Photokina 2008: Wednesday Wrap Up

by Reads (64)

Things have clearly started to slow down a bit at Photokina, and with the end of the week in sight and most announcements already made, the crowd is shifting to more buyers and industry types and fewer journalists. There’s plenty more less-than-headline news to sort through from the show, and I took the opportunity on Wednesday morning to do a little more booth exploring and see what was lurking that we might have missed. Here’s what I found.

Fujifilm’s “Real 3D” camera concept looks, feels market ready
Fujifilm’s Photokina presence this year was so large and labyrinthine that I only found out well after I’d left the show today that the company had whole areas of new technology on display that I never made it around to see. While I’m not sure what else may have been lurking under glass elsewhere in their supermarket-sized display area, what was impossible to miss was Fuji’s “Real 3D” camera concept.

Fujifilm Real 3D

Although the company has stated more than once this week that it has no specific plans for the final form an actual camera product for its 3D imaging system might take, the two-headed photographic monster available to touch, examine, and even shoot with at their booth looks and feels awfully polished for a tech concept. After seeing and touching Fuji’s samples, it certainly seems as if the Real 3D concept has already been focused for the market – working against the idea that what Fuji’s showing off this week is a primarily an engineering exercise built to satisfy technical curiosity and identify challenges at this point.

Fujifilm Real 3D

If you’re shooting in 3D, it follows that your shot composition LCD would need to be able to display images with added dimensionality. Fuji’s concept uses a similar technology to the 3D photo frame also proposed for this system, with an on-screen filter that separates the visual information into two discrete channels that come off the screen at slightly different angles. The net effect and basic light separation process at work are the same as what you’d get when viewing a stereo image with those stylish red-blue 3D glasses, with images showing visible layering and depth.

Fujifilm Real 3D

Obviously, a 2D capture can’t do the unique experience of composing and viewing images in this way justice. Moreover, the screen was impressive in its brightness, its sharpness, and the limited amount of flickering/merging. Images did lose most of their depth when viewed at more than arm’s distance, and seemed to do the same up close, but of the 3D displays we’ve seen, Fuji’s is pretty good in terms of its viewability window. What’s even more noteworthy is that they’ve succeed in miniaturizing the necessary 3D display technology without sacrificing much in terms of overall image quality, making their approach to a reasonably compact digital stereo imaging device possible.

Compactness is certainly a relative idea with Real 3D. Fuji’s demo units are compact like the 35mm point-and-shoot from the early ’80s that your mother is still using is compact. If it won’t fit comfortably in any pocket not found on a pair of clown pants, however, the sample versions could be easily tucked into most purses and basically any backpack. Form and styling also seem to have been carefully considered for the model. Not in the outlandish, over-designed way that concepts are so often fashioned, but in a practical, consumer-oriented way that suggests development of a market-ready product may be farther along that Fuji’s letting on. In the same way, the interface provided a full range of adjustments, settings, and options, well beyond the level of refinement you’d expect from an engineering sample.

In my mind, the $64,000 question at this point has to with the end use for this technology. Sure, Fuji’s bringing its own 3D photo frame and print solutions to market, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the decision to do so is completely out off necessity: people have tried 3D imaging at the consumer level before, but as far as I’m aware, there are no other commercially available 3D display technologies out there at the moment. And even if there were, there’s that pesky question of standards integration, as each of the technologies pursued previously seems to gather and represent data somewhat differently.

Consumer imaging in three dimensions is fascinating from a technological standpoint, but unless other display/frame manufacturers, especially, get on board with the idea – and with the idea of doing it Fuji’s way – it’s hard to see this going anywhere other than the living rooms of a few well heeled early adopters who seem to buy into these sorts of interesting but ill fated consumer tech ventures for sport.

Lensbaby Composer offers interchangeable optics
Lensbaby products are a source of contention among the DigitalCameraReview crew, mirroring divided opinions about the strange little lenses found among consumers more generally, it seems. Either you love the unique, usually low-fi look that these simple bellows-style lenses provide, or you think they’re an overpriced plaything for pretentious wannabe art photographers.

Love ’em or hate ’em, Lensbaby’s got a new product out for Photokina, the Lensbaby Composer, that uses interchangeable optics to provide the different looks of several lens types in a single device.

Lensbaby Composer

In addition to twisting and rotating lens motions like the previous Lensbaby 2.0 and 3G (now officially renamed the Muse and the Control Freak, respectively) provided – which allow you to control depth of field and focus points by physically moving the lens’s element – the Composer is the first Lensbaby to use interchangeable optics. A coated, 50mm double glass optic ships with the Composer, and single glass, plastic, and pin-hole modules are also available.

The Composer’s ball-and-socket arrangement is more solid feeling in use than the previous bellows models, and has a Ronco-esque (“Just set it and forget it!”) level of control simplicity not afforded by the other models (even with the 3G’s position locking system, using a Lensbaby lens to its full potential with a heavy DSLR seems to demand three hands with some frequency).

What you give up in return, though, is the push-pull focusing fun and extreme bellows bend angles – and the ensuing heavily vignetted, “scooped” depth of field images – that I’ve always found to be one of the truly unique photographic options opened up by previous Lensbaby products. Lensbaby claims you get basically the same range of motion with the Composer as with the bellows models, but after checking them out up close, I’m just not sure.

In any case, the ability to get the different image looks offered by all of Lensbaby’s current models in a single, modular variant is certainly more cost effective and efficient than buying four separate lenses. In a concession to the anti-Lensbaby camp, however, at $270 for the Composer itself and $35 to $85 for the additional lens elements, it’s certainly not inexpensive for what many consider to be a “special effects” lens.

Canon in-lens image stabilization in action
Ever wonder how those in-lens image stabilization systems employed by several manufacturers actually work? This kind of idle curiosity is what Photokina is made for, as manufacturers jump at the opportunity to break down all of their technologies, from simplest to most complex, for a captive audience of journalists, industry watchers, and retail buyers.

Amid the technological panoply at their booth, Canon graciously cross-sectioned a 400mm f/4 stabilized telephoto to show off its image stabilization system which uses a gyro and motor-driven optical element to keep the image in front of the lens traveling straight down the barrel to the sensor. The lens moves downward slightly, for instance, with the system enabled and the stabilizer element travels with it. It’s more or less that simple.

Still, even if the idea isn’t terribly complicated, watching the stabilizer element in motion can be a bit engrossing if you’re a lover of all things gadget

It’s obvious that the system is traveling through its full range of motion for this demo, but it’s a bit surprising to see just how far the stabilizer element has to be able to move to get those four-or-whatever stops of additional speed on a lens of this length.

Leica D-Lux 4 hands-on
Ok, so the purists will say it’s not a real Leica, but if your desire for the new Panasonic-based Leica D-LUX 4 is giving you a complex, you could always switch the menu language over to German to add some authenticity

Leica D-Lux 4

Basically a Lumix LX3 – no slouch of a camera, it should be noted – under the hood, the Leica D-LUX 4 advanced compact is largely a styling exercised aimed at bringing the storied German brand’s trademark visuals to a generally cooperative Japanese-built camera.

Leica D-Lux 4

Leica’s been filling out their lineup with affordable consumer cameras through this relationship with Panasonic for awhile now, and the latest D-Lux continues the D-Lux 3’s tradition of looking less like a rebrand a more like a Leica than any camera to come out of this relationship yet. Admittedly, the rangefinder styling of the LX cameras used in this application make it easier than Leica’s attempts to rebrand the FX37, for instance.

I spent a few minutes late in the day exploring the D-Lux 4, all the while cursing the fact that our LX3 review unit was back in the U.S. and thus not available for some side-by-side comparisons. The menus are structured slightly differently (though it’s still clearly Panasonic-designed firmware), but Panasonic’s Intelligent Auto functions are basically all still here (though less prominent in branding and placement). Buttons and switches are identical; a redesigned front deck that eliminates the grip does give the D-Lux a slightly different feel in hand, however.

Leica D-Lux 4

More important to know would be whether Leica has fine-tuned the processing options. Based on what’s stayed the same, we’re betting not, but anything’s possible.

Based on MSRP, you’ll pay about five percent more for the Leica version than it’s Panasonic counterpart. Worth it? If your only concern is the photos you take, probably not. On the flip side, though, the D-Lux 4’s got some great front-side styling that’s a lot more distinctive than anything coming from Panasonic. If it appeals to you, why not?

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