This story first appeared on PDNonline.com, a great source for professional photography news and product reviews.
When covering a show as big (and noisy) as last week's PhotoPlus Expo
in New York City, it's easy to overlook some of the lower-key products
tucked away in the various corners of the show floor. To be sure, the
gear that grabbed the most attention at PhotoPlus 2007 was at the front
of the hall where Nikon's new flagship digital SLR, the D3, and Canon's
new top-of-the-line DSLR, the EOS 1Ds Mark III, were making their
(©John Shafer. See more PhotoPlus images at Photographyreview.com. )
One of the biggest stories of the show was, undoubtedly, whether the
Nikon or the Canon booth – which were located directly next to each
other – was drawing more foot traffic. In a wholly unscientific study
based on how many "bumps per second" (BPS) I generated as I repeatedly
passed through both these booths during the show, the winner was, hands
down, Nikon's booth which was at times more crowded then the Cross
Bronx Expressway during Friday rush hour. (If you're interested,
Nikon's booth had an average BPS rating of 1.9 while Canon's booth
clocked in at 1.1 BPS.)
While we covered most of the big guns (including the Nikon D3 and Canon
1Ds Mark III) in several video show reports now being posted on
PDNPulse, I also had time to stroll the aisles and check out some of
the less flashy but no less important products on display at this
year's PhotoPlus Expo. Here are the highlights.
(©John Shafer. See more PhotoPlus images at Photographyreview.com. )
With all the talk of the latest digital offerings at PhotoPlus, it was interesting that whenever the inevitable question of "What have you seen that's cool at the show?" popped up, most journalists responded with the same answer: "paper." This all began a couple weeks ago when Epson launched its "Exhibition Fiber Paper," an inkjet paper that mimics the look and feel of a darkroom print. The buzz about paper carried over to the MOAB by Legion Paper booth which was showing off its new Moenkopi Japanese Washi papers.
Moenkopi – which is actually a Native American name for a mudstone layer of rock in the Moab area of Utah – is a beautiful paper made from natural fibers harvested from live Japanese mulberry (Kozo) bushes. (The Kozo shrubs continue to grow and produce after they're harvested.) Moenkopi is delicate, almost like Japanese rice paper, which gives it a distinct look and feel. It should produce some interesting results with B&W images though it also seemed to reproduce color very well in sample prints we saw at the show.
The paper's not exactly cheap, however. It comes in three grades – Unryu (55 gsm) which is available in A4 (10 sheets, $17.60), A3+ (13x19) (10 sheets, $55.63) sizes, and 44-inch rolls ($255.55); Kozo (110 gsm), available in A4 (10 sheets, $23.93) and A3+ (13x19) (10 sheets, $72.98) sheets; and Bizan (300 gsm), which is the most high-end of the line. Bizan sheets are individually handmade in Japan and retail for $15.77 for a single sheet of A4-sized paper; and $30.60 for a sheet of A3-sized paper. The papers are designed to work with most inkjet printers with either dye or pigment based inks. ICC profiles for each Moenkopi paper will be available on the Moab by Legion Paper website. www.moabpaper.com
It wouldn't be a PhotoPlus Expo without a new product from Lensbabies, those masters of selective focus. This time around it was a movie version of their Lensbaby 3G selective focus lens which lets you selectively blur parts of your footage during motion picture capture. Called the Lensbaby 3GPL ($490), the lens can give filmmakers fixed or flexible "tilt and swing" positioning on any 16mm or 35mm PL mount movie camera. Lensbaby 3GPL also works with several PL-to-video camera adapters. (Likewise, you can put an SLR mount adapter on your video camera and attach a regular SLR Lensbaby 3G for the same effect.)
If you've ever played with or seen footage of a Lensbaby in action, you'll be familiar with the effect you can now get with a movie camera – a focused "sweet spot" surrounded by gradually increasing blur. Filmmakers can move the sharp focus spot by bending Lensbabie's flexible body. Not sure why they chose a professional photographer's show to debut this new movie product, but Lensbaby 3GPL was cool nonetheless. To find out which PL-to-video camera adapters work with Lensbaby 3GPL or to see some sample movie footage, visit Lensbabies' website. www.lensbabies.com
Though there's a ton of great software out there for managing and editing your RAW images – not even including Adobe's products – do you ever get the feeling you're spending way too much time toiling over your shots and not enough time actually shooting them? At the Bibble Labs booth, I got a demo of their latest Bibble Pro 4.9 RAW workflow software and was impressed with the speed and the quality of the software's quick fixes.
Earlier in the day, I had visited Athentech's booth and saw the company's "Perfectly Clear" one-touch image optimizer in action. Perfectly Clear, which is offered in Bibble Pro, automatically tweaks color, contrast, tone, and sharpening in one click. And in case you're worried about the quality of these sorts of one-click fixes, this is definitely not "Auto Levels" in Photoshop. Images run through Perfectly Clear have a nice, natural overall correction. Plus it's fast. Also welcome is the built-in Noise Ninja noise reducer in Bibble Pro 4.9; its effective Fill Light function; and helpful Highlight Recovery and Lens Correction tools. Not to mention, the software's RAW conversion speed is fast. (Did I mention already that this software is fast?) www.bibblelabs.com
Just like last year, Gary Fong's booth drew quite a crowd at PhotoPlus where his light diffusion flash products were on display. Since last year's show, Gary's built a veritable cottage industry around variations on his popular dome-shaped Lightsphere light diffuser which fits onto your camera's flash unit to soften the light and reduce shadows. After the success of Lightsphere II, Gary came out with the more elaborate "Whaletail" flash diffuser. At PhotoPlus 2007, he was back with "The Origami," ($29.95; $34.95 with amber flap) which is sort of a stripped down Whaletail with a plastic flap you can swing into the light path to warm the ceiling or out of the way to softly diffuse your subject.
The best part of this device though might be its portability. While I've liked Gary's other diffuser systems, they can take up valuable space in your camera bag. The Origami, when collapsed, fits easily into your pocket. A new adjustable strap, which is now available for most of Gary's products, ensures that the diffuser stays snug on your flash head. www.garyfonginc.com
There were tons of storage options on display at PhotoPlus, but the one that caught my eye – and the eyes of several other photographers I talked with – was the pint-sized Drobo from Data Robotics. Though it's billed as "the world's first storage robot," think of it more as an external, expandable hard drive array that attaches to your computer via USB 2.0 and visually tells you when it's getting full.
Though Drobo ($499) lets you load up to four hard drives into slots behind its faceplate, your computer sees it as a single external USB drive, allowing for quick and easy access. Blue lights on the front of Drobo indicate how much it's storing at any given time while yellow lights on the side warn you if you need to add or upsize a drive soon. See a green light and everything's fine but a solid red light or a blinking red light means it's time to immediately swap in a new drive. Unlike a RAID, you can add and replace 3.5-inch SATA 1 or SATA II hard drives of varying capacities in the four slots of Drobo at will without interrupting your workflow. On the downside, the $499 price tag for Drobo doesn't include any actual hard drives, just the storage robot system. www.drobo.com
Along with tons of new inkjet art paper, do-it-yourself photo books seemed to be everywhere at this year's PhotoPlus. (Again, in this age of megapixels and memory chips, who'd of thunk it?) One of the best solutions we saw was at the Blurb booth which combines simple software with attractive book design and very reasonable pricing to create a compelling calling card for photographers. Though Blurb books won't likely win you the Pulitzer, you can build a high-quality hardcover or soft cover photo book in just a few simple steps.
The first thing I thought of with these Blurb books was the wedding photography market but they could easily be used as presentation or promotional materials or as a basic portfolio for many types of photographers. After downloading the free Blurb BookSmart software, just drag and drop your images into a variety of templates, add captions and text, and create your book. The best part is you don't pay a dime until you're happy with the finished product and decide to order it from Blurb. (You design the book but they actually produce it for you.) Also, there's no quantity limit so if you want just one photo book you can order just one. As I said, pricing is very reasonable – one copy of a 40-page 7x7 soft cover photo book will cost you just $12.95. Price, of course, increases for larger sized books in hard cover but they're still a relative bargain. www.blurb.com
And yes, there was some new film at this year's PhotoPlus. But like many of the other non-digital products at the show, it certainly wasn't front and center. In fact, it took me a little while to find Kodak's booth which was, once again, literally giving away rolls of its professional films to show-goers if you were willing to wait in the line that snaked around its booth.
As far as anything newsworthy, Kodak unveiled (drum roll please) a new version of its T-MAX 400 Professional B&W film at PhotoPlus which, reportedly, has finer grain and higher sharpness. To see if it lives up to this billing, I'll have to shake the dust off my old film SLR that's been in deep storage since I moved to my new apartment six months ago. www.kodak.com
Also in the fine art paper department, Hahnemuhle introduced its own, exotic, Eastern-influenced media at PhotoPlus. Called Bamboo 290, the paper, as its name suggests, is made from 90% bamboo fibers (10% cotton) and is 290 gsm. It has a warm, natural white tone and, interestingly enough, smells wonderful – sort of like waking up in a Zen monastery. (Not that I have ever actually woken up in a Zen monastery but I imagine this is what it would smell like.) Can't wait to try it out for some of my color landscape and nature photos. Also new from Hahnemuhle is FineArt Baryta 325, a bright white, 100% alpha-cellulose, ultra-smooth paper with a high gloss baryta coating. This one should be great for contrasty B&W work thanks to its reputed high D-MAX. The barium sulfate coating also gives it a classic, darkroom vibe. www.hahnemuhle.com
The Unibind and POWIS booths presented two different methods for do-it-yourself photo books. At Unibind (www.unibind.com), it was all about the heat. After printing your images out onto any type of photo paper, you insert them into a custom Unibind PhotoBook. (These come in multiple colors and sizes but you must buy them from Unibind.) Then place the PhotoBook, spine down, onto one of the company's binding machines and hit the switch. The binding area will heat up and melt the glue in the binding so the pages become locked in. When the process is complete, the red light on the binding machine will change to green, and the bound book is ready for removal. A basic one-at-a-time Unibind machine sells for $455 but larger, more elaborate multi-book binding machines sell for as much as $5,000.
The PhotoPress from POWIS (www.powis.com), by contrast, uses pressure instead of heat to laminate prints onto the company's Signature sheets. (Yes, those sticky Signature sheets are only available from POWIS.) First the photographer must sequence his or her photos on the Signature sheets and then place the pages into the PhotoPress. After the lid is closed, the PhotoPress begins applying intense pressure to bind the pages together. The pages are then placed into a Photobook hardcover and the book is completed. Compared to the Unibind binding device, PhotoPress is a high-volume machine and at a cost of approximately $10,000, will likely appeal more to photo retailers than individual photographers.