If even $22 is a bit much, how about a truly negligible $3 for the SpeckGRABBER
from Kinetronics? This is a sort of super-deluxe cotton bud with a high
tech sticky end for removing specks of dust from lenses, transparencies,
negatives, and even image sensors in digital cameras. The reason it
can be used safely for the last lies in the stem, which is very flexible
so that it is almost impossible to exert enough pressure to break the
fragile silicon of the sensor. I say "almost impossible"
because nothing is ever truly idiot-proof, but you would have to try
really hard. The SpeckGRABBER can be washed and reused repeatedly, and
if you feel that $3 is somewhat beneath your dignity you can buy the
Pro version for a massive $10. The tip is the same but it's bigger
and has a fancier handle and it generally looks more, well, professional.
There's also a single-use version called the EvidenceGRABBER for
forensic use, which comes with a test-tube-like enclosure that can be
sealed and labeled. I didn't actually have to buy a SpeckGRABBER:
Bill Stelcher, head of the company, gave me one. But it's worth
$3 (or even $10) of anyone's money.
Another product from Kinetronics that I almost bought was their ionizer
for compressed gas. You know the classic problem with "tinned
wind": it acquires an electrical charge as it leaves the nozzle,
and although it blows the dust off your film, it also makes it likelier
that more dust will settle. Of course you can't ionize the organic
compounds that make up most "tinned wind" but you can ionize
the air that forms in vortices as the gas escapes; and if you do, you
can "kill" the static charge on whatever you are cleaning
in a near miraculous way. Like the SpeckGRABBER, it is the subject of
several patents. The reason I didn't buy one was that they had
only prototypes at the show. The final version should be ready by the
time you read this, with a target price of $50. Again, a bargain.
Humidity Be Gone
I did, however, buy a dehumidifying cabinet from Betty Tse of the China
National Electronics Ima & Exha Zhuhai Co. The Wonderful Auto-Electronic
Dry Cabinet (honestly!) lives up to its name. If you live anywhere damp
(and parts of my centuries-old cottage are very damp), then a dehumidifying
cabinet is sovereign insurance against mold; and mold in a $4000 lens
is rather more than 10 times as depressing as mold in a $400 lens.
Silent in operation, with very low running costs, my cabinet is indeed
wonderful. There are many sizes: mine is about 40x50x100cm (16x20x40"),
the last dimension being the height. It has five shelves, and it holds
an amazing amount of kit. If you live anywhere that mold is a problem
or a potential problem--in other words, anywhere that humidity
regularly goes above 60 percent for any length of time--then these
cabinets are invaluable. They have no US distribution as yet but this
can only be a matter of time. No prices, either, but you cannot be looking
at more than a few hundred dollars, retail, for the size that I bought.
Mine was a show sample, and dented to boot, so it was a staggering bargain
Too Much Stuff?
I said earlier I'd come back to stuff and this is also related
to my "new" house. At the beginning of September my wife
Frances Schultz and I made our long-awaited move to France. While we
look for something bigger, we are living in a tiny cottage, something
between 200 and 300 years old, in southern Touraine. Moving from a house
with three floors to one with three rooms has demonstrated all too clearly
how much stuff we have--though fortunately, we have a huge barn,
which is stacked high with boxes. At this photokina we were therefore
painfully aware of space constraints, which made Lastolite look even
cleverer than usual.
The Lastolite folding hoop-type reflector, with a spring-steel frame
that twists down to the size of a soup plate yet springs open to a meter
across, is something I have used for maybe 20 years. But the same ultra-collapsible
technology has now been extended to include, among other things, a triangular
reflector with a handgrip at one end (the Tri-Grip, much easier to handle
and to direct than the circular version); a collapsible version of the
Tri-Flector (three reflectors on a frame used to create "surround"
lighting in portraits); a "Cubelite" shadowless lighting
enclosure, in three sizes; and even a series of softboxes, the Ezybox
system, which have to be smaller, lighter, more compact and easier to
set up and take down than any others I have ever used. An additional
advantage of Ezyboxes is that there are no rods to break and no sharp
corners, which makes them particularly suitable for child photography.
Lastolite is distributed by Calumet in the US.
Something else that saves a lot of space is wall-mounted boom-type lighting
arms. I had a Manfrotto in my last house (and it came with me) but I
was very taken with the products of Harisingh and Sons from the Punjab
in India. Two brothers, one with a degree in mechanical engineering
and the other with a degree in electronics (and an MBA!) are responsible
for most of the design and for quality control--which is very impressive
indeed. As well as lighting supports, background paper supports, and
so forth, they also make electronic flash units which looked to be of
a high standard. I have recommended them to an American distributor
but I do not know whether or not he will take them up.
As an aside here, it struck me very much that electronic flash units
are now made all over the world. I already use Thai-built heads alongside
my old Paul Buff White Lightnings, and at the show I saw others from
Korea, India (two manufacturers, KB and Harisingh), and even Iran. The
Iranian "Taban" lights were particularly interesting as
they were designed to be quickly and easily repairable, and the LED
indicators were repeated on both sides of the flash heads. The Model
250 delivers 300 ws and is 250 Euros (call it dollars).
Staying in the studio, Paterson had a very fine (and at $229.99, very
moderately priced) Interfit Shooting Table for small product photography,
while Novoflex's "Magic Studio" (from HP Marketing
in the U.S.A.) is an incredibly simple and very, very clever way of
creating transilluminable backgrounds, shadowless coves, and more: check
their respective web sites for details. Kaiser (again from HP) also
sells the "Magic Studio" along with their own "Studio
in a Box": small tabletop lighting setups, aimed principally at
the digital user, were a feature of this year's show.
Another Kaiser product, a hint of the future, was a video light, the
digiNova with 19 white LEDs rated at 100,000 hours continuous use (10
years non-stop!) with almost two hours running time per charge and a
three-hour recharge. At 125 gm (less than 41/2 oz) they are incredibly
compact and may yet appear as studio lighting for still (especially
digital) use. No price had been set but they were expensive: white LEDs
still cost a fortune, though one may hope for a fall.
In fact, one white LED product that inspired instant acquisitiveness
was the Heiland magnifying glass with eight LEDs arranged around the
periphery of the glass. Combining the charm of a traditional Sherlock
Holmes-type glass with the high tech appeal of a mail-order toy shop,
it was almost irresistible.
In more conventional lighting, I can't wait to get my hands on
Paterson's 1300w fan-cooled Interfit Halogen Lighting. With twin
650w bulbs that can be run separately or together, this gives a serious
amount of light for studio photography. With the standard 21cm (8")
GP reflector, one lamp is $189.99.
Other Weird Stuff? Well, Dreamagon was there. This is a superb soft-focus
lens that I tested for Shutterbug after last photokina, and rated very
highly. Since then I've had several letters and e-mails saying
that the web site wasn't accessible. At the show I learned that
they did indeed have a problem with their site for a while, but that
they weren't aware of it until they discovered the problem by
accident. It's all OK now so if you want one of these lenses,
order direct from the web site. Again, I've suggested a US distributor
but I don't know yet if it will come to anything.
Weirder than the Dreamagon, the Optrixx "Tricklinse fur Auge (eye)
und Kamera" is a multifaceted plastic filter like a fly's
eye to be held in front of the camera lens. The holder is shaped like
an old camera: a choice of folding Retina, Leica M2, Zeiss Ikomta, and
more. It's a piece of junk, but it's fun junk, and at under
$2.50, someone has to pick it up as a novelty.
A more conventional filter system, but with a clever new way of using
filters with point-and-shoot digital cameras (which seldom have filter
mounts) came from Cokin: the filter holder itself is held on a frame
that secures to the tripod socket of the camera. Most good Cokin stockists
should keep this. Another good filter trick is the Hoya Handy PL-Cir,
a circular polarizer on a stick, like a small lollipop. A rotation scale
on the filter mount means you can hold the filter to your eye; rotate
it for the effect you want; then hold it in the same orientation in
front of your point-and-shoot (including digital) to take the picture.
From the same people as the $22 shift lens (Loreo) there was also a
$50 stereo beamsplitter body cap with built-in lenses (!) though it
was sufficiently bulky that "body cap" is a bit of an exaggeration.
Rather upmarket (for something under $2000 at the factory gates) came
the first-class "Flash Feeder 2" system from Elektrona in
Slovenia, a sine-wave inverter for running main studio flash off a car
battery, complete with electronics that stop you running the battery
too flat to start the car again.
An ultra-weird product, and one that I'm still trying to figure
out, is one from Colour Town (HK) Ltd for turning ordinary 2D snapshots
into 3D lenticular pictures with a real illusion of depth, all "while
you wait" in about five minutes for a 4x6" (10x15cm) print.
It's the equivalent, they claim, of using an eight-lens camera.
The psychology of vision is a fascinating thing, and these guys are
geniuses at rearranging visual perception. They sell the software for
scanning and converting the original snap; printers (actually, I think
it's just software for mainstream printers); lenticular screens;
and even frames.
Buy It Here
Far more comprehensible is the Link Photokiosk, a vending machine for
films, digital media, prepaid processing envelopes (with a slot in the
front of the machine to put in your film, in the envelope, for processing),
and touch-screen control. Essentially it's just the same sort
of cool cabinet that sells chocolate bars at rest stops on the more
advanced freeway systems, but with extra features. At present available
only with the international standard voltage (220v), an American 110v
model would be easy to make if there is a demand. And I'd far
rather buy film from this than from a seaside kiosk where it's
been baking in the sun for months!
One of the many attractions of photokina is the seriously specialized
kit you find there, such as the JumboDrive microprocessor controlled
turntable for rotating heavy objects precisely through any predetermined
angle, large or small, and the Majak rotating panorama recording light,
both with obvious applications for VR. These are from Dr. Clauss Bild-und
As for tripods, quite frankly, it tended to be "more of the same."
The usual suspects had the usual first-class gear: Gitzo, Manfrotto,
Slik, Tre-D, and Velbon. There's more carbon fiber about every
year, but there was only one tripod that caught my attention like the
Velbon Maxi trunnion-style tripods last photokina or the Slik Snapman
From bag manufacturers CCS (Camera Care Systems) in England, it was
part of a system that embraced a backpack frame, interchangeable bags
to go onto the frame, and a tripod that could go in between the two.
As well as being a camera support system, the tripod can support a bag
that doubles as a mobile office (with let-down shelf for a laptop) and
there are accessory arms that turn it into a small hide for bird watchers.
It's still at the evaluation stage at the moment but I've
been promised one to test. CCS is imported to the US by Pro4; check
their UK address/web site for US details.
Apart from that, I could plough through everyone's tripod introductions
in detail, but I think you'd be as bored to read it as I would
be to write it, so I'll give it a miss. Try the manufacturers'
web sites if you really want the latest lowdown. All I'll say
is that Paterson continue to refine their Benbo line, and still make
them in England after an unsuccessful flirtation with prototypes made
in the Far East, while the German-made Wolf and Berlebach wooden tripod
lines really deserve to be re-introduced to the US. In fact, web site
hunting can be quite fun with some of the less familiar makers, regardless
of the product: try 10 Indian-built flash heads from KB (and their enlargers!)
or first-class lighting kit from Harisingh and Sons, again in India.
Finally, two honorable mentions go to press releases from Hama and CCS
respectively. The former offers "Presentations by Fingering"
via a new computer input device--don't laugh, could you say
it in German?--and the other opens with the memorable line, "You
may be finding it hard to find a pouch that will fit your equipment..."
Well, yes, but it's impolite to boast.