PDN PhotoPlus Trip Report

On Saturday, my friend and I went to PDN in New York to look at all of the cool toys and things I could never possibly afford. Figured it would only be appropriate to share some photos for your amusement. Since this is so large, I’ve done the rare step of hiding this behind a More tag. Here’s a complete gallery.

Incidentally, all of the badge lanyards were Sony Alpha branded, and everyone at the show was walking around wearing big orange alpha logos. It was nice to see. :)

At the Metz stand they had all of their flash models available for manhandling. They all felt pretty solid, and I suppose would make a good alternative if the F58 isn’t for you. They still make those big handle flashes too, if that’s up your alley.

At the Tamron stand, they had the new 60mm f/2 Macro (but only for Canon. I tried it on the stand’s 50D, and found it to be a quick focuser, complete with full time manual override. Unfortunately none of the samples I took looked to be good, as I missed focus at f/2 or didn’t have the ISO high enough. I don’t consider that to be a knock against the lens; it needed more time in a real situation. But it did feel nice and it would probably be a good choice for most macro seekers on crop cameras.

They also had the new 70-300, which I recall getting much better samples but couldn’t find them after importing into Lightroom (methinks because the camera was set to JPEG and I don’t normally import those). The lens is very nice – the ultrasonic focus is decent enough, probably similar to the 70-300 G. The lens body was all plastic, the VR mechanism seemed to stabilize OK. I’d say that anyone who is looking for a 70-300 range lens should at least give it a try. The Tamron guys intimated that we should see it arriving for Sony in December or so.

At the Sigma booth, they had several large toys, including the 200-500 f/2.8 and the 300-800 f/5.6.

They also had all of their new lenses, including the OS telephotos, the 85 f/1.4, etc.

Here’s a test shot taken with the 85 on a 40D. The 85 f/1.4 was certainly a beefy piece of kit, and seemed reasonably sharp at f/1.4. The ultrasonic motor was swift and quiet. If you weren’t a Sony user, you’d probably pick this up over the Zeiss as it focused a lot faster than the Canon 85 f/1.2.

At the Zeiss booth they had a complete collection of manual focus primes for many mounts as well as the new Cine primes.

Here’s a cutaway of one of the cine primes. I would say they don’t make them like this anymore, but Zeiss is keeping up the quality train on these optics. They were definitely large, but all of the operations were silk smooth. Many users were inquiring about the MF lenses, and they had a few NEXes on display with various adapters for their manual focus lenses. All of the Zeiss Alpha lenses were at the Sony booth.

Speaking of that booth… It was very large indeed. Sony had a huge presence at PMA, nearly the same as Canon and Nikon and dwarfing Olympus and especially Pentax, who only had one large table full of stuff in the middle of an aisle.

Inside a glass case there were several interesting things that we already knew about. Right here is a breakaway view of a NEX-5 and what exactly is inside of it. It was pretty neat to see how it fit all together in person, though Pete Ganzel had shown us most of these bits already. :)

Ah, our old nemesis… the 500 f/4 “display model,” as I’ll call it was on hand. It looked much smaller in person than I had anticipated. Since this is just a display model, it has no real glass in it – just a fake front element and a plugged mount. But it does give you a good idea of what it would be like when it’s all finished. Next to it was…

The engineering sample. Unpainted machined parts and glass. Nobody was willing to say how old this was, but it was a real lens, as you’ll see in a bit.

Hopefully that will give you more ideas about this thing. Nobody was willing to say when it was coming, just a “wink wink, nudge nudge” that we’d get it “soon.”

Here’s another favorite nemesis for you.

The flash looks like it’s ready to go, but the body and the attached lens are obviously the same stuff we saw earlier this year at Photokina and PMA. Looking at it in person, it’s not an engineering sample but simply a concept example, which we all knew already. The lens appeared to be like the NEX mockups in that it had “glass” in the front and a blackout in the lensmount in the back.

I had an opportunity to talk to Mark Weir, Sony’s USA Product head. Obviously getting anything real meaty out of him would have been impossible, so I used my limited time to air my appreciation of the a700 and that I would be looking forward to buying a successor. He knows that they are taking a beating on it being late, but he said that it was late for a good reason, and that I would probably be pretty happy with it. We will see.

The “new technology” stand, featuring all of the upcoming products under glass. Also seen were a bunch of NEXes with adapters and old manual focus lenses attached. Sony is embracing this, which surprises me, but since it’s in their interest to do so at this point it is probably more of an opportunistic thing than anything.

The NEX lineup mockups. They all had plugs in the lens mounts, so they could not actually be mounted on a camera if you tried. They all looked quite small and compact in person, the Zeiss in particular. It looked to be about the size of a Minolta 50 f/1.4.

At both ends of the big bike ramp where you could demo the A55’s 10 FPS framerate and continuous AF (which was quite impressive and was packed all the time), they had stands full of lenses, accessories, and other products to try out. I got to try all three of the new lenses released over the past two months.

This bad boy felt impressive. Small, compact, light, and fast focus.

I couldn’t really push it to its limits at f/2, as this part of the stand didn’t really have any suitable subjects for a 24mm lens. Anyone looking for a compact wide angle would be very happy with this, I think.

Next on the list is the 35mm f/1.8.

It certainly feels like a $200 lens. The build quality is only good. The focus was pretty fast, and interestingly enough you could turn the MF ring with nearly no resistance in AF mode. This is unlike other SAM lenses (save the 30 f/2.8 Macro) where the ring can barely be moved at all when in AF mode. I’d use it as an override.

I’d say that the performance at f/1.8 is pretty damn good, and would probably be excellent at f/2.2 or thereabouts. For $200, why wouldn’t you have this in your bag? It’s hard to argue against this lens unless you’re an a850 or a900 owner, but what it’ll do is bring down the used prices of the 35 f/2 since crop owners can just buy it.

Next on the list is the 85 f/2.8. This lens for some reason felt a bit more solid than the 35, even though they shared similar construction. it too had that kind of full time override focus ring that the 35 had. You’d have a hard time telling the two apart unless you read the lens barrel labelings. They look pretty much identical.

I consider the performance to be excellent at f/2.8. The focus is not as fast as the 35 f/1.8, but it’s probably reasonable for most. You could use this lens wide open all day long and not have any complaints. I did not notice much bokeh fringing with it either.

One side of part of a Sony stand. Here you could demo the products and accessories as well as watch the BMX bikers or try an a55. One problem the stand had was batteries. I noticed that at the end of the day they were running out of charged batteries for the a55s. Using the NEX battery was, IMO, a mistake. However, many of the people at the stand seemed to walk away impressed with the performance of these cameras. The buzz around the Sony booths was quite positive.

Several Sony pros were giving talks here, such as Andy Katz doing a lighting and portrait session with a tethered a900. These events were always packed. Very tough to find an empty seat. Many people were impressed with the gigantic prints that they were spooling out on a nearby Epson printer. As Andy was photographing the models, the printer was spitting out prints. I thought they looked great. Wireless studio flash was in use with some kind of trigger system (likely pocketwizard).

Cristina Mittermeier was also having talks about one of her missions to British Columbia to do living photojournalism with native tribes that were being impacted by a pipeline being run to Vancouver. She used a900s and lived amongst the natives to study their life to raise awareness of the problems of the pipeline. One nice thing about the people at this particular talk is that they asked her insightful, relevant questions. Stuff that wasn’t “What kind of settings did you use?” which I heard a lot at various talks. Rather, people asked about how to manage power and memory cards while out in remote areas where access to electricity was scarce, or strategies on how to interact with photo-phobic people. It was quite refreshing. Her work gathered a lot of attention on the print stands.

Sony had booths set up to demo the new features of most of the cameras, such as Sweep Panorama, 3D Panorama, AVCHD Video editing, Auto HDR, et cetera. These were all well done and thought out and gave good examples of how this stuff would actually help you. They also had large stands with all of their video cameras too, including several NEX VG-10s with various lenses attached. All of the Sony sessions were being recorded with a VG-10 with a big boom microphone attached. The NEX 18-200 lens seemed to be the perfect video lens. Silent, fast, and the quality was pretty impressive. The VG-10 is not perfect, but if I was an entry-level videographer who wanted a step-up from a normal Handycam type device, I’d probably like it.

I went to a few other booths, including the Nissin flash booth. The new Nissin flash for Sony, which will have F58-compatible remote flash triggering, will be available in mid-to-late November. I handled a Canon version and thought it had a lot of clever features. The rotation angle is “proper” for an alpha with a vertical grip, which would make most here happy. The color screen had nice, easy to use menus, though I thought the viewing angle was kind of crummy. The battery magazines are a great idea. Just slide out and slide in fresh ones. Also, they said if you broke your hot shoe, they’d fix it for $35 or so. Alternatively, you can buy a hot spare shoe that you can screw in quickly. The guys there knew what they were talking about and seemed to be very supportive.

At the BlackRapid booth I had a chance to talk with Joe and several other BlackRapid folks. Got to use the new R-Strap sport, which was pretty comfortable, and saw the Manfrotto replacement D-rings in person. I asked about a safety strap for the camera body, and he said that R&D knew of the need and was working on it. So hopefully we’ll hear about that soon.

At the LowePro booth I was able to look at a few new bags with some clever features. Their new lens cases enable you to “hold” a lens temporarily while swapping them, which seemed neat. I also got to see what will probably be my next bag, an Outback series. It can hold an a700 with 70-400G and grip attached. You can also add or remove lens cases to it to make it more or less compact for your needs. This is exactly what I was looking for two years ago before I bought the Tamrac Velocity, and I may wind up selling or donating that bag to buy this one.

Tokina had the 11-16 for Sony at their booth. It’s just like you would expect it to be. Lightroom identifies it as a 20 f/2.8, by the way. The lens seemed fast and accurate on the a700, focus noise was similar to the Tamron 17-50. The lens combined with Antishake could really open up some low light possibilities. Here’s a sample of the difference between 11 and 16 on an a700.

The image was tack sharp handheld at 1/4 of a second. This lens is more like an adjustable prime given its limited focal length, but the lack of distortion surprised me. It was much better than anticipated on that front and blew the Minolta 11-18 that I had used in the past away. The Tokina guys said that they would like to do more Sony lenses now that the marketshare has increased significantly.

All around, for a Sony user, it was a pretty good show. Most of the third party manufacturers had a lot of products that were either compatible or on the way. The Sony booth was big and packed.

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