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    2006 PMA Tradeshow - Final Report

    The 2006 Photo Marketing Tradeshow (PMA) took place at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. Over 20,000 people attended the show and there were over 600 exhibitors showing new cameras, lenses, printers, and other photography-related products and services. PMA 2006 also had digital camera and printer shoot-outs, an exhibition of photos from students and teachers all over the world, a scrapbooking section, a custom framing area, and a wireless imaging pavilion.

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    PMA 2006 - Final Report

    2006 PMA Final Report
    Innovation and Consolidation
    by Photo-John

    The keywords at this year's PMA were innovation and consolidation. Camera manufacturers are offering real innovation in digital camera design rather than just marketing more megapixels. And there's consolidation among companies in the camera manufacturing business with a notable trend toward partnerships between traditional camera makers and consumer electronics companies. One of the results of this consolidation is the apparent coming of age of the Four Thirds digital SLR system, with two important manufacturers joining Olympus in the Four Thirds System partnership. Overall, PMA felt more positive than the last few years with exhibitors showing products aimed at helping photographers solve real problems, rather than hyping features and specs that don't necessarily deliver better photos.

    Camera manufacturers appear to have finally given up on pushing megapixels and decided make cameras that help people take better pictures. It's about time. Really, they could have done this a couple of years ago - at least with compact digital cameras. Most point-and-shoot photographers will benefit more from cameras with quicker response time and less noise at high ISO settings. And that's what we saw at PMA - digital cameras with features to address real problems like low-light photography, camera-shake, image-sharing, and improved camera controls.

    Almost every major camera maker now offers image stabilization in some of their compact digital cameras and most have increased sensitivity with ISO 1600 becoming the new standard minimum. Every manufacturer is looking for features to attract digital camera buyers. Some other innovations to look for are touchscreen displays, wireless connectivity; software enhancements like onscreen photo tips, image-enhancement, in-camera slideshow tools, and facial recognition for better auto focus; even MP3 players and built-in games. Previous innovations like built-in memory, large LCDs, and red-eye removal are becoming standard features in compact digital cameras.

    The most innovative compact digital cameras at this year's show were the Olympus Stylus 720 SW and the Kodak EasyShare V570. The Olympus sets itself apart from other compacts by being both waterproof to 10 feet and shockproof. The camera can survive a 5-foot drop to the ground, something the Olympus PR people were more than happy to demonstrate over and over. The Kodak EasyShare 570 was actually introduced at CES, but it's still one of the most innovative cameras introduced this year. With two lenses to provide both a standard zoom range and real wide angle capability; Kodak has come up a very creative way to offer us more in a compact digital camera.

    Signifying the maturity of digital camera technology, neither Canon nor Nikon made a major digital SLR announcement, although Canon did offer a refined version of their EOS 20D, the EOS 30D; and Nikon had their recently introduced D200 on display. This year, Panasonic and Olympus made the big digital SLR announcements. And mass-market consumer electronics giants, Samsung and Sony's, entry into the digital SLR business indicate a shift in the digital market.

    Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 Press ConferenceAt a standing-room only press conference, before the official opening of the tradeshow, the leaders of Panasonic, Leica, and Olympus introduced the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1, the first non-Olympus Four Thirds digital SLR. The Four Thirds System was developed by Olympus and Kodak, with Kodak contributing the Four Thirds sensor. The Lumix DMC-L1, with a Leica zoom lens incorporating Panasonic's O.I.S. image stabilization, is the beginning of the Four Thirds System becoming the rich new standard it was intended to be. One of the most compelling features of the system is the universal lens mount, allowing a Four Thirds camera owner to choose lenses from any manufacturer using the Four Thirds lens mount (currently Olympus, Sigma, or Leica). The growing diversity of the Four Thirds System is likely to attract more buyers. More money should mean a richer system with more participating manufacturers providing more camera bodies, lenses, and accessories.

    Even though point-and-shoot cameras represent the bulk of digital camera sales, digital SLRs command the most attention from all types and levels of photographers. Samsung, previously a point-and-shoot camera company, introduced their first digital SLRs, the GX-1S and GX-1L, at PMA. And even though Sony didn't have a changeable lens digital SLR at the tradeshow, they are supposed to deliver one this summer. The entry of Samsung and Sony into the digital SLR market is an indication of a shift in consumer interest. These huge, mass-market, consumer-oriented manufacturers wouldn't be interested in digital SLRs if they didn't see money in it. As more and more people realize the limits of their compact digital cameras and look for more control and better image quality, the high-end compact and digital SLR markets will grow. By the end of the summer, almost all of the major players will have a digital SLR for sale.

    The camera business is reshaping itself with some obvious changes in the manufacturer lineup. Camera manufacturing used to be about film and optics. Now it's about optics, electronics, and software - with electronics arguably having become the most important part of the equation. Obviously, film-based manufacturers have been hurt the most by digital technology. Fujifilm and Kodak have hustled to reinvent themselves and are still in the game. But Polaroid and Agfa were conspicuously absent from PMA this year. And it's not only film companies that are struggling. Konica Minolta recently announced their withdrawal from the photography business. So it makes sense that some traditional camera manufacturers would be looking to form partnerships or merge with electronics companies in order to stay competitive. Rather than trying to become electronics experts, joining hands with a company that can provide the technology is a reasonable decision. The most obvious examples of consolidation are the partnerships between Leica and Panasonic, Pentax and Samsung, and Sony's acquisition of Konica Minolta's photo technology patents.

    Canon, the clear digital camera market leader, is traveling in the opposite direction. They look set to attack Sony, Samsung, and Panasonic on their own turf - the television business. They had a high-definition, flat-screen TV set on display in their PMA booth and they made sure the press was aware of it. The Canon SED HD Widescreen TV isn't available yet, but should be in the next year or so. I overheard someone in the pressroom talking about the marketing power of the brand name on a TV set. That's a very astute observation. How powerful is the subliminal branding of the logo on the TV we all stare at every day? Am I likely to buy other Sony, Samsung, or Panasonic products (like digital cameras) because I own one of their flat screens? Canon is far and away the market leader in both compact digital cameras and digital SLRs. They sell more in each category than any other manufacturer. So it wouldn't be a huge surprise if they set their sites on a new market. Consider the potential meaning in the new Canon slogan: "ImageANYWARE."

    PMA was smaller this year but it felt better. I think we're beginning to see some maturity in digital camera marketing and technology. Manufacturers have backed off a bit on the hype and there's a real effort to provide photographers with practical solutions for problems like low light, camera shake, photo sharing, and moisture. The consolidation of camera technology and marketing should mean cheaper, better cameras and make it easier for people to choose a camera that they'll be happy with. I will miss the names Minolta, Polaroid, Konica, and Agfa and I hope that we don't lose any more of the classic manufacturers. But things change and hopefully the new manufacturer partnerships and better cameras will make it all worthwhile. I've already got a bunch of new digital cameras in the office and I'm excited to find out how they measure up. It's going to be an interesting year.

    2006 PMA Gallery

    photos digital cameras and other photo equipment introduced at PMA.

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    Last edited by Photo-John; 03-30-2006 at 12:31 PM.

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