How time flies – it really does not seem like a year ago since we were last writing our comments about the UK’s largest photography event. Hosted at Birmingham’s NEC, this year’s show seems bigger than previous ones and the list of vendors gets longer and longer. To visit them all in one day would be information overload (and probably impossible) so prior to visiting, we did what we have done for the last few years, and made a short list of those stands we have particular interest in. To make this easier, the show organisers have made an awesome phone app available, which we decided to install on Ethan’s iPhone 6. A brief pre-show look at the app promises to give some order to our visit and also provide directions to each stand. Hopefully this will reduce time aimlessly wondering about.
Our short list this year consisted of;
- Ricoh Pentax – after our introduction to the K-1 a few weeks ago at SRS Microsystems we were keen to take a second look with a view to shooting some example pictures from a production camera. A play with the elusive 31mm Limited lens would also be appreciated as this is on Ethan’s list of future purchases.
- Olympus – the new Pen F looks like a really attractive addition to the Micro Four Thirds consortium so it would be good to take a closer look.
- Leica – Oh the desire runs deep to own more of their sublime equipment. I am currently going through much turmoil as to if I should invest in one of the M system bodies and a couple of lenses, or maybe the Q. Time spent on this stand will hopefully help with my choice. Last years visit to the stand proved expensive as I impulsively purchased a X Typ 113.
- Paramo – what can I say? I always take the opportunity to look at their latest range of outdoor clothing. I have long been a fan of their stuff as not only is it my choice when out walking the Peak District, but is also seems well adapted for photography.
- Crumpler – I have become a bit of a convert to their products and would like to take a closer look at their backpacks.
- Plustek – it has been a long time since I carried out any slide scanning but I keep an eye on the technology, noting that a new model is about to be released and will be demoed at the show.
Other areas of interest are the 45 minute presentation of the Leica Q and, of course, Subway for a foot long meatball marinara loaded with jalapeno’s! An additional bonus this year (and similar to last) is that Comic Con are also holding an event at the NEC on 19th and 20th, which adds some great theatre to the day.
The day began with much grumbling about the NEC car parking charges. £12 per car is a blatant rip-off, particularly as it was ‘only’ £10 last year. We were not the only ones to voice our objection to this latest exposure to the sickening greed that seems to have permeated society, but the only alternative was to park at the airport for a little less and commute in.
Having come to terms with this scam, we soon put it behind us thanks in no small part to those participating in Comic Con. This is the second year that this event has coincided with the photography show making it a much more colourful and enjoyable day.
Holding the event in roomy Hall 5 meant there was plenty of space between vendors allowing easy access to mosts stands. But what really made our trip easier was the use of the phone app with its ability to add a list of vendors and then map the route between each one. This saved us a lot of time wondering about the hall using the usual guidebook map. One suggestion for future shows though - add a compass to show which direction to head in as this will help to show which way the user is facing.
Our first ‘landfall’ was the Leica stand, as my real love lies with Leica at the moment. Since using their APS-C format X1 and Typ 113 cameras I have come to appreciate not only their superlative results, but the minimalist style and precision engineering that goes into each camera. OK, the X1 was flawed in several ways but the simplicity and output remains stunning.
Leica’s appearance at the Photography show over the last couple of years has given me the chance to handle most of their product range – something I would have difficulty doing otherwise. And one of the key points of this year’s visit is for me to carry out market research on a future potential camera system. Prior to the show my choices were between Pentax’s K-1 and the Leica M, although I have not ruled out adding a Q to my X and building a system out of disparate bodies with their associated fixed lenses.
The M Typ-240 is a beautifully crafted piece of kit, particularly when matched with a Summilux 50mm lens. I spent a while playing with this combination as this fits my core requirements for a future system camera. However at the end of my time with it, I felt it lacked in a few areas for a camera of this class and price, notably;
- No sensor dust removal system.
- No true weather sealing. Whilst the camera does have some protection, the lenses do not.
- No ability to plug a usb cable directly into the camera to transfer images, without the use of an optional handgrip.
- Having to remove the baseplate to change the battery and card.
- A little on the heavy side for a camera that it not particularly large.
So I moved on to take a look at the much lauded Q, which bears much of the M’s DNA whilst adding a few useful modern touches. To bolster my own fumblings with the Q we also attended a 45 minute presentation which provided insight into the cameras specifications and user experiences. There is no denying that the output from this model is stunning, as some of the sample images illustrated. Coupled with a wonderful user interface there is little not to like. However, my problem is the 28mm focal length; for me it is neither fish nor fowl. 28mm has always seemed a bit of a compromise between 24 and 35mm. Had the Q been blessed with either of these (or even better a 50mm), there would have been a good chance of me walking away from the show with one. Sadly, no matter how I try to cut it, 28mm just does not do it for me. The Q does have 35 and 50mm crop modes, but these obviously are digital crops and cannot replace the way a true 35 or 50mm lens renders an image. And of course, cropping results in smaller images sizes - in the case of the Q, 16 and 8 megapixel respectively. So I reluctantly put the camera down.
Unbeknown to me at the time, Ethan was engaged in conversation with one of the Leica guys. The subject of their discussion was the T - a model I have dismissed on a couple of occasions due to its very ‘non traditional’ style. Up until this moment I had never handled one but what really grabbed my attention was the newly announced 35mm 1.4 Summilux lens that was attached to one of the demo examples. As the T uses an APS-C size sensor, giving a 1.4 x magnification conversion, this equates to 49mm in old money - one of the perfect focal lengths I am looking for if building a system. So I picked up the combination and started playing. The more I played, the more I was smitten with its totally utilitarian looks but fully modern touch screen and wi-fi interface. The results we were getting from the 35mm lens were really stunning and control of chromatic aberrations when used wide open in strongly contrasting areas left me a little overawed. Given the useful but small range of existing T mount lenses (and the promise of more to come), I suddenly found myself face to face with a strong purchase contender that replaced all previous Leica’s on my short list.
It now made sense to seek out the Pentax stand and take a look at the marvellous K-1. Today was not just about me, and Ethan has been a user of Pentax’s K-3 and K-5 models for around three years now. During this time he has built a collection of superb lenses to go with them. Consequently I have had the opportunity to use a brand that I last crossed paths with in the 1980’s. It would be unfair to say that this recent exposure has not left its mark on me and when the K-1 was recently announced, we both sat up and took notice. Given the photographic crossroads I have found myself at, the K-1 coupled with Pentax’s fast 31 and 77 optics in their ‘Limited’ lens range are a compelling prospect. We both really wanted to see how these perform when paired with the new body. Our recent attendance at the launch day allowed use of the 77mm lens with it, but due to it being a preproduction model, we were not allowed to bring the results home for close analysis. And the 31mm was not available.
Today changed this as 1) the 31mm was available as a demo unit and 2) we sneakily put one of our own cards into a pre-production unit and took several demo shots.
I realise I am reiterating some of what we posted in our recent hands-on blog article a few weeks ago, but the K-1 is a really stunning, robust piece of engineering. It oozes quality workmanship and feels built to withstand whatever weather is thrown at it. Not much larger that the K-3, we are impressed how this manages to be a full frame DSLR. I was left in no doubt that if I choose to build a K-1 system over the Leica T, I will not be disappointed.
We both feel that the K-1 is going to be a huge success for Pentax/Ricoh.
The navigation app next took us to the Plustek stand. This is the first time we have ever visited a scanner stand and Plustek are one of the largest (if not largest) manufacturer of dedicated slide and negative scanners available today. Having spent many weeks several years ago using a Minolta model to digitise some of our slide collection I was curious to see what features new models bring to the market. The announcement of the OF135 seemed like a good opportunity to re-familiarise myself with slide scanning workflow, particularly as Plustek invited customers to bring a selection of slides and put them to the test.
I recall the process being painfully slow and a pretty thankless task. I was also never really happy with many of the results and I am not sure if this was a limitation of the scanner or my knowledge. At the time my film of choice was Kodak’s EBX stock which was highly saturated, grainy and very dense, so I lost much of the shadow detail in the final scan. Adjustments made for shadow areas often revealed a lot of noise, so the resulting output remained very contrasty and not particularly appealing to me.
The new OF135 is a capable enough device and has a slightly larger footprint to previous Plustek models (and similar to my old Minolta for that matter). However it is targeted at the amateur market who do not wish to become involved too much in the scanning workflow. Our attention was drawn towards a OpticFilm 8200i AE which allows the user more processing options via the bundled Silverfast software. As this model was hooked up for demo purposes, we loaded four slides in and proceeded to scan them. What soon became apparent was that the scanning process is still a long one, although it did seem a little faster that my old Minolta model. When we finally got around to viewing the output, the results were good, but nothing startling. To be honest, a huge learning curve lay ahead of us and it would be unfair to say that scanners had not improved much over the decade since we last used them. However, I could not help thinking that maybe analogue should remain analogue and viewed as such. Projected slides are nothing short of stunning. Scanning seemed to reduce them to a shadow of their former self.
Our day is not complete without a browse on the Paramo stand. For anyone who has not sampled their clothing I wholly endorse it, having been wearing some of the stuff for more than a decade. I guarantee that you will get bored with the style and colour before it wears out. One of my jackets is almost 11 years old and still sees regular wear, having been slept in, rode hard and put away wet, washed and water proofed countless times. It just keeps coming back for more – even the zips are still fully functional.
My eye was drawn towards a new range of lightweight fleeces that, when worn with a suitable matched outer shell, offer complete protection from nature’s harsher moods. I have mentally put one of these on my Christmas list for that moment when the family decry that I am awkward to buy for…you never know your luck…
Interest in Crumpler products began small, a few years ago when I purchased a leather iPod case. I was immediately taken by the quality and workmanship of the materials used. I still use it today and it bears very few signs of use. Since then I have purchased a neoprene Macbook case and very recently, one of their ‘Dinky Di’ messenger bags for my workday commute. As they also produce a camera backpack, I wanted to see more of it. I have a particular weakness for backpacks as a recent exploratory trip to one of my sheds revealed last week. In here were hung the sleeping hulks of several previous purchases, and this is not all of them. I think a trip into the loft would see an embarrassing expansion of the total count.
Crumpler’s latest pack is a canvas ‘Base Park’ creation that really appeals to me due to its use of traditional materials and the ability to transport, with ease, a small system along with a laptop and a whole bunch of accessories and non photographic items. This is not a large pack, so would not be of much use to anyone using a system that deploys large telephoto lenses. But for me, it fits the bill nicely.
My affinity with Olympus goes back to the early 1980’s and Maitani’s legendary OM System. Apart from occasional use of a fully functioning 10 year old E-1 and 50mm macro lens, I am no longer a user of their cameras. However it is nice to see the OM System concept live on in their current OMD line up and I still really like the look, feel and output of the EM-1. Also their Pen series seems to have matured with the latest Pen F model.
It was part curiosity for this, and partly old time’s sake that we visited their stand. Ethan found his photographic feet with an E-510 so neither of us could pass up an opportunity to look over their current product line-up. Given the rumours surrounding the release of a 25mm f1.2 lens, I cannot completely dismiss returning to Olympus, although they are an outside bet at the moment. My OM Zuiko 50mm 1.2 lens was one of my favourite all time lenses, so if they could capture the magic in a digital equivalent, it could sway my opinion.
Having looked at the OMD series many times in the past, we pretty much bypassed these models and searched out the new Pen F. Using it was an interesting experience as we were overwhelmed with the amount of configurable options buried in the menus. It could not be more different from Leica’s philosophy of ‘less is more’.
The Pen F is a beautifully sculpted machine and Olympus make a point of highlighting the fact that there are no visible screws. The electronic viewfinder is a great user experience offering astounding clarity albeit with a bit of a warm tone. It is bristling with buttons and dials and I must admit to being a bit overwhelmed. Therefore I was very pleased when I found that the rear screen could be reversed to bring some empty space to, what for me, seems an overpopulated body.
So did we make any purchases this year? I am afraid not…although after some thought I did make my way to London Camera Exchange’s stand to buy a Leica T and 35mm Summilux. to my disappointment, the lens had a 10 day delivery time so I was not taking one away today. I decided to treat this moment as the beginning of a cooling off period. Was I caught up a bit with the fever of the day?..possibly…but one thing I am sure about now is that in my search for a future system, it is between the Pentax K-1 and Leica T. And I think Ethan will be revisiting that sublime 31mm f1.8 limited prime.
I guess we get to sleep on the days events safe in the knowledge that our bank balances are unaffected…for now.