PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 Report
Yes its an Instagram photo, deal with it, I have a social life
To be perfectly honest, I was very excited for the PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 and expected it to be a really interesting trade show with all of the latest goodies on display to look at and interview people about. I walked away a bit disheartened from a number of the major exhibitors who had booths which were too small, over-filled (with people and stuff) and generally staffed with lackadaisical and disinterested staff, oh and there wasn’t a wonderland of photographic goodies to feast my eyes upon. While there have been some interesting camera announcements lately (and don’t worry we will get to those), I was faced with an what (to me) seems like a stagnant industry with zero inspiration or innovation in a time when that is exactly what it needs more then ever. BUT that being said, I still managed to find some cool stuff to talk show you and talk about especially from Olympus, Zeiss, Leica and Rolleiflex (wait what? scroll down to find out more).
I will break this article down into sections by company so it is easier to read, or find what your interested in.
1. But where was Pentax?
Before attending the PDN PhotoPlus Expo I posted on the forums, that I was going and that I would be happy to visit any booths that anyone (who was unable to attend the show) wanted to see. The main response I got to this asked me to go visit Pentax and ask them whats up with the medium format digital camera? Will we ever see a Pentax 645Dii? Well, I walked into PhotoPlus all happy that I had a mission, and something to go see for someone because in that moment I knew my website was doing some good in the world. Well, the world threw me a curve ball because guess what?! There was no Pentax (Ricoh Imaging). It is really hard to answer a question that you can’t ask because there is no one there to ask it to. Though, I suppose, in a way that is in and of itself an answer eh? Frankly its surprising to me that Pentax would not attend PDN PhotoPlus Expo since it is one of the larger photo conventions servicing the large tri-state camera market, but even more so because they JUST released the Pentax K-3 their new “flagship DSLR”. Anyway, I don’t know whats what with them or frankly whose buying their cameras, but again I am one man and only know so much. It seems like they are sort of dead in the water as it were, this is sad because the Pentax 645 system has some wonderful AF lenses, especially some of my favorite type of lens, Telephoto’s yes, thats right! Pentax has made AUTOFOCUS medium format TELEPHOTO lenses in the past, as well as many other nice optics so it is sad to see them languish in the digital age. Though, that being said the Pentax 645D is a nice camera at a decent price for a medium format camera, and they seem to be reasonably well priced on the used market so if you have Pentax 645D lenses you still have a viable digital options of sorts. As I said, unfortunate but oh well.
Sony A7r sporting the Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA lens
Sony WOULD have made a splash with the announcement of the Sony A7 and the Sony A7r, however the fact that sony was working on a full-frame mirrorless digital camera was leaked oh I don’t know 6 months to 1 year ago sort of took the edge off of things. I watched a couple of YouTube videos covering these two cameras and concluded I really wasn’t terribly interested in them for myself. That said, they are unique, and they have some great Zeiss glass to help their great sensors along. Of course, all sorts of people are (and should be) excited about this camera because it means that they will be able to use all sorts of new (old) lenses on the D800′s 36mp sensor which is housed in the Sony A7r’s petit body. The Body is a bit small, it fit reasonably well in my hand. Even with my small hands the dial positioning was a big problem and I could see this being a major issue down the line.
Sony Premium Services and PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013
While almost creepy, it was terribly fun to watch this two little men (okay they were normal height but they felt smaller because they were in a glass box) work away on some cameras. Though I am not really sure what the purposes of them was or why they were there. Maybe this is their secret mobil laboratory where they create their cameras of mass destruction? I don’t know, but I do know what kind of laptop they were using (hint it was Sony). Maybe it was free sensor cleaning if you brought in your Sony camera? I don’t know, but I’ll just assume.
Leica X Vario with optional EVF and grip
Leica didn’t have anything terribly new to show the world (would have been cool if maybe they had that one of one (RED) Leica designed by Apple exec Jonathan Ive) but they did have some relatively new stuff on display including the Leica X-Vario. While I (and many other people) find this camera bit strange, I must say, when its all done up with its EVF and hand grip, it looks much more reasonable and like a little camera you might actually want to tote around town with you.
Leica M240 with PL-mount adapter and Leica 50mm f/2.0 Summicron-C Cine Lens
I also managed to grab this cool (spy-ish) shot of a rarely-seen-in-the-wild Leica Summicron-C 50mm f/2.o PL mount cine lens mounted on a Leica M240 via some adapter. While indeed rather strange looking, its also a good bit of fun when you think about it really. While I don’t really know what this was doing here or why there were three guys huddled around it, here we have it and I’m sure, with a bit more of a rig built out around it, it can take some cool video.
Olympus OM-D EM-1 with Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm f/1.8 Lens
Personally, I found Olympus to be the most interesting consumer brand exhibiting at PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 this year. I must say, the Olympus OM-D EM-1 is a spectacular camera and one that I am very interested in. Being the bigger brother of the Olympus OM-D EM-5 it has some interesting upgrades which help to make it a more usable camera. Even for someone like myself, someone who does not have big hands, the added grip is a nice ergonomically touch. And unlike the majority of the mirrorless cameras out there the dials are somewhat rationally placed which is a nice touch. There were very few things that I found to complain about with this camera, the only real complaints I can find on a personal level are: 1. Its mirrorless (well duh) which is something that I am not to fond of, though to be honest the better EVF’s are getting extremely good, both the Sony A7r and the Olympus OM-D EM-1 have very good EVF’s 2. I think it may be somewhat lacking in resolution, granted it has approximately the same MP count as my Nikon D4, but of course its quite different in a number of significant image quality making areas.
Demonstration of Olympus OM-D EM-1 5-Axis image stabilization
One of the interesting new features of the OM-D EM-1 is its 5-axis image stabilization which works incredibly well (more on that in a second). In hind-sight I should have taken a video but I hadn’t broken out my “video rig” yet, but I didn’t feel bad since there have already been videos showing off this same trick. You can find one here and here if you are interested. It works very well and seems like a major boon to this camera.
Olympus OM-D EM-1 with optional battery grip and Olympus M.Zukio Digital 45mm f/1.8 Lens in black
While the Olympus OM-D EM-5 was a remarkably compact system with good lenses, people obviously found it too small and were desiring a Panasonic Lumix GH3 type size variant and that is exactly what they god in this camera. When you add the battery grip onto this camera it becomes remarkably well sized (in my opinion) and certainly opens itself up to pleasing a lot more people with its larger form factor. Also, in this picture you can get an even better idea of the size of this camera when you look at how small the Olympus 45mm lens looks as its dwarfed by the body of this camera. I don’t mean to say the Olympus OM-D EM-1 is professional DSLR sized large, because its not. Also the Olympus is extremely light and packs some pretty good autofocus and very good autofocus tracking especially with the micro-four thirds lenses.
Olympus OM-D EM-1 with MMF-3 adapter and Olympus 300mm f/2.8 ED Lens
As I have gotten more and more into wildlife photography, the biggest barrier for a number of personal reasons is the size of the equipment. I am well aware that when I am taking my Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lenses out that I am not in for an easy time, but even Nikon 35mm gear can get pretty heavy pretty fast, especially as you get into the telephoto end of things. For this reason I have been very interested in the Olympus system since the MFT cameras have a 2x crop in them making their Olympus 150mm f/2.0 lens into a 300mm f/2.0 (35mm equivalent) and the Olympus 300mm f/2.8 ED into a 600mm f/2.8 (35mm equivalent) which of course are two such lenses which do not exist. Even further, you can use the Olympus 1.4x and 2.0x TC’s to make these lenses max out at a 600mm f/4.0 and 1200mm f/5.6 (35mm equivalent) which is pretty spectacular. The Olympus 300mm f/2.8 ED lens is by no means a small lens, it is approximately sized the same as all other 300mm f/2.8 lenses (be at Canon, Nikon, or even the Mamiya) but considering it is really a super-telephoto disguised as a “normal” telephoto its pretty cool. The exceedingly nice Olympus staff were nice enough to take this lens out of the case and put it on the camera for me (since its impossible to see this combination anywhere and very difficult to rent). In the Javits center, which isn’t the best lit, this camera still did a pretty good job autofocusing. Its was by no means the fastest, but it wasn’t atrociously bad like putting a Canon AF lens on the Sony A7r. The camera will retain autofocus even with the 2x TC at 1200mm f/5.6 though I am told the quality begins to degrade here since its a 2x TC etc. The thing that impressed me most, was the image stabilization. I was shocked at how well the stabilization worked as I was looking around the convention center popping off frames at slow-ish shutter speeds, when I zoomed in on the images on the back of the screen, despite my hands shaking because of the size / weight of the lens and its imbalance with the small camera body, the images were seemingly tack sharp. Very cool, not sure how practical it is considering it isn’t the fastest AF, but hopefully I will be able to rent it soon and see for myself.
Sandisk CFast 2.0
Sandisk had a small booth, staffed by very nice people showing off their latest cards, which was nice. Having not really read that much about CFast 2.0 I was curious about its potential max speed of 450 mb/s and if there were plans at the moment to have this standard begin appearing in any photographic cameras. However, I was told at the moment CFast 2.0 looks like it will be remaining in the cinema market with cameras like the Arri Alexa taking the card. This makes sense since digital movie cameras move so much data, that they need fast cards. But, I’m just saying it would be nice to see this in a PhaseOne camera or even a Nikon D-series camera even though I suspect there are diminishing returns with each of these as you get into smaller and smaller formats.
Kodak’s newly rebranded (post-sale) “Kodak Alaris” was present at PDN showing off a range of print products, as well as some of their film still. Oh how the mighty have fallen. I think one of the reasons this year was pretty depressing was because when you look at the the show, it felt like a good 60% of it was taken up with a billion different print companies all trying to hock papers and various print products. I don’t have any problem with these companies, but I’m just saying I would love to see more independent and smaller camera making companies and things like that showing their stuff at the shows rather then every single printing company and all of their kitschy products.
Samsung’s 85″ UHD-TV “worlds largest 4K TV”
Further adding to the depression setting in for me was the fact that Samsung brought along their TV’s to the show. I get there is an argument to be made for why they might want to show this off, but its ridiculous, its a camera show, not an electronics show. I know Samsung makes cameras (my first point and shoot as I began to get into photography was a Samsung) but they seemed to have languished (or at least not make anything I care about) since then and I just think thats wrong. Especially considering this is approximately at $40,000.00 dollar TV it makes it even more offensive. THAT SAID it’s totally awesome man, its crazy good looking and I want one, or three. Digressing for a second, the only annoying thing to me is that it seems you have to leave it in their frame, which sucks since its better to have these things wall mounted and no one has stands for TV’s anymore. Also apparently it has some way you can control it with your hands, IDK crazy stuff, I just want my TV to let me watch TV, movies, and play video games and this would totally be awesome for all of those things. Do you know what this screen has nothing to do with? PHOTOGRAPHY which one would assume is the point of a photography expo. Anyway….
8. Panasonic Lumix
The tiny Panasonic Lumix G DMC GM1KS
By all accounts the Panasonic Lumix cameras are pretty decent, I wouldn’t know, its not really my thing. This is pretty impressive though considering this thing is absolutely tiny, and its a decent looking ILC. Thats really all I had to say about it, its just impressive sometimes to see where technology has gotten us. I did however want to see the Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm F/1.2 lens which will be the fastest autofocus lens for MFT cameras (which means it could be used on an Olympus OM-D EM-1 just saying) which looks pretty interesting. But of course, in the disappointing vain of a lot of this show it was not even present as a prototype behind glass. Bummer.
9. Carl Zeiss
Carl Zeiss NEX 50mm f/2.8 Touit Macro lens
A very nice man from Carl Zeiss showed me a prototype of an upcoming lens for the Zeiss Touit line of lenses, the Ziess 50mm f/2.8 Touit Macro. This lens will be available in Sony NEX and Fuijifilm X-mount’s at the beginning of 2014 for a price of somewhere around ~$1,000.00. Since this was a prototype the autofocus wasn’t the best but I was assured and expect this will improve before the final version considering how well most mirrorless lenses are focusing now. The lens was very sharp and got down to 1:1 and I wish that it would come in the MFT mount, though I understand why it won’t. My main complaints (which many share) are that these lenses don’t seem to be weather sealed or weather proof or really weather anything and that the focusing ring is lackluster at best. My main concern / complaint which Zeiss is apparently aware of (but not doing anything about?) is the absence of a focusing scale which would have been especially nice on a macro lens considering there is no way to know you are at the minimum focusing distance which is super annoying. This seems like a big oversight to me, but oh well.
10. Yasuhara Nanoha
Yasuhara Nanoha 5:1 Super Macro Lens for Micro-four Thirds
I had seen this lens a few times on the B&H website and found it to be very curious and interesting considering its insane capabilities. It is really cool and is essentially slapping a low power microscope objective on to the front of your camera. This lens is very sharp, owing to its small aperture, which is why there are three LED’s tacked onto the front of the lens to help light a subject, of course these can be turned off. It is both smart and a bit strange that this lens has its own USB (good idea) power for the lights via any USB battery pack. This is, I suppose a bit of a strange concept but it totally makes sense on saving camera power to have these energy sucking lights powered independently of the camera. To use the lens you can literally put it flush with a surface you want to focus on and get in focus results, you can zoom in insanely close and see your skin, and you can also zoom in on tiny text and see the individual paint splatters from the printer head that make up the text.
Yasuhara Nanoha 5:1 Super Macro Lens showing off its close focus
This is a pretty cool lens and some of the most striking images it can create come when utilizing focusing stacking. Examples of this can be found on their website here. The most interesting thing I was told was that they were in fact working on a variant of this to be used with full-frame 35mm cameras which I think could be really cool and would be something that I would absolutely love to see happen since its a really cool lens concept which is pretty different then a lot of stuff out there. This is the kind of stuff I like to see at PDN, the smaller independent stuff that is trying to make a name for itself, or just simply show off its humble wares.
Sinar P3 Digital Focus in Leica S mount with Leica S2 mounted
I did not know this, but apparently Sinar released a version of their P3 camera in the Leica S mount which they were showing off with a Leica S2 mounted to it. This is pretty cool and helps to expand the capabilities of the Leica S camera which I happen to like a lot. This camera offers a full range of movements for both the front and the rear of the camera exactly like a traditional studio 4×5 camera. Everything is nicely geared and clearly marked. I would have loved to have asked some questions about this set up, however the Swiss-German gentlemen clearly assigned to this camera was clearly too busy having a love affair with another German speaker (unclear if he worked for Sinar too) and wouldn’t have even given me the time of day. There were some other Sinar reps showing off their other cameras, but I was so putt off that I lost interest.
12. Digital Transitions
Arca-Swiss Rm3Di at Digital Transitions Booth
Digital Transitions, my PhaseOne dealer of choice was of course present at PDN PhotoPlus showing off all sorts of cool gadgets from the likes of Arca-Swiss, Cambo, MamiyaLeaf, and PhaseOne. Its always good fun to see all of this stuff out and about in the world and its nice to see the number of people who are interested in medium format digital backs even though smaller sensored cameras are catching up in MP’s and MFDB’s run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Also that said, it should be noted that a number of very capable last generation backs are available on the market (and from Digital Transitions) in the sub-$15k and sub-$10k market, and even a PhaseOne P25+ (Sub-$10k) will blow smaller sensored cameras out of the water.
PhaseOne PhotoPhase and LightPhase “vintage” digital backs
The highlight of my week was the really well executed Digital Transitions 10 year anniversary party which was really well executed and brought together photographers and manufacturers intimately for some product demos and discussion as well as a pure celebration of the past 10 years of the companies history. Considering my intimate relationship with the company over the past few years and my belief that they are truly the best at what they do made this a nice and enjoyable occasion. It was nice to meet fellow photographers as well and hopefully will have opened up a number of opportunities for more interesting content for this website. One of the opportunities that I am most excited about is the chance to get some products from Rollei to review…
Rolleiflex FW 50mm f/4.0 TLR
Eric Hiss from Rolleiflex US was at both the Digital Transitions party (sporting the Rollei Hy6 Mod2, more on that later) and at the PDN PhotoPlus Expo sporting this Rolleiflex FW 50mm f/4.0 TLR. The Rolleiflex FW is a
$6,700.00 $5,375.00 (available here) film camera which is still traditionally and expertly made. It is an updated version offering modern features while still having the functionality and aesthetic of the classic Rollei TLR’s that the likes of Vivian Maierr and countless other photographers have used. Even while I was standing around with Eric, a number of people came up and asked “is this a digital camera?” and of course it is not which is something special in a way, and although there are few reports on it out there both the Rolleiflex FW 50mm f/4.0 and the Rolleiflex FX 80mm f/2.8 are supposed to be great cameras. I look forward to hopefully getting my hands on them to review soon so we can see what they can do.
Front and side views of the Rolleiflex Hy6 Mod2
Eric also had the Rolleiflex Hy6 mod2 on hand at the Digital Transitions 10 year anniversary party on Wednesday night to show off this very interesting camera. The Rolleiflex Hy6 camera is currently not very big in the US, though it is popular overseas even though it offers some unique features. It looks as if it is a cross between a Hasselblad V series camera and a modern SLR. It features autofocus and modern controls with some interesting caveats and features. First of all, its really cool to be looking down a classic medium format top-level viewfinder and holding down the shutter and watching the lens magically autofocus, this is a very nice feature. At the top of the viewfinder you find a digital display which shows all of the requisite information that you would expect to find on any professional camera. The grip is particularly interesting, it is adjustable to two different positions which allow for the most comfortable shooting possible when using the camera with the pop-up viewfinder (pictured on the camera) as well as with the 45-degree and 90-degree viewfinders where you can move the grip into a classic vertical position. The camera body is very solid with metal construction, yet is very light. I only played with it with a film back mounted, but of course the weight would increase when you put a digital back on it. The Rolleiflex Hy6 can currently only be used with Sinar and Mamiya backs. Mamiya probably has the best digital back options for it including the AFi-ii 10 (currently available through a special promotion at Digital Transitions) and MamiyaLeaf Credo 60 and 80 digital backs (see below for more on this). As we can see from the side view, a number of key camera settings can be easily accessed from the left hand side of the camera via actual knobs and dials which is extremely nice and refreshing and something that I really liked. Also of note is a very interesting feature, that I frankly think should be on all cameras, which is focus bracketing. On this camera you can electronically control the focusing distance and program the camera to take shots autonomously at varying focal lengths to combine later for increasing the in-focus area of an image. Also the Rolleiflex system has some really nice lenses including the Rollei APO-Symmar 90mm f/4 Makro PQS which is touted as being one of the best lenses ever designed and the Rollei Zeiss 110mm f/2.0 Planar PQ Lens (which is the same as the Hasselblad version) which is a very unique lens at a very fast aperture. Unfortunately these two lenses are manual focus, but you can easily change out the focusing screen for a nice micro-prism focusing screen which will make manual focus that much easier.
Update on options to use the Rolleiflex Hy6 with a medium format digital back: Eric Hiss informed me of some more of the particulars regarding various medium format digital backs (from MamiyaLeaf and Sinar) on the Rolleiflex Hy6, these include the Leaf AFi and AFi-ii backs and the Credo’s, you can also use older as well as current Sinar backs on the camera without a problem. Also worth noting is that the Rolleiflex Hy6 mod2 does not lock out customers who had say purchased the Sinar Hy6 variant with an older Sinar digital back, you can still use it on the Rolleiflex Hy6 mod2.
Me and my host from my Cambo Factory Tour, Rene Rook at the DT Party
While I will concede I was a bit surly for some for some of this report, I think the comments were mostly valid, although at time hyperbolic, but still what can I say there were a lot of very uninspiring things out there this year. I’m sure it will get better as the digital camera market better adjusts to consumers demands but of course there were still some nice things out there which I hope you found my coverage of interesting. Please leave me comments letting me know which of these products you would be especially interested in reading more about and I will be sure to follow up with them.