Magazine Article


CES = Cultural Exchange Society

The Digital Imaging Scene by Don Sutherland

CES = Cultural Exchange Society

Photography, Of All Things, Makes a Strong Showing at This Year's Consumer Electronics Show

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, Consumer Electronics Association, offers remarks at the 2004 international CES

We saw a few things at the Consumer Electronics Show we didn't expect. For example, we saw photography. You expect to see cameras at the CES, but not photography. The difference? Cameras are appliances, peripherals, doodads, where photography is a pursuit. Cameras provide input for your home theater system, where you'll click a button and go over your snapshots between DVDs. Photography takes a degree of skill, planning, posing, and photofinishing. Cameras can be bought off-the-rack, blister-packed, even disposable-er, single-use—where photography is a universe of accessories, appliances, peripherals and doodads of its own.

Take the new lens for the Pentax *ist D. Or the other new lens for the Olympus E-1. Is the CE Show the place to show them? The cameras they work with are electronic alright, but are they "consumer electronics?" Lenses are add-ons to a sophisticated style of camera, the D-SLR—in the case of the E-1, a professional D-SLR—and they require their buyers to know things. Their buyers must be able to discuss "focal length" and "aperture" and "ED glass," in the same Las Vegas Convention Center where most buyers discuss "cool" and "ultimate" and "phat."

Same conundrum might apply to Minolta's Dimage Scan Dual IV. The language it uses includes "3200 dpi," "16-bit A/D conversion," "4.8 dynamic range"—ho! what meaneth such incantations? And the whole idea of a film scanner—a film scanner, not your all-purpose, handy-dandy, do-everything flatbed with film-scanning doodad—appeals to a photographer mindset. It presumes, for starters, that the buyer has films to scan (must be a geezer!). It presumes, next, that the buyer is going to sit around scanning. That takes the fan. That takes the devotee. That takes the cake. The only part of the scanner's stats we'd expect the CE crowd to understand is the price—$449. That's a very good price, for anyone who does understand those incantations. But like the lenses, what's it doing here?

Well okay, the products were ready, the show was on, why lose a month's publicity by keeping them secret till PMA? So what if the CE show is not their natural milieu? Reporters from Photo Trade News were bound to show up, and they'd probably say something just like what we've just said.

But that doesn't explain Fuji's photofinishing kiosks, up and running, printing peoples' pictures on Frontiers. Nor does it explain Noritsu's new minilab dDP-411, dry-printing and all. They were probably hoping for Lansky, but the Digital Dude showed up to admire a Noritsu system with an Epson printer, capable of 310 4x6s an hour. At the CE show? This is a "consumer electronic?"

Fuji's Tom Cuffari and Noritsu's John Gonzales both said about the same thing. Hey, a lot of people are coming this year, these products are related, why not show 'em? In a world of convergence, you never know who's getting inspired. If you ran a video arcade, maybe you could make money printing from digicams too.

The Upper Level of the Las Vegas Convention Center South Hall featured a range of imaging companies

The Display's the Thing
Olympus didn't show just a lens. They showed a photographer. And a model. And a live photo shoot, there at their booth, where a very serious photographer took serious fashion shots, while the showgoers gaped. As many showgoers, or more, than at other displays nearby, one with a Sinatra impersonator singing "My Way," another with a magician doing card tricks, one with a spokesmodel tightly wrapped in blue, rousing the effect of a chorus line unto herself. Hey, this is Las Vegas. What's a skinny fashion model doing here?

Demonstrating professional studio photography at the CE show?


Cameras, as opposed to photography, were on display in profusion, of course, and there were even new-product announcements. But in many of the exhibits, cameras took a low profile compared to DVD players, say, or humongous-screen TVs. It's not unusual for numerous separate companies operating under a shared brand, usually with some mutual connection a few tiers up the organization-chart, gather together under a single tent bearing their common logo. They give an appearance of being all one company, and they cooperate courteously when the errant visitor needs redirection to the division in the yonder corner of the exhibit.

For all the normalcy of that, it's still a surprise when the receptionist at their little city has never heard of the camera division's president. Cameras may be the biggest single success in the CE space, but featured this year [not for the first time] was the house that talks to itself. Wireless home networking finally frees consumers from having to be everywhere at once—they can have machines watch their machines. Cameras are great. But shows are about showmanship, and what's more melodramatic than living in a house that's smarter than you are?

Carly Fiorina, chairwoman and chief executive officer of HP, speaks at the 2004 International CES.

Amid the Hurly Burly
Panasonic formally showed the Lumix FZ-10 we told you about a couple issues back, the 4-megapixel one with the 12x zoom and image stabilization, and f/2.8 maximum aperture. That's somewhat an aficionado's camera itself. Its black and silver versions were displayed proudly, along with closer-to-entry-level Lumix models, in a window of about a meter's height in a column placed in the center of the floor, where you couldn't miss it if you weren't distracted by the audio and video displays (and the spokesmodel in blue) swirling about.

Panasonic also showed its D-Snap, a video recorder that writes to flash memory instead of videotape. It does so in an MPEG format, so its applications are more likely to be found on the Internet than in broadcast television. But it demonstrates a principle that was a golden, if blurry vision to pros years ago—the RAM recorder. Video without moving parts, it now exists in a form that teenyboppers can afford. The implications of that in other realms of camcorder construction and use are interesting, and undoubtedly things that Panasonic—one of the largest makers of ever-larger SD memory cards—would like you to mull over.

Consumer technology leaders took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the 2004 International CES.

The transition from videotape to alternate media is long overdue, given the once-secret, now notorious tendency of tape to self-destruct. We can hope that DVD discs are more enduring, lest another generation of home videos turn to powder. Our hopes are boosted by a line of Iomega DVD writers we saw at the Showstoppers gathering, a media-only, after-hours mini-show that permits journalists to cover their beat without interrupting their drinking. One of these has a video capture card built-in (DVD writer, that is, not journalist) to enable the proprietor of analog videotape to digitize and write to DVD in one swoop. In a day when PCs are DV-compatible off-the-shelf, but require extra doodads for working with analog, Iomega may have come up with an elegant solution.

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