Pop Awards 2008: Our Favorite Gear

Pop-Awards-2008-Our-Favorite-Gear
Pop-Awards-2008-Our-Favorite-Gear

You can keep your raindrops and roses and whiskers on kittens. Our favorite things all belong in our camera bag or at home in our digital darkroom. Our editors scrutinize hundreds, if not thousands, of cameras, lenses, printers, scanners, image-editing programs, and other gear for photographers every year. But of all of the terrific items we considered, this year we chose just 28 for our annual POP Awards for Photography's Outstanding Products. Want the details on just what makes each of these products so special? Find out in our Buyer's Guide 2009, exclusively on newsstands from November 25, 2008, through February 23, 2009.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 7.0: This Windows-only upgrade ($95, street) is super-powerful and easier than ever.

Alien Skin Exposure 2: Digitally replicates many b&w and color films ($230, street).

Canon EOS Rebel XSi: Winner of our August 2008 midlevel DSLR shootout, this is a steal ($627, street, body only).

Canon VIXIA HF11: This flash-memory-based camcorder ($1,200, street) makes 12X optical zoom and 1920x1080-pixel HD video palm-sized.

Casio Exilim Pro EX-F1: An EVF camera ($950, street) that shoots both HD video and 60-fps stills.

Cullmann 4305 Universal Tripod Macro: The center column splits to get you almost to ground level ($165, street).

Dynamic Photo HDR: MediaChance's powerful, affordable ($55, direct) path to high-dynamic-range imaging.

Elinchrom EL-Skyport RX Radio Slave: Wirelessly fire studio strobes using hot-shoe transmitters and receivers ($260, street) that plug into strobes.

Epson Stylus Photo R1900: Great color accuracy in prints up to 13x19 inches -- even 44-inch panoramas ($500, street). Long-life ink? Yes!

Eye-Fi Explore: This 2GB card ($130, street) sends images to your computer, connects to hotspots, and even geotags.

Fujifilm FinePix S100FS: Get 14.3X zoom, 11.1MP, lens-based image stabilization, and "film simulation" ($700, street).

HP Photosmart Pro B8850: This $500 (street) 13-inch printer has 3 gray inks for amazing b&w.

Kodak EasyShare EX811: A digital photo frame ($170, street) with Wi-Fi, wide viewing angle, and crisp resolution.

Lensbaby Composer: Newest selective-focus lens ($270, street) trades wobbly pins for a ball socket.

Microtek ArtixScan M1: Digitize your archive with this unique, flatbed/film scanner ($520, street).

Nikon D3: Full-frame 12.1MP has ISOs to 25,600. The price? $4,515, street (body only).

Nikon SB-900 Speedlight: It lets you shape flash output and tells the camera which white balance to set ($450,street).

Olympus E-420: At 5.1x3.6x2.1 inches, this 10MP DSLR fits in a pocket ($440, street, body only).

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500: From a 3-inch LCD touchscreen to a 5X zoom -- for just $320 (street).

Pentax SMCP-DA* 200mm f/2.8ED (IF) SDM AF: A fast, sharp, falloff-free, digital-only, pro-caliber, prime telephoto lens ($750, street).

Ricoh GR Digital II: A modern classic ($547, street) with 10MP and a fast, 28mm-equivalent f/2.4 lens.

Samsung NV24HD: This 10.2MP compact ($275, street) packs a wide zoom (24-86.5mm equivalent) and a 2.5-inch OLED.

Sigma 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 DG OS HSM: Image stabilization comes to a lens that's sharp and distortion-free ($850, street).

Sigma DP1: Full-sized DSLR sensor in a compact body with a 28mm-equivalent f/4 lens ($700, street).

Sony Alpha 350: A $700 (street, body only) 14.2MP DSLR with a tilting 2.7-inch LCD, plus the smoothest live view yet.

Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di VC AF: This 10.7X lens (43-465mm equivalent) is Tamron's first stabilized one ($600, street).

Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X 116 Pro DX: A digital-only 16.5-24mm equivalent that's fast, well-priced ($570, street), and optically impressive.

Westcott Strobelite Plus 2 kit: Studio strobes with prosumer and beginner features ($760, street).

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Pop-Awards-2008-001
*Adobe Photoshop Elements 7*With this PC-only upgrade ($95, street), Elements gives you more of the power of Photoshop, such as local adjustments in color and contrast -- while making fixes faster and easier. (www.adobe.com)
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*Alien Skin Exposure 2*With Exposure 2 ($230, street), you can replicate in digital a long list of black-and-white films. Or try a color film, such as Fujifilm's beloved Velvia. Closet chemists can invent their own. (www.alienskin.com)
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Pop-Awards-2008-003
*Canon VIXIA HF11*Canon's top flash-memory-based high-def camcorder ($1,200, street) puts a 3.3MP CMOS sensor, for full 1920x1080-pixel HD footage, in a body that fits comfortably in your hand. A 12X optical zoom lens brings you far into a scene, while Canon's SuperRange optical image stabilization keeps your video steady. There's 32GB of built-in memory for up to 3 hours of highest-quality (24 MB/sec) video, and an SDHC card slot to shoot and store even more. (www.usa.canon.com)
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Pop-Awards-2008-004
*Canon EOS Rebel XSi*Given that it won our August 2008 midlevel DSLR shootout, you'd expect that the 12.2MP Rebel XSi ($585, street, body only) is a heck of a camera. We especially liked the bright, high-magnification viewfinder, the versatile EOS system of lenses and accessories, and the camera's class-leading resolution. Add in the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens with optical image stabilization ($660, street, for body plus lens), and it's a no-brainer. (www.usa.canon.com)
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*Casio Exilim Pro Ex-F1* This electronic-viewfinder model ($1,000, street) represents an exciting new breed of camera: powerful yet easy to use. It manages to serve as both an HD video camera and a fast-shooting (60 fps) still camera with excellent image quality. (www.exilim.com)
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*Cullman 4305 Universal Tripod "Macro" * Into close-ups? Cullman's 4305 ($165, street) is that rare bird: a tripod designed for macro and low-level work. Its center column quickly splits to let you lower the 'pod almost to ground level. The center-column lock is a spring-activated button for quickly removing and reverse-mounting the column to shoot straight down. Unique, finger-friendly niches on the rubber-clad top leg sections improve grip, especially in cold weather. (www.rtsphoto.com)
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*Dynamic Photo HDR *This Windows-only program is among the most affordable around -- and most feature-packed, too! Powerful alignment and deghosting tools for high-dynamic-range generation, six tone mappers, plus lots of postproduction adjustments make MediaChance's Dynamic Photo HDR ($55, direct) a real winner for HDR imaging. (www.mediachance.com)
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Pop-Awards-2008-008
*Elinchrom EL-Skyport RX Radio Slave* Skyports can wirelessly fire almost any studio strobe using hot-shoe transmitters and receivers that plug into strobes. They come in several configurations, but we favor the EL-Skyport RX radio slave system ($260, street). It offers extensive control of Elinchrom RX-series strobes from the camera-mounted transmitter or from a computer -- obviously, a step above your average strobe trigger. (www.elinchrom.com)
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*Epson Stylus Photo R1900* Big prints (up to 13x19-inch sheets and even 44-inch panoramas), long-lasting prints (about 200 years under glass, says one researcher), and color accuracy that set a record in the Pop Photo Lab. That's $500 well spent. (www.epson.com)
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*Eye-Fi Explore* The first version of Eye-Fi let you send images to a computer over your home wireless network. The next let you connect to hotspots and automatically push your photos to image-sharing websites, such as Flickr. Now, with the Eye-Fi Explore ($130, street), the 2GB SD card will also geotag your images with latitude and longitude written straight into the EXIF data. (www.eye.fi)
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*Fujifilm FinePix S100FS * The "FS" stands for Film Simulation -- as in Velvia and Provia, two of the film palettes this electronic-viewfinder model ($640, street) can mimic. This 14.3X (28-400mm equivalent f/2.8-5.3) zoom camera packs 11.1MP, lens-based image stabilization, RAW + JPEG capture, macro focusing to 0.4 inch in front of the lens, and dynamic-range expansion up to 400%. We also like the tilting 2.5-inch LCD for high- and low-angle shooting. (www.fujifilm.com)
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*HP Photosmart Pro B8850* This $500 (street), 13-inch inkjet from Hewlett Packard makes gallery-caliber color prints. But its special talent is black-and-white. Matte- and photo-black inks switch according to the paper, while light gray sweetens midtones. (www.hp.com)
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Pop-Awards-2008-013
*Lensbaby Composer * The newest Lensbaby selective-focus lens ($270, street) trades the tubing and wobbly pins for a ball socket. It locks in place, yet bends swiftly and easily to change your point of focus. That and a double glass optic make this the most elegant baby yet. (www.lensbaby.com)
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Pop-Awards-2008-014
*Kodak Easyshare EX811*There are countless digital photo frames, but Kodak manages to pack in all the important features (Wi-Fi, wide viewing angle, crisp resolution, internal memory, etc.), while keeping the price down to $170, street. (www.kodak.com)
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Pop-Awards-2008-015
*Microtek ArtixScan M1*Ready to digitize your archive? Don't choose between a flatbed and film scanner. Get both with the M1 ($520, street). It combines a flatbed glass surface (for prints up to 8.5x14 inches) with the glassless direct scanning of a film-only model (transparencies and negatives up to 8.5x10 inches). Rich color? Great detail? Powerful software? Yes, yes, yes. (www.microtekusa.com)
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*Nikon D3* Incredible image quality, ISOs up to 25,600, a full-frame 12.1MP sensor, and extremely sensitive autofocus are just a few of the things that make the D3 ($5,000, street, body only) one of the best DSLRs ever. Rugged weathersealing and an integrated vertical grip ensure it will stand up to the demands of any pro. Plus, there's an automatic crop mode that gives you 5MP images when using Nikon's smaller-format DX lenses. (www.nikonusa.com)
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*Nikon SB-900 Speedlight* The first Speedlight with updateable firmware, the SB-900 ($450, street) is also the first that can shape its output in user-set patterns. Another exclusive: It can tell select cameras which white balance to set when the supplied fluorescent- or tungsten-balancing filters are snapped over the lighthead. (www.nikonusa.com)
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*Olympus E-420*One reason a lot of people shy away from DSLRs is their size. Olympus solved that problem with the 10MP E-420 ($400, street, body only). At 5.1x3.6x2.1 inches, you can fit it in a jacket pocket, as long as you don't have a big lens attached. Mate it with Olympus' incredibly compact 25mm f/2.8 pancake lens ($600, street) and your friends won't believe it's really a DSLR. (www.olympusamerica.com)
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*Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 * There's little room on the back of the 10.1MP FX500 ($310, street) for control buttons, but it doesn't really need them. The big 3-inch LCD is a touchscreen that lets you set controls, adjust exposure (in full manual, if you want), even bring up a keypad to rename your photos right there. The 5X f/2.8-5.9 lens has a super-useful range, 25-125mm equivalent -- image-stabilized of course. (www.panasonic.com)
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Pop-Awards-2008-020
*Pentax SMCP-DA* 200mm f/2.8ED (IF) SDM AF* One of the exclusive Pentax DA* pro lenses, this fast, sharp, falloff-free digital-only tele ($750, street) produced the least distortion of any lens the Pop Photo Lab has tested since the adoption of DxO's optical test system in 2005. (www.pentaximaging.com)
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Pop-Awards-2008-021
*Ricoh GR Digital II * Don't look for a food mode or a smile detector on this magnesium-bodied modern classic ($535, street). What this 10MP camera does have: a fast, sharp 28mm equivalent f/2.4 lens, 7-bladed diaphragm, RAW + JPEG capture, easy-to-use manual exposure, even an on-screen level. Imaging tests were Excellent at all ISOs, 80-1600. Add-ons include a rangefinder-style optical viewfinder. (www.ricoh.com)
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Pop-Awards-2008-022
*Sigma DP1* With the same three-layer Foveon X3 sensor as its DSLR sibling, the Sigma SD14, the DP1 ($700, street) earned Excellent image quality scores in the Pop Photo Lab through ISO 800 (its limit, alas). Its sophisticated 28mm equivalent f/4 lens gives you images that are nearly free of distortion and light falloff. And its die-cast aluminum body is tough enough for anyone. (www.sigmaphoto.com)
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*Samsung NV24 HD * Sleek and chic, this 10.2MP camera ($275, street) grabs our attention with a zoom that starts truly wide (24-86.5mm equivalent f/2.8-5.7) and new-tech 2.5-inch OLED monitor that can be viewed with the camera practically sideways. What else do we like? Its high-def output for both stills and video (you'll need a Samsung cradle for that), and its button-array interface that works something like a touchscreen -- but without the fingerprints. (www.samsung.com)
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Pop-Awards-2008-024
*Sigma 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 DG OS HSM* Image-stabilized tele zooms typically max out at 200mm or 300mm. Sigma, however, is now putting optical stabilizers in such lenses as this sharp and nearly distortion-free, full-frame 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 ($850, street). Is this a trend? Please make it one! (www.sigmaphoto.com)
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Pop-Awards-2008-025
*Sony Alpha 350* Sure, its 14.2MP sensor, tilting 2.7-inch LCD screen, and 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6(D) DT kit lens catch your attention, but it's what's inside this camera that really shines. The A350 ($700, street, body only; $800, street, with kit lens) uses a second sensor to provide the smoothest live-view experience we've seen, with speedy autofocus that doesn't blank out the screen during the process. (www.sonystyle.com)
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Pop-Awards-2008-026
*Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di VC AF* The fourth generation of Tamron's popular 10.7X superzoom (a 43-465mm equivalent), this utility player ($600, street) is Tamron's first with stabilization. While optically superb on an APS-sensored DSLR, it can also be put into service on full-frame cameras. (www.tamron.com)
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Pop-Awards-2008-027
*Tokina11-16mm f/2.8 AT-XPro DX* A digital-only 16.5-24mm equivalent, this versatile ultrawide was introduced in January 2008, but, so far, shipments haven't kept up with demand. It's fast, well priced ($570, street), and, as one in Tokina's top AT-X line, solidly built. Best of all, it's one of the most optically pure digital-only ultrawides we've ever tested. (www.thkphoto.com)
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Pop-Awards-2008-028
*Westcott Strobelite Plus 2 kit* A mash-up of prosumer and beginner features, these studio strobes are rugged, functional, and also educational. The Plus 2 kit ($760, street) provides two 200-Watt-sec monolights, stands, softboxes, wheeled carrier, how-to DVD, and other instructional goodies. (www.fjwestcott.com)
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