Magazine Article


PMA '06: What's New? Everything!

PMA 2006 show floor
The crowd pours in at the annual PMA show in Orlando, Florida.
Pentax *ist DSLR
Pentax *ist DSLR for under $600, representing a class costing $5k in Y2K.
Olympus E-330
Olympus E-330 introduces a new concept in cameras, the combining of electronic and optical SLR viewfinders in one digital body.
Fujifilm FinePix F30
Fujifilm FinePix F30 (6MP, 3x zoom, under $400 when it ships in May).
Samsung's new DSLR
Samsung’s new DSLRs were thinly veiled Pentax *ists.
Kodak's new EasyShare 650
Kodak’s new EasyShare 650 with its 6MP imager and 10x zoom lens for $349.

This would not be the first digicam with a 16:9 format, though that screen format’s still novel enough to be ahead of the trend. Among video camcorders it’s catching on quickly, as evidenced by Canon models, from prosumer through their high-end XL2. But video cameras are going widescreen because television is, with the home theater in tow.

In other words, the display devices of the CE world are dictating attributes of the capture devices of the photo world. It’s not entirely new, but it’s certainly the start of something big.

Canon formally introduced an advancement of their phenomenally successful 20D of last year, the EOS 30D, at the PMA show, where you’d think a good mid-range DSLR belongs. Yet we can’t forget the recent CE show with its Canon exhibit, where besides all the consumery models, the full line of digital EOS SLRs—right up to the 1Ds Mark II—was exhibited in full regalia. And people were looking. I don’t think of $8k DSLRs as consumer electronic products, yet there they were in the same venue as the plasma TVs and the iPods. That was sort of new, and was it also a beginning of something?

It was at the CE show that Ned Bunnel of Pentax first described, under NDA, a forthcoming 10MP *ist. Mr. Bunnel didn’t expect its public announcement till the spring, but it was sprung, under glass at least, at the PMA show after all. So was a new Pentax medium-format digital—hardly a mass-market product, its intro seems fitting at a photo show.

So is that what’s new? A photo channel that deals exclusively with the high-end items that attract a boutique market? Does the specialty store become the pro photo store?

Various Styles of Othercams

Nikon showed no new DSLRs at PMA, but wi-fi capability—which among Nikons made its debut in the high-end models two years ago—wends its way through many of their point-and-shoot models, of which there were six new at the show. Something newer in these latest Nikons is their D-Lighting feature, a double-entendre which can improve underexposed shots taken in strong backlight.

It creates a copy of the image with light and detail automatically added wherever necessary to the dark sections, and well-exposed sections left exactly as they are—a selective in-camera processing. Another feature imported from Nikon pro systems is their VR (Vibration Reduction) system, their new P3 and P4 models specifying a three-EV improvement.

Image-stabilization is all the rage this year, in an assortment of technical forms. Canon has their lens-shift system, Konica Minolta had (and Sony may reprise) their CCD-shifting AS system, while Pentax has their own variation—and possible improvement—on the theme. Panasonic continues touting their own OIS, or optical image stabilization.

The DSLR of Tomorrow…And Tomorrow

Olympus announced their Evolt E-330 just before PMA ’06, after private showings off-site during the CE show. The E-330 introduces a new concept in cameras, the combining of electronic and optical SLR viewfinders in one digital body. It doesn’t sound like much, but it brings the DSLR into the modern age—indeed, puts the “D” in DSLR—after 15 years of stuffing electronics into 1930s-era SLR body designs.

The benefits of optical SLR finders need no explaining—or, if they do, it’ll be found here next month in a detailed review of the E-330. Their one drawback in the digital age is their mirror’s physical obstruction of the light from the lens to the imager. That was too bad, because that obstruction blinded the imager to the scene outside. The great flexibility provided by a live electronic viewfinder on a hinged monitor screen has been shown widely—first on video camcorders, then on digital still cameras as far back as 1995. Their impact on picture-taking is resounding, but they don’t work with SLRs.

Didn’t work with SLRs. Olympus added a second video system to drive the camera monitor, seeing through the camera lens via an optical path that bypasses the mirror. I’ve been using an E-330 for a month, and am enthralled by the pictures it’s giving. More, again, next month.

Panasonic announced their own DSLR, their first DSLR, at PMA ’06. The fact of the announcement was not unexpected, for Panasonic promised a Four Thirds camera—the first that would not be an Olympus—during the PMA show last year. The surprise of this year was that their Lumix DMC-L1 is, shall we say, the fraternal twin of the Olympus E-330.

Besides the hinged monitor with the live view, the new Panasonic has another feature heretofore an Olympus exclusive: the supersonic wave filter, introduced with the Olympus E-1 professional model a couple years back, and present on the three Evolt DSLRs to arrive since—the E-300, E-500, and now E-330. This is a seriously useful idea, and after living a rough life for two years with an E-1, I can say the idea works well. What’s it doing in a Panasonic?

Panasonic’s announcement includes mention of their co-development, along with Olympus, of the shutter box section at the heart of both cameras. So is this a Panympus? An Olysonic?