Focus on Imaging 2012

Every year, the UK hosts the fantastic photography exposition, Focus on Imaging, where thousands of photographers come to see the latest and greatest in the digital camera world. This year, Jason Kravitz from was on hand in Birmingham from March 4th to 7th recording his thoughts, impressions and, of course, a few photos.

Last updated: March 7th, 2012

focus on imaging 2012 canon booth Outside the Canon booth

A few highlights

Day 1

Day 1 of Focus on Imaging ended much dryer than it began. Overall a lot of good energy and gear galore on display. The crowds were heavy but not overbearing - with a little patience, it was possible to get around to all the major stands and try out the various new models and gizmos.

Canon Land

I found myself near the front of the cattle rush at show time so I had my pick of first booth. Being a Canon shooter, I somehow found myself standing in front of the Canon EOS 1DX before I even realized where I was going. The kind man behind the counter assured me that I would most certainly prefer a 1DX over a 5D Mark III, perhaps some internal Canon rivalry.

He pointed out the 1DX has dual Digic 5+ processors (compared with the 5D Mk3's single Digic 5+ chip) and it is lightening fast. An eager young lad in front of me put it to the test with machine gun fire accuracy, showing off what 12 FPS looks and sounds like (an improvement over its predecessors 10 fps). It is even possible to lock up the mirror and go to a blazing 14 fps (JPEG only).

Canon EOS 1DX Canon EOS 1DX

Next stop was to the much anticipated and very recently announced Canon EOS 5D Mark III . A small crowd was beginning to gather as new and impressive specs were bantered about. The 61-point auto-focus is the same system found in its 1DX big brother. Both cameras excel in lowlight with ISO range from 100-25600. The 5D can only do 6 FPS, although an improvement over previous models.

A couple other interesting features are an in camera HDR setting which automatically takes and combines multiple exposures with a couple different preset looks, and silent dials which are handy in movie mode to avoid getting extra noise on the audio track. The 3.2" LCD looked fantastic as did the sample images that I took around the show floor. As one guy said, staring dreamily, "I had a 5D, 5D Mark II and after today, there's no doubt I'll be getting a Mark III"

Canon EOS 5D Mark III Canon EOS 5D Mark III

The 5D Mark III man mentioned something about a Canon 200-400mm lens which I had not heard about before coming to the show, so I poked around till I found it. It is a prototype and not slated yet for sale. The things was a beast, much bigger than I would have guessed compared with say a 100-400mm Canon lens, but this one is fixed f/4 which explains the extra glass. It also has an interesting feature which I was told is a carry over from cinema lenses, there is a built-in 1.4x teleconverter on the lens which means you can effectively get up to 560mm at f/4 - not bad! Although carrying that around all day might be a back breaker. I think they are targeting video enthusiasts who might be using tripods and other systems to take some weight off the photographer.

Canon 200-400mm / f4 prototype lens Canon 200-400/f4 prototype lens

Speaking of HD video, I was also interested to get a look at the Canon C300. This is a high end HD video camera which has the look and feel of a dSLR, but packs some serious specs. It uses the same EF lens mount as the current crop of dSLR cameras, which means there are tons of great lenses already supported. There is also an option to buy PL lens mount version which is compatible with a dedicated video lens system.

There is some gorgeous sample video on the Canon C300 web page. I was impressed that it was fairly light weight, much lighter than it looked. The add-on grip LCD panel was a nice touch and looked good. I'm sure professional cinematographers will be giving this camera a serious look - as well as those making films today with dSLR 7D and 5D Mark II (although the price definitely puts it way above casual use).

Canon C300 video camera Canon C300 video camera

Canon C300 screen and menus Canon C300 screen and menus

Fuji News

I took a spin through the Fuji booth to catch a glimpse of the Fuji X-Pro1 which has been getting some good hype as it nears launch. I also noticed while writing this up, that our own Aminus3 member Hugo Poon had the opportunity to take this camera for a spin for a few days early this year, and posted some results on his blog. I didn't spend a lot of time here today and plan to come back around tomorrow to find out more about this camera.

Fuji X-Pro1 Camera Fuji X-Pro1 Camera

Onto Olympus

The other big news in mirrorless Compact System Cameras, is the Olympus OM-D. I am personally pretty far behind on this technology, but from what I've seen, these hip retro cameras are very much on par with bulkier SLR systems, and continue to make huge improvements with each iteration.

The charismatic and quirky photographer Damian McGillycuddy was on stage showing off the OM-D's ability to sync to strobes and capture excellent studio quality images. I was standing in his line of site taking video on my iPad (don't ask) when he joked, "that's a big phone camera you've got there"... hmmm !

After a very convincing presentation and short discussion afterwards, he had me very seriously considering shedding several kilos of gear in exchange for a smaller, yet highly functional, package. For a write up of the philosophy and specs behind this camera, there's a good article on DPReview.

Damian McGillycuddy with Olympus OM-D Damian McGillycuddy with Olympus OM-D

Other Gear

I spent some time wandering around some of the smaller booths in search of interesting and new gear. I saw a booth for 3 Legged Thing, an upstart tripod manufacturer with some creative fun product marketing. I was particularly interested in checking out their Brian model as it is very light and compact and a good travel tripod. When I was going to Ghana in December, I was trying to quickly source a different tripod as my trusty Gitzo CF is supposed to be light and fold up small but it seems not always light or small enough. I checked out some different views online and ended up getting a GorillaPod which is a cool idea but not too practical for my setup (7D with heavier lenses). So it seems having a proper tripod like the Brian is the way to go. This one has some cool features like a detachable monopod leg. It weighs about 1.8kg and folds down to 420mm. It is definitely on my watch list of possible new purchases.

I spent some time at the Lens Baby table, trying to clear up the mystery of their many products. I've had my eye on these creative lenses for a while now and they just keep improving their quality and offerings year after year.

Playing with a LensBaby Composer Pro Playing with a LensBaby Composer Pro

There was a lot more gawking going on but will have to write more about it after the show tomorrow...

Day 2

Rather than wander through endless booths today, I decided to check out the scheduled speakers and attend some seminars and workshops. There were both short booth demos that lasted from 10-20 minutes, as well as some longer talks by various established photographers on a variety of subjects. Before delving further into that, I did spend a bit more time with Nikon and Fuji and got some hands on with the latest cameras.

Nikon Update

As mentioned, I am mainly a Canon guy but have some Nikon friends and family (like my Dad!) and don't want to do a disservice by not mentioning some of the excellent new gear.

The big story for 2012 is the Nikon D800 and the Nikon D4. I went top of the line first and took a look at the Nikon D4. Unlike the Canon counterparts yesterday, the Nikon staff weren't making any claims about which one was better. As they explained, the D800 is really approaching medium format at 36MP and is geared towards photographers who want high image quality but don't need the frame per second speed offered in the D4. The D4 is fast at up to 11 fps, while the D800 only does 4 fps. The D4 is the first camera to offer an XQD card slot which is a new type of format (in additional to CF and SD). The advantage with this new format is that it has high write speeds (up to 500 Mbytes/s) and it is possible to have very high capacity XQD cards (up to 2TB for a single card!). The D4 has both a standard CF card slot as well as the XQD slot. Both the D4 and D800 have an upgraded HD video system as compared with previous models. If you are a Nikon shooter, these cameras will certainly be a worthy update.

Wildlife photographer Andy Rouse gave a presentation and some impressions about the D4. Check out this stunning image of a giraffe in a cloud burst called A Light from Heaven.

Andy Rouse talks Nikon D4 Andy Rouse talks Nikon D4

On the consumer end, also recently announced is the Nikon V1 and J1 compact cameras. In a similar technology to the Olympus and Fuji compact cameras, this latest series targets a specific niche of high quality mirrorless systems, in a tiny powerful package. The build quality on the V1 is excellent and looked sleek in white magnesium alloy. The cameras uses a new Nikon CX lens mount with a couple supported lenses available, but for existing Nikon shooters, you can mount your dSLR lenses on these little camera bodies and make use of all your existing gear as well. As with the Olympus and Fuji, this looks like it could be a great little compact camera for casual shooting or travel. More specs on DPReview.

Nikon V1 and J1 cameras Nikon V1 and J1 cameras.

Fuji Revisted

I caught a more in depth look and demo of the Fuji X-Pro1 camera with portrait and music photographer Andy Fallon. It was a pretty casual session where he went over some impressions after using the camera for about 3 weeks. He shoots most of his studio work with medium format so having a small Compact Sensor Camera (CSC) like the X-Pro1 is a change. He explained that his roots are with old manual cameras and so in that spirit, he felt right at home with the X-Pro1 which handles like an old film camera but is packed with all modern trimmings plus HD video.

As he pointed out, if you are shooting sports or studio or wildlife and need zoom lenses or fast focus and frame rates, this is probably not the camera for you. Otherwise, it makes for highly portable and stylish street and travel camera, or something that you can always have on hand for casual shooting. Photo quality is spot on, rendering professional images and prints. Plus the current crop of wide aperture prime lenses provide excellent depth of field.

Another interesting feature is that unlike an SLR, where you are seeing the scene through the viewfinder, the Fuji shows you a live view of what the image will look like. Andy enjoyed the Black and White modes where he says you can really get a feel for how the scene will reproduce in B&W and shoot specifically for that look. He imagines that there will be a renewed passion for B&W photography as people start to adopt this style of shooting.

Andy Fallon with the Fuji X-Pro1 Andy Fallon with the Fuji X-Pro1

Photographer Endorsements

One of the nice things about attending a photo show like Focus on Imaging, is that there are a large number of working pro photographers walking about, who are often quite approachable to talk tips, gear and other random discussions. I like to check out camera bags and see what the latest trends are. I've owned several LowePro bags and have enjoyed them, but one thing that has bugged me in the past is that the bag is pretty much camera gear only, there is little to no room to put anything else. I'd prefer to carry half gear and half other stuff such as additional clothing layers, or other assorted things depending on if I'm flying somewhere, walking around a city, or out hiking around.

I was browsing around F-Stop bags at the Paramo booth, when landscape photographer David Ward came over to offer some useful thoughts on these bags. I had not seen them before and was not familiar with their system. David pointed out that they are standard aluminum internal frame packs and you can feel the difference of how the weight is properly shifted to the hips when hauling 18kg of gear over 10 miles. Gear is accessed through a back panel, it is possible to swap in different holders for those like myself who like to tweak their camera equipment to other random stuff ratio. I'll hold on to my LowePro Pro Roller bag for travel for now as I don't do much hardcore photography hiking, but would definitely consider F-Stop for adventure trekking in the future.

Sean McCormack on Lightroom 4

As mentioned, I spent a good part of the day sitting in on various talks by some excellent photographers.

Aside from being an outstanding photographer, Sean McCormack writes articles and tutorials about Lightroom. Sean is also an occasional Aminus3 poster to his Lost Concepts photoblog. Today he was talking Lightroom 4 beta version. He was only given a very limited 15 minute slot, but managed to cover a lot of ground without going too far over his limit. I've been using Lightroom 4 beta for a month or so, and after seeing Sean's talk, realize I've barely scratched the surface on the latest changes.

For those who have not tried it, Adobe Lightroom is an intuitive and powerful image editing and archiving program. Over the years, I've been using it for nearly all of my post processing, as it is simple and enjoyable to use and makes for a quick workflow. Lightroom 4, the latest version, is now out of beta, released on March 6, 2012.

A few high level new features of this iteration:

I found the new Google Map integration to be a great idea which I never realized existed in the Beta until today. If you shoot with a camera or camera phone with GPS data, it gets automatically added to the map - but you can also import track logs from your GPS device or phone (using an App like Trails) and Lightroom will use the timestamp on the image file to plot where the image was taken along your path. This is useful for remembering where you shot a specific image, or just keeping geotagged data about where your images were taken. Lightroom can save the GPS data back out to the file.

Sean does a better job at talking about these features than I can summarize here, so check out his blog post about what you can expect in Lightroom 4.

Lara Jade on Creative Inspiration

Lara Jade started her photography career around the age of 14, posting creative and original self portrait images on Flickr and Deviant Art. Since then, she has established herself as an accomplished fashion photographer. She was speaking at the Canon booth which is an honor in itself, and gave a nice talk on how her work has evolved, how she challenges herself to stay creative, and some tips for finding inspiration and being a successful photographer. It was interesting to hear her story first hand, and you could see she is very passionate about her work.

Drew Gardner on his Olympian Project

A few years ago, I remember being blow away the first time I saw the amazing, mystical and etherial forest images by Drew Gardner. At the show today, after leafing through the daily event paper, I saw he was speaking in 5 minutes, in a booth just over from where I was standing - good timing!

I grabbed a seat up front and eagerly waited to hear this prolific guy speak. He was speaking at the PhaseOne booth, who make high end medium format camera bodies and digital backs. Drew works primarily in medium format at high resolution and it is evident in the quality of his work, down to the tiniest of details. Today he was speaking about a personal project that he has been working on over a two year period where he is photographing every British Olympic gold medal winner. Each portrait is set in a unique location, many of them meaningful to the subject and their achievement.

Drew gave a fantastic talk, illustrating his ideas and thoughts behind the portraits, as well as talking about mistakes, happy accidents, and advice for differentiating yourself from the crowd when working as a commercial photographer. He told a funny story about a cold windy day, when his soft boxes were blowing around and he only had one person to assist him, so he waved down a park ranger to hold his lights. This led to a discussion of how most people live in mundane worlds and are looking to do something exciting, different, and memorable. He had a few quotables throughout the talk but one of my favorites was "Enroll people in your madness". If that's not a call to action I don't know what is.

Goodbye Focus on Imaging Goodnight to Focus on Imaging

Closing Time

As day 2 came to a close, I squeezed out the last remaining time combing the shops for show bargains. I was tempted to pick up a GoPro mountable video camera. Drew Gardner had mentioned that he uses one strapped to his head these days when on location as it makes it simple to capture behind the scenes footage of his shoot. Since I'm not doing much in the way of extreme sports or complex photo shoots, I figured I could always pick one up at a later date. The customer submitted videos on the GoPro site are worth watching - some incredible action footage.

The show continues on for two more days but I'm headed home until next year.

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