Review – Canon Expo 2015 – Javitz Center, New York

Trade shows are a wonderful way to meet and greet, reveal new products, court the press, welcome customers, discuss specific needs, and so much more. The biggest downside for exhibitors is the expense, which has forced many formerly strong shows to either merge or fade away. For a company like Canon, that participates in trade shows around the world, the decision to create their own exhibition isn't a task they took lightly. Unlike most trade shows, which tend to blur together, Canon created a tour-de-force that brought together all their various product lines into one beautifully created space.

When I received my invitation to Canon Expo 2015 held at the Javitz Center in New York, I wondered what would make it different from PhotoPlus Expo, or the Consumer Electronic Show. It turns out that Canon had quite the hat trick up their sleeve.

Compared to the mighty Photokina show in Köln, Germany, which occurs every two years, Canon Expo is billed as “five years in the making.” It is annual, but each year in a different city and country, so it is indeed a special event to have it back in New York. Future stops include Paris, Tokyo and Shanghai.

Unlike most trade shows which have competing manufacturers and developers under one roof, Canon Expo was essentially only Canon, although their business partners were well represented. I’ve been to a lot of shows at the Javitz Center, from MacWorld to Seybold, PhotoPlus Expo and IT shows, so I was expecting something similar, but the moment I stepped into the darkened space, through an entryway lined by bright red walls, and headed toward the central hub in the distance, I jettisoned those preconceptions.

From the first step into the show floor it was clear that Canon had made a conscious decision to create a world-class event, from the gorgeous design, to the variety of technology on display. In the Medical area I had my retinas scanned; a short walk away there were giant inkjet printers churning away, while in another area was a recreation of Yankee Stadium complete with broadcast booth, and baseball players tossing balls around.

The event lasted three days, with an estimated attendance of 10,000. Canon is a diverse company, encompassing printing, medical, imaging, broadcast, cinema and filmmaking, with a healthy amount of blur between the product lines. And as a $31 billion a year company, Canon is a formidable global presence.

At the center of the "campus" was Canon Central Park, and from there visitors had a 360 degree view and could choose to visit the following areas: Imaging Journey, Stadium, Film Production; next came Professional Printing, Enterprise, and Home. Next to that was an nice little area to relax, have coffee, drinks, and desserts before heading into one of the four seminar rooms, where leading filmmakers, photographers, directors, and other Canon Explorer of Light luminaries taught seminars, including an area on the Customer Experience. The last three areas were Advanced Industry Solutions, Medical & Wellness Center, and the University. The Canon University area was one of my favorites, featuring a model of a multiple-mirror telescope for a land-based observatory in Hawaii, and prototype equipment. By any measure, from a trade show perspective it was an extraordinary effort, and everyone that I talked to felt the same way. The Stadium featured a digital backdrop with 20 billion pixels at 200 ppi, a resolution that rendered the digital artifact as nonexistent.

I was interested to see their new EOS M3 Mirrorless Digital camera system, featuring an APS-C sensor, but packed into a small package. It competes at long last with Micro Four-Thirds, and other so called “mirrorless SLR systems,” providing the image capture quality of their much larger DSLR models, but pocket sized. Equipped with a 24.2 Megapixel APS-C sized CMOS sensor it looks like a worthy entry into the mirrorless camera segment. We are looking forward to taking one for a serious test drive in the near future.

A similar technology with very different end uses involved employing inkjet printers to create 3D bas-relief prints. In the professional printing area, this meant ink layers almost 1/4-inch thick on the substrate leading to some very cool designs, especially for point-of-sale or retail installations, as well as the creation of what appeared to be punched metal for example, but was layered metallic ink. Slightly creepier examples of family portraits in bas-relief seemed to watch you as you walked around the room, not unlike the portraits in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.

A more refined use of similar technology was used to capture the brush strokes of paintings and create an almost indistinguishable inkjet copy, complete with the exact 3D brushstrokes – viewers were allowed, and encouraged, to reach up and touch them. Imagine the uses of this technology by art teachers not only to teach students about making and appreciating paintings, but also to allow students be able to touch and feel the brush strokes, helping to explain technique, layering, and the tools chosen by the artist. There were examples of high-resolution projectors, and the scenes in front of the onlookers seemed to actually be the view outside the window.

One of the most talked-about products on display were two imaging systems that break new ground for image capture. Before the show opened, the blogosphere was all abuzz about two imaging sensors that seemed to defy any reasonable expectations. The least radical of these prototypes was a 140-megapixel, 35mm full-frame sensor squeezed into a Canon camera body. It’s not designed for speed, the ISO is limited to 100, but the quality of image capture was amazing, especially for a product that might be offered as a retail product in a few years. The camera was mounted on a tripod looking down through a large reflector, with a string of flashes directed at a still life below.

On an adjacent display, you could see the quality of image capture, zooming in to an extraordinary degree with virtually no trace of either noise or pixelation, no matter how much zoom was applied to the image. When I asked about the ISO limitation, the response was that for a still-life photographer, the ISO really wasn't an issue; the representative advised that there are other cameras for sports. To see this working in an actual camera body meant that this wasn't tech destined to live on a lab bench for much longer. Sensors of this density also predicate new lens designs, just as the current crop of high-resolution sensors have forced manufacturers to carefully consider and update their existing designs.

The other demonstration unit that stunned the techies in the room was a small red metal box, mounted to a long telephoto lens, with a 35mm full-frame sensor capable of 240 megapixel capture. The demo was a photograph of Paris from outside the city, with the Eiffel Tower in the far distance, and then zoomed into to where only the top of the tower was visible, with air current diffraction proving to be the limiting factor. The image wasn’t made with a zoom lens; it was taken with a wide-angle lens, but zoomed into a point that was unbelievable. This is the sort of technology one might find in the Emerging Technology area at the annual Siggraph/ACM conference– it was a sign of how aggressive Canon was in pushing the limits of imaging technology.

Do we need a 240-megapixel sensor? Maybe not for weddings and bar mitzvahs, but for scientific applications, or to show what a full-frame 35mm form factor sensor is capable of. It was nothing short of amazing for me, especially considering that one of the first digital cameras I used was a Canon Xapshot, which wasn’t actually a digital camera, but an analog video camera that saved single frames to a floppy disk. Imagining how much has changed since then was represented and encapsulated in that single 240-megapixel sensor.

4K displays might be all the rage right now and somewhat commonplace, but Canon was showing prototype 8K displays, and even 8K projectors, which will eventually trickle down to consumers. Other display technology featured included HDR (high dynamic range) displays, along with HDR cameras, both still and video. All these technologies were coalescing into what is expected to be a seamless experience. The expanded resolution and dynamic range means getting a huge amount of visual information so that later in the editing and post-production workflow, creative decisions can be made not on the basis of the work that comes out, but instead, by choosing what information fits the creative needs of the piece. What a difference to return from a shoot and know you have so much flexibility after the fact to create a vision not from the point of view of need but of choice.

8K HDR capture was on display with a series of stacked sensor backs, with the camera aimed at a recreation of a tailor's shop. The veracity of detail on the displays and the ability of the system to delineate texture and luminosity of the scene was impressive. How we deal with this expanded range will soon not be a technical issue but an aesthetic one. From the demos I've seen over the past two years, I can imagine that HDR could change the way we shoot a film, or photograph, but may not affect the final edited product to the extent that users might assume.

Similar to the early promises of digital audio, which touted the wide-dynamic range that digital recordings could capture, musicians, engineers, and the public soon discovered that too much range wasn't all that desirable, and soon those wide-dynamic range recordings were compressed a bit to even out the levels. I predict the same will occur with HDR capture and displays. But returning from a shoot with a huge amount of shadow and highlight detail and definition will certainly impact all aspects of filmmaking and photography.

One of my favorite pieces of technology on display was a video camera capable of 4,000,000 ISO. Yes, you read that right, 4 million ISO! The proverbial black cat in a coal bin at midnight during a new moon wouldn’t stand a chance of escaping into the shadows. The show had an entire section devoted to security-based systems, with displays of Canon security cameras and products integrated into partner solutions. Surely the days of low-resolution security camera footage are numbered. The higher resolution, coupled with impressive camera controls and low-light sensitivity, will certainly impact the security industry.

Sometimes the products that matter the most are present on the show floor but with no details provided. In the same area as the 140-megapixel EOS camera, another piece of equipment on display was a new 17-inch pigment printer. Black with a red stripe, the unnamed printer had no specs except to state that it was a 12-ink pigment printer, no name or badge, and it wasn’t making demo prints, but it peaked the interest of any photographers who saw it. Canon printers have made enormous strides in the past several years. Now that the Epson 4990 is getting long in the tooth, the introduction of new printer such as this new one could certainly spice up the professional photographic printer market. Canon printers have an enviable reputation for ink stinginess, as well as speed and the ability to create really lovely black-and-white prints, so I'm curious to see what the new unit’s final feature set and specs will be. The signage was clear in stating that it was a prototype unit, and not available for sale, which only made us even more curious!

If you’ve ever watched prints emerging from an inkjet printer, then you know most printers’ fast mode is only a bit quicker than watching paint, or in this case ink, dry. I thought so, too, until I asked to have a print made of the New York City skyline, and before I could finish my sentence, another 40x60-inch print was finished and dry. The representative must have seen my jaw drop, and he hit the print button again, and once again in only a couple of seconds a new print was in my hands. He then told me to look up, and suspended from the ceiling was a banner that stretched around a hundred feet, down the venue and then stretched back again. Printed on the banner was a large "98 Seconds" which is how long it took for the printer to print the entire length of the banner. It was printed on an Océ ColorWave 900, which can print 14,400 B2 sheets in one hour.

According to Canon, the “Océ ColorWave 900 large-format poster printer has a raw print speed of more than 12,000 square feet per hour and is able to print a run length equivalent to the height of New York City's One World Trade Center in just 30 minutes.” Pretty impressive stats, especially for a production environment where speed is money.

Canon Expo demonstrated the current level of technology they offer their customers, but just as importantly it revealed how they view the future: aggressive, willing to push the status quo of current technology, but with a healthy respect for their partners, coupled with the desire for a seamless, easy-to-use workflow.

Canon Expo might not return to New York until 2020, but when it does, do your best to be in attendance. Who knows what we see then? Maybe a 240-megapixel camera that fits in your pocket!

Harris Fogel, posted 9/26/2015

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