Photokina Opening Day Report
Photokina 2016 kicked off on Tuesday, September 20th and it seemed to get started without the excitement and intrigue of Photokina events from previous years. I have been coming to Photokina since 1980 and have missed 2 in all those years. During the peak years, all the halls and pavilions were filled. In the past Kodak, Agfa, Leica, and Fuji had their own halls. These were filled with gear ranging from cameras, printers, film and paper processing, mini-labs and more. Today numerous halls aren’t even open, and no one except Leica has its own hall, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the display of cameras or other gear.
You know the show is different as you can catch a cab to and from the convention center without waiting in long lines. Photokina has traditionally been about manufacturers showing their products to dealers and resellers. It’s not a photographer show per se except for those real dedicated gear addicts. It’s a place where a manufacturer can show their products to an audience of buyers without having to visit them individually. Big orders are placed, and there are a lot of back room dealings.
Today it seems that it is an internet world. Camera makers have been launching cameras all year, and most didn’t wait for Photokina. This Photokina there weren’t any real surprises. Yes, Fuji announced their GFX, but the rumors about a Fuji medium format camera have been floating around for years.
I asked my colleague Nick Devlin what the excitement of the show was, and between the both of us we couldn’t come up with something specific. Canon announced a mirrorless camera, Leica announced an instant Polaroid type of camera, Sony announced the A99 II and Hasselblad showed a concept camera and their mirrorless camera which should be shipping soon. There isn’t anything earth shattering as far as ‘gotta have’ – ‘game-changing’ announcements. There are plenty of people here but the fact you can get a table at lunch time and move around without too much of a hassle says that attendance is down. Our hotel which is usually booked solid even had rooms.
Anyway, let’s take a look at some of the things we saw. These are just some of the highlights that Nick & I thought you’d may be interested in. We still have a few days and more to share. Our final day and the final appointment is with Perry Oosting from Hasselblad on Friday. So, we will have a final wrap up next week after we get home.
The Sony A99 II
Many thought that Sony was going to stop making “A” mount cameras and focus on “E” mount cameras. Well, that is not the case—Sony announced the A99 II full frame A-mount camera. This camera has an impressive set of specs and was real fun to use.
The new A99 II is Sony’s first full-frame camera to feature the acclaimed 4D Focus system, bringing a supreme level of AF performance to Sony’s A-mount line-up. The Hybrid Phase Detection AF system is enabled by combining a precision 79-points dedicated phase detection AF sensor with 399 focal plane phase detection AF points – to produce a 79 hybrid cross AF point3 array. Sounds complicated and is better understood when watching a presentation by a Sony rep.
Sony allowed us to try this out with a set of dancers during a press demo. The AF was incredibly fast and combined with a 12 frame per second shooting rate, it was a real performer. The A99 II is capable of shooting RAW bursts of 54 RAW images continuously or 360 JPEGS. This is a sign of things to come especially for a camera with a 42.4 mega-pixel sensor. Combine all of this with IBIS and it’s a sweet compact and very functional camera.
Best of all there is a new menu system. Sony has listened, and we can only hope we see the menu system improve on other new camera releases. This one is pretty easy to use.
We are anxious to get our hands on this once the camera is released. We expect to see this camera in November at a price of around $3199 USD (body only).
LEICA – By Nick Devlin
One company has taken a distinctly different tack at Photokina 2016: Leica. The legendary German maker has made a habit since 2012 of renting the entirety of Hall 1 at the Cologne conference centre and turning it into a massive photo gallery. This year, for the first time, there is not a single camera on display in this cavernous space.
Rather, Leica has assembled what must be the world’s biggest photography exhibit at the moment, featuring a dozen photographers, whose work spans the globe and every genre.
The work is stunning, printed and displayed with Leica’s money-no-object attention to quality, and is worth the trip to Cologne alone. From the sexy-as-hell fashion work of Ellen von Unwerth, to affectingly human portraits from the battlegrounds of Afghanistan, the largely unheralded but brilliant street work of Ara Güller documenting a lifetime in Istanbul and the Bruce Gilden’s striking 4×7 foot tall facial close-ups of down-and-out Americans, this show is the best I’ve seen in years.
Leica’s commitment to showing photos instead of cameras is a marriage of marketing and a genuine passion for photography on the part of the company’s majority shareholder Dr. Andreas Kaufmann and his wife Karin Rehn-Kaufmann, who is the driving force behind Leica’s galleries worldwide. And it works.
Leica has a comparatively small retail booth presence this year, largely because there is nothing really that new at the show, but it has managed to make a strong statement that its name is synonymous with the best of photography.
Speaking of that retail side, Leica’s feature product for the show is…..wait for it….a Polaroid-style instant camera called the “Sofort” (German for ‘right now’). You don’t have to be much of a conspiracy theorist to think this is a pimped-out Fuji Instax. That said, it’s really nice. The camera is a stylish and contemporary piece of industrial design and is going to sell for 279 Euros.
Instant photography may seem an anomalous play in the digital age, but in fact, it’s a perfect fit to the snap-everything-and-share ethos of the Instagram/Snapchat age. It is no coincidence that the walls of instant prints on display bear a clear resemblance to an Instagram gallery page. Analog lives!
Leica will sell a boatload of these. And why not? It’s fun, fashionable, and wildly accessible by Leica standards.
Fuji Back Room – By Kevin Raber
We had the opportunity for a long meeting with the senior management team of Fuji to see first hand the Fuji GFX and to ask questions. Fuji has always been very open with us, and they love to listen but they also share their ideas and what they are doing with their camera line.
Fuji made a conscious decision to jump over the DSLR market and create what they call a NEW format. The “G” format. They craft their language very carefully so as not to be categorized as medium format. We’ll have to get used that moving forward.
We had the chance to hold the GFX and see the lenses being introduced. This is a 51.4 MP sensor that has been modified for Fuji. The big modification is the micro-lenses on the chip. Underneath the hood is the way the chip interfaces to the rest of the camera. So, to end all speculation it is a new sensor design even though it is the same mega-pixel count as others.
The camera is a functional design with well thought our button and dial placement as well as an outcrop for your thumb to better grip the camera. The viewfinder is ingenious and clips on or off. What is really different is that it is flexible. So you can raise it and look down through it at 90 degrees. It also rotates along a second axis so you can tilt it while in vertical mode. We asked about the specs of the viewfinder, and they say it is under development and not final. So, no answers on refresh rate or pixel size. I’m sure we’ll hear more on true specs over he coming months, and knowing Fuji it will be a good EVF.
The removable viewfinder indicated that it may be possible to upgrade it or to use the HDMI output to put a larger monitor on the camera. There is no 4K video so don’t get excited, but it will record 1080 video if needed. They are quick to point out that this is not a video camera.
The lenses weigh a lot less than expected. These lenses are not leaf shutter lenses. The flash sync speed is 1/125th of a second. When we mentioned the need for leaf shutter lenses and higher sync speeds they smiled. So, they are aware of the need. I get the feeling they may develop adapters for other leaf shutter lenses but don’t hold me to that.
A lot of new technology is emerging in chip design. The word thrown around a lot at this show is Global Shutter. The idea being that in the not so distant future there will be no need for shutters, as the electronics will handle the shutter speed. The issue presently is a chip in simple terms needs to dump it’s data in a linear form. This means that it unloads the data after an exposure by rows and/or columns. This is why there is a rolling shutter effect that is common on today’s chips. A global shutter in basic terms unloads all pixels at one time essentially dumping each pixel rather than unloading pixel data by a row in sequence.
As we discussed, the smiles appeared on the faces of the Fuji team. This is pretty exciting stuff, and it is obvious other camera makers are looking at it too, but it will change the sensor and camera game considerably when this technology appears. You’ll hear more about this in the coming months.
It was quite obvious that Fuji thought long and hard about the three lens line-up for when the camera is released. You can expect a 63mm f2.8 lens which is a 50mm full frame equivalent. A 32-64mm f4 (25-51mm full frame equiv.) and a 120mm F4 Macro (95mm equiv.). The lenses are not outrageously large. The whole system has a very small foot print and could easily fit in a medium sized camera bag or backpack.
There is still no price set for the camera, and while we can speculate all we want, Fuji will most likely offer this camera at prices that will position it well in this field. Right now they are saying less than 10,000 USD with a lens. I think it will be very attractively priced for this market.
Our next meeting with Fuji will be at PhotoPlus, and we will do a major video interview with their team then. By that time we expect to be able to share even more information.
After the meeting, we tried to walk around the Fuji booth, but it was wall to wall people. Don’t forget they are also a hot commodity right now with the Fuji X-T2 and apparently it is selling so well dealers can’t keep it in stock. People were lined up three deep to see the X-T2 and X-Pro 2.
ALPA – By Nick Devlin
Across the aisle, but at the far polar opposite from peel-apart instant photography, sits Alpa. Run by the some of the friendliest and most enthusiastic people in Switzerland, this small company makes the most mind-bogglingly cool technical cameras – assembled from an ingenious modular system crafted to absolute Swiss perfection.
Alpa is not for everyone. It is costly, complex, and limited to very careful and contemplative work. But, using their various mounts, shutters, control units, and other bits, a dedicated photographer can use virtually ANY lens with virtually any digital back.
Their booth featured rigs with everything from a Canon 85 f1.2L, to a Leica Cine 100mm f2, to their own branded Rodenstock and Schneider lenses (think of these as the Vintner’s Reserve of lenses).
One of their most fun pieces this year is the do-it-yourself Cube head, assembled from multiple geared movement heads. They take the same pieces and also produce an ersatz view camera frame. Genius knows no bounds. And as always, the components are so smooth they feel like they were CNC’d from angels’ breath….
If you want to wring every last drop of quality from a digital workflow that is tech-camera friendly, these are your people. Even if that’s not your thing, their raw passion for what they do, and the sheer mechanical beauty of how they do it, is worth a visit anytime. Something about Alpa makes you hopeful about this industry, and people in general.
End Of The Day
The day went by quickly. On Wednesday we hope to visit with Canon, Nikon, and Olympus. Also, we’ll be visiting a lot of other interesting booths and will share more over the next few days. We’ll even go and take a look at the new GoPro drone. Look for more soon.
Publishers Note: Publishing this report was painful. We are at a hotel that is up to date with the poorest internet connections on the planet. They have a download limit that cuts you off at a certain level. Trying to save a web page can completely disconnect the editor and your work is lost. What should have taken a few hours has been a massive undertaking. The internet at the Press Center isn’t much better and is measured in KbPS not MbPS. So, bear with us as we work hard to get these reports published.