As the photographic world gathers in Cologne, Germany for Photokina 2016, it is a rather daunting thought that possibly the most important new camera of the season won’t be on show here: The Apple iPhone 7+.
Announced on September 8, shipping the following week. No, it isn’t the first with 4K, stablilised lenses, AF or claims of superior image quality. But it is the first smartphone to combine dual focal length sensors, employ image stabilisation, shoot in RAW-DNG and draw on Apple’s super-computer development capacity in software imaging. It’s a fair bet that over the next 12 months Apple iPhone 7+ will record more pictures and video, that are actually shared with wide audiences, than all the dedicated cameras of all other camera makers combined.
That is the fundamental issue the traditional photo industry has to grasp and to which it must rapidly adapt. The ecosystem of monetising photo is rapidly becoming the platforms of Google, Amazon, Adobe and Apple. It’s no longer about features and specs alone, but also experience and connectivity. And in the three media conferences this writer attended today the messages and understanding of this paradigm varied considerably. What is uncontested is that it’s been a tough year in photo as Japan tries to pull back from a devastating earthquake that stopped production of many leading products for more than three months.
The press conference schedule in the Media Centre is telling. Only the names of Panasonic, Canon, Sony, Nikon, Fujifilm are listed. In the end Fujifilm was deferred until Tuesday morning, opening day, and Olympus slotted in instead, to announce their new flagship E-M1 Series II and an important new PEN entry model, the E-PL8.
No dedicated View camera makers or 360 real-view or drone makers were listed, so you would not have known about the GoPro Hero 5 or the Hero Session updates or the new user friendly drone, the GoPro Karma. After two terrible financial quarters GoPro needs all three cameras to reignite the magic. There will be many more offerings out there this week. But at 2pm on Press Day there were no new brands to watch in the information bins around the press room.
As we look around the room my only other Australian media colleague, Paul Burrows respected editor of Australian Camera and ProFoto, noted the intensely older-aged male journalists filling the press desks. There is a relevance and engagement issue here. Where are the next generation writers and thought leaders, and why so very few women? Are we that chauvinistic that we have frightened off so much important talent?
It’s not that the traditional camera companies aren’t trying. Two thousand and sixteen was an Olympic year. It once again brought out the big guns from Canon with their new EOS-1D X, setting new standards in AF (Dual-Pixel) and improved 4K/60p video, paralleled by Canon’s entire Cinema offering, integrated with the EOS lens system. The recent EOS-5D Mark IV launch will go down as one of the best executed and planned in the photo industry in years, as noted by Keith Shipton last week.
Lining up on the other team, the flagship Nikon D5 achieves unprecedented dynamic range and shooting versatility for stills photographers, but with 4K/30p video. The Nikon D810 is making inroads in pro photography previously reserved for the 50mm chips of the likes of Hasselblad and Phase One. The hard-to-find D500 is about as good as it gets in still photography for APS-C format. But as a video camera, still a long way to go to achieve industry leadership. Pentax launched its full frame DSLR the K-1 after the pack, ahead of many much more established offerings. In the pro area as we go to publish, we are yet to have information from a delayed Fujifilm conference, now Tuesday morning.
Hasselblad has previewed their 75MP square format new camera, suggesting they are back on track to dominate in high end fashion and portraiture; ground this brand once almost owned. And Press Day did not reveal new offerings from large format industry leader, Phase One. That information will have to wait until later this week.
In the mirrorless camp Fujifilm launched mid-year their new X-Pro 2 to critical acclaim. More and more pros, especially in reportage, are moving to this smaller, less obtrusive offering, all praising its versatility and image quality. Importantly the progress in video capture, with HDMI output for Hi-Res monitoring in real time, is noted as a key element of added pro interest. Overnight Fujifilm launched a ground breaking medium format 50mm sensor camera that will give strength to Fujifilm’s already strong engagement with professional image-makers.
Panasonic announced to a packed media conference the 2017 release of a ground-breaking DMC-GH5 flagship hybrid camera and demonstrated an early prototype. It will go on sale in the northern spring of 2017. The director in charge of the Imaging Network Business Division, Yosuke Yamane painted an inspiring picture of photography in the future. Clearly the emphasis on 4K as a first step towards a planned 8K by the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. This writer was deeply impressed by Panasonic’s total vision for a future of photography, acknowledging the importance of their partnership with Leica. That the chairman of Leica’s supervisory board, Dr Andreas Kauffman also spoke at their conference, points to a deeply valued relationship to take photo-video imaging to an all-new capability. Watch this space. Panasonic also showed their diminutive 4K G85 (different numbers in other markets), and the remarkable Lumix LX15 compact with its unique post-focus image-stacking capability, giving potential for many new facets in popular photo making.
Australian photo retailers need to understand the significance of this series of Panasonic developments. It was great to see New Zealand Global Panasonic Ambassador, Ross Grieve, explaining how 4K video had changed his pro photography business.
Next conference was Sony where the new ‘co-flagship’, the α99 II, sports 42.4-megpixels, Hybrid AF and 5-Axis stabilisation. This fixed mirror design perhaps was a surprise given the success of the a7 RII, which continues as the other flagship. We were shown amazingly sharp sequences of pictures and the importance of frame grabbing with 15-meg frame grabs. Ultra-high speed 12 fps shooting gives unprecedented choice in burst shooting to capture the right moment. Importantly Sony has listened to its customers, as they proudly announced a redesigned UI (User Interface) for more logical menu sequences and ease of use, but then bowed deeply, suggesting that there was indeed room for improvement.
The existing flagship Sony a7R II has gained accolades for image quality and a TIPA award as best mirrorless professional camera. That it also won best full-frame compact camera with the RX1R II is commendable. The new α99 II will sell (Body only) for US$3,199. I came away from the presentation suitably sold on the features and performance, but I did wonder at what the picture-making vision was for this great brand, given the enormous depth of emphasis on its technical prowess. Somehow it was all about the features and performance, whereas it seems the industry now needs more than that. Best performance alone now is not enough. Leica is great proof of that. They continue to show the photograph as the hero and the brand continues to be about a symbiosis with the creative photographer, rather than absolute ‘specmanship.’
Finally, Nikon announced on their ‘under construction stand’ a recap of the KeyMission 360 announced at CES in January but not yet delivered. Unprecedented toughness, waterproofing, and operation to -10 degrees C. Here the brand emphasis was on user experience, connectivity and story-telling. For the first time in the day there was a hint that however weak the offerings may have been thus far, here was a company that got the idea of social experiences shared. Surprise too was two added models of view camera, the entry level KeyMission 80 and intermediate KeyMission 170, each targeted at a much broader consumer than just action photography – young families with agile little people, pets, social gatherings. Nikon chose photographers to tell the story of what these advanced wide view cameras could impart to social media and the like. Nikon has been hard-hit with supply issues in 2016. We came away more confident they understand photography has changed and that they plan to be part of the new story of photography.
As you walk around the Messe, there’s plenty of signage for the Canon M5 mirrorless camera. Canon was late to the party with a serious compact digital camera offering. After several years of also-ran digital cameras, they then hit their straps and the rest is history. The Canon M5 doesn’t break new ground in video (no 4K). Some early commentators are less than impressed. But it’s a sign that Canon is finally on the move. As mentioned earlier they executed a brilliant launch for the EOS 5D Mark IV in recent weeks. As their press conference was in German-only and all their announcements had preceded Photokina this was not on the first day map. But I look forward to putting the M5 through its paces, because on paper it looks like a very well executed consumer camera with most of the EOS 80D design ideas in this diminutive and much more attractive form than Canon’s prior mirrorless offerings.
There was no mention of the fate of the Nikon 1 Mirrorless system at Nikon’s conference. The worldwide photo trade failed to seize on its convenience and versatility. Instead retailers and technology writers focused on the ‘weakness’ of the smaller sensor. Just as they did in different ways with the Pentax 110 SLR camera nearly four decades ago – a remarkable technology development that never fully gained the success it deserved.
Olympus chose Monday evening to launch for their their new E-M1 Series II flagship camera and some important new lenses, bringing them back into contention for market leadership in Micro 4/3 convenience and performance. As my-long-standing journalist friend from Norway, Tor Weatherstone commented today, ‘These mirrorless cameras are the real way forward to engage new users, especially if they can make connection to social networks really seamless. So far none of them really meet that criterion.’ Tor has made 24 Photokina visits. He should know.
Ricoh’s innovative little Theta camera has been setting the social media video pages wild in recent weeks. One of the best recent examples was The Guardian Australia’s Mike Bowers using a Theta at a media conference, streaming it live, giving a remarkable insight into what really goes on in the press pack at a doorstop interview. Fly 360 has been making waves in the virtual world: Perhaps we will see something integrating photography and VR that will truly change the course of personal visual entertainment.
The Leica Sofort Instant camera is perhaps the least expected development this year. It builds on a multi-million dollar category that Fujifilm’s Instax and the made-over Polaroid have re-created. Importantly instant photography appeals to new younger photographers who find value and satisfaction from the gratification of a ‘real’ print. But what Leica can add in new value to this category at a premium price remains a question. Having seen what they brought to the Panasonic relationship suggests they see something significant out of this. They have seen a market opportunity to grow the pie. And there’s not enough of that these days, so full marks.
Audio is a key part of today’s video transformation. It was seven days earlier at IBC, Europe’s leading broadcast show, that Australian mic manufacturer Rode announced two new microphones, – the VideoMicro for 4K ILC’s and VideoMic Me for Apple iPhone and iPad. The i-XLR adaptor for Rode mics to iPhone and iPad, linked to an App to allow premium audio capture and monitoring, is a significant breakthrough for video makers. Retailers need to use and understand audio, not just put it on the shelf. It’s a key part of tomorrow’s multimedia world and it’s here now. And it is not driven by conventional cameras but the cameras and information devices people carry every day in their Smartphone.
So as we get ready for the first day of the show what’s the expectation? Preview day is about cameras. What might be out there that’s going to be making consumers want to visit camera stores, CE photo departments or photofinishing stores in greater numbers this season? Is it the arrival of a new 4K drone from DJI, or new action cameras from GoPro competitors with enhanced 360 degree perspective and/or 4K? Or Noritsu’s new event and panorama-capable desktop QSS DR-08 and DR-12 printers, which enable smartphone panorama images to come up looking like fully professional landscape work, all from a tiny desktop footprint? Or is it going to be some little gadget in a back hall being shown in the hope the world will beat a path to their door for the invention everyone is desperate to experience, but just doesn’t know about yet?
In coming days I’ll be exploring the halls of the traditional suppliers of camera gear, accessories, print and display technology. I’ll be talking to industry experts from around the world that I have been lucky enough to encounter in my 40 years in the global photo industry. Suffice to say Press Day has given cause to reappraise the powers that be that drive the major camera developments. There was almost no talk about social connection or its importance, except at Nikon. The one company that got that, Samsung, has sadly exited the industry. They had so many things right. But the better mousetrap was not enough, because they couldn’t capture a new consumer, even those well aware of their excellent smartphone offerings.
So maybe walking the halls will show this in more detail. But it’s telling, Press Day was still about technology – and what consumers want is about so much more.
– John Swainston