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Focus on Imaging 2006 News round up

Focus on Imaging 2006 News round up - A summary of all the best bits at Focus 2006

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Words and pictures by Gary Wolstenholme

ePHOTOzine's presence at Focus on Imaging 2006 in Birmingham was the most successful to date! This year we had a huge stand located and presentations were made by members and top photographers which really pulled in the crowds. First of all we'd to thank all the members who visited our stand and helped make this years exhibition the most successful ever!

This summary brings together all the best bits after a busy four days gathering together all we could at Focus on Imaging. The manufacturers are listed in alphabetical order.

Rob's 'Focus 2006: A day in the life' article can be found here and the ePHOTOzine Focus 2006 Awards, can be found here.

The representative at Billingham showed us the new Fiberlyte material from which their whole range of bags will be made of in the future. Fibelyte uses lightweight nylon, bonded with an extremely thin layer of butyl rubber for strength and water-fastness.
Another new product was actually a revision of the photo-vest they used to make over a decade ago. The design is pretty much the same as the original, only this time synthetic materials have been used to keep the weight down. The vest should be available in about four weeks time.

Fujifilm didn't have much in the way of new products to show us at Focus this year, their emphasis seemed to be on promoting their 'Real Photo Technology' compact cameras which are designed to give high quality images in low light conditions.
The other main focus on the Fuji stand was promotion of the S3 Pro digital SLR camera which has recently been reduced to £899. When we asked whether this meant an S4 Pro camera was on the horizon they could not give us any specific information although they did confirm what their strategy for Digital SLR cameras is. When asked whether a new digital SLR from Fuji would provide refined handling over the S3 or increased speed, Marketing Manager, Will Rolls said, "Fujifilm will always cater for image quality." and proceeded to explain that their target audience does not require the speed of some of the opposition.

Giottos had a new tripod to show us which will retail for approximately £160 including a ball and socket head. The 1140 has independent legs which can be locked at any angle, and quick-release locking joints.

A strong commitment was made at Focus by Kentmere, they will continue production of traditional black & white photographic materials for the next hundred years. This must be very reassuring for those who love producing darkroom prints and were worried about the future because of the continued dominance of digital imaging.
I was also informed of some unfortunate news while at the Kentmere stand, they will no longer be able to produce their popular Fine Art Classic papers as supplies of the base paper material has dried up. I was reassured that they are looking into alternatives, and it is probably only a matter of time before we see it back on the shelves.
A new range of cut sheet inkjet papers were also on show on the Kentmere stand, until recently their inkjet products were only available in roll format.

Kodak had three dye-sublimation printers at Focus from their Professional range. These were:

Kodak Professional 1400 - Produces up to 8x10inch borderless prints in around 90 seconds.

Kodak Professional 9810 - Produces up to 8x10inch borderless prints in less than 45 seconds.

Kodak Professional 6850 - Designed specifically for event photographers, this printer will output a 6x8inch print in less than 15 seconds or a 6x4inch print in  8 seconds.

As Kodak have moved away from producing professional digital SLR cameras, they were focussed on displaying their new range of Easyshare compact cameras, of which the most innovative was the Easyshare V570 dual lens digital camera. The camera has two lenses for taking pictures, one to give high quality wide angle images, and the other is a 3x zoom for standard photography. It is priced at around £240.

The usual range of collapsible reflectors and lighting accessories were on show at the Lastolite stand. Their most exciting new product, in my opinion, is their new RayD8 studio flash kit. This includes two 500W monobloc heads, two stands, two reflectors and two brollies all for £229.

Lee Filters
There was only one new product available on the Lee Filters stand for me to take a look at, The Digital Printmate. The idea is simple, in fact so simple I'm surprised no one else has thought of this before. The product is a card sheet with various numbered windows filled with different grades of coloured transparent film which can be used to help adjust your prints to get the correct colour. The Digital Printmate costs around £25.

Light Scribe
This new technology uses the laser in specially adapted CD or DVD drives to write professional looking text and pictures onto the label side of your disc. You simply burn your data, flip the disc over in the drive, then burn your label.
Specially treated discs are needed which are comparably priced with other high quality media, from 29pence per disc for CD's and 41pence per disc for DVD's.
The drives needed to write the labels are also competitively priced, from £32 for an internal CD/DVD drive.

The brand new ZD medium-format digital SLR was being proudly displayed at the Mamiya stand. It is the first completely integrated 22 million pixel digital SLR and was attracting lots of interest at the show.
As you would expect from a £7000 camera, the build quality is solid, but I was surprised by how light it was. The controls and displays were well laid, out although I was a little surprised by the small size of the LCD screen, which was too small to get any real impression of how sharp the image you've just taken is.
Conditions in the exhibition hall were far from ideal for getting a true impression of the camera's capabilities, but I took a few shots nonetheless. I found the shutter response and autofocus a little non-wooly, although I imagine very few of the people this camera is targeted at would use it to shoot sports or fast action where this would be critical.

To be able to assess the image quality with any authority I would really need to take some time with this camera. The maximum ISO400 was not really high enough for the dim lighting conditions in the exhibition hall.

One of the biggest stands belonged to Mitsubishi, they had various professional digital printing kiosk solutions on display, but the most interesting products on show were their new line of dye sublimation printers designed for portrait, wedding and event photographers.

Mitsubishi CP-9000DW - Produces 600 6x4inch prints from a single roll of paper, each print only taking 20 seconds. One of the unique features of this printer is it's ability to self-calibrate to the printing media, producing consistently accurate prints time after time.

Nikon had a new range of Coolpix compact cameras to unveil at Focus. These included:

Nikon Coolpix L2 - I have to admit I was quite taken by this camera. Expected to retail from around £130, the camera was packed with features and featured build quality and features you wouldn't think twice about shelling out over £200 for.
Nikon Coolpix P3 - This Coolpix is packed with even more creative features than the cheaper L2 included vibration reduction lens technology, making shots in difficult low light conditions that little bit easier.
Nikon Coolpix S6 - The S6 sports the sleekest design of the three cameras. It is just over a centimetre thick and features a massive 3inch LCD screen, which is remarkably clear and bright for its size.

Nikon do not plan to update their prosumer range of Coolpix digital cameras, as demand for the D50 digital SLR has reduced interest in high-end compact cameras. Nikon will instead concentrate on strengthening its line of lifestyle compacts and SLRs.

Nikon D200 - Last, but by no means least, we couldn't possibly visit the Nikon stand without having a play with their much-hyped D200 digital SLR. To get a better impression of what the camera is capable of, I promptly exchanged the 28-200mm zoom on their display camera with my own 50mm f/1.4. Even with this lens I had to select quite a high ISO setting because of the dim lighting conditions in the exhibition hall. This shot was taken at ISO1250 in RAW and processed using default settings, the larger version has had no sharpening applied to it.
The image quality is very good indeed, I was expecting to see much more noise exhibited at such a high ISO and there is no evidence of the banding issue which surfaced in some of the early cameras. Handling wise, the camera is a joy to operate, the placement of the controls is very well thought out and the build quality is solid and reassuring, similar to the F100 film camera.
The autofocus, is accurate and fast. I attempted to test the predictive focus capability of the camera in continuous servo mode with some success, although tracking people milling about a trade show is hardly the most difficult situation for any camera.
The last thing that struck me about the camera was the speed it empties buffered images onto the memory card. A 17MB RAW file was dispatched to my budget CompactFlash card in a blink of an eye, performance I'd normally expect from a much more expensive camera.

Rob was very patient with me trying out the Nikon D200 on him. Click the image to open a high resolution Jpeg version

There were lots of new products to see at the Olympus stand, a whole new range of compact digital cameras, the new E-330 digital SLR with a live LCD display and a pre-production 8mm fisheye lens for 4/3rds format cameras.

Olympus had eight compact cameras to show us in total including:

Olympus FE-130 - An entry level compact digicam with providing 5 megapixel resolution images and including 20 scene modes, a 3x optical zoom lens and a large 2inch LCD screen. AA batteries are used to power the camera.

Olympus FE-140 - Exactly the same as the FE-130 except for a larger 2.5inch LCD screen and a 6 megapixel sensor

Olympus FE-150 - This camera provides 5 megapixel images and includes a large 2.5inch LCD screen all contained with a sleek metal body.

Olympus Mju 700 - The latest update to the weatherproof 'mju' series of cameras encompasses a large 2.5inch LCD screen in a sleek, ultra compact metal body. This new series of cameras also includes Olympus' new 'BrightCapture Technology'  which helps brighten the screen in low light conditions, making it much easier to compose your picture.

Olympus Mju 810 - This camera is pretty much the same as the Mju 700 but with increased 8 million pixel resolution. High sensitivity of ISO1600 is available at full resolution, and can be further increased to ISO3200 if the resolution is reduced to 3 megapixels.

Olympus Mju 720SW - This camera is the toughest of the Mju series of cameras. Waterproof to 3 metres and built to withstand being dropped from heights of up to 1.5metres. The Mju 720SW includes a 3x zoom lens, a high resolution 2.5inch screen and produces 7.1 million pixel images.

Olympus SP-320 - A camera designed for photographers who want a compact camera that will give them similar creative control as with an SLR camera. The SP 320 produces 7.1 megapixel images and includes a 3x optical zoom lens, a 2.5inch LCD screen and macro shooting as close as two centimetres to your subject. Images can also be recorded in both RAW and Jpeg file formats.

Olympus SP-350 - An upgraded model from the SP-320, this camera produces 8 megapixel images and has improved focusing options such as, manual AF area select from 143 individual points.

Olympus E-330 - The new addition to the Olympus E-system contains all the features we have become accustomed to in this range of cameras, the 7.5 megapixel resolution and Supersonic Wave Filter dust removal system are just the start. What makes this camera intriguing is the new live preview tilting LCD screen. This allows for greater creative possibilities as the screen can be tilted up to be used as a waist-level finder, tilted down so that you can compose shot accurately when shooting from overhead or simply used as a screen on the back for getting shots you wouldn't be able to if you had to look through an optical viewfinder to compose your shot.
On the pre-production sample we were shown by Olympus, the screen seemed to function very well indeed, the autofocus points are clearly laid over the screen image and a reassurring green dot in the top right corner of the screen confirms when your subject is in focus. Generally speaking the sample we tried was responsive and all the controls were very well laid out.

Unfortunately, as the Olympus E-330 was a
pre-production sample, I could not take
any images with it to show on here. I look forward to reviewing one of these cameras
soon, as the camera seemed very responsive
and easy to use.

Zuiko Digital ED 8mm F3.5 Fisheye Lens -  The last product I managed to get my hands on at the Olympus stand was a pre-production version of their new 8mm fisheye lens. It is a diagonal fisheye, which means the image fills the frame and the diagonal angle of view is 180º. I managed to take a few shots with the lens attached to an Olympus E-500 camera. Focusing is fast and precise, personally I love the dramatic effects that can be achieved using fisheye lenses, so I'm a fan of this addition to the FourThirds system. As this was a pre-production sample, I cannot provide a high resolution image taken with the lens. 

Peli Cases
The latest product from Peli Cases is the 1430 camera case. Using the same design as a wheeled suitcase, the 1430 is exactly the maximum size permitted as hand luggage on aircraft. Described as 'virtually indestructible' the 1430 implements a soft rubber 'O' ring around the edge making the case watertight. In fact the case is also buoyant, the representative said that the case would 'drag you arm off' if you tried to submerge it.

There was plenty of new products to take a look at on the Pentax stand. A few new compact cameras were shown to us, and pre-production flashgun for their digital SLRs.

Pentax Optio W10 - Waterproof to a depth of 1.5 metres and dustproof with 6 megapixel resolution and a 2.5inch LCD screen.  The 2.5inch screen was bright and clear and I found the autofocus to be quick and precise. The rugged design makes this camera ideal for holidays by the beach or watersports.
Pentax Optio A10 - The first compact camera from Pentax to feature camera shake reduction. The camera is sleek and compact, sporting an 8 megapixel CCD sensor and a 2.5inch screen.
Pentax Optio T10 - The most intriguing camera of the three had a 3inch touch sensitive screen. All menu controls were accessed by touching the graphic interface on the screen and there is even a mode where you can draw directly onto the photos after they have been taken although this function could not be demonstrated to us on the pre-production model Pentax had at the show.
Pentax AF540FGZ - A new, faster more powerful flashgun for use with Pentax Digital SLR cameras. The model we were shown was one of only two in the world (the other was at PMA in Orlando) and Pentax expect to be able to ship them by autumn this year.
Apart from being shown these new Pentax products we asked about the forthcoming 10 million pixel digital SLR and the digital medium format camera that were recently announced. Unfortunately even they didn't have any more details than we did.

The PermaJet stand was busy for all four days at this years Focus, they had two main products to launch. The first of the new products is their new Fibre Base Gloss Inkjet Paper which emulates the look and feel of traditional fibre based darkroom media.
PermaJet's new Inkjet Canvas paper was also announced. This media allows the home or professional photographer to print directly onto canvas using their own standard inkjet printer.

Top music photographer, Andy Earl, was giving talks on the Ricoh stand about his photography and how he finds Ricoh GR compact cameras to be a useful side-arm. The focus on the stand was most focused on the new GR digital camera, although I got a chance to play with a pre-production sample of the new Ricoh Caplio R4.

Ricoh Caplio R4 - This camera is extremely well specified for its miniature size. A 7.1x zoom lens with a wide angle equivalent to 28mm on a 35mm camera, a 2.5inch LCD screen, CCD-shift vibration correction and a 6 megapixel sensor are all contained within a camera roughly the same size as a cigarette packet.
The pre-production sample I had a play with at the stand was very responsive for a compact camera of its class and the vibration reduction system seemed to be very effective.
Ricoh GR Digital -  Emulating the revered GR series of compact film cameras, this compact digicam has a fixed lens equivalent to a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera. Ricoh make much of the lens quality on this camera and if it is anything like the GR film cameras that it has succeeded, then they have every reason to be proud. A Creative Set package is also available, including a wide angle converter that gives an equivalent angle of view of a 21mm lens on a 35mm camera.

Sandisk had three major new products from their Extreme III range of memory cards. Maximum capacities have doubled for their CompactFlash cards, from 4GB to 8GB, their Memory Stick Duo Pro has increased from 2GB to 4GB and their innovative SD Plus cards, which fold in half to reveal a USB connector, have increased from 1GB to 2GB.

There have been many new lenses released over the past year by Sigma, I took a look at a few of these and found out details of some of the recent announcements that will be available in the coming year.

Sigma 10-20mm f/4.0-5.6 EX DC HSM - This lens caused quite a stir when it was announced and demand has been so high that it has been on and off backorder since it was released. The excellent build and optical quality coupled with the ultra-wide field of view justifies the reception this lens has received.
Taken with the Sigma 10-20mm at f/8
Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM - The first digital-only prime lens from Sigma gives a similar field of view to a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera. I love fast prime lenses, and this is no disappointment. The HSM focusing is smooth and lightening quick and the optical quality is superb, even wide open.
Taken with the Sigma 30mm at f/1.4
Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 DC MACRO - This lens gives an equivalent field of view of 26-105mm when used on an APS-C digital SLR, which makes this a perfect walkabout lens. There is no HSM motor in this model which I am told is to keep the size and weight of the lens to a minimum. The close focussing ability of the lens is surprisingly good, allowing you to almost fill the frame with a new 50pence coin.
An image taken with the Sigma 17-70mm lens at f/5.6

The people on the Tamron stand had a couple of recently released lenses to show us. These included the:

Tamron SP AF 200-500mm f/5-6.3 Di LD (IF) telephoto zoom lens. Attempting to use this lens at the long end in the the dim light of the exhibition hall was almost impossible, but I did manage to gain a couple of sharp shots when I steadied myself. The lens is surprisingly light and easy to handle considering its size, but it still feels well built. The images I took with the lens display a good amount of detail and sharpness if you can avoid camera shake. 
Tamron SP AF11-18mm F/4.5-5.6 Di-II LD Aspherical (IF) wide angle zoom lens. Another addition the Tamron's premier SP range of lenses, the 11-18mm quite well built, although the zoom ring felt a little loose for my taste and could probably have benefited from being damped.
Tamron 55-200/4-5.6 Di II LD telephoto zoom lens. This compact zoom lens designed for use on APS-C format digital SLRs really surprised me. The image quality is exceptional wide open, certainly not what you'd normally expect from a budget zoom lens with a plastic mount, which was the only negative point I could find with this lens during my brief encounter with it. This lens should be in the shops within 3-4 months.
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