Photokina 2012 Roundup
R Butler | Show Reports | Published Sep 26, 2012
The dpreview team has just got back from the Photokina trade show in Cologne, Germany and, while the jet-lag may be waning, our heads are still spinning from typhoon of interesting products launched at the show. Unlike previous shows, where product announcements came in stages and built up to a crescendo at the show itself, Photokina 2012 was characterised by a whirlwind of activity the day before the show opened to the public. This made it easy for interesting cameras, lenses and announcements to get lost in the squall so, now the storm has passed, we thought we'd assess the post-Photokina landscape. What stands out and why do we think the next few months will be some of the most interesting we've seen for years?
A flurry of full frame
The biggest news at the show for enthusiast photographers was probably the arrival of a new generation of full frame cameras. Nikon and Canon introduced less expensive models, the D600 and EOS 6D to sit below their D800 and 5D Mark III. Meanwhile Sony, which offered the first sub-$2000 full frame DSLR with the A850, created a rather more high-end affair with the SLT-A99. Bristling with features both for stills and video shooters and making the most of its full-time live-view SLT design, the A99 is a camera I think none of us will fully appreciate until we've had time to try it.
|The Nikon D600 was just one of the full frame cameras launched at Photokina|
That said, the Nikon D600 is not a camera to be underestimated. Although it doesn't offer a lot in the way of new novel technologies, it has a spec sheet crammed with familiar, high-end features. It's essentially a full-frame D7000, but that means it doesn't give up much in terms of specification to the much more expensive D800. And, by comparison, Canon's EOS 6D seems a little slight. The list prices of the two cameras are similar in most territories (with the Nikon being a shade pricier in some), but the D600 offers more focus points, a viewfinder with 100% coverage, slightly faster continuous shooting, twin card slots and a built-in flash capable of controlling groups of remote flashguns. The Canon, by contrast has an AF system rated to -3EV (one quarter of the light needed by the Nikon), and built-in GPS and Wi-Fi, which the Nikon gains only via a little plug-in accessory.
We've got a D600 in the office and will be posting test shots from it over the coming days but we're still waiting to hear when we can expect a 6D, so there'll be a bit of a delay before we can see how it compares.
|The Leica M offers more than just traditional rangefinder shooting|
But it wasn't just the mainstream brands celebrating the 36x24mm frame - Leica introduced the 'M' - a camera that is likely to be remembered in the company's history for its number of 'firsts.' It's Leica's first CMOS-based rangefinder, its first to shoot movies and its first to offer live view (even to the point of allowing a through-the-lens EVF to be added). It's also the first to abandon numbering - with the company adopting an intentionally timeless naming scheme, in the style of the Porsche 911. Not only does it stress the camera's status as part of a dynasty, it also gives the Leica-philes their own shibboleth (the cognoscenti will call this M the 'typ 240'). Alongside the M is the M-E, a slightly stripped-down M9 at a still bank-balance troubling $5,450.
This is the second Photokina since Panasonic's DMC-G1 announced the dawn of the age of the mirrorless camera. It's taken all that time for the industry to agree on a single term for these cameras but there were signs in Cologne (including a huge '1st Mirrorless' campaign from Panasonic - one of the companies most resistent to the term), that 'mirrorless' has finally been near universally accepted.
Beyond this, the theme of the show was maturity, with the launch of more focused and more capable products than ever. In recognition that there is an enthusiast market for smaller cameras, Photokina 2012 saw the launch of the Sony NEX-6 and Fujifilm's XE-1. The NEX-6 features a command dial and physical mode dial, taking it closer to a conventional DSLR control system than ever. It's still based on the original NEX interface, which still contains a few of its original foibles, but we'll wait to see what it's like to live with before drawing any further conclusions.
|The Fujifilm X-E1 combines the cutting-edge with the classic|
Then there's the XE-1 (one of the stars of the show from my personal perspective - Richard). It brings the sensor and image quality from the X-Pro1 to a smaller body and adds in Sony's excellent OLED viewfinder. Combine that with an F2.8-4 18-55mm lens that seems to focus pretty quickly and, so long as it doesn't throw up any surprises, it looks like it could make a tempting camera (or second camera) for someone who might previously have bought a mid-level DSLR (it's around the same price as the Nikon D7000 was, at launch).
Meanwhile Panasonic tried to cement its position in the stills/movie crossover market with the impressive-looking GH3. It's the biggest Micro Four Thirds camera yet, and the most solidly built. Panasonic promises much in the way of stills image prowess but it's the bewildering range of movie frame rates, compression types and features such as time code that show it is serious about film making.
At the other end of the market, Olympus updated its PEN series with a pair of easy-to-use cameras, the E-PM2 and E-PL5. In many respects these are gentle refreshes of its existing products, but with the key change of featuring the same excellent sensor and processor combination as the Gold Award-winning OM-D EM-5. That promises a lot of image quality in a compact package for relatively little money. Photokina also provided a first chance for a lot of people to play with Canon's EOS-M. While not exactly the most original product on the market, we suspect a lot of people will have been as impressed as we have been by its touch-screen interface, which will certainly help sell it, anywhere people have the chance to handle one.
Lenses for mirrorless
The increasing maturity of Mirrorless cameras is also reflected in the continued expansion of the lens ranges for the major systems. Panasonic and Olympus both further swelled the ranks of the Micro Four Thirds system with a selection of lenses, further bolstering its position as best-developed mirrorless system. Panasonic announced its long-awaited 35-100mm F2.8 telezoom and promised the high-end 42.5mm F1.2 and a 150mm F2.8 super-tele. Olympus, meanwhile, unveiled a 60mm F2.8 Macro lens, promised a 17mm F1.8 fast normal and created a distinctly eccentric 15mm F8 lens/body cap.
|Olympus' 17mm F1.8 lens adds still more options for Micro Four Thirds users|
Sony also added some key lenses to the E-mount used by its NEX system, with the addition of a 10-18mm F4 ultra-wide-angle zoom, a 35mm F1.8 fast normal and a compact, retractable and rather nicely implemented 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 power zoom. Samsung debuted a rather inexpensive-feeling 45mm F1.8 (which seems a little short for its described purpose as a portrait lens) and a 12-24mm F4-5.6 wide-angle zoom. Finally, from the camera makers, were Fujilfilm's promised 18-55mm F2.8-4 OIS and its 21mm equivalent 14mm F2.8 prime.
|Carl Zeiss will create autofocus lenses for E and X mounts|
However, a trend we found really interesting was the promise of autofocus lenses from two of the industry's most respected lens makers. Carl Zeiss has said it will make a series of AF lenses for the Sony E mount and Fujifilm X-mount, while Schneider Kreuznach showed mock-ups of three lenses for the Micro Four Thirds system. These lenses show a lot of faith that there is a market for high-end customers (we expect all these lenses to cost at least $1,000).
Quality compacts continue
Alongside the mirrorless refresh comes a continued surge of enthusiast compacts, which shows no sign of being abated by the emergence of the enthusiast mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. And the good news is that there seems to be a trend towards faster lenses, to make the most of their 1/1.7" sensors. In recent months we've seen the Nikon P7700 arrive with a newly fast lens (28-200mm equiv, F2.8-4), and the Samsung EX2F bring a newer sensor and Wi-Fi to the Korean giant's offering. Photokina raised the stakes still further - Canon's S110 gains Wi-Fi and a touch screen, while its PowerShot G15 follows Nikon's lead by offering a brighter zoom without compromising range (28-140mm equiv. at F1.8-2.8 sounds pretty handy).
|The Fujifilm XF1 is available in a range of colours|
Olympus too has a promising product in the XZ-2, which appears to address many of our concerns about its predecessor while keeping the bits we liked. There's a lot more customization to be had, along with a flip-up screen, newer sensor and clever dual-mode control dial, combined with an excellent 28-112mm equiv. F1.8-2.5 lens. The only concern we have based on our limited use of the camera is the bulk it's gained over the XZ-1. Which isn't a concern we have about the undeniably pretty Fujifilm XF1. It features larger-than-average 2/3" sensor (as seen in the X10), combined with a 28-100mm equiv. F1.8-4.9 zoom. Our first impressions of its user interface are promising - further adding to our headache of which camera we need to get hold of first.
Out of the blue
|The Samsung Galaxy Camera offers plenty of photographic control|
The move towards connectivity continued, not just with the EOS 6D and Canon S110, but also with the Samsung Galaxy Camera. The lines between camera and smartphone have never seemed so subtle, with Samsung effectively adding the sensor and processor from one of its WB series of superzooms to the back of one of its Galaxy smartphones. The Galaxy Camera takes a key step ahead of Nikon's Coolpix S800c, which also offers an Android-based camera, through its inclusion of 3G or 4G cellular connectivity. It's hard to imagine how the added convenience of full-time internet access will change the way you use a camera, but we suspect a lot of its success will depend on how the mobile contracts required end up being priced.
And finally, it would be hard to write about Photokina 2012 without mentioning the Hasselblad Lunar. The first product of a collaboration with Sony, the Lunar will offer the buyer a bespoke selection of premium materials to house a series of distinctly NEX-7-like camera components. The company stresses that it will be built in Sweden from the finest materials, but this aggressive leveraging of a brand name provoked dismay and ridicule in equal measure. We're not really in the luxury goods business, so it's probably irrelevant what we think of it as a camera. It'll be interesting to see how the Hassy/Sony collaboration pans out, though (including the 'product for the DSLR segment').
Finally, then, were the unexpected full frame cameras from Sony - the NEX-VG900, a video camera that allows the use of a wide range of full-frame and APS-C lenses, and the RX1, a super-high-end fixed lens full frame compact. The VG900's E-mount means almost any lens can be fitted using an adapter, such as the new LA-EA3 full frame E-A mount adapter. Sony has stressed that creating full frame lenses for it would essentially mean re-creating the lenses it already offers in A-mount. However, it's the $2,700 Cyber-Shot RX1 that had everyone talking. With its fixed, 35mm F2 lens (itself a wonder of design), it risks being a heroically niche product, but desirable nonetheless. And, in an odd way, it's hard not to wonder whether it would have been taken more seriously if it had said Hasselblad on the front.