The “Lost” Photokina

Is that all there is?

Is that all there is?

If that’s all there is my friends

then let’s keep shooting

Let’s break out the flash and have a ball

If that’s all there is...

If you were looking for something earth-shattering out of Photokina, it’s likely you didn’t get it. What we got instead was companies doubling down on bets already made and reverting to modest iteration (Note: a recap tailored solely at mirrorless is over on Let’s look at the bullet points for the show:

  • Canon — A Mark II on their high-end crop sensor camera (7D). A 38mm equivalent crop sensor pancake, a third edition of the 400mm DO, and a mid-range consumer zoom. Plus the G7 X compact camera with a 1” sensor. Canon fans wonder where the 4K video is on the 7DII and why Canon is fiddling with 1” sensors all of the sudden.
  • Fujifilm — More features and a bit more technology on the same X bodies they already ship. The numbers and letters get higher, though ;~) (X30, X100T…). Peaks at some upcoming lenses, plus an almost shipping 50-140mm f/2.8. Fujifilm fans wonder where the XPro2 is. Fuji’s answer: still trying to figure out a better hybrid viewfinder.
  • Leica — The mother load: new everything (except for the T series body). Nine new lenses for M, S, and T systems. A new S system (two cameras), modest M updates, revision of the X (also now two cameras).  Leica fans mostly happy, but when you have money it’s easier to be happy, I guess.
  • Nikon — Another FX camera, the D750, and probably one that should have been launched in 2013 instead of the D600. 20mm f/1.8 lens a pleasant surprise. Nikon fans wonder where the D400 is, and when will Nikon get to 4K video on anything?
  • Olympus — A lens already pre-announced, a camera that sat in the developed-but-not-shipped queue forever (E-PL7), a new color body, new firmware for an existing camera, plus two more development lenses. Olympus fans like the pro lens trio and the new features for their already bought E-M1, but wonder where the m4/3 sensor compact is.
  • Panasonic — (Big) pocket twins in the LX100 (compact camera with 4/3 sensor) and GM5 (EVF on the GM1). New 14mm f/2.5 and 35-100mm f/3.5-5.6 compact lenses, plus a sneak look at a 30mm f/2.8 Macro. A surprise 1” smartphone from the thought-dead mobile group. Panasonic fans are happy the company is still active and didn’t just close down the division, though GX7 fans are wondering where their camera went (hint: it downsized into a GM5).
  • Pentax — Were they even there? Of course they were, but to what end? Oh, to let Pentax France leak the news that they’ll eventually have a full frame camera and to leak three new lenses, two of them unspecified (which is the equivalent of saying “we’re working on two other lenses”). Pentax fans are still waiting for the future to arrive.
  • Phase One — Yet another company adopts the Sony MF CMOS sensor, plus Capture One 8. Phase One fans are a bit like Leica fans and happy their company is still growing and thriving.
  • Ricoh — The most odd “action video camera” yet (and it’s actually just a Ricoh label on an OEM product). Someone forgot to look closely at why GoPro was successful. Ricoh fans wonder where the new GR is. New anything, really.
  • Samsung — One of the lone “new territory” folk, with their NX-1 mirrorless DSLR-like camera taking them into much more serious photography than ever before, especially coupled with 16-50mm, 50-150mm, and 300mm f/2.8 lenses. Samsung fans are over-confident about their company taking over from the big camera makers, but at least they had something to crow about.
  • Samyang — More manual focus prime lenses to fill out some missing focal lengths in some mounts.
  • Sigma — A surprise response to Tamron’s 200-500mm, another consumer zoom, an accessory to make the new DP's even more ungainly, though it solves the LCD in bright light problem. Sigma DP fans still waiting for fixed and better software support.
  • Sony — FE lenses already known about, and not a lot more other than a high-end video camera you’re probably not interested in. Sony fans left wondering where the Alpha DSLRs and lenses are, and noting that Sony gave only the FE lots of love.
  • Tamron — A Nikkor 14-24mm competitor! When and how much are unknown, though.
  • Voigtlander — a surprising 10mm f/0.95 for m4/3, new M-mount versions. Something for my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras! 
  • Zeiss — Prime lenses long rumored to be coming, and in their usual 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm focal lengths.

The full list of Photokina announcements and links to any articles I wrote about them or data pages I added is at the end of this article.

Trying to come up with a “winner” from Photokina was almost a futile effort; the bar was set awful low. Leica easily leaped over the bar, ran past the other companies, and into their own private building/booth. While they’re not exactly mainstream, Leica did prove to everyone that they could basically cover every upscale type of camera short of a smartphone (and even that was covered with Panasonic’s use of a Leica lens on their 1” sensor smartphone). It’s clear that Leica is pushing themselves at all positions on the camera map, even if a few of those are Panasonic development and relabels. The rest of the camera industry looked anemic in comparison, with no one actually doing a bottom-to-top refresh as Leica did.

So what’s happening to the industry? 

It looks like they finally got the message that the boom is over and that they believe it. Upper management is probably meeting continuously in conference rooms in Tokyo. Unfortunately, it appears their response to paucity of sales is paucity of truly compelling product.

Let me describe Fujifilm’s approach, because it is the clearest and easiest to understand: take the existing X cameras (e.g. X20, X100S, X-T1), and try to make them even more compelling so that any fence sitter might get off the fence. Fujifilm is basically adding new features and some technology to the same products over and over at this point. To their credit, they’re talking to pros who actually shoot with their product and listening to customers, as well. So they’re able to pick off a few minor “pain points” with each iteration and remove them. I have no problems with that, but if that’s all you do, then you’re just reinforcing the down market cycle. Current users don’t have quite enough to be compelled to upgrade (especially when you offer many of the new features via firmware update, e.g. the X-T1), and fence sitters probably need a bit more to get them off, too. 

As I’ve noted before, no one is solving the nagging workflow problem. The Japanese makers are still stuck on the notion of a “film cartridge,” only these days it doesn’t contain chemicals, but rather data bits. They also seem to have no actual realistic perception of their own products and how they fit into the modern world. 

For example, what’s the most likely way you’re going to present your images? And please don’t tell me “in an 8x10” frame I got from Bed Bath & Beyond.” ;~) Heck, the frame makers haven’t figured out that we don’t print film in 5:4 aspect ratio any more, but the camera makers haven’t even figured out that the devices that we’re most likely to display images on are almost all 16:9. And 2mp in pixel quantity (8mp if the display makers eventually convince everyone to switch to UHD/4K). Can I easily shoot in 16:9? Well, on compact and mirrorless cameras, usually, though I often lose something along the way (the old 3:2 or 4:3 LCD problem). On DSLRs? Not so much (I use Live View Video Mode on the Nikon’s to set 16:9 in a way I can compose and shoot, but it’s not optimal, mostly because Nikon’s Live View isn’t optimal). 

Most images these days don’t need to be anything other than 8mp 16:9. Surprisingly, I wasn’t able to find an electronic picture frame at any local store that could do that, though. Best I could find is 2mp 16:9, and only in a couple of sizes that weren’t right for my needs. 

Who the heck in Japan is thinking about the big user problems and how to solve them?  Let me propose a problem that isn’t quite solvable with today’s products and wasn’t shown in any camera makers’ booth, even with third party products. I’d like to put up a 24” UHD display in a frame on one of my mom’s walls in California. I’d like to be able to feed the pictures that are on it from here in Pennsylvania, where I live. I want the workflow from my shooting to “mom’s wall” to be minimal. Really minimal. I suppose I could go all entrepreneurial again and solve that problem (and a host of others), but don’t we have an industry that’s supposed to be solving those problems? Apparently not. (Note: if you’ll settle for 720P type quality in 15” or smaller 4:3 format, the nixplay frames [affiliate link] are very close to what I just describe. But, of course, nixplay isn’t a Japanese camera company, is it? And I don’t see any camera maker showing me how to get my images from their camera to said frame, either).

So instead we get a Photokina where the same old suits introduce the same old products with the same old workflow (maybe even to the same old customers), but with some new non-essential feature or modestly-iterated technology in it. 

I hate to bring up Apple again (sorry), but they’re the only consistent example I see in the tech industry at the moment. MP3 players existed before the iPod, but those didn’t solve the user problem. The iPod (plus iTunes) did. Smart phones existed before the iPhone, but they didn’t simplify the user’s control and use problems. The iPhone did. Tablets existed before the iPad, but they didn’t actually tend to be usable as they weren’t tuned for content consumption or creation. The iPad fixed both those. And now we have the Apple Watch. While it’s too soon to tell whether it will be the huge success some think it will, I do note that smart watches existed before it, but they didn’t actually do all that much and had insane UIs. The Apple Watch seems to do a fair amount and even solve some user problems I have, and it has another brilliant UI. 

Apple gets it: solve a clear user problem. Elegantly. Totally (if possible). With a clean UI/workflow. Do they iterate features and technologies (as I noted Fujifilm was doing)? Sure. But they keep trying to find the “big thing” that propels their products forward in customers’ eyes. This Photokina, I didn’t get the sense that any camera company was trying to do solve a big thing. 

I’ve written these words before: to save the camera industry, it needs to be disrupted. By the camera makers themselves, preferably. Just as they did with digital camera versus film camera. This time they need to get the actual user problem solved (workflow), because the image quality is just fine, thank you.

Thom’s “full” list of Photokina announcements relevant to byThom site readers:

Lenses (Actual Announcements*)

* Most specifications, price, launch date given; note some are new versions of older lenses

Lenses (Prototypes Shown*)

  • Fujifilm 16mm f/1.4 R Super EBC (XF mount)
  • Fujifilm 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR Nano-GI (XF mount)
  • Fujifilm 90mm f/2 R Super EBC (XF mount)
  • Fujifilm 140-400mm f/4-5.6 R LM OIS WR (XF mount)
  • Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro (m4/3 mount)
  • Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro (m4/3 mount)
  • Panasonic 30mm f/2.8 Macro (m4/3 mount)
  • Pentax 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 (K mount)
  • Schneider 14mm f/2 (m4/3 mount)
  • Schneider 30mm f/2.4 (m4/3 mount)
  • Schneider 35mm f/1.6 (FX mount, EF mount)
  • Schneider 50mm f/1.4 (FX mount, EF mount)
  • Schneider 85mm f/2.4 Macro (FX mount, EF mount)
  • Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 (FX mount, EF mount)
  • Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 (DX mount, EF-S mount)
  • Tokina 24-70mm f/2.8 (FX mount, EF mount)

* Full specifications, price, launch date unknown

Interchangeable Lens Cameras

Other Significant Cameras

  • Canon G7 X
  • Fujifilm X30
  • Fujifilm X100T
  • Hasselblad H5D-50c
  • Leica X Type 113
  • Leica X-E Type 102
  • Leica S Type 007
  • Leica S-E
  • Leica D-Lux
  • Leica V-Lux
  • Panasonic LX100
  • Ricoh MG-M1 action cam

Other Photokina-Related Articles

Phew! Can I take a break now? ;~)

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