PDN 2012 Photo Gear of the Year
DECEMBER 24, 2012
By Dan Havlik
The photo industry rebounded in 2012 with some of the best photo gear releases we've seen in years. Starting with a wave of full-frame digital SLR launches from Canon, Nikon, and Sony; to a variety of (finally!) pro-worthy mirrorless, compact system cameras; along with intriguing new video cameras capable of capturing the latest industry buzzword known as 4K, serious digital imaging was back on track in 2012.
Unfortunately, there are a few noticeable absences in our annual Gear of the Year rundown, namely some of Sony's latest professional cameras, which we were unable to get our hands on to test this past year. (Supply doesn't always meet demand.) Aside from that, however, we put plenty of other fantastic imaging products though their paces in 2012 and here's our pick of the very best.
Camera of the Year - Canon EOS-1D X
The 18.1-megapixel, full-frame Canon EOS-1D X was easily our favorite DSLR to shoot with last year and that’s saying something since there was a wave of excellent camera releases in 2012. With its incredibly fast frame rate and breakneck overall performance speed; its beautiful image quality even in extremely low light at extremely high ISOs; its tough, sturdy build and excellent pro camera design; and a boatload of features, most of which are highly useful, X marked the spot in 2012: the EOS-1D X is our pick for camera of the year.
Click here to read our full review of the Canon EOS-1D X.
Click here to read a round-up of some other cameras that rocked in 2012.
Pro DSLR of the Year - Nikon D800
If you need massive amounts of detail in your images but might not want (or simply can't afford) a medium-format camera system, the 36.3-megapixel, full-frame D800 was the camera to turn to in 2012. The incredible amount of resolution and gorgeous image quality, were what impressed us most about the D800, making it an excellent camera for both studio work and outdoor landscape photography. Despite a relatively small pixel size, the D800 produced surprisingly low noise at high ISOs. It also has a lightweight but solid camera build and an excellent 1080p HD video mode.
Click here to read our full review of the Nikon D800.
Prosumer DSLR of the Year - Nikon D600
There was such a run on DSLRs with full-frame image sensors in 2012, they started invading the prosumer space. The 24.3MP Nikon D600 was one of two prosumer full-framers that turned a lot of heads last Fall -- the other being the Canon 6D, which we are currently testing for a PDN review next year -- and we enjoyed shooting with the D600 so much, we could see pros turning to it as a back-up body. The D600 produced excellent all-around image quality and had a strong feature set without any significant “dumbing down” of functionality to appeal to less experienced photographers. It also has a solid but lightweight build that still felt comfortable for those with large hands; great HD video quality; and most importantly for those on a budget, it's reasonably priced.
Click here to read our full review of the Nikon D600.
Medium Format Camera of the Year - Leica S
Ok, this is admittedly a bit of a fudge. We haven't been able to put the 37.5MP Leica S, which was announced at photokina 2012, through a thorough test yet but we got enough hands-on time with the camera during the show, to know its quite a performer. While it looks a lot like its predecessor -- the Leica S2 -- and uses the same 45 x 30mm Kodak-built CCD sensor, there are over 80 upgrades including doubled internal memory buffer speed letting you fire off up to 32 RAW DNG images; a new sensor board, which lets the camera shoot at a native ISO of 100 with increased dynamic range; built-in GPS; and a revamped LCD screen. Add in some design tweaks including a five-direction joystick on back and a new autofocus module, for quicker focusing in low contrast shooting conditions, and Leica has another medium-format winner on its hands.
Click here to read our photokina preview of the Leica S.
Click here to read a round-up of our other favorite medium-format camera gear of 2012.
Compact Camera of the Year - Canon PowerShot G1 X
Small was also beautiful in 2012 as evidenced by 14.3MP Canon PowerShot G1 X. While calling the G1 X a "compact" is a bit of stretch -- it's too big to fit in your pocket -- the G1 X is quite portable and its relatively large 1.5-inch (18.7 x 14mm) CMOS imaging chip produced superb image quality with surprisingly low-noise results without significant loss of detail at up to ISO 6400. The G1 X also has a very nice 3-inch, vari-angle LCD; and shoots great 1080p HD footage with stereo sound.
Click here to read our full review of the Canon PowerShot G1 X.
Mirrorless Compact System Camera - Fujfilm X-Pro1
With the 16.3MP Fujifilm X-Pro1, mirrorless cameras finally got serious in 2012. This retro, rangefinder-style, compact system camera, not only looks great, it shoots fantastic photos, producing excellent skin tones, right out of the camera. The X-Pro1 is also relatively compact and somewhat inconspicuous, making it an excellent shooter for street and candid photography. And while it may look a lot like a Leica M-series digital rangefinder, it won't set you back nearly as much, retailing for around $1,500, body only.
Click here to read our full review of the Fujifilm X-Pro1.
Video Camera of the Year - Red Scarlet-X
While calling the 4K-shooting Red Scarlet-X a mere "video camera," is like calling a Lamborghini just a "car," this digital cinema machine presented one of the best options for photographers interested in crossing over into serious filmmaking. Capable of producing mind-blowing 4K video that will put that 1080p you shot with your HD-DSLR to shame, the Red Scarlet-X offers the imaging power to make the leap from shooting HD clips to creating gorgeous feature films. Meanwhile, the free Redcine Pro software lets you easily pull high-resolution stills from the video, if you find you still need those. But believe us, after shooting video that's four times the resolution of HD with this rad-looking, small and rugged camera, you just may put still photography in the rearview mirror.
Click here to read our full review of the Red Scarlet-X.
Click here to read our round-up of 13 products you need to add video to your business.
Lens of the Year - Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD
Tamron's new 24-70mm f/2.8 lens is more than just a great bargain, it's a great piece of glass. Retailing for just $1,299, this 24-70mm workhorse has a solid but lightweight professional-grade build and boasts Vibration Compensation image stabilization that helps for shooting at slower shutter speeds in low light (something the high-priced competition doesn't even offer.) The lens also has fast and virtually silent focusing; and great resolving power that produced excellent image quality results.
Click here to read our full review of the Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD.
Click here to read a round-up of our other favorite lenses of 2012.
Printer of the Year - Canon PIXMA Pro-1
There's no getting around the fact that the Canon PIXMA Pro-1 is a very large, 13-inch printer but it produced photo prints that were among the best we've seen from an inkjet. In fact, the Pro-1's sturdy build, actually helped stabilize it during output. The Pro-1 had extremely fast prints speeds for such high quality prints and it was so quiet you might not even notice it's printing. Both color and black and white photo prints had superb dynamic range and detail, making the Pro-1 a great tool for your next gallery show.
Click here to read our full review of the Canon PIXMA Pro-1.
Bag of the Year - Gura Gear Kiboko 22L+
Good photo backpacks are a dime a dozen. Truly great photo backpacks are a rare breed. Put Gura Gear’s Kiboko 22L+ designed by wildlife and safari photographer Andy Biggs based around input from his customers in the uncommon “great” category. The Kiboko 22L+ is a lightweight, durable, and comfortable pack designed for long photo treks. It has a padded sleeve for laptops unlike the bigger, step-up model and it's made from lightweight, water-shedding sailcloth that’s abrasion and tear resistant
Click here to read our full review of the Gura Gear Kiboko 22L+.
Click here to read about our other favorite camera bags and cases of 2012.
Software of the Year - Alien Skin Exposure 4
There's tons of software on the market that digitally simulates the look of classic film stocks but Alien Skin Exposure 4 was the most comprehensive -- and most fun! -- plug-in we've tried. Exposure 4 has a clean and fast revamped interface and has added many new film and photography effects including cyanotype, lith printing, and wet plate photography. Most importantly for analog lovers, the app's simulated film stocks are very true to their originals
Click here to read our full review of the Alien Skin Exposure 4.
Click here to read about our favorite software for managing your studio & photography business.
Photo Accessory of the Year - Tripad
It’s true there are some products where you go: “I can’t believe nobody thought of that before.” While the TriPad is not really that type of product, when you start using this clever mobile workstation that fits over your tripod in your studio or on location, you just might say: “I wish somebody had thought of that before!”
Click here to read our full review of the Tripad.
Click here to read a round-up of our other favorite photo accessories of 2012.
Photo Paper of the Year - Olinda Fine Art
And finally, if you want to make beautiful photo prints of all those wonderful images you've been shooting all year, Olinda Fine Art paper is a great choice. Because of its subtle and muted effect – particularly for color prints – fine art matte paper might not appeal to every photographer. But if you like printing on matte, Olinda's paper is one of the best of this genre we've tried, producing attractive results capable of turning your photos into frameable works of art.
Click here to read our full review of Olinda Fine Art.
Click here to read about our other favorite inkjet photo papers of 2012.