Photokina 2012 Highlights
Before visiting an event like Photokina, you have to figure out what gear to bring. What's the most important gear related decision you make before visiting the world's largest digital imaging show? I'll give you a hint: it has nothing to do with the cameras you have slung around various body parts. Rather, it's your footwear. You'll be trekking through endless halls - covering an area that rivals the center of Cologne - and pushing your way forward in throngs of excited people trying to get to the focus of their infatuation. If you haven't made the right decision about your footwear, in a few hours the dull pain in your feet will distract you from the pleasure of all that exciting new gear. Luckily, I learned that after my first Photokina in 2008 and was well prepared this time around.
But this site isn't about hiking and shoe reviews, but about photos and cameras. So we'll get to that. The star of the show? I'll answer that subjectively since going by the crowds clamoring to get their hands on something wasn't related to how much excitement a new product generated but by how many samples were around and how (badly) the particular exhibitor's stand was designed.
At this point you've probably guessed that I'd say the Sony RX1 was the star of the show. More than any other new camera, it adds a capability that the photographer didn't have before: full frame image quality in a truly compact package. In fact, that's what surprised me the most about the RX1: how small it was. Despite knowing the dimensions, I couldn't really imagine something so small with such a large sensor. I'm used to full frame cameras that are huge and bulky (yes, I know that the FF Leica M cameras are quite compact, but nothing like this). Unfortunately though, the RX1 cameras were all under glass so I couldn't get my hands on one. Everything from the body finish right down to the engravings on the controls seemed to be of a high quality though.
I didn't get into the debate about the missing, integrated viewfinder. The representative I spoke to gave the usual, scripted response that it was Sony's primary aim to create the most compact full frame camera possible. Personally, I think that's a valid design goal. Those of us considering the RX1 will just have to decide if the can live without a viewfinder or can accept an external one. There's always a compromise and at least in this case the tradeoff is for something which promises to be extraordinary.
I did have a chance to handle the NEX-6. The camera was a pleasant surprise. In terms of ergonomics, I actually found it a slight improvement over NEX-7. The textured, polycarbonate body feels warmer and the rounded edges make the camera more comfortable to hold. I'm pleased to see the mode dial make its debut on a NEX camera; no menu based system is faster than a dial. I won't comment on the new, hybrid AF since there was neither a way to do a meaningful comparison nor to judge its accuracy. But if it works as advertised, the hybrid autofocus may give those that need responsive AF a reason to choose the NEX-6 over its more expensive sibling, the NEX-7. Other than that it's more a choice between slightly different user interfaces and which sensor you prefer.
struck me most though about the NEX cameras, is how integrated their
designs are. There are virtually no protrusions, odd humps or
unmotivated changes in material that suggest a designer struggling to
accommodate the necessary components and features. Their design feels
effortless, a testament to Sony's technical prowess.
New Sony NEX Lenses
Of the three new E-mount lenses, only the ultra wide 10-18mm F4.0 zoom held my interest briefly, but only until Zeiss announced their E-mount 12mm F2.8 prime. I suspect the latter will be the better lens. Nevertheless, all 3 new Sony E-mount lenses represent useful and necessary additions to the Sony NEX system. While there was no way to assess their optical quality at the show, I did get a feel for their relative sizes compared to existing lenses.
Zeiss E-mount AF Primes
For a while I considered going back to Micro Four Thirds, grudgingly willing to accept the smaller sensor in return for access to the higher quality lenses of the Micro Four Thirds system. Zeiss' announcement of 3 new AF lenses for the Sony E-mount and Fuji X-mount killed that plan. The Zeiss Sonnar T* E24mm F1.8 ZA is the best NEX autofocus lens that I have and if these are as good or better, then I'd love to have them all. I'll likely only be able to afford one though and that would have to be the Distagon 12mm F2.8. This could be the high quality ultra wide lens I've been searching for.
I had a long discussion with the Zeiss representative about these new lenses. They're using modern materials where it won't affect durability in order to achieve lenses that weigh around 250g or less. That makes perfect sense and should go without saying. According to him, all the lenses will have removable hoods that can be reversed for storage (although I have trouble seeing how the hood of the 12mm prime would be reversible in the current prototype). He even suggested that the availability date of Summer 2013 was conservative and that the lenses might ship earlier than that.
a long time user of Panasonic cameras I had more than a passing
interest to see how the Micro Four Thirds system had evolved in its
latest iteration. The GH3 is not for me though, despite its
predecessors having served me well in the past. The line is going in
the opposite direction of what I'm looking for in a system camera,
with the GH3 becoming bigger and bulkier. It's still far from what
could be described as huge, but I'm looking for a camera that's
capable and compact. Perhaps Panasonic's upcoming GX2 will compete
more directly with cameras like the Sony NEX-6.
It's almost criminal, taking a camera with the NEX-7's refined, minimalist design and turning it into this monstrosity. Now they just need to wrap the Sony lenses in ruby studded snake skin to complete the package. If Hasselblad wanted to draw (negative) attention to their brand, they succeeded.
I only handled it briefly, just because I could. It's not my style of camera as I don't like overly retro designs; they lack authenticity. Of course that won't affect the picture taking process as long as the camera's ergonomics don't suffer too much. To their credit, Fuji has managed to create a very desirable and growing line-up of high quality primes. Other manufacturers could learn from that.
Processing, processing...still processing. You get the idea. I couldn't use this camera on a daily basis without getting very frustrated: whatever the image quality. It might be a rewarding camera for a more patient individual, but not for me.
never been spoiled by using a Leica Rangefinder so I'm perfectly
content using lesser brands. I didn't want that to change either, so
I admired these beasts from afar, safely tucked away behind glass.
They sure are beautiful: what can be more beautiful than a camera that looks like the rangefinder and actually is a rangefinder?
Leica had an impressive presence in their own, cavernous hall. Huge white letters representing their 4 product lines punctuated the general gloom like giant beacons offering salvation from photographic mediocrity. You can have that, but at a price.