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The More photokina Changes, the More It Stays the Same

The More photokina Changes, the More It Stays the Same

Reflections on the "World's Fair of Imaging" from a photokina Veteran

by David L. Miller

There's always been something very comforting about photokinaa feeling you don't usually associate with a really big, mind-boggling, possibly intimidating photo trade show. Everything is in place when you get there, with almost all the exhibitorsespecially the major playersopening for business at the same old stands (once a company takes up space in any of the 14 massive halls along the eastern bank of the Rhine River, it has that space forever, unless significant changes pop up in marketing trends and/or net profit pictures).

With the typical German rage for order, efficiency and consistency, most of the prime press conferences and receptions take place at the same time, on the same day of the show, in the same conference room year after year. Thus, once international travelers have conquered their jet lag and retrieved their wayward luggage, they're ready to hit the floor. Having covered every photokina since 1966, I also find comfort in knowing many "inside" ways to tame this "world's fair of imaging."

Well, photokina '02 strayed a bit from the usual paths. The most obvious change was in the weather. Instead of the usual cloud cover and intermittent, niggling rain, photokina, the 19th such event, was conducted with just one measly dose of precip early in the morning of opening day, the only glitch in a remarkable string of bright, sunny days with lots of cool, dry air. Then inside there was Hall 7the perennial "booth" of Polaroidgiven over to the "Young Imaging Event: Photo 'n' Fun," complete with pictures, pop-type entertainment, and, of course, loud music.

Kodak also got into the quick-change act, moving from the upper floor of Hall 8 to larger quarters in the recently expanded Hall 4 which, itself, has become a short cut/bridge from the amateur-oriented Halls 1-3 to Halls 9-14 and their more pro and heavy industry type audience.

Photokina has always been primarily about products and there was the regular ration of new goodies on view throughout the 12 halls in use. All of us had been led to believe there was going to be a ton of new digital cameras, many sporting innovative technology. Well, breathe easy old friends. Despite some fairly impressive sales figures, the digital takeover is still merely lurking at the far, far end of the hallway.

Oh sure, the primary electronic manufacturers made a pretty strong visual showing with Panasonic, Sony, and HP occupying prime plots of interior real estate (the latter two splitting Kodak's old Hall 8 digs) but nothing like the mind-rattling multimedia displays at CES.

The film sector is still very much a visible, viable factor in the picture-taking business. Although most of its new product consisted of point and shoot 35s, as manufacturers continued filling in empty price point slots in their lines, two of photokina's more interesting items showed up at the booths of a couple of renowned stalwarts of the film sector. Leica took the opportunity to introduce its latest SLR model, the R9. And Hasselblad showed up with probably the most interesting and surprising item, the H1, an autofocus 645 camera system.

The old camera companies continued their swim against the tide by offering a moderate number of traditional film cameras (while the digital people continued their search for a solution to Soccer Mom's problemhow to make it as easy, quick and cheap for her to get a print from her digital camera as it is from her trusty old film camera).

Much was made of the announcement that Olympus and Kodak with support from Fuji, were proceeding with the "Four Thirds System" which will introduce a new standard for lens design aimed at improving performance in digital systems. Maybe the techno geeks were excited by this bit of news, but if all the high-powered market research outfits are right in their claims that the average snapshooter does not read instruction manuals, has little regard for negatives, and is not impressed by the fact that APS cameras can "talk" to the film processor, can we expect that group to be overjoyed by the prospect that 4/3 might, among other things, help eliminate the need for them to get out their calculators to figure out focal length equivalents?

Early figures indicate a whopping 160,000 visitors showed up during the six-day event. I thought the general mood inside the halls was mostly upbeat but not like the go-go atmosphere of past years. It was not "boy aren't we lucky to be here looking at all these great cameras," but more like "boy aren't we lucky to be here at all just one year after 9/11?" Noteworthy was the fact that the crowd towards the end of the week was just about as large and enthusiastic as those of the earlier days.

As the man once said, "The show must go on." Well, it did and, if all goes well elsewhere, it will continue to go on. Dates for photokina 2004 have already been set for late September of that year. Planning to attend? Remember to book your flight and room arrangements early and bring lots of money. ptn

David L. Miller has covered the photo industry for various publications, primarily Modern Photography since 1956. He has covered 19 photokina and 50 U.S. trade shows.

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