The 2010 POP Awards

A comprehensive look at the best of what's new in 2010.

Camera of the Year Nominee No individual spec of the EOS T2i represents a breakthrough. But put all the specs together—18MP capture, 1080p HD video with stereo sound input, top ISO of 12,800, very fast autofocus at all light levels—and slap a sub-$900 price tag on it (with image-stabilized kit lens), and you have what might be considered the breakthrough digital camera of the past decade. Who’d have thought that we would see the T2i’s level of imaging power in a camera priced less than the original 6MP EOS Digital Rebel of 2003? The T2i’s Excellent overall Image Quality rating from the Popular Photography Test Lab sealed its nomination as 2010 Camera of the Year. $900, street, with 18–55mm f/3.5-–5.6 Canon EF IS lens;
_ Camera of the Year Nominee_ The G2 aced our three-way interchangeable-lens compact shootout back in July 2010 on the strength of well-balanced performance across the board: In our Test Lab it out-resolved all other ILCs, delivered amazingly accurate colors, and provided the speediest contrast AF we’ve seen, making it the best bet for continuous AF while recording 720p video. Though some might not take to the G2’s touchscreen controls (such as touch shutter, which fires when you tap the subject on the LCD screen), you still have to love the camera’s dedicated control buttons and dials. Representing a distinct maturing of the ILC concept, it truly deserves nomination for 2010 Camera of the Year. $650, street, with 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 lens;
Camera of the Year Nominee Video capture in DSLRs is a really cool idea—until you try to focus while shooting it. The footage may be fine, but there’s that mirror in the way of the sensor. Flip the mirror up for video, and you lose better-performing phase-detection autofocus. So Sony adapted some old tech—a nonmoving, semitransparent mirror—to allow some light to go to the AF sensor during shooting. It’s a workaround that works, and it also gives you up to 10-fps still shooting. $750, street, body only;
_ Camera of the Year Nominee_ When the D3s was introduced at the very end of 2009, we took the rare step of giving it a POP award before running it through our Test Lab. The reason: The D3s was the first camera to break through the ISO 100,000 barrier. Combined with the proven low-light autofocus it inherited from its predecessor, the D3, we knew this would be the ultimate rig for the low-light shooter, not to mention the action shooter craving its 9-fps burst rate for highest-quality JPEGs. In our February 2010 test, it proved to be everything we expected, and more. Its nomination for 2010 Camera of the Year was a no-brainer. $5,200, street, body only;
ADOBE PHOTOSHOP CS5 We couldn’t resist giving Photoshop’s latest edition a POP Award. With loads of little improvements that make everyday tasks easier, such as the ability to select multiple layers at once and the addition of the Paste in Place command, it just works better. Add the new Content-Aware Fill that makes the Healing Brush really sing, plus a truly serious new HDR creator, and this upgrade’s clearly worth it. $660 ($190 for upgrade), street;
APPLE APERTURE 3 With facile RAW processing and organizing, Aperture is unique among RAW workflow software in that it also has great features for everyday sharing. It lets you upload to Facebook or Flickr easily, sports some of the best face-recognition and geotagging tools, and has built-in book-creation software that’s a pleasure to use. Best of all, not only does it organize your video clips, but it also lets you trim and add them to multimedia slide shows. $160, street;
ONONE FOCALPOINT 2 Adding realistic-looking lens blur is a complicated project in Adobe Photoshop, so we love OnOne FocalPoint 2. Whether you’re simulating selective-focus, fast-aperture, or tilt-shift lenses, it lets you create looks that you didn’t or couldn’t make in the camera. How? With a unique tool called the Focus Bug, which can quickly adjust all of the blur’s characteristics. This newest version also lets you control highlight bloom and even has a lens simulator that imitates bokeh. $140, street;
UNIFIED COLOR 32FLOAT Unified Color does the best job creating high-dynamic-range images that we’ve seen yet. And with its 32Float plug-in, you can use all those tools from within Photoshop. That means you get to take advantage of Photoshop’s built-in tools to merge your files, then stay in 32-bit mode and use the plug-in to convert your file. It’s the best of both worlds, and a money-saver, too. $100, direct;
CANON EOS 60D Canon’s midrange EOS models often seem to get upstaged by the affordable Rebels on one end and the awesome 1D-series supercameras on the other. Not this time around. The 60D, not tested at press time, has 18MP capture, 1080p/30-fps HD video with stereo sound input, fast-for-the-category 5.3-fps burst rate, robust battery capacity, wireless control of external flash units via the pop-up unit, and a built-tough body. But we particularly like the fully articulating 3-inch LCD screen, a feature that should be on more cameras in this class. $1,100, street, body only;
OLYMPUS PEN E-PL1 With its noise ratings of Low or better up to ISO 1600, respectable resolving power for a 12.3MP sensor, and Excellent color accuracy, the E-PL1 is the best bang for the buck you can get from the Olympus Micro Four Thirds line. It’s also the only one with a pop-up flash. We love its rangefinder-like body design, while beginners should like the easy-to-use Live Guide mode and fun Art Filters. $600, street, with 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 lens;
PENTAX K-x The K-x does almost everything a little bit better than the competition in this cutthroat price category: good noise suppression at higher ISOs, burst rate of 4.7 fps (the best in its class), 720p HD video. Its Pentax K-mount can accept decades of lenses, including some inexpensive optics—nice for the student or budding hobbyist. And, with any lens, you get image stabilization via the sensor-shift system. $530, street, with 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6 Pentax lens;
PENTAX 645D We were starting to think it was vaporware, but Pentax has finally gone into production with its 40MP medium-format camera, and it’s coming to the U.S. Its 3.3x4.4cm Kodak CCD sensor, with 1.7 times the area of a full-frame DSLR sensor, promises both huge resolution and wide dynamic range. The heavily sealed body accepts most existing Pentax 645 lenses, with something like a 1.4X lens factor. And yes, we hope to get a testable model soon. $10,000, street, body only;
_ Camera of the Year Nominee_ Ricoh has always been known to follow its own path with its digital cameras. So we weren’t shocked when the company introduced the GXR interchangeable camera-unit system this year. While each of the units we tried so far has its quirks, the system has plenty of potential, and Ricoh continues to introduce new modules for it. The system also allows the use of multiple sensor formats—compact up to APS-C. We love the camera body and Ricoh’s straightforward yet sophisticated controls and menu system, which should be a model for other makers of ILCs and compacts. $500–$947, street, depending on camera unit purchased with the camera body;
CANON POWERSHOT S95 The S95 is like an advanced compact disguised as a family point-and-shoot. It has lots of subject modes, including Smart Auto (which decides what auto mode to use), face and blink detection—all the usual consumer-type features. But it also has the bigger-than-usual 10.1MP sensor and fast processor of big brother G12, RAW + JPEG capture, and control ring for full manual-exposure control. And the lens opens up to f/2 on the wide end. $400, street;
PANASONIC LUMIX DMC-LX5 Rumors of the demise of the advanced compact are quite exaggerated—witness the LX5. It uses a big-pixel 10.1MP sensor, has a wide (24–90mm equivalent) and fast (f/2–3.3) zoom lens, and employs a new souped-up autofocus system for noticeably less shutter lag. And, should you want to view at eye-level rather than compose on the 3-inch LCD, the LX-5’s hot-shoe accepts the electronic viewfinder of the interchangeable-lens compact GF1. $445, street;
PENTAX OPTIO W90 The umpteenth generation of Optio underwater compacts (forgive us for losing count) again shows why Pentax is the perennial leader in this category. Submersible (to 20 feet) freezeproof (to 14 degrees F) and droppable (up to 4 feet), the W90 also has a unique array of three LED lamps around the lens that let you take shadow-free macro shots down to 1cm from the lens. $220, street;
BRONCOLOR MINICOM 160 One of the most compact monolights to put out 1200 watt-seconds, it weighs less than 10 pounds, has one of the industry’s brightest modeling lights (650 watts) and is compatible with a large range of Broncolor accessories, including portable power packs. The RFS version offers a built-in radio-remote receiver that can be triggered by Broncolor transmitters. You can also set power levels via Mac- or PC-based studio software. $2,280, street;
ELINCHROM QUADRA RANGER This battery-powered location or studio strobe offers both convenience and power. The heads and battery packs are small, but they pump out a lot of light (to 400 Ws), come in standard or high-speed flash durations, take a number of light modifiers and accessories, and, with an adapter, accept the full line of Elinchrom Ranger lighting tools. A built-in EL-Skyport radio receiver can fire the Quadra head wirelessly and even let you set flash output from the camera. $2,200, street (S Pro Set);
LIGHTSPHERE COLLAPSIBLE Gary Fong’s original Lightsphere is one of the best known diffusers for shoe-mount flashes. Lightweight and easily attached, it has one glaring flaw: With rigid side walls, it eats up too much camera bag space. So Fong created the Lightsphere Collapsible, which does everything the original did, but, soft-walled, folds down down to 1.5 inches. It can also be collapsed around the flash head for harder, direct flash. $58, street;
ROGUE FLASHBENDER Conventional shoe-mount flash modifiers tend to be one-trick ponies. They either soften, aim, bounce, shape, or block light. ExpoImaging's Rogue FlashBender positionable reflectors do all these things and more. Attach a single FlashBender to a shoe-mount flash head and bend, roll, twist, or fold it to act as a bounce card, snoot, barn door, or gobo. Available in three sizes, FlashBenders will easily wipe clean when smudged, fit in your bag’s smallest pocket, and weigh next to nothing. $30–$40, street, depending on size;
QUANTUM INSTRUMENTS TURBO BLADE Quantum’s latest Turbo external flash battery is its smallest yet, weighing less than a pound and measuring just 1.4 inches high. But the Blade can provide up to 400 full-power pops per 1.5-hour charging cycle, or thousands at fractional power, with extremely fast recycle times. And it incorporates an LED “fuel gauge” that shows how much power you have left in 25% increments. $444, street;
CANON EF 8–15MM F/4L FISHEYE USM If you’re ready to cast straight lines to the winds in favor of a wildly wide-angle view, here’s your lens. Currently the world’s widest-angle fisheye zoom, this lens produces a 180-degree field of view in a circular image at 8mm when used on a full-frame EOS model, making it a tricky proposition to keep your feet out of the picture. (On APS-C-sensor models, you can use it as a corner-to-corner full-field fisheye.) The L designation signifies pro-level optics and construction. $1,400, est. street;
LENSBABY COMPOSER WITH TILT TRANSFORMER We expected Lensbaby to offer its Composer Creative Effects lens for ILCs, but we didn’t expect that you’d be able to swap out the optics for any Nikon F-mount lens. You can even manually adjust the aperture on G-series lenses. So far, it’s available in Micro Four Thirds and Sony NEX mounts. $350, street, with Focus Front, or $250, street, Tilt Transformer only;
NIKON AF-S 24MM F/1.4G ED Speed demons, rejoice. This full-frame extrawide proved sharp (Excellent SQF scores), with little distortion (Slight barrel), and close focusing (to 9¼ inches). The M/A focus mode lets you manually touch up the focus while in AF. Beautifully made, well sealed, with silent autofocus, it should last a lifetime, barring dropping it in the lake. Use a Nikon DX-sensor (APS-C) camera? Here’s a nice 36mm-equivalent superspeed wide-angle for you. $2,200, street;
NIKON AF-S 70-200MM F/2.8G ED VR II Nikon’s 70–200mm f/2.8 full-frame VR lens of 2003 was going to be a tough act to follow, but this new G version with VR II upstaged it handily. With two more elements of ED glass, plus Nano Crystal Coating, the new optic achieved superior SQF scores at all focal lengths except 200mm, where it was only slightly lower than the older one. Distortion was very tightly controlled, and the VR II delivered 3 to 4 stops of extra handholdability. Worth the price? You bet. $2,170, street;
PENTAX-D FA 100MM F/2.8 WR MACRO Nature shooters who, whether they like it or not, find themselves working in rain or mist or just plain damp will appreciate this Pentax macro tele, with WR weather-resistant sealing in its metal construction. Photos of tiny critters and baby blossoms will be sharp, too, as the lens posted Excellent SQF ratings to 16x20, and actually focused a bit tighter than the advertised 1:1. Manual focusing was as smooth as silk—important in close-up work, where autofocus isn't necessarily your friend. $620, street;
SIGMA 8–16MM F/4.5-5.6 DC HSM The widest orthoscopic (non-fisheye) zoom yet made, this 12–24mm equivalent for APS-C-sensor DSLRs also focuses to 9.4 inches for some wild and crazy near/far perspective effects. Weighing surprisingly little (1.3 pounds) for this type of optic, the lens has a permanently affixed petal lenshood for protection against stray light—and fingerprints on that curvy front element. $700, street;
SIGMA 70–200MM F/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Sigma’s new fast, constant-aperture, full-frame telezoom workhorse adds more than Optical Stabilization. A whole new design from the older non-OS version, it features two elements of Sigma’s FLD glass that mimics the aberration-taming qualities of fluorite glass. For all that, the new lens is more compact than the older one. Stay tuned for a full test report soon. $1,700, street;
TAMRON SP 70–300MM F/4-5.6 DI VC USD It’s awfully hard to find fault with this lens, which is why our test report didn’t. A full-framer, it scales up to a 105–450mm equivalent on APS-C sensor DSLRs. Distortion was very well controlled, AF was nearly silent, and Vibration Compensation gave testers an average of 4 extra stops of handholdability—super. $450, street;
TOKINA AT-X 16–28MM F/2.8 PRO FX Constant-aperture f/2.8 ultrawide-angle zooms are workhorses for pro and enthusiast shooters alike, so this brand-new Tokina full-framer is big news. It has a silent, high-speed DC autofocus motor and overall fine construction. But the bigger news is its remarkable lack of distortion and light falloff. Read all about it in our test on page 94. $850, street;
ACRATECH VIEWING ANGLE GAUGE How’s this for low-tech: No moving parts, no electronic components, doesn’t take a battery. The Viewing Angle Gauge simply attaches to the screen of a laptop and works something like a gun sight: Line up the tab with the hole and your screen is now perpendicular to your line of sight. This helps keep screen brightness uniform for more accurate image editing on the go. $15, street;
GIGAPAN EPIC PRO We like a big picture, and with the GigaPan you can make really big pictures. Essentially a smart, robotic version of a panoramic tripod head, it shoots and stitches giant multishot images. The original version, made famous by that super-high-resolution photo of President Obama’s inauguration, could hold only a compact, but this one handles a DSLR and lens combo weighing up to 10 pounds. $895, street;
HOYA HRT POLARIZER Polarizers, in addition to controlling reflections and darkening blue skies, also act as neutral-density filters—which some shooters like for slowing down exposures (think moving water). For those not as thrilled by this side effect, the Hoya HRT provides more light transmission than the usual polarizer, about 1/3-stop, for a little more speed. The filter also uses UV-absorbing glass, so it’s like getting two filters in one. $60–$225, street, depending on size;
SHUTTERBUDDY The hard part of shooting infants? Getting eye contact. Snaring and holding a baby’s attention for longer than a second or two can often be impossible. That’s why we like the ShutterBuddy. Like an oversized lens shade, it attaches to the front of your camera (or camcorder) where its checkerboard surface grabs and holds an infant’s attention long enough for you to get some shots. Relying on the latest in infant vision research, the ShutterBuddy lets you walk around the room, with Junior watching you. Now, if only he would smile. $15, direct;
X-RITE COLORCHECKER PASSPORT We love the ColorChecker for taking the guesswork out of color correction. Shoot this pocket-sized target, then use its included software to copy its color corrections automatically across all of your images. You can choose the relative temperature of your white balances, and the standard 24-patch color chart helps you create DNG profiles of your camera in any light source—particularly useful if you do a lot of studio shooting. $99, street;
KATA PRO-LIGHT FLYBY-76 PHOTO ORGANIZER This big soft-sided case, clearly aimed at pros, can fit up to four DSLR bodies, 10 lenses (even a 600mm), and other accessories. There’s a compartment for your bulkiest laptop and straps for a tripod. What we like most: You can slip it off its wheeled trolley (included) and carry it over your shoulder. And it doesn't weigh much—completely empty, and without the trolley, about 5 pounds. $285, street;
TAMRAC ULTRA PRO 17 Considering all the gear you can fit in this shoulder bag, it’s surprisingly slim. It will appeal to pros and enthuiasts who routinely carry two outfits—it fits two pro DSLR bodies with zooms attached, additional lenses and other accessories, and a 15.4-inch laptop. Lots of padding, a great organization system, and a removable rain cover add to its charms. Want to get your camera fast? A zipper at the top lets you open the bag away from your body for a quick draw. $150, street; www.tamrac.comunknown
Induro PHQ tripod Head COMBINING THE anything-goes freedom of a ball head with the calibrated repeatability of a pan/tilt type, Induro’s PHQ1 and larger PHQ3 tripod heads are entirely new beasts. Precisely adjustable across five different axes, they simultaneously offer unusual freedom and unusual control: five spirit levels and seven scales, including a calibrated quick release cleat. Their pan/tilt levers fold down for compact transport, and both heads are lightweight and compact, especially given their maximum loads of 25 and 35 pounds. PHQ? It stands for Pan Head Quintaxial, of course. $315 and $395, street;
MANFROTTO 324RC2 & 327RC2 JOYSTICK TRIPOD HEADS These tripod heads place the camera closer to the ball than conventional pistol-grip style ballheads. The result is much easier aiming, with just slight wrist motions. In two sizes capable of supporting from 7.7 to 12.1-pound loads, the heads’ joystick handles release the locking mechanism much more easily than other pistol grips. They also offer a drag control, left- or right-handed operation, and a bubble level. $125 and $190, street;
SLIK PRO 500 HD TRIPOD If the HD in its name reminds you of video video, it’s no accident. This tripod/head combo is designed for DSLRs with HD video capability. Its legs are a superlight aluminum-magnesium-titanium alloy, with foam collars for easy handling, and our favorite leg locks, the quick-action, flip-tab type. It’s the SH-736HD head that makes this a POP Award winner, though. Its pan and tilt actions have separately adjustable drag controls, for movements that are loose and quick, or achingly slow. Either way, thanks to the head’s fluid effect action, the movements are ultra smooth. $150, street;
VANGUARD GH100 Like Manfrotto’s joystick heads, also 2010 POP Award winners, Vanguard’s new pistol-grip head places the camera low and close to the ball joint for easy operation. But unlike the Manfrottos, its release trigger can sit behind the ball joint instead of to the side. The result is a head that you can aim like a true pistol, allowing single-handed adjustment (with either hand), plus friction control. If you want it, though, the trigger can be repositioned to the side of the ball joint, à la Manfrotto. Another perk: The panning motion is click-stopped in 5-degree increments for precise panoramic stitching. $100, street;