The top 10 sights at The Photography Show 2018

The Photography Show takes place every March at the Birmingham NEC exhibition centre in the UK. All the major camera manufacturers are there with big, shiny stands, but there’s also lens and accessory makers and smaller companies displaying kit we never usually get to see.

It’s a chance to try out all the latest headline photography gear, but also some weird and wonderful gadgets being shown in the country for the first time. 

So here’s a quick roundup of our favourite things from The Photography Show 2018. 

1. Pentax K-1 II

Don’t forget Pentax! The DSLR world is dominated by Canon and Nikon, but Pentax is still in there, and we took a closer look at the full-frame Pentax K-1 II. It’s an updated version of the K-1, Pentax’s first full-frame DSLR, and a pretty good one too, with a 36MP sensor, a clever, multi-purpose 5-axis in-camera stabilization system and a pretty affordable price tag. The Pentax K-1 II brings a new noise reduction chip for improved high-ISO image quality and a higher maximum sensitivity, improved autofocus and the ability to shoot handheld with its Pixel Shift II high resolution mode.

2. Kowa Spotting scope adaptors

Birdwatchers and wildlife fans often use high-magnification spotting scopes to observe their subjects and then have to fork out extra cash for high-magnification, high-quality telephoto lenses to photograph them. So why not combine the two (we hear you ask)? That’s what spotting specialist Kowa offers, with its new TSN 553 Prominar with at TSN-PA7 Photo Adaptor and a Sony Alpha A7S attached. The spotting scope does not have an aperture mechanism or autofocus, but offers very high image quality thanks to expensive fluorite glass and with its high magnification (15-45x), it looks ideal for static subjects.

3. K&F Concept Lens adaptors

Most of us probably have a vague idea that sometimes you can use an adaptor to fit one maker’s lenses to another maker’s cameras, but the line-up on the K&F Concept stand was just out of this world. Did you know you could fit a Nikon G lens to a Micro Four Thirds camera? Or a Pentax K mount DSLR lens to a Fujifilm X Series camera? There are some limitations – you can’t fit every lens to every camera because some have the wrong back-focus distance, and these adaptors don’t offer autofocus and diaphragm control, so it means shooting manually. But they’re really well made and, at £15 (around $21) each at the show (yes, really), they were amazing. So amazing, in fact, that we bought two. 

4. Benro New square filter system

Graduated filters can tone down a bright sky so that it doesn’t end up overexposed. The trouble is, it can be a bit of a fiddle trying to slide them carefully up and down in the holder, a millimetre at a time, so that they line up with the horizon. Benro has the answer, debuting a brand new filter range at The Photography Show, including a clever advanced FH100M2 geared filter holder, where the filter is fitted into a frame with toothed edges that can then be cranked up and down in small, precise increments using a knob on the holder. Benro also makes regular filter holders in a variety of sizes together with a wide range of cheaper resin and premium quality glass filters.

5. JP Distribution H & Y filters

We’re not done with filters yet. Round the corner from the Benro stand was H&Y Filters, which has a novel solution to another filter headache. Regular filter systems uses slots to allow the insertion of 2-3 individual filters. It can be a bit of a fiddle sliding them in and then removing them for shots where they’re not required. The H&Y system again uses frames for mounting regular rectangular filters, and these two have notches in this side – but this time it’s simply for securing the filter frames with a locknut, because these filter holders are magnetic. They simply ‘snap’ on to a specially adapted filter holder. You can stack filters on top of each other still and remove all of them in a single, simple movement. Nice!

6. Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro

We loved the brand new Laowa 9mm f/2.8 Zero-D, seen for the first time at The Photography Show. It’s a 13.5mm equivalent ultra-wide-angle prime lens for APS-C mirrorless cameras and will be available in Fujifilm X mount, Sony E and Canon EF-M mounts. Compared to regular AF lenses and zooms it’s tiny, but it has a beautiful focus movement. The one that really caught our eye, though, was the Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro, which goes way closer than regular macro lenses with up to 5x magnification. It also has a bizarre, tapering telescopic design that looks weird but has a purpose – the narrow tip prevents the lens throwing shade on your subject. It’s also only $399.

7. Sigma 105mm f/1.4

Those helpful people on the Sigma stand brought out all their biggest and best new lenses to show us, including the company’s hefty new super-wide 14-24mm f/2.8 full-frame zoom, but the one that really caught our eye was the new Sigma 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens. Sigma calls it the “bokeh master” because of its ability to produce super-smooth defocused backgrounds with that f/1.4 maximum aperture, and helped by a focal length that’s a good deal longer than the average 85mm portrait lens. The front element is huge and this lens’s weight means it really does need that tripod foot – an accessory you rarely see outside of heavyweight super-telephoto lenses. 

8. Canon Concept camera

Canon had its latest entry-level cameras on display including the EOS 2000D, EOS 4000D and mirrorless EOS M50, but we forgot all about those as soon as we spotted its concept cameras on a booth at the edge of the stand. They’re so new they don’t even have a name yet, though our Canon guide wanted to call one of them ‘Dave’ (what?). We quickly figured out there was a 2001: Space Odyssey reference here, as we were shown how ‘Dave’ sat on a small rotating base, could listen out for sound and turn to point towards it, then use face recognition to capture people talking. Sounds sinister? No! Dave is far too cute for that and we were told how he’d be great at parties, capturing what’s going on so that everyone else can just concentrating on socialising rather than taking pictures. 

9. Datacolor Color Reader and app

You know that thing where you’re out shopping for cushions but you can’t quite remember what shade of vermillion blush your sofa is? Well Datacolor’s new pocket-sized Color Reader can measure your sofa’s colors in Lab, RGB, HSL and Hex values, as well as the color codes of the specific color system (RAL and NCS) and display them on a companion smartphone app – together with suggestions for matching hues, if you like. Intended primarily for designers, we guess, we can still imagine situations where photographers would find it useful – making sure the color of a product is reproduced correctly, for example. We’ve just realised vermillion blush is also the name of a fan fiction writer on the Internet. Awkward.

10. Loupedeck for Lightroom

Calling all Lightroom fans: are you fed up of pushing a mouse around your desktop, prodding tiny on-screen sliders and squinting at your screen? The Loupedeck control console might sound crazy, but when you see it working it starts to make an odd kind of sense, with dedicated knobs for top Lightroom adjustments, control wheels for colour tweaks, buttons for regular actions like ratings and screen modes. We asked an expert Loupedecker (that’s a thing, right?) how long it took to adapt to this new way of controlling the software, and they said about two weeks.

So those are our top ten sights from The Photography Show 2018. Obviously, there was A LOT more there, including the new Sony A7 III (we’ve got one to test – yay!), some exciting news from lens maker Irix (you’ve never heard of them? You will!) and more tripods, bags, gadgets and accessories than you could possibly imagine.

We realise not everyone can make it along to the show each year, but we hope this has given you a flavour of what goes on. 

Rod Lawton is Head of Testing for Future Publishing’s photography magazines, including Digital Camera, N-Photo, PhotoPlus, Professional Photography, Photography Week and Practical Photoshop.