The past few days have been more than a little busy. Straight after the OIA conference, we were in Birmingham getting prepared to exhibit for the first time at The Photography Show. Our friends over at Scott Country International kindly invited us to exhibit on their stand with them – and I even ended up on a live broadcast interview talking about thermal cameras!
I’m used to going as a visitor to the show; it’s a great way of seeing what’s new and catching up with the various reps we know. We don’t tend to go for the show deals, though there can be some great ones (last year was an exception to this when I bought our A7Sii). It’s a different experience as an exhibitor. You don’t get to see all that much really, because you’re on the stand all day every day, though we did make an effort to go and see as much as we could whenever we had an opportunity.
Scott Country were exhibiting for the first time at The Photography Show this year, though they’re quite used to exhibiting at various different shows around the country – and indeed the world! They sell various methods for tracking wildlife – including trail cameras, night vision spotting scopes and thermal cameras – and they are in fact where we bought our thermal camera from. They invited us onto the stand as we hire our camera out – so while most people at the show might not buy a thermal camera, they have the option to hire one from us. We were lucky to get a corner stand, which meant that we were able to show the kit to passing visitors from both sides of the stand. In the centre of the stand, we set up our FS7 with the thermal camera mounted to it in much the same way as we would in the wild – with a difference. Zeiss very kindly loaned their 70-200mm Compact Zoom to us for the show and we also had a couple of Bright Tangerine items on loan to match the pieces we already own. The Revolvr Studio follow focus and the Morrisey 15mm lightweight lens support looked great paired with our own Misfit Atom matte box and Titan arm!
I suspect some stands might have been a tad aggressive in their approach to people, as often I would say hello to someone with a smile, only to be met with a frightened look. I’m a friendly person and I don’t bite, I promise! However, there were a lot of people who found the thermal cameras fascinating and quite enjoyed having a look through them. They’re certainly different to anything else at the show – how many cameras can’t see through lenses made from glass, but can see who might be feeling a bit on the warm side?
Thermal cameras are different to night vision cameras – they both use the infra-red spectrum but they see at different wavelengths. Traditional night vision is useful, but if you have a well camouflaged animal you aren’t any more likely to see it at night. It uses short-wave infra-red, which is often portrayed as green or black and white, and typically night vision products utilise infra-red lights or light intensifiers. Short-wave infra-red can use regular glass, so typically it’s cheaper than thermal imaging – it also doesn’t require specialist sensors, just ones that are optimised for night vision. That generally means it doesn’t have an infra-red filter in front of the sensor, which most regular cameras will have. Thermal cameras, however, utilise long-wave infra-red – this is blocked by glass and require a specialist sensor called a microbolometer. As glass blocks the thermal wavelength, these cameras use lenses made from germanium – which is what gives them the black sheen. I won’t go into further technical detail here, but if you’re interested we do have more information about this in our review of the XP50 and in an article Alex wrote for his personal website.
There were a few other trail cameras at other stands, but to be honest I was pretty impressed by the ones Scott Country sell. We had a few with us on the stand, all from a company called Wildgame Innovations. One of these is a unique design – it has a 360º sensor array and moves the camera to the direction where the sensor was triggered. We set one up on the edge of the stand and had some amusement watching videos of curious security guards at night trying to figure out what it was! I can think of a few situations where this camera might come in useful, not least in continuing to search for Scottish Wildcats…
Anyway, exhibiting with Cowan, Paul and Lee from Scott Country was great fun. Paul convinced me to do an interview on the last day with Andrew James, which was live broadcast to the screen at the entrance to The Photography Show. I’m slowly getting used to doing interviews, but I was still nervous and rushed through the first question so Andrew had to slow me down a little. This isn’t on the show’s social media or youtube channel yet, but we’ll update the blog when it is with a link to it. Our stand was right next to the show’s TV stand where all the interviews were taking place, so I couldn’t really hide anywhere! But I think it went well all the same. I tried not to look at the camera or the screen, as it always makes me feel awkward (and I looked it when I did look at the screen at the end of the interview!)
I did get to see some things at the show, and there were a lot which were really rather interesting.
One thing that I always enjoy seeing at events like The Photography Show is the exploded views of cameras and lenses sliced in half. One the one hand, it does pain me to see a fantastic lens like the Sony 85mm f/1.4 GMaster sliced up, but at the same time it’s a fascinating insight into the mechanics of the lens. It shows you the effort that goes into the design and construction of lenses – all the more so when you’re aware of the ultra precision that the engineers at Sony’s factory employ to make them as high quality as they are. Panasonic had two of their camera bodies in exploded views – the GH5s and the G9 – cleverly laid out so that you could visually align them into a camera again. Unfortunately there were so many people at the stand that I couldn’t align the cameras for a photograph, but I don’t think it would have been as impressive as the ones I did get showing all the components of the camera bodies.
The stand that most intrigued me – and indeed the one that both Alex and I kept returning to throughout the show – was one from Chinese lens manufacturer Laowa. Laowa make some very interesting, rather niche lenses which appeal to us for various reasons. Firstly, there’s the Probe: a 24mm f/14 macro lens designed for use in shallow pools and ant nests, where you need to get close but also want to show the environment you’re shooting in. The lens is waterproof halfway up it and has LED lights in the tip, so you’re able to illuminate what you’re shooting. It’s also 2:1, which means that it can magnify an object up to twice lifesize – useful for shooting very small things like ants! It looks rather different from most lenses, as it’s a long thin lens with a tiny front element. Unfortunately they don’t have it on their website just yet, but you can see it below.
The next lens which caught my eye from Laowa is the 25mm Super Macro. This looks a little more like a conventional lens than the Probe – and at f/2.8 is a more conventional aperture for macro shooting. However, this is known as the Super Macro as it shoots at 2.5 – 5 times lifesize. The example setup on the stand was an old £10 note and the Queen’s eye filled the frame.
Laowa also make a 15mm f/4 ultra wide macro lens. This is really designed to show animals in their environments, and the front element was buried amid a bowl of flowers to show how close you can really get to shoot. This only goes to lifesize, which compared to their other greater-than-lifesize lenses doesn’t sound like much, but it is the world’s widest macro lens, so that more than makes up for it only shooting at lifesize!
Laowa’s lenses feel well built and well designed. They have manual apertures and manual focusing, which is very useful for filming with. With a full metal construction and smooth focus ring operation, they are nice to use – though admittedly I’ve only played with them and not used them properly for a shoot. I came away with lots of ideas and projects that I could potentially use these lenses for though! The images I’ve seen from these lenses look incredible, so the optical elements are obviously very well designed and constructed. They are also really great value and I wasn’t at all surprised to find that the 25mm Super Macro sold out on the first day!
All in all, we both really enjoyed The Photography Show this year. Exhibiting was something different – fun, tiring (I needed increasing amounts of coffee each day!) but well worth the experience. Both Alex and I managed to sell some equipment for Scott Country too and we’ve met some very interesting people. Whether we’ll be at the show next year as exhibitors or visitors, I couldn’t say, but it was certainly a great experience and we’re very grateful to Scott Country for asking us to be a part of the stand.