Tuesday, March 2, 2010

PMA 2010: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Photo Marketing Association's (PMA) show of 2010 is now officially over. Now that the vendors are packing up and that all of the products that were announced for PMA have already been unveiled, it's time to take a look back on what companies had to offer the photographic world this go-around.

The Good:
Sigma DP1x/DP2s. While similar to their predecessors in many ways, the new generation of Sigma large sensor compacts offers one significant improvement that may get many people to buy: zoom. True, it's digital zoom and resolution is sacrificed, but all the benefits of a large, low pixel density sensor remain. Well done, Sigma! You probably have made the best travel cam in the world for photographers who value image quality.

Sigma 8-16mm lens. Essentially a shrunken-down version of Sigma's 12-24mm, the new lens offers crop cam shooters the amazing 121 degree field of view that was only previously available to full framers. Thank you, Sigma! If the inherently higher noise level and smaller viewfinder of a crop camera of no concern, this lens could single-handedly get many photographers to stay sub-frame in their choice of camera, now that the wide angle sacrifice has been eliminated.

Olympus E-PL1.
This was the camera a lot of people were hoping for when Olympus launched its original Digital Pen a year ago: a small, affordable camera with interchangeable lenses. Well, the Pen fulfilled those needs, except the one about price. Now, finally, a large sensor, small body, interchangeable lens, and yet affordable camera comes to market in the E-PL1, priced at $600 with a 14-42mm (28-84mm film equivalent) kit lens, which is $150 cheaper than the original Pen body alone (and the update E-P2 and Panasonic GF-1 cost even more).

Nikon 24mm f1.4 lens. Nikon just sealed the last gap in its lens lineup: the fast, wide prime. Nikon used to make a 28mm f1.4 lens, but production ceased in 2006. Since then, the price for the out of production lens has tripled from when it was last sold new, as they are being increasingly sought, and jealously kept by current owners at the same time. Obviously, the fact that Canon makes three such lenses ($1,800 new being the most expensive) would be an incentive to buy into the Canon system. Now this new lens goes 4mm wider, adds AF-S, and offers weather sealing. Even though it's priced at $2,200, it should be a smash hit, especially when combined with D3s, D3, or D700.

The Bad:
Sony DSC-TX5. Sony has been making digital cameras for a long time, but it took the world's largest electronics manufacturer over a decade to finally launch a rugged compact, a class of camera that many other manufacturers had been making for years already. Now, with 2010 arrives Sony's first tough P&S cam, sporting a dust, water, cold, and shock-proof design all in the world's smallest rugged compact body. The camera sounds all good until one very important detail is reached: the 3" touch-screen LCD. Sony, what were you thinking? So now, instead of having easy-access buttons, the world has a camera whose settings can only be adjusted one at a time through diving into long, complicated menus in one of the stupidest features ever added to cameras. This clunky control system will undoubtedly mean many missed spur of the moment photo opportunities. A good camera ruined.

Nikon to offer 'better balance' between high ISO/pixels. Balance: the word in itself implies meeting in the middle somewhere. Right now, Nikon is leaps and bounds above everyone in terms of high ISO performance, with the new D3s leading the pack, old D3 and D700 still in second. This has much to do with the "low" 12 Mp count of the sensors. Now, Nikon is selling out to the pixel huggers by promising by splitting a camera line (D1-3), not by eliminating the top-notch12Mp sensors!

No new lenses from Tamron, Tokina. Two of the third party lens makers came to PMA, one of photography's biggest events, with no new lenses to introduce to the public. On the other hand, Sigma, the third member of the third party big three, came with a bagful of lenses, some revolutionary and others updates to already popular models. While Tokina did come to the show with an interesting mock-up of a 16-28mm f2.8 SD (sonic drive, super low dispersion glass, or something else-no one knows), they brought no new lenses to market for release.

The Ugly:
Pentax colors. The Pentax K-x might just be the best crop frame APS-C digital SLR on the market for low light/high ISO capabilities. The sudden ascension of Pentax from back marker to the leader of the pack was a shock to many, as previous Pentax models largely left JPEG files alone in regards to noise, leaving a detailed, but grainy image. Now, Pentax shooters can have out of camera JPEG files that retain all the fine details but now virtually noise-free at ISO 3200. Not content to rely on their wonder cam's imaging capabilities, Pentax Europe has launched the K-x in a rainbow of colors, including: beige, chocolate, fuchsia, pink, turquoise, dark gray, olive green, and light brown. True, while the colors do not impact performance of the camera itself, some of them look obnoxiously bad, and cheap, as such bright colors used to be a P&S cam marketing gimmick. Now those white Canon lenses don't seem as scary now that they can be compared to a hot pink digital SLR, do they?

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