Photokina 2010 Day 1: The Incredible Shrinking Pro Camera Market


SEPTEMBER 22, 2010

Dan Havlik, PDN's Technology Specialist

The first day of photokina 2010 in Cologne, Germany has wrapped up and here's what we haven't seen so far at the world's largest imaging show: no new Canon 1Ds Mark IV or 5D Mark III; no replacement for the Nikon D700 (D800?); no compact mirrorless camera surprises from either of the big two; no big surprises in the pro photography market in general.

And here's what we have seen: a raft of compact, prosumer digital SLRs and digital SLR wannabes from consumer electronics companies and smaller photography companies. To paraphrase Bob Dylan: "Something's happening here and we might know what it is."

Call it the rise of the prosumer, the era of the enthusiast, or the dawn of digital SLR lite; the latest wave of camera releases has a distinctly advanced amateur look and feel to them. In truth this has been happening for some time. Remember PMA 2009 when Panasonic, Sony and Samsung stole the show from their photographic rivals? Remember PMA 2010 where Canon didn't even bother to show up?

Both Canon and Nikon are here at the biennial photokina show but the only "new" camera products they're showing (so far) are the already-announced enthusiast Canon EOS 60D digital SLR; and the slightly more advanced Nikon D7000, a follow-up up to the distinctly enthusiast Nikon D90 which was the first DSLR to shoot HD video. Notice a pattern here?

Pro cameras have never been much of big money makers for Canon and Nikon thanks to some extremely thin margins. In the past though, they have served as significant "halo" products for their less expensive consumer models. But that was back when consumers didn't give much of a hoot about what company's name was on their 2MP blister-packed compact point-and-shoot. As long as it "worked" and was relatively inexpensive, they were happy.

That's changed thanks, in part, to the success of cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II and Nikon D3. Regular folks and aspiring enthusiast/prosumers now know the names Canon and Nikon stand for quality in the digital camera world and they might even be aware of some of the models pros use.

The names they don't know as much, when it comes to serious photography, are Panasonic, Sony, and Samsung. And yes, many consumers might not even know Pentax very well and they certainly have little clue what a Sigma is.

Like it or not professional photographers, those are the companies really trying to assert themselves in the photography space these days and photokina 2010 is more proof of it.

DSLR Lite

Panasonic today announced the 16.05-megapixel Lumix GH2 ($1,000), mirrorless Micro Four Thirds format camera that's a follow-up to Panasonic's GH1 from a year and a half ago. I got a chance to test drive the GH1 for another website and liked its sprightly autofocus, full-bodied feature set including the ability to shoot full 1080p HD video. And yes, the camera will also accept Panasonic's nifty soon-to-be-released 3D lens to record 3D still images and HD video.



Also debuting at photokina is Pentax' 16.3MP K-5 ($1,599) digital SLR, a prosumer/pro camera that looks remarkably similar to its predecessor, the K-7. The K-5 adds higher ISO shooting, a revamped autofocus system, and 1080p HD video recording. Shooting speed for the K-5 has also been expanded to 7 frames per second and there's an external mic jack and an HDMI port.



Fuji announced a curious "pro" camera at photokina today, the rangefinder-style FinePix X100. The 12MP camera, which will sell for approximately $1,000 when it ships in 2011, has a fixed focal length, 23mm (35mm equivalent) f/2 lens. Unlike some of its competitors and the increasingly competitive pseudo-rangefinder digital camera category, the lens on the X100 is attached, i.e. it's not interchangeable.

The X100 uses an APS-C CMOS sensor, EXR processor, and "hybrid" viewfinder which lets you switch between optical or electronic functionality at the flick of a switch. And yes, that switch looks suspiciously like the self-timer lever on rangefinder cameras in days gone by. The X100's 23mm lens also has an aperture ring and a focus ring.

Sony had a press conference not to announce any new specific camera products but to say it will be adding E-series lenses to its NEX line -- which includes the NEX-3 and the NEX-5 (reviewed recently in PDN) -- to create a total of ten. (There are currently three.) The company also said it was going to offer a firmware update to its A-series DSLRs which will allow more autofocus capability for legacy Minolta lenses which are compatible with Sony's Alpha cameras.

Sony also said that it's long-awaited follow-up to its A700 digital SLR will use the translucent mirror technology that has just appeared in the Sony A55 and A33.

Film Drive
We did see some big "pro" cameras at photokina today but they were of the film variety. Kevin Canham of Canham Cameras in Arizona was set up at the Kodak booth with several of his handmade large format cameras to promote a new relationship he has with the Rochester-based company.

Canham makes wooden and metal large format film cameras and is working with Kodak to bring some large-format films back on line. The catch is that large-format photographers have to pre-order a minimum amount of specific film types in order for Kodak to bring the products back. (Kodak, obviously, doesn't want to lose money on the proposition.)

Once enough orders are placed to reach the minimum box requirements for a specific emulsion, the film will be produced and then ship six weeks later.

"We are really hoping we can sell a little in a lot of places (to meet the minimums)," Canham told us. "If it gets spread around enough and if there are enough people around the world who are interested, we can keep this going."

The project started in mid-June and photographers far and wide have been finding Canham to pre-order the films. As of yet though, they haven't reached any minimums though they're getting close for some emulsions. Canham says 5x7 Kodak T-Max 400, which can be pre-ordered for $167.50 per box, and 16x 20 Tri-X, which goes for $743 per box, are closest to being fulfilled.

For more information on the Kodak "film drive," visit www.canhamcameras.com/kodakfilm.

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