New Gear And Gadgets

After having attended nearly all of the PMA trade shows in the past 38 years I have seen thousands of interesting new products introduced for the photographic public. I wandered the five miles of aisles in this year's big show stopping by nearly all of the thousands of booths, large and small, to find a few items of general interest. Following is a brief description of those products that particularly attracted my attention. Some are relatively small and of interest to just a few, while others are really great items which should appeal to a mass of different photographers. This group of products is listed in no particular order since they vary greatly in use and application.

All-In-One Meter
Gossen from Bogen offers the new Starlite All-In-One digital meter that does everything you'd possibly want a multifunction meter to do. It combines an ambient/flash exposure meter; a cine meter; and a photometric meter, all in one compact and rugged, yet stylish, water-resistant unit. Controls are positioned for easy one-hand operation, and all data is clearly displayed on a large, self-illuminating, LCD panel. Having a 270 swivel head with built-in viewfinder there are four measuring modes: 1 or 5 reflected light, incident light spherical or flat plane and six different measuring methods. Light intensities can be measured for both ambient light and flash with results displayed in LUX, foot-candle, cd/m2, foot-lambert, and more.

Broad Flash
There was one really new flash item that sure seemed interesting and practical. HP Marketing showed the Novoflex "Flash Art," a flat flash panel that attaches to a hot shoe power unit with a cable and is held to the side of the camera on an adjustable bracket. This flat flash head looks more like a small slide illuminator instead of a typical flash head. It's said to produce soft lighting for portraits or copying small products, since the light emitted is broader and more diffused than that produced by a typical flash tube with a reflector behind it. The ISO 100 GN permits shooting at f/5.6 at 6.5'. It is said to eliminate the redeye effect and even has a built-in focus light for easier focusing and previewing the lighting effect.

Check Exposure Error
ZTS showed the new Tester Pro, a handheld camera tester with built-in exposure meter that can also read incident/reflected flash metering. Accurate light-to-frequency technology uses a plug-in sensor that fits into any 35mm camera (or medium format with an adapter) to measure shutter speeds and exposure errors. Test results are displayed on an easy to read LCD graphics panel. Weighing only 7 oz, it lists for $595 and is available through HP Marketing.

Vivitar showed an unusual combination digital camera that can also play MP3 tunes. The ViviCam 2795 can store 29 VGA photos as JPEG images on its internal 2MB flash memory that can be expanded with CompactFlash cards. In addition, it can playback music recorded in the popular MP3 format, storing 10 minutes internally and up to 90 minutes by adding an optional 16MB CompactFlash card. Weighing only 4.8 oz it carries an estimated retail price of under $200.

Seagull Series
Phoenix Corporation of America will now handle the venerable Seagull line of Chinese-made TLR cameras. There will be two versions of the 120 film TLR, one with knob advance and another with a faster winding crank advance cocking mechanism. The taking lens is a 75mm f/3.5 with a 1-1/300 sec, "B" and "X" flash sync shutter. The Hikari 2002 is a 35mm manual SLR with a mechanical shutter speed range of 1-1/2000 sec, LED TTL metering, and a 28-70mm zoom lens. It accepts K-mount interchangeable lenses.

Add Grain To Images
One small accessory was quite interesting. With the improvements in grain structure of all types of color and black and white films these days, it's difficult to obtain an attractive, artistic grain pattern even if the film is push processed to a faster ISO film speed. Sunpak (ToCAD) has a solution called the Prograin. It consists of two small, enhanced grain pattern filters that can be easily attached to the film plane aperture gate of most any 35mm SLR camera. Then every exposure on that roll of film will have either the coarse or moderate grain pattern recorded on each image. The SmARTlens Prograin system is a two filter kit that lists for under $30. The example prints looked very nice and much better than images made with a typical front-of-the-lens grain filter.

Wallets, Digital Style
Digital products and applications were dominant once again with over 100 new digital cameras introduced. Though I don't typically cover this type of product, I did find one item of particular interest. There have been desktop digital image picture frames available for several years now, but this was a small digital wallet to carry along anywhere. The Photo Wallet from VideoChip Technologies has a compact portable color LCD screen measuring approximately 4x5" by 3/4" thick, and weighs just 10.5 oz. You simply plug in any standard CompactFlash or SmartMedia card and then display either a full screen image, or multiple thumbnail size images to assist in locating a specific picture. It runs on two DL123A lithium batteries for hours, or will also take an AC adapter for desk applications.

Gear Security
We all get concerned about the safety of our very valuable camera gear or laptop computer when traveling. If traveling alone you have no option but to always keep it securely beside you. Now there is a device that surrounds your equipment in slash-proof stainless steel mesh, which can then be secured to some non-movable object with a lockable draw wire and a shackle padlock. Lowepro has several versions of the Pacsafe system, including larger models for backpacks. The Explorer series, suitable for shoulder and rolling bags, consists of two sizes of the wire mesh (with a convenient carrying case) listing for $60. The Travel Safe line has two sizes of black pouches with the same wire mesh imbedded under a conventional appearing black weatherproof fabric exterior for $75 or less.

Personal Viewing
At the Olympus booth you could put on a personal TV viewing device that looks more like a pair of sunglasses. The Eye-Trek FMD 250W is a personal TV display that's fully compatible with VCRs, camcorders, DVD players, video game consoles, LD players, etc. It accepts standard NTSC television signals and gives the wearer the equivalent of a huge 62" screen, seen from a distance of 6'. It's small and light enough to go anywhere and has stereo earphones in the temple. With this device you can get lost in your own TV or video game world and not bother people sitting right beside you.

Smart Charging
There are dozens of battery chargers, but I found one new model that combines brains and convenience. At the HP Marketing booth we saw the Ansmann charger along with new Ni-MH batteries. The charger accepts one to four AA or AAA-size Ni-MH or older NiCd batteries. When the battery is inserted, the unit first reads the battery condition, then will give it the exact amount of charge needed to bring it back to full strength. Indicator lights by each battery slot change color depending upon the condition of the battery in that slot. You also have the option of first discharging the battery before recharging it. Adapters are available to change the plug for different types of wall outlets. The same firm also offers chargers for various sizes and voltages of camcorder batteries.

Tabletop Aid
Anybody doing tabletop photography of small objects knows well the need for a device to hold and accurately position small white reflectors and/or mirrors to obtain the proper amount of fill light to illuminate detail. A new holder kit with weighted base and a flexible arm with touch fasteners should simplify this tedious task. It's called COMEN from Foba and is available through Sinar Bron.

Steady Tripod
We particularly liked the new lightweight Cullmann 2650 tripod at the R.T.S. Inc. booth. It has trapezoidal shaped legs for greater stability with quick-release flip-lock clamps for fast setup. Each leg offers a variable angle locking device for quite low to the ground applications, making a usable height range from 3-61". There is a geared, reversible center column and a three-way fluid effect head with a quick-release plate. A handy nylon carry bag is included, making it very portable for field applications. This is one of the very few lightweight, portable tripods I've seen that provides a steady support when extended to full height.

Instruction Database
Live Products is an Internet site that offers an extremely diverse group of product instructions. You can simply log on and find out how to operate those products for which you have misplaced the instructions. The web site currently offers instructions for more than 10,000 products. At present this new Internet concept does not have many photo-oriented listings and so far they are mostly listing digital cameras. But it sure is a good idea and probably will have many photo products listed soon.

It's always interesting wandering about the trade show floor at PMA looking for the large and small items of general interest that just might make our enjoyment of photography a bit more pleasurable.