Photokina 2012: A Vicarious Attendee's Review

Camera Sep 20, 2012

Another Photokina has come and gone and I have still not been able to attend one. Sigh. Maybe 2014. In the meantime, I have been getting all sorts of press releases, reading show reports all over the place, and have pretty much devoted myself to filtering out all of the cruft that shows like this generate. Here’s my take on this year’s show.

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SONY
Sony had three major announcements for Photokina:

Sony CyberShot DSC-RX1
The RX1 is fixed lens compact camera that sports a full-frame 35mm digital sensor. While full-frame sensors have been around for years, this is the first compact camera equipped with one. Did I mention that is a 24MP sensor (the same one in their flagship Alpha SLT-A99 – see below)? This is not some cheaply built point and shoot for soccer moms, but a high precision photographic instrument. Packing a Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2 lens, this little bad boy weighs in at a whopping $2,800 USD. Finally, a point-and-shoot for serious photographers!

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Sony Alpha NEX-6
Still recovering from the NEX-5R announcement, Sony fires another shot across our bow with the NEX-6, a high-end NEX camera which greatly resembles their top-of-the-line NEX-7. However, there are several key differences:

  • 16.1MP CMOS Sensor
  • ISO 100-25600
  • ISO Hotshoe with additional contacts
  • Built-in WiFi
  • Proprietary in-camera apps

Best of all is the price: $999 USD with the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Power Zoom lens. This is one to watch!

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Sony Alpha SLT-A99
Sony finally unveiled the successor to their Alpha A900 DSLR. In keeping with the promise they made last year, the A99 uses SLT (Single Lens Translucent – aka pellicle mirror) technology with a full-frame 24MP sensor. However, unlike the 24MP sensor in its APS-C sized sibling, the A77, the A99’s sensor contains 109 phase detection AF points in addition to the 19 points in the dedicated AF sensor. This means that at no time does the camera not have phase detection sensors tracking your subject(s). Like the A77, the A99 is weather and dust sealed. The A99 has two card slots which is a must for all serious pro shooters.

  • 24MP full-frame CMOS Sensor with on-chip phase detection AF
  • Fixed-mirror design SLT
  • 2.4M dot OLED electronic viewfinder
  • 14-bit Raw output
  • ISO 100-25,600
  • Up to 6 frame-per-second continuous shooting with AF
  • ISO-compatible flash hotshoe with ‘multi interface’ expansion connector
  • Pull-out three-hinge tilt/swivel 1.23m dot RGBW LCD screen
  • Top panel LCD
  • Microphone and headphone sockets
  • Built-in GPS
  • AF Micro Adjust

Priced at $2,800 USD (body only)
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This camera is a serious contender as a replacement for my aging D700. My only qualm is the sharpness of the lenses. I would certainly get the CZ 24-70 f/2.8 but the jury is still out on the Sony G 70-400 f/4-5.6 Telephoto Lens for ballet work.

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HASSELBLAD
Swedish camera maker Hasselblad made a pre-announcement about their flagship H camera series introducing the H5D which is an evolutionary (read: not earthshaking) upgrade to the H4D.

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They also introduced a 24mm H lens which is ridiculously wide for a medium format system. Still, this lens will be a boon to landscape photographers.

NIKON and CANON
The top two camera makers were also on hand and low-end full frame cameras were on both of their playlists. Nikon announced the D600, a 24MPx FX camera in a body that is even smaller than the D800.
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Not to be left behind, Canon announced the Canon EOS 6D, a full frame 20.2MPx DSLR.
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LEICA
Leica had many announcements, but the one that caught my eye is the Leica M.

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This latest update to the M series of rangefinders brings significant changes to the 5th generation of digital M cameras. Gone is the CCD sensor of the previous 4 models replaced with a 24Mpx CMOS sensor surprisingly not made by Sony. Leica hired Belgian chipmaker CMOSIS to design and manufacture the MAX sensor for the new Leica M. This change adds a raft of functionality that was missing from previous digital M’s including Live View, Focus Peaking, video recording, better high-ISO performance, and much, much more. Leica also released a series of accessories to further enhance the M photographic experience including:

An M Handgrip that adds GPS, various access ports and a place to connect a second hot-shoe, without adding a lot of bulk to the camera.

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An Electronic Viewfinder to allow you to focus and compose via Live View, focus peak and waist-level shoot thanks to its tilt mount.

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And an R Lens Adapter which allows R-mount SLR lenses to be used with the Leica M. Focus is achieved using Live View either via the rear display of the OLED Visoflex EVF.
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By doing this, Leica has transformed the M from a niche camera to a really amazing and flexible general purpose camera. Albeit, autofocus is not available but the hi-res EVF and focus peaking make the task of focusing fairly trivial except for the most demanding action photography. Leica and inexpensive are basically antonyms and the Leica M is no exception. Base price for the body alone is $6,950 (which is $1000 less than its predecessor the M9-P) and Leica lenses start around $1300 USD all the way up to $12K. Still doesn’t stop me from lusting after one.

FUJI
Fujifilm announced two new cameras of interest: the X-F1 premium compact point and shoot camera
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This little guy will retail for $499 and has a 12 Mpx EXR CMOS sensor and a fast 6.4-25.6mm lens (f/1.8-4.9). An interesting feature carried over from the other X-series fixed lens cameras is the lens mounted activation ring.

However nice the X-F1 is, the real star of the show was the Fujifilm X-E1 CISC camera. Younger sibling to the X-Pro1, the X-E1 packs the same 16 Mpx X-TRANS CMOS sensor in a smaller all metal body. Instead of the Hybrid Viewfinder of the X-Pro1, the X-E1 has a 2.36M dot EVF builtin. This is the same EVF found the in the Sony NEX-6 & SLT-A99.

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The X-E1 is available in black or silver accents and there is a bundled kit zoom, the Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS, which has to be the fastest kit lens ever made. Autofocus speeds have been greatly improved with this model. On a side note, Fuji also released a firmware upgrade for the X-Pro1 (v2) which addresses many of that model’s performance issues. Early reports say it is like getting a whole new camera. This camera (X-E1) is generating a lot of buzz and I already have one on pre-order, so expect a full review as soon as it arrives.

Lenses, lenses, lenses!

There were a plethora of lens announcements at PK this year including:

Carl Zeiss

CZ showed off a couple of new bits of glass, but announced some major news in the mirror less market. CZ lenses for Fuji X-mount & NEX E-mount were prominent.

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CZ also announced a new line of lenses for super hi-res 35mm full frame DSLRs. Aimed at cameras like the D800/D800E, these lenses will be of the highest quality to maximize the effectiveness of the new sensors.

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Cosina Voigtländer

CV was there as well showing off their new 21mm f/1.8 Ultron lens in M-mount. A reasonably priced alternative to the Leica 21mm Summilux? I have to get one in for testing!

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