A selection of editors, writers and photographers take a look back over the year and make their picks of the best photo gear of 2014
We’ve seen lots of great gear this year, from cameras and lenses to intriguing accessories, but what has the professional photo community found most enticing? We spoke to successful photographers, authors, editors and experts to find out their picks for the best photo gear of 2014…
Formatt-Hitech 16-stop Firecrest ND filter
“For me, the best piece of kit released this year, and one that I had to purchase for myself, was the Formatt-Hitech 16-stop Firecrest ND filter. Just to have the ability to expose for several minutes in bright sunshine while still using optimal camera settings makes it a definite winner. Couple this with the fact it has virtually no colour cast and you have a tool that no long-exposure photographer should be without.”
The Impossible Project B&W Instant Film for SX-70
“I’ve become quite fond of The Impossible Project’s black & white SX-70 film. It’s a much more mature product – more stable, easier to shoot – than its colour line, which is still somewhat uneven. I also bought myself 50 packs of Fuji FP-3000B, the gorgeous ISO 3000 black & white instant film that was just discontinued. I had to buy a mini-fridge for it, to extend its life as far as I can.
“I am most excited for New55, the reintroduced and re-engineered version of Polaroid’s old Type 55 film. It was the only instant film that produced both a black & white positive print and a reusable negative, and it was a favourite of Ansel Adams. A small company in Massachusetts put up a Kickstarter campaign last year and raised nearly half a million dollars to tool up and start manufacture. The first boxes of film will be shipped early in 2015.”
Nauticam Super Macro Converter
“The Nauticam Super Macro Converter is a converter lens specifically designed for underwater photography, and it truly extends my capabilities as a photographer. It allows me to shoot super-macro images at very high magnifications that I simply could not produce previously. The image quality is excellent and it has been specifically designed to maintain a longer camera-to-subject distance than you would normally get for such magnifications.
“The lens can even be taken off or attached underwater, which isn’t usually possible. I used it to take my winning shot from this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year award.”
Swiftcam M3 handheld gimbal
“The Swiftcam M3 handheld gimbal for smartphones uses built-in gyroscopes and electric motors to stabilise your device when shooting videos. In combination with a current high-end smartphone, some of which are capable of recording 4K video, the Swiftcam M3 allows for the capture of very smooth and professional-looking footage that not too long ago would have required equipment worth thousands of pounds.”
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM
“The best piece of kit for me in 2014 was probably the new Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens. I use this focal range mostly for my landscape images, but also for interiors and weddings. Previously, I used Canon’s 17-40mm f/4L lens, which did a more than adequate job, but it was never all that sharp in the corners. The other option was the Canon EF 16-35 f/2.8L II USM, but at twice the price of the 17-40mm f/4L, I made the best of what I had. The EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM meets all my requirements. Super-sharp in the corners, even wide open, and image stabilisation for handholding was a real bonus. It’s a real move forward in the lens range.”
City Explorer 002 Ranger bag
“Most photography bags, in my opinion, are really ugly and are simply made to be practical. I’m into style and practicality. With that in mind, the handmade leather/canvas City Explorer 002 Ranger bag made by Wotancraft in Taiwan is the perfect fit for a photographer who doesn’t want to look like a photographer.”
Sony 50-million-pixel medium-format sensor
“I reviewed a few cameras that were all new to 2014, including the Hasselblad H5D-50c and Pentax 645Z [above], both fitted with Sony’s 50-million-pixel medium-format sensor. I also reviewed the Rotolight Anova LED and Profoto B1 off-camera flash kit.
“I bought a few video lights, a nice GT Glidetrack, a shoulder rig from Filmcity and a Zoom H4n. Overall, I was most impressed by the Sony 50-million-pixel medium-format sensor and the quality this gave to handheld medium-format photography. I would ideally like to see a medium-format CSC-type camera evolve, but that is perhaps a bit of a long shot for Sony because of the need for a dedicated set of system lenses. However, Phase One will shortly be introducing a new series of medium-format CSCs.”
F-Stop Satori EXP
“While on a recent expedition in the Himalayas attempting to climb an 8,000m peak, a favourite piece of kit emerged. It is neither a camera nor a lens – it’s a camera bag: the F-Stop Satori EXP. It’s a fantastic camera bag and perfect for big expeditions as well as everyday use. I have been out in the Himalayas for over two months now and have used this bag in all conditions, ranging from +30°C on the jungle walk-in to -30°C at over 6,800m on the mountains, and it has become a firm favourite.
“It keeps my camera gear safe and allows me the room to carry my mountaineering equipment at the same time. It also makes a great pillow! The bag has clearly been well thought out and designed by people who understand the needs of the photographer.”
AquaTech Elite D800 Sport Housing
“For the past couple of years I have been looking to shoot underwater footage and stills of life in the dykes on my local Cley Marshes in north Norfolk. So this year I invested in an underwater housing with a dome port for my Nikon D800. It rapidly became my favourite piece of kit over the summer and has opened up the world of split-level pictures, which I am attempting to master. It will be going with me as I head to the Southern Ocean in the New Year, on the trail of penguins and albatrosses.”
Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 Asph Power OIS
“I’m going to pick the Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 Asph Power OIS lens. I’ve been through quite a few lenses this year, but this 85mm emulator has really stood out for me. Not only is it a great focal length for portraits, but I’ve found it excellent for street photography, too.
“What makes it exceptional in my eyes is that even when it is used wide open it produces brilliant sharpness, and its ability to bring medium-format-style shallow depth of field to the micro four thirds system is of great assistance when I’m trying to lift my subject out of a busy background. I love the clicky aperture ring, of course, but it is actually the quality of the images the lens turns out that makes me love using it so much.”
Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head
“Without doubt, my Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head is one of my favourite bits of kit this year. It’s reassuringly sturdy and precise, and it’s a joy to use for landscape photography. The camera snaps into place with a satisfying clunk and there it stays, solid as a rock on the large quick-release plate. Each of the three knobs has a quick release for making fast adjustments, but this head isn’t built for speed. Turning any of the three geared adjustment knobs moves the camera smoothly and precisely into position, making fine-tuning compositions simple and wonky horizons a thing of the past. It’s perfect.”
“Although the Nikon D810 was an evolution rather than a revolution, its new sensor, offering a base ISO of 64, an increased frame rate, improved focusing, additional metering modes and a plethora of other small changes, made quite an impact. As a wildlife photographer, one of the biggest headline features for me was how quiet the new shutter and mirror mechanisms are. It’s a camera I wouldn’t be without, and I’m still in awe of the image quality and crispness when paired with top-rate optics.”