Video Stars

ProPhoto - - NEWS PHOTOKINA 2014 -

If you add up all the pre-re­leases and del­uge of new prod­ucts from Le­ica on the first day, this year’s Pho­tok­ina should have been as ex­cit­ing as any other, yet the ‘fizz’ was def­i­nitely ab­sent. It could be some­thing to do with the flat-lin­ing of cam­era sales right now which goes well beyond the im­pact of the smart­phone be­cause it’s not just the point-and-shoot sec­tor that’s suf­fer­ing. In fact, the P&S cam­era is now pretty well ex­tinct, but every­body is work­ing hard to gen­er­ate some ex­cite­ment in the other cat­e­gories… es­pe­cially the high-end com­pacts with fixed lenses and the mir­ror­less mod­els. Ri­coh is even hav­ing a go at jazzing up the D-SLR with the LED-fes­tooned Pen­tax K-S1. Still, Pho­tok­ina 2014 didn’t feel like a party. OK, so no­body puts on real par­ties any­more – us old timers re­mem­ber with af­fec­tion the sump­tu­ous din­ners staged by Ko­dak and Agfa – but trawl­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion halls this year it was hard to spot even a cof­fee ma­chine, let alone a beer fridge. Hard times in­deed. Weary jour­nal­ists had to make the long trek back to the press cen­tre in the sprawl­ing Köln Messe’s north­ern com­plex which, this year, seemed even fur­ther re­moved from the ac­tion.

Mind you, we weren’t as weary as we once were be­cause Pho­tok­ina 2014 didn’t seem to be tak­ing up nearly as much floorspace as be­fore. And beyond the big brands, the stand sizes looked to be gen­er­ally smaller too. The or­gan­is­ers noted that there were 180 first-time ex­hibitors at this year’s show, but the to­tal num­ber is still pretty much the same as last time (the ca­su­al­ties no doubt mostly be­ing the Chi­nese mak­ers of non­de­script P&S cam­eras who were once in plague proportions).

Most of the 180 new­com­ers could be found in Hall 6 which was mostly de­voted to the mak­ers of video ‘ac­tion cams’. Here, re­fresh­ingly, there was a party at­mos­phere be­cause this sec­tor is do­ing well, thank you very much. Cen­tre stage was GoPro – the company which started it all – but the im­i­ta­tors are now le­gion… along with de­vices for mount­ing them (on your dog, if you so de­sire) or trans­port­ing them through the air… the at­tack of the drones is well and truly on, and some of th­ese de­vices can take a full D-SLR-based video kit aloft. Ex­pect leg­is­la­tion to limit their ap­pli­ca­tion – it’s al­ready hap­pen­ing in the USA and UK – be­fore too long.

What the ac­tion cam mak­ers have got right is their sell­ing of the siz­zle rather than con­cen­trat­ing solely on the steak. Video is dy­namic and ex­cit­ing (es­pe­cially when it’s a multi-lensed ball you can chuck around while it records funky tum­bling footage!) and nearly all th­ese stands ex­uded cool. Pho­tog­ra­phy has to get back to pro­mot­ing the pic­ture rather than the process. Ac­cord­ing to GfK, sales of ac­tion cam­eras re­cently ex­ceeded those of tra­di­tional cam­corders (in value terms) in most of the ma­jor mar­kets around the world, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia. The seg­ment was worth 243.4 mil­lion euros in western Europe alone last year.

Else­where at Pho­tok­ina 2014 video was also a big story cour­tesy of another dy­namic emerg­ing sec­tor of prod­ucts for enthusiast video-mak­ers as well as ‘in­die’ pros. Of course, part of this mar­ket is the ‘hy­brid’ D-SLRs and com­pact sys­tem cam­eras, but there are also ded­i­cated ‘big sen­sor’ video cam­eras from the likes of RED and Black­magic De­sign. Both were also new­bies at this year’s Pho­tok­ina and at­tract­ing plenty of at­ten­tion. In case you don’t know, Black­magic De­sign is a real ‘Aussie suc­cess story’, hav­ing started out in lit­tle ’ol Mel­bourne and sub­se­quently ex­panded to be­come a global con­cern. Although it re­cently opened a new man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity in Sin­ga­pore, the bulk of Black­magic’s hard­ware pro­duc­tion is done in Mel­bourne… so some high-tech fab­ri­ca­tion is still hap­pen­ing in Aus­tralia.

While it’s un­der­stand­able that Pho­tok­ina’s or­gan­is­ers are happy to have GoPro, RED, BMD et al; have they in­vited the en­emy into the camp? In the not too dis­tant fu­ture, video isn’t go­ing to be just about video… or, more specif­i­cally, 4K video isn’t go­ing to be just about video. You can ex­tract a pretty good still im­age (at around 8.3 megapix­els res­o­lu­tion) from 4K footage and this is go­ing to make 4K video cam­eras more ap­peal­ing to pho­tog­ra­phers… rev­ers­ing the mar­ket em­pha­sis from still-cam­eras-with-a-video-ca­pa­bil­ity to video­cam­eras-with-a-still-cap­ture-ca­pa­bil­ity. This may not rep­re­sent such a big threat at the pro­fes­sional end of the pho­tog­ra­phy mar­ket, but video is mak­ing more in­roads here too, and it’s in­creas­ingly likely to be de­manded by clients from brides to builders. Fur­ther­more, if con­tent de­liv­ery con­tin­ues to move on­line in pref­er­ence to ink-on-pa­per, then mov­ing pic­tures is what much of the fu­ture will be all about. Tellingly, Pana­sonic in­tro­duced a ‘4K Photo’ mode on its lat­est Lu­mix cam­eras and this can be ‘retro­fit­ted’ to the GH4 which, while os­ten­si­bly a still cam­era, is be­ing pur­chased by pho­tog­ra­phers for its ex­ten­sive video ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Iron­i­cally, the still cam­era cat­e­gory that has strug­gled the most re­cently – dig­i­tal medium for­mat – looked to be in rude good health at Pho­tok­ina 2014, if the num­ber of new prod­ucts are any mea­sure. In ad­di­tion to Le­ica’s ‘James Bond’ S (a.k.a. Typ 007) and its S-E sta­ble­mate, there was also Has­sel­blad’s H5X, the IQ150 back from Phase One and the Credo 50 back from Mamiya Leaf. None get within cooee of the Pen­tax 645Z for af­ford­abil­ity, but this largely CMOS-led re­nais­sance ad­dresses other per­for­mance is­sues which may have pre­vi­ously limited DMF’s ap­peal. It’s a pos­i­tive sign. And there were oth­ers at Pho­tok­ina 2014 – Le­ica’s con­tin­ued resur­gence; strong show­ings from Sony, Pana­sonic and Sam­sung (the lat­ter’s new NX1 be­ing highly sig­nif­i­cant); the huge num­ber of young­sters surg­ing through the halls (some­thing we’ve never wit­nessed be­fore); and the con­tin­u­ing ex­cite­ment gen­er­ated by new mir­ror­less de­signs. The photo in­dus­try is fac­ing another pe­riod of sig­nif­i­cant change, but as al­ways, it’s those who see the op­por­tu­ni­ties, who will pros­per.

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