PDN’s 2010 Photo Gear of the Year

December 23, 2010

By Dan Havlik, PDN's Technology Specialist

Though lot of interesting professional photography gear was released in 2010, you wouldn’t exactly call it the Year of the Camera.

In fact, the only true “pro” DSLR to debut in 2010 was the Canon 1D Mark IV which, fortunately for Canon users, was a successful follow-up to the much-maligned 1D Mark III and made this year’s PDN Gear of the Year list as Pro Digital SLR of the Year.

Also telling was that in last year’s round-up we had four DSLR categories but for 2010, I cut it to only one even though, technically speaking, the Nikon D7000 would have won Prosumer DLSR of the Year along with capturing the Camera of the Year title.

That’s not to say there weren’t loads of interesting prosumer DSLRs announced in 2010 — there were — but many of them, including the Canon EOS 60D, Pentax K-5, and Olympus E-5, shipped too late to make it in our 2010 coverage. (Check the February and March 2011 issues of PDN for reviews of those models.)

Similarly, I did not anoint a Medium Format Camera System of the Year for 2010 because there were so few new groundbreaking releases. (The much anticipated Pentax 645D might have made the list but, as of this writing, I still had not received a test unit.)

So what’s a “best of” photo gear round-up with only a few cameras making the list? Well, it’s quite a bit different from previous years but not at all a let down. (At least not for me.)

After going through my gear coverage in the last year, I found there were a ton of photo products to get excited about in 2010 and many of them were only obliquely camera-related. For examples, see the Technology of the Year, Controversy of the Year, and the Printing Service of the Year.

As usual, I’ve summarized the conclusion for each product and included links to the original reviews below. Unlike in year’s past though, you’ll find that some of the links are PDN subscription-only. (Hey, we’ve gotta pay the rent too!)

Camera of the Year – Nikon D7000
No, this hasn’t exactly been a stellar year for new pro bodies. And no, the 16.2-megapixel Nikon D7000, with its APS-C-sized CMOS sensor isn’t exactly a professional camera, but it is a very robust prosumer DSLR with features that should make pros sit up and take notice. Overall, the D7000 was the most fun camera I shot with this year and its combination of speed, durability, and sparkling still image and HD video quality helped me overlook the fact it probably won’t replace that lightning fast, gasketed and sealed professional workhorse covered in mud in your camera bag. The headline with this camera is that it follows up on the pioneering legacy of the D90, the world’s first HD-DSLR, by adding the ability to shoot 1080p video with continuous autofocus. But let me add another headline here, the D7000 is not only a versatile and fun DSLR to use, it’s the best camera of the year.

Read the review of the Nikon D7000 here.

Pro Digital SLR of the Year – Canon EOS-1D Mark IV
Canon has a winner on its hands with the Mark IV, especially in comparison to its less than Olympic-caliber predecessor. But the playing field has changed a lot since the Mark III came out in 2007 and Nikon has made serious inroads into the sports photography market with its excellent D3 and D3s. Though I preferred the low noise/low-light shooting capabilities of those cameras to the Mark IV, the new Canon has a faster frame rate, more resolution for cropping, a better movie mode, and a revamped autofocus system that’s fast and, yes, reliable. Canon photographers, rest easy. The 1D Mark IV is the solid follow-up you’ve been waiting for.

Compact Camera of the Year – Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5
The advanced compact camera category has gotten increasingly competitive in the last year and while there are many excellent models out there my favorite is the 10.1-megapixel Panasonic Lumix LX5. Why? This small camera takes great pictures in a variety of shooting conditions and is a blast to use. No, it won’t outduel your DSLR but it makes a damn fine sidekick.

Read the review of the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5 here.

Lens of the Year – Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II
Nikon makes another bold step forward in the professional sports photography market with the stellar new Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 VR II. Though it’s priced considerably higher than the competing lens from Canon with the same basic specs, Nikon’s new 300mm offers excellent sharpness for high-speed sports photography and true-to-life color with attractive compression for candid portrait sessions, or when zeroing in on intimate wedding moments such as the ring ceremony.

Read the review of the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II here.

Technology of the Year – Helicopters vs. RC Helicopters
We hitched a ride in aerial photographer Vincent Laforet’s helicopter this year for a story comparing shooting from a real helicopter to shooting from a remote-controlled mini-helicopter. In addition to our flight over New York City with Laforet, we interviewed photographers who are weighing the costs of renting a real helicopter vs. shooting with a less expensive (and less legal) RC copter. The jury’s still out on whether RC technology will enter the mainstream — and whether the FAA will make it easier to do legally — but it’s clearly something that’s on the radar for photographer interested in shooting aerials.

Read the full story here.

Controversy of the Year – HDR Imaging
Whether you love HDRI or hate it, you’re going to have to get used to it since High Dynamic Range imaging is here to stay. Camera manufacturers are incorporating “HDR” features that automatically bracket and merge several images in-camera to increase dynamic range, but this is only a modest (and not terribly effective) step. Even more telling, though, is the ubiquitous spread of HDR software apps and features. While some photographers love HDRI for how it can help produce a spot-on exposure others see the controversial technique as four letter word. PDN correspondent Theano Nikitas explored the issue in a feature story in October

Read the full story here.

Accessory of the Year – HD-DSLR Rigs
Walk the streets of most major cities and you’ll see more and more guerrilla-style video shoots by photographers using HD-DSLRs. To shoot, they’re relying on lightweight rigs designed to stabilize HD-DSLRs such as the Canon 5D Mark II or Nikon D300s. Since this is a relatively new product category that photographers moving into video are still learning about, we decided to look at some of the major companies producing rigs designed for HD-DSLRs.

Read our breakdown of the best of the best of the new crop of camera stabilizing systems here.

Lighting System of the Year – K 5600 Joker-Bug 400 & 800 HMI Lighting
I get to test drive a lot of high-quality gear for PDN Magazine but every once in a while I go behind the wheels of a Rolls Royce. In the case of a continuous light source for location or studio work, K 5600 Lighting is certainly in that class. Joker-Bug lighting from K 5600 many not be the cheapest continuous light source out there but for video or still photography, they’re one of the best. If most of your studio work is done with strobes but you want to try something new, rent a Joker-Bug 400 or 800 set-up and see if you like it. If you’re like us, you’ll quickly see the benefit of being able to blend gorgeous HMI light with the natural glow from that big 5600 K ball up in the sky.

Read the review of the K 5600 Joker-Bug 400 & 800 here.

Tripod Head of the Year – Induro GHB2 Gimbal Head
If you like shooting wildlife but feel constrained by traditional tripod heads, discover Induro’s latest line of gimbals and liberate yourself. Though the top-of-the-line GHB2 head is big, bulky and a bit pricey, the freedom of movement it allows when attached to even the longest telephotos in your gearbox will help you track birds, athletes, and other fast-moving subjects with ease.

Read the review of the Induro GHB2 Gimbal Head here.


Printing Service of the Year –

If you’ve been intrigued by the idea of printing your photos on canvas but don’t want to go through the hassle of learning to do it yourself, there are a lot of options out there. Although is still in the process of beefing up its pro services, including creating a way to let you seamlessly offer canvas print fulfillment to clients right on your Web site, the company’s print quality, turnaround time and low pricing are among the best we’ve seen. And since there’s no overhead or inventory to deal with on your end, getting on board and trying out this online canvas print service requires little investment. If your clients like the results—and based on my testing I think they will—you’ll likely be coming back for more real soon.


Read the review of Your Photo on here.


Photo Bag of the Year – Tenba Messenger Camera Bag

If you’re in the market for a stylishly inconspicuous camera bag and don’t mind looking more like a bohemian bike courier than a glamorous pro photographer, Tenba’s Messenger Camera Bag is the perfect thing to sling over your shoulder as you’re running out the door. Just don’t forget to put your camera in there before you hit the street. Read the review of the Tenba Messenger Camera Bag here.


Software of the Year – Adobe Photoshop CS5

Adobe has added so many new tools to Photoshop CS5 that once were the domain of plug-ins and standalone apps—HDR, lens correction, and painting, just to name a few—I find myself going less and less to the third-party filter dropdown menu with this latest release. Several new features in Photoshop CS5—including small things such as a straighten button on the Ruler tool and the addition of “Mini Bridge” to quickly access photo collections without leaving Photoshop proper—have entered my imaging workflow so quickly with PS CS5, I wonder how I functioned before without them. Along with a slew of new user-inspired fixes—what Adobe’s developers call JDI (Just Do It) features—Photoshop CS5 includes several “Rock Star” level additions including the much talked about Content-Aware Fill feature; intelligent selection and masking with better edge detection; and the whimsical yet useful Puppet Warp. Add in Photoshop CS5’s speed improvements including the fact that it’s now a native 64-bit application for both Mac and Windows computers, and you have an extremely impressive program that photographers should consider putting on their shopping lists.


Read the review of Adobe Photoshop CS5 here.