The PMA show came early this year, opening in the final days of January instead of the late-February date of tradition. This placed it barely three weeks after the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where a number of cameras and photo-related goodies made their debut. Additional earth-shakers were unveiled at PMA, making January almost a continuous epoch of photo intros. The CE and the PMA shows practically blended together into a "show season" with an ecstasy of hot new products.
With such a brief interval between shows, both wind up in the same issue of PTN, two chapters of a single month's novella. We described the CE Show (p. 19) as more of a photo show than most photo shows are, PMA included. Yet there was plenty of action at the PMA show, too, with important cameras and the trends they embody. So large, varied, diversified, and high-speed is the modern world of photography that it probably takes two shows just to cover it all anyway.
The second show really was like reliving old times, deja vu all over again, as interconnected as Tuesday is with Monday. It would have been more than just metaphor to call the month "a season," continuing the cast as well as the location.
What differed most greatly from the first act to the second were the props, the products introduced at the PMA show. Despite all the new stuff at CES, there was even more new stuff at PMA. But even there the sense of continuity was upheld by the likes of Sony, which, having introduced a new DSLR (the A200) at the CE Show, introduced two more DSLRs (Alpha 300 and Alpha 350) at the PMA show. These were in the under-$1,000 range, and substantially under at that.
Pentax formally introduced two DSLRs at PMA, one (K20D) in the intermediate-price tier, one (K200D) in the under-$1,000 tier.
Canon and Nikon, meanwhile, surprised everybody with new DSLRs (the 12.2MP Rebel XSi and 10.2MP D60) at sub-$1k prices, bringing their own pyrotechnics to the second Vegas bash. Live View monitor systems appeared in the new Rebel, Pentax, and Sony models-Sony claiming a redesigned architecture that makes their cameras faster in Live View mode than some others.
It's probably good to run two shows in such short order. Everybody's still thinking about the subject, across just enough time for it all to sink in.
THE PMA COMPUTER SHOW
Our CES '08 review bemoans the ironic twist that photo shows aren't really photo shows-they're camera and output shows. It takes the Consumer Electronics Show to deliver a complete photo show, insofar as computers and mass storage systems are fundamental components of modern photography systems-what darkrooms and file cabinets were to previous generations of the photo industry. For reasons that probably never made much sense, and would make even less today, these digital processing and archiving products typically aren't at photo shows.
For that reason, we'd like to overreact slightly to the fact that Western Digital was a PMA exhibitor, bringing a large line of disk drives, including their recently announced 320GB two-incher in their Passport line-a massive capacity to hook by USB to your laptop. Our personal road equipment includes an earlier 120GB Passport in the same WD enclosure, and its performance has been splendid.
If HDD manufacturers are disinclined to attend photo shows as such, part of their reason might have to do with photography oracles that promote alternatives to personal drives for personal storage. Photo-sharing sites, online backup space rented by the gigabyte, and direct-from-the-camera-card kiosks for printing all tend to compete to a degree with the personal disk drive. They can't replace it, of course, but they can make a loud commotion.
Yet for everyday tasks like downloading camera cards, preparing images for uploading, or adjusting or editing them to perfection, no resource is faster than a modern disk drive. An important gospel for digicam users to observe is to get their picture files off of their boot drives where too many people keep them. An external USB drive is more efficient and secure. Two external USB drives, exact copies of each other, are even more secure. And a full-size 500GB internal drive now sells for around $150; the 320GB portable Passport drive, like most enclosed and ruggedized traveling equipment, is a little pricier than desktop counterparts-$229.99 for this one.
Most disk-drive manufacturers now have their own story to tell, regarding the superior reliability of their products. Some offer software solutions that monitor a drive's operation, and/or periodically make backups to other drives, and/or provide RAID solutions with data redundancy in mind. It would be the rare photo dealer in 2008 who would be ignorant of these issues and not be prepared to pitch solutions to customers. Some who were serious enough to come all the way to PMA gave Western Digital their ear.
MORE MEMORY THAN AN ELEPHANT
Hard-disk drives are described by some as the most practical form of storage, when all the considerations of cost, speed of performance, and reliability are factored in. Other technical forms of storage, such as CD and DVD (and now maybe Blu-ray), also have persuasive arguments to make in their own behalf. And then there's flash memory, which for most of the history of digital photography we've called "camera cards." As such, they possibly did more to revolutionize the practice of photography than any other element in the digital galaxy.
Now that truly voluminous capacities are being reached, new roles for memory cards are coming into view. Plenty of well-known makers-Lexar, SanDisk, Kingston, PNY, Delkin, and ATP-presented tiny SDHC cards in capacities of 8GB, 16GB, and (shortly after PMA) 32GB (from Panasonic) with Class 6 speed specification.
That much storage capacity can hold several hours of high-def video. Then it can be swapped out for another card. It makes high-definition camcorders feasible without needing any form of transport mechanism for tape or disc. Flash memory is still a lot more expensive per gig than the other forms, so HDDs will continue their roles as USB (or IEEE 1394) peripherals to computer systems. But as part of a camcorder, the memory's cost is amortized over a number of factors, including perhaps a camcorder that costs less to make, and requires less upkeep because so many moving parts have been eliminated.
The joke around the D&P counters used to be the pictures of Santa and of Uncle Sam at the Fourth of July celebration, all on the same roll of film. When the "average family" shot "one and one-half rolls of film" per year, the question seemed naturally to follow, "So why do they need 16GB in their cameras now all of a sudden, with the capacity for thousands of pictures?"
And the answer is that in the old days of D&P, every picture Joe Foto took was costing him money. With every snap of the shutter, he was running up his bill at the D&P counter. Even if it was the world's worst picture, it cost him the same price for film and developing (and printing, too, with many labs), and Jane Foto, being no dummy, told Joe to take only pictures he was sure would come out. Joe obeyed.
What a difference a few technological paradigms make. Now Joe can shoot everything that attracts him, without rhyme or reason. The light is too low, the shutter is too slow, the ISO is too high, the focal length is too much or too little-the picture is a disaster in the making. Or maybe not. Once in a while, Joe Foto lucks out. He gets that "impossible" picture, the one in a hundred that worked, unbelievable as it seems. Why not try for it? It means that a lot more really bad pictures will be taken, but by the same token, a few really good ones will be taken, too. What do Joe 'n Jane care? The ones that are lousy cost exactly as much as the works of genius-nothing. If they're a bomb, delete 'em and be done with it.
Meantime, pictures are bigger than ever in the new cameras. The new Canon Rebel boasts 12 megapixels, while one of the Sonys and one of the Pentaxes (and its Samsung sibling) top 14MP. Memory cards need not only a lot of capacity, but also a lot of speed to write huge files. Joe 'n Jane Foto grew accustomed to a certain level of performance in DSLRs back at the turn of the century, and they're unwilling to give it up just because pictures are bigger and better than ever.
EVERYTHING GOING UP
Even as DSLRs push harder toward that $500 mark, the compacts or DZLRs continue driving into high-performance arenas once reserved for the pros. 10MP now represents the standard in "entry level," a swift survey of the show floor disclosing at least two Casios with 10MP, at least two Fujifilms, at least two Nikons, at least four Olympuses, and the Kodak EasyShare Z1012 IS. Fujifilm had 11MP and 12MP FinePixes at the show, and Pentax had a 12MP Optio.
Zoom lenses with spectacular specifications popped up all over the place, in cameras carrying very reasonable prices. Kodak's EasyShare Z1012 IS, for example, made its debut at an MSRP of $299 with a 12x zoom range. Other cameras at various prices include lenses with 14.3x range (Fuji FinePix S100FS), 18x (Fuji FinePix S8000fd), and even 20x (Olympus SP-570 UZ).
The wide-angle ends of these lenses are 28mm and wider. It wasn't long ago that the typical digicam zoom went no wider than a 35mm to 37mm "equivalent." Panasonic at the show touted Lumix models that zoom out to a 25mm "equivalent."
Face detection continued its assimilation into the standard feature-set of consumer digicams, guiding autoexposure and autofocus in many new lines, and autofocus alone in lines like Nikon's. On top of that, a new derivation of face detection, popularly becoming known as the "smile shutter," began finding its way into a variety of cameras, including new Sony Cyber-shot, Nikon Coolpix, and Pentax Optio models. When the camera sees a smile, it takes the picture.
The Fujifilm FinePix Z20fd includes the Dual Shot Mode introduced in earlier FinePix models, in which the same picture is taken twice-once with flash, once without-allowing Joe 'n Jane to choose the rendition they like best. The FinePix F100fd, meanwhile, allows for wireless download to a compatible device.
The Olympus Stylus 1030 SW is described as the toughest point-and-shoot camera in the world, being shockproof, waterproof, freezeproof, crushproof, and dustproof for the rigors of a tough world.
And the Sport 8000, recently introduced by newcomer Intova, is an underwater digicam that scuba divers might enjoy using in its housing at depths to 130 feet.
Some of the new product categories that were seen at the CES had their counterparts at PMA-more digital picture frames like Jobo's, album-printing systems like Unibind's, photo-sharing and photo-gift sites like rocketlife.com-all were visible across January as part of the new, broader-than-ever photography market. It's a source of amazement for all seasons.