2013 Pop Awards: The Best Photography Gear of the Year

We inspected it, we tested it, and we fell in love with it. This is the best new equipment money can buy; photography's oustanding products of 2013.

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The seventh generation of Canon’s midlevel DSLRs shows both refinement (higher burst rate, and more megapixels for greater resolution) and revolution (dual-pixel technology for accurate and smooth autofocus in video and live view). $1,199, street, body only

Rotolight Anova

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Unlike rectangular LED arrays, the Rotolight Anova creates natural circular catchlights in portrait subjects’ eyes. That’s just one perk: Color temperatures are continuously variable from 3150 to 6300 degrees Kelvin; its output is equivalent to 1,000 watts tungsten; and you can control it over Wi-Fi with a free app for iOS. The optional Magic Eye app uses an iPhone or iPad’s camera to read ambient color temperature and automatically set the Anova to that temp. Accessories include a custom yoke that allows mounting six Anovas into a giant ringlight. $2,389, street

This lens for Fujifilm’s X-series cameras proved hugely sharp in our tests, with league-leading control of light falloff and distortion. A 52.5mm equivalent, the lens is beautifully constructed, with a metal barrel, near-silent AF, and silky smooth manual-focus ring. $599, street

Brian Klutch

Samsung’s flagship ILC would be worthy on just its merits of Excellent image quality, tough metal body with well-placed controls, and 3.3-inch tilting LCD. Now add in the connectivity: record to a smartphone, operate the camera via phone or tablet, and share on social media. And for something completely different, make 3D images with the 2D/3D lens. $999, street, with 2D/3D lens

Fujifilm X-E1
Fujifilm expands its X-series ILCs further with the X-E1, which has the same sensor as the top-of-the-line X-Pro1 (and provides similar imaging performance), and the same robust build, but knocks $500 off the price. How? By using solely an EVF rather than the X-Pro1's switchable optical/electronic finder. Not much of a sacrifice, given the X-E1's crisp, bright, fine-grained 2.36-million-dot EVF. You get the pop-up flash that was left off the X-Pro1, too. $799, street, body only

entaniya.co

This full-framer is Tamron’s first 90mm macro to sport its highly effective Vibration Correction stabilization system, tested at over 3.5 stops of extra handholding leeway—the best in its class. Optical performance was superior across all indicators, notably in distortion control—as close to zero distortion as we’ve seen. Robust, weather-sealed construction, too. In Canon, Nikon, and Sony mounts. $750, street

Panasonic Lumix GH3

Brian Klutch

A potent example of the maturation of SLR-style mirrorless inter-changeable-lens compacts, the GH3 balances fine still imaging (rated Excellent overall to ISO 400) and top video capture (1920x1080p60 at up to 72Mbps—higher than any camera that uses compression to record). Great viewing comes with the 1.74 million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder, speed via 6-fps JPEG bursts to card capacity, connectivity with built-in Wi-Fi. $1,298, street, body only

We think it’s fair to say that only Leica would come up with the idea for a 
black-and-white-only camera. Yep, 
the M Monochrom’s 18MP full-frame CCD sensor has no color filter array, so every pixel can capture detail without that business of interpolating color from a bunch of Rs, Gs, and Bs. Boy, does it ever capture detail: 2800 lines of resolution in our tests. In the field, our testers went gaga over the smooth grayscale gradation. It’s a Leica, so the body is strong enough to hammer nails with, although it might seriously damage the nailheads. Consult your financial advisor before purchase. $7,950, street, body only

Priolite MBX1000

The MBX1000 is the first monolight to accept an optional internal rechargeable battery ($329, street). With the battery, and the unit’s built-in wireless flash trigger, the MBX1000 offers a completely wireless studio/location lighting system. The bright (1000 Ws) unit is adjustable in 1/10 stop increments, and can be set via the (optional) wireless transmitter. It has a built-in optical slave and cooling fan, too. $1,709, street

Nikon WR-1 Wireless Remote Control

Nikon’s latest contribution to radio remote control will be a boon for shooters of multiple camera setups (at, say, basketball games). The WR-1 can work as a receiver or transmitter in 15 different channels up to 394 feet, with no line-of-sight limitation, to control up to four groups of cameras. It can set different delays for different receivers, and allows shutter speeds up to 60 
minutes. Phew! $550, street

Weather-sealed magnesium-alloy body, fast autofocus—even with older standard Four Thirds System lenses—and upgrades to burst shooting, ergonomics, viewfinder, noise suppression, and physical controls mark the improvements of the OM-D E-M1 over last year’s E-M5. And they distinguish this new model as the best, most powerful Olympus ILC to date. Read all about it on page 88. $1,399, street, body only

Brian Klutch

Nikon 70–200mm f/4G ED VR II
Nikonians concerned about losing a stop of speed over Nikon's ($1,000 more expensive) f/2.8 optic might note that this full-framer set a Pop Photo record in image stabilization—some testers averaged 5 stops extra handholding leeway. It's lighter and more compact than the f/2.8, and sharpness is pretty good, although it takes a dip at the long end. Well made, too, with weatherproof construction. $1,397, street

Canon 24–70mm f/4L EF IS
Compact and light, this f/4 constant-aperture full-frame zoom provides Canonites a more affordable (as in $800 less) alternative to Canon's unstabilized f/2.8L version. Sure, you give up a stop of speed, but you get excellent sharpness across the zoom range, good distortion control, and 1:1.33 close focusing in its macro setting. And our testers averaged over 3 stops more handholdabilty with the Image Stabilizer engaged. $1,499, street

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM
DSLR shooters may well call this Art-series lens a work of art, given its refined yet rugged construction, near-silent autofocus, and generous use of exotic glass. Our tests showed competitive sharpness and top-notch control of distortion. A full-frame lens, it will scale up to a normal focal length on APS-C-sensor cameras. And Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma, and Sony DSLR shooters can all partake of the goodness. $900, street

Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO SONNAR T*
Warning: You could hurt somebody with this lens. With its typical weapons-grade (and handsome) all-metal construction, this two-pounds-and-some hulk should not be dropped on one's foot. As for performance, we called this manual-focus full-framer "one of the most consistently sharp lenses we have ever mounted on our test bench." The price could hurt, too, but portrait and video enthusiasts will deal with the pain. $2,122, street

A significant feature of the Coolpix A is the Nikon name: It made serious shooters sit up and take notice of APS-C-sensor compacts. As noted in our test report, the A will reward them with top-notch imaging and DSLR-level of control in a solid, pocketable camera weighing barely more than half a pound. Nikon DSLR types will appreciate its familiar RAW workflow, but any shooter should rate this gem an “A.” $1,097, street

Yes, our editors hit these filters with a PVC pipe at a trade show last winter, and no, the filters didn’t break—or even scratch. The extremely tough hardened optical glass is multi-coated (eight layers on each side) to minimize reflections, and then hard-coated. The low-profile aluminum frames are designed to prevent vignetting when used on wide-angle lenses. Available in 37mm through 86mm screw-in sizes, in circular polarizer, plain protector glass, or UV versions. $50 and up, street, depending on size and type

Every once in a while—actually, fairly often—we get the feeling that our friends at Sony have lost their minds. Consider this fixed-lens digital compact. With a full-frame, 24.3MP sensor capturing 14-bit RAW. A 35mm f/2 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* lens designed from scratch specifically for this camera. Full manual control, including (good gosh) a traditional aperture ring. Add to that a price to melt a credit card and you get a compact for the true enthusiast, and a runaway success at that. While the RX1 doesn’t have quite the noise control of a high-end DSLR, noise doesn’t hit unacceptable levels until ISO 6400, and tested resolution of 2870 lines puts most DSLRs to shame. The RX1R foregoes an optical low-pass filter for even greater resolution. Like we said, crazy. Long may they stay that way. $2,798, street

Brian Klutch

Editors who have test-worn this latest and biggest Flipside Sport AW bag declare it one of the most comfortable of backpack-style camera bags. Big enough to carry a full day’s worth of gear, including a pro DSLR camera body with attached 300mm lens, it still weighs very little—just 3.5 pounds. It loads through the back panel, sports a water-resistant storm flap, and has a very heavy-duty tripod carrying area. Highly customizable, it even provides room for a hydration bladder. $159, street

FotodioX Pro LED 100WA

The biggest pain in the neck of studio LED lights is their shape—how do you get a softbox onto that flat panel? The Pro LED100WA has the form factor of a studio strobe, so it can take any Bowens S-mount accessories, and there are a lot of them. Available in daylight or tungsten balance, it has continuously adjustable power and a built-in diffuser. While not really bright enough to freeze active subjects, it’s well-suited to product photography and video. $325, direct

Corel PaintShop 
Pro X6 Ultimate

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With an interface redesign and now operating at 64-bit, the newest PaintShop Pro is good-looking, easy to navigate, runs fast—and is newbie friendly, with lots of built-in ways to learn its tools, including video tutorials. It has plenty of sophisticated tools—curves, layers, masks, etc.—and comes with an image organizer, too. Windows only, though. $89, street

Canon Pixma Pro-10

This well-built 13-inch pigment-ink printer provides excellent quality, particularly on glossy and semi-gloss fiber papers—sharpness, color separation, smooth transitions, and image depth all look great. Ten 14ml ink tanks include both matte black and photo black, so you don’t have to switch ink when you switch paper. It takes cut paper from 13x19 inches down to 4x6, but does not accept roll paper (boo!), so fuhgetabout large panoramic printing. It can print wirelessly from from smart-phones and tablets, but print-driver options are somewhat limited. $700, street

As noted in our test report, we thought that Sigma had goofed in its literature—an f/1.8 constant aperture? But this superfast glass is for real, and our report went on to describe it as “incomparably sharp.” Distortion and light falloff were well controlled, too. It is hefty, especially for an APS-C lens (a 27–52.5mm equivalent), but Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma, and Sony shooters should be happy with the quality. $799, street

A new day dawns with this latest Canon Speedlite, which offers built-in TTL wireless control by radio transmission. You will need another 600EX-RT flash to use as a radio master, or a Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT, and once you do, you can shoot away on auto with the Speedlite(s) up to 98.4 feet away, with no line-of-sight limitation. It can also operate with traditional infrared TTL triggering. Other than that, it’s a monster: with a guide number of 197 (feet, ISO 100); dust- and water-resistance; and zoom head covering 20–200mm. $549, street

Ricoh joined the APS-C-sensor compact movement this year, and brought to the concept all of our favorite Ricoh small-camera virtues: very solid construction in an understated design, fine optical quality, and well-considered controls. Its two input wheels (one clicky) offer fast settings in all exposure modes, including manual. Performance is highly competitive in this very sharp-imaging class. Price is competitive, too, so much so that we named it one of our top bargains in our September issue. $797, street

The newly revamped SmugMug photo site offers excellent website and portfolio building templates and tools (including some for importing your old site) as well as marketing tools. Designs automatically adjust to look good on a mobile device or tablet, and it provides seamless social media integration. $60 to $300 per year, depending on level of service

Another constant-aperture f/4 all-star, this wide-angle zoom for Canon or Nikon APS-C bodies (19–45mm and 18–42mm equivalents, respectively) boasted Excellent SQF scores across all focal lengths and top-notch distortion and light falloff control in our tests. Best-in-class close focusing, too. $549, street

Brian Klutch

Nikon D7100
Call it a midlevel camera, or call it a step-up; with its level of performance, we call the D7100 a steal. Its 24.1MP APS-C-size sensor put up 2820 lines of resolution in our tests, and combined with its stellar noise and color accuracy numbers, it garnered an Excellent overall image-quality rating through ISO 1600. Plus, 6-fps burst rate, 100-percent accurate pentaprism viewfinder, 1920x1080i60 video capture, sturdy build…we could go on and on. $1,197, street, body only

Vanguard GH-300T
As a pistol-grip tripod head alone, this Vanguard unit would be a worthy product, with its easy-and-precise release and lock to any horizontal or vertical position. It has a quick-release plate, adjustable ballhead tension, fluid or click-stopped panning, and two spirit levels. Now add the camera trigger, which lets you fire the shutter via remote cable without removing your hand from the grip, so you can zoom or focus with the other hand simultaneously—great for sports or wildlife. $155, street

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