Here’s one to get you into the spirit of Christmas: either treat yourself, treat a very good friend, or better yet, get somebody to treat you*. This list is mostly composed of new releases for 2013, or new items I’ve discovered during the course of the year. For a complete list of recommendations, see this page. Please note, all links from this page do award me a small referral commission; it doesn’t increase your price, but it does help to pay for all the bandwidth this site uses – thanks for your support!
*Here’s hoping the wife reads one of my articles for a change!
Sandisk Extreme memory cards (from $19; Amazon | B&H) – You can never have enough storage. And a fast card can make the difference between your camera feeling snappy and frustrating. I never buy the fastest cards; you’re often paying a significant premium for speed you can’t always use.
Any one of Nick Brandt’s books ($49-90; Amazon) – See my review of his first book here. Gorgeous images of strong subjects presented in an impeccable manner; anybody who loves photography should have at least one. Final book in the trilogy now available, too – Across This Ravaged Land.
Wacom Intuos 6×4″ tablet ($79, or $99 with touch; Amazon | B&H) – I’ve come to the conclusion this is perhaps the most useful tablet you can buy; it’s cheap and gives you pretty much everything its bigger brother does. Pen feel is excellent, you can make it wireless if you wish, and it’s very small, making it handy for travel. There’s even a loop so you don’t lose your pen. If you’ve been unsure about using a tablet for editing – especially dodging and burning – this is the one to get your feet wet with, and possibly the only tablet you’ll ever need.
Fuji Acros 100 film (About $6 a roll; review; Amazon | B&H) – Perhaps the best B&W film ever made; a modern, low-grain emulsion that has incredible resolution and dynamic range; rich shadows and highlights that go on forever. It’s also very easy to handle, difficult to scratch, and develops well in a variety of solutions. Minimal to no base dye layer for easy scanning/ copying and printing. Pushes well up to ISO 800; my serendipitous discovery of the year; now my favourite film and pretty much all I shoot.
Any one of my teaching videos – The perfect way to up your game and have the opportunity to attend a workshop without having to fly anywhere! We cover photoshop at various levels; the fundamentals of photography; the compact camera masterclass, how to see, and of course the outstanding images workshop series.
WD Passport Ultra 2TB portable USB 3.0 drives ($130, Amazon | B&H) – Fast, capacious, and perfect for backups in the field and while travelling. I’ve got a whole bunch of these and simply don’t think if I run out of storage; just go get another one.
Billingham Hadley Digital (around $200; Amazon | B&H) – My new travel bag; big enough to fit a Hasselblad, film and GR, but small enough to a) keep things light, and b) ensure you actually think about what you bring so you don’t accidentally pack the kitchen sink. Very well made, doesn’t scream ‘camera bag’ – and also waterproof.
Olympus E-PM1 Pen Mini ($229, possibly less if you get lucky. Review | Amazon) – This camera is the bargain pick here: a very competent, large-sensor interchangeable lens camera with an excellent kit lens – for less than most compacts! Yes, it’s a generation old, but at this price – you really can’t complain. And it doesn’t hold any less imaging potential than it used to.
Panasonic Lumix LX7 (From $299 up, depending on where the wind blows; review | Amazon | B&H) - Getting a bit older now, but still an excellent compact with a standout lens and image stabilization system, and with the option to add an EVF. Not that many solutions are this versatile – or this affordable. A handy thing to have in a bag or pocket at all times.
Voigtlander VC-Meter II ($225; Amazon | B&H) – A rather neat little gadget for anybody who still shoots film: sits in the hotshoe and serves as an averaging meter. I keep one in my pocket most of the time to check exposure; all of the time when I’m shooting with the Hasselblad. Beautifully made, very easy to use, and accurate, too.
Apple iPad Mini (from $335; Amazon | B&H) – This thing has become a permanent fixture in my travel bag; even when I’m out teaching in the field. I can show examples, present my portfolio, check my email, read a book, and not get lost. It’s thin, light, and the battery goes forever. Finally, an iPad size that makes sense – no point carrying a full size one around, I’d rather have a MacBook Air.
A Sandisk Extreme SSD (From $120; Amazon | B&H) – Perhaps the easiest way to give your computer a kick up the backside; moving your programs and OS onto an SSD will certainly liven things up. Makes an enormous difference when it comes to postprocessing as your primary drive can effectively act as extra RAM; if you’re completely insane, replace all of your storage with these, too. I have dual 480GB versions of this drive occupying the two bays inside my Mac Mini and used for both storage and OS; the machine is positively instantaneous. A perfect way to spend more time in the field shooting (or with your family), and less time in front of the PC!
Ricoh GR ($799; Review | Amazon | B&H) – Perhaps the best compact of 2013, and certainly one of the most difficult to get hold of! Packing an APS-C sensor inside a body not much larger than its 1/1.7″-sensored predecessors, the GR’s image quality plays in a much, much higher league. It’ll give DSLRs a run for their money because of the outstanding lens; corner performance even wide open at f2.8 is astounding. Controls are infinitely configurable, and the DNG files make for excellent B&W conversions. I don’t leave home without it.
Apple Mac Mini – (From $599; Amazon | B&H) – Many of you will be surprised to discover that a slightly pimped up version of this is my workhorse – with 16GB of RAM and dual SSDs, it positively flies. It’s the most easily upgradeable Mac model this side of the Mac Pro, and far more cost effective. For most things, not much slower, either. Highly recommended.
A used Hasselblad V series – Not so easy to find, not so easy to use, but once you see the negatives…you’ll be hooked. Photographing with one is both a unique experience and an interesting way to instantly force yourself to change the way you see and work; it might well be for the better. Also a beautifully made object in its own right. Perhaps the most reliable place to start is KEH, or if you want a rarer or more minty model, then look for Bellamy Hunt at Japan Camera Hunter.
$1000 and up
Apple MacBook Air (From $948 – Amazon | B&H) – Nearly the perfect travel computer. The 11″ model is great if you’ve got a desktop primary – the screen is a bit small for prolonged photoshop; the 13″ will cover all needs. Both will now run for a whole day on one battery, and have more than enough horsepower even to handle D800E and medium format files – I know, because I’m doing it. RAM and SSD upgrades highly recommended, too; you can’t out these in afterwards.
Apple Mac Pro (from $2999, available soon) – Speed, speed speed. And a design like a nuclear warhead. What’s not to like, apart from the price?
Olympus OM-D E-M1 ($1,399 – review | Amazon | B&H) – Best of the compact system cameras; incredibly tough build, PDAF on-sensor, very responsive, great ergonomics. Takes the already excellent E-M5 and makes it even better still. Quite possibly more camera than 99% of the population will ever need. I bought two.
Olympus ZD 12-40/2.8 PRO ($999 – review | Amazon | B&H) – Perfect travel pairing for the E-M1; excellent optics, weather-sealed to the same degree, and with a very impressive 20cm near focus distance at all focal lengths – more importantly, there’s no degradation in image quality whatsoever. Also has a handy sliding manual focus ring with hard stops at both ends – a rarity in the mirrorless world, and very useful for pulling focus for video.
Nikon D800E ($2,999 – Amazon | B&H) – My workhorse. I admit I’m slowly coming around to love this one; it’s not an irrational sort of love, but how can the files make you feel any other way? Without question, the highest image quality you can get without going medium format – and even then, it gives a lot of those cameras a run for their money, too.
Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 Distagon, in Canon EOS and Nikon F mounts ($3999 – B&H) – Perhaps the ultimate normal lens: from all of the samples I’ve seen, absolutely incredible cross-frame performance wide open and at any aperture; Zeiss decided traditional double-Gauss-derived planar designs weren’t good enough for the likes of the D800E, so they used a Distagon derivative with an image circle large enough for medium format. Can you say ‘no compromises’? This is probably the only lens I’ve ever ordered without using it first, based on full size samples and reputation/ track record alone. That should say quite a lot, I think…
Profoto B1 wireless TTL monolight with built in battery ($1,999 each – B&H) - I demoed these recently and found them to basically be speedlights on steroids – 500W/S steroids, to be precise. Very, very impressive, and offering multi-system remote control from the radio trigger that goes on the hotshoe. I’m waiting for the Nikon version – it’ll be available early 2014; the remote’s TTL pins are camera-specific, of course.
You’ll notice there were no DSLR entries in this year’s list other than the D800E; I’m just not very excited by any of the new releases; they’ve frankly been just a little bit more of the same, or near franken-misses like the Df. It’s disappointing that the manufacturers don’t have much imagination, but perhaps that’s more of a business decision than anything else. When the gravy train stops, hopefully we will start to see a bit more innovation. In any case, hopefully one (or more) of these will materialize under your tree in a few weeks! MT
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