a dud as its name. There also appears to be no support for the format from anyone other than Olympus.

— The Kodak 14N was on display, with some impressive sample images as well. Why Kodak can't get their act together to put these files online is beyond me. As for the camera itself, it still looks like it was assembled by dwarfs from a spare parts bin. Bulbous and clunky. But, that says nothing about its capabilties or image quality, which still remain to be seen. I hope to have a production test camera soon and a chance to give you a field review and comparison report.

— The Canon 10D looks and feels like a D60, except better. If the street price is close to $1,500 (as expected) and Canon can ship in quantity (which they couldn't do with the D60) it's my guess that this camera will be a huge seller and will set the pace for the rest of the industry for the rest of 2003.

Nikon. To everyone's surprise and disappointment Nikon showed nothing new in terms of digital SLRs. The D1x and D1h are getting long in the tooth and the D100 is under price pressure. No doubt there will be new cameras from Nikon in the months ahead, but for whatever reason Nikon missed the spring marketing window, and it's got to hurt.

Leica. The M6 has been discontinued. Why am I not surprised?

Epson has announced the availability in May of Ultra Smooth Fine Fine Art Paper. This is a PH neutral all rag paper that looks like it will be the paper that fine art printers have been waiting for to use with Ultrachrome inks in the 2200, 7600 an 9600 Epson printers. I have some sample paper and will have my preliminary impressions online the week of March 10th.

Piezography BW. I saw examples of prints made with the new system for both Canon and Epson and am very impressed. I'll have a test report as soon as possible, likely by mid-March.

Phase One has announced the immediate availability of the remarkable Capture One software for the Canon 1D and 1Ds for Macintosh and for the Nikon D1X and D100 under Windows.

Hasselblad was not at the show. Among all of the major companies in the photographic industry they are the only ones I noticed that didn't have a booth. Yery curious. I wonder why.

Overall Impressions: It needs to be remembered that PMA is a "trade" show, which means that it's attended by manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, volume customers and the media. As such it is a good place to gauge the state of the industry. After some hours roaming the halls of the cavernous Las Vegas Convention Center looking at products and chatting with various people I have to say that the industry appears vital. Clearly the main action is in the area of digicams. There are more new models from more manufacturers than any one person can absorb. Sales are huge in this area, and growing.

Film isn't quite dead. Fuji, with its introduction of Velvia 100F and Astia 100F has provided photographers with some fantastic new tools, and I hope to test them as soon as I receive samples. 35mm film cameras are showing life in the low end with new offerings by Pentax and Canon. I wouldn't expect to see many, or even any new mid-to-high-end film SLRs in future. If you want a top Nikon, Canon, Minolta or other fine 35mm film-based SLR now is the time to buy one. I'm not saying that they'll disappear from the shelves any time soon, just that we shouldn't expect any significant new models, ever.

Medium format appears to be moribund. The only company with anything new recently has been Hasselblad, and they were a no-show in Las Vegas. Otherwise my sense is that pro photographers, who are the primary purchasers of MF gear, are either switching to 35mm digital or focusing on MF digital backs for their existing equipment. There's a lot of buzz about a slow down in MF camera sales and lots of available of used MF gear on ebay. Because of the glut of used equipment coming on the market this is a great time to buy used if you think you're going to want to stick with MF film.

35mm digital SLRs is the hot topic. With street prices being forced down to the $1,500 range by Canon's 10D we can expect both new entrants (like the Pentax *ist D, and existing cameras like the Nikon D100 to be forced into this price point soon. My guess is that entry level DSLRs will be under $1,000 by this time next year.

Darkroom gear was essentially nonexistent at the show and I saw almost nothing in the way of large format equipment. LF appears to have become a specialty (though still strong) market segment.

One final thought. The PMA show is now called an "imaging", not a "photography" show. Says something about where we're going.

March 2, 2003

Today sees the opening of the PMA show in Las Vegas. I will be updating this report throughout the day as information becomes available.

Cone Editions will be announcing a New PiezographyBW system for Canon printers. Most interestingly this new system will not use proprietary printer drivers, software, or file formats. Cone will also announce that they will be bringing out a PiezographyBW using pigment-based inks for Canon printers, specifically the s950i, s900, s9000, s830, s820, s800, BJC-8200. The cost of a system with 6 ink cartridges, a library of ICC profiles and 20 sheets of ass't paper will be $195. Given the speed of Canon's printers this is a fascinating announcement. Let's hope that the head clogging problems of old have been licked.

Lexar Media has announced two new high capacity CompactFlash cards in 2MB and 4MB sizes. The 2GB card will be Type I and expected to retail in March for $699.99. The 4GB card will be Type II and is expected to ship in the 2nd quarter for $1,499.99. Hitachi (who now make Microdrives after taking over IBM's hard drive business) have indicated previously that they will have a 4GB Microdrive available this Fall. It should be noted that cards of 2GB and over can only work in new cameras that utilize FAT 32 file systems. Also, I am currently wary of such high capacity cards because it means putting an awful lot of potentially valuable images in one postage stamp sized basket. A 4GB card can hold between 400 and 1000 images large RAW images; the equivalent of 10 to 30 rolls of film. Worth thinking about.

LetsGODigital has a small photo report on the Pentax *ist D. (Pronounced asteriskistd or staristd or dumbestd, as you wish). Even though the show has just opened, and there may be other contenders, I've decided to award this camera the 1st Annual Luminous Landscape Stupid Product Name Award.

DPReview is providing the first reports of the Olympus' Four Thirds system digital SLR camera, lenses and accessories. The body appears to be physically very similar to the existing Olympus E20. No details yet on chip type, resolution, price, availability or any of the other things that potential customers might want to know. (I am told that it will be the second half of the year until the camera ships. Too little, too late?) I still have my doubts about this new format but at least Olympus appears to be following through with its plans for a production camera system. We'll see if any of the other companies (Kodak & Fuji) that announced their support for Four Thirds six months ago at Photokina also commit to the proposed standard with real product offerings. Additional press release information can be found at Imaging Resource. Incidently, Four Thirds gets the runner-up award in the Stupid Product Name contest.

There are now some additional Pentax *ist D pictures of the latest prototype at LetsGODigital as well as more pictures of the Olympus Four Thirds prototype.

Fuji's new 20.8MP Super-CCD digital back was announced last week, but here are some photographs and additional information. Imaging Resource gives us a further look at the Pentax *ist D.

Feb 27, 2003

The Canon EOS 10D (the successor to the D60), was announced today. This DSLR appears to offer a significant upgrade to the features of its predecessor, but at a reduced price. It will be available next month for less then U.S. $2,000 and likely closer to $1,500 once the initial rush by early adopters is over. I am also told by industry insiders that unlike with the D60 there will not be any shortages. Canon's new CMOS chip fabrication plant is now up to speed and there will be no supply constraints.

A preview look is now available at Steve's Digicams, where you can read all the specs, and also at DPReview. I am planning a hands-on review of a production camera and a field comparison between the Canon D60 and 10D in a few weeks.

On the Kodak DCS 14N front, Kodak has announced that shipments will finally start next week, nearly six months after the camera was first announced at Photokina. Retail price will be just under U.S. $5,000. Interestingly Kodak has also stated that the camera will ship even though there remain a few loose ends, which they expect to fix with a downloadable firmware upgrade in the days ahead. I expect to have a review sample for testing and to be able to provide a Canon 1Ds vs. Kodak 14n review some time later in March.

Feb 26, 2003

Pentax will be dropping the other shoe this coming weekend when PMA opens, with the announcement of the *ist D. The site LetsGODigital has scooped everyone with the first detailed report on this new DSLR. A few days ago Pentax announced the film-based *ist and now the cat's out of the bag about the digital version.

The main points are that the camera will take almost all existing Pentax lenses; has a 6.1 Megapixel chip; 2.7 FPS frame rate; 11 point Autofocus; takes CompactFlash cards (including Microdrives); and uses 4 AA batteries. No price has yet been announced but availability is in the June / July time frame.

The only thing wrong with it appears to be the name — in my opinion the stupidest moniker ever given to a consumer product. When you walk into a store, what do you ask for? "Could I look at an asteriskist please?" Nice going Pentax.

Feb 25, 2003

Want to see what Canon's new EOS 10D looks like? Have a look here. It will be announced at PMA next weekend.

Feb 21, 2003

It was announced a few days ago but I thought I'd mention it now for those that missed the big news. Pentax has announced a new, small yet full-featured 35mm SLR. So what you say? Well, the big news is the name. It's called the *ist. Now, the next time you're in a camera store ask to see one — if you can pronounce it. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this really has to be the stupidest product name that I've seen in a while.

Feb 20, 2003

Anyone working with a digital camera has to face the choice of the convenience of shooting in JPG format vs. the higher image quality yet reduced convenience of working with RAW files. No longer. Adobe has now shipped Camera Raw, a plug in for Photoshop that works with virtually every manufacturer's RAW file format on the market. It seamlessly integrates within Photoshop's file browser and provides ease of use and image quality unavailable with virtually any other product. You can find out more and download the plug-in (the cost is $99) from Adobe's web site. My hands-on review is also now online.

Be aware though that at the moment only people with U.S. or Canadian addresses can download the product. Come on Adobe — it's a small world. Get used to it! You're upsetting a lot of people in other countries. Why are they being excluded?

Fujifilm has issued their pre-PMA press announcements. For those still shooting film there are two new ones, Velvia 100F Professional and Astia 100F. Imagine — ISO 100 Velvia!

For the digerati in the audience Fujifilm will announce the development of a new medium format digital camera back. The back is equipped with Fujifilm's newly developed 20.8 million total pixels Super CCD with a 52 x 37 mm size chip capable of producing 41 million recorded pixels. No word yet on which cameras will be supported, but I would be surprised if the new Hasselblad H1, which Fuji makes, isn't the first.

Feb. 19, 2003

LetsGoDigital is a site that focuses on digicams, so if you are interest in the torrent of new product announcements in this area this is a good site to visit over the next few weeks.

Nikon has announced a new VR (Vibration Reduction) lens, the 24 - 120 mm AF-S VR F3.5 - F5.6G. This is a consumer grade lens comparable to Canon's 28-135mm IS. Note that this is a "G" series lens, which means that it does not have an external aperture ring and therefore it is not compatible with older Nikon bodies.


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Concepts: Digital single-lens reflex camera, Single-lens reflex camera, Camera, Nikon, Digital camera, CompactFlash, Fujifilm, Digital photography

Entities: Las Vegas, Canon, Pentax, Nikon, Kodak, Fujifilm, Adobe, Phase One, ebay, Lexar Media, Hitachi, IBM, Minolta, U.S., PMA, Steve's Digicams, Convention Center, Ultrachrome, CMOS, Windows, Michael Reichmann, Epson, Hasselblad, Piezography BW, D1X, D100, SLRs, SLR, Hasselblad H1, Photoshop, VR F3.5

Tags: cameras, pentax *ist d, show, Four Thirds, digital, Las Vegas, digital slr, Nikon, Olympus Four Thirds, report, Kodak, non-digital products, image, cards, image quality, Pentax lenses, Stupid Product Name, canon 1ds, Thirds prototype, Canon printers, production camera, new digicams, digital camera, 35mm, web site, industry, digital back, new models, street prices, new cameras, MF gear, file format, photographic industry, CompactFlash cards, new digital slrs, medium format, digital slr camera, Canon EOS 10D, MF camera sales, high capacity