There are photography expos, and then there's Photokina. Held every other year in Cologne, Germany, this massive trade show grabs the imagination of photographers, camera enthusiasts, retailers, and gear nerds worldwide, setting imaging industry trends for years to come.
What to Expect
Tech shows like the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas are important events for camera news, but announcements from other corners of the industry -- like televisions and, these days, mobile gadgets -- tend to dominate the headlines. At Photokina, though, it's all about the photo gear, and there's something here for everyone.
You'll find all manner of photo equipment that you probably didn't know existed unless you're a photo geek -- and even if you are, you probably don't own any of it. Most of the headlines still revolve around the top-tier companies with household brand names, but the lesser players get their share of the spotlight, too.
PHOTOS:Images from the Photokina photography expo
Third-party lens manufacturers, accessory companies, and photo-book producers fill the halls, nestled among the huge booths from major manufacturers like Canon, Nikon, and Sony. Independent lens manufacturer Tamron has a booth with a jungle theme, where visitors can test their new 90mm macro lens. DSLR video-rig maker Hoodman has a giant inflatable superhero in its space. Boutique American lens-maker Lensbaby occupies a tiny booth in the back of one of the halls, but it still attracted a sizable crowd who wanted to check out its niche glass, available for most lens mounts. The highlight there is an $80 tilt-shift lens.
The whole industry participates on a huge scale. At the last Photokina, more than 1,000 exhibitors displayed their goods, and more than 180,000 visitors came from 165 countries to check them out. If the first day is any indication, it looks to be a similar turnout this year.
While conventional wisdom suggests that the imaging industry is in trouble, under assault from mobile phones that keep eating into camera sales, that trend is actually helping to make the photographic community more vibrant than ever. More people are taking more pictures, and more casual photographers are becoming serious about their hobby, spending $500 or more on interchangeable-lens cameras. Point-and-shoot sales are plummeting, but DSLR and mirrorless compact system camera sales keep growing steadily year over year -- and those cameras have higher margins than cheap compacts.
Big is Back
At Photokina, it's clear that the camera industry is trying to capitalize on the huge amount of interest in image capture by giving step-up photographers a whole lot of ways to jump head-first into their hobby. The industry is betting big on big cameras, hoping users will open their wallets when the novelty of Instagram begins to wear thin.