Photokina 2012: September 18-23, Cologne, Germany

I’m not going to cover every single manufacturer, and every new product introduced at Photokina, because I generally try to avoid tasks that would cause my head to explode. There’s simply too much for one person to cover adequately… or at least this particular one person. I would heartily recommend sites like Digital Photography Review and Photography Blog for a more complete overview of this year’s show, including lots and lots of product photos. In this post, I’m going to concentrate on the manufacturers and products that are of interest to me.

– Nikon

What we got: D600 full frame DSLR, 18.5mm f/1.8 lens for Nikon 1.

What we didn’t get: Any new crop-sensor DX bodies or lenses, a replacement for the Nikon 1 V1, nor any interesting lenses or accessories for the Nikon 1 system.

My take: Pretty much everything we thought we knew about the D600 was correct, except for the price. $2099 instead of $1599. Still a reasonably good price, and not surprising, as a $1600 full frame camera would have spelled the end of enthusiast level DX cameras, and perhaps the end of the entire DX lineup over time. Yet… the conspicuous absence of any DX products doesn’t exactly send the most encouraging of messages. The D5100, D7000, and especially the D300s are all overdue to be updated. The DX lens lineup continues to lack critical lenses for enthusiasts, even the most casual enthusiasts. Worse still, because of Nikon’s silence and inaction, I have little confidence we’ll ever see the missing lenses. As for the Nikon 1 series, most of the lenses and accessories shown in prototype form at last year’s launch remain absent. Though the format was compromised by Nikon’s decision to use a small sensor in order to protect entry level DSLR sales, it still has plenty of potential. It needs fast primes and specialty lenses, along with unique and useful accessories to fulfill that potential. Unfortunately at this point, Nikon seems intent on pushing the system to the point-and-shoot crowd, rather than developing a system that could be of great value to enthusiast photographers seeking an extremely small, highly competent and versatile travel camera. Right now, as a company Nikon seems unfocused(D800 pun unintended).

– Canon

What we got: D6 full frame DSLR, Powershot G15 and S110.

What we didn’t get: Updates for the long-in-the-tooth 7D and 60D, new lenses for the new Canon mirroless entry.

My take: Monkey see, monkey do – when Nikon or Canon releases a new product, rest assured the other won’t be far behind with their own version. In this case, it’s the $2099 Canon 6D. Not only is the price the same, but the names are similar. It almost makes one suspect some sort of back room collusion between the two camera giants, but I’ll leave my tinfoil hat in the closet for the moment and avoid any mention of conspiracies. On paper, the Nikon D600 seems to have better specifications, but in real world use I’m guessing those better specs won’t matter much. I expect both cameras to be highly competent, and see no need to switch brands if you already own a bag of Nikon or Canon lenses. It’ll be interesting to see what direction Canon takes with the replacements for the 7D and 60D, and whether or not they’ll simply merge the two models into a single, prosumer APS-C camera. On the mirrorless front, extreme caution are the watchwords. I’d expect a conservative company like Canon to expand it’s new mirrorless lineup quite slowly, waiting and watching for trends before proceeding. Though the compact G15 still uses a small 1/1.7″ sensor, it’s notable for it’s 28-140mm equivalent, f/1.8-2.8 zoom lens.

– Sony

What we got: Full frame SLT-A99 using Sony’s fixed semi-transparent mirror and electronic viewfinder, high end compact Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 which also uses a full frame sensor, NEX-5R, NEX-6 with built-in viewfinder, and e-mount 35mm f/1.8, 10-18mm f/4 OSS, and 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lenses.

What we didn’t get: Not much, other than a cheaper full frame camera to go head-to-head with the new introductions from Canon and Nikon, and more enthusiast oriented lenses for the NEX cameras.

My take: Sony wants to play in the same full frame league as the big boys. The SLT-A99 is certainly packed with interesting technologies, and in terms of sheer numbers seems impressive. Will it be enough though to lure away the Canon and Nikon faithful? I would guess no. To really take away significant market share from the big two in this category, Sony would need to come up with a product that is clearly, and easily identifiably better – it has to do something a Nikon or Canon can’t, it has to do it exceptionally well, and what it does well needs to be perceived as being indispensable to a photographer. I’m sure the A99 will be good, and maybe even terrific, but I don’t think it offers anything in the way of features or performance that will cause Canon/Nikon users to switch brands in droves. That’s not even taking into account the not insignificant advantage Canon and Nikon still possess in terms of lens selection. The new NEX cameras look quite good – Sony has continued to refine the NEX lineup, and at this point the camera bodies don’t lack for much. As for the NEX lenses, they’re nice, but a tad late in coming. It shouldn’t have taken this long to get a fast standard, wide angle zoom, and compact kit lens. Nonetheless, it’s good to finally have them. Still missing though are decent wide angle and telephoto primes, a useful macro, and enthusiast caliber zooms. The announcement that Zeiss will be making 12mm F2.8, 32mm F1.8 and 50mm F2.8 Macro autofocus lenses for the NEX mount is encouraging, but they’re not coming until at least next summer, and all three are likely to cost over $1000 each. Sony could use more good, cheap lenses – are you listening, Sigma? With regards to the ground-breaking RX1, you can read my thoughts here.

– Pentax

What we got: K-5 II and K-5 IIs APS-C DSLRs, 18-270mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom and 560mm f/5.6 lenses, and the Q10 mirrorless camera which uses a compact camera sized sensor.

What we didn’t get: A real replacement for the good but aging K-5, a more “conventional” mirrorless product, and any sightings of the rumored K-3 full frame camera.

My take: Having been purchased recently by Ricoh, Pentax is in yet another transition phase, so I’m inclined to give them a grade of “incomplete” at this point. They need more and better products though, and they need them quickly. Recent Pentax products have almost always been conventional and competent. Their recent mirrorless offerings have been unconventional and competent. Unconventional can be good in a crowded market place, but it must be coupled with more than just competence if Pentax is to survive. I wish them well, because they do deserve to survive.

– Olympus

What we got: PEN E-PL5 and E-PM2 mirrorless cameras, 60mm f/2.8 macro, 15mm f/8 “lenscap” lens, and a “pre-announced” 17mm f/1.8 lens.

What we didn’t get: The rumored 25mm and 12-60mm lenses, a replacement for the E-P3, and any information about the rumored camera body that will allow without performance limitations the use of 4/3 lenses.

My take: The macro lens and the high end 17mm add to the already formidable m4/3 lens lineup, and should prove to be quite popular and useful. The 60mm macro is even priced($499) quite reasonably, in my opinion. A very pleasant surprise. The 17mm won’t be available right away, hence the term “pre-announced.” I’d expect an early 2013 release. The 15mm lenscap lens is just the sort of weird, inexpensive and potentially useful product that I love. Products like this indicate that Olympus is willing to move beyond the same old same old types of products, and build a real camera system with all sorts of wonderful niche-filling products. The two PENs look like solid updates, but the Olympus lineup now seems a bit out of whack without anything in the E-P3 slot. Will we eventually get a PEN with a built-in viewfinder? A lower end body in the O-MD line? Will the price of the E-M5 be cut sharply, to make room for a more professionally oriented body to slot above it – perhaps the aforementioned body that can use 4/3 lenses without limitations? Might this last theory explain the lack of announced plans, or even rumors regarding any future Olympus m4/3 high quality zooms? Stay tuned.

– Panasonic

What we got: GH3 mirrorless camera, 35-100mm f/2.8 zoom lens, “pre-announced” 42.5MM f/1.2 and 150mm f/2.8 lenses.

What we didn’t get: A replacement for the GX1(it’s hard to keep all these “X” cameras straight), which is said to be coming before the end of the year.

My take: I’m very curious to see how the sensor in the GH3 performs. If it can match the Olympus E-M5’s Sony-made sensor – and that’s a big “if” at this point – then Panasonic looks to have a very fine camera on their hands, and the m4/3 format will have two very capable high end bodies from which to choose. The 35-100mm zoom is just what the doctor ordered – constant f/2.8, internal focusing and zooming, which means it remains the same physical length at every focal length, and dust and splashproof construction. A perfect match for the weather sealed GH3 and Olympus E-M5. Looking forward to seeing how this performs as well. Coupled with the two pre-announced lenses, a m4/3 users should have almost every option covered by the end of 2013. It’s getting harder and harder to see how anyone, at least in the short term, unseats m4/3 as the preeminent compact mirrorless system.

– Fuji

What we got: X-E1(Yet another “X”) mirrorless camera, 18-55mm f/2.8-4 OIS and 14mm f/2.8 lenses, and a firmware update that appears to substantially improve both autofocus and manual focus on the X-Pro 1.

What we didn’t get: Anything that doesn’t look like it was designed in the 1960s – not necessarily a bad thing, just an observation.

My take: Though Fuji’s new products were released a couple of weeks before Photokina began, the timing is close enough to consider them part of the show, as this is in a way their official coming out party. Fuji’s cameras certainly look good, and with the new X-E1, and the firmware update for the X-Pro 1, they may start to perform as good as they look. The X-E1 is especially interesting, as it offers much of what’s good about the more expensive X-Pro 1 at a greatly reduced price. Yet another reason to think twice about becoming an early adopter. The new zoom is also intriguing, being usefully faster than the usual kit lens. Fuji’s lens lineup is expanding fairly quickly, and they have several future lenses also on display in prototype form – 10–24 mm f/4, 27 mm f/2.8, 23 mm f/1.4, and a 55–200 mm f/3.5–4.8. All of these should be available by the end of 2013. Very impressive. Fuji has the potential to be a major player in the mirrorless market.

– Best of the rest:
Schneider-Kreuznach is showing prototype lenses for m4/3 – 14 mm/2.0, 30 mm/1.4, and Makro-Symmar 60 mm/2.4. Expect them to be very good, and very expensive. Samyang introduced a 10mm f/2.8 lens for cameras APS-C sensors. No word on available mounts, but you can be sure Canon and Nikon will be covered. Also from Samyang is a 24mm f/3.5 tilt shift lens, in Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony mounts. Samyang makes very good, very inexpensive lenses. Speaking of tilt and shift, Novoflex has introduced a tilt/shift bellow unit, the Castbal-T/S bellows attachment, for use with mirrorless cameras. They’re touting it as an affordable way to experiment with macro photography and perspective control. Yet another weird and wonderful product.

– Head-scratcher: The Hasselblad Lunar, a $6500 “Italian-designed ‘ultimate luxury’ mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera.” Actually, it’s just a Sony NEX-7 with a new set of duds. Literally. They took the guts of a Sony NEX-7, and wrapped it with something that appears to have come from the design studio that built the props for Star Trek: TOS. Instead of Lunar, they should have named it “Vulcan X-1.” Carbon fiber. Titanium. Wood. Leather. Gold. This has to be seen to be believed. The phrase “more money than brains” was coined for the person or persons who buy the Lunar… and make no mistake about it, people will buy them. I wouldn’t be surprised if Donald Trump already has one on pre-order.

– Interesting news:
Sony is about to invest a large sum of money in Olympus, where both companies will jointly develop medical imaging products. They will also cooperate in the development of camera “components.” It’ll be interesting to see exactly what this means, but my guess would be more Sony sensors in Olympus cameras, and perhaps something like the Olympus 5-axis stabilization system showing up in Sony cameras. From a technology standpoint, this would seem like a match made in heaven, as each company’s strengths seem to compliment each other. I’ll leave it up to the business experts to determine whether this partnership makes good financial sense for either or both companies. NIK software has been purchased by Google, who has a strong interest in NIK’s Snapseed app. I use NIK pluggins for Lightroom, so frankly, this news has me feeling a bit uneasy with regards to the future of these products.

– Trends: Interest from both consumers and manufacturers in APS-C DSLRs is in serious decline, the mirrorless market is expanding in leaps and bounds – at least in terms of product introductions, if not in terms of sales here in the states… at least not yet – and full frame cameras are looking to go mainstream with new, relatively affordable models. Smartphones are knocking the snot out of low end compact cameras, and camera makers are rushing to the high end for safer ground with products like the Sony X100, Rx1, Olympus XZ-2, and Fuji XF1 – all expensive, high end compact camera offerings. 2012 has been a fascinating year for camera gear, and I expect more of the same in 2013. The fun is just beginning.

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