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PMA 2009's photo finish

Another annual Photo Marketing Association show ends, leaving some new product anticipation in its wake.

Matthew Fitzgerald/CNET

For what it's worth, the consensus about the 2009 Photo Marketing Association show seems to be that it wasn't as bad as everyone expected. The mood was low-key, many of the booths were half empty, and several manufacturers were notably absent--like Adobe and Epson--while others only had meeting rooms.

Nonetheless, several announcements managed to generate some buzz, and most of the manufacturers I spoke with agreed that their business-to-business business at the show was quite productive. Despite the economy, tons of new products debuted, partly because planning takes place 6 to 12 months out. So it's likely that the first real signs of contraction will appear with the fall product lines. And, in fact, at least one manufacturer has already changed its dSLR release plans in preparation for tough times.

The biggest hits of the show seemed to be Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-HX1, a CMOS-based megazoom with a novel shooting mode that creates panoramas on the fly as you pan across the scene, and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1, a video-capture enabled version of its interchangeable-lens G1. What has everyone excited about the camera is how much control you have over depth of field when shooting video, a capability you usually only get with relatively expensive pro camcorders. And unlike the dSLR video implementations in cameras like the Nikon D90 and Canon EOS 5D Mark II, because the GH1 lacks a mirror it supports AF while shooting; in conjunction with the camera the company introduced a new Lumix G Vario HD f4-5.8 14-140mm lens which by design has a quieter focus motor so that the microphone doesn't pick up the noise.

As for that rather poorly named "hybrid" camera space, Samsung announced itsNX series concept, while Olympus showed the same prototype under glass that it unveiled at Photokina last fall, with a sign stating simply to expect it Summer 2009. At least there were a couple of those mockups; nary a new dSLR appeared, though based on release cycles we're overdue for replacements for several of the entry-level dSLRs, including the Canon EOS Rebel XSi, Nikon D60, Olympus E-420 and Sony Alpha DSLR-A200/300/350. I'd stay tuned if I were you. However, every dSLR manufacturer did show new lenses for happy accessorizers.

Olympus cameras encased in ice.
Olympus cameras encased in ice. Lori Grunin/CNET

Judging by the new releases at PMA and CES, the big niche markets this year will be rugged cameras and pocket megazooms. Until recently only the Olympus 1030SW (with announced rebranded replacements the Stylus Tough series) and its predecessors were available for your outdoor adventures, with a couple models from Pentax and Sanyo that can go for a dive. Now Canon and Panasonic join the fun. Don't look for slick styling in these cameras, though. They all seem to be designed to appeal to extreme sports enthusiasts rather than families who simply want a go-everywhere camera for their vacations--which I think is the real market for those models.

As for the pocket megazooms, pioneered by Panasonic's Lumix TZ series, I suspect these will cozy up to the budget models--$129-$149--as the most popular choice of point-and-shoot buyers. The Canon SX200 IS, Kodak EasyShare Z915, Olympus Stylus 9000 and to a lesser extent, the Nikon Coolpix S630 offer the small sizes and attractive designs people are looking for plus the flexibility of broader zoom ranges.

The oddball annoucement came from JVC. Its Everio X flash-based HD camcorder isn't an odd product per se--just an overpriced one--but PMA was certainly an odd place to make a camcorder announcement, even if that camcorder can shoot stills.

There were several interesting accessories launched as well, including a wide-angle adapter for Lensbaby's selective depth-of-field lenses, Eye-Fi's video supporting wireless card, and Datacolor's SpyderCube, to name a few.