PMA 2009: Show Wrap-Up

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By Allison Johnson and David Rasnake

The 2009 PMA imaging show wrapped up at the end of the week. Having spent several days on the show floor, we had plenty to write about during our time in Las Vegas – and we’ve had plenty to follow up on since our return home. Here’s our final take on the show in general, as well as a few write-ups on specific products not originally included in our show floor coverage during the week.

Smaller show, fewer announcements for ‘09
On the first day of the show, we speculated that this year was shaping up to potentially be a smaller, more focused PMA event than we’ve seen in years past. With the 2009 show now all wrapped up, it’s fair to say that both in terms of total visitors and, even more importantly, the quantity and significance of new technology on display, PMA 2009 was definitely more subdued than we’ve come to expect.

PMA 2009

There have still been a fair number of small camera announcements – if anything, the general consensus seems to be that the current economy has pushed manufacturers to get exciting new projects from development pipeline to store shelf as quickly as possible. But in terms of headline-grabbing technology announcements, it’s been a lighter year for sure.

Case in point: we had only two interchangeable-lens camera announcement for PMA 2009 – the Olympus E-620 and the Panasonic Lumix GH1. By comparison, last year’s show saw seven new DSLR announcements, plus a concept launch of the camera that became the Sony A900.

In fairness, most DSLRs continue to have more than a year of shelf life, meaning last year’s models aren’t necessarily up for replacement just yet. And the absence of any truly revolutionary tech from typical heavy hitters like Canon and Nikon has given more space to some interesting announcements from some of the lower-profile players – the new sensor in Fuji’s F200EXR might just be the technological highlight of the show, and Samsung’s NX announcement is generating plenty of buzz.

But without a critical mass of new higher-end camera announcements to keep interest high, PMA 2009 didn’t have the impact we’ve come to associate with this show. On that front, big changes for the show are in the works for next year – for starters, PMA 2010 will be held in Anaheim instead of Las Vegas. Without both manufacturers and consumers on better financial footing at this time next year, though, what the future holds for the imaging industry generally, and the PMA show’s position within it, is really anyone’s guess at this point.

DCR’s PMA 2009 “Show Floor Oddity” award winners
We saw everything at PMA this year – the good, the bad, and then the downright weird. Here’s a quick rundown on some of the stranger stuff on the show floor.

PMA 2009

Anyone within earshot of the Samsung booth was treated to our grand prize winner: a technicolor display of moving teddy bears accompanied by a soundtrack reminiscent of “It’s a Small World After All.” The overall effect? Bizarre, obnoxious, and fantastic.

Bears representing a slew of nationalities and occupations populated the scene- bears playing soccer on Easter Island, bears dressed as vampires, and so on. We suspect that the company’s Korean headquarters may have had a hand in ratcheting up the cute factor all the way to eleven.

Which brings us to the runner up.

PMA 2009

Looking for the perfect camera to capture those special moments on Christmas morning? We thought so. Thankfully, we found it on the show floor. We had to pick up this gem, a film camera decked out with chubby Santas, tagged and ready for a stocking. There’s no reason why your camera shouldn’t match your set of festive holiday ties.

No firm details on commercialization of Fuji’s 3D project
We first saw Fujifilm’s concept 3D camera and viewer technologies – which use a dual-lens camera to capture stereoscopic images, and specially designed photo frames or lenticular print mediaw to display them in 3D – on display at Photokina last year, and Fuji was reprising essentially the same demos at this year’s PMA show.

PMA 2009

In addition to the dual-lens concept camera seen above, Fuji had a smaller prototype on display under glass, suggesting that while details about potential market-worthiness of this particular technology are still sketchy, Fuji is still exploring the option of bringing consumer-level 3D photo and video capture to market.

PMA 2009

Of course, there are other potential applications for a dual-lens camera as well, including the ability to shoot simultaneous shots with different aperture settings, or to maximize dynamic range by combining image data from two exposures. Conversations with Fuji’s reps at the show indicate that, for the moment at least, all of these options are still on the table for the new dual-lens device.

As for 3D, it seems at this point like Fujifilm is holding off on moving too quickly – presumably, to see whether other manufacturers might be moving in a similar direction. Economic concerns notwithstanding, it still feels like Fuji will probably have a market-ready product, or at the very least a detailed product announcement, out there before the end of 2009…if they don’t abandon the idea altogether, that is.

Hands on with the Casio Exilim EX-Z29
We spent a couple of minutes getting to know the Exilim EX-Z29 just after its announcement at the beginning of the week.

PMA 2009

It isn’t strikingly different from other Exilim models in appearance, and user interface is similar too, offering the same quick access to settings like white balance, flash, and face detection, all accessible through a menu on the right-hand side of the display. Unlike other Exilims, the movie recording mode does not have a dedicated button, but resides in the best shot menu.

PMA 2009

Sizewise, the Z29 is quite thin and extremely pocketable. Consumers looking for a small camera with basic, automatic functions will be drawn to the Exilim series. While it doesn’t stray from the formula of previous Exilim models, it might be a nice resolution upgrade for a current Casio point-and-shoot owner.

At $149.99, the Z29 is definitely inexpensive for a 10 megapixel camera, but pricing is growing more competitive on the low end of the point-and-shoot market. Kodak’s latest budget camera, the EasyShare C140, offers consumers an 8 megapixel resolution and a basic set of features for well under $100 (incidentally, the C140’s insanely low MSRP makes it the most affordable new camera launch from an established manufacturer in recent memory). As consumers expect more from increasingly cheaper cameras, Casio will need to justify even a modest price of $150 with a solid performance for the Z29 to succeed.

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