2009 Pop Awards: Our 30 Top Gear Picks

Our editors pick the top photo products they've tried this past year.

Adobe-Photoshop-CS4

Adobe-Photoshop-CS4

*Adobe Photoshop CS4:* To harness the power of Photoshop, you have to learn to use Adjustment Layers and Masks—often major stumbling blocks for new users. CS4 solves this with panels that make these tools accessible to everyone. And any upgrade that makes Photoshop easier is a winner in our book. $585 for Windows or $640 for Mac, street; www.adobe.com
Canon-EF-100mm-f-2.8L-Macro-IS-USM

Canon-EF-100mm-f-2.8L-Macro-IS-USM

*Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM:* The first-ever L-series Canon lens in the 100mm macro focal length, this is also Canon’s first mid-tele macro with image stabilization (and a new IS mechanism, to boot). Fast, silent, and full-frame, it provides revelatory 1:1 lifesize magnification, along with a nonrotating front barrel that readily accepts a macro ringlight for insect, fl oral, and other close-up favorites. $1,050, street; www.usa.canon.com
Canon-PowerShot-S90

Canon-PowerShot-S90

*Canon PowerShot S90:* The S90 hits the magic number—f/2—at the wide end of its 28–105mm equivalent lens. Combined with ISOs up to 12,800 and image stabilization, that makes this the available-light champ among compacts. (Apertures slow down to f/4.9 at tele, though.) It uses the 10MP CCD from the PowerShot G11, which combines larger sensor size and bigger pixels than typical compacts, for better noise performance at those high ISOs. We like the RAW capture and manual-exposure mode, too. $430, street; www.usa.canon.com
Canon-EOS-Rebel-T1i

Canon-EOS-Rebel-T1i

*Canon EOS Rebel T1i:* We won’t call the Rebel T1i an EOS 50D Lite, because there’s nothing lite about this most advanced Reb—except the weight. It uses the 15.1MP CMOS sensor, 14-bit A/D converter, and 920,000- dot, 3-inch screen from the 50D, and it offers HD video recording, which the 50D lacks. You do have to size video down to 1280x720 to get a 30-fps frame rate (it’s a choppy 20 fps at 1920x1080), but that still beats the competition. $795, street, with 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6 Canon EF-S IS lens; www.usa.canon.com
Casio-Exilim-EX-FC100

Casio-Exilim-EX-FC100

*Casio Exilim EX-FC100:* Casio is still the only game in town for super-slow-motion video and absurdly fast burst rates. With the 9.1MP EX-FC100, all that power fits in your pocket. While it won’t refocus or meter between shots, it can shoot bursts at up to 30 fps. Cineastes can capture video at up to 1000 fps for nature-documentary hovering hummingbird shots—though, of course, not at high-def resolution. $253, street; www.casio.com
Corel-Digital-Studio-2010

Corel-Digital-Studio-2010

*Corel Digital Studio 2010:* Made for the technophobic crowd, this easy-to-use software can also find a place in the workflow of a seasoned shooter. The Windows-only program has a pleasant, streamlined interface, and it will help you get your pictures to Facebook and your videos to YouTube without much effort on your part. $90, direct; www.corel.com
Eye-fi-Pro-Wireless-SD

Eye-fi-Pro-Wireless-SD

*Eye-fi Pro Wireless SD:* 4Gb memory card Shooting is easy—it’s getting the pictures off the card that’s a pain in the neck. Eye-Fi steps in to upload your images automatically without requiring a connection to the computer. But the newer Pro card won us over because it can finally upload RAW files—not just JPEGs, as was the case with the original Eye-Fi card. $150, street; www.eye.fi
Gitzo-Ocean-Traveler-Tripod

Gitzo-Ocean-Traveler-Tripod

*Gitzo Ocean Traveler Tripod:* Surf photographers know the horrible crunch of sand grinding away the inner threading of a tripod leg lock. Not so with Gitzo’s new Ocean Traveler. A light, travelready, carbon-fiber tripod with an 8.8-pound capacity, it has specially sealed leg locks to keep most surfside corrosives safely away from the inner workings. Pricey? Yes, but this is a specialist’s tool. $1,125, street; www.gitzo.com
Lastolite-Kickerlite-Softbox

Lastolite-Kickerlite-Softbox

*Lastolite Kickerlite Softbox:* Tired of standmounted fill lights creeping into the edges of your studio portraits? Lastolite has an answer: the KickerLite softbox. A 3x4-foot fill light, it accepts most studio strobe heads and virtually any shoe-mount flash. Best thing? It requires no lightstand—it sits on the floor, well out of your frame. $207, street; www.lastolite.com
Leica-M9

Leica-M9

*Leica M9:* Finally, the digital Leica goes full-frame, courtesy of a Kodak-made 18MP CCD sensor whose design overcomes the problem of light falloff at the outer edges of the sensor. The first full-frame digital rangefinder, and the smallest digital full-framer of any type, the M9 also uses a menu and control interface whose elegant simplicity better benefits a Leica than that of the M8 series. $6,995, street, body only; us.leica-camera.com
Leica-50mm-f-0.95

Leica-50mm-f-0.95

*Leica 50mm f/0.95:* Noctilux Ten grand is a lot—make that an awful lot—to spend on a lens, but for the deep-pocketed who want to shoot in abysmal light sans flash or tripod, this superbly built beauty beckons. The world’s fastest lens, it’s also among the sharpest we’ve ever tested, with only slight barrel distortion and vignetting gone by f/1.4. $9,995, street; us.leica-camera.com
Nikon-D3s

Nikon-D3s

*Nikon D3s:* Continuing the legacy of its predecessor, the D3, Nikon’s new D3s offers a top ISO of 102,400. That makes it the first DSLR to reach above 100,000 (although, as we went to press, Canon announced the equally sensitive EOS-1Ds Mark IV). It’s also one of the fastest in terms of burst speed, capturing 9 frames per second for up to 82 highest-quality JPEGs in a single press of the shutter release. $5,200, street, body only; www.nikonusa.com
Nikon-AF-S-DX-10-24mm-f-3.5-4.5G-ED

Nikon-AF-S-DX-10-24mm-f-3.5-4.5G-ED

*Nikon AF-S DX 10–24mm f/3.5– 4.5G ED:* The widest DX Nikkor zoom, this 15–35mm equivalent offers near flawless handling, with light weight, compact proportions, perfectly damped zoom and focusing actions, and extremely rapid and quiet autofocus. Its true forte, though, is its close-focusing and magnifying power: 1:4.1—the closest we’ve seen to an ultrawide macro. $820, street; www.nikonusa.com
Novoflex-Micro-Four-Thirds-Lens-Adapters

Novoflex-Micro-Four-Thirds-Lens-Adapters

*Novoflex Micro Four Thirds Lens Adapters:* The German adapter specialist Novoflex has given a potential boost to the fledgling Micro Four Thirds system with not one or two, but a dozen new lens adapters. Now, Micro Four Thirds owners have the option of Nikon (G or non-G) lenses, as well as glass from Leica, Olympus OM-mount, Pentax, Sony, and more. $160–290, street; www.hpmarketingcorp.com
Olympus-Zuiko-Digital-14-54mm-f-2.8-3.5-II-AF

Olympus-Zuiko-Digital-14-54mm-f-2.8-3.5-II-AF

*Olympus Zuiko Digital 14–54mm f/2.8–3.5 II AF:* The fastest and probably most expensive kit lens anywhere, this versatile step-up lens boasts weather-resistant sealing, fast and quiet AF, superior sharpness and contrast as well as shockingly strong distortion control (0.01 and 0.02% barrel at 35 and 54mm, respectively). Why not a constant f/2.8? Olympus wanted big-league optics, but also user-friendly dimensions and weight. $550, street; www.olympusamerica.com
Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-GF1

Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-GF1

*Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF:* Though first to the Micro Four Thirds scene, Panasonic let Olympus beat it to the punch with the extremely compact design of the E-P1. The GF1 is equally compact, with a more subdued black finish, but it brings with it the remarkable image quality and contrastbased AF speed we enjoyed in its older Lumix siblings, the G1 and GH1—as well as 720p video at up to 60 fps. $900, street, with 14–45mm f/3.5–5.6 Lumix G Vario lens; www.panasonic.com
Pentax-SMCP-DA-35mm-f-2.8-Macro-Limited

Pentax-SMCP-DA-35mm-f-2.8-Macro-Limited

*Pentax SMCP-DA* 35mm f/2.8 Macro Limited:* From its matteblack anodized aluminum barrel and etched markings to the buttery draw of its manual focus ring, this 52mm equivalent reflects the high standards of Pentax’s Limited line. Optics are even better: Flawless sharpness, imperceptible distortion, minimal falloff. Best of all? Larger-than-life 1:0.92 magnification. $540, street; www.pentaximaging.com
Orbis-Ring-Flash-Adapter

Orbis-Ring-Flash-Adapter

*Orbis Ring-Flash Adapter:* Similar adapters mount around specific hot-shoe fl ashes, but the Orbis brings something new to the party: It will mount on almost any hot-shoe fl ash, instantly giving your lighting the edgy ring-light look that can otherwise cost thousands to acquire. $199, street; www.orbisflash.com
SanDisk-64GB-CF-Memory-Card

SanDisk-64GB-CF-Memory-Card

*SanDisk 64GB CF Memory Card:* SanDisk clocks its Extreme Pro cards at up to 90MB per second and, as if that weren’t enough, the cards also come in sizes up to 64GB. Sure, even top DSLRs can’t yet write fast enough to take full advantage of that speed, but the time it takes to offload shrinks when you use a FireWire 800 card reader. $700 for 64GB, street; www.sandisk.com
Sigma-24-70mm-f-2.8-EX-DG-HSM

Sigma-24-70mm-f-2.8-EX-DG-HSM

*Sigma 24–70mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM:* This high-speed pro-grade (EX) full-frame lens represents a gauntlet thrown down before the Canons and Nikons of the world. With its excellent sharpness, superior build, compact proportions, very well controlled distortion, no edge falloff to speak of, high speed, and quick, quiet autofocus, Sigma is giving the big guys a run for their money. $900, street; www.sigmaphoto.com
Singh-Ray-Vari-N-Duo-Filter

Singh-Ray-Vari-N-Duo-Filter

*Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo Filter:* A revolution in multitasking, this all-in-one does the work of multiple neutral-density filters, a warming filter, and polarizer. Two rotating rings offer continuously adjustable neutral density from –2.7 to –8 stops. Expensive, but could singlehandedly replace almost every filter now jammed into your camera bag. From $390, direct; www.singh-ray.com
Sony-Alpha-550

Sony-Alpha-550

*Sony Alpha 550:* The 14.2MP Alpha 550 steps up the competition in the step-up category with a class-leading burst rate (7 frames per second), the biggest articulating LCD screen yet (3 inches), and two methods of live view—the delay-free system using a separate sensor, plus a direct feed from the imaging sensor for perfectly accurate framing. Most intriguing new feature: the high-dynamic range (HDR) mode that can align and combine two images in the camera into one with greater tonal range. $950, street, body only; www.sonystyle.com
Sony-Alpha-850

Sony-Alpha-850

*Sony Alpha 850:* Bringing full-frame luxury to the masses, Sony’s A850 offers 24.6MP shooting for hundreds less than its Alpha 900 and all its competitors, but makes you give up only some burst speed (3 fps instead of the Alpha 900’s 5), a little viewfinder accuracy (98% instead of 100%), and a wireless remote control. Not much, considering that most DSLRs don’t come with remotes anyway. And, if you don’t shoot sports, you probably won’t miss the burst speed. $2,000, street, body only; www.sonystyle.com
Tamron-18-270mm-f-3.5-6.3-DIII-VC-AF

Tamron-18-270mm-f-3.5-6.3-DIII-VC-AF

*Tamron 18–270mm f/3.5–6.3 DIII VC AF:* This Tamron lens, a 29–405mm equivalent, has the longest zoom range (15X) currently available for DSLRs. It also includes a Vibration Compensation system that should gain users between 1.5 and 3 stops of handheld shooting. Other impressive results: no discernible vignetting at three of the four focal lengths we tested, and a maximum magnification ratio of 1:2.89. $600, street; www.tamron.com
Think-Tank-Shape-Shifter-Bag

Think-Tank-Shape-Shifter-Bag

*Think Tank Shape Shifter Bag:* The Shape Shifter is one of the only camera bags we’ve used that gets better after you’ve taken your camera out of it. A zipper around the sides of this backpack lets you shrink its depth, so it won’t stick out very far while you shoot: Loaded with gear, it’s 7 inches deep, but zipped tight it’s only 3 inches—no more smacking people with your pack when you turn to grab your shot. $250, street; www.thinktank photo.com
Sony-Cybershot-DSC-HX1

Sony-Cybershot-DSC-HX1

*Sony Cybershot DSC-HX1:* The HX1’s cool technology includes Sweep Panorama, which lets you just sweep the camera in an arc to capture an extrawide image; Dynamic Range Optimizer for taming excessive contrast; and Hand Held Twilight mode, a unique—so far—noise-reduction system described in this issue’s State of the Art. But the fundamentals also impress: tested resolution near 2000 lines with Excellent color accuracy, plus effective image stabilization that lets you stay at lower ISOs for better image quality. $420, street; www.sonystyle.com
Lowepro-Pro-Roller-X-Series-Bags

Lowepro-Pro-Roller-X-Series-Bags

*Lowepro Pro Roller X-Series Bags:* In three sizes, these have hard-walled exteriors that harbor a removable backpack with adjustable, padded gear compartments. Wear the backpack, double the capacity. The handle is a camera platform, and there’s a built-in TSA-approved cable lock. $270–360, street; www.lowepro.com
Canon-7D

Canon-7D

*Canon 7D: *By finally providing a truly rugged, pro-oriented APS-C format DSLR, Canon redefines the way people should think about sensor size. Pros now can choose what size sensor best fits their assignment, and enthusiasts have a full range of options based on their shooting style. This solid piece of engineering wowed us with its 18MP CMOS sensor resolution, its fast 8-fps burst rate, and its tough weathersealed body. It also marks a refinement of Canon’s metering and autofocus systems, which now work together to track subjects by shape and color. $1,700, street, body only; www.usa.canon.com
Nikon-D3x

Nikon-D3x

*Nikon D3x:* When we speak of refinement, we think of this 24.6MP full-framer. It delivers more resolution than any other DSLR with a 35mm or smaller sensor. It captures usable images all the way to ISO 6400, has a 5-fps burst rate for action shots, and is built to withstand both Death Valley and Denali. Ample customization and other high-end features expand the capabilities of pro shooters. With Nikon’s WT-4a wireless transmitter and Camera Control 2 software, for instance, you can trigger up to 10 D3X bodies from your computer. $7,600, street, body only; www.nikonusa.com
Olympus-E-P1

Olympus-E-P1

*Olympus E-P1:* Talk about redefinition: Micro Four Thirds is the first really new concept in interchangeable-lens cameras since the modular 35mm SLR took hold a half-century ago, and Olympus was first to exploit the small size the format permits. The E-P1 evokes the bygone heyday of rangefinders with its beautiful metal body—you can even get a collapsible lens. While not without flaws, it beats some DSLRs in image quality. $750, street, body only; www.olympusamerica.com