Gear of the Year

Dec 22, 2008
By Dan Havlik, PDN Technology Editor

Nikon D700

Though I review a lot of pro photography gear for PDN over the course of the year, it's impossible for one person to look at everything. So while the following may not be the complete "Best of" list for 2008 as I would've liked, it's as clear a rundown of my personal favorites as I could come up with.

While this list includes equipment I looked at this year, it doesn't necessarily contain gear that might have been released late in 2008 which will be reviewed in next year's issues of PDN – i.e. the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Sony A900, and Nikon D3x. Also, I didn't include a gear favorite selection in categories where there was no clear winner for me, such as Medium Format Digital or camera bags which were simply "too close to call."

And finally, rather than rehash and synopsize every review I did in the pages of PDN for my Gear of the Year list, I've tried to summarize the conclusion on each product and provided a link to the full review in PDN's Gear if you'd like to read more.

Happy holidays and enjoy!

Camera of the Year – Nikon D700
By merging the low noise/high ISO shooting of its 12.1-megapixel FX “full-frame” CMOS sensor from the D3, with the tough but portable look and feel of the D300, Nikon has combined the best of both worlds into an attractive package with the D700.

The only photographers to whom this camera might not appeal straight out of the box are sports photographers, who will probably find the 5 frames per second shooting speed a tad slow. That’s easily remedied, however, if you don’t mind paying $240 extra for the MB-D10 battery grip, which boosts the frame rate to 8fps while providing extra juice and allowing for vertical shooting.

If you’re a wedding or portrait photographer who wants to shoot very low-noise images in difficult lighting conditions but not be weighed down by a big bulky camera, the D700 was the best digital SLR in 2008.

Read the full review of the D700 here.

Lens of the Year – Canon EF 200mm F/2 L IS USM

If you’re in the market for a stunningly sharp telephoto lens that looks like it could be used to take over a small town in Afghanistan and money is no object, the $6,000 Canon EF 200mm F/2 L IS USM is about the most perfect piece of glass you can buy. If you’re like most everybody else out there, however, renting may be the more fiscally responsible option.

Read the full review of the Canon EF 200mm F/2 L IS USM here.

Printer of the Year – HP Designjet Z3200

HP's 12-ink Designjet Z3200 photo printer is not a revolutionary product like its predecessor, but it offers enough tweaks and improvements to warrant serious consideration if you don't already own the Z3100.

Carrying over such innovations as a built-in spectrophotometer for easily building custom paper profiles while adding new features including Chromatic Red and Quad Black inks, faster speed, and a simplified overall workflow, the Z3200 is a significant improvement on an already excellent printer. Once you start printing on this well-designed large-format inkjet from HP, you won't want to stop.

Read the full review of the HP Designjet Z3200 here.

Computer of the Year – Apple Mac Pro

With extended use on particularly time-consuming photo editing jobs, the speed and power of the eight-core Mac Pro proved to me that while the days of the big powerful desktop machines may be on the wane, we still may have room for a dinosaur, particularly one that combines the power of a T. Rex with the speed of a Raptor.

Minor quibbles about no wireless card in the base model and a disappointing lack of Blu-ray options aside, if you're looking for a computer workhorse in the studio, the Mac Pro will definitely keep everything humming along.

Read the full review of the Apple Mac Pro here.

Monitor of the Year – Eizo ColorEdge CG241W

While testing the Eizo ColorEdge CG241W, I had a lot less guesswork in reviewing shots I was going to print out on inkjet art papers for a story in the April 2008 issue of PDN, which was a big plus. Photographers who do their own printing for gallery shows could greatly benefit from this screen. Without question, graphics pros who want to get their proofs right the first time would find it invaluable.

For anyone else, however, the price could be cost prohibitive. If you already have a decent monitor—and though it may not stack up to the Eizo, an Apple Cinema HD display is a very good monitor—you might not think you need the ColorEdge CG241W. If you ever get the chance to try one out for a week, however, you may start to think differently. A Saab is good. But a Ferrari is even better.

Read the full review of the Eizo ColorEdge CG241W here.

Laptop of the Year – Lenovo Thinkpad W700
Though it’s too big and clunky to be a true “Macbook Pro killer,” the Lenovo ThinkPad W700 offers important things that Apple’s laptops do not even bother with, namely built-in features aimed specifically at the needs of photographers. Sure, Macbook Pros are elegantly designed, easy to travel with, and loaded with rock-solid Apple software including the undeniably great OSX Leopard operating system, but are they really for creative professionals or just anyone who can afford them?

With the W700, Lenovo has clearly thought about what pro photographers and graphic designers would want in a computer and has attempted to provide just that, with this all-in-one mobile solution. Though there are some definite hits – its beautiful super-bright display and simple built-in color calibrator – and a few misses – no standard CF card slot – the W700 is a bold attempt by Lenovo and Microsoft to attract professional photographers. It’s a credit to both companies that this attempt is largely successful.

Read the full review of the Lenovo Thinkpad W700 here.

Software Plug-In of the Year – FocalPoint
I love software that is so intuitive and easy to use that before you know it, it's up and running on your computer and you're playing around with it and having a blast. Even better is if it's a program that's actually useful along with being fun. One of the niftiest imaging tools I tried this past year is a plug-in from onOne Software called FocalPoint 1.0 which lets you easily add selective focus and vignetting to your images. Though it's not as enjoyable as capturing dramatic, selectively focused images with a specialized lens, it comes pretty darn close.

Read the full review of the FocalPoint here.

Storage Device of the Year – LaCie 2big Triple
In a review way back in the January 08 issue of PDN, I found the LaCie 2big Triple RAID storage device to be one of the best backup solutions on the market. Twelve months and several RAID reviews later, that opinion still stands. Since the 2 TB model I tried out was pricey – and you may not need all that backup space – I'd recommend considering a less expensive, lower capacity model, which will still give you plenty of storage space even in the mirrored Safe mode.

Best of all, if you use the 2big Triple with the fun—though admittedly cheesy—Time Machine backup program that's part of the Apple Leopard (10.5x) operating system, you might find that backing up your work isn't such a chore after all.

Read the full review of the LaCie 2big Triple here.

The latest addition to the PDN family, the PDN Gear Guide in print, has a total circulation of 30,000, and covers the latest and greatest in photographic equipment. Initially created in 2006 to be the official guide to PDN's annual flagship photography event, PDN PhotoPlus International Conference + Expo, the PDN Gear Guide is now also available online for gear news and updates 365 days a year.
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