In the nature of things,
photographers tend to care more about cameras than about accessories.
It's irrational, really, as most of us buy accessories more often
than we buy cameras, but then, who said that photographers are fully
In tripods, there is definitely more carbon fiber about. Mamiya was
the big news, with tripods to match their established monopods, but
Gitzo also extended their line still further and Bilora added the 6040
and 6030 to their line-up. An alternative route to saving weight was
illustrated by Slik with their Pro 700 DX and Pro 500 DX, which are
made from a lighter, stronger Aluminum-Magnesium-Titanium (AMT) alloy.
This reputedly offers a 40 percent greater strength to weight ratio
than conventional materials. Slik is distributed in the US by ToCAD.
Handling this new generation of lightweight tripods is a revelation;
it's like antigravity. If the weight saving were the only advantage,
I would not get too excited: a halfway rigorous slimming regime would
let me shed the weight of several complete tripods, never mind a percentage
of the weight of one tripod. But carbon fiber gives increased rigidity
and reduced vibration, and if you can afford the price premium, they
are well worth having.
Gitzos have been extensively revamped. Center columns of carbon fiber
and light, alloy tripods now have a groove to prevent unwanted rotation
(and unfortunately, wanted rotation as well), and the classic aluminum
tripods now have "universal" (rubber/spiked) feet; leg extension
markings; a new design of leg hinge, which is designed to be even more
reliable than the old system (which from personal experience is very
reliable indeed); and optional high-density rubber sponge "leg
warmers" to act as insulators and leg protectors. The universal
feet and leg length markers can be retrofitted to existing tripods.
New magnesium alloy lightweight heads were shown, and at last, Gitzo
have added conventional ball heads to their ingenious and well established
off-center ball heads. There's also a new leveling base for up
to 15° adjustment on Series 3, 4, and 5 tripods.
Manfrotto's Convertible Tripod redefines versatility in conventional
tripods, allowing the center column to be removed and refitted quickly
as a boom arm. Their Tracker series is finished in "jungle-green"
and is "designed to blend into a wide variety of natural environments."
More importantly, they have short, built-in leg warmers (similar to
the Gitzo, as they are part of the same group), triple-angle legs, and
rubber feet with retractable metal spikes. They also have a two-part
reversible center column for super low angle shots. When I saw their
build-it yourself ball head, in kit form, I said that I thought this
was unnecessarily brave. They replied, "It's really hard
to put it together wrong." I'm sure someone will find a
Giotto's had an all-new line-up of photo and video tripods: VT-801,
802, 803, 805, and 807 for video, and VT-806, 808, and 809 for conventional
photography. They are distributed by HP Marketing in the U.S.A. Rowi--their
US distributors are Mak Pacific--showed a small, well-designed, four
section tabletop tripod in black, silver, blue, or pink. Foba had a
wide range of tripod heads on display along with their new DSS-Gamma
studio stand: two meters (79") high or up to 2.7m (106")
on request, and weighing 72 kg (158 lbs). Sinar Bron brings Foba into
I was very impressed by Wolf's new variable leg splay locks, which
are unreasonably simple and very effective; a sure mark of good design.
Unfortunately no one imports these attractive wooden tripods to the
US, but perhaps that will be remedied. The other major German wooden
tripod manufacturer, Berlebach, also had some detail improvements and
changed models; these should appear as Brom tripods from Ted Bromwell
in the US.
Another line with no distribution was Nedo, from a leading German manufacturer
of surveyors' tripods, Nestle & Fischer. They were testing
the water with two very solid, rather heavy, but highly professional
tripods. However, the strangest sight in tripods must have been the
one over in Hall 10, which was designed to support the entire photographer
some 10' above the ground, but carried the warning, KEINE FUR
PAPARAZZI ("Not for paparazzi"). "Paparazzi? Me? Nah,
'course not--I study the natural history of celebrities."
One of the cleverest tripod heads was Chinese-built, with an ingenious
"half-ball" design based (and I quote) on eight hyperboloids,
allowing (again I quote) "186° of pendulum and metronomic
movements." It has been patented in seven countries, which is
something of a change from the days when communism recognized no patents.
It was priced at a stiff $160, though I understand that this was a recommended
retail price, and came from China Film Equipment Corporation.
A useful tripod accessory was the Super-Stativ-Caddy, which converts
any tripod into a rolling work station, but I do not think there is
any distribution apart from the maker in Austria, Herr W. Aberl.
Moving on to lighting, the big news was portability. More and more manufacturers
are offering battery-powered flash generators which are cross-compatible
with the flash heads from their mains-powered units. They are typically
1200 ws units which allow anything from 100 to 300 full-power flashes
from a single charge, depending on how much you use the modeling lights--though
a word of warning is that some do not support all the modeling lights
of all the various heads in the manufacturers' line-up, while
others are designed for use principally with lightweight portable heads
which have modeling lights that are not proportionate to the standard
Each manufacturer's system has its own advantages. Hensel's
is quick-change battery packs, so that you can have one on charge while
you are using another. Balcar's is sheer power: the Concept B3
allows the use of up to three 1600 ws heads, and can be recharged in
two hours from a line voltage of 80 to 260v. Broncolor's attraction
is a promised "docking module" that will allow the battery
pack to be connected to the mains power and used just like a conventional
Balcar's line-up was (as usual) dazzling, literally and figuratively;
one of the problems with this French company is that their range is
so wide and so original that it is only really comprehensible when you
start to hunt through it for tools for a particular application.
Broncolor (from Sinar Bron in the US) showed the D160 Minipuls system
and the Mobilite/Picolite miniature light. The former can be operated
from a Mac or PC with LED indicators on three sides of the monobloc
and a wireless remote control. The latter is 20cm/8" long and
8cm/3" in diameter, but still manages to incorporate a 150w halogen
modeling light, a UV-coated protecting glass, a built- in reflector,
and even a cooling fan. Bron also had a new, small HMI light: slowly,
prices and sizes are coming down in HMI.
Intermediate between the compact units mentioned and conventional on-camera
flash is a new Bowens 300 ws "hammerhead" that can be used
on or off-camera and is powered by one of two sizes of over the shoulder
Multiblitz showed a De-Spot attachment, which is a projection spot attachment
for all their Magnolite, Variolite, and Varilux heads--though as far
as I can see, it does not permit the use of gobos, just four way shutters
to control the light size. This complements their Fresnel, which again
allows a tight beam, but not as tight as the De-Spot.
For fans of continuous lighting, Cosmolite showed lights up to 250w/30v,
running off a lead acid battery. Standard 220v and dual 110/220v versions
Profoto, darlings of the lighting hire trade, replaced the Pro-6 series
with Pro-7; these are improved rather than radically new, but the improvements
are genuine and cover all the usual areas (shorter recycle time, reliability,
etc.) and are therefore welcome. The shorter flash time is claimed as
a major advantage and it will be for some photographers, but another
manufacturer was claiming longer flash times as an advantage--a lot
depends on personal preference, subject matter, and film choice. Profoto
lights are distributed by Atelier Systems in the US.
As ever, there were countless new ideas, and there was also increasing
evidence of two more things. One is the increasing number of manufacturers
offering high frequency, daylight-balanced, fluorescent lighting, which
is particularly useful for digital photography but also has many adherents
in conventional photography. The other is the "commodification"
of the cheaper units: a lowering of prices and convergence of features,
until it does not matter very much which one you buy.
The range was in any case vast. As well as the familiar manufacturing
nations--Western Europe and the US--there were lighting units from all
over the world. As well as the other manufacturers mentioned in this
report, new or improved units came from Grigull (fluorescent) in Germany;
Jin Hui (flash) in China; Lupo (fluorescent) in Italy; Richter (flash)
in Germany; Systems Imaging (flash) of Britain; Unomat (flash) in Germany;
Visio (fluorescent) from Ko Yong in Taiwan; and Yong Jiang (flash) in
China. All I can do is report a few highlights.
As far as I can understand--and I could only get the information verbally,
in Italian and German--there are new, incandescent, daylight-balance
lamps which do not rely on HMI technology, though they are metal/halide.
This does not seem inherently likely to me, as such temperatures are
above the melting point of any practicable element I can think of, but
as I was told it by two people, I pass it on for what it is worth.
I was very impressed by the new Whitedome white-sided softboxes; although
they are necessarily less directionally efficient than conventional
boxes, they give a wonderfully soft light and would be ideal for lighting
interiors. Briese's vast HMI reflectors, 10' and more across,
give a unique light and if I had $15,000 and a studio big enough to
hold one, I would certainly want to experiment with this form of lighting;
Briese also has a new, smaller, square reflector.
For sheer versatility, the Italian alf system was most impressive: a
fully integrated flash and tungsten system, with almost all components
(reflectors, snoots, fiber optics, even a projection spot) fully interchangeable.
They have no US distribution but someone really ought to bring them
Lastolite introduced an interesting line of collapsible softboxes, which
collapse with a simple twist--a bit like a three-dimensional form of
their well-known reflectors, also available from Westcott.
Quantum's QF67 is a white, diffused dome, wide angle reflector.
The light loss is significant straight ahead--two stops--but for confined
interiors and close-ups it should be very useful.
Richter showed the "Reflektor Soft-Flood," which is the
exact opposite of a "bowl and spoon" (a big reflector with
a cap over the bulb). It is a big reflector with a white, acrylic reflector
over everything except the center, where there is a honeycomb or grid.
The combination of directional and soft light is, as far as I know,
One of the neatest and simplest modifiers came from Chimera. The name--Screem--is
unfortunately clever without being memorable, deriving from "screen"
and "scrim," but the Screem set itself consists of nine
wire-mesh scrims, three each of -1/3, -1/2, and -1 stops. They are fitted
over the light source, inside a lightbank, to allow subtle control of
light intensity for heads without continuously variable power.
Moving on to accessories, one of the most important is exposure meters--and
there was very little to report. The only major new meter was the Sekonic
L-508, an (even) more professional version of their existing incident/spot
meter with a revolving top-piece and a revised zoom--though the only
use I can imagine for the zoom feature is in movie photography because
in stills you normally need the narrowest angle you can get.
Then there are studio accessories, principally backgrounds. The backgrounds
themselves are pretty much a matter of fashion, but Lastolite's
new roller background holder is clever and quick to setup with rapid
interchange of a number of backgrounds. It is ideal for location portraits
or for anyone whose studio has to fulfill many functions--including
non-photographic functions such as drawing room or basement.
Another really useful background was a prototype acrylic cove from Foba.
It is about a meter (40") square, a meter deep, and is a true
cove: a cube with all corners radiused. Because it is of opal acrylic,
it can be lit from any direction for shadowless lighting.
Apcam was showing a new version of their add-on motor drive for the
Hasselblad, which fits all the current mechanical models with fixed
wind-on knobs; a conversion kit allows the motor to engage with the
drive. The original version for other models is still available. Apparently
the proprietor was in touch with Hasselblad about making the Apcam as
a Hasselblad approved accessory, but dropped the ball; I have urged
him to renew communications as it really is a wonderfully compact and
Something which I very much admired was custom and off-the-shelf cut
film holders and printing-out frames from Alan Brubaker of AWB Enterprises
in Wildomar, California. Everything is beautifully made with double
light traps for all holders and ingenious, very firm locks for the printing-out
frames. I took away samples of both for test, an 8x10" printing
-out frame and a 7x17" cut film holder, but the film holder was
stolen while I was loading the car; at least, that's all I can
imagine happened to it. I was luckier than some, though: Linhof and
Alpa lost 35mm Apo-Grandagons, and Horseman had several whole cameras
stolen. For fairly obvious reasons, photokina attracts professional
thieves, so I guess I am lucky that I have never lost anything else
in the last 16 years of going there. A review of this printing-out frame
(and others) will however follow in due course.
To return to more fundamental accessories, B+W have a new filter coating
which is far more water-resistant than anything before. There is also
a series of "enhancer" filters made by Marumi in Japan which
is being picked up by a number of distributors worldwide; these include
a Bluehancer to intensify blue skies, a Greenhancer to intensify foliage,
and so forth.
There is no doubt that self-supporting bellows lens shades are taking
the professional world by storm. The patented design is made only by
Lee Filters/Camera Bellows, though an increasing number of "system"
filter manufacturers are buying them in from Lee. I particularly liked
the colorful versions, christened "Disco" by Cromatek/ Lastolite,
but also available direct from Lee, and begged a leopardskin version.
You can also get them in Lurex and all kinds of other finishes. Silly?
Yes, but they add a touch of fun to otherwise dull studios and work
just as well as plain black--which is to say, very well indeed.
At this point, of course, we are beginning to shade into Weird Stuff;
anyone who doesn't think leopardskin-finish lens shades are weird
is, well, weirder than I am.
Some Weird Stuff is silly-cheap. One thing I particularly liked was
the Chameleon Selfphoto for self-portraits, aimed at the teen-age market.
It is no more (or less) than a cover for single-use cameras, with a
convex mirror on the front, a close-up lens for 1.5 to 5', and
(honestly) a pneumatic bulb release. If you can see yourself in the
mirror, you are in the picture. It comes from My Systems Co Ltd. in
Others are modest, but unbelievably useful. Silvestri's startlingly
simple focusing loupe for a large format camera has a hinged base, so
that the loupe itself can be used perpendicular to the screen or angled
in the corners. This is, without question, one of the cleverest designs
I have ever seen, and if it performs as well as seems likely, then it
is going to replace every other focusing loupe I own (and I own several).
I am very much looking forward to getting one.
Yet other Weird Stuff is straightforward, obvious, and "Why didn't
anyone make that before?" The Megazin is a very clever device
for making multiple "test strips" on a single sheet of 4x5,
5x7, or 8x10" film. It comes in several parts: the very thin stainless
steel adapter, which fits in the mouth of any conventional film holder
after you have withdrawn the slide, and a set of stainless steel septums
with holes cut in them in a staggered array. You insert septum one;
make exposure one; septum two; exposure two; and so forth to three or
five exposures on the same sheet. As well as being useful for test strips,
it also has numerous creative possibilities and I would very much like
one for test.
Then there is the Novoflex line-up: beautifully made, if rather expensive,
and the answer to all kinds of photographic problems. Their main innovations
this time were a new micro- positioning cross-slide tripod head and
an HMI macro light source, but I managed to borrow something I had wanted
for a long time, their "upside down" (and possibly "inside
out") ball head, the Magic Ball. The big version appeared at last
photokina, and I borrowed the "baby brother" which has appeared
since. I hope to be reviewing this, along with a few other tripod heads,
How about a filter you can't see through? Kood offers a solar
eclipse filter, through which it is apparently entirely safe to photograph
Then there is the Mirex, a German-made tilt/shift adapter for using
MF lenses on 35mm SLRs. With the Nikon, there has to be a low-powered
negative lens in the system because of the flange to film distance,
but with other SLRs there is no optical intermediary and you will get
the full benefit of your MF SLRs lenses. In a perfect world, I would
want two Contax SLR outfits, one 35mm and one 645, and one of these
to use the lenses from the latter on the former. At around DM 1100 (rather
over $700) it is not cheap, but it is very useful.
Chris Nisperos, an American photographer based in Paris, was looking
for a manufacturer for his Chapiteau loading tent; "Chapiteau"
is what the French call the "Big Top" tent at a circus.
It certainly looks weird, resembling nothing so much as the torso of
Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet, but it collapses surprisingly
small and allows the loading even of 11x14" dark slides on location.
Its main use will probably be in the movie business though.
The very best stand for Weird Stuff was, without question, Photo Know
How. I mentioned their "is it a camera?" digital adapter
last month, and this month I'll just run through a handful more
of their accessories. One that I really want is an adapter to use 4x5"
Polaroid backs in 5x7" cameras. Another is a bottle-light, a simple,
bottle shaped light with a self-contained battery-powered slave flash
for transilluminating bottles in still lifes. Yet another is a bare-bulb
flash based on the same unit; the flash tube is on the end of a long,
thin, flexible finger, so it can be placed anywhere, even (for example)
inside a sandwich. Then there's a plain bellows shade for Sinar,
which is transformed by the addition of a hinge so that it can be pushed
up out of the way when you want to set the aperture or speed, or open
or close the lens. There are adapters for MF cameras to Sinar (or other
view cameras, presumably) for close-ups. There's also a series
of cut film holders, adapted with a simple valve and rubber ball arrangement
to give single shot vacuum backs. It was a tiny stand, but it had the
highest Weird Stuff Quotient of any stand at photokina.
What, then, are the products which made me jump up and down like a 2-year-old
and say, "I want one."
Well, first you have to exclude the products which, although brilliant,
simply do not fit in with what I do, even if I could afford them: things
like Briese lights or a 20x24" Lotus. Also (regretfully) you have
to exclude the products which I am unlikely ever to be able to afford:
an Alpa, a Gilde. In cameras, though, the new Contax 645 was certainly
something I would consider spending my own hard-earned money on, even
though it would be a lot of that money; and if I didn't already
have two 5x7" cameras (a Gandolfi Variant and an old Linhof Technika
V), Keith Canham's 5x7 Metal Field would be unbelievably tempting.
Perhaps surprisingly, though, many of the things I wanted most were
also the most affordable. I have already mentioned the Silvestri loupe
(no price available, but it shouldn't be a fortune) and the 4x5/5x7
Polaroid adapter from Photo Know How. Just for fun, the new tiny Polaroid
is absolutely unbeatable. A real surprise, given my general antipathy
to all things unnecessarily digital, was Fuji's MX700 megapixel
camera; it is to digital cameras what the Canon Ixus/Elph was to APS,
such a beautiful piece of design that it is an immediate design icon.
It was not brand new, but this was its first photokina.
At the end of it all, though, a great deal of what I would like is not
exactly new. I'd like some more LF lenses from Rodenstock (especially
a couple of Apo Grandagons), Schneider (Apo Symmar XLs and a 72mm Super
Angulon XL), and Wisner (a test of his casket set should be forthcoming).
I'd like a Gandolfi Precision half-plate with a 5x7" back,
the cutting edge of technology 70 years ago, and one of the most beautiful
and versatile 5x7" "woodies" ever made. I've
contacted Alan Brubaker about buying one of his AWB printing-out frames,
which apart from its acrylic springs is essentially a piece of fine
19th century woodwork. More than anything else, I'd like lots
and lots of film and paper because, at the end of it all, if we don't
take pictures, what do we need cameras for?
For further information,
visit the authors website at: www.rogerandfrances.com.