|Seybold Fall '99 Highlights|
Dave does Seybold
Finally catching up with myself after the last-minute Seybold jaunt (cool stuff in store for IR readers, but we can say no more for at least another month!), I'll add my "color commentary" to Mike's earlier (exhaustive, unbelievably comprehensive) coverage of all the news items around the recent Seybold conference in San Francico. As expected, there wasn't a huge number of new cameras announced, and I had precious little time for the show itself, given some off-site meetings that were the primary reason for my jetting off to the West Coast so precipitously. Still, I did a quick once-over of a number of items, which I'll share with you below...
The "Dave Wants It" Award
The beauty at right grabbed my eyes immediately, as I entered the South Hall of Moscone: It's a new LCD display from Apple that flat-out (no pun intended) has to be seen to be believed! It's huge, with a diagonal span of 22 inches(!), and has absolutely amazing image quality. Most LCD panels I've seen to date have pretty lousy tonal range, losing detail pretty quickly in both the highlights and shadows. I had no way of telling whether the images displayed had been tweaked to appear optimal on the huge new LCD screens, but they looked absolutely stunning, with great shadow detail, good highlights, and excellent color. I want one! (Only problem is they go for $3999, and apparently will have somewhat restricted availability initially.) - We don't normally cover displays at all, but this one was really startlingly different! Oh, as a BTW, Apple also announced their new G4-series CPUs, which sport the vector-processing "Altivec" instruction set. "Normal" operations are only sightly faster than a normal G3 PowerMac, but apps optimized for the new Altivec stuff absolutely screams! (Try about a 10x speedup on video compression, similar boosts to selected operations in Photoshop.) Sorry, no additional info on either of these, I was too rushed by various meetings, etc, to delve too deeply into the Apple stuff...
When push came to shove, Nikon put up the goods!
Prior to the show, we'd reported the widespread rumors of delays and high-ISO problems with the forthcoming Nikon D1 all-digital SLR. Many viewed the Seybold show and John Henschall's digital photography session there as "put up or shut up" time for Nikon. Well, I'm happy to report that they apparently "put up" in a big way! I didn't have time to get there for John's session, nor any extended time with the (apparently hand-tweaked, last-minute-upgraded) D1 that he had, but he told me that it worked very well (apart from the still-not-completely-finished user interface), and took spectacular pictures. While we haven't seen any images shot with it (yet), the camera apparently was a long way ahead of those shown at Visual Edge, just a week earlier. John reported that even images shot at ISO 1600 looked great, and the camera even has an option to "push" the ISO by one or two stops beyond that level, resulting in an ultimate ISO of 6400! (!!) We'll still withold ultimate judgement until we can get our hands on one to test, but overall the D1 is looking very good.
Unconfirmed D1 rumor department
Not heard from Nikon, so I'm free to share with you: There's also been a lot of speculation as to just how many D1s will actually make it into the US this year, and we have two conflicting rumors to report. One source says (on good authority) that it will be a smallish, but still "production" level of between 1,000 and 10,000 (OK, a pretty broad range, but we need to protect our source and not get too specific. Want a better number? - Take the logarithmic mean of those two numbers, and you'll be pretty close...) Another traditionally *very* well-informed source though contends that the actual shipments in '99 will actually be less than a tenth of those levels. Only time will tell... And in all likelihood nobody will actually know anyway, since Nikon isn't likely to publish shipment numbers. Probably about all we'll be able to determine is that D1s will start appearing, but be scarce as hen's teeth for some time to come - About what official Nikon source Richard LoPinto told me down at the PPofA show, albeit not in such colloquial language.
After the above speculation, it's refreshing to note that Kodak has actually begun shipping shipping their 3 megapixel DCS330, which looks like a nice unit, and which we hope to be able to test before too much longer. It's going to be an interesting duel between Nikon and Kodak on a number of fronts, two of the primary ones being image quality and systems capabilities. (See the next item...)
Kodak Upgrades Firmware
One of the major announcements at the show was Kodak's shipment of a major firmware (and host software) upgrade for their DCS 500 &600-series cameras. The new firmware doesn't appear to be on Kodak's server yet, but should appear very soon, and will be a free download/upgrade for all DCS 500/600 owners. SO what's it do? - For one thing, it rearranges the menus, to make more room for more functions to be added at a later date, and somewhat rationalize the layout of various functions within the user interface. The really big news though, is that it enables the second card slot that's been present in these cameras from day one. The second slot can be used for additional storage (a second hard drive card), or for other "systems" components, such as a GPS receiver (we saw one in a camera at Seybold, but it obviously wasn't much use 2 stories underground), modems, fast network cards, encryption cards, etc, etc. There's also a newly -released SDK (software developer's kit) that will support access to the second slot via the new firmware. Pretty cool stuff, and we expect to see lots of VARs and system integrators develop solutions around the Kodak cameras, taking advantage of this. As noted above, we expect that system-level use of their cameras will be a major card Kodak will play in the ongoing market battle with Nikon.
Kodak Upgrades Software
Kodak also released a major upgrade to their host software as well, one of the slickest features of which is the ability to do post-exposure ISO adjustment. The amazing thing about this is that the +/- 2-stop ISO adjustment you can do post-exposure actually results in exactly, mathematically identical results to what you'd have obtained in the first place with an exposure at the different ISO! I personally found this very interesting, as it turns out the Kodak Pro cameras work completely differently in this respect than I'd expected: It turns out that, unlike other manufacturers, Kodak doesn't achieve their variable-ISO by changing the gain of the amplifier coming off the CCD array. Rather, they always spread the 12 bits of A/D across the full dynamic range of the CCD pixels: The maximum signal level is set by the total amount of charge each pixel can store, while the minimum signal level is set by the"noise floor" which is pretty doggone low. Thus, *any* ISO-determining processing in the camera is working with the same basic digital data, just changing how it interprets the bits. Given that, it doesn't really matter whether you pick the ISO at the time of exposure, or after the fact! The results on some test images we saw and played with were pretty impressive. (Note though, that this trick obviously only works if you have absolutely raw sensor data available to work with - Once you go to the JPEG format, or even a normal TIFF, you're lost...)
Back to things mere mortals can afford...
Canon's S10 is *really* small!
Canon had working S10 models at the show, their new 2.1 megapixel ultra-small digicam. - Amazingly, it's even smaller than their earlier A5 and A50, smaller still than my new favorite camera that I was carrying, the little Fuji MX-1700. Anyone who's read our reviews know that we're big proponents of small digicams, on the theory that small cameras get invited along on all sorts of trips and occasions, while their larger siblings get left in a drawer at home. The S10 looks like a real winner in this respect, and we hope to have a review for our readers soon. (Canon says that we probably won't see a review unit before the very end of this month or early October though.
HP Expands the PhotoSmart Line
It's been quite a while since we reviewed the HP PhotoSmart C20 camera. At the time, we were impressed with its image quality, and particularly it's almost-brainless ease of use. HP has now announced both a new 1 megapixel model (the C200) to replace the C20 and the upgraded C30, as well as a 2 megapixel model, the C500. They simultaneously announced a new PhotoSmart photo printer, which includes card slots on its side to accept CompactFlash and SmartMedia cards directly, bypassing the computer. - We expect to see more and more of this sort of thing (cameras and printers working together without a computer in the middle) as time goes on. The cameras looked good and handled nicely, even if they weren't drop-in-your-pocket tiny wonders. Output we saw from the new printer looked very good as well, as HP has apparently increased the resolution over the prior PhotoSmart Printer significantly. The output didn't look as razor-sharp as the highest-res inkjet prints we've seen, but the big plus with the HP stuff is that they don't fade nearly as much in bright light...
HP C200 Camera
HP C500 Camera
New HP PhotoSmart Printer
HP announces Cartogra
Photo sharing and more... While it will take months to fully flesh-out, HP announced a new web-based photo service, called Cartogra. (http://www.cartogra.com/) Hard to say at this point just how it will turn out, but HP plans for it to be a lot more than "just another photo sharing site." Check their press release or the site for details, which are sketchy at best at this point. - Also stay tuned for an announcement of our own in this area... ;)
Epson has a Winner!
(IMHO) (Mike's already reported on this in the main news, but we felt it deserved separate mention here.) We also got to see the Epson PhotoPC 850Z at the show, which looks like a real contender in the 2-megapixel arena. Not due to ship for another month yet, it should be available sometime in October. Sporting a low MSRP of $799(!), the story with the 850Z is that it seems to quietly combine just about every desireable feature people have been asking for in a digicam into one package: 2 megapixel sensor, true optical 3x zoom lens, dual USB/Serial interface, full-manual exposure (1-stop aperture increments), (I *think* manual focus as well), Type II CF card support, hot shoe for external flash, included NiMH batteries & charger, etc, etc. If the image quality is at all what we expect, this could really shake up the 2 megapixel market! Keep your fingers crossed: So far Epson's pretty well ignored us, but we keep hoping to get our hands on one of their cameras - maybe the 850Z will be the "breakthrough" product for Epson on the site that we expect it will be in the market as a whole...
Lots I didn't cover...
As you can tell from the absolute gout of news that Mike reported on over the last week, there was a *lot* of activity in scanners, and quite a bit in printers. Unfortunately, I'll just have to leave you in the dark a bit on those, as I simply didn't have time to cover all the items in those areas... Ah, but *next* time: We're hoping to swing it to get both Mike and myself out to Fall Comdex, so should have more in-depth coverage of that event.
- Dave Etchells