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Photokina 2012 : A game-changing year ? Feedback from the Photokina fair by Harold GLIT September 20, 2012

A man admiring some of the outstanding images of Steve Mc Curry in the LEICA Gallery space

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A FEW PRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS WARNING : NO PICTURES ALLOWED :( Photographers , especially those of the outdoor type , knows that one important part of their equipment is their SHOES. Covering the Photokina fair in Germany , is no different. Photokina happens only once every other year, but when it does there is A LOT of ground to cover. This year , because of new technology advancements , it seems clear that there was a palpable excitement in many of the photographers communities and internet forums. The second and third part of this report will cover some specific models that I have handled ( Leica M, ME,M monochrome, Sigma DP2m, Olympus XZ-2, PANASONIC GH3, ..) but I guess that the first reaction after discovering new products when you are not part of the large site review teams is that there is not that much “REAL STUFF” to see. The rush to Photokina seems once again to see manufacturers overwhelmed. Here is a short list of products that SONY RX1 : Announced just a few days ago , but presented under glass display only OLYMPUS XZ-2 : final product but not allowed to shoot images with because again camera firmware is “not ready”. LUNAR from Hasselblad : Prototype only . CANON EOS-M : this product was announced several weeks ago but yet , you could only handle the product as this was supposed still to be a prototype. NIKON coolpix 7700 : this model along with other coolpix models was displayed in a way that you could not introduce a card to shoot . I also could not help noticing that while cheaper compacts were tied sometime very close to their stand so that you could almost not bring them to eye level while on the LEICA booth you could walk around a little bit with a $10,000 outfit.


The Two big winners of the fair

There are several companies that brought exciting new products to this fair.Nikon two latest DSLR’s are going to be big no doubt but the D800 is not technically a new product and the D600 had been leaked on the internet for the last few months so the surprise was not there. I think that Sony and Leica for different reasons are some of the big winners of the fairs . Here is why : SONY IS EVERYWHERE !! Maybe it is just me but this Photokina (and the previous weeks before it) gave me the impression that SONY is making giant steps in the digital photography industry. It seems that with a few notable exceptions ( Leica M , Sigma DP) many of the most talked-about new cameras feature either a Sony sensor or a “Sony-tweaked by the manufacturer” sensor. Then ,a few days before the fair there was an announcement that SONY will be investing capital in Olympus corporation along with the fact that the successful OMD EM-5 is said to be the first m4/3 rds camera equipped with a SONY sensor. Sony had also several new products to introduce or to show for the first time ( sony RX100 and Rx1 , Sony 99) In addition , recent announcements of SCHNEIDER KREUZNACH and ZEISS clearly show that the NEX system is going to be the main mount for independent manufacturers for mirorrless systems ( some could argue that maybe it is because it is the system which needs new lenses the most) Of course , there is also the just launched LUNAR system at Hasselblad for which SONY is clearly finishing a lot of the inside components. There is some talk about having some other mounts in the future but for now the LUNAR system is only available for Sony E-mount ( NEX cameras) and Sony A-mount ( sony DSLR’s)


That said , any visitor at the Photokina could not be impressed by the ominous presence of Leica which occupied the hall 1 by itself . It is worth mentioning that Leica space include a very vast gallery hall with some exhibit of some of the best Photographers in the world ( Steve Mc Curry , Elliot Erwitt to name a few... )

LEICA IS BACK !! For those of you who remembered only a few years back the financial pressure at Leica , a visit at the HUGE Photokina booth and the number of new products ( THREE new or very recent Leica M, an updated version of the S medium format camera, a few rebadging of some Panasonic P&S), Leica is definitely on the right track. Leica is a perfect example of how the German industry is taking over the other industrial countries in Europe). More importantly , Leica with the new M ( no more numbers for which would have otherwise been the M10) has really caught up with modern technologies ( if one had said a year ago that the new M would have live view and a video button , who would have believed it ??). That being said , I admit that if money was no object , the most appealing camera to me at the fair is the Leica Monochrome ( I call it Leica MM). The files that I have seen at the fair and elsewhere are the most beautiful and film-like digital files that I have ever seen. at 2500 ISO , it looks like a TRI-X film pushed to 800 ISO ( for those of you who know what a Tri-X is). Yes , despite for my well-publicized aversion for 3;2 image ratio only and despite the fact that 40mm focal length ( my favorite focal length EVER) , I find myself craving for a Leica MM. By allowing the use of R lenses on the new M , and creating the M and the update of the S line , LEICA proved again that it can be receptive to change without compromising their heritage .


THE SEARCH FOR THE PERFECT CARRY-EVERYWHERE COMPACT :

SONY RX 100 : A matter of personal preference ? I readily admit that I do not quite get all the hype about this new camera. I have read here and there somme comments about the camera that I find , how should I say , very puzzling. While there is no doubt that the one inch sensor should allow better IQ than the 1/1.7” sensor , this is only one part of the equation. The fact remains that all the 1/1.7” cameras that came out lately ( see hereunder ) seem much more appropriate tools for serious photographers who want to control the settings on their camera. the RX100 is small but feels very flimsy too me . Yes, third party grip will improve the handling but , contrary to what I have read , the user interface is not on par with the one of the XZ-2 , Coolpix 7700 or even Panasonic LX7. OLYMPUS XZ-2 : the perfect carry-everywhere point and shoot ? This camera is one of the good surprises I had at the fair. There is a tendency for most brands in the compact camera industry to multiply the number of models and to replace a lot of them. I think there are a very significant advantage for the end-user to see a model being improved and refined instead of replaced by a different one. the XZ-1 got some praise when it was introduced at the beginning of last year thanks to a very bright and very sharp zoom. But , despite the good quality of a lens , the camera standard noise reduction was hurting the quality of the jpeg’s. Of course , once can concentrate on shooting RAW only but after all , Olympus is otherwise known for the quality of the jpeg’s. the camera was also not as customizable , not even offering direct access to ISO setting. the new camera does not only correct all of that but allows users of PEN cameras to enjoy the comfort of a similar user interface with the notable addition of the Super Control Panel ( this SCP is deactivated by default like on the OMD but is easy enough to turn on). The REC button is NOT assignable to another function but its location should prevent any accidental activation.


NIKON Coolpix 7700 : Coolpix reaches maturity level I have to admit that in the past any announcement of a new Coolpix compact camera would just induce a yawn in me . Coolpix were underachiever cameras , sometime just trying to copy a Canon compact. the 7700 finally breaks that cycle and seems the first Nikon compact that kind of makes sense. There is nothing revolutionary in the sensor but the camera appeal is obvious nonetheless. Well laid out dials allow the photographer to keep in control of the settings . the camera has a very nice matte black finish and is VERY comfortable to hold in the hands. the swivel LCD is a plus. Unfortunately , there is no optional EVF which is going to be an issue on sunny days . This is too bad because with an optional EVF the Nikon could probably be a serious contender in best small P&S of the moment. there are several newly announced so-called “expert cameras” with a 1/1.7” or similar sensor ( Panasonic LX7 and its Leica clone the D6, Olympus Xz-2, Canon S110 and Canon G15 ) and it is going to be important to see how serious sites determine the image quality of each of those new players. I am fully aware that the highlight is going to compare with the Sony RX100 but despite the somewhat larger sensor of the RX100 , I strongly feel that ANY of the five cameras listed above will constitute a better tools for photograhers than the trendy RX100 FUJI EX-1 : Fuji X line-up gets a new addition At the Fuji booth , of course most eyes were on the new Ex-1 which is basically a significantly smaller X PRO 1 without the hybrid viewfinder . the EVF only Ex-1 allows the camera to be cheaper and more compact and should therefore be successful. Maybe Fuji will get the time to continue to fix some of the oddities of the user interface.


ON THE DSLR’s FRONT :

Of course , there were several important new DSLR ‘s introductions. For DSLR the focus was on 35mm sensors ( often referred as “full-frame” elsewhere). The much-leaked D600 was displayed for the first time .so of course Canon had to bring one to compete head to head with Nikon and introduced the EOS 6D. I readily confess to have very little interest for 35mm sensors DSLRs . As a photographer who is flying very frequently , such camera sysytems and the size of lenses that they request make little sense to me when one stops to consider the quality of current APS and similarly-sized sensors. No doubt that the D600 will constitute a very interesting for many either as a main body or as a back up body for D800/ D800e owners.. I was able to handle the D600 with the new 24-85mm zoom ( which is the lens I would get if I were to get a D600) . I was very surprised how “chunky” is the camera grip. While the D800 is heavier , it felt more comfortable in the hands than the D600. I would have a VERY hard time getting used to the handling of the camera. I am 5’10” and average-sized hands so photographers with large hands may like the way the D600 handles and this is why I would like to re-iterate again how important it is for any buyer to try to handle the camera before purchase and not rely on specs sheets or tests. I noticed that chunky grip also , but to a lesser extent , with the new SONY SLT A99 but I probably could get used to it if this was my primary system. What is also obvious when handling the A99 is how much better the EVF are getting . the A99 not only offers a high resolution but you can adjust the contrast. this provides a level of comfort that the NEX6 does not provide even if they technically have the same resolution That excitement over 35mm sensors may have caused some to miss the refreshed PENTAX K5 II and K5 IIs over the PENTAX RICOH booth. While these two cameras are realtively modest updates of the already excellent K5 , they are said to provide faster and better autofocus and for the K5IIs a camera with no alias filter which combined with the outstanding 16 MP sony sensor in it should provide great results in a compact weather-sealed camera.


MISSED OPPORTUNITIES AND OTHER ODDITIES

As always , when you get a chance to handle new products , you get a chance to compare what’s out there . Everyone knows that the photo market is highly competitive but I am very often reminded that often the worse enemy of any camera manufacturer’s is itself. In other words , I am more than once puzzled how so many times manufacturers can sc... their own products. This will be the object of several articles in my coming blog but for now lets look at some of the indio syncrasies of the fair

SIGMA DP2M : they did WHAT ? This is , for me , the most misguided introduction of this fair . As someone very involved in street photography , I grew very fond of the Sigma DP2 latest iterations ( DP2S and DP2X). Yes, the camera writing times were slow , the LCD was horrendous and the file size and resolution at 5MP did not allow for large prints. But with an external 40mm optical viewfinder and its amazing focus wheel on the back it could also be the quickest most obtrusive camera with a large sensor for street photography. I can say that I got some pictures with the DP2X that I probably could not have captured with ANY other digital cameras on the market So when I heard that a new Sigma DP was coming with a true 15MP sensor of the same camera along with an updated LCD display , I got very excited. Alas, my excitement was very short -lived. Forget the fact that Sigma decided to change the actual focal length equivalent of the camera from a 41mm to a 45mm making the use of an external OVF less accurate ( I am quite certain that there are NO 45mm OVF on the market). In a surprising and silly move , Sigma decided to leave out the manual focus wheel on the back of the camera. There are of course no distance markings on the lens and therefore you are forced to use the LCD if you want to manually focus. SIGMA is a niche market manufacturer and despite the excellent image quality that the FOVEON sensor will provide at normal ISO settings , I doubt that it will gain new enough entrylevel or more casual users. Therefore for Sigma to already shoots itself in the foot by alienating part of its customer base is a rather counter-productive move.


RICOH booth : Nothing to declare As most of you know , the RICOH company acquired PENTAX a few months back so they now have a joined booth. It is unclear what influence this take-over has on new products introduction but for GXR and GRD users the lack of ANY new introductions is certainly disappointing. Shortly after the GXR launch , Ricoh had pledged to two new modules a year and they are not meeting their promises , not by a LONG shot. That being said , it is true that RICOH likes to follow his own logic for introductions . The brand popularity is especially strong in Japan and other Asian countries so there is a possibility that something new will be launched by the end of the year OLYMPUS new lenses : Why make it simple when..

LUNAR from HASSELBLAD : bling-bling Alert ! The styling of the camera looks like the kind of drawing concepts which are never produced.This is at the prototype stage ; even the electronic viewfinder is not the final one.No need to make the suspense longer . this new “hasselblad� is just a NEX with lots of custom fittings for the handle . It accepts E mount lenses (NEX) or A sony lenses if you want to show off even more by fitting this camera with a huge lens . The estimated price for the camera body is set at $6,700. No doubt that it will appeal to some wealthy people in China , Russia and other markets


CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

As outlined in this report, I was a little bit disappointed to get more hands-on with several of the new products . In the coming weeks , I intend to get more information on the new compacts with the new generation of backlit 1/1.7� sensor for a new article . I plan to test also some of the new lenses for the Olympus OMD and chiefly the 60mm macro.I also intend to write on some of the accessories ( bags chiefly) that I saw at the fair. Stay tuned

Photokina 2012  

A review by Harold

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