photokina Special Coverage; Weird Stuff: Camera Condoms, Death Masks, Triple-Lens Reflexes, And Body Armor For Your D-SLR

The time-honored Shutterbug Weird Stuff category is for all the products that don't fit in anywhere else: the sort of thing where a friend who was at the show tells you, "You wouldn't believe what I saw..." As well as the glorious examples in the subhead, we can add online caricatures, limpet-mine camera supports, Internet telephones, dental illumination, and a 1700mm f/4 tele lens from Zeiss. Products with a more general application are covered separately.

To be fair, one of the weirdest things at photokina is the hall layout, which was all-new this year. Since 1982 I've grown used to photokina's labyrinthine corridors and to the difficulty of getting from A to B except via X (and sometimes Q as well), but amazingly, the new halls are just as confusing as the old; I'm hoping there's space to reproduce just one of the direction signs from the halls. The show is worth visiting at least once in a lifetime, but don't expect it to be quick or easy! Stands vary enormously: at Zeiss you can speak with top lens designers such as Herr Dr. Nasse, while some of the Chinese OEM manufacturers look more like street market stalls than an international trade show.

Zeiss 1700mm f/4--the tiny blob on the end is a Hasselblad.

Let's begin with the camera condoms: this is the manufacturer's description, not mine. I only learned its polite name, the Snapper Suit, when they sent images. Canadian-based Bonica (www.bonicadive.com) makes a "removable, flexible, and waterproof silicone jacket" for various digicams: the thin, flexible covering allows the controls to be operated through the skin. Price? Not fixed at the show--but only a few tens of dollars.

Bonica Snapper Suit on Sony digital camera.

All right: death masks. Any historian will be familiar with these, the last representations of famous deceased. Today, Uwe B. Patzke's 3d-portrait-sculptur (www.3d-portrait-sculptur.com) is a great deal more than a death mask. In fact, it's very clever indeed, though more than a little spooky.

The basic concept is that you shoot a 3D raster "portrait" of the subject, giving information on the X, Y, and Z axes, and then save this as a CAD-CAM (Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacturing) file for CNC milling. Actually it's even cleverer than this, in that the input can also derive from computer tomography and the output can be created by building up instead of by milling away, so if you want a perfect replica of your own skull, while you are still alive, you can have one.

The actual output can be in any material, and any size. The same file can be used to create a gold ring or a life-sized hot metal bronze casting (via the lost wax or "cire perdu" process) or "cold" casting or a half-sized sculpture in stone or carved wood or more: the possibilities are very nearly endless. For around half a grand you can have a very convincing stone three-dimensional portrait, ideal for the picture of Our Founder in the boardroom.

Straight from the machine, the stone (or wood, or whatever) heads do however look uncomfortably like death masks, so a fair amount of hand finishing is required to make them look lifelike. When I remarked on this, I was slightly disquieted to be told, "Oh, yes. Because the equipment is fully portable, if someone has died, we can take their portrait wherever they are lying, without touching them." Um. Yes. Thanks.

The 3d-portrait-sculptur

International interest has been enormous, though for very different applications. In the Far East, they are seen as ideal for wedding portraits (yes, you can do couples or even groups), while the Russians think they will make marvelous tombstones. The weirdest portrait was the one with "real" glass eyes: the same prosthetics that are used for those who lose an eye in an accident.

Herr Patzke admits that in five or 10 years, this technology will be generic and much lower priced, as portraits-in-crystal now are, but for a while, there is the potential for immense profit in it for some portraitists.

Considerably cheaper, and somewhat in the same vein, are caricatures from www.photoserv.co.uk. As well as photo restoration and rather vivid handcoloring, they offer an entertaining caricature service. You send a file of the picture and a brief description of your subject's interests (I gave mine as Laphroaig, Leicas, and Land Rovers) and they send back a caricature file. Prices start at under $20. As the web address might suggest, prices are in UK pounds; the actual exchange rate is around $1.90, so the dollar price is a bit less than double. These really are very nice people with very good prices, and I'd heartily recommend a look at their website.

Caricature from www.photoserv.co.uk; my arms are not tattooed!

If your heart is set on 3D, on the other hand, and you can't afford 3d-portrait-sculptur, you may be happy with the 3D-World 120 camera, a triple-lens reflex. That's right: three-lens, two taking lenses (6x6cm stereo pairs) and one focusing lens, all geared together. It's made in China but I saw it on the Monochrom stand. Monochrom is probably the leading German dealer for "real" (silver halide) materials and equipment, and you can see a picture of this camera on their excellent website www.monochrom.com. It's absurdly expensive, the best part of $2000, but they hope it will come down as they establish a working relationship with the manufacturer. Besides, the outfit includes not just a camera but also a slide framing station, viewer, 10 sample stereo slides, and 10 6x6cm stereo slide frames. Looking into that big slide viewer really is impressive. Monochrom also appears to be the only current source for the Dreamagon soft-focus lens, which I love on digital as well as on silver halide.

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