Last week I made some predictions about PMA. Prediction Number 9 ("Sigma will surprise us, and it won't be lenses") apparently was correct.
Last year, we saw plenty of new products at PMA but crowds were a bit thinner, probably due to the economic crisis which was in full bloom at the time. Products that had been in the pipeline before the economy went south were still comming out. This year, the reverse seems to be true. Plenty of people are attending the show and feel the economy is turning around, but manufacturers, stung by the economy over the past year, have pulled back on new products and as a result there's not a whole lot to report. There were, however, notable exceptions. Sigma was one of them.
Sigma unveils new generation of cameras, and gives a hint about the future
Sigma has made a lot of changes since last PMA, and it shows. They have a new, very active marketing team in place and have brought aboard Dave Metz, formerly of Canon, and he too is making a difference. The DP line of compact cameras built around the Foveon X3 APS sensor continues to evolve, with two new models to replace the original items. And Sigma is finally showing a working SD15 DSLR.
All three Sigma cameras have in common the Foveon Sensor, but also a new processing engine that, in the smaller cameras, is claimed to improve autofocus speed, which was one of the biggest knocks against the DP cameras. In the SD15, higher-capacity internal data transfer should mean fewer missed shots because the camera was busy writing to the memory card or the buffer was full.
An interesting aside: When the DP1 first came out, I sent Sigma a memo detailing what I thought could be improved. I strongly suggested they consider an interchangeable lens system. Apparnetly in an interview with another web site, Sigma president Kazuto Yamaki said the company is considering producing such a system, a very welcome development. While I was visiting the Sigma booth, I got the following clarification, which is that there is no active effort right now to build such a camera but it is a long-term goal. Currently, resources are going into further improvements and refinements for the DP and SD lineup and at some point (not yet decided) in the future, Sigma will turn its attention to creating an EVIL camera.
Sigma's Glass Act
The big news from Sigma's lens division is a new lower-cost FLD glass which is being used in several of the lenses the company introduced at PMA. Said to be equal in perofromance to pricier fluorite glass, the FLD elements are said to provide high light transmission, with low refractive index and low dispersion compared to current glass. The result? Reduced chromatic aberration, high definition, and high contrast images, according to Sigma. You can find new FLD elements in the igma 8-16mm F4.5-5.6 DC HSM as well as 2 elements in both the Sigma APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM and the Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM.
Can't wait to field-test Sigma's glass and new generation of cameras.
Film is not dead
So there I was, talking to a Kodak representative about Kodak's recently announced Ektar 100 in 4x5 and 8x10 sheet film. I mentioned that I'd heard in the press room about some new large format camera from the Seagul company (remember their line of twin lens reflex cameras?) and his eyes lit up. "Get me a picture of it, will you?" he asked.
The Shenhao, marketed by Seagul and found in one of those little booths tucked away in the back of the show floor, makes several elegantly constructed wooden field cameras. It's available in 4x5, 5x7 and 8x10 models, as well as a 4x10-inch model which can be adapted to shoot on 120 rollfilm or 5x7 sheet film. Unlike the Seagul TLRs of old, however, these cameras don't come cheap. Prices start at around $1,500, and go up to $4,000.
Fujifilm brought out a new instant camera, the white, marshmallow-shaped Instax Mini 25, which spits out business card-sized photos and has a tiny front mirror so you can shoot a self portrait. Nice touch: There are two shutter releases for vertical or horizontally oriented images.
Last year, I saw the Aputure Gigtube DSLR digital viewfinder, which taps into your DSLR's live view mode and lets you view it from up to 20 feet away via a cable connection. Problem was, it wasn't ready yet. It is now and I can see applications for wildlife, sports, and other areas where you might not be able to look directly into the finder. It has a 2.5-inch LCD monitor, a 6-foot extension cable (you can extend it to 20 feet), and remote shutter release built in. It is available for basically any Canon or Nikon DSLR with Live View.
Tomorrow: I visit El Barrio--the little booths in the back of the hall--in search of clever independent gizmos for photographers!