The European Imaging and Sound Association this week unveiled its picks for top cameras and photo accessories for 2011-2012. There are several surprises among the winning gear. Dare I challenge their collective wisdom? Why not?
The EISA consists of 50 “special interest” magazines from 19 European countries, and every year in June their editors get together to vote on their favorite cameras, printers, lenses and other goodies including consumer electronics items. This year they chose 16 products in the photo category. Let's look at their choices—did they call it right, or is the ump blind?
Yes I know, it's just me against the collective wisdom of 50 experts, but hey, why not? Do you agree with them, me, or have your own ideas? Leave a comment below!
Professional Lens: Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM
EISA says: “The Canon EF 70-300mm F4-5.6L IS USM is an amazing telephoto zoom lens that combines high image quality with an extremely durable construction and a surprisingly compact design. It sets a new standard for this popular zoom range with its professional autofocus performance and the latest generation of Image Stabilization, but is still affordable for the enthusiast. Throughout the zoom range the lens shows optical qualities that are in line with fixed focal length lenses - it performs very well even at its widest aperture, and the environmental shield protects it from moisture and dust.”
Mason says: This lens is getting raves from pro users. Good call.
Camera: Canon EOS 600D (T3i in the US)
EISA says: “The Canon EOS 600D is a good-value camera that has a very strong set of features and customisable functions. The excellent resolution and its low-noise characteristics even at high ISO settings make it an extremely desirable model to amateur photographers. This new EOS generation offers Full HD video, a larger, more comfortable grip, an external microphone socket, wireless flash control, good dynamic range, an articulated LCD screen and a host of beginner-friendly features that make advanced picture quality easier to achieve.”
Mason says: While the T3i is indeed an outstanding price/performance camera in my mind it's in a virtual tie with the Nikon D3100, with its on-screen help and comparably outstanding low-noise performance. Watch Mark Wallace's review of the D3100 on AdoramaTV.
Travel Compact Camera: Casio Exilim EX-ZR100
EISA says: “Casio’s small superzoom camera, with its stabilized 12.5x zoom and 24mm wide angle lens, fits easily into most pockets making it the ideal travel companion. The camera has a very strong set of core features, including a high-sensitivity, 12.1-million-pixel, back-illuminated CMOS sensor, a high-resolution 3-inch display, full-HD movie modes with stereo-sound, an HDR-mode and the easy-to-use Sweep Panorama mode. The outstanding feature of this EXILIM is its high-speed-mode: it can shoot up to 40 pictures in a second with a resolution of ten million pixels and record movies at up to 1,000 frames per second that can be replayed in slow motion.”
Mason says: After reviewing this model I can confirm that it is packed with so much technology there should be something for everybody. Good call.
Printer: Epson Stylus Photo R3000
EISA says: “The Epson Stylus Photo R3000 is a well-designed A3+ printer that produces extremely high-quality and detailed pictures with the help of its 2pl ink droplets and the inclusion of a vivid magenta in the UltraChrome K3 pigment ink set. A new colour LCD control panel makes the printer easy to operate, while a high speed USB port, built-in Wi-Fi, net connection and PictBridge give the user a wide range of ways to send files for printing. Thanks to the nine high-capacity (25.9ml) ink tanks, the cost of printing has been reduced. This is an ideal printer for both professional photographers and advanced amateurs.”
Mason says: Epson is a leader in printers and this one's another winner. Good call.
Advanced Compact Camera: Fujifilm FinePix X100
EISA says: “The Fujifilm FinePix X100 advanced compact camera introduces an innovative new hybrid optical and electronic viewfinder, and is a very high-quality camera designed to be portable and always ready. The camera is ruggedly built, has a very sharp 23mm F2.0 moderate wide angle lens that offers selective focus, and its APS-C CMOS sensor offers high image quality even under low-light conditions. As a near-silent camera with excellent manual and automatic shooting modes, the FinePix X100 stands out as a serious alternative to a compact system camera or a travel camera for the enthusiast and professional photographer.”
Mason says: Yes, the X100 delivers mind-blowing image quality, and the high demand for it is unprecedented, but its finicky focus and ever-so-slightly hesitant shutter release, as reviewed by Jason Schneider, may be a deal-killer for some street shooters and photojournalists. The Canon S95 , while not delivering the same kind of image quality, is a quick, high-quality compact that many pros have embraced. Also the Ricoh GXR with its 28mm lens/APS sensor module is said to deliver excellent image quality with faster focus and less shutter lag.
Photo Software: Nik Software Silver Efex Pro 2
EISA says: “Silver Efex Pro 2 software brings together the worlds of film and digital photography by providing the processing techniques of the darkroom in a much more convenient form. As well as features such as adding the grain and contrast of a fast film, this software package has an excellent set of image-editing controls, especially the U-Point Technology, that will reduce your reliance on other mainstream packages, such as Photoshop. The software is able to divide its operations between the computer’s CPU and the graphics card so that even complicated actions can be processed very quickly.”
Mason says: I grew up on black-and-white film. Silver Efex Pro 2 makes it easier to emulate the film look. Read my review. Good call.
Advanced SLR Camera: Nikon D7000
EISA says: “At the head of Nikon’s semi-professional line of cameras, the D7000 is packed with the high-end features it inherited from the company’s D300 and D300S models. The solid body offers high-speed autofocus, a bright 3-inch LCD, dust control, dual SDXC card slots and Full HD Video. An exceptionally good noise-control system means the 16.2-million-pixel-sensor can be used at ISO 3200 and still produce high quality, clean images - even at ISO 12800 noise is not much of an issue. This is a camera that can give amateur photographers professional-looking images.”
Mason says: Remember that the Pentax K-5 uses the same outstanding Sony-made sensor and is water resistant for a lower price, and did very well in our field test. That said, Nikon does have a more comprehensive system of lenses and flash, and did very well in our review.
All-Weather Camera: Olympus Tough TG-810
EISA says: “The stainless steel Olympus TOUGH TG-810 is a water-, crush- and shockproof camera that is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts as well as for families. Although its rugged build is the principal feature of the camera, it also delivers good picture quality. With a 14-million-pixel sensor and a 5x zoom lens (28-140mm), it is suitable for almost every situation. The camera is easy to operate in both very bright and dark conditions thanks to the clarity of the 3-inch LCD screen, and the Super Macro mode allows you to take pictures just 3cm from the subject – above and under water! A dual-mode digital image stabilisation system makes sure that pictures appear sharp even in low light and when you are shooting a moving subject.”
Mason says: The TG-810 is a great camera. Thing is, the Pentax Optio WG-1, with its built-in macro LED lights and ruggedized body, isn't too shabby, either. A toss-up.
Compact System Camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3
EISA says: “The LUMIX DMC-G3 is a very small interchangeable-lens camera, which, as it is fitted with a built-in flash and an electronic viewfinder, is as easy to use indoors as it is outside on a sunny day. The camera offers excellent image quality, and it is capable of resolving very fine details and working in low light without producing excessive image noise. A new contrast-detection autofocus system finds and tracks the subject very quickly, and the responsive touch-screen allows not only focus pin-pointing, but also touching the subject can trigger the camera’s shutter to take the picture.”
Mason says: The G3 is an extraordinary camera that Mark Wallace thinks is great in this video, but in my opinion the Olympus E-P3 edges it out on features and usability, but not on price. Read my review to find out why.
Professional Camera: Pentax 645D
EISA says: “With the introduction of the Pentax 645D, the medium-format market has gained a much anticipated and highly competitive member that offers exceptional image-quality and handling. The 645D is a joy to use in the field, and although it is big and somewhat heavy, its ergonomic grip, large viewfinder, fast and accurate autofocus, and well-made controls make it perfectly usable without a tripod. With its 33x44mm, 40-million-pixel, Kodak CCD-sensor it is a landscape photographer’s dream, creating absolutely stunningly sharp and detailed pictures with very attractive colours and a huge dynamic range. As a serious photographer’s tool, the Pentax 645D is second to none.”
Mason says: Pentax had been promising the 645D for years and they delivered a high-end camera that should meet the needs of most studio shooters, and they priced it right. Worth the wait, and a good call.
Compact System Lens: Samsung NX 20-50mm f/3.5-5.6 ED i-Function
EISA says: “When you have chosen to buy a camera because it is small it is important that the lenses that you use are also small. In this new category it is not true that all optics are as compact as the bodies on which they fit, but here Samsung has produced a very useful set of standard focal lengths in a form that is actually pocketable. It is not enough just to be small, of course, and this is a lens that produces exceptional image quality throughout its aperture and zoom ranges. Samsung’s i-Function is an important feature of this lens and allows the user to access the main mode settings of the camera just by pressing the button on the lens barrel. The lens collapses when not in use to make itself really compact, but expands to become a highly efficient optic capable of very high resolution.”
Mason says: It's surprising that nobody thought of an i-Function type camera control from the lens ring concept before. In use, it's amazingly easy to get used to, as I wrote in my review. Good call.
Social Media Camera: Samsung SH100
EISA says: “This is a very small 14.2MP compact camera that makes it really easy to share your pictures and videos. Thanks to built-in Wi-Fi, as soon as you have taken a picture you can use the 3-inch touch-screen to get connected to a public or private hotspot. You can then email your masterpiece to your friends, or upload it to social networking websites such as Facebook or Picasa – and your videos can be sent directly to YouTube. DLNA technology allows the camera to be wirelessly linked to your TV, smartphone or tablet, and the camera can automatically back-up your images to your computer when you come within range. Samsung has created apps for iPhone and Android mobile phones, which let you connect the camera and the phone so the camera can be controlled remotely from the screen of the phone.”
Mason says: It's the apps that do it. Other camera makers should be pushing apps to enhance the functions of their cameras. Good call.
Lens: Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OX HSM
EISA says: “In the 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM, Sigma has produced a telephoto zoom lens that offers professional features and exceptionally good image quality at a very reasonable price. Even at the maximum aperture of F2.8 the lens delivers excellent sharpness and, combined with an effective image stabilizer (OS) and fast, silent autofocus (HSM), it is well suited to demanding photographic subjects such as nature, sports and documentary. Available with fittings for most camera brands, and covering APS-C and full-frame sensors, this lens is a perfect choice for both demanding amateurs and professional photographers.”
Mason says: While this is an excellent choice, the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM offers a similarly superior optical performance, with a consistant maximum aperture and effective optical stabilization at a more popular focal range; that would have been my choice.
Compact Camera: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9v
EISA says: “The Sony Cyber-shot DSC–HX9V is a powerful 16.2MP compact camera with a 16x (24-384mm) zoom lens. It records 1080/50p Full HD video and has built-in GPS and compass functions. This is a really feature-rich camera with a 10fps burst rate, a wide range of manual controls, 3D Sweep Panorama mode and an effective optical stabilization system. This new generation Cyber-shot camera brings high-quality photography to users at every level of experience”
Mason says: Excessive megapixels lead to disappointment at high ISOs, so despite this camera's otherwise stellar feature set, I'd go with a fast-reacting camera with lower pixel density but better overall image quality. The Panasonic DMCZS8K comes to mind—although at 14MP that model also overdoes it on the MP front.
Zoom Lens: Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD
EISA says: This compact zoom lens is an excellent tool for travel photographers, who can now carry a single all-in-one zoom lens instead of the multiple lenses that would normally be needed to cover this range of focal lengths. Designed for the popular APS-C sensor format, it delivers a focal range that is suitable for anything from landscapes to wildlife photography. The lens is small and light, and the main zoom ring is comfortable and easy to operate. The maximum aperture at the wide-angle end is well suited for working in low-light conditions or when a shallow depth of field is required, and Tamron’s new piezoelectric motor achieves near-silent autofocus.
Mason says: Jason Schneider, in his review of this lens, calls it “a real ace in the hole when you want to travel light but want to be prepared for just about anything.” Good call.
Accessory: Vanguard GH-100 Pistol Grip Ball Head
EISA says: “This ball-and-socket tripod head has a pistol-grip-style handle that enables you to quickly put your camera into almost any position, and it locks firmly once the trigger is released. The pistol grip itself can be fixed in eight different positions to suit your shooting style. It is easy to adjust the level of friction on the ball head to accommodate heavier camera and lens combinations. Photographers who enjoy shooting panoramas will appreciate the 72-click head rotation, designed to space pictures 5 degrees apart, that makes the process of creating a joiner easier and more accurate. This is a versatile accessory that is very well made and extremely useful.”
Mason says: Choosing a favorite accessory is tough, and we've had a lot of good ones this year. That said, the Vanguard is a good choice.