Photokina 2008 – Day 1

After my problems with the flights I finally managed to get to Cologne and went early in the morning to Photokina. Let me say that the trip was more then worth it and way exceeded my expectations.

First let me thank all the people at Ricoh for meeting me! It showed me that Ricoh is a company very much in touch with their clients and interested in feedback. I don’t think other companies would have done the same, especially not to the same extent. I will write more about it on the post tomorrow which will be all about Ricoh.

The post for today will focus on the other manufacturers. Arriving at Photokina was
unproblematic and although I expected it to be crowded it was not too bad. Yes, there were a lot of people but the big scale of the Exhibition Centre meant that it never got too crowded in one single place. Also most people seemed focuses on the new dSLRs, something I was not interested in so I did not have to worry about the masses there :). What I was interested in were all serious compacts and there were a few interesting cameras available.

Since most manufacturers made their announcements in the weeks and days before Photokina I knew what to expect and what I really wanted to see. There was mainly the Panasonic G1, the first m4/3 camera, the LX3 also from Panasonic, the Canon G10, Sigma’s DP2, the Nikon P6000 and of course the model prototype of Olympus’ new m4/3 camera.

Let me start with the highly anticipated G1 and see if it really is what I was hoping for.

The good news it is almost it and the most interesting camera (for me) at Photokina. It is pretty small but not much smaller than the LC1 although much lighter. The controls are very good and I really like the push wheel, works a bit like the Ricoh adjust wheel so this is very good.
The LCD is the best I’ve seen with a very fast refresh rate, high resolution and very bright.
Am not so keen on the flip and twist feature though and would rather have a fixed screen since it will save space. Now what about the EVF, is it really as good or does it have problems? Yes, it is really that good and the best EVF to date, it is very fast, bright and provides a better view than most beginner dSLRs with a kit lens. The refresh rate goes down a bit and it gets grainy if it’s really dark but this should not be a real issue most of the time and the LCD can be used in this cases. Still, I wish Panasonic would not have bothered to put it on the camera but make it an external accessory like Ricoh did with the GX100/200 so that I could leave it home and have a smaller camera.
The focus speed is very fast even in low light and I don’t think anyone would have serious problems with it. The RAW buffer is also big enough so the camera is very responsive.
Overall the G1 is a highly impressive camera but it feels a bit plasticky and I dislike the dSLR shape so I hope Panasonic will release a camera shaped more like the LC1. This might not happen though since the LC1 has been designed by Leica so Panasonic might stick to more traditional designs.
One funny thing is that the camera warns you if the lens is not attached but does so only in Auto mode. Maybe Panasonic thought beginners might be surprised why their photos are not good after removing the lens ;). One has to wonder though why this is not used to automatically close the shutter so the sensor is not exposed when removing the lens. If you ask me it should be an easy firmware fix.

After this I went to play around with the LX3 and it is a very nice camera indeed. The build might not be as good as the Canon G10 or Ricoh GRD but it feels solid enough and the new small hand grip is pretty good. I could not notice any delay when shooting RAW but I also did not take more than 2-3 pictures in a row. As nice as the camera is, the controls are not very good. As you might know, I criticise cameras for having non-intuitive controls or badly laid out buttons and the LX3 could benefit from better controls. Yes, it has a great screen, fast lens and good sensor but the controls are pretty poor and it would not suit me.
Another issue is the full press lag, the camera will always wait for the focus to be completed and this can take a while in low light. The good thing however is that the screen does not freeze when focusing like on the DP1 and on the GRD II, under certain circumstances, but the focus is nowhere near as fast as on the G1.
The picture above is taken with the LX3.

A quick word on the Sigma DP2, it was not open on display so I could only see it in a case.
It is thicker than the DP1 with the lens retracted and is almost as thick as the new Onympus m4/3 prototype with it’s lens attached. This could somewhat limit the pocket ability.
The lens is faster but not as wide and I would have preferred if Sigma would have put a faster 28mm lens on it.
The buttons now finally have markings next to them so are not black with black markings anymore, this should make it easier to see the function they have. They have also been re-arranged but it’s difficult to say if this is good, bad or the same as before in terms of improving the handling.
I asked the Sigma representatives what improvements it received but it seems the only thing improved is the processing engine so RAW should be faster and the display lag might be fixed now. Unfortunately Sigma will use the same LCD as before so the green cast, poor resolution and viewing angles will remain.
With the m4/3 cameras announced the DP2 will have stronger competition than the DP1 although the Foveon fans and people who like the DP1 will be happy with the new DP2 and prefer it over other cameras for the sensor alone.

At the Canon booth I could have a look at the G10 and I was shocked as to how big it is. This is a literally a brick, it is huge but very solid and well built. I am sure you can whack someone over the head with it and it will still take fine pictures afterwards ;). The hand grip is very nice and feels like (is?) leather so this is a nice touch. Overall this is one of the best built compact cameras around. But it is big, very big, almost the same size as the Panasonic G1 and only a bit smaller than the Epson RD1, definitely not a pocket able camera unless you have huge pockets.
Ok, after I got over the shock of how big it is (and this although I knew the G7 and G9 before) I was quite impressed by the controls, aside from the Ricoh controls, it has the best controls of the serious compacts and is better than the Panasonic G1. Wish the Panasonic G1 would look and feel like the G10.
Ok, not all is great though, the dials on top of each other are silly and look like a wedding cake. Canon could have made one half the thickness without losing the usability or how about a push-in, push-out button for the inner dial?
Another thing is the (often requested) integrated OVF. Yes, it is ‘better’ than the one in the G7 but it is still a complete waste of space and useless. Did I mention that the lens still obstructs most of the view? On the other hand it shows why manufacturers should NOT put an integrated OVF in their cameras. Please make OVFs and EVFs only external to mount on the hot shoe and keep the camera small instead of offering useless holes to make the cameras bigger, the purists will learn of the advantages of the LCD or will have to live with a bigger camera but proper OVF/EVF if not.
The camera is otherwise very good but due to the size uninteresting for me but will probably appeal to a lot of people.

The Nikon P6000 was in my opinion the weakest serious compact camera announced. Yes, the focus is finally faster than the P5000 but not really fast compared with the other cameras from Ricoh, Panasonic or Canon. The controls are worse than on the LX3, the ethernet port completely useless (why would anyone put an ethernet port on a camera if Wifi and Bluetooth are better?!?) and the OVF tiny and an even bigger waste of space than the one on the G10 since it’s smaller and even less accurate.
The GPS tagging is the only interesting feature, the rest is more a halfhearted attempt to catch up to the competition but it does not even manage to catch up on the last generation of cameras from Canon G9, Ricoh GX100 and Panasonic LX2.
I am sure the camera will find it’s fans and sell well because it is from Nikon but if you can choose between the Ricoh GX200, Panasonic LX3 or Canon G10, the P6000 does not have anything that would let it stand out.

The Olympus m4/3 prototype model was really sleek and much smaller than expected. If they can pull it off, we might have one of the best serious compact cameras. I really like the design but hope Olympus will add some dials or wheels to make the controls faster. At the moment it’s difficult to say more but it is very promising.

Ok, what else was there?
The Visual Gallery was great and offered a lot of different styles and some very interesting pictures. Time was short so I could not really appreciate this to the full extent.
The Lomo corner was fun and packed with people all throughout the day, well worth hanging around and taking some pictures.
The Fuji 3D camera is quite interesting and the prints looked quite cool. If nothing else it is at least a cool technology demo.
I have asked Leica if there are any plans to release a digital version of the CL but the reps did not even know about the CL and the answer sounded more like “buy what we have or go away”. Overall the M8.2 was not very impressive when compared with the R-D1s, nice and the shutter is quieter but the R-D1s feels more solid and has better controls.

This was the first part of my report, the 2nd part will be up tomorrow.

Also have a look at Wouter’s very good report.


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