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Photokina 2008 Digital Camera Wrap-Up

The Hottest Announcements From Photokina 2008

September 26, 2008 - With two days still left at Photokina 2008 we can safely say that any announcements that were going to be made at the show - already have been.  Therefore, why wait to do a wrap-up of the show?  We thought the same thing.   In this article I hope to give you an overview of all the hottest new  announcements from Photokina 2008, along with my opinion on the ones that will make the biggest impact to the future of photography.

We should start with the products that will help to change the face of photography going forward.

Olympus and Panasonic Announce The First Point & Shoot DLSR-Like Cameras.

Micro Four Thirds Logo As one of two of the more important announcements and developments at Photokina 2008, the new Micro Four-Thirds System is likely to help change the future of photography by providing advanced SLR-like capabilities in a camera body compact enough that your brother or sister may actually want one - to use. 

The Four-Thirds System has been around for a while now, supported mostly by Panasonic and Olympus.  The promise of the 4/3rd system was to deliver a more consumer-friendly digital SLR experience.  Indeed, Olympus and Panasonic were the first to integrate Live View into a digital SLR, a feature that consumers have always had in their P&S compact digital camera.  Live View provides a method of displaying on the LCD what the lens was seeing.  In a Digital SLR this was not a standard feature since a mirror is used to redirect the view to the viewfinder and then flips up out of the way when the shutter is pressed to expose the image sensor. 

While Live View did attract some previous point & shoot camera owners, there weren't too many other advantages to the Four-Thirds System cameras that hit the market.  The other 'feature" of the Four-Thirds System was the promise of smaller DSLR camera bodies.   Indeed, Olympus did ultimately introduce smaller digital SLR camera models, but they were not any smaller than new models introduced by Canon and Nikon - who both answered the size 'feature' with the introduction of the Canon EOS Rebel XT/XS series and Nikon's D40 and D60.

Now, with the introduction of a new smaller "Micro" Four-Thirds System, it looks like Olympus and Panasonic are finally fulfilling their promise of a truly compact camera system that, like traditional digital SLR's, will accept interchangeable lenses but will do so in a P&S-size camera body.   This combination could be a dream come true for many photography enthusiasts who hate the idea of lugging their heavier camera bodies to family events, sporting events, and on vacations.

Smaller camera bodies are attainable with the Micro Four-Thrids System because the standard does away with the mirror and pentaprism.  The flip-up mirror system dates back to film SLR's where the mirror redirected the image coming in from the lens up to the viewfinder (through a pentaprism), but then flipped up to expose the film when the shutter was pressed - thus blocking out the viewfinder temporarily.   Traditional digital SLR's still use this system but it's an archaic system that is definitely on its way out

By removing the need for the mirror and pentaprism, the new Micro Four Thirds System allows for smaller lens mounts (6mm smaller) and a 50% shorter flangeback distance (mount-to-sensor distance).  This allows the image sensor size to remain the same (4/3rd) while creating smaller lenses.  Since the mount-to-sensor distance has been dramatically reduced the camera's themselves can be much smaller and thinner.

Due to the new smaller lens mount, the new Micro-Four Thirds System are not directly compatible with current Four-Third Lenses, but an adapter will be available that will allow Four-Third lenses to be used on Micro-Four Thirds camera bodies.  This will not work in reverse due to the smaller mount.

On other note of interest. Since the new Micro Four-Thirds System does away with the reflex mirror these cameras are not called SLR's, instead they will be marketed as "interchangeable lens cameras."

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-G1

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 To coincide with the announcement of the new Micro Four-Third System, Panasonic officially announced their first model, the LUMIX DMC-G1 .   The DMC-G1 indeed features a much smaller camera body and lens system and also features a 12.1-megapixel image sensor, large 3.0" pivoting LCD, 3 fps continuous shooting, a very sharp (SVGA, 800x600) electronic viewfinder that refreshes at a fast 60fps, ISO 100-3200, face detection, and a new 23-point, high-contrast, autofocus system.  One feature that Panasonic left out, and a feature that would seemingly be ideal for a camera system without a mirror is - video!    Thankfully Panasonic did show a prototype of another model - the DMC-G1 - which WILL feature HD video recording.   This was probably shown earlier than they were hoping due to the fact that both Nikon (D90) and Canon (EOS 5D Mark II) both announced new Digital SLR's with HD video recording capabilities, a first for a digital SLR.  This brings us to the next major innovation that will shape the future of photography - video!

Digital SLR's with Video HD Video

Nikon D90

Nikon D90 Prior to Photokina 2008, Nikon surprised the industry with the announcement and release of a new digital SLR, the Nikon D90 , that was capable of recording video - a first in a digital SLR.  Not only does it record video, it records High-Definition (HD) video at 24 fps - the same frame rate that cinematographers use to record movies.  This puts 12-megapixel resolution, great low-light capability, and video into the hands of photojournalists, cinema photographers, and consumers - all in one camera.  The big drawback to the video mode in the Nikon D90 is the lack of an external microphone input, making it less ideal of serious video work but great for short vacation videos.

While point & shoot cameras have had movie modes for many years and many new models even offer HD video recording, the arrival of HD video recording in DSLR's opens up an entire new industry thanks to superior low-light capabilities and the wide variety of lenses available.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Canon EOS 5D Mark II Just weeks after Nikon announced the D90, Canon introduced their own model with HD video recording - but did so in a full-frame body, with full HD resolution (1080p), and with a stereo mic input.   The new Canon EOS 5D Mark II was officially announced and on display at Photokina and samples of  its video capabilties have been posted on a few websites and the results are nothing short of breathtaking.

The Canon EOS 5D Mark II is a full-frame digital SLR with 21.1 megapixel CMOS sensor (5,616 x 3,744 resolution), Full 1080p HD video recording at 30fps, built-in microphone and aux stereo mic input jack, a new DIGIC IV image processor that promises even cleaner low-light images despite the huge increase in resolution (over the original EOS 5D), 3.9 fps continuous shooting, Live View mode, ISO 50 - 25,600, and HDMI video output.   Even more remarkable, though still expensive, is the $2,699 price tag.   Prior to the announcement of the 5D Mark II, you would have had to shell out almost $8,000 for their top-of-line 21-megapixel EOS 1Ds Mark II.

These two camera models are just the beginning of what will truly become an exciting and creative time for videographers and photographers.   The abilty to add tilt-shift lenses, ultra wide fish-eye lenses, huge telephoto lenses - and have very shallow DOF (depth-of-field) will change the look of video from this point forward.

The introduction of the original Four-Thirds System helped to introduce Live View to digital SLR's and it was this Live View feature that has allowed Nikon and Canon (and soon others) to bring HD video recording to the same market.  It is clear that while these formats each compete with each other, everyone ultimately benefits from such competition.

In total, over 60 new digital camera models were introduced at or leading-up to Photokina 2008. While full-frame digital SLR's upped the ante with HD video, higher resolution, and lower prices - the medium format manufacturers upped the ante with even higher resolutions while reducing size to offer more DSLR-like ergonomics and form factors.

Over 60 New Camera models Introduced

Canon

Casio

Fujifilm

Hasselblad

Kodak

Leaf Aptus

Leica

Minox

Nikon

Olympus

Panasonic

Pentax

Ricoh

Samsung

Sigma

Sinar

Sony

New Point & Shoot Cameras Offer Mostly Increased Resolution

While a flood of new point & shoot cameras were also introduced at Photokina (see listing above) most were similar to the ones they replaced except with higher resolution image sensors.  New models with 13 and 14-megapixel are now hitting the shelves in time for the holidays.   We will have to wait for reviews to start surfacing to find out how much more noise will come along with these higher resolution image sensors.  For the most part if more pixels are packed into a similar-sized image sensor you can expect more noise (color grain, fuzziness or dottiness) in the photographs.  Noise shows up in darker areas of a scene (shadows, clothing, etc.).

Canon Powershot G10 - A P&S the Pro's Will Love?

Canon Powershot G10Of the point & shoot models introduced, Canon has one of the more interesting models with the Powershot G10. The G10 features Canon's next generation DIGIC IV image processor, a welcome addition since the increase in resolution to 14.7 megapixels is sure to increase noise.  I assume that the integration of the new DIGIC IV processor was designed to take care of the increased noise potential.   Photographers are hoping it does since the Powershot G10 with its 28mm-wide 5x optical zoom, integrated image stabilization, hot-shoe for external flash, RAW mode, manual controls, and large 3.0" LCD would make it a great pocket size alternative to the larger DSLR.

Sony Grabs Limelight with New DSLR-A900 DSLR - At Least for a Week

Sony DSLR-A900It wouldn't be fair to mention new cameras without mentioning the newly announced Sony Alpha DSLR-A900.  The A900 was shown as a prototype at PMA earlier in the year (March 08) and officially announced in time for Photokina.   It enjoyed the limelight for a couple of weeks with the announcement that it featured a full-frame 24.6-megapixel image sensor and is the first (and only) full-frame DSLR to offer integrated image stabilization - a feat many said were impossible.   The DSLR-A900 also started a trend toward more aggressively priced full-frame cameras - coming in with the suggested retail price around $3000.  Unfortunately, the news and features of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II seemed to squelch the noise that Sony was making with the DSLR-A900.   While the two models each have their own advantages, many feel that the 1080p HD video recording capability and (most likely) cleaner images that the Canon will produce, along with a price of $2,699 (Sony's announcement mentioned a price of 'about" $3000) should make it tougher for Sony to grab significant market share with this model.

Canon's New EOS 50D

Another DSLR introduction worth mentioning is Canon's EOS 50D.  This new 15-megapixel SLR also features the companies new DIGIC IV processor and will most likely offer enough of a carrot to entice many camera owner's who are starting to outgrow their digital Rebels.   While the EOS 50D is more evolutionary than revolutionary, it does offer consumers features that finally bring Canon's mid-range back into line with newer models from Nikon (D300, D90).   Most notable are the new 3.0" LCD with VGA (920k pixels) resolution, DIGIC IV processor that allows for reduced noise, higher ISO (up to 12,800) for better low-light sensitivity, fast 6.3 fps continuous shooting speeds, enhanced Live View mode, new small RAW modes, and new 15.1-megapixel image sensor.

And More

There were many more announcements at Photokina 2008 that were not camera related and I will try to cover some of these in the next few days.   Ones that come to mind are Adobe's Photoshop CS4, new 8" and 32" WiFi-enabled digital picture frame from SmartParts, the new HP Photosmart B8550 (13x19") and Z3200 large format photo printers, the new Lensbaby Composer™ along with the Lensbaby The Muse™ and Control Freak™, and a slew of new lenses from Sigma and Tamron (among others), and a new selection of Nik Software plug-ins compatible with the newly announced Adobe Photoshop CS4.

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