KAMERAS AT PHOTOKINA
Autofocusing on Tuesday
By MIKE PASINI
The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter
COLOGNE, Germany -- The sky was overcast and intermittent sprinkles dampened they city today, but that just made it perfect weather for photography. At 10:30 the doors the series of exhibition halls that comprise the new Koelnmesse convention center opened and photokina 2006 came to life.
The exhibition has been laid out to mimic an imaging workflow from capture to presentation, so we spent our first day here focusing on cameras. While both Canon and Nikon introduced new models before the show, many other manufacturers were unveiling new models here.
After posting our first story on Apple's Aperture press conference (http://www.imaging-resource.com/EVENTS/PKNA06mrp/PKNA1.htm) last night, we were actually able to touch today some of the things we only dreamed about.
We started the day at the Fujifilm stand where Andy LaGuardia showed us the prototype S5 Pro dSLR and discussed the company's home-grown face recognition technology.
The new S5 Pro, still only a prototype, couldn't actually be handled, safely displayed only in a clear case. But Andy told us it continues the company's quest to build a dSLR that captures digital images that compare to the silver halide film standard the company contends is the gold standard of quality.
Its 6-Mp plus 6-Mp sensor is the heart of that technology, using a large and a small sensor for each pixel to capture, respectively, resolution and dynamic range. That provides you with a selection of Auto or six optional settings for dynamic range. The S5 Pro also uses this wide dynamic range sensitivity to simulate film. Film Simulation mode lets you change film types to match a color or tonal preference.
It also sports a unique adaptation of the company's face recognition technology, originally developed for its photofinishing equipment. Many current digicams with face recognition features license them from Foto Nation. But Fuji built their own and are adapting it to some unique uses.
In the S5 Pro, it's used in post capture to quickly zoom to the subject's face so the photographer can confirm exposure and focus. That saves a lot of panning and zooming Playback mode, providing a quick but detailed examination in image review.
Fujifilm has also packed its hardware-based face recognition smarts in its new FinePix F31ld but to a different purpose. Andy dragged us over to an F31ld hooked up to a large screen to demonstrate how it sets focus on the face closest to the camera, or the one moving if both are the same distance. It recognizes the triangulation of two eyes and a nose, so if you present a profile to it, it doesn't set focus. In realtime, the display was impressive, switching between us as we moved a step closer or back or turned our heads. And certainly solves the problem of autofocusing on the horizon when you really want a portrait of two people in the foreground.
Couple that with the F31ld's ISO 3200 sensitivity and its i-Flash intelligent flash that automatically throttles flash power back based on ambient light and you just might have the ultimate indoor digicam.
Fuji also demonstrated an innovative use for WiFi. It set up four WiFi digicams around a subject. When you release the shutter on the main camera, all the other digicam shutters trip, too. Much like remote flash.
We popped over to the Samsung booth where Thomas Schafer gave us a quick demo of the new Samsung GX-10. Scheduled for launch in October, the 10.2-Mp GX-10 sports a pentaprism viewfinder for a clearer and wider field of view, a theme also addressed by Leica's M8 rangefinder. Equipped with built-in optical image stabilization (so it functions with any lens you attach to the body), the CCD does more than shift.
It also shakes, to remove dust. In fact, Samsung has taken a three-pronged approach to dust removal. Prong one is a passive system that relies on an anti-static coating on the sensor glass to repel dust looking for a place to vacation. Prong two is the vibrating sensor, which can shake off dust particles during startup that aren't repelled by the anti-static coating. And prong three is dust mapping that simply records where dust is on the sensor and applies that knowledge with a dust removal filter.
The GX-10 also takes a slightly different approach to Raw image capture by providing a Raw button to toggle in and out of Raw mode. That saves setting an image file format option in the Menu system.
The camera with a maximum sensitivity of ISO 1600 will be launched with a set of five lenses including a 10-17mm f3.5 fisheye, 12-24mm f4 wide zoom, 16-45mm f4 ultra wide zoom, 35mm f2 prime and a 100mm f2.8 macro.
In more ways than you might appreciate, Panasonic has been the quiet leader of digicam innovation. Many of today's most appreciated features were first employed on Lumix cameras, the company said, including optical image stabilization, long zooms, 16:9 aspect ratio, and now wide angle zooms on ultra compact digicams starting at 28mm and covering 3.6x and 4x zoom ranges.
The L1 is the company's first dSLR but taps into the Four Thirds system to provide the largest choice of digital lenses available at 29. One of which is the impressive Leica f1.4 25mm (a 50mm equivalent in the Four Thirds system), which will debut next spring.
Its 7.5-Mp sensor provides a Live View so you can compose this dSLR's images on its 2.5-inch LCD rather than just the optical viewfinder, a feature pioneered by Olympus. And the L1 has a dust reduction system, too. Its Supersonic Wave Filter system uses supersonic vibration to shake dust from the sensor.
Like the Fujifilm S5, the L1 can simulate seven film emulsions as well as four color settings (standard, dynamic, natural and smooth) and three monochrome settings (standard, dynamic and smooth).
White balance can be set along a horizontal amber-blue and a vertical green-magenta axis for detailed color cast removal over almost the entire color space.
The company is also intent on contributing to what it calls the culture of photography. To that end, it has embraced UNESCO's World Heritage project (http://whc.unesco.org/en/about/) by supporting Our Place -- The World's Heritage to create the largest photo collection of World Heritage sites. The images will be published under the Our Place brand in an initial series of 10 books to be released over the next five years.
The project covers 830 locations in 138 countries with 20 professional photographers commissioned to use Lumix cameras.
Mamoru Yoshida, Digital Still Camera business unit director, said, "Panasonic is keen to contribute to photographic culture, and helping promote and protect the important UNESCO World Heritage sites through the Our Place Project makes this a project with which Panasonic is proud to be involved. Through this project, we would like to change peoples' minds, both about the value of World Heritage, and about Panasonic's strong commitment to photographic culture. Our vision for Lumix is to create a new photo culture in the digital era."
Inspired by that concept, we snuck off to the Lensbaby booth. We reviewed Lensbaby 2.0 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/ACCS/LBY/LBY2.HTM) and really enjoyed playing with this different way to focus attention. But we had trouble holding focus.
So what do these guys do but re-engineer the product to 1) freeze focus with a tap on a small button, 2) refine it with a twist of the focus ring and 3) fine tune it with three knobs. If that sounds like a medieval torture device, it probably should. But what was quite space age was that a simple squeeze released all the restraints.
We had to try it to believe it and it really is easier than it sounds. It won't be available until the end of October (still being tweaked) but it will cost just $270. A new wide angle (that maintains the sweet spot) and telephoto converter will also be available. The existing macro lenses (and any other 37mm screw mount lens) also work.
The Sony Ericcson K800i is a camphone with two cameras in it.
One is the common pinhole video camera. But turn the phone over and slide its lens cover down and you reveal a 3-Mp digicam with 16x digital zoom and a Zenon flash. That's getting serious.
A small mirror next to the lens helps you compose self-portraits. And it has a Best Picture function that snaps nine images in sequence and lets you pick the best. And you can store that in the built-in 64-MB memory or pop in up to a 4-GB Memory Stick Micro chip.
It's UMTS compatible (a faster version of GSM) and can play MP3s and games, too. Just 400-480 euros.
HASSELBLAD | Back to Contents
We just ran by the Hasselblad booth in time to see the H3D in action. It's a 39 or 22-Mp 48x36mm sensor with a 28mm lens available. More on this one later, but we couldn't help but pause at the company's stage to watch a photographer direct a mime artist.
There are lots of stages at photokina. Visitors are encouraged to pick up a camera and shoot the professionally lit models just for fun. Kodak had a line of fashion models prancing through dry ice. Olympus had a Marilyn Monroe look-alike. Various other companies various other attractions. But the mime was unique.
Well, Sigma isn't shy. "The only camera that tells the whole truth," the brochure boasts. And the boast rests on the Sigma SD14's Foveon X3 sensor, the only such which can capture red, green and blue light at each sensor site. Color is remarkable uniform, however, when subtracted from luminance, varying primarily at the edges of color breaks. So the claim, while technically accurate, is not as significant as it may seem.
The 14.1-Mp SD14 has a sensor dust protector which can be "put in place or removed with a single action." Its autofocus function measures focus with a new five-point distance approach (center, left, right, top and bottom). A pentaprism viewfinder provides clear visibility and ease of focusing. A 2.5-inch LCD with 150,000 pixels reviews images.
With plans for European distribution only, the new E-400 from Olympus is one of the smallest dSLRs at only 13.2 ounces and 5 x 3.6 x 2.1 inches. It sports 31 shooting modes for its 49-segment ESP metering pattern to play with. Another Four Thirds offering, it boasts a 10-Mp sensor with a supersonic wave filter to remove dust.
The Pentax K10D has a dust reduction system but you might also call it a dust prevention system. With 72 seals to protect dials, doors, the shutter button, connectors and anything else that mates surfaces on this under-$1,000 dSLR, it can tolerate the elements if not snorkle. Toss in another 38 seals if you add the vertical grip.
The dust reduction system itself is a little unusual. A coating is applied to the sensor glass to fill in those microscopic pits and zits that dust loves to snag itself on. The sensor can be vibrated automatically at startup or any time you like to shake off any dust that does settle on the sensor.
That vibrating sensor also provides in-body image stabilization.
Leica's Christian Erhardt gave our video team a thorough tour of the company's comprehensive lineup. It's comprehensive but not redundant.
There's a point and shoot that's very similar in appearance to its cousin Panasonic Lumix model (down to the Leica lens) -- but the firmware is different, Christian explained, particularly in rendering skin tones.
Then there's the Digilux 3, a rather bulky dSLR with the intriguing Z-shaped flash that pops up in bounce position. And the V-Lux 1, Leica's 12x zoom, 10-Mp all-in-one solution.
But the heart stopper is the new 10.3-Mp Leica M8, a rangefinder, with a Kodak-made sensor that uses microlenses on each sensor site to focus the light on its short trip from the back of the lens to the sensor through the thin M8 body. Offering a big, bright viewfinder (no matter which lens you put on it -- and it accepts every Leica M lens every sold, from 1954 on), it offers the quiet -- and compact -- operation only a rangefinder can provide. A delight to hold and manually focus, the top and bottom panels are machined from solid brass making the body so strong you can stand on it. In fact, Christian did just that.
Typical Leican. But typical Leicans will love the 2.5-inch LCD, too, because with 250,00 pixels it can display, at full magnification, every pixel the 10-Mp sensor captures. "You can count them," Christian said. Some, no doubt, relish the thought.
Like the film-based M7, the bottom is removable to access the internals. But on the M8, you aren't loading film. You put the battery and SD card in, instead.
Those lenses have changed in one respect since 1954. There is a 6-bit mount now to send lens data to the M8. Older lenses will work fine without that, but the company will also refit them, swapping out the old mount for the new one with the data contacts.
There is a lot of feature convergence in dSLRs from the 10-Mp sensor to dust removal and even including formerly exotic features like in-body image stabilization. But there's also a trend to incorporate some of the conveniences of the digicam, like face detection technology. And still the allure of film persists in the film simulation modes. Digital imaging is increasingly a party where you can have your cake and eat it too.
But we've just begun our exploration of photokina 2006. Still to come are convergence of exhibits floors devoted to software magic and printing marvels. A sizeable amount of floor space is devoted to accessories and presentation options, too. So stay tuned for the most comprehensive coverage of photokina you can find.