Top 13 for 2013: The Best Enthusiast and Pro Gear of the Year
posted Wednesday, December 11, 2013 at 8:03 AM EST
Micro for the major leagues! It's seriously impressive that this year's Camera of the Year in the Pro category is a Micro Four Thirds camera. But this shouldn't come as a surprise, because the Olympus E-M1 builds on its incredibly capable predecessor, the E-M5. Not only did the E-M5 win our Compact System of the Year award and Camera of Distinction award in the Overall Achievement category last year, but we also saw several pros flock to the new camera for its small size, great performance, weather sealing and superior image quality. While a cynic might point to a dearth of other professional announcements this year, it would be wrong to conclude the E-M1 is any less deserving.
The E-M5 quickly became a favorite at the Imaging Resource office, but there were a couple issues that kept it from shining in some professional workflows. The E-M1 answers every single one of these weaknesses with aplomb. The first was buffer capacity, which at around 15 frames was limiting for some pros. Olympus went crazy in this department, boosting the buffer capacity to nearly 50 frames, even for RAW files. The electronic viewfinder on the E-M5 was great, but still didn't match optical viewfinder performance so Olympus provided the E-M1 with what might be the best EVF we've ever seen. It really needs to be seen to be believed.
To improve AF performance, Olympus brought on-sensor phase detect to the OM-D line for the first time. This is a common addition this year, but Olympus surprised us by also including a stronger autofocus motor. The combination of on-sensor phase detect and improved focus motor allows full compatibility with their line of exquisite Four Thirds lenses. Between Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds, the lens selection available to the E-M1 is nothing short of phenomenal. Add to these benefits Olympus's industry-leading weather-sealing (dust-, splash- and freeze-proof) and the groundbreaking 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization and we had an easy time choosing our winner for the Professional Camera of the Year award.
The Nikon D7100 is a still-photography powerhouse with impressive image quality, thanks in part to an upgraded 24.1-megapixel image sensor. By removing the optical low-pass filter, Nikon has also allowed for that added bit of sharpness. The D7100 is excellent at producing high-resolution, finely detailed images that makes it a great for portraiture, macro and even landscape photography.
The D7100's vastly improved autofocus, 1.3x crop mode and excellent handling of noise at high sensitivities makes it an equally excellent choice for sports, wildlife and action photographers. All of these features packaged in a comfortable, relatively compact and lightweight body -- and coming in at a relatively affordable price -- make the Nikon D7100 a clear winner of our Best Enthusiast DSLR award.
While the Canon 70D is a fine stills shooter, the real story with the 70D is its Dual Pixel CMOS AF, which also takes an award as our 2013 Technology of the Year. Not only does it make for a substantial upgrade from the Canon 60D, but also makes the Canon 70D the go-to model for shooters who are serious about video. Live view still-image shooting also benefits, but video recording is the Canon 70D's pièce de résistance. The new AF system allows for smooth-yet-fast autofocus that tracks subjects with ease, just like a traditional camcorder, and the capacitive touchscreen lets you tap to focus, allowing buttery-smooth focus transitions that look as if they were done by a professional focus-puller. If you're a high-def DSLR video shooter, particularly a current Canon user, we think we've found your new camera.
Inside and out, new is the name of the game for Ricoh Imaging's flagship DSLR, the Pentax K-3. The weather-sealed, magnesium alloy body is brand-new, and so is the high-res 24.3MP sensor, paired to a speedy new processor, new AF and metering systems, and improved HD video recording. The most exciting new feature, though, is the Pentax K-3's impressively-clever on-demand optical low-pass filtering system. This innovative use of an existing technology, coupled with so many new features and Pentax's famous full weather sealing make this flagship DSLR an enthusiast shooter's dream. (We're pretty excited about the innovative on-demand low-pass filter, that's in our Technology of the Year section!)
The Panasonic GX7 is the Micro Four Thirds camera that we've all been waiting for -- one that provides a full range of advanced features and high performance, all at a reasonable price. Although it sports retro styling, the Panasonic GX7 is still an undeniably-modern camera, with a tilting, 3-inch touchscreen display and 90-degree tilting electronic viewfinder, pleasing both LCD shooters and EVF fans alike. Blazingly fast autofocus, swift 10 frames-per-second burst shooting, in-body sensor shift image stabilization, 1080p60 video, and built-in Wi-Fi / NFC wireless communication combine to make the GX7 a very versatile camera that feels right at home in a wide variety of shooting scenarios.
The GX7's image quality is excellent: both dynamic range and high ISO performance are much improved over its predecessor. Build quality is equally good -- the GX7 is solid, but still lightweight and comfortable. The Panasonic GX7 handles virtually everything an advanced photographer would expect, and handles it well. It's a great value, too, offering most of the features and functionality of high-end, flagship Micro Four Thirds models, but without the high-end price tag.
The Samsung NX300 is a sleek and rangefinder-esque camera that produces superb images. At low ISO sensitivities, images are crisp and sharp, with lots of fine detail. Crank up the sensitivity, and the noise reduction does an excellent job cleaning things up. Performance-wise, the Samsung NX300 is no slouch either. Autofocus is fast, thanks to on-sensor phase detection, and a new image processor helps improve continuous shooting performance. Other features like built-in Wi-Fi and NFC wireless connectivity make pairing and sharing photos from the NX300 a snap. We think that both enthusiast shooters and beginning consumers alike should consider this camera, as it's both a high performer, and very well-priced.
We found lots to love about the Fujifilm X-E1, but this year's update, the X-E2, is even more impressive. The Fujifilm X-E2 improves on the X-E1's already-great image quality thanks to an updated X-Trans CMOS II image sensor, which also adds on-sensor phase detection pixels for better autofocus performance. The X-E2's sensor is the same as that used in the X100S, a camera which earned mention in our Most Unique category, and which boasts outstanding fine detail and high ISO noise handling. Design-wise, the Fujifilm X-E2 is quite similar to its predecessor, and for good reason -- as the old adage says, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." There are plenty of tweaks under the skin, though. Built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking makes it quick and easy to share images with your smartphone, and the X-E2 also has better video recording capabilities than last year's model, able to capture up to 1080p60 video. Combined with Fujifilm's excellent range of X-mount lenses, the new X-E2 is one stunning camera.
Sigma shocked the photography world with the introduction of the first constant f/1.8 zoom lens with its 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art lens earlier this year. It is hard to imagine any APS-C photographer who shouldn't add this lens to their repertoire. Surprised? Let us enumerate just how awesome this lens is.
The new lens's appeal begins with its shockingly sharp images at all apertures, including f/1.8. You get excellent flatness of field while maintaining good control over chromatic aberration, distortion and vignetting. We're talking sharper than any other constant, wide-aperture aperture zoom lens we've ever tested. Still not convinced? It's also one of the sharpest lenses in its focal length range -- primes included!
Sigma didn't skimp on build quality, either: its smooth zoom and focus actuations and satisfying heft combine to evoke the feel of a high-end professional-level zoom. The best part about this work of Art? It manages all the above while dramatically undercutting the competition in price.
Sony won our Camera of the Year and Camera of Distinction awards this year (not to mention the attention of the photo world) with its A7R and A7. While there are (understandable) gaps in the lens lineup, anyone looking for fast, razor sharp 55mm glass will be thrilled with Sony's FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA Zeiss Sonnar T* lens.
Optically, this lens is a stellar performer, with extremely sharp images virtually devoid of chromatic aberration and distortion. The one tradeoff you'll see is noticeable vignetting, particularly on full-frame cameras at wider apertures -- an acceptable price to pay for outstanding performance. Build quality is great, with all-metal construction and dust and moisture resistance to match the A7 and A7R.
This is the first Sony FE lens we've tested and we're really excited at what it portends for the line (an initial peek at the FE 35mm Zeiss lens looks very promising as well). If you're a full-frame fan looking to downsize your gear, the new Sony FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA Zeiss Sonnar T* lens is a worthy companion to the A7 and A7r both.
With its new 12-40mm f/2.8 Zuiko PRO, Olympus has stepped up the game for Micro Four Thirds lenses. It is a powerhouse of a lens with terrific optical performance: sharp images, great control of chromatic aberration, hardly any distortion and minimal vignetting. You also get Olympus's industry leading weatherproofing: not only is it dust-proof and splash-proof, but it's also freeze-proof.
The 'PRO' moniker is no joke: this new zoom is an excellent option for professional photographers who've been wanting to move to a smaller camera system but were underwhelmed by the selection of high-quality, constant-aperture zooms to do so. Olympus has a history of making excellent glass, especially with its larger Four Thirds system. With its new Zuiko PRO line, Olympus seems serious about luring professionals back. Professional photographers such as photojournalists and adventure photographers should take note.
You've just finished the third page of our camera of the year awards. Check out the last page, our picks for the big, the small and the unusual, or return to the earlier two pages.
|The best cameras, lenses and technology of the year
|The best entry-level cameras of the year
|Best Pocket Cameras
|Camera of the Year
|Best Entry-Level DSLR Cameras
|Best Entry-Level Mirrorless Cameras
|Best Value Cameras
|The best enthusiast and pro gear of the year
|The big, the small and the unusual
|Best Professional Camera
|Best Enthusiast Zoom Cameras
|Best Enthusiast DSLR Cameras
|Best Pocket Interchangeable Lens Camera
|Best Enthusiast Mirrorless Cameras
|Most Unique Cameras