Colin Warhurst
Oct 17, 2018 · 38 min read

For BBC Blue Room

Photokina 2018–Just some of the 180,000 visitors…

This September, the BBC Blue Room visited Cologne in Germany for the world’s largest photography and imaging trade fair — Photokina. We were tasked with investigating the latest evolutions in imaging technology, and any of the trends which may come to affect the BBC, or its audiences.

The views expressed in this report are the personal views of the author, Colin Warhurst, and should not be taken as the views or policies of the BBC.

Colin Warhurst — Strategy Manager, BBC Blue Room

Intro: Photokina… and Digility

Photokina is the World’s largest photography trade fair, and has been running since 1950. From 1966, the show has been held in Cologne as a bi-annual event. This show saw an estimated 180,000 visitors from 127 countries. However, next year will see Photokina changing its regular schedule for the first time in decades, moving towards an annual cycle and a change in month. This means that the 8th-11th May in 2019 will see another Photokina just eight months after this year’s September event.

Reducing the time between Photokina events may go some way to explaining what felt like a “smaller” trade fair this year. Sure, all of the big players were still in attendance, but the 2016 event had a slightly bigger footprint in terms of overall exhibit space. What’s more, Photokina has cited a need to include technology areas outside of classical imaging and photography, including “trend areas like virtual and augmented reality, cloud computing, as well as image recognition and holography.” Accordingly, a ‘sub-conference’ called Digility which focused on all things VR and AR was being held concurrently to the main Photokina event.

With two conferences being run at the same time, it made sense for the Blue Room to send a dynamic duo to Cologne in order to get the inside story from both events. With myself as the team’s resident camera expert covering Photokina, and Spencer Marsden as our R&D Engineer and Immersive-Technology guru covering Digility, we present to you not one, but two Blue Room reports.

Colin Warhurst covering Photokina, Spencer Marsden covering Digility

Headlines

  • 2018 is the year mirrorless cameras finally stand head to head with established DSLR systems
  • Mirrorless technology combining with Digital Medium Format sensors will continue to bring this hybrid format into the realms of affordability — albeit in the longer term.
  • Key partnerships between major vendors reveal their long term strategic thinking, particularly in the context of mirrorless technologies combining with digital medium format.
  • Every photo-camera is now a video-camera. Audiences will be exposed to images that are increasingly cinematic, particularly online.
  • Cranes, jibs and steadicams are out, stabilisers and gimbals now reign supreme.
  • Somebody finally takes a bite out of Adobe’s dominance in software. Again, there’s some strategy related to digital medium format in there too…
  • Everything else felt smaller and reduced in presence, most likely due to Photokina 2019 being scheduled for May — just eight months away.
  • Innovation and the Future Zone were hidden away and hard to find — when this whole Photokina was meant to be about being reflecting “faster innovation cycles”.

Trends

Below, I’ve mapped the trend headlines from my 2016 report against this year’s activity, broadly ranked in terms of presence.

  • This year’s event was “about less.” The majority of press and excitement was focused on new camera announcements using mirrorless bodies.
  • Almost every other trend, particularly “accessory” based areas, had a reduced presence and focus in 2018…
  • …no doubt some vendors may have decided to wait until the next Photokina in May 2019.
  • There was an increased interest in all things video.
  • Evidence of a few key partnerships within the industry
  • Slight increase in the amount of new software on display.
The maps of 2016 vs 2018 shows that this year’s event had a slightly smaller footprint

Overall Summary:

Going back to when I finished writing my original Photokina 2016 report, I posed a question. “Does the photography industry need a forum to discuss its future?

With Photokina’s announcement of moving to an annual schedule in 2019, I thought this move validated my thinking. Photokina appeared to be changing in order to respond quicker and to become more reactive. I thought that perhaps this was the first sign of what would be an altogether different and more innovative Photokina in 2018.

Alas, that was not the case, bar a few minor exceptions. The focus is still undoubtedly about the trade-fair part of the event.

The number of talks and on-stage events did not seem to increase in quantity, nor change their focus away from being about selling products, services or tuition. 2016’s clearly marked “Future Zone” was this year hidden away and not sign-posted at all — though it was adjacent to the Digility AR & VR conference.

Photokina features lots of smaller stages and break-out demonstrations, but almost all of them are dedicated to tutorials or promoting a particular product. Great if you want to improve your skills and learn from professionals, or to check out the latest equipment, but there were no major events or talks tackling any big photography issues. You only step up onto a stage if you have something to sell…

For me, Photokina has once again been as equally defined by what was not being spoken about, as well as what was being shown off by vendors.

The organisers of Photokina are clearly aware of some big issues facing the industry; GDPR, the new EU Copyright Directive, the rise of Instagram, all things AI and more. Most of these issues are discussed by Photokina on their own official blog! Therefore I find it so frustrating that none of these discussions are really manifested at the actual event itself.

In short, Photokina’s words spoke louder any actions. Their big statement about wanting to “reposition” to reflect “faster innovation cycles” did not manifest. Yes, individual vendor’s camera products continue to evolve, but that’s normal. True game-changing innovation, rather than normal evolution, remained really hard to find.


This report is in two main sections;

1 : Technology Insights

A look at the dominant trends, and anything that may have a bigger impact or story behind them. This year, with a “chart style” split of what was trending up vs trending down when compared to 2016.

2 : Spotted at Photokina

Despite my innovation concerns above, Photokina remains the premier photography event and chance to indulge one’s inner photographer. This section showcases all of the fun, interesting or bizarre things I saw this year.


1: TECHNOLOGY INSIGHTS

The trends and innovations uncovered…

Things that were ‘trending up’…


Fujifilm’s mirrorless, digital medium format range. 2016’s Fujifilm GFX 50S (left) press images of 2018’s 50R (middle) and 2019’s 100S (right)

Digital Medium Format + Mirrorless

PRIMER 01: MEDIUM FORMAT

Medium Format (MF) cameras have capture areas somewhere between ‘full-frame’ 35mm and Large-Format (100mm+) cameras. MF cameras capture more light, and therefore more colour tonality and detail than 35mm or smaller cameras, producing stunning images that have a distinct ‘look’. Traditionally, MF cameras have remained film-based due to costs of digital sensors at that size, but this is slowly changing.

Moxfyre derivative work: Autopilot (Sensor_sizes_overlaid.svg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

2018’s full-framed mirrorless cameras from Canon & Nikon. The Canon EOS-R (Left) and Nikon Z7 (right).

PRIMER 02: MIRRORLESS

Mirrorless Cameras generally refer to interchangeable lens cameras, that do not have a reflex mirror. A ‘single lens reflex’ (SLR) camera uses the mirror to bounce ‘what the lens sees’ to an optical viewfinder. However, recent display advances have made it possible to replace the optical viewfinder with a small digital screen. Fully electronic systems therefore have no need for bulky SLR mechanisms, resulting in “mirrorless” cameras that are smaller and lighter than their DSLR counterparts, whilst offering the same image quality.


Mirrorless is here to stay

Photographers love their equipment. A lot of time, energy and investment goes into our toolkits. As such, it is tempting for us to fall into silos for our particular favourite camera body type, lens system or vendor.

Long story short — mirrorless cameras can now do virtually everything DSLR cameras can. But tradition means that DSLRs will still be around for a long time, users being reluctant to move across despite the advantages in size, weight, portability and cost that mirrorless systems offer.

However, 2018 marked a huge change in the industry’s attitude to mirrorless cameras. Whilst most vendors had previously been quiet about committing to a mirrorless format, perhaps worried about eating into their own DSLR sales, this year saw a mirrorless release from almost every major vendor. It is now clear that the mirrorless format is here to stay, perhaps even becoming the dominant camera body-type in the future.

The table below is my quick (and no doubt incomplete) glance at the cameras announced or revealed at Photokina 2018.

  • Mirrorless announcements dominated
  • Fujifilm are opening up digital medium format at a lower cost
  • Only two major DSLR type cameras were announced. Leica’s S3 MF camera, and Nikon’s entry level APS-C sized D3500…
  • …which meant there were no new full-frame 35mm-DSLR cameras announced at this Photokina

This event signifies that mirrorless is now mainstream, and not just an experiment undertaken by Sony and Panasonic. Almost every major vendor now has an established mirrorless system, and the next few years will be interesting to see how they tread the waters of appealing to both mirrorless and DSLR customers at the same time.

In 2016, the major trend I wrote about was the fact that medium format was becoming available digitally, and becoming something not just reserved for film enthusiasts or the mega-rich. In going digital, one can foresee a long-term coming down of costs in medium format. For now though, it is only Fujifilm who are forging ahead with this vision and furthering the trend, continuing to merge the areas of digital medium format with mirrorless, to create (relatively) cheaper cameras.

Indeed, it seems to be Fujifilm who stole the show with their announcement of the Fuji 100S Medium Format camera, which claims it will bring image stabilisation and better autofocusing methods to this larger picture format. The ability to take “run and gun” images or stabilised street-photography in medium format is massively appealing. Fuji are clearly showing long term strategic thinking, with the 50R and 100S complementing 2016’s 50S (their first digital MF camera) and moving to expand into, and further bring down the cost of, the “affordable” end of the digital medium format space.


It is worth pointing out that hardly any of these cameras were actually announced as becoming available at that actual moment in time. In some cases, no cameras or prototypes were even on show. Photokina 2018 was mostly “tell” rather than “show and tell” and so it was an event about press-releases, tech specs and (if you were lucky) handling a few prototypes.

Indeed, neither Hasselblad or Sony had anything camera-based to reveal or announce as coming soon, instead focusing on lenses or choosing to wait — perhaps for Photokina 2019.

Hasselblad’s X1D & lenses — The X1D was their 2016 digital medium format, mirrorless camera. Hasselblad had also announced the H6D 400c D-MF (DSLR, not mirrorless) camera in the first quarter of 2018, yet another camera vendor who chose to announce a new product well before the Photokina event.
Leica’s 2018 S3 — A medium format camera, but a beefy one due to retaining a DSLR mechanism and build
The Pentax 645Z is a digital Medium Format camera from 2014, which uses the same sensor as some Phase One and Hasselblad’s D-MF cameras, but at a significantly lower price point ~£6000 — Pentax may now feel the competition from Fujifilm’s more recent D-MF cameras coming in at the lower end of the market, competing against their four year old model.

Phase One are a camera vendor who are specialists at top-end digital medium format sensors. They’ve been making digital medium format since the 90’s! Focusing on the larger size of medium format sensor (yes — there’s more than one size…) at the extreme professional end of the price range, their XF camera system is one designed to be modular, with new hardware and software improvements released over the lifetime of the product.

At Photokina they were showing off their latest digital-back, the IQ4, as well as the latest software and firmware upgrades from across their range. There was a large queue of people milling about the stand, and looking back I am regretting not waiting and taking my chance to pick up a $47,000 camera…

This is what picking up $47,000+ worth of camera looks like…

On the non medium-format front, the big excitement was around both Nikon and Canon announcing their entries into the mirrorless full frame market, with the Nikon Z7 & Z6, and Canon EOS-R respectively. Panasonic also announced plans for two new mirrorless cameras, the S1 and S1R, but this was only an announcement and a tease for a later 2019 release.

Nikon’s press conference, focusing on their Z7 mirrorless camera

There were actual queuing barriers on the Canon exhibit to see the EOS-R… I’m not sure if this was hype or genuinely needed crowd control!

Panasonic have had a long history with mirrorless, but the S1 and S1R announcements signals their first foray into the format using full frame sensors

Finally, poor old Olympus seemed to receive a lot of press precisely because they had nothing new to announce. Olympus are specialists in the famously smaller and lightweight Micro 4/3 sensor and lens system which they share with some smaller Panasonic cameras. This is a format that can still deliver professional results similar to their larger APS-C or 35mm full-frame brethren, but with the advantages of small size, lightness, speed, discreteness and portability. In other words, everything that mirrorless systems and lenses are now starting to providing for larger 35mm full-frame cameras… So mirrorless could easily be interpreted as a direct threat to Olympus’ reliance and uniqueness with Micro 4/3.

Olympus champion the Micro Four Thirds system. Still smaller and more lightweight than larger-sensor mirrorless cameras, but only just…

With nothing new of their own to announce, nor an adequate response to the mirrorless activity coming from their competitors, their silence was deafening. The decision to hide their presence entirely within the boundaries of the roped-off ‘Olympus Playground’ meant that their isolation was physical as well as metaphorical. Olympus and Micro 4/3 have always had a die-hard following and their own niche within photography, so their response and next move will be something to watch with interest in May 2019…

The Perspective Playground was at least on the same site this year, but it still felt massively isolated. Olympus should open up a bit next time…

Partnerships

This year I certainly noticed more collaborations between companies and vendors than I had previously, and it’s interesting to note the timing and circumstances of a few of them.

The most significant partnership announcement came from Panasonic, Leica and Sigma. Each has very different user-bases and fans, yet they saw sense in coming together to announce the “L-Series Alliance” which means that any mirrorless camera or lens designed by any of the three vendors will work with the other.

This is a really smart move, as launching a new mirrorless camera type can sometimes mean designing a whole new range of lenses to fit the new bodies. Adaptors can be used for DSLR lens compatibility, but adaptors are less than ideal as they can sometimes reduce optical quality and autofocus performance. For vendors, the process of designing, manufacturing and releasing new lenses to the market can take time, especially to cover the full range of the market’s requirements across a variety of focal ranges and speeds.

With these three vendors all designing new mirrorless cameras and lenses at the same time, an L-Series user will have far more choice, far more quickly, and will allow all three members of the alliance to hold their own against Canon, Nikon and Sony’s mirrorless systems.


Vitec own a whole swathe of smaller brands in the accessories realm, with their most recent acquisitions being Joby and Lowepro in 2017 (who make small camera ‘grips’ and backpacks respectively) and this year announcing Rycote (who make audio accessories) as their latest acquisition, not long before Photokina itself. As such, the Vitec stand was the place to be for big name brand accessories, all in one place. Not so much a partnership as an acquisition engine. Who will they buy next?

Vitec — Camera accessories brand? You may well be assimilated…
Manfrotto and Joby — Just two of Vitec’s many ‘sub’ brands

Other partnerships of note included digital medium format specialists Phase One, announcing that their dedicated image processing software, Capture One, would be compatible with Fujifilm’s latest digital medium format cameras, as well as with some models of Sony cameras. We’ll touch a bit more on this in the ‘Software & AI’ section…


Also one that almost went unnoticed — Hasselblad have teamed up with DJI to add a Hasselblad camera and lens to the Mavic 2 Pro drone. This adds a sense of prestige and optical kudos to the model. I’m surprised that drone manufacturers have not teamed up with major camera vendors earlier than this, adding a recognised camera or lens brand to your drone is a sure fire way to distinguish yourself in a very busy market.

DJI + Hasselbald = Mavic 2 Pro

Elsewhere, Zenit (a Russian company, known for lower cost cameras and lenses) partnered with Leica to make a new camera, the Zenit M. This struck many commentators as an odd combination, as they are both from traditionally opposite ends of the pricing spectrum, but the Zenit M camera is a collaboration which has resulted in a (not so cheap ~£5000) camera with a rangefinder style body and an impressively fast 35mm f1.0 lens.

Zenit M

Video & Audio

There was a slight increase in all things video this year. Canon, Sony and Panasonic certainly treat Photokina as an event where their video wares should be touted just as much as their photographic equipment.

What did become apparent, was that every stills camera is now also a video camera.

The early days of the “full frame video revolution” were full of hacks and horrible codecs designed to get the best possible video out of stills-cameras, whose video-capabilities were a side-effect or an after-thought to begin with. Whereas if we fast forward to today, I felt as though I could pick up almost anything anywhere at Photokina and get incredibly high video quality out of it.

It all points to a world now where photographers who have already made significant investment in their “stills” equipment, only need to go a little bit further to add a whole new service and video capability to their portfolio.

Whilst it’s easy for BBC folks like me to fall back into thinking about the standards, camera specifications and equipment we would normally use to “make telly” it has to be said that today, video on the web has never had it so good. Most of the video shot on these ‘adapted’ cameras ends up on the internet.

For every other shaky hand-held vertical video and snapchat moment on the internet, there’s a professional photographer somewhere with thousands of dollars worth of lenses preparing their next cinema-quality video to be released online. After all, every business in the world now has to think and act like a media company. Everyone needs to have a high quality online video presence.

All of this means that (depending on the resolution) the internet has the potential to look better than ever — certainly much better than TV in some cases…

Got a spare Leica lying around? Turn it into a cinema camera!

“The Era of 8K Will Start”… Despite the slogan, nobody could tell me when, or what video camera was used to capture the supposed 8K video material. Assuming it was genuine video, then kudos for showing some 8K that wasn’t a time-lapse!

With good pictures must come good audio!
Sennheiser had a spatial audio mic…
...and a wireless bluetooth microphone

Stabilisers

Handheld rigs that stabilise your mobile phone or camera have become much more prevalent and affordable. The sophistication and variety of stabilisers on show was impressive. One almost takes them for granted, but it is worth remembering that small and cost effective gimbals are a fairly recent mass-market type of device. They’ve transformed filmmaking and brought steadier (and therefore more ambitious) shots to film-makers in many genres, across an entire price range.

What also helps? If your camera and lenses are smaller and lighter to begin with. So it is no accident that the growth in gimbals runs in parallel to the rise of smaller mirrorless cameras…

Stabilisation is also a big deal in software now as well. Whilst dressed up in marketing-speak, cameras or editing software can now offer standard built-in stabilisation features, no doubt all achieved by some form of cropping into the picture and algorithmically reducing wobble. This will come at the cost of losing some resolution, but arguably the steadier shot in a fast-paced piece of action is more important than retaining 100% of your rapidly changing pixels.

GoPro’s latest camera saw heavy promotion of their in-camera “HyperSmooth” function for stabilised images
Cranes still have a place for now, to deliver stabilisation at heights — but I see less of them each year at tech shows…

Software & “AI”

In 2016’s report, I had very strong feelings about the seeming lack of software innovation. What software was present, was scattered and seemingly devoted to photo-processing in retail and sales, or “how to get your mug, printed on a mug” as I summed it up.

So, it was a pleasant surprise to stumble upon more exhibits and demos that featured tethered cameras (a camera connected to a computer for instant review and control) using a piece of software that I had not previously encountered. Enter: Capture One.

Capture One — Tethered camera control, and image manipulation that doesn’t come from an Adobe product…

Capture One is software developed by Phase One — the top-end specialist digital medium format folks we mentioned earlier. It transpires that the software they created to get the absolute best image quality from their $47,000+ camera systems, actually works pretty well on other camera systems too!

Capture One software allows a computer to talk directly to the camera to an incredibly nuanced degree. For professionals, this level of fine tuning is a must. Indeed, I think every time I saw a photographer doing a live demonstration on one of the many Photokina demo areas or stages, Capture Pro was part of the demo.

The software itself broadly has two functions; tethering controls, and post-production. In the former, the compatibility list is smaller, but still wide ranging, if you opt for the most expensive version of the software. In the latter, there is far more compatibility across a wider range of vendors, making it an alternative to Adobe’s Lightroom or Photoshop.

Phase One were using Photokina to tout their partnership and Capture One’s compatibility with the most recent digital medium format cameras announced by Fujifilm, another key partnership revealed at Photokina.

At first glance, Fujifilm and Phase One may seem like rivals, with both having digital medium format sensor systems of their own. However, Fujifilm are clearly looking to open up a lower-budget digital medium format market, whilst Phase One are well and truly at the very expensive end of things! However, by partnering with Fujifilm so quickly, Capture One is positioned as the software photographers will feel they need to use no matter which part of the digital medium format spectrum they sit.


Elsewhere on the software front, we have to talk about the Zeiss ZX1 camera announcement — which was being touted as the world’s first camera to have Adobe’s Lightroom built-in. This merited a bit of digging online, as the camera wasn’t revealed until a little later into the Photokina event, and I missed seeing it for myself.

It turns out that the version of Adobe Lightroom that is built-in is the “mobile” version of the application — which I was able to recognise, as I use it on my own smartphone. This was a little bit naughty, and took the wind out of the marketing sales slightly, but the specs on the ZX1 mark it as something that you could call a smartphone hybrid — almost.

The ZX1 feels to me like a mix of 80% camera, 10% smart-app (not smart-phone) and 10% solid-state-drives. That’s right, there’s no need for cards, as the ZX1 itself has 512GB of storage built in.

It appears to be a full-framed, fixed lens (35mm, F2.0) thing… that resembles a compact camera, but is too big, powerful and expensive (at ~£5000) to be classed as such. On paper, it feels like the “ah, finally” moment that scratches a small part of my innovation-itch.

This is Zeiss’ first camera in years, and whilst known for high quality lenses, this is a bold and unique re-entry into the modern camera market. The ZX1 tickles my spider-sense, even though I didn’t get to see it myself! I think it was the only clear vision of “a” future on show at Photokina, and I want to know more.


Finally, I have to address all thing AI…

I get to see the term “AI” everywhere, particularly in the day job at the BBC Blue Room. Where AI was mentioned at Photokina, it was always half-hearted. No vendor really seemed 100 percent confident enough in their “AI” to truly shout about it, at risk of being caught out by an expert, and being forced to admit that just plain old ‘normal’ algorithms are in use. But the pervasiveness of the latest marketing buzzword is being felt in photography.

It’s a shame, as very exciting advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques are being applied to images and photography as a whole. Most of the major tech-giants are developing image recognition software — yet, once again, any such software-based discussion was almost completely missing from the event. A few small vendors made reference to image-tagging or content-aware editing capabilities, but you really had to know what you were looking for, and nothing jumped out as new or innovative.

CyberLink showcased some content-aware editing capabilities which claimed to be “AI” driven…

Of the few products and vendors that I saw that may have employed genuine machine learning techniques, they were all actually highly derivative of things that I’ve already seen in my phone’s app store a hundred times already.

For better or worse, AI only dipped its toe in the water at Photokina. When it does dive in, I hope it can be with more examples of some of the more fascinating and powerful things happening in the imagery world.

Aye Aye AI
Robidia were much closer to what we think of as proper AI — a camera-robot with sophisticated motion tracking and detection capabilities

There’s a lot to take in at Photokina, it can sometimes be a bit much!

Trending Down

Instant Photography

Only Fujifilm went to bat this year for instant photography. Neither Polaroid nor Impossible (both actually now under one venture) were in attendance, meaning a double-whammy reduced presence for all things “instant.”

Obligatory…

It fell to Fujifilm’s Instax brand to carry the baton. Thankfully, there was less focus on their portable printers this year, and instead clear focus on owning and having an all-in-one instant Instax-camera. This makes perfect sense, the retro-style camera itself embodies the fun of instant photography, whereas carrying around a portable printer is never, ever going to be cool.

Less of this portable-printing idea in 2018…

There was an abundance of teenagers and young folk buzzing around the Instax exhibits. It’s clear that Instax is the closest anyone at Photokina gets to youth audiences or the (hushed tones) “social media” demographic. Nobody else seems to care about even trying to break into the smartphone-dominated youth market. But if you want to grow and nurture the photographers of tomorrow, you should start somewhere, right?

Instax is aimed at the young and image conscious social media types. A beacon for anyone under thirty attending Photokina.
Instax playing smart with A-Lister endorsement to the youth audience

360 Video

At Photokina 2016, I had trouble keeping up with the number of 360 startup companies, all offering cameras with differing combinations of required professional features, but rarely in the same package. This year, the startups have gone, and serious 360 was represented by only a small handful of companies. (Though admittedly, I completely missed the announcement of the Facebook and RED announcement of their ‘Manifold’ 360 camera. Spencer has that covered in his Digility report though)

Insta360 were showcasing their previously announced Insta360 Pro 2, the follow up to their Pro 1 which is the closest thing the industry has to a professional 360 camera. Boasting 8K capture, stereoscopic and live streaming capabilities, compared to the Pro 1 this unit claims increased resolution-per-lens (for stills), spherical audio recording, something called “FlowState Stabilisation”, improved live monitoring and better direct integration with video editing software Adobe Premiere.

Vuze were showcasing the Vuze+, a slightly improved version of their original Vuze 360–3D camera, which now features live streaming amongst other slight improvements, all in the same form factor. Their second offering was an attempt to have their cake and eat it, by creating the Vuze-XR, a mono-360 camera that can also convert into a stereoscopic-180 camera complete with a selfie-grip. The demo of the 180–3D was better than I thought it would be, but I seriously doubt 3D video selfies are ever going to become a thing.

Vuze’s hand-held XR cmaera, with both a mono-360 and 3D-180 mode, and their Vuze+ now capable of live streaming

Kodak were also showing some 360 cameras… and a “3D photo capture” demo, which had appalling print resolution and was in reality a rather complicated gimmick at best.

Kodak also had a dual mono-360 or 3D-180 camera, the PixPro 3D-Pivot

Kodak were also using my favourite oxymoron, creating a “VR Cinema”… Cinema’s are usually a group activity, and so a group of people being collectively isolated always amuses me.

VR Cinema… Collective isolation

Innovation (Formerly the “Future Zone”)

In 2016, I staked all of my excitement and hopes on a handful of vendors in what was then being called the “Future Zone.” This zone was clearly signposted around the venue, and once you got there you were met with fifteen or so startups with very small exhibits. It was my favourite part of Photokina 2016.

So, I was a bit upset to find the Future Zone concept seemingly abandoned this year. Half of the basement of Hall 5 was home to the Digility VR & AR conference, with the remaining half split between print vendors, a gigantic Fujifilm photo gallery, and a haphazard mixture of other companies who didn’t fit anywhere else. As such, the exhibitors formerly known as ‘Future Zone vendors’ were lost and stranded somewhere in the middle of this confusion, and not clearly signposted.

That being said, at least the vendors were grouped together, and I got to see a few things all at once.

The “Future Zone” exhibitors were in Hall 5… Somewhere. Can you spot them?

Framen

This company wants us to start “streaming photography” and I must admit that what caught my eye initially was their high-quality digital screen. Digital photo frames can be found relatively easily in any electronics store, but they are almost always ridden with terrible displays, backlight or resolution. The motion-detecting (think green!) Framen custom frame uses an IPS screen which made the photographs look amazing.

The photos of the Framen photo screen ironically do the quality no justice — IPS is really pleasing on the eye

We take great pictures all the time, but professional printing is generally for hobbyists, enthusiasts or professionals. Is there a digital-based middle ground?

Though the screen is what drew me in, and is available as a key product, Framen are thinking beyond just selling you a photo screen. They are also selling software and hardware-dongles for any HDMI-TV in order to create an entire ecosystem. There are already familiar digital signage systems in the market, that offer remote control of content onto screens, but as far as I am aware not one devoted to photography and videography.

Framen did say that connection to existing photo databases (e.g. Flickr, Google Photos) is not on the roadmap yet, instead they want you to import images from your phone or their own content libraries. I think they are missing a trick… If connection to a users existing photo-stores becomes a feature, this product could really be something when combined with their aspirations to create a digital photo market.

Framen want to enable photographers to monetise their images through their ecosystem, imagining use-cases where users would pay a nominal fee to have a favourite image or portfolio, from their favourite professional photographers, displayed in their home or business via custom playlists.

In a world where photographers are constantly battling deliberate or accidental re-use of their images online, surely any new model that would help monetise their work should be something to look at more closely.

Framen are more than just smart photo-frames. They are attempting to create an ecosystem and ways to monetise ‘streaming photography’

Frame Alive

These folks were offering an idea whereby users can hover over a photograph and have it trigger a video on their mobile device. Think of it as swapping out QR-codes for photographs, and you’re almost there. It was a nice concept, but seemed an awfully long-winded process. They mentioned teaming up with businesses and intellectual-property brands for things like movie promotions, and I think that is where any money would lie — this idea seems like a difficult pitch to everyday consumers.

Trigger videos on your phone via a photo

Spekular

Combine LED lighting with Lego, and you get something like Spekular. Actually incredibly useful to scale lighting power up and down, all on one stand, or depending on your affordability. The ability to create light rings or other specific shapes to channel and shape your lighting is a fantastic idea that some folks will have wished they thought of sooner.

Spekular combines the fun of lighting, with the fun of building blocks

Reflex

As best I can tell, these folks are wanting to create their own analogue film-based camera and lens system from the ground up. They want the best of traditional “old” 35mm DSLR, with some modern ideas thrown in. The result is a modular camera, allowing the user to choose different lens-mounting options (to make best use of any of your existing lenses) as well as different backs for varying film types. Some modern features like a multi-function wheel, an open-source design approach (with blueprints online etc), an LED-based flash and spotlight, plus now-obligatory smartphone connection, all added up to make this a neat twist on an old idea. Though, this is a kickstarter project, so they will have to meet their funding goals in order to deliver on all of the above. They also make their own lenses, and the prototype produced some nice bokeh and a vintage feel (as pictured) when I put it onto my own camera.

Reflex combines the fun of cameras, with the fun of, erm… building blocks!

OrangeMonkie

I think OrangeMonkie were present at Photokina 2016, and they were here again showcasing their portable studio + turntable products. For product photography, their solution offers a smartphone-controlled all-in-one 360 photo solution. You can use a phone or infrared controlled pro-camera to take the actual pictures, but the app calculates the number of turntable rotations and pictures required to stitch together a 360 image, that can later be embedded on a website.

Though it is possible to create such 360 images using these components separately, the joy of seeing them all integrated and just working so seamlessly was a joy to watch. It made me want to get into product photography on the spot, they made the process just seem so easy.

OrangeMonkie helps to automate 360 product photography

Wiral Lite

Finally, the Wiral Lite was a fun idea. Essentially a small cable-camera rig optimised for small action-cameras. Cable-cameras are essentially cameras hung from up high on a wire, enabling the camera to run up and down above inaccessible terrain as the action requires. This is a cable-camera system but shrunken down into a back-pack sized package. Their showreel showed off some very impressive camera moves, particularly from extreme sports, and if you’re from that industry, this product just seems like a no-brainer. Claiming 100% of kickstarter funding within their first 4 minutes of going online, they’ve clearly found a popular niche.

Wiral Lite makes those hard to achieve shots much easier with smaller action cameras

4K Photography

Ugh. I’m glad to say this idea (mostly touted by Panasonic in 2016) died a death. Taking stills from a video. It’s not a new idea, and didn’t need presenting as one. Not a single mention this time round, and good riddance.


Relegated: Selfie Booths, Lomography

BOOTHS

Again, due to reduced exhibiting space and vendors, the selfie-booths scattered around at Photokina 2016 were greatly reduced this time around, I only spotted a handful — and didn’t get a picture from any of them!

“LOMO”

Lomography were also present, but last time benefited from being in the same hall as the Future Zone and the GoPro exhibit, which is generally a hive of activity. This probably explains why I spent a bit of time there in 2016, but this time round they were co-located with some other brands that all seemed to scream ‘hipster’ and ‘give us all of your monies.’

Lomography remains a super-cool hobby, but one whose exclusivity and price points actually grated on me this time around, rather than impressing me. They’ve perfected the art of making cheap and vintage become expensive and exclusive. Last year, their stand was more ‘open’ with plenty of reps and staff who were engaging visitors. This time around, it was a quieter and more cliquey affair.


Tech Trends — Final Thoughts

In 2016, I had optimistic but incorrect expectations of what I thought Photokina would be. I carried a little bit of that thinking into this year’s conference too. The reality remains that Photokina is almost exclusively about products. Exhibitors coming together to say, “Look at our new stuff, get excited, we’re sure you will want to buy it.”

Does the photography industry need a forum to discuss its future? If you’ve made it this far, it should be fairly obvious by now that I still believe the answer to be a resounding “yes.” But once again, for me, Photokina is as equally defined by what was not spoken about, as well as what was being shown off. I really wanted to know how the industry would react to GDPR, the EU Copyright Directive, Instagram, computational photography, AI and more. However, I’m still looking for those answers.

Photokina 2018 had the potential to be innovative and a future-facing focal-point for the industry, but this potential has still not been realised — yet. Dare I hope that the 2019 Photokina will feature somebody, anybody, being given a platform or two to discuss any of the industries wider issues? At the very least I would hope that the Future Zone comes back, and with it a lot more start-ups and conversation!

Regarding the trends unveiled in this report, I would summarise the biggest insights for the BBC accordingly;

  • Mirrorless cameras becoming mainstream indicates a clear moment regarding access to powerful ‘cinematic’ video camera systems, that are increasingly smaller and lightweight…
  • …which in turn means more accessible and affordable video with cinematic visual properties making it out into the world, on all of our screens, via many platforms.
  • In this context, we have to continue to reframe what we traditionally think of as ‘competitors’, especially in terms of image-quality. Every photographer, prosumer hobbyist, business or even individual member of our own audience, has the potential to equal, or even exceed, some of our output when it comes to image quality. This Truth only increases each year, as cameras continue to evolve and shrink.
  • The rise of technologies such as gimbals for steadier shots (and therefore of a more ambitious ‘cinematic’ quality) only amplifies the above. The barrier to entry with video is becoming lower on all fronts; financial, technical and creative.
  • Sensors will continue to evolve, as indicated by the slow but steady increase in Digital Medium Format. The implications, if any, for video recorded on larger sensors is unclear yet. Just because video display technology may reach its ‘optimum peak’ for most human eyeballs at “4K” resolutions, it doesn’t mean that sensor technology will not continue to evolve. TV will have to see if it can benefit from more powerful sensors in other ways than increased resolution alone.
  • Truly innovative cameras with things like AI, or advanced editing software built into the camera, remain elusive. Accordingly, it is hard to imagine professional video cameras making moves to add more software or computational abilities directly on-board either — though this could be a gap which someone may try to fill in the future. Watch out for “AI” rearing its head in a few years time.
Though there was a slightly reduced exhibitor presence, visitor numbers seem as strong as ever. Photokina remains the main event in a Photographer’s calendar — 180,000 people flocked to the Koelnmesse venue, and will no doubt do the same in May 2019.

INTERLUDE

The previous section makes up the bulk of the insight work gathered at this year’s event. As stated above though, Photokina is a trade show first and foremost, all about wanting to sell you stuff.

As such, this next section will (hopefully) provide a light-hearted look at some of that stuff! The interesting, inspiring or just plain bizarre items and activities I saw at Photokina.


2: SPOTTED AT PHOTOKINA

3D Scanning

Augmented (and lonely) Reality…

The only bit of Augmented Reality I spotted that was not part of the Digility conference. The stand looked very lonely, and after 2.5 days of walking the Koelnmesse floors, I wasn’t enticed to take part in an enhanced guided tour…

Celebs!

Celebs! I spotted Lok Cheungfilming this piece to camera, where he also clocks the sheer size of Vitec’s presence! Elsewhere, Philip Bloom was being advertised as a guest-speaker. Both Lok and Philip Bloom command respectable video audiences on YouTube.

Galleries

Of course, a photography show should showcase the best of the medium. There were some truly stunning images on display across various galleries on site, but not enough time to take them all in!

Heads Up Display

Lab in a Box

A small-scale darkroom, enclosed entirely within a box. Meaning you can develop film in a room without having to block out all the light sources and invest in red-bulbs. Makes film developing much more accessible!

Lenses — The Wide, Weird and the Wacky

Wide: Laowa showcasing an incredibly wide 10m lens for full frame Sony cameras
Weird: The BBC Natural History Unit may genuinely want to invest in a few of these crazy macro ‘probe’ lenses
Wacky: I had no idea what to do with this. Shoot through it? Remove my camera lens and hold this over the sensor? Use it as a paper-weight? Whilst I was there, nobody offered me any answers, and nobody else could fathom it out. Answers on a post card!

Mobile Phones

And finally… Obligatory Robot!


Thank You

This was my Photokina 2018 highlight report on behalf of the BBC Blue Room; I hope you enjoyed it. I had tremendous fun attending the event and writing it up for you. It was a great responsibility to have, and I hope you come away from reading it a little more excited for the next time you pick up a camera. Remember, the many pictures that I took of this year’s event can be found at this link:
http://blrm.io/photokina2018photos

All eyes on Photokina 2019! Best, Captain Col

Twitter: @bbcblueroom

BBC Blue Room at The Mailbox, our public-facing facility: www.bbc.co.uk/showsandtours/information/blue_room

Colin Warhurst would like to thank the BBC Blue Room team, the Letters B, W and the number 2
BBC Blue Room

BBC Design + Engineering

BBC D+E. Building the best BBC products, platforms and services for audiences in the UK and around the world

Colin Warhurst

Written by

Time-Traveling BBC Blue Room Technologist, Analyst and Film Maker. Translating Technology concepts into simple stories. Likes Transforming Robots a lot.

BBC Design + Engineering

BBC D+E. Building the best BBC products, platforms and services for audiences in the UK and around the world

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