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PMA: Product roundup  
Thursday, February 15, 2001 | by
The 2001 edition of the PMA trade show wrapped up yesterday, and you have to know that Nikon is feeling pretty good. The highlight of the show for many was certainly the introduction of their D1H and D1X cameras, and with good reason: there's lots to like about Nikon's new digital SLR models.

Attendees shuffle towards the open doors of PMA 2001 earlier this week

The surprise of the show for me was the absence of a response from Canon to Nikon's strengthening lock on the pro digital SLR segment. Rumours abound of course, but the fact is that staff at Canon's sprawling stand had nothing - no spec sheets, no wooden mockups, no whispers across the counter - to reassure the Canon faithful. In the pro digital SLR segment, it was Nikon's show all the way.

Over 800 companies exhibited at PMA, including over 100 showing digital cameras. Here's a brief look at some of the products that were on show for the digital photojournalist:

PocketWizard MultiMAX

So sure, I want a Nikon D1X. But there's something else I want almost as much: the new PocketWizard MultiMAX.

PocketWizard MultiMAX transceiver

As any North American photojournalist who shoots with multiple strobes knows, the PocketWizard radio remote system is the industry standard. The folks at LPA Design have taken that system three steps further at PMA.

First, they've meshed the separate transmitter and receiver units into a single transceiver, so that one unit can serve either purpose as needed simply by flipping a switch.

Second, they've rolled in the functionality of two other LPA products: Time Machine and Speed Cycler. Both products will be discontinued as the MultiMAX makes its way onto store shelves.

And finally, they're working with their distributor, Mamiya America, to develop and place the equivalent of a PocketWizard MAX transmitter (or perhaps a transceiver; final specs are still being discussed) inside certain Mamiya cameras, starting with the Mamiya 645AF. Availability is perhaps 6 months away. At least initially, the PocketWizard module will not ship with the camera; instead, any owner of a 645AF, whether it was purchased today or after the module is introduced, will ship their camera to Mamiya for PocketWizard retrofitting. The cost for that is expected to be in the range of US$150.

Two Sekonic flashmeters will also accept a PocketWizard module: the new Zoom Master L-608, which is already shipping, and the upcoming L-358 (Sekonic's web site does not have info up on these meters yet). The module is to be about US$100, with perhaps an introductory price that is much less than that. Other lighting equipment distributed by Mamiya is to receive the same PocketWizard injection in the months ahead.

One Mamiya rep spoke excitedly about the possibility of PocketWizard modules in cameras of all stripes, including SLRs from Canon and Nikon. As an avowed Pocket Wizard fan, the idea of having PocketWizard functionality built right into any camera that I might be using is way cool, though its adoption in, say, a D1X or D1H, is probably a pipe dream for now.

The PocketWizard MultiMAX is to ship within 30 days for about US$50 more than a PocketWizard MAX receiver. MAX owners, however, will be able to have their units upgraded starting next month to the MultiMAX for US$45. Both the MAX's internal software and outer casing is changed during the upgrade.

Both the PocketWizard Plus and PocketWizard MAX continue in LPA Design's product line, though the MAX will quickly fade away if, as expected, most photographers opt for the MultiMAX instead.

Canon Extender EF 2x II and Extender EF 1.4x II teleconverters

Canon's two long lens teleconverters have received a minor tuneup. Both the Extender EF 2x II and Extender EF 1.4x II now feature thin gaskets on the front and rear mount surfaces for better weather sealing. Canon's IS long lenses and the EOS-1v already have similar gasketing.

In addition, Extender EF 2x II has been redesigned optically, while both it and Extender EF 1.4x II have been tweaked to deliver improved contrast when shooting in backlit conditions.

AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/2.8D ED-IF II

Nikon's latest 300mm f/2.8 features magnesium alloy components and is just over a pound lighter than its predecessor. Picking up one, and then the other, the weight difference is obvious, and I think most shooters would prefer to schlep the new version around on a long shooting day. The 5.6 pound lens, however, is not more compact, despite a statement to that effect in a Nikon press release. The new 300mm f/2.8 is inch for inch the same size as its heavier predecessor, as the photo, below right, illustrates.

AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/2.8D ED-IF II

Out with the old (left), in with the new
AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/2.8D ED-IF II (right)

The AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/2.8D ED-IF II will be available in both black and light gray, beginning next month. It lists for US$5740 in the US (the street price is estimated to be a few hundred dollars less than the previous 300mm f/2.8), and will come inside Nikon's Ballistic Nylon Lens Case CL-L1.

Microtech FireWire CameraMate CompactFlash card reader

Unveiled late last year, Microtech's FireWire CameraMate reader for CompactFlash cards is now nearing completion. Built into the same sturdy case as the company's USB CameraMate, it should be a strong competitor to the FireWire reader from DataFab (which is sold by various firms including Lexar Media and Unity Digital).

I had an opportunity to test a non-quite-final FireWire CameraMate earlier this month, and found that with a Mac its performance closely matched DataFab's reader with most popular cards, with the exception of higher-capacity Lexar cards. In that case, transferring photos to the computer was noticeably faster with the DataFab reader.

Microtech FireWire CameraMate CompactFlash I/II card reader

Microtech is currently making some last-minute changes to the reader's firmware, and is evaluating the performance of the driver to be supplied with it. As such, the shipping version of the reader may be slightly faster than the one I tested, though as is the performance is good. It should ship within 3-6 weeks.

Microtech MediaVault, LowePro D-Res 6

Microtech showed its MediaVault carrying case for camera storage media. The MediaVault is a sturdy aluminum-shell unit available with different inserts. Initially there is to be a US$20 CompactFlash version which will hold three CompactFlash cards and a PC Card adapter (one of the three CompactFlash cards would have to be in the PC Card adapter), though there was discussion at the Microtech booth of the release of a version that simply held four CompactFlash cards.

Microtech MediaVault (CompactFlash version)

LowePro's booth featured the D-Res 6, a soft-sided case designed to hold two CompactFlash cards, one PC Card adapter and up to 8 AA batteries.

LowePro D-Res 6

Sandisk 256MB, 384MB and 512MB CompactFlash cards

Sandisk announced new CompactFlash Type I cards in 256MB, 384MB and 512MB capacities. The list prices for these cards are US$399, US$599 and US$799, respectively. They should be available sometime in the second quarter of this year.

On a related note, several CompactFlash card vendors hinted that card prices were expected to drop dramatically this year. According to the research of one vendor, the price per MB of CompactFlash cards has dropped a total of about 35% over the last 7 years (CompactFlash cards were introduced in 1994). In 2001, prices are expected to drop 30-40%. This prediction is based on projections of the direction of Flash memory component prices that CompactFlash card vendors look to in setting pricing of their products for the months ahead.

It's possible that by September or so, CompactFlash cards that use Flash memory (i.e. all but the IBM Microdrive) will be significantly cheaper than they are today.

Lexar Media 512MB Compactflash card

Lexar Media announced, but did not show, a 512MB CompactFlash Type I card. It is expected to ship in "Summer 2001". Their booth featured high-octane Hollywood photographer Vincent Versace discussing the merits of digital, film and the importance of shooting a camera's RAW file format mode.

Adobe Photoshop Elements

Adobe showed a beta of its upcoming US$99 Photoshop Elements image editing software. This is a replacement for the Photoshop LE software that ships with numerous amateur digital cameras and scanners. Though aimed more at photo hobbyists than pros, it has many if not all of the colour correction, tone correction, filter support, plug-in support and other features that photojournalists need when doing simple image adjustment on, for example, a laptop in the field.

Photoshop Elements is based on Photoshop 6, though with many of that program's features simplified or taken out, and new ones added in, included a nifty foreground-brightening function called Fill Flash. Unlike Photoshop 5 LE, Elements supports image captioning, though in a limited fashion. In Elements' File Info box are Caption, Copyright, URL and EXIF text fields and that's it. Still, that's more than its predecessor, and may be enough for certain uses of the program. In short, Elements could well be a useful application for even pro photographers.

The software is expected to come available for Mac and Windows sometime in the second quarter.

Kodak Professional DCS Pro Back

Kodak showed working models of the DCS Pro Back for certain Hasselblad and Mamiya medium-format cameras, and also announced pricing and availability. It will begin shipping next month at a US list price of US$19,995.

Seacam underwater housing for the Nikon D1, D1X and D1H

Serious underwater photographers that don't want to leave their D1, D1H or D1X on dry land will undoubtedly be impressed by the SeaCam housing for Nikon's digital SLR trio.

Seacam underwater housing for the D1, D1X and D1H

It includes the same features found on Seacam housings for other autofocus SLR cameras, including a swiveling sports viewfinder for easy horizontal or vertical shooting. The D1/D1X/D1H housing adds, among other things, a small window for the rear LCD monitor and the ability to operate the 4-position navigation switch on the camera's back. It is expected to ship in July for about US$5000.

Canon Canoscan 4000US film scanner

Canon's latest film scanner continues a tradition that started with the Canoscan 2710: it's relatively cheap. At an estimated street price of US$1000, the Canonscan 4000US will give its competition from Nikon, Minolta and others a run for their money when the scanner ships in the second quarter. Scanner features include 4000 dpi resolution, 14 bit A/D conversion, USB and SCSI (but not FireWire) connectivity and FARE scratch and dust removal.

That's a rundown of some of the products I managed to see in the few minutes I wasn't pouring over the D1X at Nikon's booth. For more coverage of the products unveiled at PMA, be sure to check out Digital Photography Review, Steve's DigiCams, and Imaging Resource.

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