There are photography expos, and then there's Photokina. Held every other year in Cologne, Germany, this massive trade show grabs the imagination of photographers, camera enthusiasts, retailers, and gear nerds worldwide, setting imaging industry trends for years to come.
What to Expect
Tech shows like the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas are important events for camera news, but announcements from other corners of the industry—like televisions and, these days, mobile gadgets—tend to dominate the headlines. At Photokina, though, it's all about the photo gear, and there's something here for everyone. [Check out our in-depth coverage here
At the Kölnmesse, you'll find all manner of photo equipment that you probably didn't know existed unless you're a photo geek—and even if you are, you probably don't own any of it. Most of the headlines still revolve around the top-tier companies with household brand names, but the lesser players get their share of the spotlight, too.
Third-party lens manufacturers, accessory companies, and photo-book producers fill the halls, nestled among the huge booths from major manufacturers like Canon, Nikon, and Sony. Independent lens manufacturer Tamron has a booth with a jungle theme, where visitors can test their new 90mm macro lens. DSLR video-rig maker Hoodman has a giant inflatable superhero in their space. Boutique American lens-maker Lensbaby occupies a tiny booth in the back of one of the halls, but it still attracted a sizable crowd who wanted to check out their niche glass, available for most lens mounts. The highlight there is an $80 tilt-shift lens.
The whole industry participates on a huge scale. At the last Photokina, more than 1,000 exhibitors displayed their goods, and more than 180,000 visitors came from 165 countries to check them out. If the first day is any indication, it looks to be a similar turnout this year.
While conventional wisdom suggests that the imaging industry is in trouble, under assault from mobile phones that keep eating into camera sales, that trend is actually helping to make the photographic community more vibrant than ever. More people are taking more pictures, and more casual photographers are becoming serious about their hobby, spending $500 or more on interchangeable-lens cameras. Point-and-shoot sales are plummeting, but DSLR and mirrorless compact system camera sales keep growing steadily year over year—and those cameras have higher margins than cheap compacts.
Big is Back
At Photokina, it's clear that the camera industry is trying to capitalize on the huge amount of interest in image capture by giving step-up photographers a whole lot of ways to jump head-first into their hobby. The industry is betting big on big cameras, hoping users will open their wallets when the novelty of Instagram begins to wear thin.
The most newsworthy announcements at the show have come from the biggest companies in the game: Canon and Nikon are both debuting new high-end, full-frame DSLRs—the 6D [preview and D600, respectively—though they're marketing them as "entry-level" full-frame cameras. The stands showcasing these new cameras were easily some of the busiest during the first day of the show. With suggested prices topping $2,000 (and that's without a lens), these aren't for first-time photographers. But they do make it somewhat more affordable for super-hobbyists to achieve pro-level image quality (as much as a piece of gear can help you to shoot like a pro, anyway) and comprehensive manual control. The catch? The bodies don't feel as sturdy as the truly professional models, shedding some of that "premium" feel for a cheaper price.
Sony is making big moves at the show, too. They announced a big batch of major new high-end, full-frame products about a week ago, including the DSLR-style SLT-A99 [preview and the RX1 fixed-lens compact [preview, both of which are making their public debuts here. The Sony booth is one of the biggest spectacles at the show, complete with a disjointed pseudo-safari theme. The Big Two might command most of the market share, but Sony commands much of the buzz on the floor.
The rest of the usual suspects are here as well, mainly showing off interchangeable-lens mirrorless compact system cameras for the higher end of the consumer crowd. Panasonic announced the GH3, a refresh of their flagship, video-oriented mirrorless model. Olympus announced two new PEN models, both stuffed with the sensor and autofocus system from the excellent high-end OM-D E-M5. Fuji is showing off the X-E1, a cheaper, streamlined version of the red-hot X-Pro1, as well as a new retro-styled, fast-lens, RAW-shooting compact called the XF1. Pentax updated its oddball Q line with the Q10, and also refreshed its top K-5 DSLR model with a refined autofocus system that it claims can focus in near total darkness.
Among their other high-profile releases, Sony released the NEX-6, complete with an electronic viewfinder and a lower price tag than the NEX-7. Canon also refreshed the top end of their PowerShot compact lineup, now including the RAW-shooting SX50 with a ridiculously long 50x zoom, and two new advanced compacts, the S110 and G15.
As expected, a rush of new lenses came from just about every major lens-maker, too. Everything from Olympus' quirky 15mm f/8 "body cap lens" for Micro Four Thirds (it's really more of an accessory that happens to double as a lens) to high-end glass from Zeiss, Voigtländer, Schneider-Kreuznach, Leica, and more. Sigma even announced lenses with USB docks for firmware updates and focus tuning.
On the fringe of what's interesting and beyond what's affordable for the vast majority of the public, Leica also announced a handful of new cameras. Canon and Nikon might be stretching the truth when they call their $2,100 full-frame cameras "entry level," but Leica's idea of a price-conscious rangefinder, the Leica M-E, tips the scales at $5,500. The new "standard" rangefinder in the lineup is the Leica M at $7,000, and in a surprise move, they also announced a new medium-format camera, the Leica S, at a smooth $21,950. Some say that the red dot is worth the price, but it depends on how deep your pockets are.
Photokina carries on for the rest of the week and opens up to the general public this weekend. The big announcements are out of the way for now, but we could spend a week walking the show floors and still not see everything.
For in-depth Photokina coverage, including full camera previews, video interviews, and more, head to DigitalCameraInfo.com.