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.

The question comes up after Sony’s announcement that they’d been co-developing a DSLR with Konica Minolta, to whose patents they’re now heir.

More than a few at PMA noticed that coincidence, and couldn’t help noticing, too, that Samsung’s new DSLRs were thinly veiled Pentax *ists.

Someone even mentioned that some Leica-branded lenses, perhaps like the one in the Four Thirds mount that ships with the new Lumix, are made by a Matsushita process in a Matsushita factory.

Agfa, Konica Minolta, Polaroid. They left gaping holes in the floorplan, and set a tone of outlook. Beyond what’s new at the show, what’s next?

How Deep Is My Channel?

Announcing the demise of an Olympus or a Pentax might be like Mark Twain said. Besides building a new American HQ in sunny Pennsylvania—which some might take as a sign of life—Olympus Four Thirds mount lenses constitute the largest variety of digital-specific lenses of any company in the business. A few are so exotic or pricey that they could be considered marginal—feasibility studies, even. But there’s a lot of good glass in the digital Zuiko line, in some excellent ranges of focal lengths, with other great specs at competitive prices. Olympus has lived up to their promise of “intelligent” lenses—I’ve upgraded the software of a couple of mine, a free download from the website.

Pentax provides the second-largest range of digital lenses, and the largest number in a traditional 35mm mount. Samsung plans to ship their versions of the *ist with Schneider lenses. But does either condition suggest Samsung is about to swallow Pentax whole? Did HP, for whom Pentax also has provided roses-by-another-name across the years?

Polaroid hardly gobbled up Fujifilm after selling one of their cameras, nor Agfa after selling theirs. Philips didn’t devour Ricoh. Nobody has swallowed Sanyo, whose factories have spewed out all sorts of major brands.

Historically speaking, meantime, the strength of SLR cameras has been based on their lenses. How many in the Canon line? Sixty? That’s a lot more than the fifteen Four Thirds Zuikos. But also, most of the Zuikos are zooms—today’s “standard” lenses. The legacy lines made for 35mm usage include a high proportion of fixed lenses. Sometimes it takes a few of those to equal the optical range of a single zoom, so maybe fifteen lenses could almost equal the focal-length expanse of 60 non-zoom lenses.

The Zuiko line now includes an 18-180, a 10x range that exceeds all 35mm legacy zooms, and even challenges the optical range of the permanent-lens compacts, the ones so popular in CE outlets.

What sort of outlet can stock 15 Four Thirds lenses, or nearly as many Pentax lenses, and explain all their differences? Would that be Wal-Mart?

Here’s another thought. Panasonic was one of the first with a 16:9 point-and-shoot camera. They’re one of the big players in the 16:9 home theater, so that much of it makes sense. They think everyone should like the “electronic lifestyle” in 16:9 widescreen. Where would the Four Thirds system, with its “old-style TV” frame format, fit into those plans?

Minolta had something that neither Olympus nor Pentax has: Konica. There’s always room for speculation, but not the same kind of evidence that the camera companies are susceptible to being swallowed by CE companies. So what was new at PMA? For all we know, despite head-spinning events, it might turn out to be business as usual.