Selective Focus: The Hurry-Up Game—Major Intros Prior to CES

Selective Focus: The Hurry-Up Game—Major Intros Prior to CES

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WWhile CES is all about new product intros, photo industry manufacturers were not shy about getting news out about their latest products prior to the show.

In fact, I was frankly not sure what the camera-side folks had left in their bag of tricks, and what intros we would see. Maybe the “TV everywhere—all the time” mentality at the show has caused the camera makers to take this tack. 4K (and 8K) has become the rallying cry, taking on an almost millennial character among the CE crowd. So perhaps camera makers were looking to duck that hoopla and get their news out while they could. And we anticipated seeing way more phone accessories, apps and the like than photo accessory news. The ingestion of the PMA show into CES does give the photo industry a larger audience. However, it is at the cost of having more of a bit part in the play.

More likely it’s what I’d call the “Happy Halloween/Merry Christmas” mentality, where it’s pumpkins out/St. Nick in along store aisles on November 1. Product cycles have always followed the trail of retail cycles. So as the selling season becomes more pushed back, so must the intro timing follow. One of the reasons, I am told, that PMA lost its priority among shows was that it came too close to CES and too late in the buying season. Perhaps CES might have to consider a summer show again when the holiday buying season gets jammed back to Labor Day.

I am certainly willing to be amazed and surprised at the photo portion here at CES. But I have to say that at least in the photo industry, there seems to have been a broad push to announce impressive products and advances in photo technology from many makers prior to the show. The pace of new intros has been delightful and somewhat frenetic. It’s kind of like throwing a ping-pong ball into a room filled with other ping-pong balls ready to launch in mousetraps—once that first ball gets thrown in they all go off at once.

                 The Rise of Mirrorless
From what we’ve seen so far, a number of trends have emerged that will define where we’re going in 2014. First and foremost is the rise of mirrorless. I’ll go out on a limb and predict that the days of the APS-C DSLR are numbered. With Sony coming forth with the Alpha a7 and a7R full-frame mirrorless models, we might see—at least among enthusiasts—a bite into the competitively priced full-frame DSLRs as well. I imagine Canon and Nikon might have something to say about that.

To me, one of the main drivers of mirrorless growth—aside from being lighter and easier to carry and providing the ability to adapt to lenses from a number of makers—is the vast improvements in EVFs. In the past, these electronic viewfinders had been at best approximations of the scene before you. The first-generation EVFs (and even the second and third) were “smeary,” fuzzy and “dottie,” a kind of electronic haze. Now you can actually see what you are shooting and at 100% coverage.

As to lens adaptability, a good example was on a recent photo shoot of the new Sony models attended by numerous trade press. A few folks were shooting with Summicrons and other ancient glass easily adapted to the mirrorless camera. This opens the door to a “cool factor” that will attract a certain crowd among photo aficionados. And it should perk up the ears of those selling used lenses. If you track used camera and lens prices on eBay, you’ll note that camera bodies are static or dropping. However, lens prices are starting to climb upward.


One other note about camera formats. With Olympus’s announcement that they are no longer going to produce Four Thirds compatible cameras, it would seem the Micro version of that format will lead the way going forward. Adapters for those Four Third lens owners will be available for all new and current MFT mount glass.

                   Premium Cameras/Retro Looks
“Cameras for the carriage trade” is how you might classify another trend. While sticker shock prevails, conspicuous consumption seems never to go out of style. We’re used to this from Leica and Hasselblad, who have been on a customization kick since photokina 2012. But now we’re seeing so-called “premium” cameras from other makers.

The most recent example, from Nikon, is the digital Dƒ camera that marries high price to nostalgia with a design that evokes that legendary line from film SLR days. It’s got a bright and large LCD and a glass pentaprism optical finder. It accepts modern Nikkor glass and classic Ai and non-Ai mount glass. It’s also got all the goodies one has come to expect from a modern digital camera. Furthermore, it runs about $2,750, body only.

 

At the other end of the nostalgia spectrum, price-wise at least, is the Olympus Stylus 1. That is another name that evokes pleasant memories among a certain demographic. This one has an integral lens, but it’s a beauty, being an f/2.8 constant aperture, 10x zoom. The Stylus 1 is priced at $699.

And Olympus has been evoking the old OM branding as well, with a number of new models that herald back to one of my favorite SLR cameras of the past. Look for more delving into the past for branding and design directions from all the legacy makers.

                      “Action” Cameras
Sharing sites have spawned a host of uploaded clips from POV (point of view) cameras that range from idiocy to mayhem, many in a “hey, look what I did” fashion. This has made so-called action cameras perhaps the hottest trend this year. These are typified by the eponymously named Sony Action Cam, which weighs in at about three ounces, has onboard GPS, an 11.9MP (still) sensor and can grab Full HD video. It has built-in Wi-Fi, and one can share as one shoots. The real kicker, though, is the (warning: old reference alert) Dick Tracy-like wristwatch-style controller and monitor. And there’s an optional dog harness available to boot.

While we’re seeing a flood of action cams at the show, there’s one that offers both a system of interchangeable lenses and a tug at the heartstrings of those of us who worked with the old Nikonos cameras. And that is the Nikon 1 AW1. (There’s that nostalgia kick again.) For those who never shot with a Nikonos, some referred to them as “turtles,” these were the first cameras that could be taken diving, on strenuous hikes and into horrendous weather conditions. With seals and a rugged exterior, they were the forerunners of all “tough,” handhold-able cameras in 35mm format. Indeed, nothing ever really came close to their look and feel and dependability.

What makes the AW1 intriguing is that, of course, you never have to change film. (That was one of the sticking points with the Nikonos, as it required quite a procedure, especially when snorkeling or diving. And the AW1 allows for both still (14.2MP) and Full HD video plus the ability to interchange specially sealed lenses when desired.

Only two lenses exist as of this writing (a fast wide and a short zoom). I am sure, however, we’ll see more coming as this camera’s inevitable popularity grows. And “naturally,” it has Wi-Fi (using a Nikon adapter), GPS, a compass, a depth gauge and a waterproof pop-up flash!

                   Great Things to Come

So, what’s left? Did the industry show all of its cards prior to the show? You’ll have to wade through the human sea that is CES to find out. But if what has come prior to this show is any indication, at least in the photo segment, we’re in for a great year of new models and tech advances. Perhaps 4K video in a point and shoot with memory card power to handle the flow (the SD Card Association hinted at that in preshow releases). Hopefully further incorporation of hybrid AF (Canon has that covered already). More remotes and Wi-Fi capability; increasing use of full-frame, non-low pass filter models; even more enhanced onboard image processors?

Stay tuned. With this being a photokina year, which has gained back its product intro mojo, it should be the year the industry vaults into digital 3.0.

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