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PhotoPlus 06 Show Report
New York City - If you're a professional or aspiring professional photographer, New York City’s the place to be in early Fall when the annual PhotoPlus Expo Photography & Design Conference sets up shop at the Jacob Javits Center.
This year's show attracted over 200 manufacturers and upwards of 25,000 visitors for three days (Nov. 2-4) of product demonstrations, photography seminars, and hands-on time with some of the latest photo gear.
PhotoPlus is also a chance for journalists to evaluate what’s hot and what’s not in the high-end photography market by tracking the buzz on the show floor. Because 2006 also happens to be a year when the biennial Photokina show was held just over a month ago in Germany, a couple of notable manufacturers – Olympus and SanDisk, in particular – decided to sit this PhotoPlus out. There were, however, some surprising first-timers at PhotoPlus last week including Sony which was showing off its new Alpha digital SLR, along with its latest digital camcorders and a very cool GPS tracking device. Another new addition at PhotoPlus 2006 was American Express which was advertising its programs to help the small business owner, a seemingly good fit for the hordes of struggling professional photographers who roamed the show floor.
In a sign of the times, Kodak was literally giving away rolls of film at its booth. And while mighty Digital once again ruled at this year's show, a long line of eager photographers waited patiently around the Kodak booth for a free roll of the new Kodak Portra 160 VC or Portra 400 VC film being offered up.
While the recent Photokina show did put a dent in some of the surprise of new products at PhotoPlus -- most of the major manufacturers had already unveiled their latest digital SLRs and high-end lenses in Germany in September -- if you combed the aisles at Javits Center last week you could find some very interesting new equipment that was causing a stir. I did just that and what follows is my report on the cool products that caught my eye at this year's PhotoPlus.
Lighting It Up with Lightsphere II
The night before PhotoPlus, I went to a party at the studio of Jason Groupp -- a wedding photographer friend of mine based in the New York area -- and several people I talked to were raving about the success they were having with Lightsphere II, an inverted dome diffusion system designed by wedding photographer Gary Fong. That buzz carried over to the show floor the next day where it was nearly impossible to get close to the Gary Fong booth because of so many people snapping up Lightsphere IIs at discounted show prices. Lightsphere II is a soft, flexible vinyl diffuser with a snap-on dome that you fit right on top of your flash without the need of a bracket. Instead of pointing the light directly at your subject like a flashlight, the diffuser lets you bounce your flash off the ceiling or a wall so it lights up the entire room. Along with wedding photographers, an architecture photographer I talked to who shoots tons of interiors said he was able to eliminate shadows with Lightsphere II even in homes with 30-foot high ceilings. Because the diffuser is made of soft vinyl it's easy to stuff into a camera bag and take with you anywhere. Another "necessity is the mother of invention" device created by a photographer for photographers. Pretty neat. Lightsphere II retails for $49. www.garyfong.com
The Long Arm of PixPal
Another neat-o idea that caught my attention was PixPal which is designed to put an end to those self-portraits couples take on vacation where they hold the camera out in front of them, snap a picture blindly, and hope it comes out ok. (Usually it doesn't.) The other option is to ask someone to take your picture which can be a hassle, not to mention risky since the stranger using your expensive digital camera could easily run off with it. To solve that problem, PixPal is a telescoping camera mount that you can affix a compact digital camera to and extend out several feet. Hold the rod steady out in the front of the both of you, wait for the timer on your camera to go off, and presto, you have a nice picture that looks like it was taken by someone standing several feet away. Weary of taking too many "arm stretch pictures," the company's president Brian Starner said the idea for Pix Pal camera after visiting a hardware store. The president of the company, Brian Starner, said the idea for Pix Pal camera from a visit to a hardware store Necessity is the mother of invention indeed. You can order Pix Pal for $19.95 via www.getpixpal.com
Yes, the phrase "posed photojournalism" would seem to be a contradiction in terms but not according to Doug Gordon, a wedding photographer who was leading a demonstration at the EventPix.com booth of his techniques for capturing bride and groom shots that look spontaneous but are actually posed. In the last decade, the photojournalism-style of shooting weddings has become increasingly popular. The only problem is that it takes tremendous skills of anticipation and reaction -- not to mention much better than average photography skills -- to capture attractive "photojournalistic" wedding shots. To increase your chances of getting good spontaneous-looking pictures, Gordon recommends simply posing your bride and groom but in such a way that it doesn't look like those stiff old wedding photos your grandparents took. With a digital SLR in his hand, Gordon walked bride and groom models through a series of poses that produced artful, spontaneous-looking pictures. The one caveat is you need to have a couple that is cooperative since some of the poses -- including several that Gordon did with the models lying on the floor -- looked uncomfortable. You can find information about Gordon's DVDs at www.douggordonworkshops.com
Canon's Latest Cannons
While the latest professional digital SLRs get most of the attention, everyone knows it's the top-of-the-line glass that can really make pro shooters drool. Canon was showing off two new pro lenses at its booth -- the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM and EF 50mm f/1.2L USM -- and there were plenty of photographers wiping the spittle from their lips after looking at these two nice pieces of glass. The 70-200 will be available $1,249 while the 50mm will also be shipping this month for $1,599. Yes, those drool-worthy lenses don't come cheap. www.canonusa.com
Going Live with liveBooks
Tired of the hassle of creating and updating their websites, some photographers have been turning to a two-year-old service called liveBooks. Instead of having to pass your images and ideas over to a web designer, this web-based software application lets you more easily manage the content on your website yourself. Most importantly for photographers who want to keep their pictures fresh, images in the portfolios and galleries on a liveBooks site can be easily updated via an intuitive drag-and-drop interface called the EditSuite lightBox. The folks from liveBooks -- including several professional photographers who use liveBooks such as Regis Lefebure, Colin Finlay, and Maki Kawakita -- were giving demos of the latest 5.0 version of the software which has improved the navigation and the look of its predecessor. New features in 5.0 include the ability to customize slideshow movies, add HTML gallery presentations, upload music, integrate with other web services, and add a shopping cart for selling prints. The service ranges in price from a very basic $950 "Folio" package up to a full-featured $3,900 "Pro" set-up. www.livebooks.com
Despite improvements in imaging sensors in digital cameras, noise in digital images is still a big problem. One of the companies that has created software to combat noise is Imagenomic which released version 4.1 of its Noiseware Plug-in software at the show. Noiseware 4.1, which sells for $69.95 in its Professional version, adds a faster preview mode, an undo/redo feature, and other tweaks. Along with Noiseware 4.1, Imagenomic released two interesting plug-ins at PhotoPlus -- Portraiture and Real Grain. Portraiture, which sells for $170, automatically removes unwanted blemishes and perfects skin tones to give portraits a smoother look while preserving details such as hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. RealGrain, which sells for $100, simulates grain patterns and the color and tonal response you would find in conventional film.(In fact, the plug-in has a whole drop-down menu with the names of classic films -- such as Fuji Velvia or Kodak Portra -- that it can emulate.) Imagenomic officials were quick to point out that they're not adding in the noise in RealGrain that they take out in Noiseware, but rather mimicking the smooth grain you would find in trational film with this plug-in. www.imagenomic.com
Making Images Perfectly Clear
Though some hardware manufacturers were missing from this year's PhotoPlus, software companies were out in full force. One developer, Athentech, was showing off a professional version of its Perfectly Clear software which had previously only been available in kiosks and minilabs. The software confronts and corrects some typical scenarios that digital imaging struggles with, in particular the way cameras always seem to render purple as blue. To demonstrate the software, I took a picture of a target set up by Athentech that featured a Los Angeles Lakers jersey. Sure enough, the Lakers jersey in the image I captured with a Canon SD40 camera came out blue. After running it through Perfectly Clear, the "blue" jersey was corrected to purple. Though clearly not all digital cameras make the same mistakes the same way, Athentech's Brad Malcolm said he believed they take pictures "in the same direction," such as with blues which are rendered "too cool." To correct this trend, Perfectly Clear software adds reds to blues to make them deeper which in turn renders purples more accurately. Along with a host of other corrections, Perfectly Clear helps get outdoor leafy greens to look more realistic and vibrant by adding yellow to them. There will be two versions of the Perfectly Clear Pictures for Professionals, a Pro version that has RAW support and will sell for under $200, and a Prosumer version that has no RAW support and reduced functionality for about $50. www.athentech.com
Slinging Your Camera Around
Though photo hardware and software is all well and good, there's something about a cool bag that every photographer loves. Lowepro released a very cool new "Slingshot" bag at PhotoPlus that should be a good fit for anyone who's tired of getting tangled up when pulling their camera out of their backpack quickly. While previous models in the SlingShot line were smaller and aimed at consumers, the new SlingShot 300 AW is designed to hold professional digital SLR camera bodies with an attached zoom lens, plus five to six additional lenses, flash units, memory cards and personal accessories. The SlingShot takes its name from how easy it is to change from "carry mode" to "ready mode." Instead of removing the bag from your shoulder, just "sling" it towards the front of your body so you can quickly access all your gear inside. SlingShot 300 AW retails for $124.99. www.lowepro.com
Face Detection and Evidence Inspection
Fuji had several new innovations on display at PhotoPlus and while they were not necessarily brand new, they were still pretty neat nonetheless. For one, the company was showing off its Face Detection technology which was taken from its Frontier minilabs and is now being used in its Fujifilm Finepix F31fd compact digital camera. The 6-megapixel F31fd can detect and lock in on up to ten faces in a frame so they’re sharp when you press the shutter. Since the technology is built into the camera’s processor, it takes just 0.05 seconds to lock in and shoot. A demo at the Fuji booth featured a large display utilizing face detection that was locking in on the faces of PhotoPlus attendees who happened to walk up to the booth. Fuji was also showing off its FinePix S3 Pro UVIR digital SLR which is designed to capture images at Ultraviolet (UV) and Infrared (IR) wavelengths. The camera has been enthusiastically received by law enforcement officials because of its ability to capture evidence that can't be seen by the human eye, such as the blood on the black t-shirt in this image captured with the camera. www.fujifilm.com
Do-It-Yourself Album Kits
Anyone who doesn't want to be bothered with sending their images out to be made into an album should check out Unibind's do-it-yourself album kits. The company, which also does the back end for Apple's iPhoto books, was showing off their Professional Series XU138 Book Creator at PhotoPlus. In contrast to its $99 basic PhotoBook Creator kit which was released earlier this year, the Professional Series model, as its name suggests, is aimed at wedding photographers and other pros who want to make professional-looking hardcover albums themselves. Like the consumer version, the Professional Series model is a binding machine that heats up the spine of the album to glue the pages in. Albums, which are supplied by Unibind, now come in nine colors for the professional model and are available with or without a window, to view the photo underneath. They can also be customized with foil stamping. Along with having an attached cooling rack, the biggest upgrade on the pro machine is that is able to create PhotoBook albums with up to 650 pages. (The consumer version could fit up to 220 pages.) The Professional Series XU138 Book Creator sells for $455. www.unibind.com
Putting Your Photos on the Map with Sony GPS
Though Sony's Alpha DSLR-A100 camera was still attracting a lot of attention at PhotoPlus, there was a much smaller unit at the Sony booth that was also generating buzz. Called the GPS-CS1, the GPS device uses time and location recordings and the time stamp from a Sony digital still camera or camcorder to literally put your photos on the map. The tiny device -- just 3.5-inches long and only two ounces -- is a 12-channel GPS unit that's sold with a carabineer to attach to your belt loop. Once you're done shooting India's Taj Mahal or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, import the logged data from the device using the USB cable and transfer the images to a computer. With the help of the supplied GPS Image Tracker software, images from your digital camera or camcorder are synchronized with the latitude, longitude and time readings from the GPS-CS1 device. After you activate the Picture Motion Browser software bundled with Sony's latest cameras, your photos will then pop up next to push pins on Google Maps by the actual location where you made the picture. Retailing for $150, the Sony GPS-CS1 will not only help you impress your friends with where you've been but also flaunt your talents as a travel photographer. www.sonystyle.com
Hoodman to the Rescue
The most identifiable booth at the show was undoubtedly Hoodman which featured a giant blow-up tent capped by the cartoon-like Hoodman superhero character. Hoodman was showing a couple of new items including the Universal Right Angle Viewer which eliminates the need to crawl on your belly to take low-angle and other oddly-positioned shots. The H-RAV includes a built-in diopter with 1x and 2.5x capability, full 360 degree rotation, and universal mounting attachments for most Digital SLRs. It retails for $129.99. Hoodman was also featuring HoodLoupe Professional which is worn around your neck like a regular loupe but lets you easily view pictures on your LCD by blocking out external light. The device retails for $69.99. The company was also using PhotoPlus to market its RAW line of flash cards which capitalize on the popularity of shooting RAW images. While the cards accept all formats -- not just images shot in RAW -- Hoodman is claiming ultra-fast write speeds of 42MB per second, or 280x. The Hoodman RAW cards will be released in December. www.hoodmanusa.com
Monsterpod Sticks Around
In the wacky tripod category, the MonsterPod was sticking itself to various surfaces over at the MonsterPod Technologies booth. The portable head mount can be attached to a range of surfaces by means of the special polymer based substance -- known as PodGoo -- on the bottom of the device's orange ring. After you're done shooting, just peel MonsterPod off the rock, tree or telephone pole where you stuck it, and move on to your next shooting location. The device will be available in December for $30.
Selling Brazillion Dollar Homes
Another bag company I've always liked for their creative designs and overall fun attitude is Crumpler which was showing off their first professional photo bag at PhotoPlus -- the Brazillion Dollar Home. Part of the fun with Crumpler are the completely off-the-wall and unexplainable names of their bags. It's nice to see they're sticking to the formula with the new model. The bag -- which comes in gunmetal/black with an orange interior -- is a photo/laptop case designed to be piggybacked onto the handle of a rolling cart, worn over the shoulder, or as a virtual backpack with the help of the double shoulder strap. The roomy bag can fit a laptop, two digital SLRs with lenses, flashes, and assorted accessories and personal items as well as sporting two straps underneath for tripods. It retails for $265. www.crumplerbags.com
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