Like most blokes I love a bit of a geek-out about ‘gear’ and seeing the latest toys in action. The digital photography era seems to have brought ‘gear’ to the forefront of photographers’ minds like never before. To enjoy some of the latest developments up close I took a trip with another local photographer to the Focus on Imaging trade show at the Birmingham NEC.
Once cameras were cameras and computers were for spreadsheets but now crazy upgrade cycles of the typical PC have now entered the photographic realm – software, hard drives, powerful Macs, laptops, websites, new ways to control flash lights remotely, online backups, Drobo backups, calibration tools, plugins, etc. It just goes on and on. While on one level it might appear you can start a photographic business with a half-decent camera and a couple of lenses the reality is rather different in terms of gear-lists… and then there’s expenses like insurance and marketing materials on top.
As a working photographer, though, you tend to separate the hype from the reality. No one needs to upgrade their photography set-up until they have reached its limitations, something has broken or worn out, or an upgrade would allow them to take on new types of work. Professional photographic gear is generally built to last much longer than consumer-grade alternatives and, even in the digital age, a tough set of lights or professional lenses can give years of glitch-free service on shoot after shoot.
But did anything catch my eye at Focus on Imaging? Certainly! Here were the top five products that captured my imagination.
1. Continuous Inkflow systems from Fotospeed
Everyone that’s ever bought an inkjet printer knows that while the machines themselves are inexpensive for what you get the ink costs can be crazy. Even if you avoid the branded ink cartridges and use generic replacements the costs can be huge. Plus, if you use third party inks, who’s to say the colour reproduction will be exactly the same – this is vital if you’re a photographer producing prints for clients.
Fotospeed offers ‘Continuous Ink systems’ for Epson’s range of professional inkjet printers like the R3000 and R2880, which include ICC profiles to ensure accurate colour reproduction. While no as cheap as some ‘eBay specials’ the Fotospeed inks are aimed at serious photographers and can slash 80% of the price of using branded cartridges. While I don’t currently own a professional inkjet, a Fotospeed system will be a must-have when I do.
2. Leaf Aptus-II 10R Digital back
Okay, here’s the fantasy-land pick. I’ve always lusted after a digital back for my Hasselblad V-serious camera kit. New, these beasts can cost the same as a high-end family car and even a second-hand beater can cost more than £5,000. Still, even if you have the cash, or the client list that calls for the highest end quality imaginable, the digital backs come with certain limitations. Most are set up to shoot landscape and a Hasselbald V-series would be (even more) awkward to use on it’s side. The Leaf Aptus-II 10R allows you to rotate the sensor to portrait orientation. Oh, and it’s 56 megapixels. I can dream.
3. Various companies selling cool albums, printing and finishing services.
Clients never care what camera gear you use so long as they love the finished results. As well as your skill in taking the images and editing or retouching them presentation is the key. Books, albums, wall sized prints, are just a few ways portrait clients enjoy their images. While some of my favourite suppliers were at the show there were one or two products I’d never seen up close, like the stunning ‘aluminium’ prints. I’ll be ordering some great sample packs soon, I think.
4. The Canon 5DmkIII
Probably one of the biggest hits with the geeks at the show. The 5D mkII was a landmark camera, bringing extremely high resolution to mainstream professionals and, at a stroke, invented the entirely new field of ‘DSLR cinematography’ thanks to it’s ability to shoot stunning HD video.
The 5D mkIII is both very similar to the mkII (which will be sold alongside the new model for at least a while yet) or radically upgraded, depending on what sort of features you were hoping for.
Some mkIII standout features include full weather-sealing, which gives a little extra confidence if it starts to rain on an outdoor shoot, and stunning 61point auto-focus. The latter is more in line with the 5D’s status as Canon’s entry into the professional range and works incredibly, but studio, portrait and wedding photographers probably didn’t struggle with the mkII’s serviceable autofocus performance. The mkIII has a whole host of other tweaks, including another couple of stops of low-light performance – although sometimes this can simply mean more aggressive noise-reduction rather than a more sensitive sensor. It’s a worthy update to the 5D mkII but considering that at current street prices you can buy two of the old model for the price of the new, there’s not much reason for existing users to upgrade. Perhaps we’re moving, at last, to a world where we can keep using our favourite cameras for a few more years than before.
5. Topaz Labs InFocus
Around Focus on Imaging there were dozens of great little product demos going on. One talk I enjoyed was a demo of Topaz Labs InFocus software, which claims to restore detail to out of focus images or ones suffering from motion blur. Although the images used to demonstrate the digital magic were likely sympathetically selected there was a ‘wow factor’. Even experienced photographers will occasionally load up a stunning image into Photoshop only to discover focus wasn’t quite nailed or there was a touch of camera shake. If InFocus can resuce some of these then brilliant.