The doors don't officially open at Photokina until Tuesday, but we've already had a chance to get hands-on time with some of the latest pre-show announcements.
On our way to Cologne over the weekend, we stopped off at Friday's Holiday Spectacular tech event in New York. Several of the big players in the photo industry – including Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Fuji, and Panasonic – were on hand with their latest to whet our appetites in anticipation of what's to come next week at the main event.
Canon showing off 5D Mark II's video prowess
We were impressed to see Canon already parading around lots of pre-production samples of its new full frame, semi-pro camera – the EOS 5D Mark II – only two days after its official announcement.
A quick hands-on with the new camera reveals it to be as expected, with a look and feel very much in keeping with the previous model. Canon is clearly promoting a continuity approach that should make the new model easily accessible for those moving up within the EOS line, especially.
HD video for DSLRs is the latest ground on which Canon and Nikon are poised to do battle, and while we didn't get a chance to slip a card into one of the Mark II cameras and see it for ourselves, Canon did have a short film playing on loop at their Holiday Spectacular display.
Even in a video of the video, the Mark II's smoothness and impressive resolution shine through. Of course, this kind of production-heavy piece didn't tell us much about either the latest 5D's exposure control in video or its audio performance (though in a noisy room it would have been difficult to discern much anyway about the latter).
Some have levelled criticism at Canon for spending time developing video (which has been described by more than one critic this week as a gimmick), rather than substantively upgrading the 5D. While we might have liked to see more still-image performance improvements – AF and continuous drive improvements, especially – Canon's latest demo does nothing to disuade the notion that this camera could prove to be a serious videographer's tool after all.
Fujifilm quietly drops xD support for S2000HD
Fujifilm had what appeared to be production ready samples of their FinePix S2000HD compact ultrazoom out and an about, giving us an opportunity to play with the new model for a few minutes.
Initial impressions suggest that the new Fuji does just what it claims to do: carries over the excellent form factor of the previous S1000fd into a camera that fixes some of the performance headaches of its predecessor. Of course, there was no way to test whether the new model will have the old one's voracious battery appetite.
HD-optimized performance, including 720p video shooting and 16:9 aspect ratio image options, are the new model's hallmarks, and after firing off a minute or so of video with the camera, we were impressed with the S2000HD's smoothness as a video recording device. The fact that Fuji gives you full use of the camera's 15x zoom range while filming doesn't hurt matters.
The most important aspect of the S2000HD, however, may well be one that didn't get a lot of initial discussion: Fuji has quietly opted to drop xD-Picture Card compatibility from the latest FinePix ultrazoom, meaning it's SD only from this point forward for users of the company's compact long-zoom camera. We can only guess what this may imply for the future of xD in other Fuji cameras at this point, but the company seems to have crossed a threshold with this latest release.
Lexar goes wireless
Memory manufacturer Lexar announced on Friday its plan to become the second player in the wireless SD card game, joining partner Eye-Fi in offering Wi-Fi based image transfer directly from any camera that uses SD/SDHC memory.
Packaging has already been finalized for the new 2 GB Lexar Shoot-n-Sync card in anticipationg of a proposed October launch, but we weren't able to see much beyond the box itself and some basic information already available via the press announcement.
What's not entirely clear at this point is the relationship between the Shoot-n-Sync and competitive products from wireless SD card manufacturer Eye-Fi: the Lexar card touts itself as an "Eye-Fi Connected" product, meaning that Lexar will use the same upload network and file destinations – Facebook, Flickr, SmugMug, Picasa, and a host of other social networking and file sharing sites – as its Eye-Fi cousin. We're not sure at this point, however, whether the Shoot-n-Sync utilizes independently developed technology "under the hood," and thus may performance and a user experience that differs from currently available Eye-Fi products.
In either case, we'll know soon enough. The Shoot-n-Sync should hit stores next month, for around $100.
Pentax DA* 60-250mm f/4 finally here
After an initial announcement nearly two years ago, it looks like Pentax's latest pro-grade zoom, the DA* 60-250mm f/4 ED [IF] SDM, will finally be coming to markets.
Pentax was showing off the hefty new lens, which feels a little front-heavy on balance but otherwise has all that's been good about the company's DA* telephotos in terms of build quality.
Still no word on pricing for the new glass, but if this lens proves to be as good as the DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 it joins, Pentax shooters probably won't quibble over it.
Hands-on with Nikon D90
Our D90 review unit should be ready and waiting for a review once we return from Photokina, but in the meantime we had a chance to play with Nikon's entry into the video-ready DSLR fray for a few minutes this weekend.
Nikon's video capable DSLR provides a more consumer-focused solution for capturing movies than the Canon competitor previewed above, offering 720p video at 24 fps rather than a 1080p capture. We found the D90's video capture system equally easy to use, however: in grabbing a few clips, we liked the camera's responsive screen and simple video control interface.
In an attempt to impress on us the power of the D90's "use any lens" video capture approach, Nikon had a fisheye mounted, which produced some predictably cool results – if questionably useful for home movies.
We'll have some sample videos from the D90 posted in the next few days.