As a fan of both photography and technology, I recently joined a throng of similar minded individuals in Cologne heading into photokina, touted as ‘the world’s leading imaging fair’. Wanting to get my photographic hit first, I started in Hall 1 (of 11) with a tour through the Leica Gallery of the photographic collections on display. My favourite had to be the 1960s B&W photos of rock legends such as The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones, though by far the most impactful was the collection taken by another rock legend, Bryan Adams, whose graphic series of wounded British war veterans, Wounded: the legacy of war, really pulled no punches.
Leaving behind the gallery, I headed off to the other halls in search of new technology. It soon became clear that the growth segments of the market continue to develop around connectivity (Google exhibited at the show for the first time) and mobility/portability. With the digital revolution enabling the inclusion of cameras into smartphones and tablets and the ability to immediately post/share images via the internet, there has been an explosion in the number of photos and videos taken – apparently 250,000 photos are now taken in the world every second of the day! To exploit this trend, an integrated wi-fi capability has become a regular feature in many new camera models, as is the case with both the new Canon PowerShot G7 X and the Nikon COOLPIX S6900, for example. Reflecting the convergence of photo and video capabilities on the same device, both cameras also offer video recording in full HD, though not in the Ultra HD or ‘4k’ (essentially four times the quality of HD and the next major step up in image capture and display) offered by the likes of Blackmagic (also exhibiting at photokina for the first time), who were promoting ‘the world’s most portable 4k digital film camera’.
While the smartphone manufacturers continue to erode the compact camera market by increasing the quality and features of the cameras incorporated into their phones, the launch at photokina of the LUMIX Smart Camera CM1 from Panasonic suggests that the camera manufacturers may be considering a fightback. The CM1 combines the features of a high-end compact camera (a one inch, 20 megapixel CMOS sensor, Leica lens and 4k video mode) with those of a smartphone (running on Android KitKat, driven by a 2.3 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon quad core processor) to address “customers who want better photo capabilities than those of regular smartphones, but who do not wish to carry an extra camera around”. With a more ‘premium’ look than other manufacturers’ previous offerings in the camera-phone category, it will be interesting to see how well it sells when it becomes available in November (though only in Germany initially).
One of the major drivers of the trend towards smaller, more portable image capture devices has been the growth of the action camera market. Its value in Western Europe now equates to almost half that of the whole camcorder market, largely driven by social media and the desire to share images and videos with others. Action cameras, as produced by the likes of GoPro (another debut exhibitor at photokina), are video/stills cameras that are typically worn by the user while engaging in an outdoor activity, so might be mounted on a skiing/motorcycling helmet or strapped to the user’s arm, chest, etc. The cameras therefore need to be lightweight, but shockproof and/or waterproof, while recording in HD. One of the companies that announced a product for this market segment at photokina was Polaroid, which launched its Cube HD Sports Action video camera. The camera, only 35mm wide/high/deep, has a rugged, rubberised exterior and features a one-button control. A built-in magnet allows it to be attached to anything metal and other accessories allow it to be attached to, for example, the quadcopter drones that a surprising number of exhibitors seemed to be demonstrating on their stands.
It wasn’t only action cameras zooming around on the drones however. Zeiss was offering visitors the chance to test its cinemizer OLED virtual reality video glasses, which were linked to a camera attached to a remote-controlled quadcopter, giving the operator a bird’s eye view of the exhibition halls.
A final mention has to go to another first-time exhibitor getting a lot of attention at the show – Lytro, which was promoting its Illum camera. The Illum is a ‘light-field’ or ‘plenoptic’ camera that uses a microlens array to capture the full light field information about a scene, rather than just 2D data. This means that you can refocus on something within an image after you’ve captured it, change the depth of field of an image and also view all your images in 3D! From a review I’ve since read (though posted in July this year), it sounds as though the company still has some work to do on the camera, but it is amazing technology nevertheless.
I’m already looking forward to what photokina 2016 will offer.