In 2011, manufacturers have far from skimped on ideas. Rather than just the promise of greatness we’ve seen products released to market that embody new concepts and designs: think Fuji’s X100, Pentax’s Q-mount and Sony’s A77 with OLED viewfinder, to name but a handful.
If 2010 saw the rise of the Compact System Camera – a trait that’s set to continue throughout 2012 with Nikon’s announcement of its ‘1′ system further adding to the sector – then 2011 may have been the year of the SLT (Single Lens Translucent) camera. Even if they’re not (yet) outselling DSLRs, Sony’s latest range of cameras have grown in strength and ability and we’ve been mightily impressed with what we’ve seen over the past few months.
Of course we’ve also seen shedloads of accessories, compacts, DSLRs and lenses too – each equally important to different user bases; all of which WDC is committed to covering. And after compiling a list of initial products in each category, we sat down to deliberate over which was best. Much tea drinking, voting, discussion and inevitable re-voting later, here are the results…
Best Consumer Compact
WINNER: Canon IXUS 220 HS
Amid all the hundreds of compact
cameras that adorn shops’ shelves it can
be hard to sift the wheat from the chaff.
Of the dozens of compacts that have passed through our hands here at WDC there have been a number of standout models, but nothing more so than Canon’s IXUS 220 HS.
The camera’s stainless steel body has a textured finish for grip, is small in size yet big in performance. The 5x optical zoom, optical image stabilisation, 12.1MP sensor and HS system combine to make great images too. All this for a well-priced £159 makes the IXUS 220 our affordable compact of choice.
Casio EXILIM ZR10
Sony Cyber-shot WX7
Panasonic Lumix FX77
Best Premium Compact
WINNER: Canon Powershot SX230 HS
Canon’s grip on the compact cameras sector is as strong as ever, with models such as the Powershot SX230 HS able to show rival models a thing or two. Earlier this year our travel superzoom test saw Canon’s 14x zoom marvel beat a selection of other top-tier releases. Great to use, the SX230 HS also surpasses its peers in the image quality department – and for under £250 there are few other compacts that could challenge this Canon’s crown.
Sony Cyber-shot HX9V
Panasonic Lumix TZ20
Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR
Gear of the Year 2011: Best Enthusiast & Best Superzoom
Best Enthusiast Compact
WINNER: Fujifilm FinePix X100
the X100 appeared, as if by magic, at 2010′s Photokina trade show we
were more than taken by surprise. But in a good way. At WDC we often
have an inkling of what’s in the pipeline, but Fuji had taken it upon
themselves to very secretively whip up a brand new high-end compact that
looked like it was born in the 1950s but was able to outperform
modern-day digital cameras.
The X100 embodies an innovative hybrid
viewfinder, an f/2.0 35mm (equiv.) fixed-focal-length lens and a
DSLR-sized 12.3MP APS-C sized sensor. It’s a street photographer’s dream
that’s glorious to use. But it’s the camera’s images that truly take it
to the next level. The X100 produces the best images of any compact
camera we’ve seen. Ever. Granted you’ll need to pay for the privilege,
but boy is it worth it.
Nikon Coolpix P300
Canon Powershot S95
Best Superzoom Camera
WINNER: Panasonic Lumix FZ150
Panasonic hasn’t reached the dizzying heights of the 35x zoom market,
the FZ150′s 24x optical zoom still covers an impressive 25-600mm and has
a sublime optical image stabilisation system. But what makes the FZ150 a
real winner is its souped-up focusing that leaves all other current
superzooms in the dust. It’s quick off the mark, and that’s an absolute
essential when dealing with distant subjects. It’s also possible to
shoot Raw files – something lacking from the majority of the competition
and another pointer that sets this super superzoom apart from the rest.
Fujifilm FinePix HS20
Sony Cyber-shot HX100V
Canon Powershot SX40 IS
Gear of the Year 2011: Best Compact System Camera & Best Consumer DSLR/SLT
Best Compact System Camera
WINNER: Panasonic Lumix GF3
was the most hotly contended category this year – choosing our winning
Compact System Camera from the mass of top-quality options wasn’t taken
lightly. We voted, we argued, and continued in that cycle for quite some
time. But one thing was clear: that the Lumix GF3 was a firm favourite
that kept on surfacing to the top of the pile. Not because it produces
the best image quality (as, frankly, there are contenders that beat it
in this department), but because it’s the camera that epitomises the CSC
category. It’s über-small, easy to use, affordable, has a good
lens-to-body size ratio, super-fast autofocus and, above all, it’s the
one that all of us WDC folk would choose to take away on a short weekend
or to back up the DSLR on holiday. A bit of a people’s champion, if you
Best Consumer DSLR/SLT
WINNER: Sony Alpha 35
Price: £379 (body only)
grip on the DSLR and SLT market was further strengthened this year, and
the Alpha 35 is a prime example as to why. Although this model may be
‘entry-level’ in terms of Sony’s lineup, it’s one of those cameras that
grabs far higher-end features and squeezes them into this sub-£400 body.
It’s an undeniable bargain to pick up a camera that steps up to the
plate and outdoes even pricier peers. While the electronic viewfinder
integral to the A35′s build may not be to everyone’s tastes, we were
taken aback by the sheer quality of the camera’s final images, the fast
continuous focus, great movie mode and rapid burst speed. This one’s a
crowd-pleaser and the camera to put SLT firmly on the map. DSLRs, watch
Canon EOS 600D
Gear of the Year 2011: Best Advanced DSLR/SLT & Best Lens
Best Advanced DSLR/SLT
WINNER: Sony Alpha 77
Price: £1,149 (body only)
Since Sony’s A700 exited the range a couple of years back, many have felt there’s been a hole left in the Alpha lineup. That is, until now.
The Alpha SLT-77 is one of those cameras that just gets you excited about digital technology again. There’s a shedload of it crammed into the A77′s shell, and then a bit more just for good measure.
As an SLT (Single Lens Translucent) camera, the A77 brings a 2.5-million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder to the fold – and while it won’t meet everyone’s expectations, it’s a great tool that goes one step further to keep the EVF cynics at bay. Add to that a best-in-class 12fps burst mode with continuous autofocus, a high-resolution 24.3MP sensor, and weather-sealed body and this is one hot camera that has more than met its high expectations. A true DSLR-beater.
WINNER: Nikon 24-120mm f/4G
Having the right lens can be a huge aid to getting the perfect shot. Of
the wide variety of glass available, we’ve seen numerous lenses this
year – most, if not all, of which have truly impressed.
But Nikon’s latest 24-120mm f/4G has to be the one to take the prize. A class update of the f/3.5-5.6 version of the same focal length, the latest model adds second-generation Vibration Reduction technology, has a Nano Crystal coating to reduce flare, and the 17 elements arranged in 13 groups make for image quality that’s second to none. This will be the perfect all-in-one DSLR lens for many, whether using full-frame Nikon FX, APS-C Nikon DX or, indeed, both!
Tamron 60mm Macro
Panasonic Lumix 100-300mm (MFT)
Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6
Gear of the Year 2011: Best Accessory & Innovation
WINNER: Epson R3000 printer
Picking an accessory from such a wide assortment of products is no easy task. In order to win, a product needs to stand out, and that’s an apt description of Epson’s R3000 A3+ printer.
For genuine high-quality printing in the home at sizes right up to A3+ there’s little else that can compare. Perfect for the serious photographer looking for full control of the print process, this nine-cartridge model produces superb black & white or colour prints and can handle fine art papers up to 1.3mm thick. It’s not cheap to buy or to run, but you’re paying for quality. And it’s that professional standard that gives it our seal of approval.
Apple iPad 2
Apple Final Cut Pro X
adobe photoshop Elements 10
3 Legged Thing ‘Eddie’ tripod
Innovation of the Year
WINNER: Fujifilm’s ‘Hybrid Viewfinder’
Those lucky enough to have used an X100 will know exactly what we’re talking about here. The boffins at Fuji have, in essence, combined the best bits of an optical viewfinder with the benefits of an electronic one. This ‘hybrid’ viewfinder offers a wider-than-100% field of view that’s great for anticipating subjects walking into frame, yet it’s possible to switch on an electronic overlay that will show you the exact frame edge, focusing and shooting information. Or, when the optical viewfinder is closed off via its shutter, it’s possible to use the 0.47in, 1.44m-dot electronic viewfinder on its own. In partnership with the X100′s 35mm equivalent lens, the 0.5x magnification also makes for an ideal viewing size. Fuji certainly has every base covered here and the X100′s resulting viewfinder is a mini engineering marvel. What’s not to love?
Sony’s OLED viewfinder (as per A77)
Fujifilm’s ‘Hybrid Viewfinder’ (as per X100)
Samsung’s i-Fn lenses
Super-fast contrast detection autofocus
(as per Lumix G- and Olympus PEN)
Gear of the Year 2011: Product of the Year
Product of the Year
WINNER: Sony Alpha SLT-77
Price: £1,149 (body only)
It was this time last year that we awarded Sony’s SLT (Single Lens Translucent) system our Innovation of the Year Award 2010. With not one but two SLT models making it into this year’s WDC Awards it’s fair to say we’ve been suitably impressed.
But the Sony A77, which has been talk of the rumour mill for a long time now, is in a different class. It’s an all-guns-blazing release that’s managed to successfully balance out the hype by delivering on its promises in abundance. Its 2.5-million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder outshines the competition by quite a margin – an area crucial to the success of the category. Add a 24.3MP sensor, 12fps shooting, incredible continuous autofocus that also works during 1080p movie capture and finish off with a weather-sealed body, and there’s little that the A77 can’t do.
There’s been talk of SLT being the death of DSLR and, based on the A77′s performance, that may yet be the case. Sony’s latest is a triumph and a worthy winner of our Product of the Year 2011.