The first photography trade show reviewed by your humble reporter was Photo Expo '69, staged in the New York Coliseum. That was a lot of tradeshows ago. Since then, your faithful servant has brought back the news from PMA, photokina, PhotoPlus East. Each of these shows had its character and constituency, but their common ground was photography-all of it. From the most advanced camera systems, to the films and filters, the processing machines, home-darkroom supplies, sinks, tanks, trays, and driers-if you walked in with an empty wheelbarrow, you could walk out with everything needed to advance in photography.
Along came digital, and you didn't need such a big wheelbarrow-for half of the photographic process (the half that occurs between the time the picture is captured and is printed) doesn't appear at photo shows anymore. This is the part that occurs on disks and in the computer, known fondly by some as the "lightroom"-more affirmative-sounding than the "darkroom" of yore. Where the darkroom was well represented, the "lightroom" doesn't attend most photo shows.
Your keen-eyed observer first sensed this change in 1994, before the consumer floodgates opened for digicams. At PMA that year, Apple held a luncheon for the press to introduce their QuickTake camera, off-floor in the convention center, a minor echo of the big splash it was getting the same day in Japan. As the product manager told us, photo dealers wouldn't compose the marketing channel for the QuickTake. It would go through the computer and electronics channels, because photo retailers were too ignorant to sell digital systems. Photo dealers think a filter is a colored glass that you stick on a lens.
Maybe photo dealers didn't know about digital-then. But now everybody does. First, everything became plug-'n-play, drag-'n-drop. Second, prices themselves dropped. Third, PCs became the hub of the home living environment.
For all that, you still don't find the "lightroom" at photo shows. And they're not really photo shows without it. Camera shows, sure. Printer shows, you bet. But if you want to walk out with a wheelbarrow containing everything to advance in photography, you have to go to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
For although it's called the Consumer Electronics Show, there were a lot of products that had nothing to do with consumers, nor with electronics. Yes, a filter is a glass you stick on a lens, and as odd as it sounds, we found them at CES 2008.
Where the Action Is
The Noritsu D701 compact retail inkjet printer, for example, wouldn't be considered a consumer item, and although crammed with digital tech, would probably not be considered "electronic" as such. Yet there it was in the South Hall, where Kodak, Pentax, Lexar, SanDisk, and many others were, with their "consumer electronics."
The Steadicam, the gyroscopic mounting system used for motion-picture cameras, also was being demonstrated at the large Tiffen exhibit, along with camera bags and photographers' vests.
MyStudio tabletop photo studios were shown just behind the HP pavilion. Showgoers could think of buying a Kodak or Pentax camera, using it to take a picture in MyStudio, processing it in an HP Lightroom for distribution across a wireless LAN or maybe the net-for latterday photography in all its facets, the South Hall was one-stop shopping.
Sean von Tagen, VP of sales for MyStudio, didn't think his line would be on display at the formal photo show three weeks later-PMA '08.
Meanwhile, billed as the "First Office Photography Machine," in their own language, the Photosimile 5000 from Ortery Technologies is a "PC-controlled desktop photography studio that integrates a 28"x28"x28" light box (featuring 6500K daylight bulbs, an automated camera positioning system, and a built-in 3D turntable) with a Canon digital camera and powerful workflow software to simplify and automate business photography. With Photosimile 5000, anyone can create shadow-free pictures ideal for web, print, and daily business communication. No experience necessary."
It turns out that you don't have to be a photo show to show photo products. CES will do. It may be full of exhibits for the "wired" home or is it the "wireless" home?; GPS systems, plasma TVs as big as a house, and other purely electronic (and consumer-oriented) products. But the big exhibitors are Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba-CE giants that also happen to have digicams.
Canon's sprawling exhibit displayed all their offerings. Your impressionable correspondent was impressed by the small size of several new VIXIA camcorders, including the VIXIA HF100 Flash Memory camcorder and HF10 Dual Flash Memory camcorder, with 1920x1080-pixel picture and flash memory as the recording medium-built-in, plus an SDHC card slot in one, card slot only in the other. Not having moving parts is a novel idea in movie cameras, with quite a portfolio of implications.
Things like this turn the event from the CES to the CES photo show.
Build it, andů
People came to see a lot of new digicams, some of them with newish feature-sets that makes them seem, indeed, more like CE gadgets than traditional cameras. Panasonic, for example, announced agreements that would allow LUMIX models to interface directly with the internet.
"After taking digital photos with the new LUMIX," the company tells us, "users will be able to upload their photos directly to Picasa Web Albums through the T-Mobile HotSpot service." So intentionally or coincidentally, compatible Panasonic cameras throw their hat into a ring that favors storage of personal files-or at least backups-on the internet, making personal disk-crashes less of a disaster.
So, the LUMIX becomes a dedicated extension of an internet website. That's probably not something people thought cameras would do in 1990.
Some cameras are boldly going where no cameras have gone before, feeding a photographic infrastructure of a different order than the slides and prints of the last 150 years.
Others, including Sony, provide DSLRs with a special camera-TV interface that optimizes the picture for an HDTV. Now that TVs are reaching the resolution levels previously the domain of computer monitors, there's not so much of a trade-off for the convenience. Why huddle around a computer, when the home theater with its HDTV as the centerpiece is comfortably arranged with sofas and ottoman? In that regard, the personal camera becomes an input to the home entertainment center, taking its place alongside the DVD player.
Some of the releases at CES might be considered multimedia machines, definitely products of convergence, with features you'd never have expected in 1990.
Consider, for example, DXG's 565V. It sets ya back 99 bucks and gives you a "5MP combo digital camcorder/camera/MP3 player/voice recorder/webcam-all in one, with a large 2.4" LCD." Like most consumer-oriented cameras this season, it comes in "new trendy colors."
Where photo-sharing has evolved into a big pastime and business since its fledgling days in the late '90s, now we have more high-speed connections and video-sharing to go with it. The equipment doesn't provide the electronic-cinematography potential for a Hollywood epic, nor even ENG for Channel 4 (except in a pinch).
But also, it's not meant for those markets. There's a whole new market, of video graffiti and resumes and rich artistic expression and breaking news and stupid dog tricks and maximized tastelessness-you name it-all over the net. It's fun and giddy, and for a citizenry increasingly watched, it's a form of watching back.
Just Plain old cameras
Given the internet-centric and home-theater-resident nature of some cameras in the CES photo show, cameras that take pictures for conventional output would, in this context, perhaps be called POCs (Plain Old Cameras)-although little about them really is plain, or old. And yes, in a pinch, they could interface with your TV (and actually, most digicams have had a video-out jack since the dawn of time).
Sony showed two kit versions of its new Alpha A200 DSLR, with distinguishing suffixes-A200K with 18-70mm lens and A200W with 18-70mm and 75-300mm lenses. The camera includes Super Steady Shot, Sony's name for their internal, moving-chip image stabilization, and a claim for improved noise-reduction at ISO 1600 and 3200 equivalencies.
Casio announced a quintet of POCs at the CES, although, again, they're plain only in the sense that they take pictures. The most impressive of these, the EXILIM Pro EX-F1, takes 60 of 'em per second-twice video speed-at 6MP size, according to the manufacturer. It's an otherwise impressive machine from a technical standpoint, looking very much like a professional-style camera, and sporting a 12x zoom lens.
Since the camera uses an EVF, the operator sees the viewfinder image in slow motion when shooting at 60 fps. That's something new in picture-taking.
Casio also unveiled the EXILIM Card EX-S10, billed as "the world's smallest and thinnest stylish 10.1MP digital camera." It comes with a 3x zoom and a form of "smile shutter." A slim 8MP Casio, the EXILIM EX-380, also has a 3x zoom and face detection. Casio put 4x zooms that zoom out to a 28mm "equivalent" on two additional 10MP cameras, EXILIMs Zoom EX-Z200 and Zoom EX-Z100, also equipped with a moving-imager anti-shake system.
Turning over a New Page?
Lucidiom was also at CES, with devices to plug into the CE infrastructure-specifically, one-hour bookmakers for photo labs. The company notes that 80,000 one-hour photobooks were made on their EQ-9800 units during November and December '07. Your tenacious investigator remembers when this market didn't exist at all.
Another market that didn't exist a few years ago was the digital picture frame.
Mustek announced a 15" wireless frame 16:9 ratio, with 1GB internal memory and Bluetooth compatibility. It also includes a six-in-one card reader, for those who still use the sneaker network. The "frame" also plays MP3s and video. The only thing it seems to lack, compared to a computer, is a spreadsheet and word processor.
Digital Foci showed several new frames, including a 15" screen in XGA format with 256MB internal memory, plus multiple-format card slots. As tends to be the case with these video-displays-that-are-not-computers-or-TVs, they're capable of audio and full-motion video playback as well.
Said to be the largest, was one from Smartparts, at 32".
Good thing 10MP cameras are becoming standard. They provide the resolution required for large-screen displays. Of course, they, like HDTV, place demands on processing systems-the Lightrooms-far beyond the comfortable reach of Windows computers as we've known them.
Interestingly, HP, whose exhibit consumed a central portion of the South Hall, has taken over the Voodoo line of computers for gamers-super fast, designed for graphics-on-the-run. Now that's what we need as a Lightroom at a real photo show.