Introduction; PMA 2006

Digital SLRs In Previews; The Four Thirds System Gains Adherents; Pigment Ink Printers Abound; And Some CE Bedfellows For Venerable Photo Industry Names

In late February a team of Shutterbug reporters descended on the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, to find out what's in store for photographers in the year ahead. The odd air of something missing filled the room, what with Konica, Minolta, Agfa, and other old-line companies absent and alas departed from the field. But replacing them were various "consumer electronics" companies whose presence reminded us once again of the digitization of photography. The quotes around the phrase are not meant to be disparaging or even ironic, just a note to say that this show might mark one of the last times the distinction between the consumer electronics and photo industry is made.

Perhaps that's why there seemed to be some discomfort among both those who came to show their wares and folks like us who came to look at and study them. In some ways much of the exercise seemed unnecessary, what with the news from the behemoth and dreaded Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held in January in Las Vegas, still ringing in our ears. And why would Apple be showing off the subtle changes in Aperture 1.1 to baffled photo retailers in heated, half-hour and sparsely attended floor shows? Don't they need the crowd shouting for T-shirts at the end of their pitches? The dealers just got a glazed look in their eyes and walked away.

This is, ostensibly, a show for photo retailers and the long-suffering press corps. The announcements of new products, once the hallmark of this trade show that kept reporters scurrying about the floor, have been replaced with forward-looking discussions and a reinforcement of what had been already revealed, sometimes days or weeks prior to the show. Yet, there were a number of new products of note, many of which will be covered in the reports by our stalwart crew that follow.

There were a number of prototypes and "sort of working" tools that raised our interest. There was the Pentax 645 Digital under glass; the HP Pro pigment ink printer that wasn't quite ready; the Panasonic digital SLR that is getting tweaked and other such manifestations of perhaps wishful thinking and certainly coming-soon hardware. But not a lot, which I think is a result of CES burnout and photokina tease (the worldwide show this fall).

Nevertheless, the reports that follow reveal what we saw to be of importance at the show. Reading both the lines and what's between them will yield a very good picture of the direction photographic manufacturers are imagining we all will follow in the year and years ahead.

If one looks at the show from a social/business perspective, the main news was the alliances forged and announced, and the products that might follow from the joinings. For example, Olympus, Panasonic, Sigma, and Leica all sat on a podium together and in one fell swoop reinvigorated the Four Thirds system, previously championed only by Olympus. Pentax and Samsung also made moves that bring them closer together, with a Samsung-branded Pentax digital SLR to start, and further joint efforts down the road. And while it's hardly an alliance, Sony is supposed to pick up the Minolta patents and mounts in their coming Sony digital SLR, which some reporters were more skeptical about than others. But glad tidings were available for those seeking to make prints from digital images, with new printers from Canon and HP. These new pigment ink printers offer great archival-keeping characteristics, and their promised image fidelity is said to now go nozzle to nozzle with dye ink printers.

The reports that follow are meant to give you a good impression of the trends and latest products in various categories, from lenses to digital SLRs to printers to accessories. Our reporters were asked to tell us about what caught their eye, and not to necessarily mention every product and exhibitor at the show. Our aim was to gain an understanding of what might be changing and how those changes, and the products and technology that manifests them, affect how we will all capture, store, and share our images in the years ahead.

Products do not define visions and images, but some allow us to explore our images and imagination in new and different ways. And some are just plain fun. Many of the products mentioned in the reports will be available by the time we go to press, while others will launch later in the year. We will be testing many of the top products as production samples become available to us.