CES report, Part 1: Is CES the new PMA?

Weekend Wrap show special

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For decades, PMA has been the key annual U.S.-based trade show for the photo industry, but recently there have been murmurs of discontent that picked up steam with Canon’s announcement that it would not have an exhibit at this year’s show. Leica, too, has pulled out but Canon’s booth was one of the biggest and most prominent.

Instead, Canon focused on CES, which is taking place in Las Vegas now. At the show, Canon announced many camcorders, a handful of compact digital cameras, and barely anything of interest to DSLR photographers. Sure, they introduced a new pro-level 70-200mm zoom lens, but it was merely a second-generation version of an existing model with relatively minor tweaks, and a wireless transfer module for its pro-end DSLRs. But there were no new DSLR cameras. So now I get it: Canon pulled out of PMA because, for whatever reason, they didn’t have enough new products to show.

But Canon’s decision has been a point of contention and conversation. Is PMA going downhill? Is CES replacing it?

Leica’s reasoning for pulling out of PMA—they want to have focus on more direct contact with their customers, and they don’t need a trade show in order to meet with their dealers—seems reasonable and will have less of an impact on perceptions of where the show is going.


A quick look at the products announced by photo companies this week show that the focus for CES remains the mass market. Most announcements were compact still cameras, jack-of-all-trades, masters-of-none still cameras that also record HD videos on their tiny sensors, and stand-alone, consumer-level camcorders. That’s hardly the stuff of a show geared towards enthusiasts, hobbyists and professional photographers.


The biggest photo-related news at CES? Samsung’s long-awaited, compact NX-10 (above), the first APS sensor camera with short flangeback, interchangeable lenses, and an electronic viewfinder instead of the mirror/prism optical viewing of an SLR—which I’ll talk about in more detail next week. That was almost overshadowed by the joyous, low-tech return of Polaroid film and film cameras. Both of these announcements are very photo-friendly and have implications that go beyond the individual companies, but they stand out as the exceptions.


This fact is telling: Only one DSLR, the Sony A450, above, was introduced.

Which brings us back to the headline: Is CES destined to be the new PMA? Here’s why I don’t think so.

1.    CES is too generalized. In a ginormous show that’s all about consumer products, high-end photo gear and specialized accessories would get lost in the sauce.
2.    Wrong product mix. A look through our show coverage this year on the News Desk shows that those companies that introduced new cameras generally introduced compact models geared towards snapshooters. Auto-everything, high-tech bells and whistles, eye-popping (and unnecessary) high pixel counts, and bargains rule the roost.
3.    The convention center is already filled. Where would CES put the photo companies? Some have floated the idea of building a huge tent in the parking lot and housing a photo show within the show there. Doesn’t sound very comfortable.
4.    Photography needs its own identity. While the buzzword is convergence for consumer camera/cellphone/home entertainment systems, for hobbyists, cameras must stand alone. A camera needs to be a camera, and to be a reliable tool that does the job well. Being absorbed into CES would dilute photography too much.

Clearly, losing Canon, one of the largest exhibitors, has to be a blow to the Photo Marketing Association both financially and perceptually. What can PMA do to rebuild, and to retain its distinct identity?

1.    Stay in Vegas. This pattern of two years in Vegas, two years elsewhere, has got to stop. East coast participants are grumbling about schlepping across the country to stay in pricier hotels in Anaheim this year. A few years back, West coasters complained about the long trek to Orlando, and I know of several who simply skipped the show.
2.    Stay in Vegas (part II). It costs less to travel to, and stay in, Vegas. It also helps to have a consistent location.
3.    Pick a consistent date. Show dates have varied from early February to mid-March. Choose a week—any week—and stick to it, year after year.  I suggest early March because the more time away from CES, the better.
4.    Focus on the core audience. Unlike CES, which is massive, PMA is a specialty show. Yes there are mass market products, but focus on enthusiasts and professionals, who tend to spend more on cameras (which are low profit items) and accessories (which are high-profit items), and don’t stop buying with just a camera purchase. Yes, expand into video, but focus on it as a creative adjunct to still photography.

Frankly, I think CES is a big enough show, and I’m rooting for PMA to succeed. Just as the professional photography world finds Photo Plus Expo to be indispensable, I think hobbyists, prosumers and enthusiasts need the energy that flows from PMA every year to keep photography strong. I’m hoping Canon’s absence from the show is temporary and that they will be back next year with plenty exciting products to show.

And while I’m not thrilled about the 6-hour plane ride to Anaheim next month, I am looking forward to attending PMA 2010, seeing many new and exciting products, and reporting on the latest innovations and trends to you.

Look for Part II of my CES report, where I’ll share my thoughts on the actual products introduced at CES, early next week.

Question: Do you think the annual PMA convention is in trouble, or did it simply hit a speed bump this year? Leave a comment!


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