Photokina – a look back, and forward
At the end of September 2006, I set off for a quick visit to photokina in Cologne, having parted company with Icon’s am-pro magazine ƒ2 and not really needing to report on the whole show in detail. Here’s the report I wrote then, with photos, and some thoughts for the 2008 show.
Sony’s stand was my main focus, hoping to learn of new products for 2007. However, in this I was disappointed. As predicted accurately in June 2006 by Paul Genge (former Konica Minolta product manager, then in charge of the Alpha system at Sony UK) nothing new was revealed. (Note: the 16-80mm Carl Zeiss was already known to be on the way along with the 85mm and 135mm. We had even been told about a new 24-70mm at the June launch in Morocco, though no indication was given that it would be a Zeiss and have SSM focusing when it finally arrived.)
I will confess I found the Sony stand uninviting, with its massive parallel high walls and dividers. It was a stark contrast to Canon’s mainly white, gauzy, light-suffused open stand with its curves and sense of space. It was not helped by the functional black exhibition-hall floor blending into the black walls, and by having one entire side as a blank solid wall (without even any pictures on it) facing other stands.
The Alpha 100 pictures on show were plain and poor, snapshots taken by celebs or obscure art-reportage by a lesser known Magnum photographer. All failed to highlight any of the best qualities of the Alpha 100, and were oversized prints showing noise, tone-breaks, poor colour balance and sharpness.
However, the lens display with 70-200mm and 300mm SSM lenses was excellent, with a well-lit target studio subject:
Manning levels were exemplary with well presented Sony staff almost matching visitor numbers, and not waiting to be approached, but coming forward to help anyone venturing on to the stand:
The consumer-level digicams, it struck me, were better presented than the Alpha 100 with more professional and adventurous images showing off the qualities of the gear. Sure, we know that camera phones and pocket digital cameras do impressive macro – but so does the Alpha 100. I really don’t mind if Sony’s management read this, because I think that the work of our own readers as shown in the Gallery of this magazine better expresses the potential of the system than anything seen on the Sony photokina stand.
As Photoworld magazine is no longer supported by Sony – or connected with Konica Minolta – I was free in 2006 to talk to other makers. Of prime importance, given that Sony confirmed no SSM (Super Sonic Motor) lenses apart from the 70-200mm ƒ2.8 and 300mm ƒ2.8 inherited from Minolta were yet on the horizon, I visited the Sigma stand.
Here, I was surprised to find that Sigma UK had not been pressing Japan to make HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) lenses for the Alpha mount because they believed Minolta/Alpha did not support in-lens sonic motors! I parted company after a very interesting chat to three of the senior UK executives, leaving them with a firm message for Sigma Corporation. We want HSM lenses for the Alpha mount.
Sigma has perhaps shied off making these because SSM (or HSM) is incompatible with any film Minolta AF SLR body prior to the Dynax 7, and even the classic Dynax 9 must have had a factory conversion to use these lenses. While Sigma can make a single HSM version for Canon and it will work – I think – with all previous body generations, they would be obliged to have non-HSM and HSM variants of lenses for ‘Minolta’.
But now we have SONY – in big letters – on the lens boxes instead. This is not the Minolta M-AF mount. It is the Sony Alpha mount now, and Sony has never made a single SLR body which is not fully compatible with SSM.
So, Sigma, let’s have that new 50-150mm ƒ2.8 in Alpha mount and let’s have it in HSM. I have been using my 70-200mm SSM and I know what a massive difference it makes.
Tamron is launching a new 18-250mm ƒ3.5-6.3, no bigger as far as I could tell than the 18-200mm. This lens is, of course, the basis for the Konica Minolta and Sony branded 18-200mm (Sony owning a share of Tamron, and Minolta having worked with them for many years) and there is a possibility we shall see it as a Sony option in future. If not, it will be available from Tamron in M-AF fit in 2007.
(These paragraphs were written in 2006 – Sony did adapt the Tamron 18-250mm design, and contrary to their own statement, new SSM lenses were being developed; Sigma has since this meeting confirmed that they intend to release HSM lenses in the Alpha mount; Sony has given notice that SSM will be the future for all higher end lenses).
It is normal for exhibitors to stick with around the same stand area and position at successive photokina shows. I hope that Sony has gone for a better position (their stand was approached up a flight of steps from the front through hall entrance doors which hid most of it, and appeared to face a sort of hinterland at the back). I also hope they have learned something about lighting, because the predominantly dark and orange design of their stand made it feel like a city street at night.
I’m sure they will once again have a studio set and a line-up of cameras, but this time it will be mixture of Alpha 900 (name yet unconfirmed) and other models with lenses including the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G SSM and the new 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM, as well as the Zeiss 85mm and 135mm. These tethered set-ups usually only feature long focal lengths.
We can expect to see, and maybe even to handle, final working examples of an entire range of lenses only previously shown as mock-ups. These should include a 16-35mm ƒ2.8, a 24mm ƒ1.4, a budget 35mm ƒ1.8, the important 24-105mm ƒ4 for the full frame kit, but probably not the rumoured 400mm ƒ2.8. There may be SSM updated versions of the CZ 16-80mm, the 35mm ƒ1.4, CZ 85mm and 135mm, and standard 50mm ƒ1.4 (which we were told way back in June 2006 would one day be replaced by a Zeiss).
While it’s always good to be the first with pictures up on line, and reports, photokina is a very large show and with just two days to cover it we may not be able to get pages up on this site until the 25th. But if we are able to, we will go live with pictures from the press pre-opening day (Monday 22nd) giving you the rest of the entire public opening time to decide if Cologne is worth a visit.
For tickets to the show, visit
– David Kilpatrick
Timeline recap: the Alpha 100 and new lenses were on sale by the time of photokina 2006, after a June 2006 launch. The Carl Zeiss 16-80mm arrived in spring 2007, followed by the Alpha 700 in September 2007. The Alpha 100 had ceased manufacture before the launch of the 700, and existing stocks were planned to cover up to Christmas 2007. The Alpha 200 was launched in January 2008, followed by the Alpha 350 in February and the 300 (announced, but production delayed) in April 2008.