photokina 2010 Show Report; Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras, Still & Video Conjoined, 3D Follies & The Analog Hype: All In All, Just Another photokina Page 2

I have never been a fan of EVF viewing, though I understand its low-light benefit. They have gotten better, no doubt, but call me old-fashioned, I still think a reflex finder gives a more detailed and brighter view, especially in contrasty conditions or when light sources enter the frame. However, thanks to “organic” LED monitors and articulating screens I can usually rely on the image on the camera back for better resolution, albeit one that enforces a less than steady shooting style. In essence, you win a few and lose a few.


The Olympus E-5 is their follow-up to the E-3, with a thinner low pass filter, a 12-megapixel sensor, and an enhanced TruePic V+ image processor that offers 10 art filters and, of course, 1280x720 30 fps HD video. It’s also a brick of a camera, proven by hefty Olympus booth personnel who demoed it by standing on it, to no ill effect.

Yet, despite the distinctions in viewing, the so-called “hybrid” viewfinder approach and all the other factors marched out by their makers in favor of this design, a corner has been turned and the subject has been broached—why do cameras with sensors larger than those in a phone or point-and-shoot need be in the old 35mm form factor?

If we do not need mirrors, then why design cameras that look like they have mirrors in them? Indeed, one ironic presenter at a press conference referred to the 35mm form factor as a “neo-classical” design.

One sure benefit of these cameras is that they seem to inspire adapting older lenses to new bodies, mainly due, as of now, to lack of a full line-up of lenses on offer. Publisher Ron Leach, for example, had a ball shooting with his old Contax lenses on his new Olympus Pen body at the show. We’ll be sure to follow up on more adaptable options in a future article in Shutterbug. We are told that more and more lenses will become available for these cameras as the year progresses.

Sony’s Alpha 55 is a D-SLR in the sense that it has a mirror assembly, but not one that moves up and down during exposure. Dubbed “translucent,” it has a surface that both reflects the image to the finder and through the surface to the sensor. The benefit? Very fast AF tracking, 10 fps shooting in a 16.2-megapixel APS-C sensor. Sony also announced a new pro-level Alpha, coming soon.

Software Supreme?
Every camera brought out these days is accompanied by, or perhaps better put, ushered in with a newer, faster, more intense image processor. Indeed, some newer models are upgrades with an enhanced processor and some of the goodies that affords. The jazzed up processors allow for all this video activity; the enhanced Live View; the less noisy high ISO images; high ISO settings available in APS-C sensor cameras; and, in large part, the new, smaller camera designs. Indeed, some makers claim that the APS-C sensor and image processor of today rival the full-frame sensor image quality of the recent past. In fact, you could argue that manufacturing costs have been kept down (if you pardon the euphemism) because, increasingly, image processing power is able to make up for deficiencies in hardware. This doesn’t only mean that you’ll be able to choose more “art” filters when you shoot, though you can, or that you can shoot at previously dizzying heights of ISO with much less noise, though you can indeed, or that even certain lens deficiencies can be overcome through image processing through in-camera lens profiles, though that’s soon to be an increasing fact of life. What it does mean for many photographers is that craft will increasingly be subsumed to software or, better put, that learning about the image processing potential will be as an important a matter as understanding how to read light, select an aperture for depth of field, or, the old albatross, overcome scene contrast that would have made the use of fill flash or HDR previously necessary. Indeed, more and more cameras have incorporated HDR effects and processes into the normal course of writing an image to a card. Soon, processors will ask you to give up your decisions to their “scene and image recognition algorithms” and of course none shall blink and all children will smile and don’t worry about focus now just let us handle white balance and why worry, be happy.

This may sound absurd but if you follow the logic of where these image processors are going and the type of features touted by manufacturers you’d see that “intelligent” this and that are really solutions to old photographic problems that you need no longer concern yourself with—or should you?

Indeed, processors have their less 1984-type side as well, such as the TruePic V processor in the new Olympus E-5, which allows for a thinner low pass filter and claimed more defined images due to the fact that the processor can handle what before had been the unwanted moiré effects the thicker filter was intended to block, or in the Sony, built-in HDR and range optimization processes that when properly restrained yield a rather amazing solution to bothersome scene contrast without making every image look “grungy.”

One more note about image processors and cameras today—HD video. For years it had been debated whether the camcorder would eliminate the still camera or the still camera the camcorder, at least in the “hybrid” models touted. There’s little doubt that for many shooters today, video in their still camera is de rigueur and any maker showing up without same does so at their peril, and it has to be with various framing rates and HDMI adapters and stereo mics and the like. Indeed, news is made when a camera lacks it. In our view video is a great feature and we enjoy shooting it, but we leave in-depth coverage of it to others. But it has to be noted that still and video have converged in one camera system, and it’s in a camera where the primary function is still photography.

One of the best aspects of photokina is the many image displays in the halls, in their own special Visual Gallery Hall and in and around the town of Cologne itself. That’s what it’s all about, right?
Courtesy of Koelnmesse

Having seen 3D stills from a number of makers displayed on large monitors and prototypes of others to come all this reporter can do is sigh, not from disappointment in the results but from having seen the stereo or 3D image rage come and go over the years, and mostly go after an initial flurry. Not withstanding that the image gives some folks a mild headache or, at worst, vertigo, and that to view it properly you need to wear rather foolish looking and not inexpensive glasses, part of the seduction of a photographic image, I think, has to do with its reducing the world to a two-dimensional plane and its use of tonality, contrast, and composition to create an abstraction that gives a certain similitude of reality without the pretence of needing an object to jut forward from the frame to convince you of its “reality.” Life is 3D enough by itself and it has always struck me that trying to reproduce that dimensionality with visual gimmicks pretty much makes the image a gimmick itself, and not much else. The phrase “show me a bad movie and I’ll show you a movie that’s in 3D” could be applied to photographic images as well.

I don’t mean to be a grouch about this, but having looked at the classic View-Master as a kid, having shot with a “stereo” Realist camera as a teenager, and having suffered through Nimslo prints and such later on, I am somewhat tired of the novelty. Yet, it certainly is clever and can be fun, and if you want to give it a try Panasonic certainly poses the easiest solution with their split image lens that produces an MPO file that can be read and seen on a 3D TV, if you can find one. Like cult 3D movies of the 1950s, this movement, I fear, will attain the same small group of adherents and not much else.

I am not sure why, but the phrase “analog” when applied to film has always been a bit grating, perhaps because to me film is film and not, to quote Wikipedia, a variable signal that is continuous in time and amplitude. Well, maybe it is analog in the sense that it is fixed in terms of color response and latitude, which of course can be altered somewhat in processing, but it is not as “inconstant” or better put as malleable as digital. It’s another instance of defining something by what it is not, like mirrorless camera systems.

In any case, there seems to be a marketing inspired movement that dubs those who love to work with film as “analog freaks” or the “analog gang.” These are characterized as young rebels grating against the oppression of digital. This attempt to channel rebellion into the embracing of an intricate but increasingly archaic manufacturing process is another sign of the times, and I just mention it so that we can dispense with the nonsense and get to the fact of the matter that there is less film being made and sold today and it doesn’t look like the trend will change. Indeed, there are fairly strong indications that chrome film may be the next victim.

Kodak, however, shows good spirit in the film department with their new Portra 400 film, said to be the finest grain 400 speed ever (no doubt, and tests are proceeding as we go to press), and the fact that they will now be offering custom cut sheet film sizes in color neg and black-and-white neg through Keith Canham in Arizona. Also, The Impossible Project announced new instant film for the SX-70 cameras of yore. Maybe they should start spooling 127 format as well. And in what had to be one of my favorite booths at the show, Ilford/Harmanannounced the return of Direct Positive black-and-white paper, which you can expose as cut sheet directly in the camera (pinhole shooters take note) and soup as you would a normal sheet of black-and-white paper. They actually had a “live” darkroom on the show floor where they made prints from portraits shot through an 8x10 camera. Now imagine that.