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Photokina 2006 wrap-up  
Wednesday, October 4, 2006 | by Rob Galbraith

Photokina 2006 has come to end, and as we depart Europe here's a farewell look at what caught our eye at this edition of the bi-annual trade show in Cologne.

Going wide with Canon, Epson and HP

For photographers wishing to make their own 17", 24" or 44" wide prints, Photokina 2006 has ushered in several interesting new printing options. Canon, Epson and HP have all unveiled wide format photo printers aimed at the professional shooter or serious weekend enthusiast with a hankering to print big. Here's a summary of the wide (and really wide!) format options coming available in the next few months.

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44 Inches: The Canon imagePROGRAF iPF8000. Click to enlarge. (Photo courtesy Canon)

Canon iPF8000 The iPF5000 was the first imagePROGRAF model from Canon this year to feature its Lucia 12-color pigment ink system, automatic switching between photo and matte black inks as needed, a fast-printing 30,720 nozzle dual print head and a Photoshop export plug-in that drives the printer directly at a higher bit depth for promised smoother gradations. The iPF5000 has a 17 inch wide carriage, a US$1900 price tag in the U.S. and is aimed squarely at the individual photographer.

Next came the iPF9000, which has a 60 inch wide carriage, an internal 40GB hard drive to store print jobs and a price of about US$14,750 in the U.S., which means it's intended more for graphic design houses and other workgroup scenarios.

At Photokina, Canon added a third model, the iPF8000, a 44 inch wide carriage version that's a variation on the same theme. Not long before we boarded a plane for Europe we received a review unit of the iPF5000, and it will be stress tested as we work through a backlog of print requests a bit later this month. Until then, we can't say too much about the peak print quality it can deliver, and therefore we can't extrapolate an opinion about its new 44 inch cousin, the iPF8000. The iPF8000 is slated to ship in October 2006 at a manufacturer's suggested list price of US$5995 in the U.S.

Epson Stylus Pro 3800 If we were to pick a printer based solely on the quality of the prints in the manufacturer's booth, it would be the new 17 inch carriage Epson Stylus Pro 3800. Or any Epson Pro-series printer for that matter, because the company has a knack for choosing subject matter and preparing image files so that the result is prints from Epson products that are of stunning quality.

The black and white prints rolling out of the Epson Stylus Pro 3800s on the show floor looked particularly good. So, if your only criteria is how nicely can the printer manufacturer make their printers work, march straight to Epson with your credit card in hand.

Of course, most of us will apply a somewhat more sophisticated set of criteria in choosing an inkjet for the home or studio. Including examining what sort of features the printer offers for the price, plus what sort of print quality emerges from photographs other than Epson's. Given the similarity between the 3800 and the Stylus Pro 4800 we own, however, we're expecting that a custom-profiled 3800 will produce a really fine colour print, and that the Advanced Black and White mode of the printer driver will make a really fine black and white print. Epson is in fact touting better print quality from the 3800 than the very-similar 4800, thanks to refined screening algorithms in the new printer that add up to promised smoother tonal gradations.

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Views of the Epson Stylus Pro 3800: Click any photo to enlarge. (Photos courtesy Epson and by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Assuming the print quality is there, then the only thing left is to look at what the printer offers for the money. And in this way, we think Epson has knocked it out of the ballpark. For an expected street price of US$1295 in the U.S., Epson appears to have stuffed a lot of value into this printer model. Some of the key points about the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 worth noting are:

  • It has the same eight-ink print head as the 4800, and utilizes the same Ultrachrome K3 pigment inks (though not in the same cartridges). Droplet size, at 3.5pl, is also the same, as you would expect given the print head is essentially identical.

    The 3800, however, has nine ink lines feeding the print head, and nine ink cartridges can be installed simultaneously, which means both photo black and matte blacks inks can be in the machine at the same time. Because it's not a nine-ink head, the printer still has to cleanse itself when switching from one deep black to the other. But unlike the 4800, the process happens automatically in the 3800 and takes three minutes or less. Booth staff were suggesting the switchover process consumes no more than 5ml of ink, which translates into less than US$5 of ink wastage. It could be argued that this is still too much, and the printer would ideally have a nine-ink head and no switchover routine. But compared to ink wastage in the 4800 of perhaps 10-15X that of the 3800 when switching from black to black, the 3800's solution seems more than acceptable, given the printer's price.

  • Print cartridges hold 80ml of ink (a plentiful amount), compared to the 4800's 110ml and 220ml cartridge options. The 3800's cartridges fit entirely inside the machine (as shown in the photo above).

  • Standard connection interfaces include both USB 2.0 and 10/100 Ethernet built-in (the latter being a pleasant surprise). The 3800 will also be supported by Epson ColorBase (v2.0, which doesn't look to be out yet). ColorBase is Epson Stylus Pro printer calibration software available in some or all Epson regions outside North America (and available for download from several Epson websites).

  • Epson offers one auto-feeding paper path option for the 3800, in the form of a top-loading slot, plus both front and rear manual feed options for cut sheets up to 1.5mm in thickness. As it happens, the sort of shooter to ponder a 3800 purchase is probably not one cranking out lots and lots of prints, and can therefore probably live without both a roll paper holder and paper cassette. These are both standard on the 4800.

  • It weighs 43 pounds (19.5kg), which makes it about 40 pounds (18kg) lighter than the 4800; booth staff thought it would ship in a box only, as opposed to the box + wooden palette affair that's standard for the delivery of larger format printers in North America (and probably elsewhere too). It also has a considerably smaller footprint - the 3800 looks more like a supersized Stylus Photo R2400 than a 4800. The size, and secondarily the weight, of the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 will make the printer a practical choice for photographers who simply can't or won't devote the room space to the typical 17 inch carriage printer.

Add it all up and the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 has a strong set of features, combined with shortcomings that are not likely to be dealstoppers for photographers looking for a less-expensive, lower volume, professional class printer capable of pulling through a 17 inch wide sheet of paper. If the print quality is as good or better than the Stylus Pro 4800, Epson will have a real winner on its hands. Two versions of the 3800 are planned, a US$1295 standard version, and a US$1495 Professional Edition that will include a special version of the ColorBurst RIP.

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Seeing Double: The HP Designjet Z2100 and Z3100.(Photo courtesy HP)

HP Designjet Z2100 and Z3100 HP's new Designjet duo, the Z2100 and Z3100, are the company's most concerted attempt yet to propel themselves into a significant place in the professional photo printing market.

The HP Designjet Z2100 features an eight-color HP Vivera pigment ink system, including both matte black and photo black inks. The HP Designjet Z3100 uses an 11-ink HP Vivera pigment ink system, plus a gloss enhancer to reduce (booth staff were in fact using the word "eliminate") the bronzing effect associated with pigment ink printing.

Both models promise long print life; both models will be available in 24 inch wide and 44 inch wide carriage versions. To streamline the process of creating custom profiles for the Z printers, HP has teamed up with X-Rite/GretagMacbeth to embed a spectrophotometer directly into the printer itself. The spectrophotometer is essentially equivalent to the UV version of the Eye-One, though the one embedded in the printer uses an LED light source rather than the gas-filled tungsten illumination of the standalone Eye-One unit. To drive the spectrophotometer, a simplfied version of Eye-One Match has been woven into the HP Color Center software, including the same colour profiling engine. Given the same settings, a profile generated by the embedded system in the Z printers is intended be identical to a profile generated by a standalone Eye-One kit.

RGB printer profiling options in HP Color Center include the same three target types as Eye-One Match. A separately available kit for the printers (also to be available as a bundle option in some markets), one that includes an Eye-One Display 2 colorimeter, will enable monitor calibration with HP Color Center, as well as unlock CMYK printer profiling (all using code pulled from Eye-One Match). Monitor calibration options are somewhat less extensive than Eye-One Match:

  • White point settings are 5000, 6500, 7500 and native
  • Gamma settings are 1.8, 2.0, 2.2 and native
  • White luminance can be set between 80 cd/m2 and 160 cd/m2

The entire print profiling process takes about 20 minutes, and is driven from HP Color Center. First, the printer prints the target to completion (the target is comprised of patches that are more honeycomb-shaped than square). HP Color Center then engages a five minute countdown timer to give the inks time to dry a bit. When five minutes has elapased, and with the paper still in the paper feed mechanism, the printer begins to pull the paper back in, target row by target row. The spectrophotometer stops over each patch to read it, it doesn't do a scan across the entire row at once.

When all patches are measured, HP Color Center renders a profile. Because the target's colours won't be stable after only five minutes of drying time, the profiling engine has been designed to account for that, at least with HP papers: the profile creation process includes an automatic correction for the amount each target colour changes during the drydown phase. The end goal, as noted earlier, is to create a printer profile that's identical to Eye-One Match. As with previous HP printers, the Designjet Z2100 and Z3100 feature a self-calibration routine. This also utilizes the spectrophotometer inside, to measure a special HP target the printer prints.

The embedding of a spectrophotometer directly into the printer is a nifty idea. Though what we've learned about the HP profiling process suggests it won't produce profiles that are inherently better than what's available from a good-quality standalone system, the convenience of it, and the fact that spot-reading each patch might reduce measurement error, may be compelling for some. And the other specifications of the printer also look good. We hope that HP is also contemplating 17 inch wide carriage versions for the Z series.

Pricing and availability is shown below. Note that in Europe (and perhaps other world regions), but not North America, there will a "GP" bundle for each 24" model that includes the CMYK/monitor accessory kit. This will be an optional, separately available item in the U.S. and Canada.

Product Expected U.S. street price Availability
HP Designjet Z2100 24" US$3395 October 2006
HP Designjet Z2100 44" US$5595 October 2006
HP Designjet Z3100 24" US$4095 First half of 2007
HP Designjet Z3100 44" US$6295 First half of 2007

Zeiss ZF + Novoflex EOS/NIK = Canon EF

Zeiss had its new range of ZF lenses to fit Nikon's F-mount on display at this edition of Photokina. The ZF lens range is now as follows:

Of these, the only two of any interest here are the wide angles. That's because Canon's EOS-1Ds, EOS-1Ds Mark II and EOS 5D, all of which have sensors about the size of a 35mm film frame, really stress wide angle glass. And all wide angles carrying the Canon name that we've tried aren't up to the test, at least when the goal is maximum edge-to-edge detail in landscapes, peoplescapes and that kind of thing.

For that last year, we've employed an older Distagon T* 2.8/28 scooped from an eBay store, mating it to Canon cameras with an adapter from Cameraquest. But this lens, while the sharpest in this focal length range we've ever used, still softens at the edges more than is acceptable for some big-print applications. As soon as the new Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/25 ZF is on the market we intend to snap one up, in the hopes that it will be another notch or two up the sharpness scale from our older Distagon T* 2.8/28 for Contax.

It's impractical to do any serious testing of a lens like this in a trade show environment, but we were able to glean a few things about its camera compatibility and the state of the ZF/ZS series in general:

  • Earlier in 2006, Zeiss had said that they would be producing most or all F-mount ZF lenses in an M42 screw mount ZS version too. That plan has changed. They have released a ZS version of the Planar T* 1.4/50 (it's shown attached to a Canon EOS 5D in one of the pictures below). But unless customer demand dictates they do something different, the other five lenses will be offered in ZF mounts only.

  • A Novoflex EOS/NIK adapter was on hand to convert the ZF lenses for Canon use. It appears to be a well-made adapter, and includes a stopper that prevents camera damage brought on by twisting the lens too far around the EF lens mount when removing it.

  • We tried several different ZF lenses with the EOS/NIK adapter, including both wide angles, on a Canon EOS 5D and EOS 20D. The fit was fine in each case, and the cameras were able to shoot pictures without any mechanical interference from the lens or adapter.

  • For the uninitiated, the only (good) reason to try putting a Zeiss ZF lens on a digital SLR is to gain a real improvement in optical quality that translates into sharper, clearer files or big prints delivered to critical clients. To achieve this gain, there is pain: a Zeiss ZF lens on a Canon camera, for example, is an almost all-manual affair. There's no autofocus, metering is stopped down and exposure is set manually (well, aperture priority can be used, but it's really only practical at or near maximum aperture because of the darkening of the viewfinder image as smaller apertures are chosen).

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Looking Sharp: Zeiss ZF and ZS lenses, plus a Novoflex EOS/NIK adapter. Click any photo to enlarge. (Photos courtesy Zeiss and by Mike Sturk/Little Guy Media)

Both the Distagon T* 2.8/25 and Distagon T* 2/35 ZF have a list price of 699 (ex VAT) in Europe and are scheduled for delivery in November 2006. The Novoflex EOS/NIK adapter is not a new item and is available now.

Canon M30 and M80

While Canon unveiled most of its fall products long before the doors of Photokina 2006 swung open, they did keep under wraps a handful of new items until just before the show. One of those was the Canon Media Storage unit, a portable photo storage device available in two models, a 30GB version called the M30, and an 80GB version called the M80.

The units are identical except for their hard drive capacity. Both include:

  • A 3.7 inch (diagonal), 640 x 480 resolution, wide viewing angle display capable of 300 cd/m2 brightness
  • Magnesium alloy casing
  • Separate slots for downloading CompactFlash or Secure Digital (SD)
  • Successful transfer verification
  • A 1.8 inch hard drive
  • A single USB 2.0 port for connection to a Mac or Windows computer
  • The ability to view the still image formats from Canon cameras, including JPEG and CR2. The specifications indicate that only RAW files from Canon digital SLRs are compatible; we're not sure if older digital SLR CRW and .TIF files are supported
  • The ability to play back MPEG 1/2/4, MotionJPEG, MP3 and WAV video and audio. A small speaker is built into the device, as well as an A/V out jack for use with headphones or for connection to a TV set
  • A user-changeable battery, the same 7.4V Lithium-Ion BP-511a that powers the EOS 30D, EOS 5D, several earlier Canon digital SLRs and the WFT-E1/E1A wireless transmitter
  • Password protected access
  • PictBridge printing
  • User-updateable firmware

Canon booth staff stressed that the M30 and M80 are original Canon designs, produced by a Canon group in Hong Kong, rather than something that has been OEM'd from another maker and stamped with a Canon label. 

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Views of the Canon Media Storage M30/M80: Click any photo to enlarge. (Photos courtesy Canon and by Mike Sturk/Little Guy Media)

The positive attributes of the Canon Media Storage M30/M80 are apparent immediately upon picking it up. The control layout mimics a Canon digital SLR camera in a way that makes the unit easy to learn, the screen seems quite good if a bit glossy, the menus are clean and attractive and the external fit and finish is top notch. Battery life should also be decent, based on Canon's figures.

The rest of the device, however, is merely average. Card-to-device throughput is specified at 4.1MB/second for CompactFlash and 3.8MB/second for SD; booth staff were suggesting this could climb to perhaps 4.4MB/second and 4.0MB/second, respectively, by the time the units ship. Transfer rates like this are between 1/2 and 1/3 of what we've been able to measure with certain other photo storage devices (even one that also performs an image verification check) using the same SanDisk Extreme III 1GB cards Canon has employed for its testing. This translates into overly long download times. Similarly, throughput from the device to the computer over a USB link is rated at 7.5MB/second, which is also between 1/2 and 1/3 the speed of what other better photo storage devices can do.

Basic operation of the unit appears somewhat sluggish as well. In our demo, the display of thumbnails, full screen images, zooming, they all lagged slightly, relative to what we've seen in the newest Epson photo storage devices and the Jobo Giga Vu Pro evolution.

While the unit offers a slide show mode, the included transitions are limited to ones like wipe left, wipe right, and so on. There is no crossfade (Epson's photo storage devices have had this through several versions) or fade out/fade in (a staple of the Giga Vu Pro evolution), and one of these is mandatory today to stage a smooth-looking slide show.

There are numerous other features absent, including backup of the device to another photo storage unit via a USBOTG port, support for Wi-Fi transmission direct from a digital SLR camera's wireless transmitter, display of RAW files other than Canon's and, well, a long list of image review options found on the Giga Vu Pro evolution.

To expect all these things from a bargain-priced unit would of course be unreasonable, but the one bit of pricing information we were able to glean in Germany suggests these won't be selling at the entry level. At Photokina, Canon booth staff were quoting an approximate price for one of the units: about 700 (ex VAT) for the M30 model in Europe. If it sells for something resembling that it will be one of the more expensive 30GB photo storage devices available. And we're of the view that photo storage devices in this price range need to offer the photographer more performance and features than what we've seen in Canon's new M-series Media Storage models.

The Canon Media Storage M30 and M80 are slated to ship in early 2007 in Europe. Both models include a BP-511a and Battery Charger CB-5L. At Photokina, representatives of Canon USA and Canon Canada indicated that no decision had been made yet about carrying the units in North America.

Hasselblad

Hasselblad's major Photokina 2006 announcements were the H3D and matched HCD 4/28 lens. If you've been confused by Hasselblad's use of the phrase "48mm full-frame DSLR camera" to describe their new medium format flagship, you're not alone. We witnessed a funny scene play out at the Hasselblad booth in which a photographer from the UK peppered booth staff with questions about what precisely was full-frame about the H3D.

The answer is that the camera is not full-frame, at least not by any conventional definition of the term. The 39.03 million image pixel H3D-39 and the 22.20 million image pixel H3D-22 both utilize the same 36mm x 48mm sensors as corresponding H2D models, which means that both sensors are smaller than a frame of 6x45 film (which is typically 41.5mm x 56mm).

The H3D's full-frameness, at least as Hasselblad means it, stems from two design differences relative to an H2D system:

  • The standard viewfinder, the new HVD 90X, eschews the frame markings approach used previously to delineate the camera's smaller capture area in favour of a magnified viewfinder image that only shows what will be captured, which is similar to how all digital SLRs work today.

  • The new HCD 4/28 lens is designed expressly for the sensor size in the H3D. This is another trick pulled straight from the digital SLR handbook, where the lens' image circle is only large enough to cover the 36mm x 48mm sensor and not a larger piece of medium format film. Canon does the same with its EF-S lenses, as does Nikon with their DX lenses.

While neither of these things make the camera full frame in our view, they are nevertheless interesting developments.

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Full Frame? Hasselblad's H3D and HCD 4/28. Click any photo to enlarge. (Photos courtesy Hasselblad)

Other bits and pieces we picked up at the Hasselblad booth include:

  • The HCD 4/28 (whose focal length is 28.9mm according to Hasselblad's specifications) works only with the H3D. The reason, says Hasselblad CEO Christian Poulsen, is that in addition to its smaller image circle, the lens' optical design has been biased towards optimizing lens traits that can't be corrected in software later. In other words, says Poulsen, lens design is inherently a process of compromise, and by focusing less on certain optical shortcomings and focusing more on others, they have in his view developed a particularly fine ultra wide angle lens for their new camera only. That's because they intended from the outset for the optical shortcomings that they focused somewhat less on - including both colour aberrations and image distortions - to be tackled during the generation of the 3fR RAW file in the camera and in FlexColor during conversion from RAW. Hasselblad calls this processing Digital APO Correction.

  • The HCD 4/28 has an horizontal field of view that's roughly equivalent to an 18mm lens on a 35mm film or full-frame digital SLR camera.

  • The H3D will not write a RAW DNG file in the camera. Earlier this year, Hasselblad issued a camera firmware update that actually removed DNG support from its camera models, and this carries over to the H3D as well. Hasselblad's Poulsen explained that because the DNG format can't yet store some of the correction information integral to optimum processing of Hasselblad RAW data (including, but not limited to, when the shooting lens is an HCD 28mm f/4), in-camera support of Adobe's RAW format had to be shelved for the moment. Conversion to DNG is still possible in a Hasselblad workflow, by using FlexColor to create DNGs from 3fR's. To do this, FlexColor actually processes the RAW data fully (and applies its secret sauce of optical and other fixes), then converts the finished product to DNG.

  • H3D backs can be used off the camera - attached to a view camera, for example. Digital backs from other makers, including Phase One, cannot be used on an H3D body, however, which is a change from the H2D. To date, there has been extensive interoperatability between different brands of medium format cameras and backs. Hasselblad clearly wants that to end, presumably because they think it will give them a competitive advantage as a maker of both cameras and backs.

  • The H3D body will accept either an H3D back or a 120/220 film magazine.

  • The H3D fully supports the UDMA Mode 4 data timing mode of SanDisk's Extreme IV CompactFlash. This, says Poulsen, means 40MB/second+ transfers from the camera to the card. Which, in turn, translates into continuous burst shooting that's limited only by the capacity of the card - the camera will simply shoot and shoot and shoot. A firmware update for the H2D is planned for release in the first half of October that will bring this same write speed performance to the previous generation camera.

  • The 2.2 inch (diagonal) rear LCD on the H3D shows more accurate colour than before, owing to an improvement in how the previews are created in the camera rather than a change in the display itself. The Kodak-produced OLED screen is still far inferior to the TFT-type rear LCD in any current Canon or Nikon camera.

  • At Photokina, Hasselblad also introduced a waist-level viewfinder for H system cameras. Called the HVM, it's not strictly for the H3D, and it shows the full capture area of 6cm x 6cm film.

The Hasselblad H3D body, HVD 90X viewfinder and both H3D backs are shipping starting now, with the HCD 4/28 lens slated for delivery in November 2006.

Monster Pod: 1 Speedlight: 0

If you read our preview piece on the MonsterPod, you might recall we were excited about the potential of it to serve as a shoe mount strobe holder on location. A Canon or Nikon flash attached to the MonsterPod, we hoped, could use its viscoelastic morphing polymer magic to stick to a wall, the side of a filing cabinet, underneath a desk or on the ceiling. Or, to a tree outdoors for that matter.

None of these MonsterPod uses are far-fetched. All are within the realm of what has been promised for the photo accessory by its creators, Randel and Tyler Bird. And with a 20-ounce weight limit specification, flash units as large as the Nikon Speedlight SB-800 and Canon Speedlite 580EX are officially supported, even with batteries inserted and a lightweight shoe attached.

So, we proceeded with great interest to the MonsterPod booth at Photokina, where Dad Randel and son Tyler were busy demonstrating their innovative product and signing up distributors. When we explained how we wanted to use the MonsterPod, Tyler handed over two units to evaluate and offered one piece of advice: be sure to place a pillow on the floor to catch the contraption the first time out, since they hadn't yet tested the MonsterPod's ability to support a bigger shoemount strobe.

So we did just that, and each time we were glad to have prepared the combination of an SB-800 and MonsterPod for a soft landing. This combination did manage to stay in place on a wooden door for about 55 minutes, and a little longer on a window. In each case, it was obvious gravity was taking its toll, as the base of the MonsterPod, which is comprised of a material that resembles dense Silly Putty, was creeping around its top edge. Also in each case, the MonsterPod gave way all at once. And in spectacular fashion, as the photos below show.

The photos faithfully depict what the door and MonsterPod looked like after the fall, but in fairness to the MonsterPod, the rubbery material was easily removed from the wood and pressed back into place on the bottom of the unit. There was no residue left on the wood either, nor on a window in a separate test.

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Sticky Problem: The MonsterPod and Nikon Speedlight SB-800, before and after a fall. Click any photo to enlarge. (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

We also tried attaching the MonsterPod and SB-800 to the underside of a glass table. While it pressed into place just fine (it takes a bit of practice and a few thumb presses to secure the MonsterPod), and actually seemed to have a good grip, in less than 5 minutes it was on the pillow.

So, there ends the MonsterPod-as-strobe-holder experiment. While it almost certainly does live up to the manufacturer's claims of supporting smaller compact cameras when attached to all manner of surfaces and at all angles, it would have to hold a shoemount strobe in place for a lot longer in controlled testing for us to have confidence in using it on even quick real-world shoots. We'd also be reluctant to use it with some of the more substantial compact camera models, including ones with 12X optical zooms and other features that add heft, like the Canon PowerShot S3 IS.

The MonsterPod has not gone into wide circulation as yet. Since the Birds first showed a rough prototype at the PMA trade show earlier this year, they've been forced to revamp their rollout plan several times when it became clear that demand was going to quickly outstrip their ability to sell direct to the end user or even handle themselves the task of doling out units to dealers. As such, at Photokina they were busy signing up distributors. We did not get an estimate from them as to when mass shipments would begin, but it has been delayed from their summer 2006 projection earlier this year.

Lensbaby 3G

Lenbabies has introduced what it calls the "workhorse" in the Lensbaby 3G. The Lensbaby 3G is very much like the Lensbaby 2.0, including the same optical glass doublet lens formulation and magnetically attaching aperture discs, but adds a locking feature which allows the photographer to press a button on the focusing collar to lock in the "sweet spot" attained by compressing and bending the lens. Then additional fine focus is possible via an adjustment ring. In our brief experience with it, this seems to be the Lenbaby done right, as the locking feature makes this specialty lens considerably easier to use than the two previous versions.

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Locked On Target: The Lensbaby 3G in action at Photokina 2006. Click any photo to enlarge. (Photos by Mike Sturk/Little Guy Media)

We're not the only ones who like how the Lensbabies line has evolved: their booth was jam-packed every time we got near it at Photokina, with demonstrations taking place well out into the walkway.

Lensbaby 3G, in Canon EF, Nikon F and other mounts, is expected to ship starting in mid-November 2006 for US$270 direct from Lensbabies. It will also be sold through their network of pro photo retailers.

PhotoRescue 3.0

DataRescue was showing an upcoming version of their photo recovery software, PhotoRescue. PhotoRescue v3.0 for Windows and Mac is all about putting a much friendly user interface on the powerful application for recovering pictures from camera memory cards. The Mac version is a Universal Binary for native operation on both PowerPC- and Intel-based Macs, and there is a new option to manually choose the type of FAT file system on the card when necessary. It retains all features of the Expert version of PhotoRescue 2.1.x, including the ability to copy a byte-for-byte duplicate of a card to the hard drive as an image file, then perform the recovery on the image file. The recovery algorithms are unchanged in v3.0 from the current version.

There are lots of photo recovery programs out there now. After several years of using PhotoRescue to successfully recovering pictures for friends, colleagues and clients, this is the program we always turn to first to bring photos back. Version 3.0 of PhotoRescue for Windows and Mac is slated to ship sometime before the end of 2006. It will be a free upgrade for licensed users of the software who purchased it within one year; upgrades will otherwise be US$19.

Screenshots from a beta copy of PhotoRescue 3.0 for Mac are below.

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To the Rescue: Screenshots from a beta version of PhotoRescue 3.0 for Mac.

X-Rite rationalizes product line

The new X-Rite is moving quickly to sort out its line of colour management products in the wake of their joining forces with GretagMacbeth earlier this year. At Photokina 2006, they announced that packages including the Pulse (DTP20) spectrophotometer and Optix (DTP94B) colorimeter would be phased out. For X-Rite OEM customers that are relabeling the DTP94B for use in their own colour management package, the device will continue to be available well into 2007. Otherwise, this colorimeter and the Pulse will be officially current until December 1, 2006, though in reality any X-Rite offerings based around these devices are disappearing from store shelves now. A Product Integration page describes the plan for most X-Rite and GretagMacbeth instruments and some software packages going forward. A related PDF shows the company's recommended alternative to products being discontinued.

And more...

There were many more new or updated products that made their public debut at Photokina, including ProMax 8GB CompactFlash and ProMax 4GB/8GB SDHC from ATP, Kingston introduced a 4GB SDHC card and a company called Microdia introduced impossibly fast 300X cards in several formats. But Microdia's product labels are uncomfortably close in design to SanDisk Extreme IV while their performance claims for their XTRA PRO II line are a little too heady, so we'll have to test this company's products before thinking that they're for real.

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Think Digital: The Sekonic L-758DR lightmeter. Click to enlarge. (Photo by Mike Sturk/Little Guy Media)

Seitz, Horseman, Alpa and Leaf demonstrated their new standard and speciality cameras and digital backs and Sekonic had on hand the L-758DR lightmeter that will accept custom ISO calibration curves meant to match the lightmeter to the sensitivity of a digital camera. Phase One was giving booth visitors a sneak peek at the upcoming Capture 4, slated for staggered release next year.

Eastgear wasn't exhibiting at Photokina, but they advertised a product in some of Photokina's on-site publications that caught our eye. It's a smaller, lighter charger for the the NP-E3 batteries used by Canon's 1-series cameras. Called the Camera Devices CD-BCNPE3 Battery Charger, it's US$123 and available direct from the company in Singapore in versions with either a North American or European plug. Their ad worked: we ordered one, and it arrived at our office back in Canada before we did.

Earlier Photokina 2006-related stories we published include:

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