pop awards

Photography isn’t all about the gear. But, choosing the right tools can make a huge difference in how we make pictures. That’s why we spend so much time testing gear. This year, there was a ton of great new stuff to see and try out. When choosing the Pop Awards winners, we narrow down a list of literally hundreds of products to the ones that truly stand out from the rest.

Click here to see the list, then feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments. We want to know what your favorite new piece of camera kit was this year.


Leica M (typ 240)

Leica traveled a rocky road toward digital, but the M (typ 240) stands as proof that their current digital road is as smooth as the Autobahn. Arguably the best digital rangefinder experience you can buy, inclusive of all the pseudo-rangefinder cameras on the market, the M is also the first Leica M-series body to shoot video. Our lab tests showed top-notch image quality, and our field tests confirmed the uniquely luxurious experience of shooting with a Leica. Start saving now if you haven’t already. $7,250, street, body only; us.leica-camera.com

Profoto B1 500 Air TTL

Location, location, location. That’s what you’ll be thinking about with Profoto’s battery-powered, 500-watt-second strobe. And like a hot-shoe flash, the B1 500 Air TTL is compatible with Canon and Nikon’s TTL exposure systems. Add the optional Air Remote TTL module, and you can wirelessly fire your B1s from up to 1,000 feet and even organize them into up to three groups. A Quick Burst mode can fire at up to 20 fps, while the shortest flash duration is a blindingly fast 1/11,000 sec. The non-user-interchangeable bulbs and general expense might scare of some non-pros, but if you want lots of power and control from your strobes while on the road, look no further. $1,995, street; profoto.com/us

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens

Sigma has been raising the bar in terms of both lens performance and style as it transitions to its new categories of Art, Contemporary, and Sport lenses. The 50mm f/1.4 has set quite a distinguished tone. Its sturdy, good-looking barrel houses extremely sharp glass that showed very little light falloff even at its maximum aperture. Focusing proved fast and silent. It’s not cheap, but when you’re forced to compare its performance to a lens such as Canon’s 50mm f/1.2, this lens quickly starts to look like a bargain. $949, street; sigmaphoto.com

SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC UHS II Memory Card

Built for the data-­intensive world of 4K video capture, this card is UHS­II Speed Class 3, with transfer speeds as fast as 280MB/sec for video and 250MB/sec for stills. Though only very recently released cameras can take advantage of its super­fast write speeds, with the right reader these cards can drastically speed up the transfer of images to your computer. It is refreshing to see SanDisk ahead of the data­-intensive curve. $65 (16GB), $116 (32GB), $225 (64GB), street; sandisk.com

Nikon D4s

As great as mirrorless cameras have become, most pros still rely on high-end DSLRs when they go out to capture the images and video that are their livelihood. Nikon’s D4s boasts low noise all the way up to ISO 12,800, 11 fps bursts of up to 60 uncompressed 14-bit RAW files, and industry-leading AF tracking. Video tops out at 1920x1080p 60 fps and comes with a variety of features, such as power aperture, that you won’t find in a lot of other DSLRs that capture video. The rugged, extensively weather-sealed magnesium-alloy body can withstand the worst shooting conditions out there. $6,497, street, body only; nikonusa.com

Samsung UD970 31.5-inch monitor

Sooner or later, most photographers will likely be working on 4K monitors, whether they’re shooting video or stills. Early adopters should look no further than this feature-packed 31.5-inch Samsung. Offering a 3840×2160­-pixel PLS LCD panel with 8ms response time and the ability to reproduce somewhere near 99.5 percent of the Adobe RGB color gamut, this monitor is truly the top of the line. Four USB 3.0 hubs, two Display 1.2 ports, an HDMI 1.4, and a Dual Link DVI port mean hooking it up to your current machine will be a breeze. $2,000, street; samsung.com

Nikon 58mm f/1.4G

Among the sharpest lenses we’ve ever tested, this full-frame Nikkor is a great option for shooters who use both full-frame and DX bodies; when mounted on a DX body it has an equivalent field of view of 87mm. While there was slightly more distortion present than we expected and AF proved somewhat slow, the AF was pleasingly silent. Video shooters should appreciate the well-damped manual focusing ring. $1,697, street; nikonusa.com

Elinchrom ELC Pro HD 500

This light, compact, ergonomically designed strobe is at home in the studio or on location. With a power output range of 7–500 watt seconds, rapid 1.2-second recycle time at full power, and a 20 fps stroboscopic burst available at its lowest power setting, the word versatile springs to mind. Plus, if you need more power, a 1000ws version is available. An OLED control panel lets you input custom user profiles and change firing modes between first- and second-curtain syncing. $1,050, street; elinchrom.com

Oberwerth München

High-end style and camera bags usually don’t mix, but the German company Oberwerth is changing that with its bags for cameras and tripods. Our favorite, the München, has a removable padded section to protect your gear. Rugged and durable cordura is complemented by a leather cover flap. $760, direct; oberwerth.com

Tamron 16–300mm f/3.5–6.3 Di II VC PZD Macro

This 18.8X super zoom provides a full-frame equivalent of 24.8–465mm while checking in at 1.28 pounds. It’s able to focus as close as 12.93 inches and boasts a maximum magnification of 1:2.3 at 300mm. In macro mode, distortion was nearly gone, earning an Imperceptible rating in our test. In normal shooting, we found Visible distortion at wider focal lengths and Slight on the telephoto end. Like most superzooms, it became a tad soft at 300mm, but at wider focal lengths we were impressed with its sharpness. For its price, size, weight, and versatility, this Tamron delivers all day long. $629, street; tamron-usa.com

Sony A7s

After packing its A7R and A7 cameras with 36.3MP and 24MP sensors, respectively, Sony dialed down the pixel count to 12.2MP in the A7s. Why? To allow unprecedented low-light performance. With a top sensitivity of ISO 409,600, the A7s can make remarkably clean images when set upwards of ISO 25,600. It’ll also let you record 4K video to an external recorder through the camera’s HDMI output. $2,498, street, body only; store.sony.com

Thule Covert Rolltop Backpack

This daypack-style camera bag has plenty of room in its top compartment for days’ worth of clothing and personal items. Below that, there’s space to house a DSLR with a lens attached plus a couple of other lenses and a flash. The padded camera pod is removable in case you want to (gasp!) leave your camera at home and use the Covert as a general-purpose bag. Plus, its laptop compartment can hold a 15-inch MacBook Pro and an iPad. $200, street;thule.com


How often have you told a friend about an amazing image you recently made, but couldn’t show it because it was stuck on a device at home? Mylio, a computer program and app, ends that frustration while also helping back up your images. When you import, it automatically copies photos to your backup device and sends previews to your smartphone and tablets. Not only will you not need to back up images when you get home from a trip; you’ll also always have all of your images with you wherever you go. Pricing not available at press time; smylio.com

Fujifilm Instax Share SP-1

Making prints in as little as 16 seconds, powered by a pair of CR2 batteries, and able to connect to up to eight smartphones at once, Fuji’s Instax printer will make for super parties. Since the SP-1 uses Fujifilm Instax Mini instant color film, you don’t have to worry about running out of ink. Plus, various templates let you add info on the border of the prints, or add captions when you print Facebook or Instagram images. $157, street; fujifilmusa.com

Pentax 645Z

When we saw that CMOS sensors were coming to medium-format digital cameras, we knew that those large-sensored cameras were about to get a lot more versatile. We didn’t expect the Pentax 645Z to cost less than $9,000, though. That price, along with video capture, higher sensitivity than you’ll find in any other medium-format digital, a tilting screen, and compatibility with a large array of legacy glass, makes the 645Z a truly unique camera. $8,497, street, body only; us.ricoh-imaging.com

Gura Gear Uinta 30L Backpack

Sometimes you need a daypack, sometimes you need to bring along lots of camera gear, and sometimes you just want a regular backpack. The Uinta can handle all of these situations. Think of it as a modular system. First you get the pack itself, then you choose what camera module you want—small or medium. The modules are sold separately, so you can choose what you think you’ll need. You can also add an optional tripod and hydration system. The bag can accommodate up to a 17-inch laptop, has a front compartment for your phone, chargers, batteries, and other items, and has a harness system with a padded waist belt. $199 (backpack), $70 (small photo module), $90 (medium photo module), $40 (tripod/hydration system); guragear.com

Metz Mecablitz 64 AF-­1

One of the most feature­-packed third­party flash units currently available, this German­-made strobe is fully TTL compatible with nearly all camera brands. A guide number of 141 feet (ISO 100, 50mm) and a color LCD touchscreen set this flash apart from the pack, as does its 12­–200mm zoom range. A USB port allows for firmware updates, and a PC port means it will play nice with radio triggers. $450, street; metz.de/en

Tokina 70–200mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX VCM-S

The first of Tokina’s full-frame lenses to get optical image stabilization, this 70–200mm gave testers an average of 2.75 stops of extra hand-holding shutter-speed advantage. Solid SQF results mean plenty of sharpness and contrast; minimal distortion bolsters this lens’s appeal. AF proved both fast and quiet, and the price tag will save you a few hundred dollars compared to the Nikon version. $1,099, street; tokinalens.com https://www.popphoto.com/gear/2014/11/lens-test-tokina-70-200mm-f4-x-pro-fx-vcm-s/

Panasonic Lumix GH4

Want to record 4K 30 fps video to an SD card? Panasonic’s GH4 became the first camera to let you do that, or output to an external recorder, and it does so at an affordable price. Shooters looking for HD video can choose between IPB and ALL-I compression at a variety of bit rates. Meanwhile, still photographers get a highly customizable, rugged camera body that can shoot bursts of up to 7.5 fps with full AF and metering. Noise is well controlled up to ISO 6400. $1,698, street, body only;shop.panasonic.com

Hoya EVO Antistatic filters

Repulsion is hot in filters these days. After all, there’s no end to the things we don’t want stuck to the front of our lenses. Hoya’s latest repel dust, dirt, water, and scratches. Though they are thin, they have front threads so you can stack filters or other threaded accessories as needed. Available in three varieties: protector, UV, and circular polarizer. Sizes 37mm to 82mm. $42–170, street (depending on type); hoyafilter.com

Zeiss Otus 55mm and 85mm f/1.4

Proving what amazing things can be done when you set the single goal of creating the best optics possible, Zeiss’s Otus line of manual focus primes has inspired legions of photographers to continuously check the balances on their savings accounts. These lenses are big—the 55mm is almost twice as long as the leading crop of 50mm f/1.4s. They’re also very heavy—the Canon-mount 85mm weighs just over 2.6 pounds. But they have silky-smooth manual focus rings with long turning radii for extra precision. $3,990 (55mm), $4,490 (85mm), street; zeiss.com

Abobe Photoshop Lightroom Mobile

Traveling Lightroom users who don’t want to lug a laptop but still want to edit can now use the Lightroom Mobile app, which is included in the Creative Cloud membership. It delivers a feel similar to Lightroom but lets you work on smaller versions of your images—that means your tablet’s memory won’t limit your workload. Back in Lightroom on your computer, the program syncs your changes with your original files. As always, everything is nondestructive, so your files won’t be altered permanently. From $10 per month (Creative Cloud membership); adobe.com

Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 R Fujinon XF

Whether you’re looking to shoot portraits or longing to sharpen up your low-light skills, this lens delivers. Scaling up to a full-frame equivalent of 85mm, it’s among the fastest APS-C lenses in this focal range. Its Excellent SQF numbers are buffeted by its Imperceptible barrel distortion, and there was no light falloff in our tests. The lens’s all-metal construction adds a solid feel and lends a classy look to this optic. $999, street; fujifilmusa.com

Manfrotto XPro 3-way head

While this pan-tilt head can hold more than 17 pounds of gear, the head itself weighs 2.2 pounds. Measuring just over 5 inches tall, it makes for a compact, lightweight companion to whatever set of legs you decide to mount it to. Large, comfortable, tapered grips retract for easy storage. Three spirit levels help you conquer horizon lines. Plus, friction controls let you set the drag so large lenses won’t flop around when changing angles. $140, street; manfrotto.us

Canon 16–35mm f/4L EF IS USM

Canon’s other 16–35mm—the f/2.8L—is an amazing piece of glass. But if you don’t need to restrict depth of field or force a faster shutter speed, this f/4 may be the better choice. It’s an L, so it has the same weather sealing and ruggedness as the f/2.8. In lab tests it showed Excellent-range SQF scores, very well-controlled distortion, and 2.33 extra stops of hand holding with IS enabled. Plus, it’s far less expensive than the f/2.8. $1,199, street; usa.canon.com

RayFlash Universal RingFlash Adapter

We loved the original RayFlash, which was a cost-effective way to get circular catchlights in portraits. But its mounting method meant you might have to get a new one if you got a new hot-shoe flash, certainly if you switched camera brands. The new Universal RingFlash adapter uses a spring-loaded mechanism to hold the RayFlash 2 to your hot-shoe-mounted light. As before, the light is then channeled down and around your lens for a perfect fashion-like look. $140, street; ray-flash.com

Lensbaby Circular Fisheye

Made to project a fully circular fisheye image inside the boundary of an APS-C sensor, the 5.8mm f/3.5 Lensbaby Circular Fisheye lens is unlike any glass we’ve seen. Its 185-degree field of view actually pulls in light from behind you. And the inside of the barrel is purposefully kept reflective to produce a beautiful halo of flare around the edge of the image circle. $285, street; lensbaby.com

Fujifilm X-T1

Anyone who knows the joy of classic camera controls—real shutter speed dials, an aperture ring on the lens—is bound to spend some quality time ogling one of Fujifilm’s X-series ILCs. The X-T1 is the fanciest of the bunch, with a rugged build, beautifully detailed and large EVF, and a top burst speed of 8 fps. A tilting LCD screen helps with framing when not using the EVF. Plus, thanks to the camera’s built-in Wi-Fi, you can control the X-T1 with your smartphone. $1,299, street, body only; fujifilmusa.com

Phase One Capture One Pro 8

The latest version of Capture One is not only faster than the previous version, but it also expands on its robust tethered shooting options. Now you can establish a wireless connection from your computer to your iPad and see your images as you shoot. Given Capture One’s excellent noise reduction and tone adjustments, this seems like a no-brainer for those who like to shoot straight to their computer. $299, street; phaseone.com

16-–50mm f/2–2.8 S ED OIS

This image-stabilized zoom is the first in Samsung’s S series, reserved for the company’s high-end glass. In our test lab the Samsung tested near the top of the class in everything from distortion control to our SQF test (it scored an Excellent at all focal lengths) when compared to similarly built lenses from other manufacturers. And the super fast f/2 maximum aperture puts it ahead of the pack overall. $1,133, street; samsung.com