Photokina is interesting to watch not just for the new product announcements, but for industry tone. Since Photokinas are only held every other year, they serve as State of the Photographic Industry addresses and show where photography gear will head over the next couple of years. Want to know where the industry thinks it is? Watch Photokina.
2008 was notable for the introduction of the Canon 5D Mark II (the first real affordable "full frame" DSLR, and which also kicked off the DSLR video revolution), Nikon introducing the legendary D90 (a truly landmark APS-C sensor DSLR), Panasonic's LX3 (the first large sensor compact camera), and Micro Four Thirds' first big showing with Panasonic's G1 and the Olympus PEN prototype.
2010's edition of the biannual convention saw APS-C DSLR's peak, with the major competitors debuting stellar products. Nikon brought out the D7000 and D3100, Canon debuted their 60D, and Sony showed off the A77 prototype - one of the most important cameras over the last several years from a technological perspective. Compact system cameras were proving to be not just a fad with Sony also throwing a lot of support behind their then-nascent NEX line, Fuji dropping the retro bomb that was the X100, and Panasonic and Olympus announcing updates and expansions to their Micro Four Thirds lines.
Based on the announcements and rumors we've seen thus far, the industry tone that will come out of Photokina 2012 seems plainly evident. Three key trends for gear, two positive and one necessarily negative, seem to be emerging and will shape the industry over the next couple years.
First, full frame is going to a broader audience. Historically, full frame has been the domain of only professionals, very committed amateurs, and photographers who only wanted the best and could afford it. The cameras just cost too much (a 5D Mk3 or a D800 run ~$3,000) for others to afford. Nikon is due to announce a D600 that should run for about $1,600. Given that high end APS-C cameras list at about $1,000, full frame cameras will now be a reasonable step up rather than a massive leap: a $600 difference is much easier to make (and explain to a skeptical significant other) than a $2,000 one.
Also, don't forget that Sony is about to announce a full frame camera with a pellicle mirror, ala the A77. The rumored A99 will be the first full frame camera with an electronic viewfinder, rather than the traditional optical viewfinder. I'm a huge fen of EVF's: they show what the camera will record, which is much more useful to me than seeing directly through the lens. I'd rather know that I'm going to get it right than have to check the back of the camera after every shot. The excitement over full framers has been very high already this year, with the 5D Mark III and the D800: Sony, Nikon, and maybe Canon seem poised to turn that excitement into full blown euphoria over the next several years with the democratization of big sensored-cameras.
The second bright spot for gear is with CSC's. After Photokina, CSC's will clearly own the sub-full frame interchangeable lens camera market going forward. Practically every single major and minor competitor now has a CSC competitor: Olympus, Panasonic, Fuji, Nikon, Canon, Sony, and Pentax all have capable competitors in the CSC landscape. The segment may not see many new announcements at the show, but that's only because so many innovative and blockbuster products already exist: Sony's NEX-7 is a tremendous product, as is Fuji's X-Pro1 (and the XE-1 looks just as good for an even better price). I should mention that I am still enamored with my awesome Olympus OM-D. We'll see some announcements, for sure: Sony will likely announce a new NEX, Panasonic will show what promises to be one of the best hybrid video and stills camera yet in the GH3, and I hope Canon and NIkon have something great to show for their so far lackluster mirrorless lines. I am certain that every manufacturer will show off new lenses, certainly, helping complete the systems.
CSC's will own the market for people who don't want to go /can't afford to go full frame because everyone's interests are aligned to have CSC's take that market. CSC's fit the manufacturers' needs for a higher margin product: they are priced the same as comparable DSLR's yet cost significantly less to make because they're less complex. They fit the customer desire for smaller cameras that still get great image quality, Outside of Sony, really, all of the innovation in the sub full frame market has been concentrated in CSC's (and Sony has invested mightily in the NEX line as well), and the industry has no reason to stop that train.
Intriguingly, news today indicates that Photokina even promises to have a collision of both of these two trends in the form of the Sony RX-1: a mirrorless camera with fixed a 35mm f2.0 lens and a 35mm sensor. I'm certain that this seeming interesting device is just a precursor to a full frame mirrorless interchangeable lens system that we'll see by Photokina 2014.
The aforementioned trends brings me to the big loser in all of this: APS-C DSLR's. The consumer-oriented DSLR is heading fast to a path to obscurity. The segment is getting crowded out at the high end by full frame cameras, out of the middle by high end mirrorless cameras like the OM-D and NEX-7, and out of the low end by cameras like the Panasonic GH5, Sony NEX-F3, and Nikon J2.
Camera manufacturers really only have themselves to blame for the impending collapse of the APS-C DSLR market. Aside from Sony and Pentax, the industry really didn't invest in the format. Look at Nikon's DX lens lineup. All Nikon has ever made for its APS-C DSLR's have been a bunch of nigh identical cheap kit zooms, 2 very similar wide zooms, a couple mediocre super zooms, a couple overlapping tele zooms, one high quality zoom, and just 4 prime lenses: one fish eye, one 40mm, one 35mm, and one macro. That's it. Canon's even worse: just 1 wide zoom, a few largely identical kit zooms, a couple super zooms, one tele zoom, one high quality zoom, and a single macro prime. Both Canon and Nikon have had years to invest in their APS-C lines to be real complete camera lines, and they've failed miserably. Compare that to the oft-mocked lineup of NEX lenses that Sony has already put out: 4 different primes, a kit zoom, a super zoom, and a tele zoom. If Sony had a wide zoom and a high quality zoom (say, an 18-45 f2.8), it would be equivalent, if not better, than any APS-C lens lineup. And Nikon and Canon have had over a decade to flesh out their APS-C lines.
Yes, one can use a full frame lens on an APS-C DSLR, and most APS-C shooters have no choice but to do that if they want high quality glass (of course, few ever do). Doing so is a poor solution. Full frame lenses are designed for full frame bodies, so they're bigger and heavier in order to cover a bigger sensor (and consequently, more expensive). The other problem is that those lenses are designed to provide certain angles of views on a full frame sensor, angles you don't get when mounted on an APS-C camera. a 50mm lens on a full frame camera provides a normal angle of view, but provides a short telephoto angle of view on an APS-C camera. A 24-70 f2.8 provides wide-to-short tele coverage on a full framer, but a normal-to-telephoto coverage on an APS-C camera. So you can't truly use the lenses as intended on the smaller format - you're stuck having to compromise and get used to shooting with odd angles of view. It's a poor compromise that demonstrates how fully Nikon and Canon have failed to invest in APS-C DSLR's as a proper and viable format unto itself.
True, if you buy a full frame camera down the line, you'll be able to use your full frame glass on that camera. With full frame cameras coming down in price, though, I can see a lot of people just skipping APS-C cameras all together and going straight to full frame. Sure, there are lots of people who have no aspiration of going to a full frame camera - they just want to take good photos of their kids, and whatnot. They're never going to buy a second lens, so the mediocre kit lens is all they're going to need. a CSC makes so much more sense for these people (who seem to make up the majority of DSLR buyers, I'd venture): they're smaller, lighter, easier to handle, provide a shooting experience similar to what they're used to with their camera phones and compact digicams, and provide no worse image quality than a DSLR. Given the higher profit margin, camera companies would have to be daft to not start shifting customers over to CSC's going forward.
So that's what I think Photokina 2012 will be about: the shuffling off of the APS-C DSLR to retirement, CSC's planting their flag in the firmament of the camera industry, and full frame cameras becoming a more and more viable option for enthusiasts of all budgets.