The New Universe of Images
Here, we take a look at the trends expected at photokina 2012. The organisers expect the photographic and imaging industry to shift its focus once again, when it comes together for the fair. We expect new approaches to be presented and expect the uncovering of trends that reveal how these approaches will develop in the future. What we know is that photography is a dynamically changing medium, which is gaining crucial importance in more and more areas of life. While it is becoming easier and easier to make, develop, process, archive and transmit photos, the ways in which photography can be used are steadily becoming more complex as well.
The new partnership
Smartphones – the new multimedia all-rounders – are turning into versatile camera accessories. Not only do special apps allow users to employ the WiFi features of cell phones and cameras to transmit images within networks and upload them to Internet platforms, they also increasingly enable the wireless remote control of cameras equipped with the LiveView feature. It’s therefore no longer a question of whether to use cameras or smartphones, but of the new combination of camera plus smartphone. Because many compact cameras of all types – and not just in the entry-level segment – used to boast only a fraction of the functions provided by smartphones, many people forecast that smartphones could negatively impact the market for these cameras. This didn’t prove to be the case, however. On the contrary, the smartphone and tablet PCs, which are largely based on the same platforms, became the most important allies of the imaging world and the camera industry. In line with the saying “If you can’t beat them, join them”, the competing product became an important remote control system, an external monitor with LiveView function, or a relay station through which cameras can directly share images on the Internet. Almost all of the leading camera manufacturers (e.g. Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic and Samsung) are now offering new network-enabled products equipped with WiFi features and methods for connecting them to smartphones.
If you have a smartphone, you also need apps. At photokina, the camera industry will be presenting the first products whose functions can be expanded with the help of applications downloaded from the Internet. The first miniature programs are now available for expanding the image processing capabilities of cameras, for example, as well as for installing additional digital filters for creating special picture effects or for easily influencing the contrast and brightness of images. Most of the camera apps are still available for free, although there are only a limited number of such apps currently in existence. At the presentation of the miniature programs, suppliers such as Sony have, however, announced the introduction of additional apps.
Larger formats instead of more pixels
Following the race for more pixels, manufacturers are now comparing formats. Due to the drawbacks of high pixel densities, which are very difficult to manage in small sensors, the focus is now on the advantages that large image sensors have with regard to achievable image quality, ISO sensitivity, and creative possibilities. Perhaps because APS-C sensors are now also used in many mirrorless system cameras, some of the DSLR manufacturers have promoted full-frame 35-mm cameras and made them the main new products they are presenting for top-of the-line photography. Lower pixel densities on larger image areas have the advantage of less image noise, higher ISO sensitivity, expanded image possibilities through selective sharpness (bokeh) and, last but not least, enabling faster processing options and shorter picture sequences (Canon, Leica, Nikon, Sony).
Wide aperture fixed focal lengths and superzooms
The growing number of cameras with full-frame sensors is also increasing the demand for interchangeable lenses in this category. All of the camera producers and some of the lens makers have announced that they will introduce important innovations in this area. With regard to fixed focal lengths, manufacturers are focusing on extremely wide aperture lenses in the wide angle and medium-range telephoto ranges. For premium products, apertures in this area begin at 1:1.4 to 1:2.0. Some of the leading camera manufacturers are enhancing the visual quality of their lenses by using digital systems to correct physical imaging errors. For example, the camera processor can be used to correct dark edges (vignetting) or perspective distortions. Cutting-edge nano-coated lenses are increasing the transmission and minimizing reflections (Carl Zeiss, Nikon, Canon, Sigma, Tamron, Tokina). Special lenses for full-frame cameras also boast new features such as tilt & shift (Samyang). In the classic travel zoom segments with their huge focal lengths, zoom lenses are showing a further trend toward miniaturization and wider apertures. Zoom lenses for professional requirements are now dominated by extra wide-angle zoom lenses with constant wide apertures along the entire focal length range (Canon, Nikon, Sigma, Tamron).
Mirrorless systems for professionals
Although digital single lens mirrorless (DSLM) systems have generally only been classified as a possible upgrade for owners of compact cameras who would like to use interchangeable lenses in order to have more room for creativity while not sacrificing any of the convenience that they have been used to, the systems have now reached a level of perfection that enables them to meet the needs of professional users as well. The first DSLM cameras for professionals will be presented at the trade fair. A key feature for this category of cameras is that they can be used to shoot broadcast-quality video. Although developers had previously largely ignored sound quality, this has been greatly improved in the new cameras. For example, the cameras no longer just feature connections for external microphones, but also for headsets. Most of the new products in this category also have a WiFi function for the remote release or remote control of the cameras and their connection to wireless networks. Many of the cameras can upload images to appropriate Web platforms, either directly or via a smartphone (Olympus, Panasonic, Sony).
Maximum flexibility when exchanging lenses
From the very start, mirrorless system cameras were able to use a wide variety of interchangeable lenses thanks to the high adaptability of third-party lenses. The range of usable lenses is now becoming even wider, as all of the manufacturers of DSLM cameras and many leading producers of third-party lenses have announced they will introduce new lenses for this relatively new category of system cameras. In addition to outstanding, professional-level image quality, the focus is now on constant, wide apertures; extremely rapid and quiet AF control systems that also work when shooting video; and compact dimensions. Because the lens aperture is often a more important factor for recording video than AF control, the trade fair will also feature lenses with an aperture of 1:0.9 and manual focusing. The catadioptric “mirror” telephoto lenses that were very popular in the past will also make a comeback in the DSLM category. They boast an ultra-compact design and long focal lengths. Long focal lengths for life-size (1:1) close-ups expand the possibilities in the area of macrophotography. Such lenses are particularly recommended for taking pictures of insects outdoors, which is why they are generally equipped with special seals to protect against the entry of dust or moisture (Olympus, Voigtländer).
Whereas lenses are sometimes referred to as the camera’s “eyes”, the viewfinder and the display are its glasses, which depict the image in a more or less brilliant and lifelike manner. In the latest generation of cameras, optical viewfinders are increasingly being displaced by electronic ones. The advantage of electronic viewfinders is that they depict the image exactly as the sensor currently “sees” it under the current exposure settings and show how it will be seen on the display after the shutter has been released. A few years ago, it was still considered a major technological achievement that cameras could be activated and automatically focused simply by looking through the viewfinder. Now, however, this feature is increasingly becoming standard equipment. Many cameras now activate the electronic viewfinder as soon as a user moves the camera to his or her eye. And thanks to the use of OLED technology, the display quality is once again greatly enhanced with regard to resolution and color saturation. The top new products to be presented at the fair use OLED screens for the display as well as for the electronic viewfinder. The high-resolution folding displays can increasingly be used for manual viewfinding. Many of the displays can now be folded up or turned forward so that they can be used to check the angle of the image when making self-portraits or taking group pictures in which the photographer wants to appear as well (Olympus, Panasonic, Sony).
Technology meets lifestyle and design
Until recently, beauty and intelligence were rarely found together in cameras, which tended to be viewed as picture-production tools. However, camera design is now becoming an increasingly important concern as well. Cutting-edge technology and fashionable or classic styling are no longer mutually exclusive for any category of camera. In fact, more and more cameras are now available in a wide variety of color variants and some can be subsequently customized with the help of accessories such as colorful grips. Many of the camera manufacturers’ premium models have been turned into lifestyle products thanks to a color finish or the use of elegant materials such as leather-like appliqués or high-quality metals like brushed magnesium (Fujifilm, Olympus).
The paradigm shift in photography has radically changed the way in which images are made, handled, and used. Whereas mass-market photography was primarily used to capture precious moments and express individual creativity, the rapid availability of images that can be immediately shared with everyone everywhere has shifted the focus to the use of photos and videos as a means of visual communication on Internet platforms. In addition to being primarily met by smartphones, this need is also being fulfilled by new cameras that are increasingly equipped with a WiFi function. At the same time, people increasingly want to use photography as a means of creative expression. This need is being met by the steadily growing premium compact camera category. Many of the camera models to be displayed at the fair promise DSLR image quality in elegant, design-oriented mini-housings. The quality feature of this category is the use of first-rate lenses in combination with image sensors and processors that are as sophisticated as those found in DSLR cameras. The features in this trend category are rounded off by intelligent automatic control systems and the added possibility of completely manual control (Canon, Fujifilm, Leica, Nikon, Olympus, Sigma, Sony, Samsung).
On land, on water, and in the air…
Extreme sports disciplines and other kinds of leisure activities are becoming increasingly popular. Paragliding, bungee jumping, kite and wind surfing, motorcycle and bicycle riding, mountain climbing, skiing, snowboarding and skateboarding are all popular pastimes that people like to share with others on photographs or film. A new kind of camera was developed in recent years that is ideal for this purpose, as no situation seems to be too extreme for it: the action cam. These cameras are not only small and shock and water resistant, they can also be set up almost anywhere with the right accessory. As a result, they can be used to make full HD video recordings even under the toughest conditions. Most of these cameras also have no difficulty making sufficiently high-resolution photographs. Many of them can also transmit images via WiFi directly to a PC or network, from where they can be distributed through the Internet. Some action cams can also directly stream their videos and photos to TVs so that viewers can be transported right into the midst of the action (Hama, Jobo, Rollei).
Multi-tools for creative people
Many creative photography projects can only be realized if appropriate accessories are used, while other projects are easier to accomplish with the aids offered by the photographic industry. Today’s tripods are no longer simply supports for taking steady pictures. Instead, they have become flexibly expandable systems for handling a wide variety of photographic and film tasks. Special tripod heads and attachments make it easier to take HDR, panorama, multi-focus, and astronomical images. Precise motor control units can make panorama adjustments or automatically move equipment in line with the earth’s rotation when taking long-exposure pictures of the night sky. For outdoor photographers, manufacturers now offer portable, hands-free umbrellas and sunshades that can simultaneously serve as reflectors or monopods. If needed, they can even be transformed into camouflage tents or changing cubicles (Cullmann, Novoflex).
The moving image gains ground
Thanks to the high-performance video functions of today’s cameras, photographers are increasingly turning into movie directors. But because DSLR and DSLM cameras are optimized for taking still pictures, they have to be handled differently in order to make some video recordings in certain situations. A completely new accessory industry has been established for this purpose, thus making it easier to use these cameras to make professional movies. The products range from rigs for using DSLR and DSLM devices as handheld cameras to focus-pulling and zooming equipment and special tripod heads for smooth camera pans. Also on offer are a wide range of special professional-use lenses for shooting video with these cameras. Most of these lenses are focused manually (Carl Zeiss, Foto Walser, Novoflex).
Adapting to developments
The many adapters that will be exhibited at the trade fair by camera manufacturers or accessory suppliers give old or incompatible lenses a new lease on life. Adaptors enable cameras that use interchangeable lenses to be expanded in innumerable ways. For example, professional-use adapters allow photographers to use lenses for any type of system and enable people who switch to a new camera to continue using their existing lenses. OEMs often don’t offer the special lenses that are particularly needed for macro-photography and making videos. Suppliers are also increasingly offering adapters that transfer not only mechanical functions, but also electronic ones (Fujifilm, Leica, Novoflex, Sony).
The fine art of printing
Photographers aren’t the only ones who delight in seeing great, exhibition-quality pictures printed on top-grade paper. What’s more, their use as wall hangings has steadily gained in popularity, and high-performance inkjet printers have made it increasingly easy to produce such pictures. In Cologne, manufacturers will demonstrate printers that can also make high-quality fine-art prints in formats up to A3+ on a wide variety of media. Some of these printers will be offered at prices that are still affordable for amateur photographers (Canon, Epson, HP). The manufacturers of fine-art media have announced many new products especially for photo printing. These products range from canvas-structure media and media with a classic barite look to fine-art media that can be printed on both sides so that users can make their own photobooks.
Photobooks “to go”
The photo album has been supplanted by the customized photobook, which can be easily made with the help of software that can be obtained from manufacturers for free. At the same time, these programs provide users with great flexibility in designing their photobooks. However, many consumers used to find it difficult to choose the right images and spent a lot of time positioning the pictures. The latest photobook software can now select pictures on its own, arrange pictures by date, and make suggestions regarding the layout. Consumers can also order software that can automatically create photobooks from facebook albums. In addition, new systems are now available that allow retailers to create photobooks for customers as they wait (Cewe, Fujifilm Kodak). Thanks to the digital revolution, previously separate product groups can now interact with one another as a matter of course. The new multifunctional nature of products not only makes it easier for users to share images, but also makes it possible to capture, process, reproduce, and store them with a wide variety of different devices.