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  1. #1
    Captain of the Ship Photo-John's Avatar
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    Aug 2001
    Salt Lake City, Utah, United States

    2005 PMA Report Wrap-Up

    2005 PMA Tradeshow Report
    Orlando, FL - February 20-23

    PMA 2005

    PMA is a big show. I had about 30 hours to see digital cameras and other photo gear from 750 exhibitors, spread out over hundreds of thousands of square feet of Orlando's Orange County Convention Center. Trying to condense it into one easily digestible article is impossible. But it has to be done. Every year I go to PMA looking for a theme to write about. I want to spot some unnoticed new technology or identify an important new trend. This year, I almost missed it. It's been right under my nose for the past year. Actually, it was in my pocket - it's the camera phone. But more on that later. First, let me fill you in on all the new digital cameras and other photo goodies you've been so patiently waiting for me to spill about.

    New Cameras and Accessories

    Digital SLRs
    Thanks to press releases on our news page and requests from the community, I had a list of new camera equipment to check out when I got to the show. Here are some of the highlights.

    Top of the list were the new digital SLRs from Nikon and Canon. Nikon introduced their third generation sports and photojournalism digital SLR, the D2Hs. Some key improvements over the D2H are a new processing engine for lower noise and better image quality, faster capture rate of 8 frames-per-second for up to 50 frames - in JPEG or NEF RAW; 3D-Color Matrix Metering II; faster and more accurate 11-point auto focus; wi-fi compatibility with the optional Nikon Wireless Transmitter WT-2/2A; and a beautiful new 2.5-inch LCD display.

    PMA was also my first chance to see Nikon's new flagship digital SLR, the 12.4 megapixel D2X. It was announced at Photokina, last September. But it's actually shipping now and it was nice to see it in person and get my hands on one. Nikon's pro DSLRs are noticeably lighter than Canon's pro models, plus they have wonderful, big, bright LCD displays.

    Canon upped the ante for entry-level digital SLRs with the new, 8 megapixel EOS Digital Rebel XT. The Rebel XT body is already available, for $899, if you can find a dealer that has one in stock. The DIGIC II processor-equipped Digital Rebel is much faster than its predecessor. It has a faster start-up time and can shoot 14 frames at 3 frames-per-second in RAW, JPEG, or RAW+JPEG. Auto focus, power-consumption, and flash exposure have also been improved. The Digital Rebel XT also features a USB 2.0 high-speed interface for 10X faster file transfers when saving to the computer.

    I was really excited to see Leica's R system, "the analogue-digital system," which converts to a digital SLR when the film back is replaced with the R-Digital-Modul - a replacement camera back featuring a 10 megapixel Kodak CCD. At $5000 for the back alone, it's definitely on the high, high end of the market. But it's great to see a company with such historical significance bring a digital camera of this caliber to the market. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with the M-Digital rangefinder that's in development.

    Orlando was also my first opportunity to see the current SLRs from Fujifilm, Olympus, Pentax, and Konica Minolta. Two standouts are the Olympus Evolt E-300 and the Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D, with its Anti-Shake CCD. The Olympus Evolt E-300 and the Four-Thirds format is about lens size. The beauty of the system is that the Four-Thirds sensor requires a smaller image circle from lenses. That allows Olympus to make fast, long lenses that are much smaller than 35mm photographers are used to. They even introduced three new, f/2.0 lenses at the show. The E-300 is even smaller than the E-1, with 1/3 more resolution. It capitalizes on what was best in the E-1 and takes it a step farther.

    Just to keep things fair to film lovers, I have to mention the Nikon F6. It may be the last pro 35mm film camera to make into production. I admit I didn't give it much attention. But it was there, it looks and feels great, and you've gotta give Nikon credit for having the guts to bring out a $2000 35mm film camera with digital technology being so firmly established.

    Compact Digital Cameras
    There were way too many new compact digital cameras for me to list here. But you can check the 2005 PMA photo gallery to see photos and details on most of them. In this report I'd like to talk about Casio and Panasonic. Both companies are known for their electronics, with cameras being a seeming sideline. However, for the past couple of years, Casio and Panasonic have been using their electronic design and user interface expertise to develop and deliver exceptional compact digital cameras.

    Casio, in particular, stood out for me this year. Their Exilim Pro EX-P700 won a DIMA Award for image quality and the whole Exilim line is polished, with great image quality, design, feel, and features. There were lots of nice compact digital cameras at the show. But if I could only steal one, it would have been a Casio. I particularly like the EX-Z750, a 7-megapixel camera with a 2.5-inch LCD, in the classic, super-thin, Exilim style. Also notable is the new EX-Z57, a five-megapixel camera with a HUGE 2.7-inch LCD. But it's the 7 megapixel Exilim EX-P700 I already mentioned that really makes my heart go pitter-pat. It's a solid contender amongst all the prosomer compacts out there, with a 4x Canon optical zoom lens, full manual exposure controls, a live histogram, and a bunch of other serious features. It could be my new main backpack and glove compartment camera. I'm scheming to get one from Casio so I can test it out. Stay tuned...

    Panasonic has had cameras on the Top Ten list for a solid two years. They've started to build a great reputation with serious photographers. And their partnership with Leica gives them a lot of credibility. Their camera designs, Leica lenses, and image stabilization have made their compact cameras among the best. At a PMA press conference they casually mentioned that they were planning a digital SLR. That was recently confirmed when an announcement was made about a new partnership between Olympus and Panasonic with plans for new digital SLRs from both companies.

    The proliferation and application of wireless technology continues - now with cameras and printers. I predict that within two years, most of us will be transferring images to our computers, printers, or directly to the Web, via some sort of wireless connection. Nikon and Canon both have wireless systems that allow digital SLRs to transmit image files directly from a digital SLR to a computer, Kodak introduced the EasyShare One compact digital, which has an optional WiFi card available, and Wi-Pics introduced a system that allows any camera to transmit wirelessly via the CompactFlash card slot and a transmitter worn on the photographer's belt. There are also numerous printers with some form of optional wireless connectivity - usually Bluetooth. It looks like cables are going the way of the floppy disc.

    Color Management
    If you're brand new to digital or you've been living in a cave, you might not know anything about color management. ColorVision and X-Rite both had new, comprehensive, out-of-the box, monitor calibration systems. I thought both company's previous systems were good. But ColorVision and X-Rite claim that the new systems are easier to use, less expensive, and deliver better results. So if you're having trouble getting predictable color from printers or on other people's computers, consider investing in the ColorVision Spyder2 Plus($269) or X-Rite's MonacoOPTIX ($249). If you're serious about your photography, this should be a basic investment, like a 70-200mm zoom lens or good photo editing software. It's unrealistic to expect good image quality without good color management. And monitor calibration is the first step towards correct, consistent color.

    Software is one of the more interesting areas of digital photography development. Since the digital camera technology curve has started to flatten, people are a bit less interested in new cameras and more interested in what to do with them and how to best handle their image files. Software is the answer. There are three software packages I saw at PMA that I think you should know about. The first is a batch processing application called Photo-D. The second is the wonderful image management system, Picasa, which Google offers for free. And the third, and most exciting to me, is a peer-to-peer photo sharing application called PiXPO.

    Photo-D, from Israeli software developer, KlearVision digital, comes in three versions and can be used to batch process digital images. What makes it different is that it evaluates each image separately, based on sophisticated algorithms that look at images like a human being would. It brightens, adjusts color, contrast, sharpness, and includes a red eye removal tool. Good images get left alone, and only the ones that need help are adjusted. The Pro version has a Hot Folder feature for complete drag and drop automation. It's already used in many photo labs to speed up the printing process and cut down on redos. I've played with it a bit and was surprised to discover that I was happy with the adjustments the software made. And I'm pretty picky. Generally, I adjust every image I use, separately. Having a batch-processing program that comes even close to replicating the time-consuming work I do on my own is a Godsend. I intend to play with this some more. And if it works as well as I hope, I will probably start using it for all event photos I post on the Web. I believe it could save me hours of photo processing time for each event I shoot.

    I'm very excited about a new photo sharing system called PiXPO. It was created by software developers who left ACD Systems. What makes PiXPO different is it uses peer-to-peer technology (like music-sharing networks) that allows photographers to share and browse digital images at the hard drive level. Using PiXPO, you can grant other PiXPO users permission to view images in a directory on your own computer. And I can look at those images anywhere I have Internet access. The photos don't have to be uploaded to another Website and the designers have built a system that's incredibly flexible and powerful.

    Picasa isn't new. But it's interesting for a few reasons. One - it's a beautifully designed and wonderfully functional image management application. Two, Google bought the company last year and started giving away the software for free. Three - Picasa has a "sister" application caller Hello that's a neat way to share photos. Google had a booth at PMA where they were showing and giving away Picasa 2.0. I hadn't used Picasa for a while so I loaded the new version on my laptop and it's just as fast, pretty, and functional as I remember. They've also added a bunch of new and easy to use image adjustment tools. It's a very compelling software package and it will be giving other image editing and management software a run for their money. Ohhhh, but Picasa is free and they're not?

    Other Stuff
    There's a lot of cool stuff at PMA besides cameras. Here are a few accessories I think you should know about. There's the new Basalt tripod line from Gitzo. The Basalt tripod is constructed from fiber made from volcanic rock. It's lighter and has better vibration dampening characteristics than aluminum but costs considerably less than carbon fiber. Kata, a camera bag manufacturer from Israel, got their start making bullet-proof vests. They use molded nylon to make semi-armored camera cases that are different from anything else I've ever seen. They were showing a new backpack and journalists shoulder bag. The backpack, in particular, had great features for serious outdoor photographers, at a very reasonable $150. And since we're on the subject of cases and different, I also want to mention Crumpler. Their irreverent marketing and fresh camera bag designs are a nice counterpoint to the somewhat conservative photographic industry. A company called Treasure Knit makes photo blankets. At first I thought they were silly. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. Photo blankets make the most sense for portrait, school, and sports photographers who are looking for new ways to sell reprints. But they would also make great gifts for family members or friends. I think it's a creative and fun product.

    There's one new lens I'd like to mention. It's Sigma's new 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM. On digital SLRs with APS-sized sensors, the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is comparable to the classic 50mm f/1.4 lens - what we used to call a normal lens, before everyone started using zooms. It's simple, fast, compact, and a very thoughtful addition to Sigma's lens offerings.

    Every major camera manufacturer at PMA had an aquarium to show off their digital camera underwater housings. With the current crop of compact digital cameras and underwater housings, it's relatively easy to take good underwater photos. Simply choose a high-resolution compact digital camera with an underwater housing and an underwater scene mode and you can be fairly confident of getting good quality underwater photos, regardless of your experience.

    The Camera Phone-omenon

    Maybe you haven't noticed, but camera phones are taking over. If you're a "serious" photographer (read: snob), like me, you might be trying to ignore them. That would be a mistake. At the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), in January, Samsung announced they were working on a 6-megapixel camera phone. That's when I knew I needed to pay attention. At PMA, my feelings were confirmed. Camera phones, wireless, and camera phone-related products were everywhere. They weren't the focus of the show. But when I really paid attention, it became clear that camera phones were the most important product category at the 2005 PMA show. Don't understand? Let me tell you why.

    The camera phone market is huge. It dwarfs the regular digital camera business. Last year, Nokia sold more cameras than any other company. The cameras they sold were built into mobile phones. It's hard to buy a cell phone without a camera in it, now. And there's a whole new generation that isn't saddled with preconceptions about what a camera should look like and how good the image quality should be. Does it really matter if I can print it at 8x10 when I only want a quick, fun picture to share on the Internet with my friends? Camera phones make it easy to always have a camera in your pocket. That's what makes them so compelling.

    Right now camera phones aren't competitive in terms of image quality. But they'll be there before we know it. With a huge market, easy accessibility, and convenience, camera phones will draw the majority of R&D and manufacturing money. And since camera phones require smaller sensors and lenses, the R&D required to make them into quality imaging devices is going to be considerable. The direction of technology is going to change. The design advances that come from camera phones will likely trickle up into more serious photography equipment. Camera phones have already become the new driver in digital imaging technology. What happens in camera phones will benefit the future digital SLR owner. If not directly, then because the company designing camera phone sensors will have that experience and money to put into larger, professional quality sensors.

    PMA 2005 - Camera Phones


    The most interesting things for me in Orlando were digital camera software and the camera phone phenomenon. We don't need to be sold on digital camera quality any more. We believe. Most of us (at least the ones reading this report) already have cameras we're happy with. We're interested in products and ideas that will help us get more out of the cameras and digital photos we already have. The best way to do that is software that helps us better manage, process, and share our digital photos. I'm very curious to see how camera phones and software progress over the next year.

        -- the end --

    Last edited by Photo-John; 01-26-2006 at 07:14 PM.

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  2. #2
    Captain of the Ship Photo-John's Avatar
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    More PMA Links

    Before we lose track of them, I wanted to include these important PMA links:

    PMA 2005 Gallery >>

    Original PMA 2005 Discussion >>

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