photokina Special Coverage; Really Useful Stuff: A Gathering Of Accessories & Items, With Something For Everyone

When Shutterbug reporters are covering photokina, we understandably concentrate on what's new, and we each have our own assigned ranges of subjects. As a result, even after allowing for my "Weird Stuff" category, a number of really useful items and trends can either fall into the gaps between our coverage--"I thought you would be covering that"--or are simply ignored, sometimes to the point where people wonder if they are still in production, or still relevant.

A prize example of relevance is exposure meters. New meter introductions are rare, simply because existing meters are so good that there is little room for improvement. And yet, they are arguably more important with digital than with film, because digital exposure latitude is so small.

At the show I saw top-flight handheld meters from Gossen, Sekonic, and Polaris. Sekonic's DIGITALMASTER L-758DR/758D/758 Cine was new for the show, with wireless operation, combined incident/spot, and more, including the option of storing up to three digital camera exposure profiles: digital "ISO equivalents" are notoriously variable, and this takes care of the problem.

Sekonic DIGITALMASTER L-758DR meter

Gossen COLORMASTER 3F meter

It's also worth remembering that while digital white balance can handle a lot, it can't reconcile mixed light sources in one picture. To do that, you need to measure them (e.g., with a Gossen COLORMASTER 3F) and "gel" them with filters from e.g., Lee Filters.

Or for another example of a mature technology, Braun, Franke & Heidecke (formerly Rollei Production), and Reflecta all brought slide projectors to the show. Slide projectors are pretty specialized nowadays, but it's good to know that they are still available.

How about test targets for lens/camera testing? These are far less relevant than they used to be, because in the upper reaches of the market, lens design and quality control have progressed to the point that superb quality can be taken for granted, and at the lower end, no one really cares. But if you have a weakness for older lenses, Image Engineering Dietmar Wueller (imported to the U.S.A. by Ikegami Electronics and Preco) sells an amazing range of test targets and the software needed to interpret them to ISO standards. Sure, you might be looking at $100 or more, instead of the $9.95 and $19.95 test targets of yore, but you'll be getting a lot more information in much more consistent form.

Then there are new ways of doing old things. One of the great products of the show, for me, was yet another application of the Camera Bellows/Lee Filters self-supporting bellows technology, which is also used for products as diverse as lens shades and laptop screen shades. It's a bellows focuser for large format cameras, and of course the clever thing is that it can be adapted to different diopters (they recommend 3 or 4); it can be set to suit the focus of your own eye; and it can be "bent" to allow oblique examination of the corners of the screen, which can be essential when you are shooting with wide angles. All the while, you aren't fighting with spring-loading or rotary focus.

Camera Bellows focuser

Batteries are something we all take pretty much for granted. But at this photokina, the same trend continued as in 2004: rechargeables increased in capacity, and decreased in charging time. When I first bought AA rechargeables, some 25 years ago, their capacity was 600 mAh and they took 16 hours to charge. Now several manufacturers have introduced batteries with more than four times the capacity--2600 mAh, or 2.6amp hours--and if a charger takes a couple of hours, it is regarded as slow. Even two years ago, 2000 mAh was regarded as close to state of the art. Better still, the latest batteries such as Panasonic's Infinium have much better charge retention characteristics when unused: no more "charged" batteries that have lost their charge when you come to use them.

Panasonic's new Infinium rechargeable range

Then there are things that one of us may regard as mainstream, and another as "weird stuff." For example, Zeiss showed a preproduction example of a tilt-and-shift 80mm f/2.8 Planar for use on high-end digital SLRs. My own view is that they were more than a little optimistic in stating that this would enable a high-end Canon, Nikon, or Leica digital SLR to compete with a Hasselblad, via stitching, but it's still a useful and intriguing tool, and (for me) mainstream.

Light "tents" and boxes for shadowless lighting are increasingly generic, but Kaiser once again had a couple of very good new designs, the Dome Studio and Open Tube 1, and Lastolite now offers the option of through-floor illumination with their Cubelight and Studio Cubelight. And for rigid boxes with built-in illumination, I was very impressed by Light-Boxx Ltd. from Hong Kong.