Photokina 2008: Monday Wrap Up

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Although it’s still early evening in the U.S., the unofficial first day of Photokina 2008 is all but wrapped up across the Atlantic in Cologne.

Photokina 2008

Several manufacturers rushed to get their latest launches and concepts in front of journalists in anticipation of the show’s opening to the general public tomorrow morning.

Photokina 2008

Inside the cavernous halls of Koelnmesse, things were largely still under construction this afternoon, but I was able to slip into a few manufacturers’ booths and have a look around. Out of this exploring, plus a host of meetings and press conferences, comes the following wrap-up of Monday’s Photokina “press day” happenings.

Next-generation Super CCD, 3D imaging on Fujifilm’s development slate
At the industry level, some of the more unique news of the day came from Fujifilm. According to an announcement this afternoon, the manufacturer is working to develop a new version of its famed Super CCD sensor, as well as a complete workflow environment for 3D imaging.

Although it has the less sci-fi ring of the two, Fuji’s concept announcement of its new Super CCD EXR imager is more likely to have a serious impact in the imaging market in the near term. For some time now, Fuji’s Super CCD technology has been recognized as the industry standard for clean high-sensitivity shooting as well as vivid color reproduction. In pursuing two lines of engineering development – one for compact cameras, and one for SLRs – these aims did not always coordinate well in the finished product, according to Fuji:

“Over the years, Fujifilm has excelled in high resolution sensors through ‘HR’ technology (F50fd, F100fd) and high sensitivity/wide dynamic range through ‘SR’ sensors (S3 Pro, S5 Pro). The direction in the future will be to combine HR and SR technology together to produce one universal sensor suitable for all high quality photography.”

Technical modifications to make this combination of high sensitivity and wide dynamic range possible primarily involve changes to how a sensor “bins,” or combines data from individual pixels. By changing the fundamental sensor structure so that grouped pixels sit closer together, less noise is theoretically introduced, allowing for better sharpness at high sensitivities. Likewise, the Super CCD EXR also utilizes a dual-capture process, combining image data from simultaneous low- and high-sensitivity captures to boost dynamic range and provide smoother gradations.

Timing of the announcement is interesting, suggesting that Fuji may well intend to gracefully bow out of proprietary DSLR development altogether and focus exclusively on developing the new sensor as a point-and-shoot specific technology. At the moment, no products using the latest technology have been outlined, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

Fuji also announced development of a new three-device system for capturing and presenting 3D stills and movies that doesn’t require special glasses or other additional systems to view in three dimensions.

The core technology in this case is a camera that captures two slightly offset images through a pair of precisely calibrated and linked lenses.

Photokina 2008

According to the announcement, Fujifilm has already begun sorting the technical challenges involved in simultaneous stereophonic capture, and claims that a final product developed with this technology will (out of necessity) offer side-by-side synchronization with precision down to 0.001 seconds.

Even more specs have been put to the system’s photo frame, proposed to be an 8.4 inch, 920,000 dot display capable of manipulating light angles via a special filter screen to give objects recorded with the stereo camera dimensionality on playback. Future possibilities for applying the 3D, dual-lens technology in a print environment include the ability to take simultaneous shots with different processing or exposure settings, or to get two angles on the same shot with one capture.

Details about what form, or what timetable, actual products from both new technologies might take remain pretty scarce, but we’ll be covering Fujifilm’s press conference tomorrow morning to see if there are other developments on this front.

Pentax K2000 in hand, DA* 55mm f/1.4 under glass
Pentax was farther along in getting their show floor presence established than many of the manufacturers, which afforded a chance to see which of their new products were on display. While nothing was out from under glass today, it was exciting to see Pentax’s new DA* 55mm f/1.4 in person for the first time.

Photokina 2008

Of even more interest to many will be the DA 15mm f/4 ED AL Limited that Pentax hinted at in its lens announcements today.

Photokina 2008

As expected, the next Pentax lens to be prepped for launch was already on display in prototype form, at least, exhibiting the trademark compactness and precision workmanship for which the company’s DA Limited glass is known.

Photokina 2008

If you’re a Limited shooter, you might also want to take note of Pentax’s newest accessory catalog addition: a three-lens DA Limited carrying case developed in conjunction with Caselogic. No, it won’t make your pictures any better, but the design is both clever and useful for keeping those easily misplaced compact primes all in one location.

Photokina 2008

With all of this interesting new and soon-to-be-launched technology from Pentax, I have to admit that I came away a little disappointed by the K2000’s final specs sheet. Nor did a little hands-on time with the camera do a lot to change my opinions in this regard.

Photokina 2008

Ergonomically and functionally, the K2000 makes sense, and while it has some truly outstanding features (including a great viewfinder), much of the overall approach seems a little behind the times. This would have been a great launch a year or two ago, but in the current crowded entry-level DSLR space, it’s harder to say what the future holds.

I do appreciate that Pentax has finally updated their graphical interface. This, along with the inclusion of a dedicated “Help” function button, should make Pentax’s latest seem a little less obtuse and industrial to first-time DSLR users.

Obviously, we weren’t given enough time to form any fair, final opinions one way or the other about the camera’s overall performance, usability, and image quality. On this score, we’ll give Pentax a chance to impress us favorably with a final review unit of the K2000 – if it happens, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time the DCR staff has had warmed up to a camera with a little bit of in-the-field time.

Photokina 2008

Incidentally, we might also be more likely to warm to the K2000 if we could get a review unit that looks like the above…

First look: Casio EX-FH20 40 fps shooting mode
What does a second’s time look like? For exploring the philosophical as well as the photographic dimensions of this question, Casio’s had the tool for nearly a year now with their 60 fps shooter, the Exilim EX-F1. Recently, the manufacturer opted to put much of the F1’s high-speed technology into a smaller, less expensive, easier to use camera, and from this the Casio Exilim EX-FH20 was born.

Photokina 2008
The FH20 (right), alongside the F1

Casio was still putting the finishing touches on their display area, but they did have a pair of their high-speed ultrazooms out where we could get our hands on them (if tethered to the table, so those same eager hands couldn’t haul them away). Without close adult supervision, what we were able to haul away, however, was a preliminary real-world test of the new FH20’s 40 frame-per-second still capture mode.

Photokina 2008

That’s right: the FH20 is capable of laying down a total of 40 continuous frames at 7 megapixels, and doing it all in right at a second. What does the final result of that process look like? For illustration purposes, we’ve stitched together all 40 still high-res frames into a web-res video (in which each frame is displayed for one second). What you’re looking at, then, are 40 individual stills covering a second’s time from first to last image.

As a reminder, each individual frame in this image was captured as a full 7 megapixel image: we scaled them down merely to make the video manageable. With this in mind, to say that the FH20 is capable of impressive things when working with moving subjects is an understatement. For capturing a precise moment in an action sequence – getting the exact moment your soccer-playing child kicks, for instance – the applicability of this technology is clear.

While resolution of the individual frames was more than sufficient, overall image quality wasn’t always stellar. We’ll chalk that, and the FH20’s occasional tendency to drop out of focus for a frame or two when tracking, up to dim hall lighting in this case. Likewise, since it’s not clear whether the unit on display was, in fact, a full production version, it would be unfair to form any IQ judgments based on these samples.

Photokina 2008

A year into Casio’s high-speed Exilim concept, the idea of a consumer camera that can capture 40 high-resolution frames in the time it takes a person to walk two steps, and do so with the single push of a button, still looks pretty novel to us. The fact that the FH20 promises to make getting this performance both cheaper (with a price of around $600, versus the F1’s $1000 tag) and more user-friendly makes the whole idea seem that much better.

Leica going big with 37 megapixel S2
It’s been fun to watch rumors fly today with regards to Leica’s latest system announcement. For those who’ve missed it, a page from Professional Photographer magazine not yet approved for public viewing somehow made it onto the internet earlier in the day, confirming speculation that German camera and lens maker Leica has designs for a high-end system camera with a 35mm form factor but medium format resolution.

Photokina 2008

Who really needs a camera with a 37 megapixel sensor that’s “52 percent larger than those used in full-frame DSLRs”? A fairly limited group of working professional shooters. And yet, the proposed camera – which measures roughly the size of a current full-frame DSLR – takes medium format resolution to new levels of portability, attracting the attention of photo buffs everywhere.

The magazine page scan has the rest of what we know to this point about the new model, which Leica has apparently named the S2. And if the article snippet makes clear the challenge this model represents to the likes of Canon’s EOS 1Ds Mark III, what really got people talking today was the suggestion in the piece, per Leica’s spokesperson, that the S2’s AF performance would be “twice as fast” as that from the Hasselblad H cameras.

Nothing like the possibility of a war of words between two historic top-flight camera manufacturers to get things stirred up.

With all the information that’s already in the public domain, official confirmation of the S2 from Leica almost seems like a superfluity. Just the same, an eavesdropped elevator conversation at the show today between two individuals who seem like reliable sources (that is, their shirts were black, with a circular red logo…) has us putting our money on an announcement late this evening or early tomorrow. Not that this is exactly a tough deduction to make anyway: the chance that Leica wouldn’t have news this big out before everyone hits the show floor tomorrow morning seems pretty slim.

Whatever else happens, we’ll keep an eye for the official announcement from Leica when it comes, in part because we’re still lacking a single, crucial piece of information: the price.

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