Report: PDN Photo Plus Expo 2011
Tens of thousands of photographers descended on New York City for the PDN Photo Plus Expo October 27th through the 29th. The event is one of the biggest photography events in North America, and it is one of the best places to get your hands on some of the latest gear – sometimes even stuff that has only been announced and hasn't yet made the store fronts yet. It's also a place to learn a few things. At the expo are a number of great seminars taught by some of the most well known photography educators, for a fee, of course. If money is tight, there are often a lot of great mini-seminars on the show floor sponsored by companies such as Sigma, Nikon or Nik Software. But there is also an immeasurable benefit of the expo: You get to meet a number of other great photographers and industry contributors – people you may know only from an online community but now you get to meet them face to face.
There are companies and products that I have endorsed in the past and I am always glad to be reassured that I recommend great companies. The company that tops this list is 500px, the online photo sharing service that we reviewed in July. This year was the first year that 500px held a booth at the expo. While their booth was modest, their representatives were personable and talkative. For would-be users of the service, they spoke confidently and eagerly about their offerings, including their newly released (and beautiful) iPad application. For current members, they asked lots of questions about what could be added to the site to improve the experience. I spoke at length with Andrey Tochilin, the company's Strategist, about some features I'd like to see. I could see wheels turning in his head when my suggestions were mentioned, and he asked some more in-depth questions about some aspects, debated about others and described what their thought process was to date. I don't feel that any suggestions would be taken lightly and I really get the idea they really care about their members. I certainly am much more confident that 500px will continue to grow and thrive because of their customer service alone – which is more than can be said about a certain other service that seems to be stagnating as of late.
I also got to meet the crew of ExpoImaging, the makers of the Rogue FlashBender light modifiers and the ExpoDisc white balancing system, both products that we love. ExpoImaging has a few new products that I'll cover briefly later in the article, but the marketing team was there with a seemingly larger booth than last year. They had product demonstrations throughout the day from professional photographers experienced with the products. As a person who uses some of their products – particularly the FlashBenders – regularly, even I learned a few things about the subtle differences between the Rogue products and other products on the market. The ExpoImaging booth was drawing a large crowd all throughout the day, and with good reason: Their products are simple, elegant and well made solutions.
It's also worth mentioning a few other companies as well. Such as Moo, the printing company that now prints all of my business cards. As always, you can get custom business cards (including their mini cards, which are quite popular) each with a different picture on the back and at a reasonable price. It's like a mini portfolio in your card wallet, which is why I like the cards so much. They have new offerings, including customizable stickers and labels, which I will have to look into more seriously, but the samples they had looked as good as their business cards. Blurb is another company that is another company worth checking out. They print custom books on-demand – so you can get a high quality, commercial grade one-off publication featuring your photos. A great product, but how can you not want to hang out at their booth? They brought a whole living room for you to relax and browse their samples. And finally, there is Kata. We've reviewed two of their bags, the DR-466i and the Bug 205-PL, and have generally been impressed with the company. I got to pick brains with some of the Kata folks about their upcoming offerings, the design philosophies as of late, and the changes in their product lines that are entirely based upon customer feedback. That's a reassurance that they also care about their customers.
New Products Worth A Look
Probably the primary reason for our attendance at the Expo is that it is a great place to be introduced to new products and offerings. I like to keep an open mind and I purposely look for interesting products, even if it's a company I”m not familiar with. I found a bunch of new and interesting products this year. I hope that in the future I'll be able to get a more in-depth look at some of them for your benefit. But I would like to share my findings with you here:
- Sigma has a fantastic wide-angle zoom, a 8-16m f/4.5-5.6 - I got to play with one at the Sigma booth mounted to my own camera. I was impressed. It's a solid lens with far less distortion than I would have thought. Though it's not a new lens, I also got to play with their 24-70mm f/2.8 (fixed max aperture), which is on my wish list now. If you haven't played with a Sigma lens lately, you really should. If you ever questioned it's quality as compared to a Nikkor or Canon lens, you'd be surprised to find that there is probably very little difference anymore – Sigma's lenses can easily rival the big two.
- Gary Fong has a new Lightsphere Collapsible flash modifier dome. The product allegedly comes to market after customer feedback about the original Lightsphere, which was awkward and difficult to pack.
- ExpoImaging was showing a product so new that it hasn't even been mentioned on their own website yet. The product is a diffuser panel that velcros onto the front of their large or medium FlashBender, converting it to a mini softbox of sorts. Seeing it in action, I'm impressed, especially since it's an add-on to another great product.
- Manfrotto has two new product lines: Lino Apparel is more modern apparel for photographers. Unlike the fashion poor photography vests and jackets on the market, Lino has a sleek and modern look that many will appreciate. Stile is a product line of more stylistic bags – the type of bags that don't look like photography bags. They're simple, sleek and feature premium touches that sets the line apart from almost any other photography bags on the market.
- Chimera Lighting has a new Octa 2 Beauty Dish that I got to see in action at the show. Without seeing a side-by-side comparison, I'd have to say it gets some pretty good light out of a strobe or a studio light. But that's not the impressive part. What makes this product unique is that it's the first collapsible beauty dish I've seen, and who would argue with portability.
- Sirui – a company I only just learned of last year at Photo Plus Expo – just introduced it's new compact TX series of tripods. They're great little travel tripods that don't sacrifice stability or features. It's stable in action, collapses to less than 16 inches and rivals some higher end tripods. They also have a great series, the N series, which supports more weight but also features a removable leg that converts into a monopod.