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Focus on Imaging 2008

Well this week we did the rounds at Focus and unlike previous years didn't go with a particular shopping list or items to look at so was able to take in the full throttle of the show and find out what was about and who was supplying it. As usual you had the well known list of suspects like Nikon, Epson, Hewlett Packard, Adobe, Wacom, Jacobs, AJ Purdy, Lowepro, Manfrotto, Lastolite but there was so much more. My focus on Focus this year was to walk the show and see if I could identify anything that was new and anything that stood out and took my attention.

We arrived at the NEC at 10am, when the show opened, and it was surprising to see how many people were already in the hall, although at the end of my visit I felt there probably wasn't as many people there as in previous years, as it didn't feel as crowded and you didn't have to pick your way through the people waiting at stands to have a look at the exhibitors latest offerings, or overflows of those listening to the presentations taking place. I also didn't think there was as many presentations going on, on the stands as last year, there seemed to be more one to one demonstrations taking place between observers and demonstrators. Of course many of the stands had special show offers from paper supplies, framing supplies to photographic suppliers including AJ Purdy who had the NEW Nikon D60 priced at 399, Jacobs had the D300 on offer at 999 and CameraWorld had the Nikon 10.5 f2.8 fisheye lens at 399.

Anyway I entered the show at the entrance of Hall 10 with everybody else, but then walked all the way to the other end of hall 9 to make a start away from the crowds. At this end it was much quieter, the first stand I approached for information and to look at their latest products was Marrutt, who supply the Lyson Photographic Continuous Ink systems for a range of printers including many of the Epson inkjets such as the R2400, R1800, R2100. We use their ink system in our Epson 2100 printer for producing our Limited Edition prints. We did get to see that they had changed the design for their ink reservoirs and rather than the cumbersome twist tops that we have, they now have a flip top system which apparently makes it easier to fill. They also had some new demo images and a test chart which we had printouts of, if you want to get an A4 test chart you can do so from their website at http://www.marrutt.com/print.php.

Most of the stands at this end of the show were colleges or universities exhibiting their photographic/art courses available. One particular stand which got my attention was that of the University of Gloucestershire, not because we are based in Cheltenham but their stand had lots of items hanging from the stand overhead struts, some of these were acrylic blocks with images on but the vast majority were viewers suspended on string and when you took a look inside they had 3D images, some were very good like the 'Nun jumping and caught in mid air'. Another stand in this area that caught my attention had what appeared to be a mobile photographic studio/exhibition facility and although it was not clear what they were actually promoting as I could see the van and all the writing on the boards it was intriguing. When back in the office I had a look at their website www.redeye.org.uk and found that it was a photography network/resource site in the North West of England and that they support 'Photomobile' a travelling photography centre which had within it a digital suite, traditional darkroom, pinhole camera and camera obscura and can be hired out by schools, community groups, art fairs, festivals, businesses or in fact any group who wants to find out more about photography. It can take up to about 7 people at a time and can provide training. Although based in the North West of England it can be hired out anywhere within the UK. To find out more visit their website at http://www.photomob.myzen.co.uk/.

Create your Own CD/DVD. Next my attention was drawn to the Lightscribe stand. For those of you who have thought about producing a Picture Library of your images on CD/DVD and particularly if you want to produce them as and when you get the orders rather than having money tied up in stock, then this may be an answer. Lightscribe is a method of printing on CD's/DVD's using the laser of a CD/DVD writer, at point of publishing. I had seen this at previous shows but the technology has come along some and the units down in price, as more manufacturers are making the 'Lightscribe' drives. The Lightscribe system works by using a special CD/DVD drive and specially prepared CDs/DVD's which have been coated with a special ink on them. To use the system you have software, which is installed on your computer, and you use the laser within the CD/DVD hardware to write to the media and then flip it over and use the same laser to print on it. You only get black ink, but you can buy multipacks of colour media to add a touch of colour to your presentation. The laser effectively etches through the special surface on the media to create the image. Using this system has some initial capital costs for the hardware and software, but then each disc costs about 20p to produce. The software allows you to design your own items for printing but also comes with many standard templates that you can start with and add to. On their stand they had  two systems of interest, a portable single DVD drive version produced by Lacie, this was small and lightweight and comes in two versions and includes the software needed to run/use it, a USB version to connect via your USB port, which costs around 70 or a Firewire version to connect via a firewire port, if you have on one your computer, costing around 90. If you want to do more than one disc at a time then they also had a multi deck system, the Allwena Papyrus 4, which is a CD/DVD Publishing system with Lightscribe built in and comes complete with the software needed to run the system. You can record or print on up to 4 discs at the same time with the same or different contents, and their literature says it can copy up to 80 CD's or 40 DVD's an hour, and can print from 8-40 discs an hour depending on how much you are trying to print on it. This particular system currently costs around 1,000. Although these are special drives because they can be used to write on the special media, they still do operate as normal DVD drives for recording and reading. For more information on Lightscribe click here or the Lace drives and media click here. You can also purchase the Lightscribe media from www.aprmedia.com.

NIKON at Focus. When I arrived at the Nikon stand there were not too many people on it and in fact I was able to handle the NEW Nikon D60. They also had many of their lenses on show as well of course as many of their Coolpix range and demonstrators allowing you to handle the D3 and D300 cameras. I also managed to collect a set of their latest brochures and guides to boost our set of reference sources here. On entering the show you were given a black Nikon bag which contained a copy of their 90th Anniversary brochure and an extraction from a magazine who had reviewed the D300. They had a section of their stand set aside for talks, and were giving 45 minute seminars throughout the day. They also launched at the show their Spring Cash Back promotion, where if you buy a New D40 or D80 DSLR with at least one lens between the 25th February and 30th June 2008 you can get up to 75 cashback. See here for more details on which lenses are applicable and how to go about claiming the cashback.

Right Angled Viewers. If you have attended one of our HNK courses you will have seen the Nikon Right Angled viewer which I use quite a lot, particularly for low level shots, flower photography and macro as well as copying. These gadgets allow you to position the camera at positions other than natural eye level. For instance if you want to take a low level shot of a snowdrop, you can put the camera on a low level tripod and look into the viewfinder from above, rather than having to crawl about on your tummy or in uncomfortable situations. As well as Nikon producing their own, which typically costs around 180, there are other makes which will fit the Nikon DSLR's. However at the show I got to see and look through the Hoodman Universal Angle Viewfinder (H-RAV). It is lightweight and comes with it's own pouch for carrying it and 4 mounting attachments, 2 of which are for Nikon DSLRs, one allows attachment to the square viewfinders as found on the D300, D80, D40 and D60 plus many older cameras, whilst the other is for the circular eyepiece as found on the D2x, D2h and D3 and the other 2 adapters included fit all Canon DSLR's. It can be rotated 360 degrees and comes with 1x and 2.5x magnification and the image within the viewfinder was clear and crisp, you could focus the dioptre to your own eye requirements. Show Offer price was 85 its RRP is 99.99. As you can see over the Nikon original you can make a saving of 80, however if like us you have the square and circular viewfinder Nikon cameras you no longer need two Right Angled viewers, but can have one and save yourself 260. These have no affect on the quality of the image. Also on the Hoodman stand they were showing their HoodLoupe Professional, this is basically a magnifier for the back LCD panel which allows you to view the screen without any interference from outside light sources. It comes with a neck strap and you position it over the LCD screen when reviewing your images. It also has a +/-3 dioptre which allows you to focus it for your eyesight. Currently in the UK it is available to fit the 2.5" LCD screens like on the D200 and has a RRP of 59.99 (show price was 50) but they hope soon to have available a 3" version which will then fit the D300, which will cost 69.99.  Searching the internet found both products on sale at Warehouse Express, Camera World, Newpro UK and Morris Photo all at the RRP. To find out more about Hoodman (USA) and the products they have available visit their website.

Bags Bags and more Bags. Of course once we have all this kit we then have to transport it with us and therefore we start to look for the ideal carrying device, usually a camera bag of some type. There were a number of the ranges there including Kata, Tamrac, National Geographic and of course Lowepro.  Lowepro were being showcased by the UK importer/distributor DayMen International Ltd, who as well as having a very wide selection of the Lowepro range also had a couple of the bag sizing gadgets that you come across at airports to measure the bag size for the allowable hand luggage size. Many people were taking bags to these devices and checking out the size of the bag of their choice, of course an important consideration for the travelling photographer today as you don't really want your camera gear ending up in the main hold of the aircraft. I got to take a close look at the NEW Fastpack Backpack series which has three compartments and has been designed for photographers on the move with the ability to be able to carry your DSLR camera, extra lenses or flash units, a laptop computer in some versions and also has storage for accessories and personal gear. It has a 180 degree access panel allow quick and easy access to the camera equipment whilst still being worn. There are 4 models two of which the 250 and 350 allow you to carry your laptop as well as a DSLR with compact lens attached and additional 2-3 lenses. The two smaller models, the 100 takes the DSLR with lens attached and one other lens and the 200 allows 1-2 extra lenses or flash to be carried. Available from Feb 2008 they come in black, arctic blue and red colours. We also got to see Lowepros Pro Roller range, these are wheelie cases and come in both backpack versions and carry-on sizes as well as their largest full size range, you can drag the case along, they have a separate internal removable inner casing with it's own set of carry handles which means that particularly outdoor photographers if the outside of the case gets wet you can remove your gear from the inside and carry it to a safe location without getting it all wet and grubby. On the back they come with a prop-up stand that angles it for easy access to equipment. It also has two removable tripod/light stand holders and a bungee cord system to allow other bags to be attached to it. For more details on the Lowepro range of bags visit the Lowepro website. DayMen were also showcasing the B+W Filter range - see here for details (PDF file) on what they have to offer and Giottos Tripod range.

TRIPODS. The Giottos and Gitzo ranges were on show as well as Manfotto. On the Bogen Imaging stand we got to see many of the professional photographer Manfrotto tripods including the 055 and the 190 range. We have a 190PROB which has a removable centre column so that you can get really low to the ground but also put the column at a horizontal position, as well as a levelling bubble in the top plate. This was originally launched in 2004 then in 2006 the 190XPROB was launched which improved the function of changing the centre column into the horizontal position, you no longer need to remove the column as you can slide it up, press a small button underneath and put it into position, much quicker to operate when out in the field. When in the horizontal position it can be rotated 360 degrees. Both these tripods are lightweight, weighing about 1.8kg although being able to carry a maximum weight of 5kgs and have 3 leg sections. However this year (2008) sees the launch of 2 new carbon fibre models in the 190 series the 190CXPRO3 (3 leg sections) and 190CXPRO4 (4 leg sections), but still keeping the Q90 degree centre column system. This is even lighter to carry about coming in at 1.29kg's for the PRO3 and 1.34kgs for the PRO4 but still taking the weight of 5kg's, it's minimum height is 8cm and has 4 leg angles. Max height 146cm (with centre column extended). They are also more compact when closed, lengths being 58cm and 50cm respectively. Suggested retail prices at the show looked to be around 225. Of course tripods are made up of two parts, the 3 leg tripod body and the tripod head and professional tripods do not usually come with heads attached you buy them separately depending on your requirements, and they had a number of the different heads on display. The weights quoted here are for the tripod only, they do become heavier once the head is attached.

Printing. Hewlett Packard, Canon and Epson were all there. As usual you couldn't move on the Epson stand for people wanting to see their latest models. They had the small PictureMate (4x6) printers, through to those models suitable for the enthusiast like the R1800 or R2400 onto the Epson 3800 (A3+) and 4800 (A2+) as well as their wide format printers which included the new 11880 (64" wide).  Epson have updated the Ultrachrome inks to include vivid magenta and printers like the R1800 (A3+) are using 8 colour ink sets, their new UltraChrome Hi-Gloss 2 inks features matte black, photo black, red, orange and a gloss optimiser, which is claimed gives a wider colour gamut, natural skin tones and consistent colour. The orange has replaced the blue cartridge in the Hi-Gloss set. There were also a number of stands showcasing the dye-sub printers, like the Mitsubishi 'Click' Systems and others used by event photographers on stands such as System Insight.

Paper.  Hahnemuhle Fine Art were there and amongst other things were exhibiting their latest papers FineArt Baryta 324 a brilliant white, high gloss paper producing luminous colour prints and 'wow' factor black and white images, and also their new Bamboo 290 which has been made from bamboo fibres, this is a natural white warm-toned paper with an inkjet coating which has maximum aging resistance. Paper Spectrum where launching their new Pinnacle Range of papers and I saw and have a sample of the Pinnacle Gloss 270gsm which is smooth and not over shiny, but I also saw their new Oyster 300gsm paper which had a lovely oyster/lustre finish to it. They had a sample pack available of some of their range including the Pinnacle range which has two sheets of each type for 2, but also available from their website for 3.51 incl VAT. The person I spoke to on the stand and who showed me this range did give me a couple of samples of the Oyster 300 to try out myself. Other paper suppliers were also there including Online Paper Co, FotoSpeed, Papermilldirect.com, Permajet and others.

Colour Management. On the ColourConfidence stand they were showing off all the latest colour management gadgets from monitor and printer profilers, like Eye One and the Spyder 3 range, to the Eizo Colouredge calibrated monitors as well as one of their NEW products the GrafiLite, this is a desktop viewing lamp for accurate assessment of prints, proofs and colour swatches. It is a portable unit and has a consistent source of 'natural daylight' trying to eliminate the effect the surrounding light has on the colours you are looking at, it comes with an A4 viewing mat to also decrease the amount of distortion from the surrounding desktop colours. From my observations I found that it is probably ideal for mixed lighting conditions when looking at images smaller than A4 in size, but with larger images and the lighting conditions within the open space of the NEC building I did not see much impact. There definitely wasn't as much impact as looking at some A4 images under one of the desktop viewing booths, however the GrafiLite costs around 60 whereas their viewing booths range from 230 up to 1250. For more information on the booths and the GrafiLite look here.

Displaying Images. There were various stands showing off their latest albums and photo book ideas as well as binding systems that would allow you to make up your own books, as well as framing supply companies and those companies that will do the framing for you. But two items that particularly caught my attention were of companies that were printing/producing images on acrylic and a method of canvas box printing. Acrylic gives a new dimension to your images than the paper or canvas print in that any light source you have can be picked up from behind the image and give a different dynamic and impact, skins tones can look more natural and vibrant colours like red can be really striking. Two such companies that I collected information on where Creative Acrylics who print straight onto the acrylic surface and can do sizes from 8" x 12" starting at around 30 through to any shape or size up to 1.6m x 3m. If you want more information you can get a PDF brochure by emailing them at sales@creativeacrylics.co.uk (their website isn't currently working). There was also Acrylic Pictures who also print pictures onto acrylics, they will carry out single images for portrait photographers through to large commercial pieces which may require large print runs, but this year what caught my eye was their new Acrylic DecoupageTM which can be produced for wall mounting or freestanding. This is achieved by stacking a number of pieces of acrylic together (their example had 5 sheets) to give a three dimensional effect. See this page on their website for an example of what can be done.

The second product which was being shown on the PaperMillDirect stand was the DepthPrint by Supplyline. This is a canvas box system which you can print on your own Epson printer and it comes scored so that you can print, fold and display in minutes. It requires a printer than can sheet feed card at least 17" wide, currently I have been told this is Epson printers only (like the Stylus Pro 3800) as it is not easy to put card through a Canon printer, but I haven't had time to check this out fully myself yet. The canvas box finish can come in either Matt or Silk finishes and the sizes range from a 10" x 10" (10" x 8" image) up to 24" x 30", where a 10 x 10 costs around 10. Depending on what you are printing, typically a 10 x 10 will take 5-10 minutes to print. The minimum order quantity is a pack of 5 and with this you get all the backing materials needed to mount the box canvas as well as instructions on how to layout your images in Photoshop to get it to print in the correct location. Of course for those of you who are looking to make an income from your photography this may give you another marketable product. If you want more information about this then call 01992 560287 they will be happy to answer your questions and send you a pack of information.

Wacom Editing Tablets/Screens. On the Wacom stand they had their Intuos3 graphics tablet range, where tighter editing functions can be achieved through more precise application of the pen (although it does take some getting used to initially), which they now do in a multitude of sizes from A6 wide up to A3 wide, as well as their special editions (SE) which as well as having the tablet, mouse and pen also have another tool the Airbrush included. The prices of these start at around 159 up to 325. These tablets will work with most editing packages like Capture NX and Photoshop, but for those of you who don't already have an editing package then these tablets come with Corel Painter Essentials 3. At the other end of the price scale they also had their Cintiq 21UX Interactive pen display/screen, this allows you to edit your images, draw and make modifications directly on the screen using the included pen. It costs around 2200 and although may seem expensive just for a graphics tablet, it does also operate as a normal screen as well for your normal everyday computer functions like surfing the net, reading our newsletter etc. They were also showing, and I watched a small demonstration, their NEW Cintiq 12WX Interactive Pen Tablet, this is a combination of the normal graphics tablet, but incorporating some of the technology of the screen, giving a tablet with an inbuilt 12" screen that you can write directly onto and can function like a second screen on your computer. All the information in its brochures, website, talking to one of the guys on the stand etc, says it's plug and play and your computer needs a USB port, however I know from experience that it is never that simple and anyway it comes with a connector box that also requires a DVi/VGA connection. A way of operating is to have a reasonable sized version of the image you are editing on your normal screen/monitor, and then to have a greater zoomed area of the image on the screen of the tablet where you use the supplied pen on this screen to make the changes required. So you can do modifications on a really close up version on the tablet, but at the same time see how it is affecting the overall image on the copy on your monitor, giving you a more pen-on-paper feel. At around 830 it isn't cheap but appears to be a little easier to operate - cutting out or masking should certainly be more of a 'doddle' as you are not tracing in mid-air. To see more info visit here. From our experience of using a dual screen system ourselves your computer usually needs a graphics board that can cope with this and also when using two screens, only the primary screen can be colour calibrated and although some laptops today are sold having the ability to add a full size monitor we have found that both screens have to operate at the same resolution and screen shape and don't function as an independent second screen. So if you are thinking of purchasing one of these to use on your existing computer and using as well as your normal screen/monitor make sure you check out first, by talking to someone who knows the technical functions of these devices, that your existing setup will be able to use it, otherwise you will have a costly item you can't use or have to invest in more kit to make it work.

I also took a wander onto the Delkin stand as I had read that they had updated some of the elements of their sensor cleaning kit 'SensorScope', whilst there I spotted a new device they have coming out in March 2008 called the Imagerouter. This is a device which connects to your computer via the USB port and allows you to upload 4 compact flash cards to your computer without the need to sit and watch each one. It can concurrently transfer data from up to 4 cards at once, transferring at around 19mb/sec and has a built in hub so that you can 'daisy chain' multiple units together.  It can be purchased on its own or with BackUpandBurn software which allows you to set it up to automatically rename files on transfer, specify how they are renamed and renumbered and can even send your JPEG and RAW images to different folders, as well as the ability to copy to multiple locations and automatically burn to DVD/CD. As at this time there are no prices available as they expect to start shipping in April - if you want to find out more now then click here. This at first sight appears a useful gadget, particularly as it's portable and therefore if you are away from home in a hotel with your laptop and you want to upload your pictures in the evening whilst off to dinner this can be achieved without continually popping back to start the next one. However be aware that to leave the device uploading say 4 x 8GB cards (total 32GB) you will need to have enough room on your laptop hard drive to complete the process and as DVD's are only 4.7GB you could not copy all the images to DVD.

Two thirds around and I came across the Sigma stand and here I got to have a look through their new 17,000 lens the 200-500 f2.8 Ex DG ultra zoom. It was huge, you would definitely need a strong back or some means of being able to transport it around the countryside, weighing in at just under 16Kg.s it's definitely not one for those photographers who like to take their images handheld. In fact they didn't have it on a tripod, they had set up a particular support system to hold the weight of the lens.  Their other new lenses were also there and there was a lot of interest and discussions taking place on their stand.

Another useful gadget we came across was a Camera Rotator and Flash Bracket being primarily marketed to wedding and event photographers, but portrait photographers would find it useful and there would be uses for those who like to take macro photographs. Again if you have been on one of our courses you may have seen our Vertiflip, which mounts on the tripod and allows you to take the camera from horizontal to vertical mode quickly. This rotator works in a similar way, but glides more freely and also has an extra specially designed JRB flash bracket attachment which allows you to get the flash further away from the camera, but also still above the camera when the camera is in vertical mode, removing side shadows. The bracket can be used freehand or on a tripod/monopod and there are 4 versions available and the Pro model comes also with a quick release plate so that you can remove and reinstall the camera from the system quickly. The rotator costs 78, and the complete system without quick release plates costs 165 while the Pro models costs 210, all prices quoted here excl VAT. If you want more information then take a look at the suppliers website, Bellwood Photography Ltd.

There are of course many other items on display at a show like this and too many to review everything, but the following is just a selection of some of the other items we managed to get to look at and and collect more information:

  • Studio lighting systems
  • Flash systems, both on camera and on lighting stands
  • Studio equipment and decor such as plain and decorative backgrounds, stools, and props
  • Software from Adobe such as Photoshop and Lightroom, Corel, Apple Aperture, Genuine Fractals, Wedding Album and Photobook production, various types of plug-ins for Photoshop and much more.
  • Aerial Pole systems to get your camera way up in the sky - one system can get it up to 12m off the ground and these systems are starting to become strong enough to take the weight of a DSLR. There was a lower cost portable system that we found of particular interest and may be tempted by.
  • Many gadgets and devices
  • Computer Magazines
  • A few training and photo holiday providers
  • and this list doesn't include all the photographic suppliers such as CameraWorld, Jacobs, Speedgraphic, NewPro and many others too many to mention them all.

It is a show which I am always amazed at each year on how much new stuff comes about and how the leaders in the market manage to show off their new products.  I didn't buy anything at the show this year, although I did meet some of you who had and from my short hands on experience with the D60 I am going to get one of these for my handbag, it looks and functions pretty much like the D40x, and I need something to carry with me all the time so that I don't miss that fleeting photo opportunity. For new projects we have in mind I am going to be researching some of the items in a bit more detail and others we saw have given us more product ideas. So all in all it was a good visit and as usual there was too much to mention all of it here, but I hope the highlights I have shared with you will give you something to think about and look at over the weeks ahead.

It is definitely a show for the professional and enthusiastic photographer and well worth a visit if you haven't been before. If you didn't get a chance to go this year then why not make a note in your diary for next years show which will still be at the NEC in  Birmingham and will run from 22nd to 25th February 2009. It will be on our Photographers Diary and Highlights Forward well before.


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