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Van Riper    Frank Van Riper on Photography

Photo Trade Show...or Toy Story 3

By Frank Van Riper
Special to Camera Works

It's true. I attend the annual photography trade show at the Javits Center in New York like a kid hitting the mall before Christmas.

I know I'm supposed to be objective; I know I'm supposed to be detached. But man, I love the toys. Especially the ones I want but can't have.

That is to say: the ones that have been touted for months in the photo press or in manufacturer's breathless e-mails to me, or in press packets that crowd my daily snail mail.

Take the new Hasselblad H1, for example. Here is a camera that is likely to give Mamiya a run for its medium format money – a dual-platform (i.e.: film and/or digital compatible) 645 camera that is a joy to hold and a delight to the eye. (The damn thing, all decked out in a high-tech dull silver finish, looks like a sleek German race car, and it's a heck of a lot easier to haul around that Mamiya's new dual-platform 645 AFd, which really is a studio camera.)

Richard Schleuning, Hassy's US vice president for marketing, let me hold his H1 for a while. But he warned me that review models won't be available until after the first of the year.

I should be used to this. After all, it took months for me to get Nikon off the dime and send me its hotsy-totsy digital D-100 – the camera it hopes will appeal to serious amateurs who are fed up with fixed lens digital P&S cameras. The D-100, Nikon hopes, will make these folks take the plunge into serious digital shooting and spend upwards of two grand on a camera that will appeal even to pros looking for a backup digital body to complement their four and five-thousand-dollar big guns.

The delay actually had some benefit. Because during all the time I was hocking Nikon exec Richard LoPinto for a D-100, I was hearing interesting noises from Fuji that its own version of the same camera – called the Fuji Finepix S2 – was going to blow the doors off the D-100.

Lo and behold, as I write this column, I am about to take a D-100, as well as a Finepix S2, out of their boxes and run them through their paces side-by-side and head to head, as it were. Stay tuned; it's gonna be illuminating. (And just a hint – the Fuji folks may be right.)

What is especially interesting to me, not only as a photography writer, but as a working photographer (i.e.: a photography consumer) is how much cross-pollination there is in the industry these days.

Used to be Nikon made Nikons, Canon made Canons, Hasselblad made Hassys and everybody peddled their wares independently.

Digital, and a tighter market, has changed all that, often to the consumer's benefit, though not necessarily.

Fuji, ostensibly a film maker, has been popping up all over the place in the digital and film camera market. Remember Hasselblad's funky, pricey X-pan, the rangefinder 35mm camera that also can take two-frame-wide 35mm panoramas? That was and is a joint Hasselblad/Fuji venture. Apparently the marriage has taken, since the H1 likewise is a Hassy/Fuji hybrid.

So too is the Fuji Finepix S2 a hybrid: with Fuji's state-of-the-art electronics inside a Nikon N80 body. But wait. Nikon's D-100 is a strikingly similar digital camera, also using an N80 body. [The idea of using one manufacturer's body as a platform for another company's product is not new: Kodak has been producing digital cameras with Nikon bodies for years.]

But what does this do to the idea of competition? Does Nikon really care if its D-100 doesn't sell as well as Fuji's version if Fuji is using N80 bodies in bulk to transform them into S2's?

Right now, I'm just raising questions. I'll try to provide answers when I do my review of these two hot new cameras.

But for now, let me take you back to the Javits Center.

Any trade show is going to have its share of schlock and this year's PhotoPlus Expo was no exception. Schlock can take many forms – painted backdrops in loud colors touted as a surefire way to spike portrait sales, or the guy at the Kodak booth wearing a wireless headset mike and coming on like a rock DJ or a really annoying used car salesman.

Guys in headset mikes abounded this year. In fact it was tough to walk through the crowded corridors of the Javits Center without being bombarded by someone's confident spiel. One of my favorites was a demonstration of bridal portrait lighting, with a bored looking model in a white dress and veil sitting at a posing stool while a photographer gave his step-by-step on how to create great pictures. The poses were fine – if a bit contrived. The lighting was excellent and professional, though the painted backdrop (once again) was hokey. What got me was the photographer's mega-thousand-dollar digital studio – which showed the results of each exposure on a small TV screen.

All I could think of as I watched this impressive show was: "Jeez, I'm glad I don't have to sink half a year's income into re-tooling with this stuff."

But many people do. And will.

Still, I'm happy to report that conventional (i.e.: film) photography is alive and doing very well, thank you.

Even Polaroid, left for dead in this column last year, has come back – under new management.

The instant film giant, which had filed for bankruptcy and which had trimmed its workforce by half, was bought by a group of large investors last June and now faces its future, if not with brio, then with relief.

Polaroid Senior Marketing Manager Stuart Strong acknowledged the pain of seeing many friends and colleagues laid off, but said the company had no choice if it were to survive.

Even more heartening was to see Polaroid continuing to dominate the playing field with its state-of-the-art film scanners, which, along with Nikon's, have been the standard in the industry.

Nice too, that in chatting with Strong, he echoed a long-held view of mine about film vs. digital.

With no especial axe to grind either way (except, of course, to sell more scanners), Strong said he felt the best use of digital technology for a photographer who has a choice is to shoot film, then digitally scan it. This way the photographer can tweak the job, clone it, or send it 'round the world electronically, all the while having the original – safely on film – in house.

I view this as a best-of-both-worlds option – as well as one that requires maybe one tenth the investment of retooling totally to digital.

Just don't tell that guy shooting the digital bridal portraits.

Frank Van Riper is a Washington-based commercial and documentary photographer and author. His latest book is Talking Photography (Allworth Press), a collection of his Washington Post columns and other photography writing over the past decade. He can be reached through his website www.GVRphoto.com.


© Frank Van Riper
All it needs is fake snow and a big guy in a red suit. It's not really a trade show, it's Santa's workshop transferred to the Javits Center in New York.

© Frank Van Riper
Trade shows exhibit all kinds of gear and accessories – including painted backdrops that might not appeal to all tastes.

© Frank Van Riper
The model in the bride outfit posed dutifully for the photog, but the real attraction was all his pricey digital gear.


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