"wheelie" design. This is their "pilot
case," but the camera case is similarly constructed
and costs around $200.
Although I shall most certainly
be using it with camera bags, I reckon it will be still more useful for
securing things to my motorcycle, and I may well use it for securing valuables
in hotel rooms; there may also be other applications which I have yet
to think of. At around $65, it is not cheap, but it could save its price
many times over.
The other bags from LowePro are up to their usual standard, including
the new, small, Digital Resolution series, designed especially for digital
photographers. There are two new Street and Field backpacks, too; new
designer-style bags from The Pacific Collection, the Berkeley briefcase
and the Monterey backpack; and the Stealth, designed for photojournalists
who use digital cameras, incorporating space for a laptop computer. Stealth
may be a slightly tacky name, but with serious input from the White House
News Photographers Association, this is a seriously purposeful bag.
Among the other bags, a lot depends on what you want. You have to take
functionality for granted, and besides, this is such a subjective, personal
matter that it is impossible to comment upon: the bag I love, you may
hate, and vice versa. Likewise, quality of construction is pretty much
a matter of getting what you pay for.
style is everything. United Colors of Benneton backpack
and Kodak's Advantix T550, one of the best-looking
Kodaks since the 1930s.
Tenba showed a revised carrying
system for their superb airline-size backpack, allowing even more comfort
and incorporating a cover which neatly conceals all loose straps; this
can apparently be retrofitted to existing backpacks, which is good news
for me, as this has become my standard carryon luggage. They also had
the improbable "kilt," which looks pretty much like its name
suggests: a skirt of large pockets, supported over the shoulders by two
straps. I'm not sure I'd use it outside the studio, but in
the studio, it should be very useful. They also had an excellent new daypack;
I begged one for review, and wore it throughout the show, so I can vouch
that it is comfortable, even when laden with ridiculous quantities of
brochures as well as a camera. Other introductions are the small "Walkabout"
cases and a new, wheeled case designed especially for wedding photographers.
A new variety of "wheelies" came from Tutto. The ingenious
construction, a tubular exoskeleton on a soft-side, should be clear. What
may be less clear is the way in which the struts holding the rectangular
frames fold, allowing the exoskeleton to be collapsed to about 3"
wide. The "four wheel drive" is claimed to be very stable,
and like a Porter Case, more cases can be stacked on top.
X-Gear showed the X-Pack harness system, which allows you to carry Pelican
(and presumably other) hard-shell cases in convenient backpack and waist-pack
harnesses; an excellent way to retain the hard-side, water-proof protection
of a Pelican, with much more convenient carrying.
8x10 Gran View, modeled by Frances Schultz. The monitor
adapters are visible on the right.
Hakuba's ballistic nylon
Neo series will no doubt contribute to an ever-wider awareness of this
manufacturer's high-quality products. Beseler has two new little
bags in their highly successful Contour series. Phoenix showed four new
bags, two of nylon for tiny 24mm cameras such as the Canon Elph, Konica
Revio, or Fuji Tiara, and two polyester backpacks. Samsonite showed some
very useful looking, and astonishingly modestly-priced, portfolio cases.
M-Rock Multi bags are a very clever system which allows a mix and match
of waist belts, shoulder straps, and backpacks. Tiffen's OutPack
line is enhanced with Dri-Safe weatherproof bags, and the High Sierra
line from BKA goes way beyond camera bags with wallets, eyeglass cases,
document organizers, and more, all sold as an integrated Accessories for
Travel collection. Satter Omega had two Showcases, both polypropylene
hard-shells, one briefcase style and the other a "wheelie."
Earlier, I said that another hit of the show was a Slik tripod, the Snapman
Deluxe. It is a 21/2 lb tripod with a well made detachable ball-and-socket
head, braced three-section legs with rapid, positive, over-center locks,
and a center column with adjustable drag so that when you release the
lock, it won't necessarily plummet straight down. Minimum length
is about 22", maximum height (including the head) about 58";
price is around $100, maybe a bit more.
Polaroid back for Leica R8.
When you look at the vast majority
of lightweight tripods, the reaction is, "Well, it's really
nice and light and compact, but it's a pity they didn't spend
a few bucks extra and make it properly." With the Snapman, they
did go the extra distance, and the result is superb. I have already used
it with 5 lb Alpa cameras, and although you have to tighten the ball pretty
fiercely, it worked perfectly. This is going to become one of my most
Slik also had a sort of gooseneck arrangement with a big, rubber-padded
clamp at one end and a tripod mount at the other. It won't support
very heavy cameras, but it is more than adequate for most 35mm cameras
and many of the lighter video cameras; called the Clampod, it should be
another good seller.
The other big news in tripods came from Davis and Sanford, a division
of Tiffen, though the real innovations were only in prototype form: a
really nice, new fluid head and a tripod with three-section legs (instead
of the two-section which has always been the Davis and Sanford standard),
one leg of which can be bayoneted on and off for use as a monopod. As
ever with prototypes, there may turn out to be unexpected glitches in
going into production, but I very much hope that the head and the tripod
will be available soon.
Tiltall showed a Junior version of their much-loved tripod, though much
to my disappointment, the removable-head version of the standard Tiltall
is still some months away. The head that comes with the tripod is very
good, but I'd like the option of using some of my other heads as
Cocoon from Red Wing.
KB Systems had a new, big wooden
tripod in ash at a very reasonable price, and if you are in the market
for something which will hold your 8x10" Gandolfi a long way above
the ground, this could be the answer.
There was a good pillar-type camera stand from a Far Eastern manufacturer
looking for distribution, but unfortunately there was no news of any distribution
by the end of the show. A stand of this type should be a priority purchase
for anyone who has a permanent studio: a tripod simply cannot offer the
speed, versatility, and convenience. If you want one now, Regal Arkay
showed a two-head adapter for their well established, well made, and well
liked American-made pillar studio stands.
Manfrotto (from Bogen) had two smooth, new ball-and-socket heads with
adjustable drag. I have used Manfrotto for years, but there is no doubt
that their current equipment is much smoother and better finished than
it used to be; a useful synergy of being a part of the same group as Gitzo.
A much more specialist range of heads, for Virtual Reality (VR) photography,
including immersive VR, came from Kaidan.
As for the rest, it is once again infeasible to cover the majority of
new tripods and heads at any great length. There were several Chinese
and Korean manufacturers looking for US distribution, though their tripods
will almost certainly appear with distributors' names instead of
manufacturers. Vanguard showed the very affordable MK-S, the mid range
Millennium series, and the big, professionally oriented VT-950 with its
maximum height of 75". Phoenix showed three new models; the modestly-priced
Fox, the 31/2 lb Coyote, and the Cheetah which extends to 67" as
opposed to 59" for the Coyote and 58" for the Fox. Gitzo's
carbon-fiber Mountaineers now incorporate a number of improvements, including
easier leg locks and a hook at the bottom of the column for attaching
a stabilizing weight.
Moving on to large format cameras, I had originally thought that the handheld
8x10" Gran View would be the easy lead, but the new Toyo monorail
from Mamiya America Corporation is at least as deserving of top billing.
The Gran View is simply a giant version of the 4x5" Gran View which
I reviewed last year for Shutterbug. As with the 4x5" version, it
is either a camera which will fill a real and immediate need in your life,
or which will be completely incomprehensible to you. I can see at least
two uses. One is for handheld reportage with something like a 210mm lens,
or maybe even an old 120mm Super Angulon, which will just about cover
the format: the enormous negative gives a combination of qualities which
simply cannot be duplicated in any other way. The other is for photographing
groups, where out of parallel movements are not merely unnecessary: they
can be a downright embarrassment because the image turns out not to be
sharp all over. With a rigid-bodied camera, you can shoot a 300mm f/9
Nikkor wide open and not worry about the camera going out of parallel.
There is a small amount of shift, but even then, the front and back remain
rigidly parallel. The final version will be rather more streamlined than
the camera shown at PMA, but I predict a steady stream of sales even at
Gran View also showed a sticky-foot, double-arm version of the Flare Buster
which you can stick to your computer monitor and use to hold copy for
typing or other input, "flags" to shade off the sun, or anything
else. It's nothing to do with photography, but it's really
Toyo's monorail is a perfectly ordinary full featured monorail,
with all the usual features of interchangeable bellows, different length
rails, International back, and all movements front and rear. What really
sets it aside from the competition is the price, which is in the $500-$600
range. For a new camera of this quality and versatility, the price is
simply unbelievable. It is assembled in Korea, but the majority of the
parts (and all of the precision parts) are from Toyo in Japan. If I did
not already have five 4x5" cameras, I would want one. In fact, I
want one anyway, but I'd be crazy to get yet another 4x5.
For that matter, I was very impressed by the smooth back movements and
easy locking of the latest Hoffman 4x5" field camera. This comes
as close as I can readily imagine to a fully floating rear end, allowing
simultaneous settings of shift, swing, and focus. Once the image is where
you want it, you simply lock down the two tommy-bars and the back is rock
solid. The Hoffman Blazer is bulky, but surprisingly light, and certainly
warrants consideration if you are in the market for a new field camera.
Hoffman has also improved the Metalmaster cut-film holder, for improved
light trapping at the foot of the slide in bright sunlight.
The only other conventional large format cameras at the show were on the
Seagull stand, and most seemed to be the identical Shen Hao cameras that
I saw at photokina. The 4x5 models were overpriced, and the finish of
some of them left a certain amount to be desired, but the 8x10 field camera
was really rather nice: it looked as if it had been homemade by a skilled
woodworker. It may have been a little crude as a camera, but it was very
well finished as a piece of cabinetwork.
Polaroid cameras are, however, arguably "large format," and
I am happy to claim them as such. One remarkable innovation was a single-use
(but fully recyclable/remanufacturable) integral camera, the Pop Shot,
and the other, based on a camera which has already been a runaway success
in Japan, was the Joycam, the smallest "large format" camera
in the world, producing tiny integral prints just the size of a 35mm frame.
Sticking with Polaroid cameras, but not made by Polaroid, the NPC 195
is one step nearer production and I have been promised an early production
model. Essentially it is a reconstruction of the old strut-type folding
Polaroids, complete with the parallax-corrected rangefinder, but accepting
current peel-apart pack films. David Stolper, who "reverse engineered"
the camera from Polaroid originals, took the lid off the rangefinder to
show me the works: there are more than 40 parts in there, and it is a
masterpiece of old-fashioned precision engineering. It is the sort of
thing that "no one does any more"--except that NPC does.
NPC also showed Proback Polaroid backs for the Canon EOS 3, Minolta 9,
Leica R8 (though you have to set the ISO before setting the back), and
Pentax 6x7 II. It is important to note that the old and new Pentax 6x7
backs are not merely non-interchangeable; you are likely to cause (expensive)
damage if you try to fit an old back to the new camera, or vice versa.
Moving on to studio accessories, one which impressed me was a brilliant
little enclosure for shadowless small product photography, the Cocoon
from Red Wing. Resembling a rather ugly white plastic suitcase, it comes
in two sizes and allows shadowless lighting from all sides, with a choice
of three camera angles through holes cut along one of the sides. It is
a little hard to explain in words, but with any luck a picture (scanned
from a brochure) will be near this paragraph and you can see for yourself
how it works. The big size is under $200. Brandess/Kalt/Aetna is now distributing
Redwing and this has to be good news for both companies: a great product,
and a great distributor.
A rather more elaborate "mini-cove" for shadowless lighting
came from Litestage, and for a studio doing much of this sort of thing,
this would be ideal; continuous lighting and flash are provided.
Finally, in the realms of useful bits and pieces and unusual stuff, there
are a number of contenders. Film Shield (SIMA Products Corp.) has introduced
a new pouch which they reckon will protect slow films against even the
much-vaunted CTX-5000 checked-baggage scanners, though faster films should
still be packed in carryon luggage. Their current bags (and wraps) are
graded like sunscreens, but with x-ray protection factors instead of sun
protection factors; the heavy bags, with 0.5mm (about 1/50") of
lead foil, are the ones for the CTX-5000.
The Sunlight Frame Company has changed its name to The Victorian Frame
Company and sells very traditional wood-grain frames with domed glass,
which is uncommonly attractive in an archaic sort of way. The frames themselves
are of cast resin; but then, the originals were not normally of wood either,
but were usually of cast plaster.
Frame U.S.A. showed interesting deep frames too, with hidden compartments
behind the picture space. Hung on the wall, they look like slightly bulky
frames, but they have space for various things (according to the model)
from jewelry to a gun--the latter, apparently, at the suggestion of law
enforcement agencies eager to minimize accidental access to firearms kept
for self-protection. Ask for "Keep-It-Hidden" frames.
An extremely useful little accessory is the PHD Pre-Heat Dryer for peel-apart
Polaroids. It has two slots with (slightly) warmed air. Drop the print
sandwich in one side for development at the minimum time; peel it apart;
put the print on the other side for rapid drying. For anyone who uses
much Polaroid, this little accessory is all but essential, though at close
to $200 it is not cheap.
And that, really, was about it. It was a very big show, and very busy;
and many of those on the floor were, well, several inches above the floor
with the euphoria of their sales. Given that it was less than four months
after photokina, which despite its relative decline remains a very much
bigger and more important show, there was never going to be much that
was completely new. Encouragingly, though, the conclusion I drew was this.
Photography is extremely healthy, whether you are looking at state of
the art digital, modern silver-based, or traditional silver-based (even
with large format); and the really good news is that none of these aspects
look like they are going to go away.
For further information, visit
the authors website at: www.rogerandfrances.com.