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PMA 2009
Vegas, Tuesday-Thursday 03-05 March 2009
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Nikon at PMA 2009

Nikon's Booth at PMA 2009. enlarge. (shot with my SD880)

 

adorama

Ritz Camera

I personally buy from Adorama, Amazon, Ritz, B&H, Calumet and J&R. I can't vouch for ads below.

 

Introduction

PMA is the annual trade show where all the new gear for spring is introduced.

There is nothing earth shattering this year, although of course camera makers want you to think so.

As digital's decade draws to a close, there are fewer and fewer significant introductions.

There are no significant new cameras introduced here as there have been every other year as digital was growing. Sure, there are a thousand new 10MP 3x zoom point-and-shoots, but I've already got one. Don't you?

There are a few new lenses that were introduced at the show. Canon has two new shift lenses, and just pushed out the envelope on what is possible with their 17mm full-frame shift lens. This lens has been impossible to manufacture in all of history, and Canon is the world's first to figure it out.

Leica introduced their widest new fixed lens in over 50 years, and Nikon's new Cartier-Bresson 35mm f/1.8 DX is wonderful.

Personally I'm more interested in lenses and filters than cameras, because lenses and filters have more to do with making a notable photo than another new camera, and lenses are a far better investment anyway.

I'll admit that most computer users get more excited about cameras than lenses, but I've never figured out why. Anyway, sorry that there aren't any significant new cameras, but here we go.

 

45 Gigapixels

There was a 2 foot by 30 foot mural of Yosemite Valley hung in the hall, made from a 45GP stitched image.

So?

Sure, it was big and reasonably sharp, but who cares. The lighting was dull, thus it was a boring shot. It was so long, but not that tall, so when you went up to look at it, all you saw was a small rectangular segment. If you stood back, all you saw was a small image too short to be impressive.

This wasn't impressive. What was impressive a few years ago was a 12 foot by 16 foot (4 x 5 meter) image that had a lot more detail, and made sense seen both from far and near.

This Yosemite Valley image was a geek's "look what I can do" image, but not a compelling photo.

 

Canon

24mm tilt-shift: TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II, takes 82mm filters, May 2009, $2,199.

Canon 24mm TS-E

Canon 24mm f/3.5 TS-E.

What's very new about these two new Canon shift lenses is that each goes beyond anything done before, especially by Nikon's newest 24mm shift, in that the new Canon TS-E lenses have a new degree of motion which allows us to rotate the axes between tilt and shift.

All previous SLR TS lenses locked us into a fixed relationship between the axis of tilt and the axis of shift. We have to send Nikon lenses into service to have this shifted by 90º, and there's no other way to get arbitrary relationships as we actually need in SLR nature and landscape shooting. These newest Canon lenses only require us to unlock them, and we can move them around in a new degree of freedom. Whoo Hoo!

 

17mm tilt-shift: TS-E 17mm f/4L, no filters, May 2009, $2,499.

Canon 17mm TS-E

Canon 17mm f/4 TS-E.

World's first: it's ultra-wide without shift, and it sees so much you can tilt and shift it even further. Insane!

Both lenses have 67.2mm image circles and shift up to ±12mm. The 17mm shifts so much you'll almost see behind yourself.

 

Point-and-Shoots

Canon SX200 IS

Canon SX200 IS 12x zoom (larger than life). It fits in a pocket.

Canon, as always, has ten great new Powershots.

The SX200 packs a 12-power stabilized zoom into your pocket.

Canon SX 200, rear

Rear, Canon SX200 (larger than life).

The SX200 zooms from the equivalent of 28mm to over 300mm.

The D10 is a new underwater category from Canon. It is abuse proof and waterproof to 10m (33 feet). For deeper depths, Canon still makes many housings for other cameras.

Canon D10

Canon D10, larger than life.

Canon D10 rear

Rear, Canon D10.

Many of these ten come in several colors, giving you more selection than ever.

Last year's SD880 remains my favorite, but the 12x zoom SX200 also deserves a look.

 

Pro9500 Mark II Printer

Pro 9500 Mark II

Canon Pro9500 Mark II. enlarge.

I don't use inkjet printers. I have my stuff printed professionally on real, wet-processed paper at real photo labs for less than the cost of printing at home.

Then again, I shoot color.

If I shot black-and-white, I'd print optically on wet-processed B&W paper in my own darkroom.

Short of a real darkroom, the best way to print B&W electronically is using the painful, custom quad-tone hacks, or Canon's newest pro inkjet.

I was astounded at the B&W print quality from this new 10-color 13 x 19" printer. It makes perfect B&W prints because it includes three kinds of gray and black inks, just like the kludgy quad-tone systems. OK, three isn't quad, but the point is that the Pro9500 Mark II makes B&W prints that look like B&W prints, without the ugly color shifts versus level as other color inkjet and wet-process color printers do when trying to print B&W.

You have to go get a sample print. That will tell all. Reading about it won't show you what it can do. I suggested Canon needs to do an ad with an inserted print, or mail prints to all of us as part of a direct-mail campaign.

The Pro9500 Mark II is that good.

 

Fuji

Fuji's Velvia 50 continues as a top seller.

The medium format folding rangefinder prototype previewed last year has become a real product, made by Cosina and sold under the Voigtländer brand.

Neither Cosina nor their US rep bothered to show at the show, so oh well.

 

Hoya HD Filters

Hoya HD POL

Hoya HD Polarizer.

These new Hoya HD filters are so extraordinary that I wrote up their own review.

 

Kaiser

Kaiser Enlarger

Kaiser VPM9005 Enlarger. enlarge.

German Kaiser showed a new enlarger. The slick part is the built-in single-control multigrade head, and the easy in-out lever at the top right for focusing. Its also got levels on both base and enlarger, and flips to project on the wall.

Its medium-format glass carrier has built-in variable masks to cover any smaller format.

The whole thing sells for about $1,600, and lot less without the fancy filterhead.

 

Kodak

Ektar 100 print film soon comes in 120 size. I'm working on an Ektar 100 review.

New TMax 400 is also out, and I got some samples to review.

Kodak tells me that new TMax 400 has all the new tricks they've learned the past 20 years since the first Tmax 400 came out, and the new TMax 400 has about a stop less grain, similar to what an imaginary TMax 200 would have had.

Kodak also tried adding all their new tricks to TMax 100, but it made so little improvement that they didn't bother to re-do TMax 100.

If you imaging the grain levels of original TMax 100 and 400, the new TMax 400 is right in the middle. TMax 100 is unchanged.

Kodak says that Tri-X (400) is still their largest selling B&W film.

Kodachrome? I thought only old weirdoes still shot Kodachrome. Even I stopped in 1990 when Velvia came out. Know who still shoots Kodachrome? Alex Webb, of Magnum and National Geographic. Kodak still makes all the fresh Kodachrome you can handle.

 

Leica

You have to give Leica credit for being hard-core about their image. What other camera company sends out press releases when they introduce a new color for a case?

Leica has the strongest identity throughout their booth. Everything ties into their corporate flag.

Yes, the cameras are all black, white and red, but so is their booth, and so are their people!

Everything vertical in their booth is black, like the walls, and everything horizontal is red, like the shelves and the booth carpet.

Their men, as always, were uniformed in black suits, white shirts and solid red ties. Leica pulled off stronger corporate identity than anyone else, who at best gave booth lackeys logo shirts. In Leica's case, every man wore the corporate black, white and red identity all over himself.

The EXIF data of Leica's studio product shots, sent to us in media, also show that they shoot them with the Leica R9 and Digital Modul R back. This sure beats Nikon, who's PR shot EXIF shows that Nikon won't even use its on products: the D3 and D3X PR photos were shot with a Phase One P45S back, not a D3X.

 

Leica S2 System

Leica S2

Leica S2 and 70mm f/2.5 Summarit-S. enlarge.

I got to sneak in the back and try shooting with a Leica S2 prototype. The S2 is a medium-format digital SLR.

The coolest news is that Leica is claiming that this won't cost $100,000 ~ $150,000 as I'd guess, but they claim that it will be about the same as what anyone considering similar Hasselblad or Mamiya systems would expect to pay. We'll see.

It's a big, solid, simple camera. It's about as big as a Nikon D3/x and f/2.8 zoom or a similar Canon, but nowhere near as ugly. That's good news, considering that this is a man's medium-format camera, not a 35mm plinker.

The top display is not an LCD as you might gather from the mock-up shown above. The top display is an OLED, which means a black panel with bright numbers that glow in many colors.

The viewfinder is a big ground-glass with a circle and cross in the middle to note the single AF sensor. There is a digital LCD at the bottom. It was amber on the prototype I tried.

The back is just four buttons. The rear thumb dial also can be pushed to select, and change what it sets. I think I'd prefer a more common navigational tool, but seeing how Leica and the Germans have an innate ability to make things simpler and faster, I'll wait and see.

The menu system is superior to Nikon and Canon because it's one long menu like older Canons, and not seven different confusing sets of menus. You'll see a colored scroll bar on the left, and scroll through the shooting and playback sections in one sweep. You'll never get lost trying to guess where something is hidden.

Shooting modes (Professional, Aperture- or Shutter-preferred and manual) are set on the top dial. The top shutter-speed dial has half-stop clicks. A dial is so much better than a button and control dial! Sadly, apertures are set the Oriental way: with a button and rear scroll dial.

Playback and menu scrolling is excellent. There is no delay as with many Nikon and Canon cameras. Yay! Let's hope the Germans don't clog it up by the time it hits production.

The S2 is easy to use. I had it figured out faster than most Nikons or Canons. There is beauty in the lack of buttons. Fewer buttons and thoughtful programming make a camera faster and easier to figure out. Let's hope it works well in practice, for instance, WB and ISO are set in menus, not with their own buttons.

Auto ISO? YES!!! Leica is going to beat Canon to this with its very first DSLR. Canon still hasn't figured this out after its tenth DSLR. You can adjust how Auto ISO works, just like on Nikon.

The S2 has noisy AF. It sounds like a kid's toy and isn't very fast. When I asked about this, I was told that's the way it's going to be. Unlike little-guy lenses, the big medium-format Leica lenses have a lot of glass to move over longer distances, so the girly-man ultrasonic motors won't cut it.

If Leica pulls this off and if the S2 goes for the teens of thousands of dollars and not tens of thousands of dollars, it will most likely be a far better choice for quality than the over-priced 35mm D3X. Why waste $8 grand on 35mm from Nikon if $15 grand could get you a medium format beauty from Leica? We can only hope.

 

Leica 18mm Lens

Leica 18mm

Leica 18mm (without hood) on an M8 with Universal Finder. enlarge.

Leica is showing its landmark new 18mm f/3.8, the first time in over 50 years that Leica has offered a wider-angle common fixed lens for Leica M cameras!

Sadly, as expected, it's too darn big to give a clear finder image with the new 18mm dedicated finder. The Leica 18mm finder has the entire bottom edge of its frame blocked by the top edge of the camera, and the lens protrudes into the finder's center bottom. Poo!

The shot above shows it without its dedicated hood, which you had better use to protect the front element. We took off the hood trying to figure out how to attach filters. For the M8, the dedicated UV/IR filter goes over the male threads on the front of the lens, an the same hood screws on top of the filter.

Leica really does have a clever new patented screw-on system. It screws on like anything else, but its also keyed so that things screw on and stop exactly and sharply at exactly the correct orientation. The hood and filter spin right on and stop exactly where they need to, without having to use vice-grips to get them on or off. Bravo, but we never could find the 77mm filter adapter to see what it did or how it worked.

I did confirm, as expected, that while the 18mm lens brochure and PR photos show nothing but the M8 half-frame digital camera, all the photographs in the brochure and on display at the show were shot on Fuji Reala 100 film in a Leica MP camera. You can't capture the sweeping grandeur of space when you're cropping out everything but the center of the image with an M8; you need film to see it all.

The Voigtländer 15mm f/4.5 is superior in both smaller size and therefore not blocking its own finder. Does anyone at Leica actually shoot with these lenses before committing the design to production, or are these products merely jewelry for men, not intended to serve useful purposes beyond looking and feeling nice?

The dedicated 18mm finder is also a bust. The half-frame (M8.2) frame lines of the Leica 18mm finder get in the way of full-frame coverage, there is no level, and the view is pretty poor and distorted. The Zeiss 18mm finder is nicer. A much better choice from Leica is the superior Leica Universal Wide Finder set to 18mm (or set to 24mm for you half-frame guys). The 18mm Leica lens still intrudes into the finder frame at 18mm with the Universal Finder, but less so.

Maybe if Leica was thorough enough to put a second shoe on the top of these finders we could have a place for our light meters when shooting these lenses on older Leicas.

 

Nikon

Nikon 35mm f/1.8

Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX.

Nikon is showing its great new 35mm f/1.8 DX "Cartier Bresson" lens. It's a total winner, and very well made with a metal mount and gasket. Except for the nice manual focus ring, nothing external moves during focus. During autofocus, not even the focus ring moves.

It's a steal at $199.

I asked them if they'd be raising the price in response to its popularity, and they said no, only if the exchange rates make them do that to everything.

Nikon had no D5000, no D700x nor any D770. Sorry.

Nikon showcased their 35mm RealRaw SLRs, the extraordinary F6 and the Cosina-made FM-10.

Nikon F6

Nikon F6 and FM-10. enlarge.

 

Olympus

Olympus has another small DSLR.

What's cool is that the buttons light up so up can see them at night, just like car radios and cell phones have done for decades.

I'm still wondering why my Nikon and Canon DSLRs have dark, non-illuminated buttons that I can't read in the dark. My $29 cell phone does it better.

Sadly, there was no new micro four-thirds camera, just the same mock-up we saw last year. Poo, this could be cool if it hits: a quarter-sized sensor in a tiny body.

 

Pentax

Pentax introduced a new point-and-shoot at 2PM Tuesday.

It's got something like a 24x optical zoom lens.

Pentax also anounced a 15mm f/4 ED DA lens for DSLRs at $580. On digital, its a moderate wide-angle and a very small lens on any camera. It's made of metal, not plastic, but it's manual-focus only.

 

Rocketlife

I haven't tried it, but Rocketlife is a scheme by which photographers can set up online stores to sell photo trinkets like photo books, hats, shirts, mugs, key rings and mouse pads.

The only gotcha is that I heard its software won't run on Mac, which makes it pretty useless to photographers. Check it out yourself; I haven't.

I'm told that you can set it up so that you don't do anything once set up. You point customers to the right place, they can shop and order using your images, Rocketlife bills the customers, makes the tchotchkes and ships them out, and all you do is sit back and cash the checks.

No, I haven't tried it, and yes, if I was into selling images, I'd check this out.

 

Software

Software is largely irrelevant to careful photography. If you're doing straight photography (as opposed to photo illustration) and didn't shoot it right, no amount of software will turn a crappy photo into anything less crappy.

Not to diss any of you people who love spending all night in front of your screens, but I prefer to spend my creative time out shooting.

I met Photoshop wizard Stephen Burns, the man who taught me the most important thing in Photoshop, which is how to use adjustment layer masks to do dodging and burning.

Dodging and burning is the most important thing you do in printing. It is how you emphasize and diminish areas of your fine print as needed. This skill in printing is what made Ansel Adams who he is, not so much his abilities in making the straight shot.

I asked Mr. Burns if the new localized dodge and burn tools in Aperture and Lightroom work as well as the klumsy layers and masks that careful workers have used for years, and unfortunately he said no. We still need to screw with adjustment layers and masks to do this properly. This deserves an article from me, since I was hoping the amateur tools did this well by now, but not really.

 

Sony

Sony has nothing new for serious photography, although Sony has some very interesting new stuff for displays.

At the press conference, we were hit by the same loud music heralding every lame new product. Bo-ring! Sony ought to realize that we're free press. We don't work for Sony so we shouldn't be subjected to the same lame presentations to which every large corporation subjects its direct sales people.

We stood around in a room we couldn't find, since there weren't enough chairs. Some guy whose English is better than my Japanese, but not by much, tries to go through a bunch of meaningless internal gibberish about some lame new point and shoot. Then he fires up the same lame thing that anyone who's been a pro salesman has seen at launch meetings a thousand times: A projector showing animations of a new product flying around in space, while accompanied by loud, distorted disco music.

Sony's big whoop this month is a point-and-shoot that takes photography even further away from making good photos.

Sony's $500 DSC-HX1's only clever new feature takes "spray and pray" photography to a new low. "Spray and pray" is how people who don't understand composition try to photograph, much like millions of monkeys banging away randomly on typewriters might hope to write like Vonnegut. Spray and pray is where you shoot everything at random, and hope that God helps you sort out what you got and maybe that there is one good photo by dumb luck.

The DSC-HX1 has a panoramic mode that looks trick in a demo, but only encourages careless snapshooting for bus-tour tourists.

Much as an American on vacation in a hostile land might get off a bus with a fully automatic class-3 streetsweeper shotgun and spray an unruly crowd of anti-American protesters with a few dozen rounds of 12-gauge to clear the way across the town square so that he can walk across and enjoy a quiet, relaxing meal, the DSC-HX1 has a "streetsweeper" panorama mode.

Open the tour bus door, and spray a few dozen rounds at 600 rounds per minute (whoops, Sony says 10 frames per second) by waving the DSC-HX1 from one side to the other while holding the trigger, uh, shutter, and here's the cool part: the DSC-HX1 automatically assembles a panoramic stitched shot from all the other shots.

God only knows how you're supposed to define a careful, powerful composition while doing this, but who cares: this is for bus tourists, not photographers.

Sony says it also works up-and-down for vertical panoramas. Sony didn't say that it works in area (tiling) mode, so I presume you can't just paint an entire area and hope to create a mosaic. Sony also declined to state the resulting resolution of the final image. Sony said that the stabilizer worked overtime to get sharp shots as you spray.

Sony bragged about the 10 FPS capture, but as a point and shoot and not an SLR, I doubt the DSC-HX1 can track focus which spraying away. I'd skip this for action photography; you want a Nikon D40 or Canon Rebel XSi for the same price instead.

Yes, the spray-and-pray function of the DSC-HX1 is novel, but I can't see how it applies to serious photography.

After the press conference, we saw the Sony press preview, which had just about every TV and clock radio they made on display. I guess the SLR line isn't important to Sony, since I had to ask around to find it. Sony is such a large organization that many of its zillions of employees needed this valuable time to catch up on office chit-chat amongst themselves rather than show us the cameras. I had to find them on my own, since no one at Sony was there to show us the Alpha SLRs.

In case this report makes it back to Sony management, yes, I had to find the Alpha Accessories section of the preview after asking one employee who left me to wander on my own to find it, where I found two more Sony employees sitting on the steps up to the riser. I waited for them to stop chatting, and asked where the Alpha cameras were, they motioned "over there," and kept up their conversation amongst themselves. Did either care to walk me over? NO. Sadly, no one else was checking out the Alphas either. There were some lenses behind plexiglas, and a couple of A900s on tethers.

The A900 has what look like some solid lenses, like a Zeiss 16-35mm f/2.8 that I could put to good use, but its too darn big . I'm serious: who would want to carry these beasts into the field for shooting? Not me.

Since the Sonys can't rectify lateral color, the big prints made on the A900 at the show showed distracting lateral color fringes.

Sony had some 30 x 45" prints on display from the A900. Sadly, I reckon the A900 isn't smart enough to compensate for lateral color, since the shots of silhouetted trees made with the 24-70mm f/2.8 showed disturbing amounts of lateral color in the corners. Too bad; the newer Nikons all fix this automatically — in JPGs.

Here's the cool, earth-shattering stuff from Sony: displays! I saw the first non-CRT (tube) video displays that don't look like crap.

All plasma and LCD TVs and video monitors look crummy because they can't get subtle colors right. Unlike our computer screens, which we can calibrate carefully, non-CRT TVs can't get the darker colors to render accurately. Most video viewers don't notice, but look at skin tones and they should stay the same color, even in shadows on a face.

On plasma and LCD, the limited display quantization levels in the darks make skin tones tile to various errors of green and magenta in the dark parts, and LCD and plasma can't make real black black anyway.

Here's the news: OLED. Sony is working on direct-view LED displays. Since LEDs easily can be modulated all the way into black, these displays are the first since CRTs that have both accurate colors at all gray levels, and can make black black.

Even Sony's $20,000 BVM LCD monitors, also on display, can't make black. They can go dark gray, but not black.

OLED displays are in their infancy. You can buy the 9-inch, $2,500 Sony XEL-1 video monitor today, and even 21" OLED displays are only lab prototypes.

The 9" monitor was astounding in that it got skin tones and subtle washes of color right. I was jumping up and down going "look at this!" and the Sony product managers, back from CES, were stoked, telling the other product managers that I was the first guy who actually "got it:" the accurate colors. All the other wieners who see these just haven't seen what's the whole point: accurate colors and blacks.

Sure, OLED is bright and sharp, but so are LCD and plasma. The whole point of OLED is getting the accurate colors we can't get on plasma or LCD, and getting blacks that go black.

Sony also had a great new video projector, the $8,000 VPL-VW70 projector. I'm not a projector hound, but it's the first consumer projector I've seen that gives cinema quality. Colors look great, meaning subtle and accurate, not just bold, and blacks are black. Sony showed this with a Schneider anamorphic lens for 2:35 use. $8,000 is a bargain, considering just a few years ago it cost $800,000 for a digital cinema projector that was of course brighter, but didn't look as good. $8,000 is a steal for this level of quality. All you need for digital cinema at home theatre sizes is this projector, an anamorphic lens for 'scope, and a DVD or Blu-ray player.

Sony mostly showed TVs, stereos, and blank media. Cameras were hidden in the corner of the press preview. I have a sneaking suspicion Sony had the preview, held in an undisclosed location, set up for another function, since it was quite an undertaking if all they wanted to do was show us the new cameras. This preview did a great job of showing us how unimportant cameras are at Sony. Maybe we'll have a more photo-centric preview next year.

 

Tiffen

Tiffen HT Grad ND

Tiffen HT Grad ND.

Tiffen's new HT filters are special enough to deserve their own dedicated review.

 

Zeiss

Zeiss Kit

A fancy box — and 20% off!

The best news from Zeiss is package discounts. Most of the time when I see a fancy box I run away, because it meant the price just went up.

In this case, the fancy box means that if you order both a lens and a body at the same time, Zeiss hand-picks your two items, custom-fits them into this slick case, and then chops 20% off the combined price.

If you get the Super-Wide body instead (the one without the finder), you get 25% off the total. Whoo hoo!

You can get silver or black, either the regular body or finderless (SW) body, and it seems like any of the lenses from 50mm and shorter that fit in the case and therefore get the discount. You order these through the usual dealers, like Adorama or B&H, they give your order to Zeiss who hand-picks it for you, and you get it quickly.

I'm looking forward to trying the Zeiss Ikon body. I played with it at the show, and except that the maximum auto exposure time is only 8 seconds, and not 38 seconds as in the Leica M7, it seems like a better, more reliable camera all-around than the Leicas.

The Zeiss has a real ASA dial, and not the flaky DX systems the Leica M7. The Zeiss seems to have a potentially better finder with a superior exposure readout

The Leica M7 counts up exposure time to 16 minutes in Bulb. With the Zeiss, if you're a night owl like me, you need to go back to a stopwatch in the dark, but unless you're crazy like me, the Zeiss is probably a better camera for a quarter the price. We'll see.

I also got to handle the Zeiss-for-Leica (ZM) lenses. They are much nicer than I thought. The look like jewels, and handle like a dream. They usually don't have focus tabs like Leica lenses, but with such slick, smooth focusing you can focus even the longer Zeiss lenses, like the new 85mm f/4, with one fingertip. I need two fingers for the longer Leitz lenses, but not with the Zeiss.

The Zeiss finders are also much nicer than I expected. The Zeiss finders are precision die castings, and have sharper, brighter images than the Leica finders. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Zeiss 18mm finder is superior to the new Leica 18mm finder, and probably costs less, too. The 18mm ZM lens does block some of the bottom of the 18mm finder, sorry, but the 21mm f/4.5 ZM lens is so small that it doesn't block the 21mm finder at all.

Zeiss also has a new 85mm f/4 for the Leica mount, which both is cheaper than their 85mm f/2, and ought to have diffraction-limited performance..

 

PLUG

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Thanks for reading!

Ken

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