PMA 2008: Wednesday Wrap-Up

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PMA officially starts tomorrow, and most of the pre-events today focused more on seeing the new items than on spending a lot of time with them. In-depth interactions with the individual manufacturers throughout the week should provide for some more thorough analysis, but we were able to form some initial impressions and begin sifting through the range of new tech that PMA 2008 has to offer.

Initial hands on with Canon XSi, Nikon D60, Pentax K200D

At a pre-PMA event this evening, the only new entry-level DSLRs not at the party were Sony’s latest units. We were able to grab some quick photos, spend a little time playing with each camera, and form some more definite opinions on how these three, in particular, will stack up based on production-ready units.

Obviously, Canon has the most to lose in this area of the DSLR market, given that they are usually credited with single-handedly inventing the entry-level DSLR category. Digital Rebel build quality has rarely been anything to write home about in the past, but Canon definitely brings a more mature, less creaky package in the XSi.

PMA Wednesday

Simultaneously, they’ve also shaved both size and weight from the package: with the kit lens, the new Rebel is almost alarmingly light, and is finally compact feeling enough to compete with the likes of Pentax, if not quite with Nikon in this regard. In demos, live view was reasonably fluid and responsive; being able to see the focusing system at work on a larger surface than the tiny Rebel viewfinder is also a plus. Still, there’s some lag here that seasoned DSLR shooters won’t be entirely comfortable with: no surprises there. If only we could’ve done a side-by-side with Sony’s new two-sensor system…

In two minutes worth of handling, it was hard to clearly discern the differences between the D40x and the new D60. Still, it doesn’t get much more amazingly small than Nikon’s basic DSLR offerings. Nor do DSLRs get much more solid feeling at this price point.

PMA Wednesday

Without a live view system, the D60 may struggle to compete for marketing copy with the XSi’s slick package. In some ways, though, the D60 represents a bold move on Nikon‘s part in throwing out what is, by and large, a camera from nearly a year ago to compete against Canon’s heavily hyped new tech. The fact that the D60 should contend strongly with the XSi in the areas that matter most in our book (image quality, speed, ease of use) speaks well of its lineage.

Speaking of lineage, while there’s not a lot that’s really cutting edge in the K200D being mostly an amalgamation of K10D tech in a K100D body there continues to be a lot to like about this camera. It doesn’t have the flashy lines or interface of the XSi, especially, but the much more stripped (or streamlined, depending on how you feel about it) shooting experience has its own kind of appeal.

PMA Wednesday

The battery grip mounted variants Pentax was showing off looked particularly industrial and serious, a vibe neither the super-friendly XSi nor the super-small D60 pulls off very convincingly.

Overall, initial impressions are that these are three very different takes on a similar concept, pushing the technological cut-off for what can fairly be called “entry level” considerably higher than we’ve seen in the past.

Sony hyping upsized sensor development

Sony’s work in high-res CMOS imaging sensors of late has been well documented, but it seems that no one was really expecting the announcement yesterday that Sony was pursuing development of a 35mm-sized full-frame (that’s right kids: 43.3mm of diagonal-dimension fun) CMOS sensor. Promising huge dynamic range and nearly 25 megapixels effective resolution, the new sensor will pioneer a new A/D conversion technique (the technological heart of an imaging sensor) that should provide lower noise images and high-speed capture performance.

Full-scale production of the new chip is anticipated within the year, though it’s still too far out to speculate when and where whether in a Sony product or elsewhere the new sensor might show up.

Unknown maker Intova dives into underwater cams

In a world where waterproof housings from the big manufacturers seem to invariably cost nearly as much as the compacts they house, we’re always somewhat at a loss when we get questions about waterproof digital cameras for snorkeling, diving, and other watersports. Of course, Olympus makes a couple of nice models, and Pentax makes a good one as well, but without a housing, true dive cameras these aren’t.

PMA Wednesday

It might be a little premature to hope for a lot, but some combo camera/housing offerings from drug-store staple Intova caught our eye this afternoon. Admittedly, expectations may not have been initially high for this product, but given the dearth of choices in this market at this price, we were willing to spend a couple of minutes having a look around.

In terms of build quality, the Intova housings seem extremely well made, with positive locking systems and double o-rings as nice as anything you’ll get for your compact from the major manufacturers.

Obviously, the cameras are a complete unknown at this point, though Intova claims that they come from the same place as lots of other compact cameras from companies you’ve heard of. They feel solid enough, with nicer buttons than we’ve seen on some entry-level models, a good screen and interface, and almost no blatant cheapness. Moreover, the ones we played with seem to have at least as much polish as the $130 offerings from five-letter brands ending in “-on.”

However they stack up in terms of image quality, the fact that one of these complete kits will set you back about as much as an OEM housing for your PowerShot makes Intova worth a second lookas a low-cost dedicated underwater shooting solution.

(And the pun in the headline was obvious. Sincere apologies all around.)

Fujifilm S100 FS has visual impact

Fuji had their recently announced S100 FS ultra-zoom out and about, and first impressions have probably put to rest any question about whether this thing will seriously contend for DSLR dollars: even at what seemed initially like a slightly high price point, with a serious look, a serious lens, and serious features, it almost certainly will.

PMA Wednesday

Overall construction and feel in hand are top notch, and if the S100 shoots half as good as it looks (we couldn’t easily extricate it from its mini tripod to do much testing), expect it to give the DSLRs mentioned previously, especially, a run for their money.

In terms of larger themes at work here, this looks a lot like proof that the ultra-zoom market, while losing some ground to DSLRs for sure, isn’t quite on its last legs.

The perpetual prototype SIGMA DP1 slated for delivery this spring?

The buzz this evening has been that Sigma’s DP1 concept, a 14 megapixel compact camera (about the size of a Canon G9) with a DSLR-sized APS-C image sensor that promises to provide image quality performance unlike any compact currently on the market, is really going to happen. To read the full, sordid history of this innovative but slow-in-coming concept, check out our Sigma DP1 Update from a few months back.

sigma dp1

With the caveat that we’ve heard this before, the word in the press room is that Sigma has used the words “DP1” and “spring” in the same sentence. A recent update to the product’s website only continues to tease that the production version is coming. In the typical misdirection and misinformation from various sources surrounding the DP1 project, there may or may not be a new press release from Sigma on the subject with production specs, but in either case, there’s still no hard information on a release date or pricing.

If a production version is imminent, odds are good that at least one such unit is floating around within a one-mile radius of the Las Vegas Convention Center at this moment. As always, we’ll keep our (skeptical) eyes and ears open for more on this one.

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