This piece and yesterday’s article on the general direction of the show were originally intended as parts of one article. While a technical glitch split them, I actually like where the split fell – between a general description of the show and a (much more hopeful) rundown of some individual booths…
Perhaps the most interesting finding of PhotoPlus 2019 was a renaissance of film gear – certainly nothing like a decade ago (and presumably a tiny fraction of what there was at the first PhotoPlus in 1983), but much more than there has been the past few years. Ilford was showing a substantial line of black and while film and chemistry, which has never fully died out, but it was nice to see multiple display cases of it. Freestyle Photographic was also distributing quite a bit of film, chemistry, supplies and film gear. Venerable enlarger maker Beseler had a 23CIII on display, effectively unchanged from the 23CII I used in high school 25 years ago, and not very different from the first 23C released in 1956 – I suspect the 23C was the only product on the show floor introduced before the original Nikon F! They also had the ancient 45 MXT chassis with a brand new LED light source attached, an interesting combination of old and new.
While I did not see a single film camera under 4×5” (excepting a few black-and-white disposables in the Ilford booth), there were no less than three manufacturers of view cameras present, two of whom were showing 8×10” cameras! I don’t think I’ve seen a view camera at PhotoPlus in years, and they had a distinct presence this year. One of the three was venerable Japanese maker Horseman, who were primarily showing true view cameras that work with digital backs (alternatively with DSLRs or mirrorless cameras used as a back), but the other two were focused exclusively on film. Both Intrepid Camera and Gibellini are relatively new companies focusing on affordable, lightweight 4×5” and 8×10” view cameras! While few of us will photograph exclusively, or even primarily with a view camera, prices are low enough to add one of these fascinating beasts to the camera closet (under $500 for a camera and a second-hand lens). I haven’t used a view camera in over a decade, but I look forward to having at least one in for review over the next year.
Printers did well, with both Canon and Epson showing new models. HP was absent, but they have been for years. The major paper manufacturers were present, with Canson, Moab, Hahnemuhle and Innova having booths in addition to Canon and Epson. I hope to see a major renaissance in printing in the next few years – there are exciting papers and technologies appearing almost daily. A fascinating interview with John Pannozzo, President of ImagePrint maker ColorByte Software, will kick off a series of printing articles over the next several months – and everything from metallic papers to repositionable vinyl (useful for signage in galleries, and for display in nontraditional spaces) hemp, bamboo and agave options will be appearing in a paper roundup (along with most of the major barytas).
ColorByte is very excited about their new cutting functionality in ImagePrint, which could be a boon to those of us who produce anything from greeting cards to custom wall hangings – there are even materials to produce relatively high-quality photo magnets. The use to wedding photographers and others who send out a lot of promotional materials is obvious, but John has me excited about the possibilities for producing relatively small, inexpensive artworks that fit into many people’s lives – things that have been too much of a pain to produce for what they sell for may now be possible. With today’s smaller spaces and different lifestyles, a 24×36” gallery print can no longer be the only way to sell a beautiful photograph (although there are exciting new options for large prints, too). Epson has just released their $2500, (oversized) desktop dye-sublimation printer, the F570, which opens the possibility to display photography in many ways most of us haven’t thought of (or have sent out at hit-or-miss quality). Everything from T-shirts and fabric screens to metallic and translucent panels is a potential display medium. Dye – sub printers at this size had previously been close to $10,000. Readers, unclog your printheads!
Software was hit or miss – Skylum/Luminar had a significant presence, and DxO representatives were there, although without a booth. An interview with Jérome Abribat from DxO goes into modern raw processing in depth, and will be appearing here in the near future. Adobe has been missing for years – presenting in the “Adobe Theater”, but without any demo stations or representatives. Phase One was mostly missing – with their medium format gear represented by dealer Digital Transitions, but nobody demonstrating Capture One except incidentally in relation to the medium format gear. On1 was not visible at the show at all, although they recently released a new version of their raw processing software.
Raw processing is a topic well worth exploring, especially since Adobe is no longer close to producing the best raw conversions out there. In my experience, I can almost always get a better conversion of any given file out of at least one of Adobe’s competitors (and usually several of them) than I can out of Lightroom. Recent results from DxO PhotoLab have been very strong – well ahead of Adobe, especially on local adjustment and lens correction. Capture One has always provided excellent image quality and has a major new version on the way. On1 and Luminar both provide a completely different way of working from Adobe, DxO and Capture One – heavily based on AI-based presets instead of individual adjustments.
Nobody can touch Adobe’s integrated workflow, but their conversion quality is in the lower half of what’s out there today. With almost any of the other conversion and editing programs, the included printing module is primitive, and the best way to print will be through dedicated printer software such as QImage or ImagePrint. Some of the other converters have built-in digital asset management, while others will require a separate program for that as well. I have most of the raw converters and printing programs on hand for review and will be tackling this important subject in the near future.
Apart from Sony (and Apple, who’s been gone for a long time, although they were once a major presence), some of the biggest missing players were camera support titans Manfrotto and Gitzo. Boutique tripod gear manufacturer Really Right Stuff was a newcomer this year, and it was a real pleasure to meet the Johnson family (who run RRS) in person – I hope to report on their operation next time I’m in Salt Lake, where I get a few times each year. I will also have the newest version of their new high-end Series 1 travel tripod in for review, probably on that Utah trip. They have long made some of the best tripod gear in existence – they got their start making quick release plates in 1990, and have since diversified, first into ballheads and now into very high-end carbon fiber tripods as well. Really Right Stuff gear isn’t cheap, but all those who use it swear by it.
Peak Design was there with their brand-new travel tripod – very light for a full-size tripod, with an innovative design that folds down incredibly small. Oddly shaped legs, a 5 section design and an inverted ballhead all contribute to the compactness of Peak’s new tripod.
Arca Swiss has been part of PhotoPlus for the last several years, and they always have interesting new tripod heads on display. This year’s biggest Arca Swiss news was their “Leveler” geared head – only 10 degrees of motion in each direction, but under a pound for a precision geared tripod head the size of a ballhead. For those of us who’ve always wanted an Arca Swiss Cube, but haven’t been able to justify the cost or weight, the L60 (sized for mirrorless cameras and DSLRs with smaller lenses) and L75 (will hold anything up to and including a Phase One system) Leveler heads provide a much smaller and lighter alternative with the same type of precision! While expensive for a tripod head, the Leveler (in the $600 range) is nowhere near as expensive as the ~$1500 Cube, and it serves the same function for 90% of us.
B&H was present with an enormous amount of their store-brand support gear – Oben tripods are their travel and consumer line, while Robus is a newly introduced line of high-end tripods and monopods. Gear from Really Right Stuff, Arca Swiss, Oben and Robus is on the review calendar – from a tabletop (or rock-top) travel tripod under a pound and a relatively full-height tripod 12” tall when folded and under 2.5 lbs on up to some big legs with the Leveler head.
While there was the usual collection of camera bag suppliers, some of the big players were missing. No ThinkTank/MindShift, no LowePro, no Domke. I didn’t focus on the bags, and I didn’t see anything especially new, exciting or unusual in that department. Perhaps the most interesting strap, which will appear in an upcoming gadget roundup, was a comfortable and extremely lightweight model from Germany’s SunSniper.
Computers, peripherals and workflow devices of various sorts always make an appearance. Apple never does tradeshows in any industry any more (they used to have a major presence at PhotoPlus, and they took up acres of space at MacWorld, which folded shortly after they pulled out). They probably figure that their customers will come to them, rather than needing to find their customers. Dell was there, showing their Precision mobile workstation lineup, which is a significant competitor to the MacBook Pro. Drobo was showing some fast and simple desktop storage gear, and Glyph, G-Tech and others showed portable storage. Really fast, compact portable SSDs are becoming more common and more affordable, generally using a PCIe NVMe SSD in a rugged, heat-dissipating enclosure with a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 interface – which is a useful response to the increasing tendency of computer manufacturers to make SSDs hard or impossible to upgrade. For all practical purposes, Thunderbolt 3 is fast enough for any SSD. It would be possible to build a RAID of multiple NVMe drives that could outrun Thunderbolt 3, but it wouldn’t be easy – and the only practical use would be editing very large video files (8K raw or the like). USB-C is slower, but it will still outrun any but the fastest single SSDs at close to a gigabyte per second, and it is fast enough for almost any still photographic application (maybe not stitching GFX 100 files, but the more likely barrier there is RAM!)
Monitor gurus Eizo were showing off their current line – but one of the most interesting has not made it to the US yet. The CS2740 is coming soon – 4K, 27”, USB-C, full Adobe RGB and hopefully classic Eizo quality. I own its non-4K predecessor (the CS2730), and it is by far the best monitor I have used. I will have a review sample of the CS2740 in as soon as they are available, and I am looking forward to trying it. Wacom was showing their full line of graphics tablets, including the Cintiq range of “tablets with screens” which allow the photographer to edit with a pen directly on the screen. The MobileStudio Pro is a Cintiq with a laptop built in. I hope to have a Cintiq or a MobileStudio in for review in the near future. The question of Mac versus PC is worth examining anew – like many photographers, I’ve been a Mac person for decades, but Apple is so busy building iToys while Windows keeps improving that I am interested in trying to get ahold of a high-end Windows notebook for a long-term review. A really well thought out new MacBook Pro and/or iMac Pro could recement my loyalty to Apple, but the recent keyboard and cooling issues, coupled with the lack of upgradability, have made me rethink it at least a bit.
Every year, there is an enormous collection of handy photographic gadgets from a wide range of makers. Almost none of them are capable of sustaining an individual review – but I hope to run a round-up piece on a number of these devices. Some highlights of what I saw included eyecups, monitor loupes and extra-sturdy memory cards from Hoodman, lighting gadgets from a variety of manufacturers and a memory card downloader that supports the newer formats from Nexto. Card backup and downloading devices went out of vogue some years ago when memory cards got cheap – but the price of XQD cards and the like makes them worth another look, especially for extended forays away from a computer.
There were nowhere near the number of 3D cameras, 360-degree cameras, drones and the like there were a few years ago (as a matter of fact, I didn’t see a single drone – there may have been one, but if there were any, they were pretty well tucked away). Insta360 had a few interesting and inexpensive little 360-degree cameras on display. In a weird sense, they are a little like the view cameras at the far opposite end of the technology scale – most of us aren’t going to use one for all or even the majority of our photography – but they can be a fun tool for an unusual image, and they are now inexpensive enough to tuck in a bag for the time where they make sense…