I'm heading up to PhotoPlus in two weeks. It's a big photographic tradeshow/gathering held every Fall at the Javits Center in NYC. I've been thinking about the show and the huge and pervasive yawning sense of apathy that seems to have settled over the photography industry in the last few months. I think we're going to see a lot of re-hashed product, hear a lot of seminars about how to get ahead "in the new economy," and every once and a while we'll be surprised by an announcement we probably didn't see coming.
To start off with I think that Samsung will make big waves with their new Galaxy NX camera. It took me a while to understand the value proposition of its features but now I get it. I'm starting to see it through the lenses of younger generations. The camera is either getting better and better to shoot (could be firmware updates that happen automatically when the camera is in a wi-fi network) or I'm finally getting comfortable with the new ( to me ) control interface. The sensor is good, the lenses are good and, for people who need quick access to.....everything current sharing technology has to offer... it's the only game in town. I'll be demonstrating it along with Philadelphia photographer, Nick Kelsh and we won't just be shooting nice images of beautiful models----we'll be putting all of the connectivity features through the wringer. But it's certainly not the only game in town.
I'm especially interested in what Sony will be announcing. Those guys are nearly as fickle as I am! If the rumors on the web are true we'll be seeing the introduction of a Nex-styled, full frame camera for under $3,000. But this makes me a little bit nervous since I have a lot of resources tied up in what we've been calling "Alpha" stuff. I thought the product line was split between the DSLT's (Alphas) and the mirrorless offerings (Nex) but lately Sony's been slapping the Alpha signature on everything, including the little piece of cr*p camera they are calling the a3000. Does the introduction of a full frame Nex mark the incipient demise of the traditional camera line? Will my a99 be obsoleted and abandoned? Will the a850 become even more obsolete? Will we be howling in the wilderness looking for bodies to mate with our orphaned lenses? I guess we'll find out at the big show.
I hope someone at Sony has done their market research and not just taken notes over at the DPReview Sony Nex Forum....Even if they throw all their resources into the Nex style line of cameras and abandon our last century configurations I'm sure the Sony engineers have figured out how to make cute and expensive adapters for our full sized Sony and Zeiss lenses.... But, I'd rather have a choice and be able to get cameras that still have some real estate for my hands and enough build to hold big flashes up and big lenses in some sort of balance. Are you listening Sony?
Is anybody going to show any new studio flash products? Oh, I'm sure there's going to be some new cosmetic touches on existing technology but I sense that the high end studio lighting market ( focus on professional studio use) is falling through the basement floor and rapidly being replaced by more and more, small, light lithium battery powered options that allow flash anywhere. The focus on flash lighting that was aimed at perfectionists is being disrupted by the reality that so much of the market has moved from making art to making consumables. Not works meant for the test of time but images that have a "use by" date measured in hours and days instead of months and years. No one working for those markets (outside a small circle) really cares about that last 1% of UV light suppression or 1/10th of stop consistency on the 900th pop...
I'm sure we'll see lots and lots of cr*ppy LED lights that are rushed to market for low price points but I hope we'll see some really good, new stuff from Fiilex, Lowell, Arri and others. I am still a big proponent of LED lighting. I may have been a year ahead of everything I wanted coming to market when I wrote the LED book but when I look at my newly repaired crystal ball, five years from now, I'm seeing LEDs routing flash in many, many current applications. What am I looking for at this show? A fresnel, focusable spot LED with a whisper cooling fan for the electronics and enough oomph! to bounce into a big diffuser and give me enough shutter speed and f-stop to rock even a portrait with some movement in it. And, call me "crazy" but I'd like to get it into my studio for less than $1,000. Three in a nice case for $2,500? Keep the cheesy stands and just give me the good stuff....
What will Nikon and Canon show? Probably not much. This show is out of sync from their typical schedule of product announcements. Nikon seems to be flailing and I'm not sure the new D610 is a confidence builder. Rather than looking at DSLRs the real logic for Nikon is to do something great for their mirrorless line. The V cameras could use a new body that's aimed at enthusiasts. If Fuji can iterate three or four mirrorless bodies in the space of a year I would think that Nikon could pop out a rangefinder style variation of the V bodies with the updated sensor without breaking a sweat. If it's good and fun and priced right it might sell. As long as it doesn't spray oil all over the place....
I noticed that Canon withdrew their horrible EM mirrorless camera with very little fanfare. Apparently the critics did not appreciate its operational nuances. Wouldn't it be nice if they re-entered the space with a camera that could focus in fractions of a seconds instead of haltingly and in slow motion? That might sell too. And the prices that the camera finally sold for proved that every camera can be successful once the accurate value proposition is rationalized.
The company that once made the greatest compact camera ever (the Canonet QL 17) should be able to go toe to toe with Sony and their RX1 and if they could do a well designed product that competed for a much lower price they would doubtless have success in that market as well. Canon needs to launch a prime lens camera with a 35mm focal length and a full frame sensor that's as well designed as the old Canonet and nearly as accessible. Wouldn't it be great to see an f2.8 model for under a grand? And the heck with AF. If real rangefinders are good enough for Leica then they should be good enough for Canon.
I think the real news at the show is going to be in technology and sharing. One of the reasons the iPhone quickly became the most popular camera in the world is that it not only took reasonably good photographs but that the images could be worked on, in camera, and then shared instantly. Look for the market to reverse polarity and start pushing easy sharing right back up the camera hierarchy. There will be legions of "experienced" curmudgeons who will denounce any additional features in a camera. Look at the venom thrown at video implementations in DSLRs. People are fond of saying that the camera makers could have made the cameras cheaper if they made them without video, but from the camera makers' points of view the inclusion more than outweighed the sour grapes of last century enthusiasts by opening up a potentially huge new market of people who would have previously skipped still cameras altogether and just bought video cameras.
Adding wi-fi sharing or NFC sharing to a camera can't be that costly and if it attracts a whole new generation to consider a camera in lieu of a cellphone for their work then that's an enormous (if temporary) benefit to camera companies.
Finally, I expect to see a bunch of new monitors, screens and televisions aimed at the emerging 4K sector. Not just in video but also for photographic presentation. We'll be shooting images and showing them on large 4K TV's and we've been discussing the need to shoot at full res in order to utilize the full power of the screen resolution. We are at an inflection point where framed art on the walls of homes, businesses and stores is going to be replaced by large screens. The ability to go back and forth between motion and still, and at enormous resolutions (which give our images much better and richer tonality) is priceless: both from a marketer's point of view and also from the consumer's point of view. The experience will be enhanced and everyone's photos will look better (or worse) than ever before.
We're moving toward a ubiquitous screen experience. That's the real message I keep taking away.