Photokina Show Report
Tripods, Lighting, Accessories And Weird Stuff

In the nature of things, photographers tend to care more about cameras than about accessories. It's irrational, really, as most of us buy accessories more often than we buy cameras, but then, who said that photographers are fully rational?

In tripods, there is definitely more carbon fiber about. Mamiya was the big news, with tripods to match their established monopods, but Gitzo also extended their line still further and Bilora added the 6040 and 6030 to their line-up. An alternative route to saving weight was illustrated by Slik with their Pro 700 DX and Pro 500 DX, which are made from a lighter, stronger Aluminum-Magnesium-Titanium (AMT) alloy. This reputedly offers a 40 percent greater strength to weight ratio than conventional materials. Slik is distributed in the US by ToCAD.

Handling this new generation of lightweight tripods is a revelation; it's like antigravity. If the weight saving were the only advantage, I would not get too excited: a halfway rigorous slimming regime would let me shed the weight of several complete tripods, never mind a percentage of the weight of one tripod. But carbon fiber gives increased rigidity and reduced vibration, and if you can afford the price premium, they are well worth having.

Gitzos have been extensively revamped. Center columns of carbon fiber and light, alloy tripods now have a groove to prevent unwanted rotation (and unfortunately, wanted rotation as well), and the classic aluminum tripods now have "universal" (rubber/spiked) feet; leg extension markings; a new design of leg hinge, which is designed to be even more reliable than the old system (which from personal experience is very reliable indeed); and optional high-density rubber sponge "leg warmers" to act as insulators and leg protectors. The universal feet and leg length markers can be retrofitted to existing tripods. New magnesium alloy lightweight heads were shown, and at last, Gitzo have added conventional ball heads to their ingenious and well established off-center ball heads. There's also a new leveling base for up to 15° adjustment on Series 3, 4, and 5 tripods.

Manfrotto's Convertible Tripod redefines versatility in conventional tripods, allowing the center column to be removed and refitted quickly as a boom arm. Their Tracker series is finished in "jungle-green" and is "designed to blend into a wide variety of natural environments." More importantly, they have short, built-in leg warmers (similar to the Gitzo, as they are part of the same group), triple-angle legs, and rubber feet with retractable metal spikes. They also have a two-part reversible center column for super low angle shots. When I saw their build-it yourself ball head, in kit form, I said that I thought this was unnecessarily brave. They replied, "It's really hard to put it together wrong." I'm sure someone will find a way.

Giotto's had an all-new line-up of photo and video tripods: VT-801, 802, 803, 805, and 807 for video, and VT-806, 808, and 809 for conventional photography. They are distributed by HP Marketing in the U.S.A. Rowi--their US distributors are Mak Pacific--showed a small, well-designed, four section tabletop tripod in black, silver, blue, or pink. Foba had a wide range of tripod heads on display along with their new DSS-Gamma studio stand: two meters (79") high or up to 2.7m (106") on request, and weighing 72 kg (158 lbs). Sinar Bron brings Foba into the US.

I was very impressed by Wolf's new variable leg splay locks, which are unreasonably simple and very effective; a sure mark of good design. Unfortunately no one imports these attractive wooden tripods to the US, but perhaps that will be remedied. The other major German wooden tripod manufacturer, Berlebach, also had some detail improvements and changed models; these should appear as Brom tripods from Ted Bromwell in the US.

Another line with no distribution was Nedo, from a leading German manufacturer of surveyors' tripods, Nestle & Fischer. They were testing the water with two very solid, rather heavy, but highly professional tripods. However, the strangest sight in tripods must have been the one over in Hall 10, which was designed to support the entire photographer some 10' above the ground, but carried the warning, KEINE FUR PAPARAZZI ("Not for paparazzi"). "Paparazzi? Me? Nah, 'course not--I study the natural history of celebrities."

One of the cleverest tripod heads was Chinese-built, with an ingenious "half-ball" design based (and I quote) on eight hyperboloids, allowing (again I quote) "186° of pendulum and metronomic movements." It has been patented in seven countries, which is something of a change from the days when communism recognized no patents. It was priced at a stiff $160, though I understand that this was a recommended retail price, and came from China Film Equipment Corporation.

A useful tripod accessory was the Super-Stativ-Caddy, which converts any tripod into a rolling work station, but I do not think there is any distribution apart from the maker in Austria, Herr W. Aberl.

Moving on to lighting, the big news was portability. More and more manufacturers are offering battery-powered flash generators which are cross-compatible with the flash heads from their mains-powered units. They are typically 1200 ws units which allow anything from 100 to 300 full-power flashes from a single charge, depending on how much you use the modeling lights--though a word of warning is that some do not support all the modeling lights of all the various heads in the manufacturers' line-up, while others are designed for use principally with lightweight portable heads which have modeling lights that are not proportionate to the standard heads.

Each manufacturer's system has its own advantages. Hensel's is quick-change battery packs, so that you can have one on charge while you are using another. Balcar's is sheer power: the Concept B3 allows the use of up to three 1600 ws heads, and can be recharged in two hours from a line voltage of 80 to 260v. Broncolor's attraction is a promised "docking module" that will allow the battery pack to be connected to the mains power and used just like a conventional mains unit.

Balcar's line-up was (as usual) dazzling, literally and figuratively; one of the problems with this French company is that their range is so wide and so original that it is only really comprehensible when you start to hunt through it for tools for a particular application.

Broncolor (from Sinar Bron in the US) showed the D160 Minipuls system and the Mobilite/Picolite miniature light. The former can be operated from a Mac or PC with LED indicators on three sides of the monobloc and a wireless remote control. The latter is 20cm/8" long and 8cm/3" in diameter, but still manages to incorporate a 150w halogen modeling light, a UV-coated protecting glass, a built- in reflector, and even a cooling fan. Bron also had a new, small HMI light: slowly, prices and sizes are coming down in HMI.

Intermediate between the compact units mentioned and conventional on-camera flash is a new Bowens 300 ws "hammerhead" that can be used on or off-camera and is powered by one of two sizes of over the shoulder battery packs.

Multiblitz showed a De-Spot attachment, which is a projection spot attachment for all their Magnolite, Variolite, and Varilux heads--though as far as I can see, it does not permit the use of gobos, just four way shutters to control the light size. This complements their Fresnel, which again allows a tight beam, but not as tight as the De-Spot.

For fans of continuous lighting, Cosmolite showed lights up to 250w/30v, running off a lead acid battery. Standard 220v and dual 110/220v versions are available.

Profoto, darlings of the lighting hire trade, replaced the Pro-6 series with Pro-7; these are improved rather than radically new, but the improvements are genuine and cover all the usual areas (shorter recycle time, reliability, etc.) and are therefore welcome. The shorter flash time is claimed as a major advantage and it will be for some photographers, but another manufacturer was claiming longer flash times as an advantage--a lot depends on personal preference, subject matter, and film choice. Profoto lights are distributed by Atelier Systems in the US.

As ever, there were countless new ideas, and there was also increasing evidence of two more things. One is the increasing number of manufacturers offering high frequency, daylight-balanced, fluorescent lighting, which is particularly useful for digital photography but also has many adherents in conventional photography. The other is the "commodification" of the cheaper units: a lowering of prices and convergence of features, until it does not matter very much which one you buy.

The range was in any case vast. As well as the familiar manufacturing nations--Western Europe and the US--there were lighting units from all over the world. As well as the other manufacturers mentioned in this report, new or improved units came from Grigull (fluorescent) in Germany; Jin Hui (flash) in China; Lupo (fluorescent) in Italy; Richter (flash) in Germany; Systems Imaging (flash) of Britain; Unomat (flash) in Germany; Visio (fluorescent) from Ko Yong in Taiwan; and Yong Jiang (flash) in China. All I can do is report a few highlights.

As far as I can understand--and I could only get the information verbally, in Italian and German--there are new, incandescent, daylight-balance lamps which do not rely on HMI technology, though they are metal/halide. This does not seem inherently likely to me, as such temperatures are above the melting point of any practicable element I can think of, but as I was told it by two people, I pass it on for what it is worth.

I was very impressed by the new Whitedome white-sided softboxes; although they are necessarily less directionally efficient than conventional boxes, they give a wonderfully soft light and would be ideal for lighting interiors. Briese's vast HMI reflectors, 10' and more across, give a unique light and if I had $15,000 and a studio big enough to hold one, I would certainly want to experiment with this form of lighting; Briese also has a new, smaller, square reflector.

For sheer versatility, the Italian alf system was most impressive: a fully integrated flash and tungsten system, with almost all components (reflectors, snoots, fiber optics, even a projection spot) fully interchangeable. They have no US distribution but someone really ought to bring them in.

Lastolite introduced an interesting line of collapsible softboxes, which collapse with a simple twist--a bit like a three-dimensional form of their well-known reflectors, also available from Westcott.

Quantum's QF67 is a white, diffused dome, wide angle reflector. The light loss is significant straight ahead--two stops--but for confined interiors and close-ups it should be very useful.

Richter showed the "Reflektor Soft-Flood," which is the exact opposite of a "bowl and spoon" (a big reflector with a cap over the bulb). It is a big reflector with a white, acrylic reflector over everything except the center, where there is a honeycomb or grid. The combination of directional and soft light is, as far as I know, unique.
One of the neatest and simplest modifiers came from Chimera. The name--Screem--is unfortunately clever without being memorable, deriving from "screen" and "scrim," but the Screem set itself consists of nine wire-mesh scrims, three each of -1/3, -1/2, and -1 stops. They are fitted over the light source, inside a lightbank, to allow subtle control of light intensity for heads without continuously variable power.

Moving on to accessories, one of the most important is exposure meters--and there was very little to report. The only major new meter was the Sekonic L-508, an (even) more professional version of their existing incident/spot meter with a revolving top-piece and a revised zoom--though the only use I can imagine for the zoom feature is in movie photography because in stills you normally need the narrowest angle you can get.

Then there are studio accessories, principally backgrounds. The backgrounds themselves are pretty much a matter of fashion, but Lastolite's new roller background holder is clever and quick to setup with rapid interchange of a number of backgrounds. It is ideal for location portraits or for anyone whose studio has to fulfill many functions--including non-photographic functions such as drawing room or basement.

Another really useful background was a prototype acrylic cove from Foba. It is about a meter (40") square, a meter deep, and is a true cove: a cube with all corners radiused. Because it is of opal acrylic, it can be lit from any direction for shadowless lighting.

Apcam was showing a new version of their add-on motor drive for the Hasselblad, which fits all the current mechanical models with fixed wind-on knobs; a conversion kit allows the motor to engage with the drive. The original version for other models is still available. Apparently the proprietor was in touch with Hasselblad about making the Apcam as a Hasselblad approved accessory, but dropped the ball; I have urged him to renew communications as it really is a wonderfully compact and efficient unit.

Something which I very much admired was custom and off-the-shelf cut film holders and printing-out frames from Alan Brubaker of AWB Enterprises in Wildomar, California. Everything is beautifully made with double light traps for all holders and ingenious, very firm locks for the printing-out frames. I took away samples of both for test, an 8x10" printing -out frame and a 7x17" cut film holder, but the film holder was stolen while I was loading the car; at least, that's all I can imagine happened to it. I was luckier than some, though: Linhof and Alpa lost 35mm Apo-Grandagons, and Horseman had several whole cameras stolen. For fairly obvious reasons, photokina attracts professional thieves, so I guess I am lucky that I have never lost anything else in the last 16 years of going there. A review of this printing-out frame (and others) will however follow in due course.

To return to more fundamental accessories, B+W have a new filter coating which is far more water-resistant than anything before. There is also a series of "enhancer" filters made by Marumi in Japan which is being picked up by a number of distributors worldwide; these include a Bluehancer to intensify blue skies, a Greenhancer to intensify foliage, and so forth.

There is no doubt that self-supporting bellows lens shades are taking the professional world by storm. The patented design is made only by Lee Filters/Camera Bellows, though an increasing number of "system" filter manufacturers are buying them in from Lee. I particularly liked the colorful versions, christened "Disco" by Cromatek/ Lastolite, but also available direct from Lee, and begged a leopardskin version. You can also get them in Lurex and all kinds of other finishes. Silly? Yes, but they add a touch of fun to otherwise dull studios and work just as well as plain black--which is to say, very well indeed.

At this point, of course, we are beginning to shade into Weird Stuff; anyone who doesn't think leopardskin-finish lens shades are weird is, well, weirder than I am.

Some Weird Stuff is silly-cheap. One thing I particularly liked was the Chameleon Selfphoto for self-portraits, aimed at the teen-age market. It is no more (or less) than a cover for single-use cameras, with a convex mirror on the front, a close-up lens for 1.5 to 5', and (honestly) a pneumatic bulb release. If you can see yourself in the mirror, you are in the picture. It comes from My Systems Co Ltd. in Japan.

Others are modest, but unbelievably useful. Silvestri's startlingly simple focusing loupe for a large format camera has a hinged base, so that the loupe itself can be used perpendicular to the screen or angled in the corners. This is, without question, one of the cleverest designs I have ever seen, and if it performs as well as seems likely, then it is going to replace every other focusing loupe I own (and I own several). I am very much looking forward to getting one.

Yet other Weird Stuff is straightforward, obvious, and "Why didn't anyone make that before?" The Megazin is a very clever device for making multiple "test strips" on a single sheet of 4x5, 5x7, or 8x10" film. It comes in several parts: the very thin stainless steel adapter, which fits in the mouth of any conventional film holder after you have withdrawn the slide, and a set of stainless steel septums with holes cut in them in a staggered array. You insert septum one; make exposure one; septum two; exposure two; and so forth to three or five exposures on the same sheet. As well as being useful for test strips, it also has numerous creative possibilities and I would very much like one for test.

Then there is the Novoflex line-up: beautifully made, if rather expensive, and the answer to all kinds of photographic problems. Their main innovations this time were a new micro- positioning cross-slide tripod head and an HMI macro light source, but I managed to borrow something I had wanted for a long time, their "upside down" (and possibly "inside out") ball head, the Magic Ball. The big version appeared at last photokina, and I borrowed the "baby brother" which has appeared since. I hope to be reviewing this, along with a few other tripod heads, shortly.

How about a filter you can't see through? Kood offers a solar eclipse filter, through which it is apparently entirely safe to photograph the sun.

Then there is the Mirex, a German-made tilt/shift adapter for using MF lenses on 35mm SLRs. With the Nikon, there has to be a low-powered negative lens in the system because of the flange to film distance, but with other SLRs there is no optical intermediary and you will get the full benefit of your MF SLRs lenses. In a perfect world, I would want two Contax SLR outfits, one 35mm and one 645, and one of these to use the lenses from the latter on the former. At around DM 1100 (rather over $700) it is not cheap, but it is very useful.

Chris Nisperos, an American photographer based in Paris, was looking for a manufacturer for his Chapiteau loading tent; "Chapiteau" is what the French call the "Big Top" tent at a circus. It certainly looks weird, resembling nothing so much as the torso of Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet, but it collapses surprisingly small and allows the loading even of 11x14" dark slides on location. Its main use will probably be in the movie business though.

The very best stand for Weird Stuff was, without question, Photo Know How. I mentioned their "is it a camera?" digital adapter last month, and this month I'll just run through a handful more of their accessories. One that I really want is an adapter to use 4x5" Polaroid backs in 5x7" cameras. Another is a bottle-light, a simple, bottle shaped light with a self-contained battery-powered slave flash for transilluminating bottles in still lifes. Yet another is a bare-bulb flash based on the same unit; the flash tube is on the end of a long, thin, flexible finger, so it can be placed anywhere, even (for example) inside a sandwich. Then there's a plain bellows shade for Sinar, which is transformed by the addition of a hinge so that it can be pushed up out of the way when you want to set the aperture or speed, or open or close the lens. There are adapters for MF cameras to Sinar (or other view cameras, presumably) for close-ups. There's also a series of cut film holders, adapted with a simple valve and rubber ball arrangement to give single shot vacuum backs. It was a tiny stand, but it had the highest Weird Stuff Quotient of any stand at photokina.

What, then, are the products which made me jump up and down like a 2-year-old and say, "I want one."
Well, first you have to exclude the products which, although brilliant, simply do not fit in with what I do, even if I could afford them: things like Briese lights or a 20x24" Lotus. Also (regretfully) you have to exclude the products which I am unlikely ever to be able to afford: an Alpa, a Gilde. In cameras, though, the new Contax 645 was certainly something I would consider spending my own hard-earned money on, even though it would be a lot of that money; and if I didn't already have two 5x7" cameras (a Gandolfi Variant and an old Linhof Technika V), Keith Canham's 5x7 Metal Field would be unbelievably tempting.

Perhaps surprisingly, though, many of the things I wanted most were also the most affordable. I have already mentioned the Silvestri loupe (no price available, but it shouldn't be a fortune) and the 4x5/5x7 Polaroid adapter from Photo Know How. Just for fun, the new tiny Polaroid is absolutely unbeatable. A real surprise, given my general antipathy to all things unnecessarily digital, was Fuji's MX700 megapixel camera; it is to digital cameras what the Canon Ixus/Elph was to APS, such a beautiful piece of design that it is an immediate design icon. It was not brand new, but this was its first photokina.

At the end of it all, though, a great deal of what I would like is not exactly new. I'd like some more LF lenses from Rodenstock (especially a couple of Apo Grandagons), Schneider (Apo Symmar XLs and a 72mm Super Angulon XL), and Wisner (a test of his casket set should be forthcoming). I'd like a Gandolfi Precision half-plate with a 5x7" back, the cutting edge of technology 70 years ago, and one of the most beautiful and versatile 5x7" "woodies" ever made. I've contacted Alan Brubaker about buying one of his AWB printing-out frames, which apart from its acrylic springs is essentially a piece of fine 19th century woodwork. More than anything else, I'd like lots and lots of film and paper because, at the end of it all, if we don't take pictures, what do we need cameras for?

For further information, visit the authors website at:


W. Aberl (Super-Stativ-Caddy)
A-1030 Wien, Parkg. 17
0222 715 27 30
fax: 0222 714 14 83

alf service srl
Via del Ponte a Quaracchi, 66
50019 Sesto Fiorentino
Firenze, Italy
(055) 317 802
fax: (055) 300 533

Atelier Systems Ltd. (Profoto)
(805) 778-1182
(805) 778-1162

Balcar S.A.
11 boulevard Emile Augier
75016 Paris, France
+33 01 45 03 00 30
fax +33 01 45 03 12 48

Bilora-Kuerbi-Otto Toennes GmbH
Kaiserstrasse 163-165
Radevormwald D-42477
(02195) 67333
fax: (02195) 67338

Bogen Photo Corp. (Gitzo, Manfrotto)
565 E Crescent Ave.
Ramsey, NJ 07446
(201) 818-9500
fax: (201) 818-9177

Briese Lichttechnik,
Peutestrasse 51a
D-21109 Hamburg, Germany
040 7 80 90 80
fax: 040 78 09 08 20

Bromwell Marketing (Brom tripods)
3 Allegheny Center #111
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Phone & Fax: (412) 321-4118

Calumet Photographic Products (Novoflex)
890 Supreme Dr.
Bensenville, IL 60106
(630) 860-7447
fax: (630) 860-7105 (sales dept)

1812 Valtec Lane
Boulder, CO 80301
(800) 424-4075
(303) 444-8000
fax: (303) 444-8303

China Film Equipment Corporation
20 Xin De Street
Beijing 100088, China
+86 10 6205 7044
fax: +86 10 6205 3223

Cosmolight s.r.l.
Via Leoplodo Micucci, 137
00173 Roma, Italy
06 72 67 03 25 - 72 67 03 27
fax: 72 35 344

Grigull GmbH+Co.
Reuteweg 7
D-72417 Jungingen, Germany
07477 634
fax: 07477 747

Hakuba USA Inc.
10621 Bloomfield Street, Suite 39
Los Alamitos, CA 90720
(562) 799-1898
fax: (562) 799-1316

Hensel Studiotechnik
Florian-Geyer-Strasse 3
97076 Wuerzburg, Germany
+49 (931) 278 810
fax: +49 (931) 278 8150

HP Marketing Corp (Giotto's)
16 Chapin Rd.
Pine Brook, NJ 07058
(973) 808-9010
fax: (973) 808-9004

Jin Hui (Yuyao Jinhui Electronic Co Ltd)
51 Chang'an Road, B,
Industrial Development Zone Yuyao City,
Zheijiang Province, China
0086 574 281 1173
fax: 0086 574 281 3435

Kaiser Fototechnic Div. HP Marketing Corp.
16 Chapin Rd.
Pine Brook, NJ 07058
(973) 808-9010
fax: (973) 808-9004

Kood International Limited
Unit 6, Wellington Rd.
London Colney AL1 5NJ, England
+44 (0) 1727 823 812
fax: +44 (0) 1727 823 336

Ko Yong Photo Co Ltd
2F No 552, Chun Chen Rd.
Hsin Tien, Taipei, Taiwan
886 2 2218 8157
fax: 886 2 2218 8155

Lee Filters
2301 W. Victory Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91506
(818) 238-1220
fax: (818) 238-1228

Lumedyne, Inc.
6010 Wall St.
Port Richey, FL 34668
(813) 847-5394
fax: (813) 841-0000

Lupo s.n.c.
Via Tommaseo 53
10097 Collegno (TO) Italy
+39 011 411 02 02
fax: +39 011 411 14 03

MAK Pacific, Inc. (Rowi)
17825 NE 65th Street, Suite A160
Redmond, WA 98052
(425) 885-5573
fax: (425) 861-7514

Mamiya America
(Sekonic Professional Division)
8 Westchester Plaza
Elmsford, NY 10523
(914) 347-3300

Dr. Ing. D.A. Mannesman GmbH
Fersinand-Posche-Strasse 19
D-51149 Koeln
02203 93 96 0
fax: 02203 93 96 33

My Systems Co Ltd.
8F Kanai Bldg., No. 29-10
2-Chome Toshima-ku, Tokyo 171-0022
81 3 5954 3554
fax: 81-3-5954-3557

Nestle and Fischer GmbH & Co. KG
Hochgerichstr. 39-43
D-72280 Dornstetten
07443 2401-0
fax: 07443 2401-45

Chris Nisperos
76 rue St. Maur
Paris 75011 France
+33 1 49 23 42 55

333 Encinal St.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(408) 454-9100
fax: (408) 454-9600

Photo Know How, P.K. S.r.l.
Via Raffaelo, 7
ITALY-31021 Mogliano Veneto (TV)
+39 41 593 7031
fax: +39 41 593 703 29

Quantum Instruments Inc.
1075 Stewart Ave.
Garden City, NY 11530
(516) 222-6000
fax: (516) 222-0569

Richter Studiogeraete GmbH
D-88693 Deggenhausertal-Urnau
Rotachstrasse 45, Germany
+49 (0) 7555 91 094
fax +49 (0) 7555 91 095

R.T.S. Inc.
40-11 Burt Dr.
Deer Park, NY 11729
(516) 242-6801
fax: (516) 242-6808

Sinar Bron Imaging
17 Progress St.
Edison, NJ 08820
(908) 754-5800
fax: (908) 754-5807

Systems Imaging Ltd.
Unit 15, Oakwood Business Park
Clacton-on-Sea, Essex CO15 4TL
Great Britain
+44 (0) 1255 43 33 90
fax: +44 (0) 1255 43 03 65

ToCAD America Inc. (Slik)
300 Webro Rd.
Parsippany, NJ 07054
(973) 428-9800
fax: (973) 887-2438

Unomat GmbH & Co. KG
PO Box 2863
D-72718 Reutlingen, Germany
(0 71 21) 4 30 91/92
fax: (0 71 21) 4 76 40/4 76 80

Division of Hakuba USA Inc.
10621 Bloomfield Street, Suite 39
Los Alamitos, CA 90720
(562) 799-1898
fax: (562) 799-1316

1447 N Summit St.
PO Box 1596
Toledo, OH 43603
(419) 243-7311
fax: (419) 243-8401

Wolf-Messtechnik GmbH
PO Box 1407
D-09599 Freiberg/Saxony, Germany
+49 (0) 3731 781 237
fax: +49 (0) 3731 781 238

Yong Jiang Photo & Video
(Shanghai Yong Jiang Photo & Video Co., Ltd.)
605 South 3F Pu Shan Road Shanghai, P.R. China
0086 21 566 506 95
0086 566 507 06
fax: 0086 21 566 506 96