Each year, we select the top cameras, lenses and photographic accessories that we feel represent the advancements made in the art and technology of photography.
While not a comprehensive collection of all of the noteworthy gear introduced in 2018, each of our Editors’ Picks has some unique quality or capability that made it stand out for us as among the best of the best.
Best New Full-Frame Mirrorless System: Nikon Z
2018 was a turning point for full-frame mirrorless systems, with both Canon and Nikon introducing new cameras and lens mounts after years of speculation and wondering when they would enter this market. Sony has had this segment all to itself since introducing the a7 and a7R in 2013, and in that time has seen its market share explode due to the popularity, performance and consistent development of that system. It was inevitable that Canon and Nikon would need to address the photographers who were leaving their systems for Sony’s mirrorless options.
Both companies made a strong debut, and though there’s a lot to like about both the Canon EOS R and Nikon Z series cameras, Nikon takes the top spot for introducing not one but two new cameras: the Z 6 and Z 7. Identical in exterior design, the two models’ key differences are in resolution and continuous shooting speeds. The Nikon Z 7 offers 45.7 megapixel resolution and can shoot at up to 9 fps. The Z 6 is lower resolution at 24.5 megapixels but is faster at up to 12 fps. Compare that to the 30.3-megapixel EOS R, which tops out at 8 fps in One-Shot AF mode or 5 fps with Servo (continuous) AF.
Canon put a lot of thought into the EOS R, adding convenient new features such as a Control Ring on its new RF mount lenses that allows customizable control over exposure settings, and while longtime Canon shooters with a collection of Canon glass will find this to be an excellent addition to their camera kits (see George Lepp’s review in this issue), we were impressed that Nikon introduced two models that emphasize different performance characteristics. We expect landscape photographers will appreciate the big resolution of the Z 7, while wildlife photographers have the option of even faster shooting rates with the Z 6. Both cameras also incorporate 5-stop, in-camera image stabilization systems—a feature that Canon curiously chose to omit from the EOS R. List prices (body only): $3,399 (Z 7); $1,999 (Z 6). Contact: Nikon, nikonusa.com.
Best New Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera: Sony a7 III
For its excellent value—the first a-Series to be priced under $2,000 at introduction—the Sony a7 III is our pick for the best new full-frame mirrorless camera. Though not quite up to the specs of its higher-tier siblings like the a7R III or the flagship a9, it’s incredibly capable with a 24.2-megapixel sensor, continuous shooting at up to 10 fps and a dynamic range of 14 stops, and currently placing in the top 10 cameras for overall image quality in DxOMark’s independent testing. For photographers who want to step up to full-frame mirrorless at the best value for price, the a7 III is the camera to beat. Contact: Sony, sony.com.
Best New APS-C Sensor Mirrorless Camera: Fujifilm X-H1
Though full-frame mirrorless development is heating up, there’s still a lot to like about smaller-sensor systems, such as their ability to provide greater telephoto magnification in smaller, lighter lenses. Fujifilm’s X-series cameras have enjoyed a dedicated fan base for their excellent image quality and compact camera bodies, and with the introduction of the X-H1 this year, Fujifilm offered a new level of performance for nature photographers. The 24.3 megapixel APS-C sensor camera is Fujifilm’s first to incorporate 5-axis in-body image stabilization and offers continuous shooting rates of up to 14 fps with its electronic shutter or 8 fps with its mechanical shutter, making it the fastest Fujifilm X-series camera by a wide margin. It also offers an upgraded AF system enhanced for low-light performance that’s compatible with apertures as small as ƒ/11. Though we’ve admired Fujifilm’s mirrorless cameras, the X-H1 is the first model that we feel is especially well-suited for the needs of the outdoor photographer. List price: $1,899. Contact: Fujifilm, fujifilmusa.com.
Best New DSLR: Nikon D3500
With the emphasis on full-frame mirrorless development this year, it was a relatively quiet one for DSLR introduction. Just two DSLR models were released: the Canon EOS Rebel T7 and the Nikon D3500. Both are entry-level budget models and very similar in specs, with 24-megapixel resolution and comparable Full HD 1080p video capabilities. The Nikon D3500 edges the Canon out in speed, though, with 5 fps continuous shooting versus the EOS Rebel T7’s 3 fps. At $499 for the body only, it’s a great option for photographers stepping up from smartphones and compact cameras to an interchangeable-lens DSLR. Contact: Nikon, nikonusa.com.
Best New Compact Camera: Nikon Coolpix P1000
Compact cameras have been squeezed out in recent years with the proliferation of good-quality smartphone cameras for casual shooters and the affordability of interchangeable-lens cameras for photographers who want greater creative flexibility. But there are still noteworthy introductions in the compact, fixed-lens camera space. This year, the standout model is the Nikon Coolpix P1000, with its incredible 125x optical zoom, which provides a 35mm-equivalent focal range from 24mm to 3,000mm. That’s impressive for a camera that’s priced at just $999 and weighs approximately the same as a Nikon D5 body only. Contact: Nikon, nikonusa.com.
Best New Prime Lenses
Chief among the challenges of working with super-telephoto primes is their size and weight, so when reductions can be made without compromising performance, it makes a real difference. The Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM is not only 1.9 pounds lighter than its predecessor at 6.73 pounds—over 20 percent lighter—but it also boasts an improved close focusing distance of 13.8 feet, a foot closer than the previous generation. The lens also incorporates an upgraded Optical Image Stabilizer system for up to 5 stops of correction. List price: $12,999. Contact: Canon, usa.canon.com.
For Nikon shooters, there’s also a lighter, smaller super-tele choice in 2018. The AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR incorporates a Phase Fresnel (PF) lens element, allowing a design that’s significantly lighter and smaller than the AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR. The new lens is 9.3 inches long and weighs just 3.2 pounds—a reduction of nearly 6 inches in length and 3.6 pounds in weight compared to the 500mm f/4. And though it’s one stop slower, it’s also far more budget-friendly at $3,599 (versus $10,299). Contact: Nikon, nikonusa.com.
2018 was also an important year for Sony’s optical lineup, with the introduction of the first G Master tele prime for sports and wildlife photographers. The FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS is quite light and compact for a lens of this speed and reach: at 6.4 pounds and 14.25 inches in length, it compares favorably to similar lenses from Canon and Nikon. Multiple image stabilization modes include a new mode designed to improve performance when following moving subjects. The lens also features a drop-in filter slot for the optional VF-DCPL1 circular polarizer. List price: $11,999. Contact: Sony, sony.com.
Best New Zoom Lenses
Available in Canon, Nikon and Sigma mounts, and compatible with the Sigma MC-11 adapter for Sony mirrorless, the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG HSM Art lens is an ideal choice for landscape and astrophotography with its expansive wide focal range and fast ƒ/2.8 maximum aperture throughout the zoom range. The lens can focus as close as 10.2 inches at the widest end of the zoom and 11 inches at 24mm, allowing for dramatic compositions with prominent foreground elements. It’s also offered at a price that’s a noticeable savings compared to other zooms of like range and speed. List price: $1,299. Contact: Sigma, sigmaphoto.com.
The Tamron 28-75mm F/2.8 Di III RXD (Model A036) for Sony full-frame cameras is an excellent value for the price, with its fast, constant ƒ/2.8 maximum aperture. The third lens in the Di III series for mirrorless cameras, at the wide end of its range, the 28-75mm F/2.8 Di III RXD can focus as close as 7.5 inches, extending to 15.3 inches at the telephoto end. The lens also features a new RXD stepping motor AF designed for extremely quiet operation, making it well-suited for video work in addition to photography. Estimated street price: $799. Contact: Tamron, tamron-usa.com.
Canon introduced two upgraded 70-200mm zooms this year. Though not as fast as the ƒ/2.8 option, the EF 70-200mm F/4L II USM received more noteworthy updates, including greatly improved IS performance. The Image Stabilizer now provides up to 5 stops of stabilization, compared to 3 stops in the older model, and adds new IS mode to compensate for irregular movements. The new model also improves on its predecessor with a reduced minimum focusing distance of just over 39 inches (down from about 47 inches). List price: $1,299. Contact: Canon, usa.canon.com.
Micro Four Thirds users have an excellent new telephoto zoom option in 2018. The Panasonic DG Vario-Elmarit 50-200mm F2.8-4.0 ASPH offers a 35mm-equivalent focal length range of 100-400mm, and though it’s not the most extreme tele zoom available from Panasonic (the Lumix G Vario 100-300mm F4.0-5.6 II and Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm F4.0-6.3 ASPH offer greater telephoto reach), it is the fastest with its ƒ/2.8-4.0 variable maximum aperture. The lens features POWER O.I.S. image stabilization built-in and also works with Dual I.S. and Dual.I.S.2 in-body stabilization systems when using compatible Panasonic cameras. List price: $1,699. Contact: Panasonic, panasonic.com.
For wildlife photography, getting out to 600mm with a full-frame camera typically means either using a tele-converter or investing in a prime lens that carries the price tag of a used car. The 10x Sigma 60-600mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sport zoom strikes an excellent balance between portability, versatility and affordability, allowing you to carry a single lens in the field that covers a standard to super-tele range. It’s available in Canon, Nikon and Sigma mounts and is compatible with Sigma’s MC-11 adapter for Sony mirrorless. List price: $1,999. Contact: Sigma, sigmaphoto.com.
Best New Gear & Accessories
Sometimes a tripod is absolutely the best tool for the job, and other times a monopod offers the ideal balance of stability and mobility. Manfrotto’s newest Befree model, the Befree 2N1, gives you both options with an innovative design that allows one of the tripod’s legs to be removed and used as a monopod. The aluminum tripod/monopod combo is available in two models, one with Quick Power Lock levers and one with M-Lock twist leg locks. Both can support up to 17.78 pounds of gear as a tripod or 11.11 pounds of gear when using the removable monopod leg. List price: $219 (both models). Contact: Manfrotto, manfrotto.us.
Hard cases offer the ultimate protection for your camera gear when traveling, but they’re conspicuous and lack the easy-access pockets of messenger bags and backpacks for stowing personal items and electronics. SKB solved this with innovative covers for its 3i-1309-6 and 3i-1510-6 hard cases that not only conceal the hard case inside but also include organizer pockets for laptops, tablets, smartphones and personal items. The padded shoulder strap adds hands-free carrying convenience and incorporates a pass-through that slips over your rolling luggage handle. List price: From $99 (cover only; case sold separately). Contact: SKB Cases, skbcases.com.
Developing images in software is potentially one of the most creative steps in the image-making process, but it can also be a tedious one, moving the cursor every which way around the screen to access menus, expand palettes and drag sliders. Loupedeck+ puts controls literally at your fingertips, with a collection of buttons, scroll wheels and dials dedicated to frequently used color and exposure adjustments, plus additional shortcuts that can be customized to your preferences. Currently compatible with Adobe Lightroom Classic CC, Skylum Aurora HDR and Adobe Premiere Pro CC, with beta support for Phase One Capture One, compatibility with additional software titles is planned in the near future. Estimated street price: $229. Contact: Loupedeck, loupedeck.com.
If the one-size-fits-all camera bag doesn’t actually fit your organizational style, Manfrotto’s Noreg backpack and messenger bags offer a modular design that’s highly customizable. Both options feature a camera compartment and a laptop sleeve, each of which can be detached and used independently of the main bag. Both bags also include straps to attach a tripod, water-repellant outer fabric and a rain cover when extra protection is needed, and they meet airline carry-on restrictions. List price: $179 (Noreg Backpack-30); $149 (Noreg Messenger-30). Contact: Manfrotto, manfrotto.us.
Dislike the idea of paying a monthly subscription just to process your photos? So do we, and it’s one of the reasons we like Skylum Luminar. But this full-featured RAW processing software is one of our Editors’ Picks for more reasons than just its reasonable one-time price. Skylum continues to push development of this application to add new features and capabilities. It’s already seen noteworthy updates in 2018, and as of this writing, Skylum is introducing powerful new organizational tools that will debut in an update by the end of the year. List price: $69. Contact: Skylum, skylum.com.
Source: Outdoor Photography