The show's most noteworthy new gadgets and gizmos.
Think Tank Rotation360° Backpack
Half backpack, half fanny pack.
Two long-time complaints against photo backpacks? You can't get to your camera quickly, and to get at your gear, you usually have to remove the backpack and set it down -- not exactly convenient if you're in a muddy, wet, sandy, or otherwise unpleasant environment. Think Tank Photo has solved the problem with its new Rotation 360° photo backpack, a backpack/fannypack hybrid. The top "day pack" half of the Rotation 360° hangs from the shoulders like most backpacks. Its lower half, however, called the beltpack, can be quickly detached from the upper half while it (the upper half) is still suspended from the user's shoulders. The beltpack then swivels around the hips until it's in front of the photographer, where its contents may be easily accessed through the reverse-opening top. When finished shooting or changing lenses, the user then slides the beltpack back under the daypack, where it's easily locked into position.
Another unusual Rotation 360° feature: camera straps built into the backpack's shoulder harness so camera weight is distributed across the entire upper body, not just the neck.
For more on the Rotation 360°, visit its website at rotation360.com, or read Jack Howard's field test.
Lowepro Primus AW Backpack
World's greenest photo backpack comes in black or blue.
With 51 percent of its materials coming from recycled sources, Lowepro's Primus AW backpack belongs to a select, and we hope growing, group of environmentally friendly photo products. Lowepro is also donating 10 percent of the bag's profits to a wildlife conservation organization, Polar Bears International.
Unlike most backpacks, the Primus' two largest compartments open toward the back. This means, among other advantages, you can set the pack flat on the ground for easiest access, and then put it back to your shoulders without the part of the pack that touches the ground ever coming into contact with your back and shoulders. Even better: because the compartment access zippers are against your back as you carry the pack, it would be hard for a thief in a crowd to covertly open a rear pocket and make off with a lens. The Primus AW also sports a new side pocket (called a lumbar access point) with a unique extra-long zipper pull that lets you reach back and pull out a camera or lens while still carrying the pack on your shoulders.
Available in summer '07 with a suggested list price of $279.99, the Primus AW is described in detail at lowepro.com.
Lowepro Vertex AW Backpacks
Ultra adjustability for maximum comfort.
Lowepro's new line of Vertex photo backpacks conform to a variety of body types thanks to a unique 6- or 8-point adjustable and contoured harness system. In three sizes and one color (black), the backpacks feature Lowepro's unique Glide-Lock system that lets the user adjust the over balance of the pack, and any accessories attached to it (such as a tripod) for a new level of comfort.
Additional features include an oversized pocket for a portable storage drive; water resistant, reverse-mounted zippers; a tailored, seam-sealed all-weather cover; and a padded pocket for a laptop. Available this month (March '07), the Vertex bags street for between $189.99 and $289.99, depending on size. For more, visit lowepro.com.
Twin 1 Universal Remote Release
World's smallest IR wireless system.
Available as either a transmitter (for SLRs and compact cameras with built-in IR receivers) or as a transmitter/receiver kit, the Twin 1 is said to be the smallest and have the longest range of any IR wireless triggering system. The transmitter-only version ($34.95) will fire most Canon Digital Rebels, Nikon's D70 and D80, the Pentax *ist DSLRs, and Samsung's GX-1L and GX-1S. Depending on the system and conditions, the transmitter is said to fire compatible EOS cameras from up to 24 feet away, and Nikon, Pentax, and Samsung cameras from 65 feet away.
The transmitter/receiver kits ($89.95) will work with most cameras that have a pin-socket port for electronic remote release, including most advanced Canon, Nikon, and Fuji DSLRs.
System highlights include the compact proportions and dual sensors in the receiver that help the unit pick up transmitter signals from almost any direction.
The Twin 1 system is in stores now. For more information visit argraph.com.
A wireless system for Elinchrom strobes.
Unlike the Twin 1, Elinchrom's new (to the U.S.) EL-Skyport wireless remote system fires strobes (not cameras) and works via radio signals (not IR). Available in universal transmitter and receiver versions for all strobes, and also Elinchrom-dedicated transceivers. The latter sets output and fires RX-series Elinchroms. There's also a unique USB Transceiver that will fire and control output of an Elinchrom RX strobe from a computer.
Hot-shoe mounted, the transmitter and transceivers have an indoor range of 165 feet and 395 feet outdoors, 40-bit encoding to assure security across eight frequencies and four workgroups, and a movable antenna to optimize reception. The universal receiver is powered by a rechargeable Lithium battery that's good for 30 hours after a 3-hour charge, and the RX receiver requires no battery, drawing its power from the strobe.
Available in the second quarter '07, pricing hadn't been established as of the close of PMA. For more, visit bogenimaging.us.
Desk Top Light Studio
The all-aluminum light tent.
OSN's new Desk Top Light Studio is an unusually advanced photo studio for on-line auctioneers who specialize in jewelry-scaled items. Essentially a 17.4 x 12.8 x 10.5-inch aluminum box, the Desk Top Light Studio ($599) will accept objects as large as 13 x 8.6 inches. White on the inside, with provision to accept paper inserts of any color, the housing hides eight daylight balanced, long-life fluorescent bulbs that can be individually controlled to produce 64 subtle variations on front, side, and/or backlighting.
For more, visit osnusa.com.
LENSESLeica D Vario-Elmar 14-150mm f/3.5-5.6
New glass for the 4:3's system.
Panasonic and Leica are jointly producing the new Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-150mm f/3.5-5.6. The 28-300mm 35mm equivalent shares Leica's optics and Panasonic's Mega O.I.S. image stabilization mechanism. It's compatible with Four Thirds system DSLRs like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1, Leica Digilux 3, and all Olympus DSLRs. The first Leica lens to incorporate a sonic wave motor -- called an Extra Silent Motor (XSM) -- it's also the longest Leica lens to date for digital.
The 14-150mm (10.7X) has one element of ED (Extra-Low Dispersion) glass, and an unusually high aspheric element count (4). Both promise superior performance on the chromatic and linear distortion fronts. Close-focusing to 19.5 inches at all focal lengths, its maximum magnification ratio is 1:8 -- a 1:3.6 35mm equivalent. Weighing in at 51.82 ounces, accepting 72mm filters, and measuring 3.6 inches long, this $999.95 lens is expected in stores this month (March 07).
Introducing Pentax DA* lenses
A whole new line of pro-caliber lenses.
Pentax is dropping hints that there's a pro-grade DSLR waiting in the wings. It's introducing two more high-end lenses, these in its new DA* (that's "DA Star") series of high-performance digital-only optics. The matched pair include the Pentax-DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 ED AL [IF] SDM ($899) and the Pentax-DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 ED [IF] SDM ($999).
Tightly sealed, weather- and dust-resistant, the lenses are the first to feature Pentax's new ultra-silent sonic wave motor called a Silent Drive Motor or SDM. They also feature Pentax's Quick Shift focusing system for instantly moving between AF and MF modes, and the relatively new SP coating claimed to repel dust, water and grease.
Little else is being released about these lenses at this time, except that they incorporate aspheric and special low-dispersion glass elements. For more, visit pentax.com.
Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 DI LD MACRO
Super fast and super close.
This high-speed, full-frame zoom for pros fills a gap that's existed in the Tamron catalog for nearly six years. Matched with the 28-75mm f/2.8, it boasts one of the closest focusing distances (37.4 inches) and highest magnification ratios (1:3.1) in its class. The equivalent of a 109-310mm when used on most DSLRs, the lens features internal coatings to suppress flare from image sensors, a detachable tripod collar, and it takes 77mm filters. Pricing and availability were still undecided at the close of PMA. For more, visit tamron.com.
Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 XR DI VC LD
Tamron gets stabilized!
Tamron unveiled its first image stabilized lens, and as you might have guessed, the system is debuting in one of its signature super zooms, the 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3. Calling its system Vibration Compensation (VC), Tamron claims the "triaxial" technology can compensate for vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lens movement. To the best of my knowledge, no previous lens-based system has claimed the ability to compensate for diagonal shake.
A full-frame lens, it scales up to a 43-465mm equivalent when used on most DSLRs, and has been optimized for digital with internal coatings for minimizing flare reflected off the imaging sensor.
Loaded with high end optical components including high refraction index (HR), low dispersion (LD) and anomalous dispersion (AD) glass, plus aspheric elements, the lens promises well-controlled chromatic and linear distortion as well as flatness of field.
This lens, which is only slightly larger than the non-VC version of the 28-300mm, also fares well on the macro front, with a 19.3 close focusing distance at all focal lengths for a 1:3 maximum magnification ratio at 300mm.
Pricing and availability weren't available as of the close of PMA, but more information can be obtained at tamron.com.
Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS
More image stabilized glass for Sigma.
The second of Sigma's Optically Stabilized lenses (OS), this 11.1x digital-only super zoom promises sharp action, portraits, and close-ups, even in low light. With a 17.7-inch minimum focusing distance across its focal length range and a 1:3.9 maximum magnification ratio, it's well suited to macro-scaled subjects, especially subjects you'd want to work with at close range. It uses three aspheric elements and a single element of Super Low Dispersion glass to control linear as well as chromatic aberrations, and is internal focusing. Available in Spring '07 in Canon, Nikon, and Sigma mounts, the 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OS Sigma had no established price at PMA.
For more, visit sigmaphoto.com.
Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG
PMA's Biggest Debut -- literally.
Weighing over 35 pounds (with hood), measuring 25.6 inches in length, and sporting a front element just under 10 inches in diameter, Sigma's new 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG is among the larger lenses you'll ever encounter outside an astronomical observatory. (If it's actually produced, that is.) Shown at PMA in prototype form, the lens drew a crowd of gawkers and admirers from the moment the doors opened. Almost everything about it is unusual. It shows focal length and distance settings, for example, on an LCD panel mounted toward the rear of the lens. The lens mount rotates to enable quick switching between horizontal and vertical orientations. (Shouldn't all large lenses offer this?) The filter drawer accepts standard 72mm threaded filters, and the entire drawer rotates to facilitate use of polarizers and split filters. It will ship with a 2X APO teleconverter that scales the lens up to a 400-1000mm f/5.6. Finally, both zoom and focus mechanisms are completely motorized (no manual operation), drawing their power from the camera body. How many shots will you get from one set of batteries? Don't ask! For more, visit sigmaphoto.com.
Acratech C-V2 Ballhead
More freedom of movement with this tripod head
Acratech, maker of the handsome Ultimate tripod head -- famous as the "socket-less" ball-and-socket head -- now offers a variation on the Ultimate called the C-V2. A more conventional ball head design, it's distinguished by a "low-profile" socket and keeps the same 16 ounce weight (including quick release clamp) as the Ultimate. The difference is freedom of movement. Acratech claims a gimbal-style, full-motion play for the C-V2, which makes it significantly easier for following active sports or wildlife subjects than the Ultimate.
The C-V2's included quick release clamp accepts Arca-style plates (not included), and is cleanly machined, with satin-black anodized surfacing, an adjustable tension control, rubber-clad knobs, all metal construction (stainless steel and aircraft-grade aluminum), and is claimed capable of supporting a 25-pound load. he C-V2 will be available in May, in stores or direct for $349.
For more info, visit acratech.net
Tamrac SpeedRoller 1
Rolling photo/computer case doubles as ladder
While it looks deceptively simple -- like a traveling salesman's sample case -- the new Tamrac SpeedRoller 1 will surprise you. Its nondescript, matte-black ballistic nylon shell conceals internal walls of armor-like high-impact plastic, nearly 1/4 inch thick within layers of plush padding. Empty, the roller weighs a beefy 11 pounds, and is rugged enough that you can stand on it to shoot above a crowd. You can safely do that even when your "shooting platform" is loaded with gear.
Carry-on compatible, the Speedroller also offers adjustable interior dividers, plenty of mesh-walled pockets, smooth-rolling wheels, a telescoping handle, and a large foam-padded exterior pocket sized to hold a 15-inch laptop. The case is compact but surprisingly deep, and will hold two SLRS, five lenses, a flash, light meter and more. Need more space? Try the slightly larger, and just as rugged, SpeedRoller 2.
Tamrac's SpeedRoller 1 is in stores selling for $219. For more visit tamrac.com.
Westcott Photo Basics
Teach your kid to be a portrait pro
Is there a teen whom you'd like to encourage to explore photography? Consider F.J. Westcott's new Photo Basics system. The first lighting product that combines full functionality and education, Photo Basics includes everything that a child would need, except the camera.
Available in kits that teach either basic product or portrait photography, packages include lights, lightstands, umbrellas, and a carrying case, plus an instructional DVD that explains how to set up use it all. The DVD also teaches the fundamentals of digital photography, posing tips, as well as what to look for in location backgrounds. Most unusual is the system's colorful floor mat that outlines exact placement of main, fill, and background lights, plus subject, camera, and reflector positions. It turns photography into something like a parlor game.
To keep it simple, the Photo Basics lights are 500 Watt continuous incandescents, that (unlike strobes) allow budding photographers to see exactly the lighting patterns they're building. Housings are color coordinated (yellow, red, and blue) to help distinguish main, fill and background lights. Kits include a slate-colored background cloth with its own simple-to-use hanging system.
Finally, Westcott's Photo Basics system is supported by a line of accessories (a five-in-one reflector, additional backgrounds, etc) and by an evolving website that offers lighting and posing tips, ongoing photo contests, and scrapbook templates.
Kits start at $399; for more visit photobasics.net.
The Ultimate Light Box
Diffusers for every occasion that fit like a glove
Typically, a new on-camera flash diffusion system wouldn't warrant much coverage in a PMA report. Over the years, dozens come and go. The Ultimate Light Box, however, seems different. Produced by Harbor Digital Design of Gig Harbor, WA, its components have been meticulously designed using the latest CAD-CAM technologies. As a result, the adapters for shoe-mount flash heads fit each like a glove -- no Velcro required. Moreover, the system is complete with multiple types of diffusers for whatever the situation requires. The softboxes, for example, have translucent or black walls, giving you the option of raising or lowering the ambient light levels beyond your flash-lit subject.
Made of tough but pliant plastic, the diffusers have internal baffles (made by Lee Filters) for adjusting diffusion levels, and are supported by accessories including gels, a directional lens, and mounting adapters for dozens of flash heads.
Pricing tops out at $99 for the Pro Pack which includes the entire system, all its accessories, a flash head adapter, and free shipping. For more info and pricing for individual components, visit ultimatelightbox.com.
Shoe-mount geotagging system
In recent months, thanks to Google Earth and flickr.com's new geotagging features, GPS coordinates are becoming a more integral part of photography than anyone would have predicted just a year ago. Now, JOBO, the German darkroom and hand-held digital storage specialist, is getting in on the longitude and latitude act with a camera-mounted GPS receiver called photoGPS. Sliding into a DSLR hot shoe, the small, lightweight receiver automatically stores longitude, latitude, date, and time to its internal memory as pictures are made. With no cables, buttons, dials, or fuss, the shoe-mounted receiver automatically checks with the orbiting GPS satellite whenever a picture is taken. It memorizes time and location, then falls back into a low-power dormant mode until another trigger signal arrives through the hot shoe. Later, in post production, JOBO software automatically marries the images in a user-specified folder with the receiver's GPS data by comparing time stamps. The coordinates are downloaded as EXIF data from the receiver through a USB connection.
Don't miss our complete PMA 2007 Show Report!
After downloading, the software uses the coordinates to add additional searchable information to appropriate EXIF fields. Relying on an extensive built-in database, it adds the country, region or state, city, postal code, street, and nearby points of interest to each file. Afterward, with compatible image browsers, a photographer can search and sort images by location, without ever having to manually input such data. A user could, for example, instruct a browser to retrieve all photos taken on Malibu Beach in California in 2006, and thumbnails of the appropriate files would be immediately called up and displayed.
JOBO's photoGPS is expected to be available in the summer of 2007, retailing for $149. For more information visit jobo.com.
WESTCOTT ASYMMETRICAL STRIP BANK
A Why-Didn't-I-Think-Of-That light
Strip lights are tall, narrow softboxes most often prized in studio and location portraiture for their ability to light a subject with little of their output spilling past to expose a cluttered background. The problem? Strip lighting a full length portrait usually means feet and face receive equal illumination -- not always desirable. To put more emphasis on the face, photographers often block the lower half of a strip light with black flocking so legs and feet recede into shadow.
A new strip light from the F.J. Westcott Company does this automatically. Called the Bruce Dorn Asymmetrical Strip Bank ($399.90, street) in honor of the photographer who designed it, the light modifier places the strobe head toward the end of its length, instead of the traditional central placement. This asymmetrical orientation puts almost three stops more light on a subject's face than feet -- usually a good thing. If you want a more even output from your strip light, this 18x42-incher can provide it with three removable front diffusion panels that feather its output exactly as the situation requires.
For more, visit fjwestcott.com.
MANFROTO 561 FLUID MONOPOD
A smooth-panning monopod for video
Second in Manfrotto's line of unique fluid-motion monopods designed for use with Mini DV and HDV camcorders (plus still), the new 561 fluid monopod ($220, street) is heftier and taller than its stablemate, the 560, and can support cameras and camcorders weighing up to 8.8 pounds, or nearly twice as much as the 560.
The smooth panning motion comes from a fluid cartridge built into the base of the monopod. It allows for unusually smooth rotation of the monopod's length, producing a silky pan.
For additional support, the 561 adds three pivoting feet that retract from the bottom section and help hold the monopod in place for jump-free, as well as jitter-free, panning.
Sold as a kit, the 561B includes a modified 701RC2 video head, which adds a super smooth +/- 90 degrees tilt action, for an overall weight of 4.4 pounds. The 561 raises to almost 80 inches from a contracted height of just under 31 inches, and will arrive in stores this month.
For more, visit bogenimaging.us.
LASTOLITE HILITE BACKGROUND
For crisp, white portrait backdrops, location portraitists often head out with a minimum of two lights (plus what's required for the subject), softboxes or umbrellas to modify the background lights, background stands, a crossbar, and paper or cloth backdrops. Now, Lastolite cuts the gear requirements to just two items: a strobe (with reflector), and the new HiLite portable white background.
Setting up in minutes, the HiLite collapses to fit into a 4x4 foot carrying case, and, here's the best part, in use, is completely self supporting. Internally lit by a single strobe, the system offers strong, even backlighting that's bright enough to allow subjects to stand as close as 16 inches from its surface without casting a shadow.
The HiLite is available in 5x7- and 6x7-foot sizes, with an optional, washable, Vinyl train that attaches easily for full-length portraits, including feet. Don't want a white background? Just throw a gel on the strobe.
The HiLite will be available in Spring '07.
For more, visit bogenimaging.us.