With some moderate anticipation I went to the 2016 edition of the Photokina in Cologne, Germany. Moderate, because it’s ‘just gear’. But well manufactured and good looking gear is not only a moral booster but it can also open up creative possibilities you didn’t know were there before. This may sound as a contradiction but here’s the thing: throughout my photographic career I’ve always strived for full control over every aspect of the photographic workflow. I’ve developed a black and white processing method that offers ultimate control over processing images to black and white in the ‘creating the photograph phase’. The ‘taking the photograph phase’ on the other hand is more dependent on the type of gear you have. Try taking a long exposure photograph without ND filters for example, or without a solid tripod. Or shoot architecture in the streets of New York using only a long telephoto lens. It’s either impossible or you’re only getting less than ideal shots. Gear matters too. Having full control over each and every aspect of the ‘taking the photograph’ phase will not only benefit your craftsmanship but also tap into more creative opportunities.
Highlight: Fuji GFX 50S Mirrorless Medium Format
So what did draw my attention at the Photokina? What is worth mentioning? What makes a black and white photographer, who always states that ‘gear is not important’ but that artistic intention and creativity matters, drool at the world’s largest trade fair for photography?
Walking through this huge complex with numerous stands, some small and obscure representing Chinese brands I’ve never heard of, others covering a complete hall representing the familiar brands, drains you out very quickly. There’s just a lot of information to process. I had to be selective and I decided I wasn’t really interested in seeing more of the big brands like Canon, Nikon or Sony. There’s nothing new there and Canon’s 5D mark IV is a great camera but too much of the same. But from the big players Fuji stood out with head and shoulders, not by size, they had a relatively smaller booth than Canon or Nikon, but by their products. I visited their stand and saw the new medium format mirrorless camera, the Fuji 50 GF in real life for the first time. And did it look good! My first impression is that this looks like a really serious camera, even though I still need to see the first results with this camera. But Fuji has lived up to their expectations and went beyond it with their other cameras. I just love the products they make: very well built, beautiful classic design and great performance. I own a Fuji X100 for quite some time now and I love the way it performs and how it looks. I also had a look at the Hasselblad stand to see the other mirrorless medium format camera, the recently released Hasselblad 1xd but the way the camera looked, didn’t impress me at all. It looks like a point and shoot camera with a bigger lens, unlike the Fuji that looks far more substantial and robust without being too bulky like the conventional medium format cameras. Just exactly the right dimensions and look and feel to it that makes you feel you’re shooting with a serious medium format camera and not with a compact camera.
Impressive Tripods From Unknown Chinese Manufacturer: Cayer
As mentioned there were tens of smaller obscure brands, mostly from countries in the far East in characters I can’t read. There was one such a small brand that really surprised and amazed me. Cayer is a Chinese manufacturer of tripods. Not just some cheap tripods, well, actually they are cheap, very cheap even, but the gear they presented and its production quality is far beyond what their low prices and relative obscurity might suggest. Their top model, the CT5460L tripod from their Pioneer series is a tripod similar to how the top Gitzos and Really Right Stuff tripods look like but, even more beautifully designed, and definitely a lot less cheaper. I held it in my hands, I felt it, I saw it, I smelled it. And wow, was I impressed. Eight layers of carbon, almost 2 meters maximum height with 4 leg sections, a maximum load of 50kg and a mounting plate that is bigger than any other mounting plate I’ve seen and yet the CT5460L tripod is very light in weight. They even thought about making one end of the tripod bag, a bit bigger and wider so you don’t need to remove your tripod head to zip the bag. Price: an astonishing $250, when I expected at least $1000 more than that. The tripods aren’t available in Europe and they told me they’re looking for a European distributor. Well, if you’re a distributor of photographic equipment, located in Europe and you pretend to know your stuff then I wouldn’t think twice. Truly a revelation to me. More info on their website www.cayer.cn. If you want to know whom to contact as a potential distributor, write me a message since I have their contact information.
Surprising Manfrotto Camera Bags
Manfrotto is a manufacturer of very well built and very affordable tripods and tripod heads, that every photographer knows. But did you know they also carry a fantastic line of camera bags? I didn’t know that and I was very surprised to see back packs and messenger bags in various sizes with a high quality look and feel, and equally important: comfortable to carry and ease of use. I’m the owner of many camera bags and my Fstop loka is perhaps the best bag I’ve had until now. Having tried out this bag from the Pro Light Series : it sits great, looks and feels great and it has so many small details that make life for the photographer working out in the field, so much easier, that I’m very tempted to replace my current Fstop bag with this one. One of the smaller surprises of Photokina 2016.
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Portraiture Lens
I’m a big fan of portraiture and as such I’m always on the look out for a really great portrait lens. Of course Canon has the ultimate portrait lens: the 85 F/1.2L II.But it comes with a price. I’ve always known Sigma has a great line of lenses and serves as a third party lens for brands as Canon and Nikon. Their new Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens was one of the lenses I wanted to try out. The lens not only looks good but it performs very well. As any good portrait lens it’s a very fast lens with a max aperture of 1.4, just a bit less wider than the Canon 1.2 but considerably cheaper and less bulky. I’ve taken a few shots with the 85 Art lens on a Canon body and I think that in terms of value for money then this is the lens I’m seriously considering to purchase: sharp, beautiful bokeh and great isolation of the background.
High End Modular Medium Format Cameras From Cambo and Alpa
Thinking of what cameras are on my ultimate wish list then there are two: the Cambo and Alpa cameras. Both are modular medium format camera systems with similar design and a high degree of control in the shooting phase. And both need a very expensive lens and digital back from preferably PhaseOne. Prices of such a modular system consisting of the body which is merely a lens and (digital) back holder with shift movements, the lens and the digital back, can easily go up and beyond $25,000. I’ve tried both Cambo and Alpa systems and it may sound strange but shooting perfectly focused and correctly exposed photos with one of those cameras is almost easier than with a regular DSLR. The level of control of the tilt and swing, the shift that can move simultaneously on both x and y axis, and the precise way with which you can adjust those movements and can focus with, through the live view and touch screen on the digital back, is so amazingly powerful and effective: it’s a dream camera for the architectural and landscape photographer. And it doesn’t feel as bulky as the PhaseOne or Hasselblad cameras, but fits perfectly in one hand if you would go for the compact models. You can even use it to shoot street photographs: it’s that ergonomically well built. What surprised me in a very positive way is the passion and enthusiasm of both brands’ representers: no question, no request was too much asked for and they went out of their way to show me all ins and outs of the camera systems. You can’t say that from that other famous brand that operates in the same segment: Arca-Swiss. They weren’t really very passionate to help us out. That surprised me. Or maybe not: Arca-Swiss still doesn’t have an own website. And that doesn’t bode well. Of course we’re talking about camera systems here that aren’t accessible to most photographers due to their high price ranges, but this is mechanical precision craftsmanship in photography at its very best.