PDN Photo Plus Expo 2012 – Products In Summary
This past weekend, PDN Photo Plus Expo took to the New York City’s Javit’s Center filled with photography products and accessories from all over the globe. It is not up to the caliper of the world renowned Photokina in Germany, but it is among one of the more prominent shows. From this editor’s perspective, it’s a great place to go and learn about new products, meet new contacts and get a good finger on the industry. For that reason alone, I will not be willing to pass up going to the expo year after year as it affords me the ability to do a better job for you, my faithful readers. So with biased aside, and with eyes and ears open wide…I took to the Javit’s floor and did my best to uncover everything that the world has to offer. As part of my annual tradition, I bring to you – yet again – some of the most interesting or most impressive products at the show:
The Most Interesting
Westscott ICE Light – The ICE Light looks like a fluorescent tube with a handle. Except it’s not fluorescent – it’s LED – and it’s really a light source. In concept, it is designed as a continuous light source that will afford you decent light on the go. Allegedly designed by a wedding photographer, it supposedly is the answer to a lot of problems for the mobile photographer. I’m still a bit of a skeptic from a portraiture point of view. But I see a different potential: Light Painting. Urban explorers and those working in low-light scenarios often use long-exposure light painting as a way to highlight key elements within a photo. I think the Ice Light may be a great tool for such photographers. My only question is whether the light source could be hidden from a long exposure, or if it would taint the image. Even so, the Ice Light is a new and interesting product. I expect great things from this source moving forward.
- Rosco LitePad Loop – Think ring lights, but without the flash. The LitePad Loop is essentially a continuously illuminated LED ring-light. The light quality is even and bright, and dimmable with the right accessory. Rosco offers a bunch of gels and a few custom type effects like a zig-zag ring for interesting catch lights. Now I will admit that I was somewhat dumbfounded by it’s pricetag – a bit more costly than a traditional ring light. So I asked what the marketing was for the product: Client portraiture. It’s a fair statement as clients (those getting photographed) are not models and may not be used to intense flashes. Comfort is key in that end of the business, and the LitePad is more comfortable for the model. Infant portraiture is also afforded some comfort as well as the LitePad is not as disturbing as a real ring flash or a strobe-like light source. It’s not for everyone, but I think it does have a market.
- Samsung NX Camera Series - Samsung is not known for cameras, but one cannot claim that Samsung doesn’t know electronics. The NX series is not entirely new to market, but if they play their cards right, it may be Samsung’s ticket to the photography world. Sure, they’ve had a series of compact cameras that have gained some consumer report. But we may be in the perfect storm for Samsung: Olympus’s political troubles, Fujifilm clearly pulling away as a pro-sumer line, and Sony and Nikon falling far short of expectations for each of their mirrorless cameras. Samsung is a far cry from grabbing the limelite, but while their future competitors are fighting each other, Samsung could pull a good market share with their NX series cameras. We got to play with the Samsung NX20 only a short while, but it offered a lot of the great features found in it’s competitors’ cameras: Interchangeable lenses, Gyroscopic metering, digital viewfinder and a reasonable sensor size (20.3 megapixel APS-C). It also has built-in Wifi capabilities, making importing your photos a snap. It felt solid, it shot quickly and its images were of great quality. I wonder if this will become the bridge camera for consumers looking for the compact camera feel with interchangeable lens advantages. The success of the NX series lies in the glass: If their glass can stand up to the majority of their competitors, they may have a chance. If not…well…Samsung has plenty of other markets that they thrive in. I’m sure they’ll be okay.
- The SIGMA DP2 Merrill – When SIGMA announced the SD1 DSLR camera, I saw that as a great fit for SIGMA: A professional grade SLR that could take full advantage of SIGMA’s great lens line (I do not hide my love, respect and admiration for SIGMA’s lenses. It’s not biased, they just make good lenses). Then, earlier in the year, they announced the DP2 Merrill and DP1 Merrill (the latter of which hasn’t fully come to market as of this writing). The pair are compact cameras that requires you to shoot from the back screen, unless you get the accessory viewfinder that – to be blunt – doesn’t clue you into essential things like focusing and so on. To say I was under-whelmed by it’s offerings on-paper would be an understatement. With things like the Fujifilm X100 on the market, what’s the point of the Merrill? Oh, but I forgot how long I’ve been using a camera, and I neglected to recognize how far camera technology has come. So at the show, I got to play with the DP2 for a very short time (admittedly not long enough to get a ‘feel’ for the camera), but my initial reaction is nothing that I would have expected. The shutter response was fast, the back screen was vivid, the body was solid (no cheap plastic here) and the feel was comfortably small. But it was fixed focal length and didn’t have the intuitive viewfinder that you would find in the Fujifilm cameras. So I was on the fence about the product even up until then and I was asking myself: What’s the big deal? It wasn’t until I was taking a shot of a box on the counter – a box illustrating the physical size of the sensor – then I “got it”: The thing has a 46 megapixel CMOS sensor. It basically hosts a full-frame sensor and is capable of producing the same high-quality images that you would expect of your primary body. It’s low-light performance is on par with full-framed SLRs, but in the size of a pocket camera. This isn’t a replacement camera, it’s a camera that is meant as a side-arm or a daily shooting camera for photographers who just can’t settle for a more inferior quality camera with poor low-light response. It is a side-arm, a camera that you can carry daily, and it’s good in nearly all situations. It is not designed to replace your more robust, more controllable SLR. It’s a photographer’s compact camera. Now to be blunt…it will come down to usability in the real world. Shooting from the back is still uncomfortable for a seasoned shooter, which this camera is clearly designed for. At the very least, that screen needs to perform well in bright sunlight…otherwise the DP series cameras won’t be worth having. Maybe the next iteration will have an active viewfinder.
Brenthaven Makes Camera Bags – You may know Brenthaven and their cases for MacBooks, iPads and other types of small cases. But I was pleasently surprised to happen upon their booth at the Photo Plus Expo. What caught my eye was the BX2 Messenger: A good looking bag with a bit of style. It’s fabrics and build quality seemed to be top notch. As is the case with all of the BX2 bags, the main protection is this high absorbtion foam that absorbs a great deal of energy from impact. The foam is not unlike the type of material you’d find in the insole of the high-tech Nike running shoes that I was wearing at the time. A slight aside: If you ever go to an expo…wear comfortable shoes. The staff at Brenthaven’s booth were joking that they were going to cut out the material from the bags and their sample display to create insoles for their shoes. Maybe next year, they’ll have the BX2 foam insoles to give away at the Expo. Meanwhile…the bags. The Messenger caught my eye – and it’s exactly what you all have been asking for – but all of their bags were well designed and well thought out. The company may be trying to expand their offerings…but I suspect their experience protecting technology in small containers will pay off. Bottom line: It’s a good looking, lightweight, well protected line of bags that is ideal for the daily shooter.
- The Nikon D600: Not too bad – Ever since it was announced, the D600 has had it’s fair share of criticism. I almost fell into believing it. I got to spend a good deal of time at the Nikon booth using this new camera with my own memory card for more in-depth analysis later. It’s not like I was able to wander and the lens the had on the camera was mediocre (Why, Nikon, why?), but I was able to test out it’s ISO response…sort-of. Truth is that even in the relatively poor light of the Javits Center, ISO 100 was still giving me really good shutter speeds. The high-ISO shots I tried were ridiculously fast, and lacking in artifacts. I expected that…it is, after all, a full-framed sensor from Nikon, and as of late their cameras perform very well in low-light. The criticism against the camera attack some important features. The strobists don’t like it because it lacks sync cable ports and it only flash syncs up to 1/200 (The D800 syncs up to 1/250, which is more of a difference than you might think). Others are concerned about the build and the use of plastic where it’s big brothers feature all-magnesium bodies (for the record, the D600 still uses a metal frame, but only where it is essential). On the other hand, the critics may forget the market. The D600 is not marketed as a pro body. It is, perhaps, the new flagship of the consumer line, or at least the entry level full-frame camera. I now think of it as a bridge. Truth be told that there is still a great deal of cost difference between this camera and the D800, which is the next higher model. The D600 has quite a bit to offer, considering. For flash synchronization, we still have the Nikon CLS system. We can also use hot-shoe relay solutions solutions. And let’s face it…most people are looking into radio triggers these days anyhow. Only studio shooters care about cables. That flash sync rate, though, is somewhat lacking. But those who really know how to use that extra shutter space may be able to justify the cost difference between the D600 and the D800. I personally believe the D600 was well placed.
- Fujifilm X-Pro1 – Among rangefinder and advanced compact cameras, I consider Fujifilm’s offerings to be among the best. Someone at the show asked me to summarize the X-Pro1. It was fairly simple to me: It was a Leica without the price tag. To be fair, the glass of Fujifilm can’t truly compare with Leica’s offerings. But the price tag is one fifth that of the coveted brand. But nevermind the red spot, we’re talking Fujiflm. Last year, Fujifilm wowed the market with their fixed focal length, the X100. They have released a few iterations since then, but the X-Pro1 is the camera that truly puts the critics to bed. For starters, it has interchangeably lenses. The lens offerings are few at the moment, but they cover most of the important ranges. It’s the viewfinder that really had me going crazy. You have the option between using an optical or digital viewfinder. The digital viewfinder is directly through the lens, showing you what the sensor sees. If you’re working close, or in low light, this is ideal. The optical viewfinder can be a plain viewfinder without any overlaid data. Or it can overlay any amount of data. Playing with it, I saw two or three modes showing you information like the shutter speed, aperture, a layout grid, a level (get those horizons straight) and so on. This is all information that will help you as the photographer…it certainly isn’t designed for Joe-consumer. The style of the camera hearkens back to the era of classic rangefinders. It looks good and it feels good. The learning curve, I suspect, is steep for those using more modern cameras. The shutter speed dial is an actual dial on the top of the camera (not unlike SLR’s of the 70′s and 80′s). And it’s small grip may leave ham-handed folks a bit frustrated. But it’s compact size, its super quiet operation and it’s image quaility means there is no excuse for leaving the camera behind.
- Manfrotto 290 Series Carbon - Carbon fiber tripods are expensive, but they are worth the weight of their aluminum counter-parts in gold. Unfortunately for many, it’s just a bit too costly. It’s hard to justify the cost of a good carbon fiber tripod when you are still working with a kit lens. Manfrotto somehow managed to introduce a new line of relatively affordable carbon fiber tripods in the 290 Carbon series. The 290 series is already the line designed to bridge the gap between support and price. The Carbon Fiber version, recently accounted, is simply the next step. The 294 tripod is a fantastic tripod that probably will last you for many years to come. It is also available as a kit with one of Manfrotto’s great tripod heads. At roughly $350 street price, the kit isn’t your cheapest option. But it’s a great deal for a carbon fiber tripod from one of the best tripod manufacturers on the planet.
- Naneu’s Adventure Series - We reviewed one of Naneu’s bags two years ago and we were pretty impressed. Even so, the small company hasn’t been making too many waves over the past few years, so I consider myself pleasantly surprised to see their latest offerings at the Expo. They recently re-designed their already award-winning K5 bag (now the K5 v2 80.L) and introduced a new bag, the Outlander 50.L. Both are bags for high-adventure backpacking photographers with a lot to offer. They have a modular design that is essentially a 3-in-1 camera bag (pack it all, day pack it with the main frame in camp, or waist bag it when hiking across those inspiring vistas). Both also sport a back plate with good air flow and support, plus a rain cover to really keep out the elements. The modular approach makes it ideal for a backpacker, and Naneu really did wonders to improve upon their earlier design – proof that they listen to their customers and their reviewers. Please note that at the time of this writing, the news of the K5 v.2 and the Outlander is so new that their website has yet to be updated. Even so, I encourage all high-adventure backpackers to keep an eye out. No one – not even Lowepro – has come up with a better bag to address the needs of both the backpacker and the photographer.
There was a great deal of speculation at the show about the economy’s impact on the market. The show was smaller, but there was still a lot of foot traffic and all of the booth staff seemed to agree. One thing that can be said about the industry is that there seems to be a lot of great innovation. The cameras and lenses continue to improve, of course. But there are a lot of great accessory innovations recently released products on the market. This is a good sign for the industry. And it’s a good sign for you and I as well. We’ll try to get our hands on some of these products to get some more in-depth reviews for you in the months to come. As always, PDN Photo Plus Expo did not disappoint.