Special Report: photokina
Trends On Diversity, Power, And Pride Of Workmanship Page 2

But it's not just cameras that need batteries. If you've joined the digital revolution you also need batteries to power your portable CD burner and your laptop, and quite possibly your PDA as well. There's an increasing trend toward "do-it-all" batteries that can power a wide range of equipment, and Lorenzo Gasparini of the MAC Group (www.macgroupus.com) showed me a very clever one. The name wasn't absolutely finalized, but ask about Xtreme battery power and they will know what you mean. It's like carrying around your own little wall socket. More weight, more expense, but still a lot better than carrying around a ton of different adapters, connectors, multi-voltage chargers, and so forth. Or of course you could stick with mechanical cameras.

If you do use battery cameras, the latest ZTS Mini-MBT battery tester (www.ztsinc.com) is well worth considering because it allows you to test 1.2v Ni-MH and NiCd batteries (AAA to D), 1.5v alkaline (AAA to D and N), 3v photo lithium (CR 123, CR2, CRV3), and 9v alkaline and zinc-carbon. For $30 or so it allows pro-type pulse load testing, which is vastly more reliable than a simple voltage reading.

I've always been slightly suspicious of the view that every challenge or setback is an opportunity: how welcome, for example, is the opportunity to improve your hopping when you lose a leg? And there are a lot of times you don't want an opportunity: I'd rather stick with things I know and like, such as Ilford Multigrade Warmtone, than take advantage of the opportunity to try every other paper on the market to see if there is anything as good. There may well be, but I don't want to take the time to find out. I'd rather just take pictures.

Leica a la carte--The new a la carte program allows you to customize your M-series Leica exactly the way you want.

On the other hand, I certainly can't join the doomsayers who maintain that traditional photography is crashing down in ruins all around us. It's true, for example, that Bronica (www.tamron.com) has gotten out of the medium format camera market, but at the show I saw new 6x12cm or 6x17cm cameras from Shen-Hao, Walker/Canham (www.bromwell marketing.com), and Fotoman; Alpa told me that this was their best year ever; Linhof (www.hpmarketingcorp.com) showed a range of new lenses for their 6x12cm Technorama 612PC (58, 80, 120, 150, and 180mm); and Camera Bellows/Lee Filters (www.leefiltersusa.com) had a prototype build-it-yourself wooden view camera. All right, these are cameras that are made in tiny numbers, but does this matter? I only buy one at a time, and as long as I can afford it and the manufacturers can stay in business, I don't care if they make 50 cameras a year or 50,000.

Perhaps the finest examples of diversity come from Leica (www.leica-camera.com) the a la carte program, which allows you to order a unique custom Leica for only a few hundred dollars more than the base model--and Zeiss (www.zeiss.com), whose new Zeiss Ikon rangefinder system is magnificent. Who would have thought, 15 years ago, that it would be possible today to choose between four high-end rangefinder camera systems, Leica, Zeiss, Voigtländer, and Rollei?

There is a downside. High-end equipment will become proportionately more expensive. Low-end digital cameras are a branch of consumer electronics, with tiny dealer margins and all the profit made on volume: good news if you want to take snapshots, not so good if you are serious about your photography or want to be published.

Mid-range equipment such as the excellent Nikon D70 will probably continue to fall in price for a while, and we may even see 20- and 30-megapixel cameras becoming affordable, but when you are talking about multi-thousand-dollar cameras, you need to be a very high-earning professional if you want to replace your cameras every couple of years in order to take advantage of the latest improvements. Most pros don't earn that kind of money: in real inflation-adjusted terms, many are earning less than they did when I started working in advertising photography in the 1970s.

What we may see, therefore, is a return to quality, combined with a bigger split between pro and amateur. Throughout most of the history of photography, pro-quality cameras have been very expensive indeed: there was only a brief period at the end of the 20th century, two or three decades at most, when most serious amateurs could afford to use the same cameras as the pros.

The big difference, of course, is that if you bought a Gandolfi or a Sanderson in 1895 or a Leica M or Hasselblad 500C in 1955 you could realistically expect to use that camera for several decades, quite possibly for the rest of your life. Today, if you have a lot of money to spend, you have a choice between a high-end film camera that will last for decades--don't worry about film ceasing production--or a high-end digital camera that you will probably need to upgrade after a very few years. Or, of course, you can buy a camera that won't deliver pro quality and probably won't last long but won't cost much either. Eventually you replace it the same way you do a television set or freezer: when you need to, as something of a nuisance and an unexpected expense, without any great excitement.

Or maybe there's one other option. Polaroid (www.polaroid.com) were showing both a Polaroid-modified Holga and a cardboard-bodied pinhole Polaroid camera, so maybe we'll see more of camera-as-toy. And why not? If you take pictures for fun, why not use toys?