Gear of The Year
Michael Reichmann’s Choices
2015 was not a banner year in terms of photographic equipment. In the area of pro and enthusiast level cameras Nikon decided to sit this year out. Maybe they’ve just been resting. Canon gave us the 5 DS/R but it arrived to a lukewarm reception by photographers, to match its luke-warm sensor. Fuji didn’t plow any really new ground, and neither did Olympus or Panasonic.
It goes without saying that Sony’s hyperthyroid condition continues unabated, with at least five new cameras fielded. Of course, this year’s innovation winner is the Sony A7RII, and so it’s no surprise that just about every review site and magazine has touted this camera as its “Camera of The Year“. Well done Sony – really – but it isn’t as if you had any real competition now, was there?
Or was there? Actually, to my eye, the Leica SL is the freshest and most enticing camera to come along in a long time. Seemingly the love child of a mating between the Leica Q, Leica S and Leica T, the new SL is anything but illegitimate.
I had an opportunity to work with the SL in the field in early December, 2015 on my Ethiopia expedition, and I was completely taken by it. It takes a small investment in learning the unintuitive and unlabeled user interface, but within an hour or so the SL became one of the most fluid handling cameras ever.
I think that with the SL Leica finally has a camera that can take on the best from the Big Boys, without reservation. Of course price will prevent the SL from ever being mainstream, but I’m sure that Leica will be happy with making as many SL cameras as their facilities allow, and with high margins.
Leica’s only real challenge is themselves. With just one native lens at the time of launch (and reportedly for months to come) and with none of the promised lens adaptors yet available, it seems that Leica’s product planning and manufacturing teams need to hold a meeting and figure out who’s to blame for the supply cock-up. If just the “R” adapter were available it would be a different ball game, but alas Leica couldn’t get this simple adaptor out the door in time for launch.
By the way… if you think that there is a Leica SL in your future, get on E-Bay right now and start buying up top Leica R lenses while you can. They’ll never be this inexpensive once the adaptor for the SL becomes available.
Quite a few lenses have been introduced this year. For Sony E mount owners the Batis lenses are a very exciting choice. But Zeiss seems to suffer either from overdemand or underproduction because months after launch these lenses remain extremely hard to find anywhere in the world. One or two show up here or there, but there doesn’t seem to be any mainstream supply.
To my mind the most exciting new lenses this year were the ART line of lenses from Sigma. And, unlike with some lenses, Sigma actually manages to fill the pipeline and meet demand.
I used the new Sigma 24-35mm f/2 on a Metabones IV adaptor on my Sony A7RII and its performance was stellar. For the money (and even at any money) these new Sigma ART are a steal.
Finally – kudos to Metabones for their Canon EF to Sony FE mount adaptor, version IV. After a number of firmware updates in late 2015 they finally have an adaptor that allows just about any Canon lens to be mounted on a Sony A7 series camera along with full automation and very acceptable autofocus performance.
Kevin Raber’s Choices
Let’s cut to the chase. There is only one company that has shown momentum this year and we all know that it’s Sony. It seems pretty unanimous that Sony cameras and the A7r II in particular, would be named our choice for Camera Of The Year.
In the last year Sony has released 5 new evolutionary cameras. The A7 II (which was a late 2014 entry) the RX100 IV, A7r II, A7s II and the most recent addition the RX1rII. The rest of the manufacturers have been napping, especially Canon and Nikon. While Canon introduced the 5ds/r it has not been as well received as anyone would have expected. Nikon sat on the sidelines this year—again. We said this about Canon and Nikon last year. Some rumors have been floating around that Canon will own the mirrorless market in 2017. That is still over a year away and they would have to introduce a real winner to overtake Fuji, Olympus, and Sony who have been perfecting their mirrorless products over the last few years. Lately there has been a lot of chitchat about Samsung exiting the camera business and Nikon and Samsung partnering. The thought is that Nikon would use Samsung technology to advance their mirrorless entries (all rumors of course but there is something going on). Time will tell.
While some manufacturers slept others were hard at work. Leica jumped into the mirrorless market head first with the Leica SL. Take that Nikon and Canon! Leica at least saw where the market was headed and made a valiant effort with their SL Camera.
Here’s My (Long) List
This camera is the successor to the A7r. It is very obvious that, in some respects, Sony listens well. They not only addressed such issues as shutter vibration on the A7r but also upped the sensor to 42 MP. They listened again when customers were angry about the RAW file compression and quickly released firmware that offered an uncompressed format. Now, if they could only get their menu system redesigned!
We have said that the Sony is a universal camera because with adapters, it can use other manufacturer’s lenses. The most popular adapter is the Metabones IV with Canon lenses. It has even been said that some Canon lenses focus faster on the Sony/Metabones set-up than on a Canon camera. Nonetheless, it is a game changer when you can use great third party lenses on a really good Sony camera.
Sony RX100 IV
I have nick named this camera – the Little Big Camera. The RX100 IV is the fourth generation in the RX100 line up and oh what a great little camera it is. The 20 MP sensor with 4K video ability (for a short period of time before it overheats) as well as super slow motion and excellent high ISO shooting in still mode with a 24-70mm full frame equivalent lens make this an exceptional pocket-sized camera. Throw in a pop-up electronic viewfinder and flash to make this is a camera that is small enough and powerful enough to have with you all the time. Just make sure you have extra batteries as it will eat through them. I keep this little guy in a small leather pouch in my briefcase so that it’s always nearby.
Sony A7s II
It’s beginning to sound like a broken record and that I’m Sony fan boy year, but Sony added another ‘A’ camera revision to their line up—the A7s II. This camera while only having a 12.2 MP sensor, boasts amazing image quality especially at super high ISOs. Mainly focused at the video market, this camera has all the familiar menus and buttons of the A series cameras and has uncompressed RAWs. It’s claim to fame is internal 4K video capture which it does extremely well and with great versatility.
Sony RX1 rII
Just when we thought Sony had nothing else up their sleeve, they announce the RX1 rII. I have fallen totally in love with this camera over the last few weeks. A camera with the same 42mp sensor as in the A7r II and in a size you can put in a coat pocket. It has a fixed 35mm lens that is exceptionally good and a really nice pop-up electronic viewfinder. The images I have captured in very low light conditions have astounded me. While not an inexpensive camera, it is well worth the expense—especially if you are looking for a second camera body to the A7 line.
Phase One XF
Finally after years of waiting, anticipation and promises, Phase One delivers what was considered the missing piece for a great camera system—the Phase One XF Camera. Well worth the wait, the XF goes where other medium format cameras have yet to venture. This is a heavy and very well-built camera that feels great to the hand. Combined with IQ3 digital backs and an excellent line of lenses, Phase One has finally delivered a camera system that they have total control over. Innovative design with an exceptional interface make this medium format system one to lust after. While the megapixel count is going up on full frame DSLRs and the image quality of these DSLRs is superb, there is still something about a medium format file that will awe you. If you are looking to take your photography to a higher level and you have the dollars that are needed to take you there, consider Phase One’s XF line.
From out of nowhere a few months ago, comes Leica with a big surprise the Leica SL a new mirrorless camera. A lot of criticism was thrown at Leica following the announcement, the price was too high, available lenses were limiting, the size too big and the weight too heavy. But the SL is a very different camera compared to other mirrorless systems – after all this is a Leica! To understand it you need to hold and shoot with it. The design is minimalistic but at the same time is somewhat confusing, with no labels for the buttons or switches. You have to read the manual and work with this camera in order to appreciate it. Yes, it’s a hefty camera. But it feels right at home in the hands. The viewfinder must be seen to be appreciated. It is the finest that I have ever seen. Leica offers 3 adapters in order to mount S, M and R lenses. The only native mount lens available at this time is the rather large (to say the least) 24-90mm zoom. With an approximate price tag of 13,000 USD for the body and lens, this is not a camera for everyone. But if you can afford it and want a great mirrorless camera, then the Leica SL may be for you. I am testing a system at the time of writing and am very impressed. Kudos to Leica for understanding that the world is moving towards mirrorless and for beating the other guys to market with an exceptional camera.
iPhone 6s Plus
Once again Apple makes our list of best cameras. The iPhone 6s plus is no slacker and it’s a comfort to have such a capable camera with me at all times. The 12 mp sensor and 4K video capability make this an exceptional camera and one that I use more and more often to catch those special moments—especially when I don’t have one of my other cameras close by. The iPhone has a number of different modes and formats as well as built in HDR. Coupled with hundreds of apps to take your photos even farther, this little fellow brings fun back into photography. I’m a big fan of Snapseed and the Hipstamatic apps as well as the time-lapse capabilities built into the device. Oh, did I mention the cool live photos feature. Check it out and have some fun.
Neither Fuji nor Olympus have introduced any major new cameras in 2015. But they have been busy updating the firmware in their cameras. I shoot extensively with the Fuji X-T1 as well as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and the E-M5 Mark II. Frankly my wife has embraced the Olympus system and I don’t get to shoot with it too often. What impresses me is the Pro lens line up for the Olympus. They have what I consider one of the best built set of lenses on the market with image quality to match. Check out the 8mm, 7-14mm, 12-40mm and the beautifully designed 40-150mm lens. This set of lenses with a camera body and vertical grip weigh only around ten pounds and it all fits into a small camera bag. Don’t let the 16mp micro four-thirds sensor fool you. This camera delivers excellent image quality.
Fuji has released two firmware updates to their X-T1 line up and also a few lenses. The X-T10 camera was introduced and provides an entry level camera for those wanting to get into the Fuji X line. The new firmware enhances the auto-focus capabilities of the camera and adds a number of other features. Fuji deserves great praise for the regular and frequent updates of the firmware throughout their complete camera line. I’m looking forward to great things from Fuji in 2016.
The Canon 11-24mm
Wow, talk about a nice lens! While I don’t shoot too often anymore with my Canon system I did try out the 11-24mm lens and was blown away by the image quality and build. While not an inexpensive lens it is the finest zoom lens Canon has made and it covers an exceptional coverage range.
Canon 5DS / R
Canon delivered the 50.6 megapixel 5Ds / r earlier this year. The camera arrived with mixed reviews. Criticisms focused primarily on dynamic range and high ISO capabilities. However, there is no question that the image quality coming from this camera is exceptional. Under ideal conditions, this camera has the potential to deliver amazing images.
Zeiss Batis 25mm and 85mm lenses
Zeiss has recognized the potential of the Sony A7 line up and has introduced two gorgeous lenses, the 25mm f/2 and the 85mm f/1.8. The design, the innovative LED distance and DOF display are stand outs. The typical Zeiss high image quality make these must-have lenses. I bought the 25mm lens and just love it. I would also have bought the 85mm—except I already own the Sony 90mm lens.
Sigma 24-35mm F/2 Art Lens
Over the last few years Sigma has solidified its place as a high-quality lens maker. The Art lens line up has grown and is well respected for image quality. The 24-35mm lens for Canon was a standout this year. While it delivered a small zoom ratio it delivered an excellent wide angle coverage. Image quality is simply exceptional. My wish for 2016 is that Sigma makes this lens for Sony. Speaking of Sony, in a recent interview, the CEO of Sigma recognized that Sony will be a camera leader. We can only hope that this indicates that Sigma will begin to focus on E-mount lenses.
Epson P800 and Legacy Papers
After a number of years without any new printers, Epson has announced a whole new line of professional printers in the past few months. The SureColor P800 is the king pin of the new line—a 17 inch wide printer with 9 UltraChrome pigment based inks. There is also an optional roll paper adapter which allows for long length panorama printing. We have been running this printer heavily over the last few weeks and so far we haven’t had any issues or print head clogs. The output is beautiful.
In addition to the new printer, Epson also announced a new line of fine art papers. Labeled under the Legacy line, these papers have four finishes – Platine, Fibre, Baryta and Etching. These are heavy-weight papers of exceptional quality. I have been testing these papers and am very impressed with the quality of prints. We’ll have more to say on this printer and papers in future articles.
Over the last year we have been finding ourselves using more and more items from Peak Design. This innovative company is reinventing camera straps, camera bags as well as some other cool accessories. They think outside the box and that’s something I really like. I use their straps and a few weeks ago received the NEW Everyday Messenger Bag. This is a different kind bag and it goes where other bags haven’t. They have a very cool divider system that makes you wonder why no one else ever thought of it. Their method for attaching camera straps is very cool too. Now I have a strap system I can use to carry my camera. I can put the camera on the tripod and take the strap off in two seconds. If I want to do street photography their wrist strap is perfect. Check out their products. All of their products are cool and useful.
Capture One 9
While I like Lightroom, it is no secret to readers that I am a Capture One Pro user. Capture One 9 was recently released and I am very impressed with its capabilities. There is whole new processing engine in this version as well as a long-awaited keyword section. I like Capture One for a variety of reasons. First and foremost is the Sessions – catalog ability. While in the field I work in sessions. This allows me to keep everything in one folder. When I get home I transfer the session folder over to my Raid Storage system and then add the session to the yearly catalog. I basically catalog my images by year. I also catalog by certain topics such as all my Antarctica trips, Icebergs and things like that. I’ll share the workflow I use in a future article. Capture One is fast and takes advantage of all the processors a computer has. There is a new adjustment layers section that is powerful, an enhanced color editor and a new luma curve channel. We’ll be adding an update to our Capture One Tutorial video in early 2016.
2016 is a Photokina year. That always means a fun year for new photo gear. Hopefully we’ll see Nikon and Canon awaken from their slumber and introduce some innovative cameras—especially in the mirrorless market. I predict that Fuji will come out of the gate early with a new X-Pro 2 and increase the sensor resolution from 16 to 24 megapixels. With some luck Fuji may even update the X-T1 line to the T2 designation with 24mp and other features. There is the question of how much further Olympus can push their Micro four-thirds line with more megapixels. But Olympus has always been innovative and I expect to see them reach at least 20mp.
Rumors abound in regards to medium format. There has been persistent chatter that Fuji will try to enter the medium format market. That will make a new player in that expanding field. Hasselblad is also up to something. It’s curious to see that they had significant price drops for a number of their products in the last month. Will that continue? I think they have gotten smart and have abandoned the rebranding direction in which they were headed.
Last year we predicted that Phase One would partner up with Sony and release a Mamiya 7 rangefinder medium format camera. Well, it didn’t happen but I still think that there is a market for that product and so once again I’ll predict that we’ll see a medium format rangefinder camera. And, speaking of Phase One, I am certain they are not asleep. On our visit to Phase One this past summer for the introduction the XF camera, we saw a company filled with people working on a lot of projects. Will a hundred plus megapixel medium format camera be in the works? Some of their marketing teased in that direction. No matter what, I am sure they will be showing something of interest at Photokina time.
Don’t think for a minute that Sony is going to take a year off. That is not in their DNA right now. I think it will be 2017 before we see an A7x III but I would not be surprised to see Sony concentrate on their E-mount lens line. I predict we’ll see faster lenses and hopefully some serious long lenses.
I also hope that by Photokina time, Sigma introduces a line of E-mount Art lenses. If they do, they will be wildly successful. It’s likely that Zeiss will add a few more Batis lenses to the E-mount line up too. Let’s hope if they do they can meet the demand.
I think Samsung is going away in the camera market. It’s really too bad because their NX1 was a winner at least spec wise. Let’s hope the scuttlebutt of Nikon acquiring their technology has some merit.
Finally I hope Leica takes a breather from introducing cameras and delivers the rest of the lenses for the SL system. Also, I hope to see some new announcements in chip technology. There is a lot of research happening in this area and the future of digital will be relying on this technology coming to market.
I sound like a broken record but there is not a better time to be a photographer. Just five years ago, who would have thought that Sony would be a major player in the camera market? And that they would be leading the mirrorless revolution with 42 megapixel full frame chips in a compact camera?
The abundance of third-party software to take our images further in post-processing is also something that we have never had before. Printing is getting easier and less expensive and the quality of prints surpasses anything we had ten years ago. Social media allows us to share our images with a worldwide audience.
Photography is also being widely accepted as an art form and more exhibits of photography are appearing all the time. I am encouraged by photographers I meet in my travels and on our workshops. Photography fills the needs of so many. For those that enjoy the tech part there is plenty of opportunity to pixel peep and analyze things from color to signal-to-noise ratios. For those that enjoy the print, there is the experience of taking something from a screen and seeing it come out of a printer. There is nothing like taking the picture, to capture the moment when the candles are blown out of a birthday cake or to stand alone at the top of a mountain for sunrise to capture that once-in-a-lifetime image. All of us find something unique in photography. I have said it before but photography is great therapy. It is both emotional and scientific. It satisfies certain needs in all of us.
Photography makes me smile. I have been blessed to have had a lifetime career in photography. I have seen things, been to places I would never have gone and have met some of the most interesting and beautiful people through photography. I can’t wait for 2016 and beyond and for all the unknowns that this marvelous invention of photography will bring to my life and hopefully yours.
Happy New Year!