Like kids on Christmas Eve, the staff of DigitalCameraReview was ready to hit the ground running in Vegas on the night before the official PMA kick-off, but mother nature had other plans. Lingering bad weather on the east coast on Monday meant we didn't make it to all of the pre-PMA press conferences and insider events, but no matter: there were still plenty of photo-related things to see and do in Las Vegas on the evening before the show floor officially opens. Here's a taste of what we've checked out so far.
Pentax showing off production-ready DA 15mm, X70
Pentax surprised us with the launch of its first ever "bridge" camera, the X70. And they did it in a big way, bringing a huge 24x zoom lens to market.
The specs of the X70's lens (26-624mm, f/2.8-5.0) make it seem that there might be some technology sharing going on between this model and new competitors from Nikon and Kodak, but whether it's same-source tech or an accident of optical design, the X70's lens remains its primary (with apologies for the pun...) focal point.
Overall, the camera is lighter than I expected – definitely not a bad thing, though, as it feels reasonably robust. It's no Canon SX10 in terms of build, but it doesn't require a preparatory arm strength training regimen to use like its Canon counterpart, either. It's also perhaps not quite as compact as the initial stock shots made it seem, with a more pronounced grip that's comfortable, but takes up its fair share of space.
A quick video walk-around shows how the X70 looks in-hand.
The X70 wasn't the only star attraction that our friends at Pentax had to show us, though. The DA 15mm f/4 Limited also officially rolled out this week, and Pentax had a sample on hand to check out.
No surprises here: the DA 15mm looks and feels like its other Limited counterparts, with extremely solid construction and some nice touches like a built-in petal hood.
And of course, it's small enough to easily fit in the palm of your hand, making it ideal for incognito indoor shooting or traveling light.
Finally, remember that three-lens case for the Limited models that Pentax was showing off a prototype of a few months back? Our contacts at Pentax tell us it should be making its way to their webstore in short order, so if you've been waiting for that (and if you shoot with lots of Limiteds, you probably have been), get your credit cards ready.
Nikon ultrazooms in sizes large and small
We got our first glimpse yesterday at some of Nikon's production-ready ultrazooms from last month's pre-PMA announcements: Nikon had both the full-size, enthusiast-grade P90, and the compact, user-friendly L100 on display at a press-only event last night.
The P90, which feels a lot like the P80 in hand, impresses most with its Sony-esque tilting screen.
But while the P90 will almost certainly be a good camera, as the P80 was, we're more interested at this point in what Nikon is up to with the smaller, affordable L100.
Ok, so it's not as small as Canon's latest compact ultrazoom, or Panasonic's new ZS models. What it is, though, based on some hands-on time with the camera last night, is fairly compact, fairly straightforward, and – at well under $300 – extremely affordable for a well-built camera with a 15x Nikkor lens.
Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II out in the open
With its en masse camera announcements out of the way, Canon's big announcement in the hours leading up to PMA was in the printer space instead, with updates to two of its professional/prosumer Pixma Pro models.
We got our first look last night at one of these "Mark II" devices, the mammoth Pixma Pro9500 Mark II. Designed for pros and serious amateurs, the new model uses Canon's pro-grade, ten-color LUCIA pigment ink system to produce prints up to 13x19 inches. Although we couldn't easily fire it up at last night's press event, Canon claims the Mark II is roughly 1.5 times faster at its largest print size than the original Pro9500.
Overall, if you're serious about your prints (and have the desktop space), the Pro9500 Mark II looks like a nice choice – and the $849.95 suggested price tag isn't bad either. That said, at only $499.95, the eight-color dye ink based Pro9000 Mark II looks like it might be an even better deal for enthusiast photographers.
The economy looms large ... again
It's starting to feel like our trade show soundtrack is stuck: since at least last summer, murmurs on the show floor at every event we've attended have centered on how bad the global economy looks, and what effect this will have on both consumer electronics generally and the shows that support them in particular.
After the show gets going today, it will be easier to tell whether this year's show will be less of an "event" than we've seen in years past. It's certainly true that the press events have been a little more subdued this year, and while there's still the usual buzz about big new products just beyond the horizon, the announcements we've seen so far have been fairly predictable as well.
At the same time, manufacturers are clearly aware of the uncertainty buyers of luxury items like cameras are feeling these days, and have responded accordingly with some of the most competitive suggested pricing we've seen in years. One need only look to Canon or Nikon's latest point-and-shoot launches – or, even more so, the several sub-$100 budget camera announcements from this year – to see that 2009 may prove to be a buyer's year in digital imaging.
We may not get the flashy concept tech (or flashy launch events to go with it) that we've grown accustomed to in the last few years, but at the end of the week, we're betting there will still be plenty to talk about – weak economy or not.