|PMA 2003 News
This year PMA moved from Orlando to Las Vegas. Despite breaking a 70 year record for rain, threats of war, Elvis sightings, and $2 gas prices on the Strip the mood at PMA this year was upbeat. The cloud that seemed to be hanging off in the distance throughout last years show was gone. In it's place was optimism that the worst had passed and that this year would indeed be better.
The big news this year was photo kiosks that should ease the biggest hassle in digital photography - getting quality prints without spending a fortune or killing half a day fooling with your printer. There were enough new point and shoot digitals to choke Godzilla. So many in fact that we're not even going to make an effort to list them all here.
Everybody had new inkjets that really aren't all that newsworthy anymore. The real news in that arena is the quality and price of the really big inkjets. If you're doing a bunch of Lightjet prints every year you really need to look at the new big boys from Epson.
As expected more players are entering the digital SLR field, memory cards got smaller, faster, cheaper, and now hold more.
Despite the prognostications we hear every year, film isn't dead, but rather seems to be doing pretty well. New films, SLRs, point and shoot cameras, and even disposable cameras were all in evidence. Film seems to be the technology that just won't go away.
There was merger news again at PMA this year. Konica and Minolta have gotten together in what is being portrayed as a merger of equals and ToCad had acquired Hakuba.
Applied Science Fiction
Also on display at the Canon booth was a new Rebel G II targeted at big box retailers such as Walmart. It will be packaged with a 35-80mm lens and will compete for the lucrative entry level SLR dollar.
On the other side of the booth, lost behind the 10D hoopla was the new CanoScan FS4000US. This new high quality film scanner has a 4,000 dpi optical resolution, 42 bit scanning, and FARE retouching firmware. FARE is software developed by Canon to automatically remove scratches and dust from scans as does Applied Science Fiction's digital ice software used in Minolta and Nikon scanners. FARE does not offer the tools for smoothing grain or restoring faded images that is part of the ASF suite.
The Superia X-TRA 400 and Superia 1600 films have been updated with Fuji's 4th color layer technology. Fuji's instant films FP-100C, FP-100B, and FP 3200 will now be available in the U.S. market eliminating the need for U.S. photographers to buy these films through the gray market.
Of course Kodak showed a digital printing kiosk. They've actually had this technology for a while, but the new version offers price advantages to retailers over previous units.
Of greater interest to our readers are the new cameras and docking station that won innovation awards elsewhere in this issue. These products solve some real problems for digital shooters by making it easy to allow others to view images on your camera and making it easy to print those images.
Of course the 14n was on display that was announced at PhotoExpo in the fall and that camera is reportedly shipping in quantity now.
Kodak also rolled out a new line of disposable cameras. Now all of us "serious" photographers would never deign to use a disposable. But if we're honest with ourselves we do use them on occasion. These new disposables have what Kodak claims is the sharpest lens of any disposable. It's a two element design that improves sharpness and reduces the minimum focusing distance. It's available in several versions including an underwater model, a "digital" model that includes a photo CD along with your prints, and a black and white version that is extremely popular with the under-25 crowd. I've found the waterproof models to be great for using around the water as well as under it.
But more than any other company Leica has to be aware of the desires of it's customers for a simple, yet highly refined, camera. To meet that desire Leica has introduced the Leica MP. This is an all manual rangefinder that bears more than a passing resemblance to the M6 and M7 cameras. In fact it uses the same TTL metering system and shares more than a few of it's 1500 parts with its siblings.
The MP comes with a 5 year limited warranty on parts and manufacturing defects and an unconditional 3 year warranty. Drop your MP off a cliff during the first three years and Leica will replace it. The MPs will be available in a gloss black lacquer finish or a silver chrome finish. Leica will also produce special 35mm f2.0 and 50mm f1.4 lenses in a matching black lacquer finish. They're available now at a cost of $2,795.
Another interesting item in the Leica booth is a new quick winder that mounts in place of the baseplate called the Leicavit. It fits all M-series cameras from the M4 through the M7. A long rod folds down out of the baseplate and into the palm of your hand as you hold the camera. You can then advance the film by squeezing the rod quickly. It's works surprisingly well. With a little practice you could probably go through a roll at about 1 frame per second. That may not sound fast to an F5 owner, but it is fast indeed compared to the using the advance lever.
The Nova series of bags, Lowepro's best selling line, has also been updated with a more contemporary look and some new storage ideas that the digital photographer will like.
On the film side of the booth Minolta was displaying the new Maxxum 3 SLR. It's a new entry level SLR that will do battle with the Canon Rebel and Nikon N55 in the Walmarts of the world. This little SLR is definitely targeted toward beginning SLR buyers who want simplicity and ease of use. It's compatible with Minolta's flash system, including it's wireless flash, but it's unlikely that many Maxxum 3 owners will use the camera that way. With it's small size and feather weight it will make an ideal travel companion for people who want better than point and shoot quality for not much more money. It will be packaged in kit form with a 28-80mm lens. Final prices weren't available but street prices will probably fall in the $250 range at big retailers.
Minolta also rolled out some new glass at PMA. They retired the aging 300mm f2.8 that didn't fair all that well in our Big Guns sports shooting test.
It's been replaced with a new 300mm f2.8 design that utilizes Minolta's SSM or Supersonic Wave Motor design. Where the old design was sharp but slow the new design should be both sharp and fast. Like the old design it features a variable focus range limiter that allows you to control the focus area and prevent hunting in low light conditions.
A cool new feature is the ability to set a pre-focus point into the lens. The lens will then return to that pre-focus point just by touching a button on the lens barrel. The lens hood is lined with velvet to reduce flare and all those wildlife shooters who wear gloves will be grateful for the wide and gripable focus ring.
The other new pro-level lens from Minolta is the 70-200 f2.8 SSM lens. Using the same Supersonic Motor technology and low dispersion glass this lens to should provide high quality images and super fast focusing. A pleasant surprise is that the minimum focus distance for this lens is a mere 3.9 feet making it suitable for virtually any type of shooting.
Other pro features of this lens include an extra wide focus ring, a focus range limiter, and the ability to rotate a filter on the front element with the lens hood in place. Team these two lenses with a Maxxum 7 or Maxxum 9 and you have a very potent shooting platform.
Also new to the lineup are new 1.4x and 2x teleconverters designed just for these new SSM lenses.
Two new VR lenses were on the table at the Nikon booth. The AF-S VR 70-200mm f2.8G ED-IF balanced well on an F100 and focused with lightning speed. It's shipping now with a suggested retail of $2099.
The new AF-S VR 24-120mm f3.5-5.6G is likely to become the "normal" lens for many pros doing travel and location shooting. The price has yet to be determined despite it's projected April shipping date.
The other new lens on the table was the new 28-200mm f3.5-5.6G ED-IF lens. I yawned when that one came out. A 28-200mm consumer lens just doesn't produce the quality to get my juices flowing.
But this lens (at least according to Nikon) raises the bar in a couple of ways. First it will focus down to 1.3 feet. That's not a misprint, and it's unheard of in a lens that spans these focal lengths. This lens also sports ED glass. Nikon claimed that the sharpness would make a believer out of me and that this lens would find it's way into more than one pro bag. That piqued my curiosity enough that you'll see a review of this lens here when it becomes available sometime in April. If it really does everything that's claimed with it's $350 list price it will indeed be a bargain lens.
There are several new Coolpix cameras but the one that caught my eye was the littl Coolpix SQ. Scheduled to be introduced in June for around $400 it looks like Nikon has decided to challenge the Minolta Dimage X for the little pocket camera with a great lens category. It's unique folding camera body and docking station should make it a hit with the under 35 cool crowd.
The bigger news for Olympus from a sales perspective though is their point and shoot and Camedia digital camera lines. The interesting thing for us in the Camedia line is that Olympus is making a series of serious underwater housings for these cameras that allow them to be used safely both in and around the water at depths up to 40 meters. In a world of me-to digital cameras these kinds of features make the Olympus Camedia line stand out a bit from the crowd.
Announced along with the *ist D was an 18-35mm F4-5.6 AL zoom lens that was designed for the *ist D (shown in the photo). It too has an expected release date of July 2003. No pricing was available.
Pentax also wants a piece of the big box entry level SLR market that we talked about with several other manufacturers. However their solution is a bit different than the others. The Pentax *ist is the smallest and lightest SLR on the market. Weighing just 11 ounces and measuring just 4.8x3.3x2.5 inches this camera disappeared in my oversized paws. Yet it offers 16 segment metering, an 11 point autofocus system, and a 1/4000th of a second top shutter speed which means it could be the real sleeper in the entry level class. An even better surprise is the availability of the BG-20 battery grip which makes the camera easier to hold for those with large hands and includes a vertical shutter release.
It will be offered in kit form with a 35-80mm lens, and as we said, it just may be the sleeper in it's class.
On the medium format front Pentax announced a new 150-300mm telephoto lens for it's 645 cameras. Equivalent to approximately 90mm to 180mm in the 35mm format the lens is ideal for general purpose shooting. It features ED glass in it's 15 element design and an internal focusing system. It weighs in at about 2 lbs. Minimum focus distance is 6.6 feet. Price and availability were not announced.
A really interesting lens was the 80-400 f4.5-5.6 EX OS lens. This is the first lens to employ Sigma's optical stabilizer technology. The science behind this lens is the similar to the technology employed by Canon in their IS lenses and Nikon in their VR lenses. It uses Sigma's SLD glass for sharp images. In use it feels more like the Nikon VR lenses and offers two shooting modes. Mode one steadies the lens in both horizontal and vertical planes. Mode 2, designed for motorsports, only attempts to compensate for vertical shake. Look for this lens to be available in the late spring.
Also new this year from Sigma is the 24-135mm f2.8-4.5 EX IF Aspherical. This lens covers an extremely useful zoom range and weighs just 20 ounces. Most of the attention was going to the two lenses we described above but this little beauty could wind up being the giant killer if it proves to produce the high quality images that it's EX designation implies. Look for this lens late spring as well.
Now Tamrac has decided to update those bags as well as a number of other bags in their lineup for the digital world by adding pull out pouches designed to hold a variety of memory cards, filters, and accessories. This tucks them out of the way safe and sound so they don't get lost or damaged banging around the bottom of your bag. Tamrac calls these slide pockets. If you shoot digital SLRs or regularly mix digital and film SLRs in the same bag it's worth checking them out.
Not so according to Tamron. Their new 28-75mm f2.8 AF lens weighs in at just 18 ounces, takes a 67m filter and is just 2.9 inches wide by 3.6 inches long.
Tamron uses their new XR technology to pull off this lightweight wizardry. The lens utilizes low dispersion glass and aspherical lens elements, has a auto/manual focus switch on the lens barrel, and a macro setting.
Tamron claims that this is the lightest and smallest fast standard zoom on the market.
All of Tamron's new lenses use a new technology that Tamron calls Filter Effect Technology or FEC. It allows you to rotate a polarizer or ND Grad mounted on the front of the lens even when the lens hood is in place.
Seems that folks have been busy at Tamron. Also on the table were a new 180mm f3.5 macro lens based on the Tamron 90mm macro design. Produced with LD glass and capable of producing a true 1:1 image. With a minimum working distance of 18 inches it is designed to provide more working room between the photographer and subject. You can switch between manual and autofocus using the focus ring.
A new 70-200 f2.8 pro telephoto using LD glass has been added to the Tamron lineup as well. Following Tamron's emphasis on light weight this lens weighs just 41 ounces which is light for a lens in this class and you can switch from autofocus to manual focus by engaging a switch on the focus ring (Canon & Nikon mounts).
At the long end of the spectrum they've added a 200-500mm f5-6.3 zoom lens with a removable tripod mount. This internal focus lens uses LD glass and is geared toward wildlife shooters.
Finally Tamron has a new lens for the super-wide zoom club with the introduction of their 17-35mm f2.8-4 Di LD IF lens. This lens has increased corner luminosity compared to the model 266D lesns that it replaces and the new lens has been designed to reduce ghosting and flare when shooting into a light source with the use of LD glass.