PDN’s 2013 Photo Gear of the Year

January 3, 2014

By Dan Havlik

It was an up and down year for the photo industry in terms of innovative new imaging gear. While some imaging technologies took off, literally, in the form of those much-buzzed-about flying camera drones, other products fizzled, particularly point-and-shoot models, which headed towards obsolesce because of the improved imaging (and sharing) capabilities of smartphones.

Meanwhile, despite only meager sales in the U.S. and Europe, mirrorless compact system cameras turned the heads of pro photographers this year, thanks to new models from Sony that feature full-frame sensors. In fact, we liked the new Sony Alpha 7 so much during a hands-on preview we had with it back in November, we named it PDN‘s 2013 Camera of the Year! Check out all of our picks for the best photo gear of the year below and feel free to share your favorite photo products of 2013 in the comments section.

Sony Alpha 7 digital cameraCamera of the Year: Sony Alpha 7
While we haven’t had a chance to put the Sony Alpha 7 through a full test in PDN yet—this 24.3-megapixel, full-frame, mirrorless camera has been so in demand we’re still waiting for a product loan—we had some hands-on time with it back in November and were immediately smitten. John Rettie, a columnist for our sister publication Rangefinder, put the Alpha 7 and the 36.4-megapixel Alpha 7R (which has no optical low pass anti-aliasing filter) through their paces and came away “impressed.”

Click here to read Rettie’s hands-on preview of the Sony Alpha 7 and 7R.

Phase One IQ 280 digital camera backMedium-Format Camera System of the Year: Phase One IQ 260 & 280
When Rangefinder columnist Stan Sholik tested the Phase One IQ 260 and 280 digital camera backs in October, he was blown away by the image quality and impressed by the new features of these high-resolution medium-format models. According to Sholik, the 60-megapixel IQ 260 and 80-megapixel IQ 280 produced excellent dynamic range and captured rich detail, while offering new wireless tools to help review shots on iPads or external monitors.

Click here to read Sholik’s review of the Phase One IQ 260 and 280.

Canon EOS 6D digital cameraDigital SLR of the Year: Canon EOS 6D
There weren’t many new professional-level DSLRs in 2013 but the prosumer-level Canon EOS 6D had such an impressive feature-set, it’s attracted quite a few pros. I reviewed this 20.2-megapixel, full-frame camera in March, and loved its excellent performance at high ISOs in low light. Other highlights included its improved, built-in Wi-Fi features, it’s good overall speed and it’s tough but portable camera build.

Click here to read my review of the Canon EOS 6D.

Fujifilm X100S digital cameraCompact Camera of the Year: Fujifilm X100S
Jesse Will reviewed the Fujifilm X100S for PDN in September and was stoked at how this “classy compact” had evolved from the previous version. “[T]he X100S’s shots look excellent across the board, with detailed highlights and shadows and an impressive dynamic range, even at higher ISOs,” Will wrote. “The net result is photos that don’t look like they’ve come from a compact, fixed-lens camera. They look like shots from a DSLR.” He also gave the X100S style points, for its cool, retro look.

Click here to read Will’s review of the Fujifilm X100S.

Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II digital cameraPocket Camera of the Year: Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II
While, technically, my review of the Sony RX100 II appeared in the January 2014 issue of PDN, I actually tested the camera in 2013, which is why it makes the cut here. And it really is a fabulous little camera! This 20.2-megapixel sharpshooter produced excellent still and video quality for a pocket camera, was very fast to use overall and fared surprisingly well at high ISOs in low light. Plus, the small form factor lets you take it anywhere! I also liked the handy, tilting 3-inch rear display.

Click here to read my review of the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II.

Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM camera lensLens of the Year: Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM
Not only did Sigma introduce the world’s first 18-35mm zoom lens with a constant f/1.8 aperture this year, it offered it at a surprisingly low price: just $799. Josh Root reviewed the Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM for PDN in October and called it “a truly unique and amazing lens.” Unfortunately for full-frame shooters, this Sigma lens is designed for APS-C-size (aka “crop”) sensors, which converts to a 28-56mm focal length with the smaller chip. For photographers with APS-C-based DSLRs though, this new lens is great for portrait and street photography work in available light.

Click here to read Root’s review of the Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM lens.

3 Legged Thing X1.1 Brian Evolution 2 camera tripodTripod of the Year: 3 Legged Thing X1.1 Brian Evolution 2
If you want a tripod that does a little bit of everything, we suggest the 3 Legged Thing X1.1 Brian Evolution 2. This carbon fiber tripod is extremely versatile and lightweight, and features a unique modular design that’s configurable for a variety of applications. For instance, you can remove one of its legs off and turn it into a very effective monopod; or pop the center column out and push the rig down to the ground for stabilized tabletop or macro photography. Very handy!

Click here to read my review of the 3 Legged Thing X1.1 Brian Evolution 2 tripod.

Broncolor Move 1200L Outdoor Kit 2Lighting of the Year: Broncolor Move 1200L Outdoor Kit 2
I tested the Broncolor Move 1200L Outdoor Kit 2 back with photographer Jordan Matter in the streets of New York City last year and we loved this portable but powerful lighting kit. The Broncolor kit has a speedy recycle time at full power; backlit controls that are easy to adjust even in dark conditions; asymmetrical control for both lamp connectors in the entire power range; and is significantly less expensive than the competition. What’s not to like?

Click here to read my review of the Broncolor Move 1200 L Outdoor Kit 2.

Pelican S130 Sport Elite camera bagCamera Bag of the Year: Pelican S130 Sport Elite
Erik Sherman reviewed the Pelican S130 Sport Elite for PDN in August and he found the bag to be heavy but extremely sturdy. Best of all, it offers “a higher than usual amount of protection for camera equipment and a solid waterproof case for your computer” along with “room at top for a change of clothes.” Or, in other words, if you’re going on a tough assignment in the field, the Pelican S310 is “a smart carry-on choice” for photographers.

Click here to read Sherman’s review of the Pelican S130 Sport Elite.

Camera Bits Photo Mechanic 5Software of the Year: Camera Bits Photo Mechanic 5
It took a while for Camera Bits to introduce version 5 of its speedy photo browser but it was worth the wait. While adding some helpful new features and a revamped design, Photo Mechanic 5 sticks to what it’s good at: quickly importing and displaying high-resolution images so photographers can spend more time shooting photos than diddling with them in software.

Click here to read my review of Camera Bits Photo Mechanic 5.

Prezent mobile appMobile App of the Year: Prezent
Who says video and stills can’t coexist in an iPad portfolio? Prezent, created by photographer Jeff Sciortino, is one of the best multimedia portfolio presentation apps for the iPad I’ve tried, letting you showcase both the nifty still and video work you captured with your HD-shooting DSLR.

Click here to read my review of the Prezent mobile app.