Throughout the year
Popular Photography examines, evaluates, and tests a ton of equipment, then makes careful note of the products that can help make your photography better and more fun. It all culminates at the end of the year, with the POP Awards for Photography’s Outstanding Products. Onward for 2016’s picks.
Nikon D500 DSLR
It’s been a while—seven years—since Nikon last introduced a pro-grade DX (Nikon-speak for APS-C- format) DSLR, but boy was it worth the wait. With 20.9MP, the
D500 aced an Excellent image quality rating from ISO 50–3200 in our lab test. From the top-of-the-line Nikon D5 it inherits the 153-point autofocus system, 2.4-million-dot touchscreen, 180,000-pixel metering sensor, and 30 fps 4K video capture. The full ISO range goes from 50 to 1,638,400 (yes, that’s ISO 1.64 million), but the stratospheric ISOs will give you lots of noise. Sports and action shooters note: The D500 can crank along at 10 fps, up to 200 JPEGs, and one of the two card slots is for super-speedy QXD cards. Have a set of DX lenses? This may well be the upgrade body you’re waiting for. $1,797
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
You say you want a revolution? Don’t look for it in the
5D Mark IV, which continues Canon’s tradition of making sensible, incremental improvements to the very popular 5D full-frame line. Sensor resolution goes up to 30.4MP from the 22.3MP of the 5D Mark III, for an Excellent-rated picture resolution of 3130 lines at lower ISOs in our lab test. The flip side is that it takes a hit in noise performance—it maintains a Low or better rating to only ISO 3200, as opposed to ISO 12,800 for its predecessor. Video capture also gets a bump up to 4K at 30 fps, up from 1080p HD with the Mark III. And with this Mark IV, we finally have a 5D with Wi-Fi. $3,499
OK, so the 360fly doesn’t make a perfectly spherical capture—this single-lensed device will take in 360 degrees horizontally, yes, but only 240 degrees vertically. It makes up for this by capturing 30 fps at 4K-pixel density—in this case, a 2880×2880 square format—which made for great resolution and color in our field test. And it’s water- and shock-resistant. Transfer videos from the 64GB internal memory to a smartphone via Bluetooth or to a computer via the included USB dock.
Adorama Flashpoint Xplor 600 HSS TTL
Want a powerful monolight, say 600 Ws? Check. Also want location shooting with built-in battery power? Check. And you want TTL flash control? You got it with this monolight, as long as you’re a Canon or Nikon shooter. The wireless transmitter will work up to just about 32 feet in outdoor settings, and built-in optical slaving lets you do multi-light setups, too. And the Li-ion battery pack is rated to up to 450 full-power pops.
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM
Version II of Canon’s high-speed full-framer ups the ante with a new type of optics said to substantially reduce chromatic aberration—the optical nastiness that can produce color fringing and blurry edges.
We tested it and found the claim to be true—fringing was practically non-existent. Same was true for optical distortion, which was rated imperceptible. And as for sharpness, it turned in excellent SQF numbers. It’s expensive, and relatively heavy, but it’s one “L” of a lens. $1,649
Canon Image PROGRAF Pro-1000
lab test of this printer, we liked some un-pro-like things about it: the setup was very easy, and the pared-down menus made for less complicated operation. But we liked the pro qualities too: excellent color rendering on prints up to 17×22 inches (sheet media only), the built-in color density sensor, and the 12-cartridge Lucia pigment ink set. One of those cartridges is Chroma Optimizer, designed to counteract the color shift that can occur with glossy papers. Relatively fast for its class: six minutes for a 13×19 at best quality. Not for the faint of back, though—this monster weighs 70 pounds. $1,299
Fujifilm Fujinon XF 100–400mm f/4.5–5.6 R LM OIS WR
Just for reference, this focal length on
Fujifilm’s APS-C ILCs works out to the equivalent angle of view of a 150–600mm lens on a full-frame camera, making it ideal for sports, action, faraway scenics, and wildlife. That it produces excellent sharpness, imperceptible distortion, and virtually no light falloff across all tested focal lengths doesn’t hurt either. Nor does the stellar performance of the Optical Image Stabilization, which averaged four stops of additional handholding ability for our testers. It’s big for its focal length but relatively light (“relative” being 3.13 pounds). So bring a monopod. $1,699
Fujifilm Instax Share SP-2 Smartphone Printer
How’s this for a twist on instant prints? This pocketable printer, about the size of a biggish smartphone, makes 2.4×1.8-inch prints on Instax Mini film from your smartphone (or from Instagram or Facebook) via Wi-Fi. It uses RGB OLEDs to print in color, black-and-white, or sepia. Hit the reprint button to make duplicate prints. It runs on CR2 lithium batteries; 10-print packs are about $8, street.
Apple iPhone 7 Plus
The iPhone 7 Plus piles on upgrades: It’s the first iPhone with two lenses, a 28mm f/1.8 and a 56mm f/2.8 (35mm equivalents), which cuts down on digital zooming for better picture quality; optical image stabilization for 4K video and stills; digital flicker reduction under fluorescents; and an increased color gamut. Note, these goodies are available only in the 7 Plus, not the smaller 7.
Peak Design Everyday Backpack 20L
A Kickstarter baby, the
Everyday Backpack pretty much eliminates the need for a rain cover, as its Kodra (a relative of Cordura) exterior is double-coated on each side with polyurethane. The dual side-access panels open to an interior with three padded dividers that fold out to smaller sub-dividers, enabling you to fit a big DSLR body and three lenses. No rear access panel, but clever anodized magnetic hardware allows the bag to expand while staying securely fastened. $260
Westcott Rapid Box Beauty Dish
It’s a beauty dish! No, it’s an umbrella! Stop, it’s two light modifiers in one! This highly portable, collapsible gadget opens up like an umbrella to form a 24-inch-diameter dish, and comes with a diffusion panel that lets it mimic a small softbox. It’s available in mounts for the major studio strobes.
Check out the full list,
over at Popular Photography.