The Photography Show 2015 - Part 4 - 'Best of the rest' and final thoughts

Back in 2001 Pentax showed a prototype of a full-frame camera. In 2015 they are still doing the same. A long conversation with a Pentax rep. got me the following.

'Ricoh are a serious photographic owner for Pentax, unlike Hoya. This WILL happen!'

'Cameras make up 1% of Ricohs products. However, they are serious about this. It WILL happen.'

I'll leave the 'Full-Frame hopeful' Pentax fans (What's left of them) to make of that what they will.

Canon stand was crowded as ever. You have to appreciate the stamina of the people who work there. Four days of photo nerds wanting to know why, how, what, when, how much? Maybe the Gulag isn't so bad after all!!

Fuji stand was surprisingly crowded. Only way I could get a shot of it was to hold my camera in the air. So what the motorbike is all about, who knows? Looks nice and retro though.

As per usual Nikon had the biggest and most impressive stand. And as ever there was a gantry where you could play with the 'big stuff.' What they are focusing on I can only guess at. But I know it's not horse racing!!

The show is good for those smaller, specialist pro orientated companies to make themselves known. This is the stand for the excellent Profoto lighting company.

Finally, two shots of the (very pretty) Zeiss stand. (That's 'real' Zeiss, not Sony Zeiss) Plus arty picture of a pair of Otus's (Oti?) Serious weight, serious quality, serious money.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I enjoyed the show, which I wasn't really expecting and was impressed by it. With the number of exhibitors, the 'treasures' on show and the large numbers of people present, it's obvious that 'conventional' photography is far from dead. It was however conventionally presented as well and I can't help thinking that in the light of the 'Smartphone' revolution and the explosion of picture taking and picture posting across the globe, a lot of the exhibitors, particularly the camera manufacturers, are missing a trick.

An example was a workshop I watched on the Olympus stand. A male photographer, a female model, some lighting. Pretty much a 'Look these are real cameras too, honest' approach and lets face it, a bit 1980's. Where is the female photographer shooting the male model? And looming over them was the 'I AM NIKON' sign. And Nikon do the Photographer, Model, Lights, 'Real Camera' thing so much better.

Sony had some screens and exhibits pushing the speed, high resolution and high ISO qualities of their cameras and Panasonic were really pushing the CM1 camera / smart phone, so there was some connection with 2015. But I couldn't shake the impression that apart from the clothes and hairstyles, this could have been 1983, the year I 'got serious' with a camera in my hand. Same products, though digital and not film, same 'lets all be pros, or pretend to be pros' approach and over and over again, the emphasis on the gear as gear. Because, when I think about it now and when I reviewed my images and video footage I can think of very little of the show 'furniture' that actually had any photographs displayed on it. 

In contrast to this, the last time I went to my local Apple store, the whole place was decorated with some really good pictures shot with iPhones. Most of the photography show was decorated with gear, logo's and ad agency catch phrases. The whole point about this current explosion of photography surely is that it's all about the pictures. It's only nerds like you and me who post pictures of cameras on their social media accounts!! OK just me then.

And then there is the age demographic. There were an awful lot of 'baby boomers' there, all probably blowing their pensions. (sounds familiar!!) and while there were some young(ish) presenters and reps (I was sold on the idea of buying the CM1 by a young lady in her 20's) there was a feeling for me that a whole generation of aspiring photographers just weren't represented. I don't know whether they would agree with me, but Heather and Mathieu from Mirrorlessons seemed amongst the youngest photographers that I saw walking around. They were there all four days, so maybe they saw something different.

And then of course there is the sex thing. Don't get me wrong, Ann Summers didn't have a stand there, I'm taking about the Male / Female ratio. This, from what I saw, indicates that photography is primarily an (ageing) male interest. And when you think that women are a huge part of the smartphone / social media 'photography as part of your daily life' boom, where are the 20-30 year old female photographers wanting to explore where their photographic curiosity can take them?

There were, I'm glad to say, a lot more female reps. on the stands, which was encouraging, but when have you ever seen a woman as the CEO of a big photographic company? Or even in a position of influence. All the pictures I see of the suits who run these companies seems to be a reflection of the audience at the show. Or is it the other way round?

I think there's a fortune to be made by whoever can connect up a basically young, mixed gender, camera phone toting, social media posting generation with photographic products that enable them to pursue, improve and explore their photographic potential. Apart from anything else, the baby boomers will be "Too old to Rock and Roll' in a few years time. (unless we keep taking the tablets!) so who fills in the gap? Apple? Samsung? and the other multi-national corporations who are prioritising gadgets over cameras. 

Because the gear we know and love is actually little more these days than sophisticated tech. to get images from one place to another. And despite all the advances in phone technology, the stuff on display at the show can still do photography as a meaningful art form a lot better. But how much longer will that be the case? I've now had a couple of days with the Panasonic CM1 I bought at the show. And it is seriously good at creating images. In terms of responsiveness and handling there's still something to be desired, but the images it produces are simply stunning. And it's just so light, so small, so portable and so 'unthreatening.' And If you have visions of being a 2015 Cartier-Bresson, then surely this is the kind of tool that will work the best for you.

For me photographic equipment is at a crossroads. How does it and the people who design and make it take advantage of the photographic renaissance in photography across the world. Because, taking and sharing photographs is how people communicate these days. Yes, there is a lot of toe dipping going on. A bit of wi-fi, a bit of a social media presence. But no-one except Samsung with one camera (which in their next flagship camera the NX1 they promptly removed) has offered sim card functionality.

Contrast this with my Panasonic CM1. I took a sim card from one of my other phones, stuck it in the CM1 so I can now post images to Instagram and via that to twitter and facebook from anywhere I've got coverage. AND I've got 20MP high quality raw and jpg. files inside the camera, for my method of making a living and for all uses that require high-resolution. It's a small, light camera that I can check my emails on, search the internet and pretty much keep in touch with whoever I want whenever I want as well as create high quality, high resolution images. And this is early days in the evolution of this kind of camera. It's not difficult to speculate where this is going. The CM1 is the first camera to have a 1" sensor. It won't be the last, Soon we will have cameras that have APS-C sensors inside them and tiny high quality zoom lenses. And how long before we get the first interchangeable lens 'Full-Frame' camera phone?

But at this moment in time, these are still essentially mobile telephones and internet browsers. And their very size means that some things aren't going to be possible and / or difficult to achieve. So where is the development from the other end? Companies are constantly working to equip their smartphone / communication devices with better cameras. Why aren't camera manufacturers working to put more communication facilities in their cameras? How difficult is it to put a sim card slot in a digital camera? Not very I would suggest. 

So in conclusion, much as I enjoyed the show, I still have this feeling that when I go to something like that, I'm in a time bubble that's been propelled forward from an earlier time. Not in terms of what's on offer, but in terms of the philosophy and design / engineering criteria for that offer. Because surely, if (some) camera manufacturers are ignoring an entire generation of potential camera buyers by going for the safe, same old conservative approach in terms of the products they introduce, then what hope is there for their long term future? 

It's wrong to say that photography is changing, because it's already changed. And in many ways, in terms of pictures taken and the means of creating them becoming part of everyday and everyone's life, it's probably at it's highest level of interest ever. The Photography show seemed to me to be aiming at a notion of the photographer as some kind of separate being, when in fact these days we are all photographers. And Nikon, Canon, Leica, Sony, Olympus, Fuji and Panasonic all produce the gear that still lets us do that better, quicker and easier and at a higher level of quality.

However, from what I see there is a vast population out there who may never become aware of that if photography continues to have connotations of elitism and an ageing male dominated demographic. Now I may be exaggerating this on purpose  to make a point (in fact that's EXACTLY what I'm doing!) but the sales figures for stand alone cameras as compared to smartphones speak for themselves. And while the manufacturers have a good few years left of making money from those of us who write and read articles like this, that may not always be the case. And it would be nice to think that the modern innovative gear that merges traditional photography practice with the communicative power of the internet and the phone network will become the rule rather than the exception.

GEAR CHECK

Majority of the video in these posts was shot with an Olympus OM-D E-M5 II and Panasonic 15mm f/1.7 lens, majority of the stills shot with a Leica T (Typ 701) and 23mm f/2 lens, though there was some crossover.