I wish I could say that I slept more last night. What I can say is that I got a nice early start and a couple cups of Earl Grey to get me going.
My first stop today was at Zeiss. As you may know, we became Zeiss dealers this past year. We had been approached by them after the last Photokina, but frankly there was no depth of product, so we took a rain check. When they had a full line of really nice ZF lenses for Nikon and simultaneously Nikon kept introducing great digital bodies, starting with the D3 and D300… well, we jumped at the opportunity the second time around. I’m glad we chose to carry the product.
I met with Richard, the National Sales Manager for the US. Super nice guy. He showed me the new ZE lenses, the 50 f/1.4 and the 85 f1.4. I got to try them out on a 5D and I’m really liking them so far. Being electronically coupled with the EF mount is very convenient. Essentially, they act like Canon lenses, but with manual focus. Aperture is set with the rear dial, all shooting modes work without restriction. DOF preview works perfectly. When you manually focus on the 5D, the camera will beep at you and light up the focus point that is in focus. Nice. The styling is quite attractive on the ZE lenses. More tapered and rounded than the ZFs. Also learned they are slightly different optical formulas. The low pass filters used in Canons are quite different than those in Nkons, so the lens design had to be modified to properly focus on the Canon sensor. These two lenses will be available starting in November, then Zeiss will continue to roll out the rest of the lens line by early Spring 2009, matching the full offerings of the ZFs. I can only say that this is great news for Canon shooters and I can see a lot of 5DmkII shooters with these lenses.
On the ZF side, I tried out the new 21 Distagon. Relatively compact and lightweight versus the pictures online, the 21 can easily fit into any photographer’s bag. It has the same front filter diameter as the 18 ZF, 82mm. This is, of course, one of main reasons for choosing the 18 and/or 21 over the Nikon 14-24 – You can use filters on the front. The other one being portability of the prime lenses versus the massive zoom. This is also a slightly modified version of the famous Contax mount 21 Distagon, as the old one used lead and arsenic in the glass. The new ZF uses eco-glass and had to be tweaked slightly.
I also handled the new 85 f/4 ZM lens. Smallish and very light. Reminded me of a lightweight 90 Elmarit, sharing the same basic dimensions. About $800 and compact make it a nice option for traveling, taking mostly outdoor shots.
Other interesting things in the booth. There was a display of how the 100 Makro ZF is manufactured, from raw glass to finished product. Starting with the block of raw optical glass, blanks are cut out then ground and polished. They are then coated, cleaned, and the edges are blacked out using enamel paint, applied by hand. This cuts down on internal reflections. Then all the glass elements and mechanical components are assembled into a finished, working lens. Interesting little tour.
Across from this display were some noteable Zeiss products including the 50 f/0.7 that Stanley Kubrick used to film his candle-lit scenes in Barry Lyndon, a 500EL Hasselblad with 60mm Biogon from the Apollo Lunar missions, and an integrated lens/camera systems used to produce the Google Earth project. And while there wasn’t a 1700mm lens hanging from the rafters like last time, there was a semiconductor imaging lens that cost 3 million Euros in a glass case.
Another product, currently not available in the US is the Zeiss CineMizer. These glasses have ear phones and dual LCD screens for a take anywhere, virtual viewing experience. They work with any video-enabled iPod currently, with plans to have connections for computers in the near future.
Over at the Mamiya booth a little later, I checked out the new(ish) ZDb back which is being touted as a double buffer memory ZD. The back looks pretty much identical to its predecessor, but the ZDb is now more integrated with the AFDIII, allowing you to set custom camera functions from the rear LCD menu system. It is, of course faster to operate with files previewing and zooming quicker. And, you can shoot 20 shots before the back starts to get mad at you.
The vertical grip for the AFDIII was only a mock-up and was locked in a case so I didn’t get to feel it in my hand. They did have a few original ZD cameras at the booth. I handled one just to see how it compared to the new Leica S2. Bigger, thicker, and bulkier. But, the ergos of the ZD camera are not bad. If Mamiya updated that camera with a 3” LCD, speedier processing, and faster AF they might just be the first competitor to market in response to the S2. The tilt-shift bellows was also hidden under glass, as was the new 80mm LS leaf shutter lens and the redesigned 45mm f/2.8D. But, the view camera adapter was real. One visitor to the booth mentioned that there was no way to mount the ZD back in a vertical position. Oops. Maybe this was an oversight and will be fixed before shipping. We will see. Other that that it felt well-made, with smooth sliding action and high-quality anodized aluminum finish.
Leaving the Mamiya booth I walked by Novoflex something strange, a four legged tripod, which is aptly named the quadpod. Did they make a better mousetrap, so to speak, or what? Well, let’s just say I won’t be trading in my Gitzo anytime soon. If anyone has ever been to a restaurant where the table wobbles, you may know where I’m headed. Three legs always make positive contact with no wobble as all three points touch equally. Four points require much more fine-tuning until there is no wobble. Their theory is that more legs means more stability, but despite their large size and weight, a small Gtizo 1 series would be more stable. The legs had a lot of flex and the fourth leg had issues. Also, by adding another leg, you increase the size and weight by 30%, making this something you really don’t want to carry. I’m all for technical innovation, but I’m sticking with three legs.
Next on the tour was Hasselblad. They had a really cool shooting setup with a huge light bank overhead with fake trees and snow and Victor magazine-looking models where people could test out the H3D (or use their iPhone cameras). Hassy’s tilt shift adapter, the HTS 1.5, was working. By pressing a button on the H3D handgrip, the LCD will show you how much tilt, shift, and angle you have in real time. The same info is passed in the RAW file to Phocus as well. I must say that this is very cool.
I took a look at the new HCD 35-90mm f/4-5.6 zoom lens. Reading about the tech in this lens is interesting. It is only for use with “full frame 48mm” and the designers knowingly created the lens with increased distortion and vignetting. The new Hassy philosophy seems to be that we’ll just fix it in post, a la digital lens correction. Seems a bit fishy, especially at this price ($6,999 USD). Speaking of fishy… in the pro demo studio area a photographer and food stylist were photographing smelly raw fish. With large LCD suspended from the ceiling for the audience to watch the action top-down it felt more like a cooking show that a photo demonstration. The concept was interesting, but the smell was a bit much.
I headed upstairs to Nikon. There really wasn’t much new for me to see, but I did want to take a look at the D90 and the advanced compact camera, the P6000. The compacts were not a problem. I walked up to the counter, picked it up and played. The D90 is another story. But first the the P6000. It shares very similar menus and settings as the D300/700/3, which is pretty smart actually. Nikon realizes that the market for that camera is as an advanced P&S for existing Nikon DSLR shooters. Having menu and button consistency is good. Full set of manual controls and solid metal body. RAW support and built-in GPS round out the 13.5MP flagship Coolpix.
Everyone wanted time with the D90 and there were only three in the booth. So, I tried to get in a faster moving line. It was slower. I saw an opening and went for the more remote third camera location, only to have the D90 taken away by one of the Nikon folks to fix the security tether that had snapped. Back to the line. I did eventually get hands-on. It feels like a big step up from the D80, almost a D300, but a little more compact. The viewfinder and LCD are quite similar. Video mode was decent at 720p but limited to 5 minute clips. The AF doesn’t work during movie mode so you have to manually focus while shooting. Cool feature, though, and I’m sure it will only improve. And. I doubt that the Canon 5DmkII will be the last to emulate the D90.
Where to next? Canon, to check out the 5DmkII. If I thought the crowd was big at the Nikon booth to see the D90, I hadn’t tried to see Canon’s highly anticipated 5D successor. No worries. I waited my turn and got to handle the camera of myth and legend. It felt like a 5D. No great surprise there. The LCD looks like any of the recent Nikons. Again not a shocker. I did get to see a sample of Canon’s movie mode implementation, though. They raised the bar with full 1080p HD recording and it looks good. Maybe a little too many compression artifacts for my taste, but very detailed and sharp. Look, dedicated, high-end HD cams will do a better job because that is what they were designed to do. I’m sure the 5DmkII will take excellent pictures because that is what it was designed to do. Time will tell to see how this market convergence works itself out.