As a teenager 26 years ago, I remember seeing the impact of the one-hour minilabs as they revolutionized the photo retail market. I worked in one of the very first ones down in Texas —it was then I first heard of “PMA,” the Photo Marketing Association annual event that's now in its 81 st year. As my bosses geared up for this “big show,” I began to envy them not only for the great hospitality parties, but because it's the show where new products are announced and demonstrated before they hit the store shelves. While PMA is an event primarily for retailers and vendors, its tradeshow is open to the public. I've gone for seven years straight.
Prior to sitting at a Noritsu QSS minilab system as a printer operator, I was a photo retail counter boy. I witnessed the introduction of the Canon AE-1 and how this automatic exposure camera was revolutionizing photography with automation. Between the AE-1s and the QSS one-hour labs, we were at the birth of convenience for photography, as we witnessed how automation could make our lives easier while teaching the need for speed. Today we're in the age of digital which has amplified those characteristics of photography and life in general.
We want it quick and easy. We are spoiled with cell phones, eBay, and Apple iPods, we are a society living the digital edge. We are part of our grandchildren's history books. As the PMA booths were smaller this year and the hospitality parties were down to a few, the photo industry understands that amateurs and prosumers like to emulate pro fessional photographers. When my photography workshop students see me using Hensel lighting, they purchase Hensel. The pros are the indirect advocates to the consumer, and most pros, like myself, only use products they themselves will use and believe in.
It's a market at the top of the photography pyramid with small returns, but it's also a market with followers and it's those followers who make up the main two-thirds of the retail customer pyramid—the fat of the photo industry. Even Samy's Camera on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles is like a pyramid: the fourth floor is for the pros, while the first floor is for the amateurs and prosumers, and the other two floors handle the mix.
This year at PMA, I saw some products that target pros and the mix alike, and decided I'd give you a PMA wrap-up on products that seem to target the various levels of the photo pyramid, a pyramid that can also be considered 3D at times, with all the offshoots of the digital, creative age.
Cameras & Other Hardware
Right out the gate, the first morning of the PMA tradeshow, Leica announced their support for the four-thirds lenses with their first image stabilization lens. This was groundbreaking news because it will make professionals take another look at cameras that adopt the four-thirds system, like the self-cleaning Olympus E system cameras. Interestingly enough, Olympus showcased one of their newest digital SLRs: the Evolt E-330, one of the first SLR cameras to offer live viewing through the color LCD screen‑‑a bright, 2.5-inch HyperCrystal screen. Soon you'll be able to slap that Leica D VARIO-ELMARIT 14-50mm/F2.8-3.5 ASPH lens on any Olympus digital SLR. Leica lenses have the optimum aperture throughout the lens, not just between f/8 and f/11, like most other brands.
You can attach the Leica four-thirds lenses on any camera body that has adopted the four-thirds system, including the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1. While the Nikon D200 was already released prior to PMA, Nikon did introduce the first macro lens equipped with vibration reduction technology and with their silent-wave motor, the new Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 IF-ED lens. This is a great lens for the middle and the top of the photo pyramid. My favorite lens introduction, which fits practically any brand of camera, is the Lens Baby 2.0. A much better model than the original Lens Baby, it features a coated glass for a sweeter sweet spot. Lens Baby also showcased their Macro kit.
Reflecting its appeal at all levels of the photo pyramid, Canon debuted 22 products at the show. Among them: the Canon EOS 30D not to be confused with their earlier D30. The 30D, which will replace the EOS 20D, hits the middle of the photo pyramid for Canon. In addition to debuting various lenses, they also showed a range of printers, including the imagePROGRAF iPF5000 Large Format Printer, for pro prints with archival image quality, using their new Lucia pigmented inks. They also added to their high-end REALiS Multimedia Projectors line. Given Canon's presence in the photo industry, it's not surprising that the company held the number one position in digital camera sales for 2005 and was the top brand in both digital point-and-shoot and digital SLR unit sales—according to the NPD Group, a noted research firm.
One of the most intriguing new products is the Horseman SW617, developed by Rollei and Horseman. This innovative 6x17cm panorama camera comes with six Schneider and Rodenstock lenses and rise/fall movements.
Sony jumped into the pyramid of things with two new versions of the Sony Cyber-shot, the DSC-H5 and the DSC-H2. Interestingly, the photo industry finally has cooled its heels in the “my megapixels are bigger than yours” war, another sign they are focusing on the right tool for the right level of experience.
Software demos were everywhere. Even though Adobe had already introduced their Lightroom software at Macworld in January, they showcased it heavily at PMA. The software is downloadable from Adobe's Macromedia Lab website, http://labs.macromedia.com/ and is Adobe's answer to Apple's Aperture.
Apple, staying on top of their game, introduced Aperture 1.1, which offers increased computer and camera compatibility. This was great news for those purchasing the new Apple Intel-based Macintosh computers, while still holding on to their older PowerPC-based machines.
Other software products of note: Pixmantec's various versions of RawShooter, their RAW workflow management technology that comes in various forms hitting all levels of the photography pyramid; Imagenomic's digital imagery enhancement solution, NoiseWare, a software targeting, well, noise in an image; and SeeFile's upgrade, targeting pro shooters, as well as other sides of the pyramid, since it's applicable to designers and graphic art shops, as well.
Logitech introduced NuLOOQ, a novel navigation input software and device. Ergonomically pleasing, the customizable device lets you zoom in and out of a photograph, while the software, also customizable, can save you myriad key strokes.