FRIDAY AT PMA
Back to the ShowBy MIKE PASINI
The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter
LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- We got a full day in on the trade show floor at last and we weren't alone. It's a busy show with lots of people in attendance, so busy no official figures seem to have been released yet. We mixed formal appointments with casual interviews as we trekked through South Hall. Here's what we found.
Fidelity Electronics (http://fidelityelectonics.com) is a Canadian-based firm not yet in the U.S. market, but their strategy for selling digital photo frames is a little different.
While they sell through camera stores, the company is trying to target specific markets for these new frames. For example, they're working with professional framers to develop a Framers Edition that will be easy to cut custom frames for. The product would be sold by the framer, not sold at a retail outlet to a customer to bring to a framer.
Likewise, they're working on a Commercial Series that could be placed in display windows to show menus, sales advertising, etc. And they think they can replace those family portraits on credenzas everywhere with their Executive Desktop Series of smaller frames.
All that's on the design boards still, as well as WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, but the company is presently selling the usual range of frames (7, 8, 10 inchers) with the usual features (card reader, remote, internal storage) in the $99 to $300 range. They do have an interesting frame attachment system though whose lock stays with the frame and is easy to engaged and disengage.
A bit further evolved perhaps is the MemoryFrame from Digital Spectrum (http://www.dsicentral.com). The company's MF-1700 Premium model is a Vista-ready wireless frame that can display images from your My Pictures folder on a computer attached to the same network.
It has a generous 128-MB internal storage, USB 2.0, Wireless G capability, a multiformat card reader and stereo audio for MP3 and WMV files to go with its 17-inch display.
There's something about diffused light that makes even artificial illumination seem like a bright idea. Lowell (http://www.lowelego.com) sells some simple gadgets that prove that concept like pudding.
But how often can you simply step up to a scene, take the shot and see the effect in your camera's LCD? Only at trade shows. So we used Lowell's setups to take some pictures of the subjects and of the setups. You can see just how far a little diffused light goes.
General Electric (http://www.ge.com/digitalcameras) has jumped into the pool. The company has created a new division called General Imaging to sell GE-brand digital cameras and printers.
None of the products are engineered by General Electric itself, apparently. The printer, for example bears a striking resemblance under the cover to HP's small, portable inkjets. We've heard similar rumors about the cameras. And even the CEO is rebadged.
Hiroshi "Hugh" Komiya had retired as president of Olympus when he got the call from General Imaging. He said he wants General Imaging to be one of the top three digital still camera marketers and manufacturers in five years. Which is a little like an expansion team promising to win the pennant.
And like an expansion team, he's drafted a few familiar players to ramp up quickly. That roster includes Takeyoshi Kawana formerly of Sony to head the design group. He was responsible for the Sony Walkman, VAIO computers and the Olympus Stylus series. Kawana plans to make image stabilization, high ISO, and in-camera panorama stitching standard on GE cameras.
This all seems to have started with a market survey that reveal General Electric is perceived very favorably among females and mothers with children under 18. More interesting was that 26 percent of survey respondents thought the company already made digicams.
The company's initial offering, on display here at PMA, is a group of eight cameras and one photo printer, bundled with the cameras.
When we visited the booth, things weren't going too well. While some booth personnel were walking around offering plates of cookies to visitors, we got cozy with the printer. We noticed the paper tray, the handle, how light it was, saw the single ink cartridge and then observed it had a PictBridge logo over a USB port. "Oh, PictBridge compatible, too?" we asked innocently. The demonstrator had no idea what we were talking about. Never heard the word PictBridge before.
It's going to be a long season.
iPhoto started it, really. The bound photo book. And at the show, there are a few companies with one or another way to bind your images into real books at home.
One we liked is the $119.99 PhotoBook Creator (http://www.myphotobookcreator.com) manufactured by Unibind (http://www.unibind.com), which includes the binding machine, two covers and Windows software. We had a short demonstration -- 90 seconds is all it takes.
You drop one of the empty hardback book covers into a magnetic warming bar with two panels to hold the book's spine against the warm metal bar. Inside the spine is another steel strip, which accounts for the attraction. The heat is necessary to melt a resin coated on the inside of the spine.
When the resin has melted, you can insert a stack of papers (your book, that is) and the resin will harden, holding them in the cover. Presto! You've made a book at home.
You can also drop the finished book back in the heater to loosen the resin and remove the pages a few times. After that, you lose enough resin that the pages won't adhere to the cover any more.
The company offers a variety of covers, some with windows, in various styles priced from $4 to $12 depending on the size, which ranges from 4x6 to 12x12. Linen and leather treatments are available.
The biggest problem the company had was formulating a resin that worked with all sorts of photo paper coatings. But the biggest problem you may have is printing on both sides of a sheet. Not all photo papers support duplex printing.
Our visit with HP covered three new cameras, a 4x6 printer and the new version of the company's photo application, let's call it.
HP is, like GE, targeting a segment of the market that likes to take pictures and make prints but doesn't want to have to worry about it. They've got plenty to worry about already.
So the interesting thing about the three new cameras they introduced here has nothing to do with megapixels (5-, 6- and 7.2-Mp models) but with (drum roll) in-camera pet-eye removal!
Pets don't reflect the light from your flash off the back of their iris quite the same way we do. They have green-eye, not red-eye. HP figured it was just as easy to do for green what they do for red. Just navigate to the pupil, click and its gone.
And what you can do for pets you can do for blemishes. A new feature called Touch Up lets you spot away pimples, moles and scars the same way you remove red-eye.
HP also introduced Vista-compatible tagging with these models. You can set a tag to be used on all the images you'll be taking or just assign a tag to images you've taken and Vista will recognize them when you copy the images to your computer.
HP is selling two of these three cameras by themselves ($109 for the 5-Mp and $179 for the 6-Mp M-Series models) or with a dockable 4x6 inkjet printer that also charges the camera battery. It has a handle and one-cartridge ink system (sound familiar?), can automatically reduce red-eye and uses long-lasting Vivera inks.
The bundles sell for $139 and $199 respectively and the printer is available separately for $99 (for those who want the 7.2-Mp, 3-inch LCD for $229). So if you buy the least expensive camera, you can toss a 4x6 printer in your bag for just $30 more. Get the more expensive camera and the printer will cost you just $20 more. HP calculates each print will cost you 24 cents.
HP also unveiled a redesigned Photosmart Essentials software package. The new version (2.0) actually was designed by an outside agency whose task was to overhaul the user interface.
The first sign of that is the initial screen, which doesn't look like a file browser but has a couple of activity buttons for you to click.
The company concentrated on tools people would use, not tools they'd have to learn how to use. So it handles red-eye removal but not blemish touch ups (yet) and makes copies of any image you actually change, informing you it's about to create a Digital Negative (yes, in caps, and no, no one at HP sees anything amusing about that). And it recognizes those tags the new cameras can apply.
Among the more impressive features were the printer templates that can print more than one image in more than one size on one sheet of paper.
The 8-Mb program runs on XP or Vista only (HP recommends iPhoto on the Mac) and is a free download (http://www.hp.com/go/pse). It will also be loaded on new consumer PCs and notebooks and will ship with Fall 2007 hardware products.
We'll defer to our video coverage of the Panasonic booth except to say what a warm feeling we had clicking through the f-stops of the new Leica 50mm f1.4 prime when it was briefly freed from its display case.
But we thought we'd bring to your attention Panasonic's Digital Photo Academy (http://www.DigitalPhotoAcademy.com), which starts this May in 20 different cities. Courses offered at three different levels of expertise will be taught by a local professional photographer, giving students on-going access to photo experts and resources in their own community.
- Beginner (a three-hour course) which covers red-eye reduction, creating scrapbooks and basic point-and-shoot digicam skills;
- Intermediate (a four-hour course) which teaches "the versatility and precision" of dSLRs; and
- Advanced (a two-day course) which addresses professional-level skills for photo enthusiasts "looking to take the next step."
Panasonic is joined in this effort by R2Rainmaker Marketing, whose president, Richard Rabinowitz, is a photo expert with over 25 years in the industry. As former publisher of publications like American Photo and Popular Photography, Rabinowitz has helped assemble top-rated professionals and even award-winning photographers as instructors in each city.
Those cities include Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa and Washington, D.C.
Our last visit was with Olympus with the video crew to shoot the company's prototype of its flagship E-System Pro Concept camera. You can see a gallery of those images and view the video segment as well.