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Focus-On-Imaging Show 2009

5th March 2009

Well last week was the 20th anniversary of the Focus on Imaging Show and Keith and I took time out to take a look. As always at this show there is always more to see than available in a single day, and where to start is a factor we take time to consider prior to attending, but when we get there it always turns out different. It still covered two halls of the NEC and in general I think a lot of the stands were probably smaller than last year, I only spotted one vacant stand though, so perhaps the economy had put some off attending in the first place. Those who did attend as usual had a captive audience and got the chance to show off their products and services to us.

This year I took the route of deciding to go up and down every alleyway from one end, and to see and talk to as many as I could. However by lunch time I had only covered a third of the stands, so this obviously wasn't going to work out so in the afternoon I continued with my idea, but just didn't stop to talk to as many friendly stand persons, it had go busier with visitors by this point so wasn't as easy to get to talk to those on the stands anyway.

Keith took a totally different approach and had covered nearly the entire show by lunch time, then went back having completed the remaining stands to take a more detailed look at those of greatest interest to him.

We both had an extensive list of items to research.

So what did we find, that took our interest. The following is a list of the major items of interest to both of us and some others that I found interesting. If you were to include everything Keith had found out about I would be writing a book right now.

Lastolite had a large stand near one of the entrances and were showing as many of their products as they could. They were also running periodic demonstrations with a model and this meant at times it was difficult to see, so I think I went back to this stand 3 times before I managed to get a closer look at what they had on offer. I had an interest in this as we were about to order a number of their products to increase the flash kit for Camera Images training courses. So I got to see the new UpLite 4:1 reflector system, this is ideal for the photographer who works alone as two reflectors are supported by a support arm, it can then be left at an angle on the floor to bounce light at an angle you choose, while you have your hands free to continue taking photos. The new Kickerlite was also of interest, being able to get low level light to bring out detail in shadows. The Ezybox hotshoe  for speedlights, when in its kit form comes with an extending handle so when working with flash wirelessly you can get the light where you want it, its diffuser offering much softer light. On the theme of the photographer on his own we also took a closer look at the Triflector MKII, being able to have reflectors on all sides of the subject supported by a stand rather than a camera assistant appeals. And of course in true Lastolite style all these fold into their unique system of getting them into smaller carrying cases so making them totally transportable and not needing a warehouse to store it all in when not in use.

Getting Aerial photos without having to hire a helicopter or plane was also represented by elevatedphotos.com,  with their telescopic mast solutions. As well as having a stand, with a van on to show that the system is portable and useable on site, they also had someone walking around the show with a version in a small push along trailer taking aerial images of the stands. I am still fascinated by the way they do this, a long pole, tethered camera, laptop and trolley was all that was required.

On the printing front there were various suppliers from those providing the printers for you to be able to do it yourself, to those providing the supplies of ink and paper as well as those offering printing services in the form of photobooks and other marketable products. Lets take each of these in turn.

Both Epson, Canon and Hewlett Packard printers were on display, although only Epson were representing themselves, the others were being shown off by one of their suppliers. There wasn't anything new in the Epson range this year, but I was able to talk to someone about the Epson 2100 and it's ink blocking problem that can occur when not used for a while. I was told that this was not such a problem on later models like the Stylus Photo 3800 (A2+ printer) and others as they had spotted the problem and have changed the inks and mechanism to help with this. Although I was told it could still occur but it was dependent on a number of factors including the temperature of the room the printer was kept in, and that it was still worth turning the printer on at least once a week to prevent it from happening. I am still impressed with the quality of pictures that come out of the Epson printer range though. As usual their stand was very busy. The Hewlett Packard printers I didn't get to see close up I found the stand they were on a bit disorganised and there wasn't any demonstrations going on as I went buy. However I did take a close look at a Canon A2+ printer, the iPF5100, this uses 12 inks and they quote 99 years for expected length of image quality and the printout I came away with was good. Its printed image can be 17" wide up to 18metres in length, when using roll paper of course, it will also print on card up to 1.5mm thick. I also asked about print head blocking when not in use everyday problem, and was told that it came with a sleep facility, so if you left it in sleep mode it would switch itself on at least once a day to prevent this from happening, interesting feature if it works. I would say it is just about desktop, but only just it is a large printer. I was told each of the ink cartridges cost 45 and running costs is about 32p/millilitre. Its software that controls the output allowed the use of customised profiles for accurate colour calibration and it also had a facility that could tell you how much ink was used for each print that was produced, this is good for being able to put a more accurate cost for each print and therefore knowing what your profit margin might be when you come to sell the images produced. It is priced at 1,495 so a bit pricey, but in comparison with the Epson 4880. It was being demonstrated by Pro Print Solutions in Blackburn.

For the event photographer System Insight had available some of the dye-sub printers available such as the Hi Ti and Mitsubishi range. See our article on event printers, for more details on these. There were also printers that produced plastic cards, printed brochures, marketing cards and aids.

Marrutt were displaying the latest Lyson Continuous Ink Systems (CIS) and inks for the desktop range of Epson printers. While Permajet were also showing their CIS inks for the Epson printer range and their range of papers, canvases and double-sided media allowing photos to be printed on both sides of the paper, and suitable for portfolios, specialist cards and photo books. I took a look at one of the double sided examples they had on display, which was on Oyster 285, which had a nice finish and looked good.

Also on the printing front, there those businesses that provide printing services or products such as business cards etc. One of these Moo.com produce business cards and minicards, amongst other things, with images on and the unusual feature with their system is that you can produce low volume packs of cards like 50 or 100 and every card can contain a different image, so they are a good way of being able to get low cost business cards where you could target the images at your potential market. Look out for more on this later, when we give it a go. On the product front there was the Boxiprint, box canvas, where you print your image onto a special cut out box, you need at least an A2+ printer for this, and then by folding along the pre-scored lines it folds to become a box canvas, with it's own built in stand. This would be useful as a sales aid or a gift.

On the framing front Hahnemuhle had on demonstration and on offer the standard pack at only 20 per pack, with contents to produce 3 framed pictures, their new Gallerie Wrap system. A quick and easy way to create a canvas print. A do-it-your-self system of quick framing, in the pack you get self-adhesive stretcher bars and a corner set used for positioning the corners and archival glue. It works by you printing out on a piece of canvas, which needs to be 5cm larger all round than the eventual frame size, you lay this face down. Remove the backing strips off the self adhesive stretcher bars and place each into the plastic corners. You then centre over the canvas with adhesive side facing up, push down so they stick to the canvas.  You then remove the plastic corners and cut a diagonal line in the canvas on each corner and then fold the canvas round the stretcher bar and glue in place. You then glue the tapered edges of the corners and pull the edges of the picture around so that the corners meet and then secure with staples which fit into holes already provided in the bars. Simple, quick and no special tools required. It comes in to versions, Gallerie Wrap (standard) stretcher bars range in sizes from 8" to 24" and the Gallerie Wrap Pro with larger stretcher bars in 6 different lengths from 13" to 40". Available from Fotospeed.com.

Nikon and Canon were there as usual allowing us to get our hands on their latest models and take a look at the latest lens specifications. Nikon were also running mini seminars on part of their stand. As usual Nikon were at the entrances handing our bags with their names on and some handouts. They had the new D3X and other FX models as well as other models in the DSLR range and their latest Coolpix offerings. Jacobs had the Coolpix P600, with it's GPS facility, available at just 299. The first time I walked passed the Jacobs stand there were a number of boxes on display, when I went back later most had gone. Nikon also had their latest 35mm digital lens they have just announced on display.

Next item on my shopping list is a new bag. I thought I'd wait until the show before I purchased a new one so that I could get a chance to see a number of them and find out which would best suit my needs. And that's the point you need to work out what you want the bag to do as there are so many different manufacturers, styles, colours and prices. I currently use a backpack, but I really want something less bulky and easier to carry so was open to what options were available. Lowepro had a large number on display, from the large pull along versions to backpack, to over shoulder styles, through to waist bags and individual pouches that fit in their expandable system,  their new ranges like the Classified Shoulder bags were also on display. On the Kata stand I tried on a belt bag, but found it to bulky and cumbersome for my small frame. Whilst on the Kata stand I also spotted they had bought out a new version of their camera rain cover, this one was made large enough to take a camera with a speedlight mounted on the flash shoe. The arm piece were black, but the central piece over the flash and camera were clear so you could still see what you were doing.

On the Billingham stand I tried for size a number of their shoulder bags. I found these a lot more comfortable to wear over the Kata and they came in either black, khaki, or tan colours. The should bags I looked at had enough room from a DSLR with lens mounted, plus at least two other lenses and a flash, and then it had smaller pockets around for the smaller accessories we carry with us. The first bag stand I visited was the Indestructible Cases, you can imagine this title got my attention. They are plastic cases with foam inserts, they are sealed in such away that makes them waterproof and airtight, so are suitable for carrying in the hold of aeroplanes. They had a one version led on the floor and it's sole purpose was for you to try it out. You could jump up and down on it, even with stiletto heals and it didn't bend, break or mark, any kit you had inside was indeed going to be safe. All models were provided with concealed handles and had wheels so they could also be pulled along. They were lightweight, at least when empty, and they had a backpack version as well as a various range of sizes. As with all bag manufacturers at the moment their emphasis was on the models that could be put into an aeroplane overhead locker. They also come with a lifetime warranty so that if any part failed or even the bag failed it would be replaced at no extra charge. To find out more on the Indestructible Cases range.

I also took a look at some of the computer software available for the photographer, from editing packages through workflow systems like Fotoware. Fotoware have solutions to allow an automatic workflow and work alongside other editing and publishing applications. It allows you to organise your images, add metadata etc and to be able to find them again. The way their system works is that you tell it where your pictures are, a thumbnail is then held in a database with the search keys etc and that way you have access to all your images in one place, the originals stay where they are. The system still works even if you have them over a number of external hard drives, in that when you want to access an original image it tells you whcih drive you need to connect to be able to access it. Their initial system at a cost of 352+Vat will work for up to 100,000 images and there are upgradeable options for when your picture library goes beyond this. The software will work with PC or MAC computers. Providers of online e-commerce services for selling images in various forms were also present such as theimagefile.com, which combines a stock image library with an e-commerce sales solution and Instant Memories. Instant Memories provide an online workflow management system where they are able to take orders from your clients via directly online, phone, email and live help, and no need for you to have a merchant account. They can also print and deliver direct to your customers within 7 working days if you want. How it works, you upload your images to their server and put a login code onto your site which your customer uses to access the images. The customer then looks through the images and places their order and pays them, an email is sent to whoever is to provide the product, your printer or there's. After some initial small set up fees you then just pay them a fixed 1.50/1.75 per print sold. You fix your own prices for the products you have on offer knowing the fixed fee you are going to be charged for using this system. All monies taken by them on your behalf are paid to you around the 8th of the month, with all invoices etc done by them. You can upload up to 1000 images at a time and they stay active for a full 12 months.

At this type of show it is also possible to purchase items as well. This year I restricted myself to a couple of small items and the first two of these we have done a further write up on. I purchased a Delkin Pop-Up Shade for the LCD on my Nikon D300 from the Delkin stand. I also took a look at the Hoodman Right Angled Viewfinder, I use a Nikon DR-6 on my camera but we were looking for a second one to go on our other D300, but after taking a look we didn't buy this. We did however by the Hoodman Loupe another way of viewing the LCD panel in the sun without it getting in the way, but it also slightly magnifies as well. Both the Hoodman items were on the Newpro stand. The other item was an A3 flipchart case for use when training for Camera Images.

I think this years show may have been affected by the economy downturn, for me it didn't feel as alive, although there were more stands with models/activities on allowing photographers to take pictures and try out products. There didn't seem to be the hussle and the 'I can't get to a stand' feeling as in previous years so I think visitor numbers may also have been slightly down. However it was good to go and see what was available, with the loss of so many photographic shops in the high street and so many products being sold online today, visiting a show like Focus does allow you to get to see the products and get some hands on before making the decision to purchase.

There was a lot to see and do, much more than I can cover in an article of this size but I hope I have given you a little idea of what was available. If you didn't get to go this year, then perhaps you may next.

Next years Focus on Imaging Show at the NEC, Birmingham is on:

7th to 10th March 2010


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