With just 24 hours left, Focus on Imaging, the UK's largest photographic trade show, is drawing to a close. BJP looks at the best products that made it to Birmingham this year
Author: British Journal of Photography
06 Mar 2012 Tags: Trade shows
Focus on Imaging 2012 was the first public showing, anywhere, for the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and the first European platform for the two new Nikons announced a little earlier, the D4 and D800. No matter what other new products appear at shows like this, it's always the camera models that make the headlines.
Olympus created a catwalk show to launch their OM-D, which could stand for diminutive as much as for digital. The scaled-down retro look Micro Four Thirds system resembles the OM of forty years earlier only superficially, despite such touches as a fake pentaprism housing for its electronic viewfinder and autowinder-like accessory base.
Fuji's interchangeable lens digital rangefinder-like system, the X-Pro 1, avoids the nostalgic styling and in a surprisingly light magnesium body puts new technology which works, from its RGGB new pattern sensor without AA filter to its hybrid optical-electronic finder. It kept the Fujifilm stand busy, while some dealers had a few for sale, others just to show off.
Hard-to-get products like Sony's NEX-7, impossible to find 'in stock' at stores or for home delivery in the week before Focus, appeared in showcase-filling quantities with competitive pricing but didn't fly off the shelves. "We can't understand why we haven't sold them all", said a Jacobs staff member at the end of the opening day. As ever with Focus, the reason was simple enough, rivals dealers Cameraworld had the same item price £50 lower. "We'll be matching their price tomorrow", came back the prediction. "By the end of Focus, everyone has the same prices..."
Another product piled very high but apparently not selling - despite being half the price of its announced replacement - was the Canon EOD 5D Mark II. Sigma's new-priced SD1 and Merrill camera ranges see the prices for their 15.4 X3 megapixel Foveon sensor models look competitive instead of prohibitive, but stock was not due to arrive until after the show.
Traditionally, the closing Wednesday of the show sees stock further discounted. The Flash Centre announced in advance that they didn't want to take anything back from the exhibition centre, customers could select in the morning and pick up before shutdown on the final day. Despite that, photographers could be seen on the opening Sunday morning carrying everything from new location flash kits to paper rolls back to the car parks.
Visiting the stands, one of the talking points was the removal of VAT from a wide range of photo-book printed albums. Some companies, including the UK's largest professional lab Loxley Colour, have agreement from HM Revenue and Customs that albums with matted overlays still count as a photo books if the pages can not be removed or added to, and the photographs can't be changed under the overlay. A few exhibitors didn't have any guidance on whether their prices included VAT or not.
The internet rival to service like Snapfish (owned by HP) and Photobox, privately owned US company Smugmug, used Focus to promote its on-line storage, sales gallery, print and photo product ordering together with the announcement of Loxley Colour as their first UK lab partner. Up to now, fulfilment has been via three US labs with all pricing in dollars. Loxley's service was scheduled to start on March 23rd with pricing in sterling, and more European labs and euro pricing are expected to follow.
Best in Show
BJP toured Focus, and pored over product announcements, to determine which were the stars of the show from a professional's point of view. Given Nikon's unexpected assault on all fronts in the DSLR field - HD crossover features, resolution and sensitivity choices - and the fairly modest revisions in Canon's new 5D generation there was much heated discussion in these two categories.
The criteria were that the product should be shown to the public and profession for the first time in the UK at Focus, and should have been announced in the quarter before the show. Some consideration was given to the delays caused by last year's events in Japan and Thailand, which disrupted production across the entire industry; new introductions, rumoured during 2011, have often only materialised in 2012 and then as prototypes or with limited availability.
Best Professional Camera - Nikon D4
Nikon's balance of performance and features has expanded on the D3s' capabilities significantly, whilst retaining an appealing price point. Key innovations include the integrated Ethernet and web server, which makes camera control and art director/picture desk browsing possible with no additional hardware for any device (phone, tablet or computer) with a web browser, and bringing the 921K metering system to professional bodies. Shying away from outright megapixel count, the D4's 16.2Mp sensor offers a maximum ISO of 204,800 low light capability backed up by increased AF sensitivity ideal for those using 2x convertors on the f/2.8 telephoto primes. To this can be added a dramatic 2.7X crop mode with full HD. Audio is much improved - manual level stereo mic or mix input with both graphic level display and direct headphone monitoring. Video can be streamed uncompressed to external HDMI interface storage.
Best HDSLR (Crossover category) - Nikon D800 / D800E
Unprecedented spatial resolution in the 35mm-derived DSLR market is already compelling; Nikon's variable area crops for HD video and direct, uncompressed HDMI recording limited only by storage capacity deliver angle of view flexibility without any loss of quality to HDSLR film makers. As a genuine cropped frame is used, not a recalculated 'teleconverter' effect, the 1.5X is equal to an APS-C HDSLR of the same quaity. An accessible price point and offering the choice of anti-aliasing filter fitment wrap up a highly appealing system. Despite exceeding the resolution of the D3X's sensor, the full-frame D800 increases the ISO range to 100-6400, expandable to 50-25,600). USB3 connectivity, 30-level internal microphone, 20-level external microphone control, and the same uncompressed direct streaming to HD storage complete a groundbreaking specification at the indicated launch price.
Best Innovation - Fuji FinePix X-Pro 1
The shortcomings of the Bayer RGGB grid, with twice as many green as red and blue sensels and the need for an anti-aliasing blur filter to remove its regular patter characteristics, are addressed in an original way by Fuji's new 16 megapixel X-Trans CMOS sensor used in the X-Pro1 system. Though even more green sensels are added, colour can be calculated for output pixels and no AA filter is needed. The sensor has a very high luminance sharpness and although the RGGGB is a fixed pattern, it comes close to being 'organic' in randomness. The sensor would be advance on its own; included in an improved, interchangeable lens development of the X-100 concept it adds to a three-lens rangefinder style system with great appeal. The hybrid optical-electronic finder displays lens-specific bright lines, or a digital preview, as well as a digital review image. The magnesium body is surprisingly light and all controls - like the third-stop aperture ring on each lens - have a precision feel.
Best Lighting Equipment - Elinchrom Zoom heads
For video and still use, the new Elinchrom Scanlite Zoom and Zoom Pro 3000 flash heads incorporate a new reflector and source adjustment to change the angle of illumination. These heads are very compact and can be combined with different reflectors. The problem of fan noise has been addressed for video use with the Scanlite Zoom, and a new type of cooling. When the head is switched on, a nearly silent fan starts up at a very slow speed. This circulates the air sufficiently to delay heat build-up, giving a predictable time for video takes. Elinchrom say that safety prevented the use of a switchable fan, and issues with colour rendering consistency and spectrum quality ruled out switching over to LEDs in place of halogen. The Zoom Pro flash head has a safety cover dome and user-changeable flash tube, and fits all current Elinchrom 110v or 230v generator packs. The Zoom heads are entirely made in Switzerland.
Best Accessory - Canon Speedlite 600EX RT
Though a price shock to some, the Canon Speedlite 600EX RT is the first camera maker flash unit to incorporate RF wireless control. All previous camera maker systems have used infrared communication to control ratios, TTL exposure and grouped triggering. The new Canon protocol uses one flash as a master on camera, or an ST-E3-RT wireless controller (not incorporated yet into camera bodies) to handle up to 15 600EX RT heads at distances up to 30 metres, depending on the walls or solid obstacles in the way. The heads also have an optical slave trigger, can be used on or off camera conventionally with Canon Speedlite system accessories. The new strobe costs nearly £700 but is weatherproofed; the ST-E3-RT adds over £300. The coverage of the GN60 head is from 20-200mm equivalent (full frame) with a wide-angle diffuser extending this to 14mm. It has a bounce-card and comes with colour gels to suit today's 'strobist' techniques.
Best Software - onOne Perfect Photo Suite 6 with Perfect Portrait 1
Rolled out to existing users in January, onOne Perfect Photo Suite 6 is one of the first post-processing collections to offer independence from a host program like Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture while still featuring the Plug-in installation choice. It does not include a raw converter, but can access system-level services to open raw files directly. It will save files in a layered Photoshop PSD format. In addition to new versions of Perfect Resize 7 (formerly known as Genuine Fractals), Perfect Effects 3 (previously Photo Tune 2), Perfect Mask 5, FocalPoint 2 and PhotoFrame 4.6 the suite includes Perfect Layers 2 adding layers to host workflow programs, and Perfect Portrait 1. This was the main attraction at the Focus onOne presentation, showing how Face Recognition detects up to ten faces in an image and automatically applies a smoothing skin enhancement process. At its new price of £185 the Suite is now competitive with full editing programs.
Best Printing Equipment - Epson Surelab SL-D3000
With dual feed option enabling a choice of any two of matt, lustre and glossy papers the new Epson Surelab SL-D3000 is self-contained, with a print cutter and sorter as a minilab style add-on option for stacks of 6 x 4" enprints - it can be linked to wet film processing and scanning, or to any digital file output. A simple six-ink Ultrachrome pigment set, with light cyan and magenta but a single black, exceeds typical C41 gamut but keeps costs low. The three light-medium weight paper types are designed to feed through the complex 12" and 8" paper tracks and need no ink change. The launch was brought forward to Focus from a planned May-June launch and the first working machine shown. Costs of purchase or lease, and of supplies, were not release but Epson say it will be competitive with wet process minilabs while offering the benefits of inkjet printing.
Best Lens - LensBaby Edge 80
With the Composer Pro offering smoothly controllable tilt for deep or shallow focus effects as desired, LensBaby's line-up has been missing a still life option. The new 5-element, multicoated Edge 80 has a 12-blade diaphragm with produces a nearly perfect circular aperture, and is fully corrected for sharp 'slices of focus' at f/2.8. But it can also be used stopped down with the focus plane matching the depth of the subject. Without tilt, it is an ideal focal length for portrature. Using different LensBaby focusing mounts and adaptors, it has a range from 17" to infinity and is portable between camera systems and formats, from Micro FourThirds to full frame. At around £200, it's fairly priced for a manual focus 'lens head' to last a lifetime.
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