It’s October — It’s New York — Must be PPE!
Once again, I made my annual pilgrimage to New York to visit Photo Plus Expo, and had a mostly great time in The Big Apple. This year’s show was, frankly, a little disappointing, though. The show itself was smaller, with markedly fewer exhibitors than in previous years. And, with a couple of exceptions, those that were there were greatly scaled back. And, for the most part, this seemed more a year of evolution, not revolution. Though, I suppose that’s not entirely unexpected, as the past couple of years have been nothing short of amazing.
Last year saw the introduction of the GFX 50, Fuji’s entry into the digital medium format photography, along with their premier X-series camera, the X-H1. Last year also saw, for the first time, full-frame mirrorless offerings from both Canon and Nikon. And, while neither manufacturer offered what the customer asked for, they both held — and hold — the promise of becoming truly great camera systems. And Panasonic teased their full-frame mirrorless camera as well, with their rather clunky-looking Lumix S1H neatly ensconced in a plexiglass box.
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way early. There’s still no mainstream third-party lens support for Fuji, and I supposed I’d best get used to that concept. I’m not sure if that’s a bad sign for the system or not, but it’s not encouraging that the only real support is from the likes of Samyang/Rokinon, who are making primarily manual focus primes, or from Viltrox, who at least brought along a couple of X-mount autofocus lenses to show. I was happy to actually see and touch their 85mm f/1.8.
The Viltrox lenses feel lovely, with what appear to be well-crafted, all metal lens bodies. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, image quality reviews are mixed. And, when one fellow mounted their 23mm lens to his X-T3 body, the camera promptly locked up. Still, it’s good to feel like someone is actually trying.
Fujifilm released their new flagship X-Pro 3. But, their booth was largely devoid of things like … cameras! And lenses! Seriously! They brought a long a couple of X-Pros, an X-T30, an X-T3, and an X-A7. They also brought along, apparently, a GFX-50, a GFX-100, and a smattering of medium format lenses. Subsequently, visitors looked and felt completely lost — there was nothing for us to play with!
It was not much better in the Olympus or Panasonic booths, at least as compared to the past three-or-four years.
So … where did I spend most of my time at Photo Plus Expo this year? Wait for it …
Yes folks, you read that right. Last year, I told you that, despite completely ignoring customers’ requests for a full-frame mirrorless camera that would natively mount their existing lenses, Nikon released their new Z-series cameras. I also may have mentioned that they were about the best thing since sliced bread. This year, Nikon showed the Z50, a DX-sensor camera utilizing the sensor from the D500, and the same Z-mount lenses as the Z6 and Z7. Street price for the new body? Comfortably under a grand. In fact, with a DX-only kit lens, the price is still less than U$1000.
You may recall that I was pretty impressed with the Nikons last year. This year, they only got better. Nikon’s had a year to tweak the full-frame models, and everything they’ve learned seems to have been poured into the Z50’s diminutive frame. The camera, when coupled with one of Nikon’s Z S-series lenses, is positively the fastest, most responsive mid-level digital cameras I’ve ever handled. I honestly don’t think it’s any slower than the Z6, and it may even be on-par with the Z7, with respect to responsiveness. Using the cameras just feels fluid. Focus is blazing fast, with exceptional auto-focus aids like subject tracking and near-eye detection that actually works. I took a number of shots of one of their in-booth models, and focus and exposure were nailed just about every time (I only wish I had a memory card I could have popped into the camera, so I could bring some pictures home to share.
As well as tweaking the firmware for the Z6 and Z7 bodies, Nikon have similarly improved the performance of the adapter that allows using existing F-mount lenses on the new cameras. Last year, it was just “okay”. This year, AF-S lenses snap to attention very nearly as quickly as the new Z S models. The AF-S 300mm f/4 was particularly impressive.
Nikon’s obviously still working out the full lens line-up. So far, they’ve released or announced the following lenses for FX-sensor Z-mount cameras:
In addition, there are a couple of entry-level lenses specifically for the Z50 with the DX-sensor. The Nikkor mirrorless lens roadmap can be found here.
Yeah, I’m enamored. Maybe even, in the long run, that enamored.
So, what about Canon?
Yeah, what about Canon? They did introduce a lower-priced model in their new mirrorless line, the RP. It’s a full-frame body with an amazing $1,300 price tag. But, the Canons still seem to suffer the same maladies as last year — relatively slow and inaccurate autofocus. Canon do seem to have a wider range of available lenses, and there also seems to be some third-party support in place. But generally, I don’t find the Canons to be all that inspiring.
Rock Star Photographers at PPE
Usually, I’d use this term to refer to any of a number of “touring” photographers who are the brand ambassadors, doing the demos and the dog-and-pony shows at events like PPE. This time, however, I’m referring to a couple of the pioneers in rock-and-roll photography — Baron Wolman and Robert Knight. Wolman was the first photographer for Rolling Stone magazine, and he’s made some of the most iconic images in the music business. Robert Knight is still very active in the business, and is the official tour photographer for, among others, Journey. During the segment, they shared some really interesting insights into what’s becoming one of my favorite areas of photography.
No visit to New York would be complete without shooting at least a few images on the street. This year, I traveled very light, carrying only my Google Pixel 2 phone. Click a thumbnail for a larger view.