Meetings and press conferences were the order of the day today. While we've already reported on the most high-profile news of the day, several other odds and ends are also worth noting.
The DSLR show
If you've been following the coverage from PMA this year, you've probably realized just how much of the news from the show has focused heavily on DSLRs. Reflecting this general trend, a majority of today's wrap-up items are SLR specific as well.
It doesn't take an industry analyst to figure out that all of this emphasis on DSLRs, and the expansion of technologies like live view and face detection out of the compact camera market and into entry-level interchangeable-lens models, reflects the pivotal role that cameras like the Digital Rebel series have played and continue to play for the major manufacturers.
In a digital camera market that is generally believed to be cooling, these cameras have remained wildly popular and hugely profitable for their makers as more and more users supplement their compacts or leave them behind altogether for the drastically improved speed and image quality promised by DSLRs.
In light of this, much of the news that follows is slanted heavily toward DSLR-related items; based on what we've seen, we believe that what you're seeing in this trend is a broader indication of what is to come. While there have been some significant moves in the compact market, and while compacts will remain important, many manufacturers seem to be banking on the idea that the future – even for fixed-lens cameras – is tied up in technology development currently underway for DSLRs.
In short, welcome to the future...
When your kit lens is no longer enough
No Photoshop tricks or other misdirection here:
That's a normal-sized Canon 5D on the end of that lens, and a normal-sized man behind the camera. It's just that the lens, a newly announced Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8, really is as stupidly large as it seems. Launched as perhaps the perfect nature photography lens (we're assuming Sigma's idea of nature photography doesn't involve hiking to remote locations), the new glass has a front element the size of a dinner plate, uses its own rechargeable power source, and looks eerily like an implement of war.
Coming in at more than $20K, it's a beautiful (if you're a photo geek), not at all subtle piece of optical technology.
All of this makes the $12,000 Canon 800 mm f/5.6 that we reported on earlier in the week seem a true bargain by comparison.
It was a blast to play with several of the Canon L telephotos that the company had set up around its booth, though we're not sure where we'd keep one, what we'd use it for, or whether these are appropriate uses for the proceeds from a second mortgage. In seriousness, these pieces dominate the telephoto market among working sports photographers for a reason, and for the rest of us, their razor-sharpness and lightning-fast precision is a lot of fun to check out.
There were lots of other much more financially manageable telephotos being shown off today as well. With manufacturing technologies making long lenses both cheaper to make and more compact than ever, we can assume that this will be a good year to make the leap if you're looking for something in a size longer than 200mm, as several recent lighter/cheaper/better lens announcements indicate.
Sony's two-sensor Alpha live view system appears to live up to "fastest" claims
We didn't have any testing equipment or even so much as a lowly stopwatch handy, but after spending a few minutes with the new Sony Alpha A350 this morning, most questions about whether Sony's recently announced two-sensor DSLR live view system would offer substantive speed improvements have, in our minds at least, been answered.
Shooting with the new Alpha model in single-shot mode, the difference between press-to-capture times with the live view enabled and then disabled is, for all intents and purposes, nonexistent. If you've used competitive DSLR live view products in the past, you'll understand just how significant this kind of responsiveness really is.
Unscientific tests indicate that the live view system does cut continuous shooting framerates roughly in half when activated, but even so, continuous shooting is respectably fast in either case. The slight delay in shot-to-shot times, combined with a real lack of mirror blackout, also makes Sony's live view system viable for tracking moving subjects – a first, as far as we're aware, in this industry.
Press conference follow-up: Samsung cameras to integrate with consumer electronics company
We didn't pick up the interesting new product news or long-term development information that we'd hoped for at Samsung's press conference late this afternoon, but in a general piece of industry news, Samsung exec Reid Sullivan announced that Samsung Opto-Electronics would be, in the next few months, fully integrated into the operations of parent Samsung Electronics.
Heretofore, Samsung's camera division (Samsung Opto-Electronics) has apparently operated somewhat autonomously. The integration of the digital still camera holding into the general consumer line (now sharing a grouping with Samsung's camcorder division) appears to be a move to help strength interconnects between divisions. The final result of the integration will likely look and function similarly to Sony, with increasing amounts of cross-over between interlocking product lines (i.e. HDTVs and HD-output cameras).
The restructuring is motivated in part by the company's desire, made official this afternoon, to become one of the top three players in the digicam world by 2010. Samsung is already the most dominant maker of HDTVs, per their own numbers, as well as the number two competitor in the current cell phone market.
Hopefully, increased resources and continued collaboration with established makers like Pentax will mean a growing number of cutting-edge announcements from the firm going forward.
Kodak touch screen interface smacks of Sony style
Sony was showing off near-production versions of its update-model T300 touch screen compact at their booth today.
Replacing the popular Cyber-shot T200, the new model appears to substitute plastic for metal in several places, making the camera significantly lighter and more pocketable at the expense of some elegance and overall quality. Then again, the plastic could just be a pre-production fluke.
Just down the aisle a bit, Kodak had its competitive touch screen EasyShare V1073 – which we saw briefly when it was launched at CES – out for viewing, and what we noted yet again was just how refined the whole interface looked.
Though Kodak is known for emphasizing budget models of late, the entire menu system on the V1073 uses a flashy icon-based system with dynamic menus that, not surprisingly, looks strangely like Sony's (all the way down to the look of the icons themselves). Whether the V1073 will really compete against the much more expensive T300 or not, it seems that Kodak's done a decent job of getting not just the overall look, but the all-important user interface aspects, correct for this kind of camera – though, perhaps, not without a little more than a quick glance at how Sony did it first?
Kodak also had a few Z1012 IS, the recently released 12x ultra-zoom that follows up on the popular and generally well-regard Z812, late pre-production units floating around.
In hand, the Z1012 IS is nice and light, but doesn't make substantive improvements on the build quality seen in the Z812. While we like the Z812's functionality, it seems somewhat likely that part of the camera's apparent reputation challenge with more serious shooters stems from the fact that it lacks the refined appearance of some of its closest competitors.
Sad that the Z1012 may not do a lot to change this, because with the addition of SmartCapture (a multifunction processing and exposure correction tool), especially, this camera has more flexibility, and potentially more appeal for a wider range of users, than ever.
And finally, if you've ever wanted to split your brand new E-3 down the middle just to see how it works, Olympus has spared you the hassle, the requisite psychological instability, and the investment in carbide-tipped sawblades.
Olympus was one of several manufacturers showing off the guts of their new DSLRs with this kind of display arrangement. In addition to the split body, Olympus had a gutted E-3 (complete with labeled parts) under glass as well, highlighting elements like the sensor stabilization arrangement.
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