Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Photokina – Day 1


We arrived at the Kolmesse this morning and headed straight to Leica. We had the first appointment of the show with Roland Wolff, our new Leica rep, and Roger Horn, president of Leica US. Coming upon the Leica booth, we could see that there was already a throng of onlookers gathering at the M display counter, hungry for some hands-on time with the M8.

Meanwhile, we headed back into the meeting rooms and sat down to a very pretty silver chrome M8 with the new 28mm f/2.8 ASPH mounted on it. I handled the camera while we were chatting, and noticed that the firmware was much more prime-time-ready than the one I had used a just a couple of weeks ago. I also took it as a good sign that Leica brought so many M8s to the show, not dummy cameras, but ones people could use. I had heard that Leica would be bringing several million dollars worth of equipment to the show, and I can confirm that. Not only did they have a very large booth with a lot of product, they also had a shooting gallery set up on tiers, overlooking one of the cafeterias in between show halls. Julie had a go there with the DMR and Telyt-Modular system after our meeting. One thing I really liked, that was lacking on the earlier version, was the ability to shoot DNG in Black & White. This allows you to shoot and compose in B&W, while still retaining the color information.

So, I got to see and hold the new 28mm f/2.8 ASPH, as well as the new 16-18-21 Tri-Elmar. I was very impressed after shooting a couple of pictures, and have the feeling a lot of people will want this lens when they start seeing samples and using it. The Universal Viewfinder that comes as a $400 option with the Tri-Elmar, while being fairly large, was certainly well thought out. When using the viewfinder on a film camera, you set the actual focal length (i.e. 16mm), but when using on the M8, you set it to the focal length equivalents (i.e. 21mm). Both future proof and backwards compatible.

When I starting asking questions about when to expect the next version of firmware on the DMR, Roger went and got Maike Harberts, the R-system product manager. She sat down and we discussed the future of the R system for about half an hour. Maike was extremely energized about the R and told me that v1.3 is in fact being worked on right now and will be ready for download very soon, after a thorough QA cycle. The other exciting news is that Leica is actively working on the next R camera, and it sounds like that camera will be full-frame or larger! There is no release date set for a new camera, as it is purely in the product development phase, but I get the impression from my conversation that the future is very bright for the R system and Leica in general. Add to this, the news about Leica’s acquisition of a 51% stake in Sinar, and you have a good idea where Leica is headed.


After we left our two-hour meeting at Leica, we headed just a few booths away to Mamiya. I got to hold and fire a ZD. Wow, and I just thought it was vapor-ware. The camera actually handled nicely and felt, well, like a really big dSLR. There were plenty of captures form it which I viewed using Mamiya’s own RAW processing software, which was pretty nice itself. Good window management and great defaults for the images. The files, as expected, had tremendous detail, excellent tonal range, and smooth gradations. Whether the camera will make it into the US remains to be seen. If I can find out any more, I’ll post an update.


Just two booths down was Hasselblad, with a sizeable booth, Astroturf and all. I checked out the H3D, dubbed the world’s first full frame 48mm digital camera. I discovered that this meant a new camera, more tightly integrated with the 39MP back, along with a new, magnified viewfinder, which only shows what the sensor is capturing. To fill in the wide angle gap, Hasselblad introduced a new 28mm f/4 ultra-wide rectilinear lens. I gave it a shot, and I must give them credit. I still prefer the V series ‘Blad lenses, but this 28mm was a breath of fresh air for MF. Sadly, in order to accomplish this great feat of optical engineering there was a bit of a compromise. Canon has EF-S, Nikon has DX, and now Hasselblad has HCD, 36x48mm cropped-only lenses. The 28mm is the first and only HCD lens currently.


Just across the aisle was Zeiss, where I took a look at the ZF, ZS, and ZM lenses. There are quite a few additions here. When I spotted a 5D with the Zeiss ZS 50mm f/1.4 on it, I actually thought that the impossible was possible. Unfortunately, for all the alternative Canon guys, it still remains at least improbable. The ZS was sporting a Novaflex adapter and was not an EOS mount. The fellow at Zeiss explained, what I suppose should be common sense, that the Nikon F-mount is 1) old enough that there is no patent protecting it, and 2) a mechanically, cam-controlled aperture. Canon’s EOS mount is neither. The aperture control on a Canon is 100% electronic and the Zeiss lenses are 0% electronic. So even if Zeiss wanted to (they do) and Canon gave them permission (they won’t), the extra complexity of designing a functional lens in EOS is just not worth it. Sorry to pass on the bad news.

There is hope, though. Zeiss introduced three new ZF lenses: the 35mm f/2, 50mm f/2 Makro, and the 100mm f/2 Makro. I gave these lenses, as well as the 85mm f/1.4 and the 50mm f/1.4, a whirl on a D200. Nice handling, easy to focus, and pleasing look. They seem to be past the “one toe in the water” phase and diving in head first by building the ZF line.

I also checked out the ZM lenses. The 15mm f/2.8 is really as big as it looks, by the way. New to the line is the 21mm f/4.5, which is roughly half the size of the ZM 21mm f/2.8. Also, new, but not available till spring of next year is the 18mm f/4.

We had been approached to become Zeiss ZF/ZM dealers just last week. I’m considering it, and I like what I saw today. I’ll still need to do some testing back home with some samples and see where the quality level falls compared to Leica offerings.


I stopped by the Epson booth to see the new P-5000. Bigger, brighter, 4 color LCD, along with enhanced download and viewing speed make the Epson pretty attractive.


Last stop on the tour today, we have Canon, whose booth takes up half the hall. I played with the new 70-200 f/4 L IS, the new 50mm f/1.2 L, and the recently updated 85mm f/1.2 L II. The 70-200 performed well, with IS lending a helping hand. The 50 was nice and the 85 was far improved over the first version. Faster focus, along with better manual focusing feel, makes the 85L a worthwhile update.

Check back later for pictures and tomorrow for more updates from Day 2.


At 9:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey David,
Speaking of Vapor-ware, how about the Fuji S4...err..i mean S5? Is it another model behind plexiglass destined to be pushed back farther and farther into the months it's expected?

And, any hands on fun with the new Lensbabie 3G?

Looks like you're having great fun there!


At 8:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the report. The note about future Leica R is interesting. I have been debating whether to wait for the R10 (as the DMR is too large for me) or to opt for the M8. From your conversation with the Leica exec did you get a sense that the R10 is still quite some time away (>1.5 years)? It didn't take them long to finish the M8...

At 4:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not only do I plan to attend the next Photokina, I hope to be a vendor. Thanks for the great info


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