Photokina 2008: Tuesday Wrap Up

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Photokina 2008 officially opened to the public this morning, meaning the world’s largest camera spectacle is now underway. In spite of sizable crowds to contend with and dreary weather that threatened rain over the show’s outdoor festivities for much of the day, everything seemed to roll along with few hitches on day one.

Until today, most exhibitors were still playing new product information close to the vest, but it’s a fair bet that most of the major announcements have been put on the table at this point. From here on out, the game is investigation and evaluation. With that in mind, here are a few choice bits to wrap up the day’s barrage of news.

Samsung HZ1 on display, but still no compact system camera
As promised, we got our first look at Samsung’s tentatively named HZ1 concept camera under glass when the show opened this morning, and things are looking good for the manufacturer’s most aggressive compact to date.

Samsung HZ1

Although it hasn’t been the most heavily hyped small camera announcement at this year’s event, the HZ1 has the potential to be one of the most exciting. The idea of packing a wide-angle 10x zoom lens into a camera this size is impressive from both a technological and a functional standpoint. In terms of handling, the HZ1 will be smaller than the Panasonic TZ5, and significantly smaller than the Canon SX110 IS, if it comes to market in anything near the form exhibited today.

Stylistically, the HZ1 takes its cues from Samsung’s NV cameras, which is definitely a good thing in our book. Like the NVs, the concept appears to sport a brushed metal case as well, which makes it worth hoping that the final version will feature the excellent fitment and build quality of these cameras as well. Given the HZ1’s positioning as a premium product, there’s no reason it shouldn’t.

Samsung HZ1

Since Samsung is still at the concept phase with this camera, we obviously don’t have anything near finalized specs for the HZ1, but it is worth noting that today’s prototype had a manual exposure setting lurking on the mode dial. Samsung’s manual exposure mode on their compacts haven’t always been carefully considered in terms of interface, but the idea of manual control is still a step in the right direction where targeting advanced users is concerned.

While we generally liked what we saw from the HZ1, another Samsung product believed to be on the immediate horizon was conspicuously absent from today’s proceedings. Earlier in the month, CNET posted some info from an interview in Amateur Photographer magazine that outline Samsung’s intent to provide an alternative to the compact interchangeable-lens Micro Four Thirds system, but utilizing an APS-C sized sensor. However, the first day of Photokina has come and gone without an official concept announcement or under-glass prototype of the anticipated system, meaning that unless the Korean electronics giant has something far up their sleeve, we’re not likely to have so much as a mock-up to lust after during this show.

Euro-only Canon PowerShot SX1 IS previewed
Although it’s not yet available in the U.S., the Canon PowerShot SX1 IS ultrazoom was up for hands-on examination at Canon’s Photokina booth.

Canon PowerShot SX1 IS

Powered by a 10 megapixel CMOS sensor – marking the first time CMOS has been employed in a PowerShot model – the SX1 makes use of all of the features accorded to the S5-replacement PowerShot SX10: 20x zoom, DIGIC IV processing, tilt and swivel LCD.

Canon PowerShot SX1 IS

The SX1 is also unique within the PowerShot line in its ability to capture full HD (1920×1080, that is) video at 30 frames per second.

Canon PowerShot SX1 IS

Like the S5 before it, the SX1 is a sharp little camera that strikes an excellent balance between compactness and comfort. Build quality is robust, and the upgraded model’s 3.0 inch LCD is sharp, contrasty, and fluid. Overall, our initial impression from the press launch photos proves true in hand: Canon’s done a nice job of carrying over what was good about the S5’s shape, while giving the new SX cameras a more distinctive, rounded look and a grip profile that feels better in hand.

Canon PowerShot SX1 IS

Under the watchful eyes of Canon’s booth reps, we weren’t able to sneak away with any sample shots or videos from the SX1. Obviously, the big question here is how the step-up model’s CMOS sensor will handle low light and high ISOs. Unfortunately, as no official launch announcement has been made in the States, we’re not sure when the American market will actually see the SX1 – though contrary to some persistent rumors on the ‘net, we’re certain it’s coming this way sooner or later.

Camera flinging demo can’t destroy Olympus 1050
We’re all camera lovers here at DCR, which means there are some things we simply can’t bring ourselves to do in testing review units: although we’ve been tempted to test Olympus’s claims that previous versions of its upper-tier Stylus SW ultracompact are capable of surviving being rolled over by a car, the thought of having to explain ourselves if the test should go awry has always kept us from doing (much, intentional) torture testing – even with the most seriously ruggedized cameras.

But when a manufacturer not only encourages such testing, but designs an apparatus as part of their Photokina booth for the sole purpose of flinging their shock-resistant camera to the ground at high speed, all bets are off.

Olympus Stylus 1050 SW

The camera in question in this case is Olympus’s brand new Stylus 1050 SW, the youngest offspring of a long line of heavy-duty pocket cameras. The apparatus in question is the following sinister piece of demonstration equipment.

Olympus Stylus 1050 SW

The premise is simple: a bucket on the test system’s conveyer brings a sample Stylus 1050 to the top of the line, from which the camera is chucked six feet or so onto a solid slab at the bottom of the box. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video clip – complete with the sickening sound that the camera makes when it hits the floor – is worth at least a thousand more.

If Olympus’s booth attendants are to be believed, they’d been running the same camera through this disturbing little demo several times a minute all morning with no apparent damage sustained.

In addition to surviving falls, the Stylus 1050 SW also resists water to depths of around ten feet (Olympus had a display testing this, too), can withstand being stepped on by a large man, and operates at temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit. The bigger question is whether its image quality improves on its predecessor’s fairly disappointing performance.

The Stylus 1050 SW is sitting toward the top of our review queue, meaning we’ll have a chance to evaluate all of these claims, if we can bring ourselves to treat a camera so roughly, soon enough.

Camera Armor developing $100 weatherproof housing
Speaking of mistreating your camera, Seattle-based Camera Armor makes some pretty heavy-duty protective camera skins that recently grabbed our attention around the DCR office. While their regular stuff is pretty serious to begin with (think large rubber bumpers that mount to the front of your DSLR lens and prevent damage when dropped), they were showing off a prototype today of one of the more interesting all-weather DSLR housings we’ve ever seen.

Camera Armor

Still in the development phase, the Camera Armor Extreme takes the company’s ideas about gear protection to new levels, providing a polycarb shell that complete encases your SLR but still allows smart access to all the controls. Coordinating lens housings in two sizes (short and long, essentially) allow full zoom control through the housing via a rotating ring on the housing barrel.

Camera Armor

Per Camera Armor, the Extreme was conceived of as a weather sealing and impact resistance solution for shooters looking to use their DSLRs in environments that are less than friendly to the long-term survival of delicate electronics. Although it’s not a dive housing, Camera Armor notes that the Extreme has been “bucket tested” for water resistance as well – meaning your Extreme-enclosed camera should survive that dip in the ocean.

We had the chance to handle Camera Armor’s prototype long enough to form some opinions about the company’s general direction. First, installing a camera inside the Extreme, which also features internal bumpers to improve shock resistance, is as simple as sliding the device in and latching the housing’s single steel clasp. The enclosure definitely adds appreciable bulk, but compared to many housings we’re familiar with, this one’s surprisingly manageable.

Camera Armor

Best of all, the Camera Armor Extreme – slated to initially hit retails in versions for Canon and Nikon entry-level DSLRs soon after the first of the year – should sell for around $100. Compared to a full-on dive housing, the Extreme seems like a great deal, and if you’re a Canon or Nikon shooter looking for a little bit (ok, a lot) of extra protection from water damage, especially, this might be the ticket.

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