Editors' Choice: Gear of the Year 2014

Our annual selection of the best new tools of the trade

American Photo Gear of the Year 2014
EYE IN THE SKY DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ Photography took to the air in a big way this year as still and video shooters, both professional and amateur, sent cameras up in drones for stunning aerial images. Any number of multi-rotor copters came to market in 2014, but the model that best represents what's possible for photogra- phers looking to get into the game is DJI's accessibly priced Phantom 2 Vision+. The built-in compact camera, with a 14-mega- pixel 1/2.3-inch sensor, is mounted on a gimbal for smooth 1080p video and level still shots; the rig is operated through a remote control and a smartphone app. DJI makes heavier-duty drones capable of lifting a DSLR or other large camera too, but the Vision+ is the place to start. $1,160 | dji.comPhoto Illustration © Ralph Smith
American Photo Gear of the Year 2014
NIGHT MOVES Nikon D4s (Left) Wringing out as much resolution as possible from a 16.2MP full-frame sensor, with noise very well controlled up to ISO 12,800, the Nikon D4s might be the best professional-level 35mm camera body a photographer can buy right now. Its speedy autofocus also boasts Nikon's industry-leading 3D subject tracking. For videographers, an increasingly important segment of the market for traditional cameras, the D4s also records uncompressed 1920x1080p footage at up to 60 frames per second to an external recorder through an HDMI connection. In 2014, this was the DSLR that ruled them all. $6,500, body only | nikonusa.com PIXEL SHIFT Hasselblad H5D-200C (Right) This year saw the arrival of the first medium-format CMOS sensor, promising better low-light performance and higher dynamic range to photographers who want more resolution and a nar- rower depth of field than is possible with current 35mm-format cameras. Most of the major com- petitors in medium format jumped on the CMOS bandwagon, but Hasselblad has another trick up its digital back: The H5D-200C can shift its 50MP sensor (the same one that's in the 50C) in whole- or half-pixel increments and then combine up to six shots to yield a 200-megapixel image. That monster resolution allows pro studios to make gigantic enlargements or crop into small details without compromising image quality. $45,000, body only | hasselbladusa.comPhoto Illustration © Ralph Smith
American Photo Gear of the Year 2014
THE NEW NORMAL? Nikon 58mm f/1.4G AF-S Nikkor (Left) Perfectly matched to the Nikon D4s, this fast and sharp Nikkor prime lens focuses silently and smoothly whether in autofocus or in manual mode—a boon to today's DSLR video shooters and still photographers alike. At 58mm, it reaches just a little farther than the standard "normal" focal length of 50mm; on DX bodies, with their APS-C-size sensors, this full-framer's angle of view stretches to the equivalent of about 85mm, a classic length for portraits. This lets it do double duty, not just for traditional photography and video capture but for Nikon shooters who carry two bodies with different sensor sizes. $1,700 | nikonusa.com GLASS ARTISTRY Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (Center left) Any photographer who still harbors doubts about the quality of lenses from so-called third-party manufacturers need look no further than Sigma—particu- larly this outstanding full-frame prime. In a field crowded with offerings at this popular focal length and maximum aperture from every camera brand and other independent lens makers, it draws raves for its sharpness, impressive control of light falloff at the corners (vignetting), and near-perfect lack of distortion. On top of that, its smooth-turning manual focus action makes this lens a welcome tool for video shooters who eschew (or can't use) autofocus during capture. $950 | sigmaphoto.com BUILT TO LAST Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 APO Planar T* (Center right) One look at this manual-focus prime lens from Zeiss for full-frame Canon and Nikon DSLRs assures photographers they're in the presence of greatness. That huge front ele- ment, that beautiful matte-black metal barrel, that hefty price tag. But the proof is in the photos: Our sister publica- tion, Popular Photography, having subjected the Otus 85mm f/1.4 to a battery of lab and field tests, named this short telephoto lens the best in its focal length—ever. Astonishingly sharp, even when the aperture is wide open, and nearly free of distortion, this big lens is one for the ages—an investment, certainly, but one no photographer who can afford it will regret. $4,500 | zeiss.com STEADIER SHOOTER Canon EF 16–35mm f/4L IS USM (Right) For most of the past decade, lens manufacturers didn't even consider putting image stabilization systems into wide-angle glass. The rise of video capture and ever- improving IS technology, however, have made lenses such as Canon's 16–35mm f/4 IS very desirable. Now even seasoned landscape photographers don't scoff (well, not as much) at the idea of leaving the house without a tripod. The 16–35mm focal range also rounds out Canon's trio of wide-angle L-series zooms, providing an attractive middle option for shooters who want to go wider than the 17–40mm f/4L but who don't necessarily need the extra stop from Canon's more expensive (and non-stabilized) 16–35mm f/2.8L. $1,200 | usa.canon.comPhoto Illustration © Ralph Smith
American Photo Gear of the Year 2014
4K FORAY Panasonic Lumix GH4 (From left to right) Panasonic, a maker of 4K televisions, took its first step into consumer-grade 4K Ultra HD video capture this year with its Lumix GH4. (Coincidence or not? All of the camera companies currently putting 4K video capabilities into consumer-oriented models also make 4K TVs.) With this new model, the GH series of Micro Four Thirds interchangeable-lens compacts has now cemented itself as a major player in video, but the GH4 is also a fully capable still-image machine, with excellent picture quality and good control of noise. And its rugged, weather-sealed build lets photographers use it in even the most challenging conditions. $1,700, body only | panasonic.com**** MIRRORLESS FULL FRAME **Sony Alpha a7 line (a7, a7R, a7S) This trio of cameras, which put a big full-frame 35mm sensor into a compact body, hits every level of the pixel-count spectrum. The a7R stunned photographers late in 2013 when it unleashed the resolving power that comes with its 36.4MP sensor, though it gets a little noisy at higher ISOs. On the opposite end of the scale, the newer a7S, at 12.2MP, provides wonderful low-light performance, though at the cost of resolution—and of the bunch, it's the only one that can capture 4K video. (Video shooters have to record to an external device to get such high-res footage.) The 24.3MP a7 hits the sweet middle spot. $1,700 (a7), $2,300 (a7R), $2,500 (a7S), body only | store.sony.com MARVELOUS MACHINE Olympus OM-D E-M1 For a DSLR-style mirrorless ILC, Olympus's top-of-the-line OM-D feels remarkably compact, despite its deep, comfortable grip and tough all-weather body. Even more important, this handsome camera offers some of the best performance to date in the Micro Four Thirds ecosystem. Its 16.3MP LiveMOS sensor captures plenty of resolution at lower ISOs; autofocus and tracking are swift and sure; it shoots bursts of up to 6.5 fps (50 RAW files or until the card fills up with JPEGs). And its thoughtful controls and ergonomics make this camera a pleasure to use. All this adds up to an ILC that DSLR shooters covet. $1,400, body only | olympusamerica.com THE X FACTOR Fujifilm X-T1 and XF 56mm f/1.2 R Fujifilm took all the most well- received pieces of its popular X-series cameras, including the APS-C-size 16MP X-trans CMOS II sensor, added a new high-resolution OLED electronic viewfinder with an extremely fast refresh rate, and wrapped the whole thing in a compact DSLR-style body. The X-T1 is the company's first in this line to be made rugged and fully weather-sealed for four-season outdoor shooting. Fujifilm introduced it at the same time that it released a superb metal-clad 56mm f/1.2 lens, with roughly an 85mm equivalent angle of view—one of the best-loved focal lengths among DSLR shooters. $1,300, body only (X-T1); $1,000 (XF 56mm lens) | fujifilmusa.comPhoto Illustration © Ralph Smith
American Photo Gear of the Year 2014
EDITOR TO GO Adobe Photoshop Mix Photographers embraced the iPad and other touchscreen tablet computers right from the start, but chiefly as go-anywhere portfolios and for quick-fix basic editing. But with the Mix app, Adobe brings an im- pressive number of Photoshop features to the tablet, including layers, selections, and common adjustments. Tapping into the computing power of the cloud gives pho- tographers more advanced functions, such as Content Aware Fill and Photoshop's impressive Shake Reduction tools. The whole thing syncs seamlessly with Adobe's Creative Cloud, and the files it creates are fully compatible with the desktop version of Photoshop. Now the tablet feels more like a tool than a toy. Free, app only | mix.adobe.com SPHERICAL CAPTURE Ricoh Theta A one-trick pony, the Theta is the first serious camera to produce 360-degree spherical images. Using a pair of fisheye lenses, each with a field of view slightly more than 180 degrees, to feed two imaging sensors, it automatically stitches the resulting half spheres into a single photo that viewers can manipulate to see all the way around. The Theta has no screen; it must be paired with a computer or smart device (iOS or Android) to view the images. $400 | theta360.comPhoto Illustration © Ralph Smith
American Photo Gear of the Year 2014
NO-STRINGS LIGHTING Profoto B1 500 AirTTL (Bottom) For photographers who are used to lugging a ton of gear to loca- tion shoots, setting up Profoto's B1 AirTTL monolight feels liberating. It doesn't require the external power pack or power cable that other studio lights need—photographers can just plunk it on the stand, slap the controller module on the camera, and start shooting. Despite its simple setup, the B1 is a full- powered 500-watt strobe that has no problem overpowering bright sunlight. Built-in through- the-lens metering lets shooters go full-auto in changing ambient light. It costs as much as a pile of hot-shoe flash units, but the B1's sheer power and flexibility make it a game-changer, particularly for location portraits. $2,000; profoto.com CROWD PLEASER Elinchrom ELC Pro 500 HD (Top) Photographers ask a lot from studio strobes these days. This all-inclusive monolight tries to be everything to everyone, and it does a surprisingly good job of it. An OLED display on the back can be used to control a wide variety of features, many of which are welcomed by veteran studio shooters. The light output can be set by joules, stops, and even by flash duration. The flash recycles in 0.6 seconds and main- tains impressively consistent color temperature. All of that, plus a built-in Skyport receiver for remote sync, is piled into a monolight that's ultimately not much bigger than a typical pack head. $1,050 | elinchrom.comPhoto Illustration © Ralph Smith

_Our annual sellection of the gear that is making an impact on the trends in photography. See past __Editors' Choice features __Most Intriguing Gear of 2013 and Ten Tools That Reshaped Photography in 2012. _