Each year, our editors select 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 2016, 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.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II
This year, several remarkable full-frame DSLRs were introduced, all worthy of recognition, but our top pick goes to the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II for its unmatched speed and the ability to extract stills from video capture. When using a CFast 2.0 card, you can capture a burst of up to 170 RAW files at the full 20.2MP resolution of the sensor at 14 fps using the viewfinder with full AE and AF tracking, and 16fps in Live View with AE and AF locked. You can also record 4K video and extract 8.8MP still images from the stream. These two capabilities, along with the camera’s 61-point AF system (all of which are compatible with apertures as small as f/8), make the EOS-1D X Mark II an ideal camera for wildlife and sports photography. List price: $5,999 (body only). Contact: Canon, usa.canon.com.
The smaller, lighter sibling of the flagship D5, the Nikon D500 features the same 153-point AF system and processor as the D5, along with a new 20.9MP DX-format (APS-C) sensor that offers incredible low-light performance, with a standard ISO range of 100-51,200, expandable to a max ISO of 1,640,000. The camera is fast, too, able to capture 20.9MP RAW images at up to 10 fps in bursts of up to 79 images. The D500 can also record 4K video and has a built-in intervalometer function that enables it to create 4K time-lapse movies in-camera. Two card slots provide compatibility with legacy SD and future-ready XQD media. The combination of impressive speed, low-light performance and tech details, including built-in WiFi and a tilting touchscreen LCD, make the D500 our favorite APS-C DSLR of the year. List price: $1,999 (body only). Contact: Nikon, nikonusa.com.
Though traditional DSLRs are still the most popular interchangeable-lens cameras, mirrorless models continue to gain ground, and Sony has dominated this segment not only through its breadth of offerings but by pushing the capabilities of these cameras to rival DSLR performance. Sony’s a6500 claims the world’s fastest AF in an APS-C interchangeable-lens camera, with a 425-point focal plane system that’s able to acquire focus in as little as 0.05 seconds, and AF tracking for both stills and 4K video. It can capture stills at up to 11 fps with AE and AF tracking for up to 307 images in continuous shooting. In addition to its 3-inch, adjustable-angle touchscreen LCD, the a6500 also offers an OLED eye-level viewfinder, and 5-axis image stabilization built-in that can provide up to five stops of correction when shooting handheld. List price: $1,399 (body only). Contact: Sony, sony.com.
Medium format sensor cameras offer exceptional image quality — size does matter when it comes to capturing light. Larger sensors with larger pixels are able to provide better light-gathering ability, which translates to increased dynamic range and overall image quality. The main drawbacks of digital medium format have historically been speed, size and price. While the Hasselblad X1D doesn’t offer the speed for wildlife photography, for landscape and scenic work its massive 50MP sensor has approximately 67 percent greater surface area than a full-frame sensor and is capable of recording up to 14 stops of dynamic range. The most compelling argument for the X1D may be its size: The first mirrorless medium format camera weighs just 1.6 pounds, with dimensions of 5.9×3.9×2.8 inches, making it comparable to a mid-size DSLR. While its price remains relatively lofty, it is lighter there, too, compared to other models ranging in the tens of thousands of dollars. List price: $8,995 (body only). Contact: Hasselblad, hasselblad.com.
Sigma 500mm F4 DG OS HSM Sport
Prime lenses of the extreme telephoto variety are inherently expensive. Big glass, engineering challenges and premium materials and construction all add up. For serious wildlife and sports photography, though, that’s the price of admission, so any relief is welcome. Sigma’s 500mm F4 DG OS HSM Sport, with its f/4 maximum aperture and two-mode Optical Stabilizer, compares favorably to similar lenses from Canon and Nikon, which are priced at a roughly $3,000 more. The lens is offered in Sigma, Canon and Nikon mounts, with the Nikon model also including a new electromagnetic diaphragm to improve high-speed shooting performance. The lens is compatible with Sigma’s USB Lens Dock and Optimization Pro software, allowing you to customize AF performance, focus limiters and micro-focus tuning. List price: $5,999. Contact: Sigma, sigmaphoto.com.
Sony G Master 70-200mm
Limited lens selection has been one of the drawbacks of mirrorless interchangeable lens systems, but the array of options is improving as the category matures. With the introduction of its new G Master series of premium optics this year, Sony is challenging the idea that mirrorless systems aren’t competitive in lens selection. The Sony G Master FE 70-200 mm F2.8 GM OSS is our favorite example of the closing gap, offering a versatile range for landscape and wildlife photography that can be further extended with one of two teleconverters — a 1.4x and 2x — designed specifically for this lens. It offers a fast maximum aperture of f/2.8 throughout the zoom range, dual-mode image stabilization is built-in to the lens, and is also compatible with Sony cameras that feature 5-axis stabilization. The lens is built for the outdoors with weather sealing and a fluorine coating on the front element. Ideal for use with Sony’s full-frame cameras, it’s also compatible with Sony APS-C models. List price: $2,599. Teleconverters are $549 each. Contact: Sony, sony.com.
Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2
Wildlife and sports photographers looking for a lighter, more affordable alternative to super-tele primes have an excellent new option with the second generation of Tamron’s versatile 150-600mm zoom. The SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 is offered in Canon, Nikon and Sony mounts and can be used with both full-frame and APS-C cameras. When paired with the latter, the lens provides an equivalent focal range of approximately 233-930mm, which can be augmented even further with a 1.4x or 2x teleconverter introduced along with the lens. The Vibration Compensation system in the lens now enables up to 4.5 stops of correction with three modes: standard, panning and a third mode that activates only at the instant of capture. The Flex Zoom Lock mechanism allows you to lock the zoom anywhere in the focal range. List price: $1,399 (lens); $419 (1.4x teleconverter); $439 (2x teleconverter). Contact: Tamron, tamron-usa.com.
Tokina AT-X 14-20mm F/2 DX
Fast constant-aperture, wide-angle zooms are a rare breed and typically expensive. Available for APS-C sensor Canon and Nikon cameras, the Tokina AT-X 14-20mm F/2 DX offers an exceptionally fast maximum aperture of f/2 throughout its range, which is equivalent to approximately 21-30mm. The lens incorporates Tokina’s One-Touch Focus Clutch Mechanism, which allows you to switch between AF and manual focus quickly and intuitively: pull the focus ring toward the mount for manual focus or push it forward to active AF. With a minimum focusing distance of 11.02 inches, it’s perfect for wide-angle landscape compositions with prominent foreground elements. Estimated street price: $799. Contact: Tokina, tokinausa.com.
Manfrotto Befree Live
Video tripod and head combos tend to be large and heavy, limiting their portability for travel and field work. Manfrotto’s newest Befree series tripod, the Befree Live, is a lightweight, compact alternative. The aluminum tripod kit includes a fluid pan/tilt head with independent tension adjustments for each movement. The four-section legs have flip-lock levers and can be extended to a maximum height of 59.45 inches or get as low to the ground as 16.93 inches. One nice feature is a head-leveling mechanism that acts similar to a ballhead — just twist the control at the base of the head to level it, eliminating the need to adjust leg heights for the purpose. There’s even a bubble gauge built-in to assist with this. The system can support up to 8.8 pounds, ample for most camera, lens and mic setups, and itself weighs just under 4 pounds. List price: $239. Contact: Manfrotto, manfrotto.us.
Tamrac G Elite G32
Traveling with your complete DSLR system might mean carrying two camera bodies, multiple lenses ranging from wide angle to telephoto, plus chargers, extra batteries, filters and accessories, plus a laptop and tablet. A single bag that can accommodate all of this and still meet carry-on limitations is essential, and the Tamrac G Elite G32 is one of the few backpacks that accomplish this with weather-resistant style. The customizable interior can pack lenses as large as a 500mm attached to a pro DSLR body or an 800mm unattached. A unique “butterfly” design gives you access to the bag’s interior without fully exposing your gear. There are several mesh interior pockets for accessories, side straps for securing a tripod, and a padded compartment for a 15-inch laptop. The pack also includes a removable rain cover. List price: $403. Contact: Tamrac, tamrac.com.
Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro
Most portable hard drives don’t do much beyond storing files. The My Passport Wireless Pro from Western Digital redefines portable drive capabilities with wireless features that allow it to act as a gateway to cloud storage services. Connect the drive to a WiFi network, and it can share the internet connection with your digital devices. Insert your camera’s SD card or connect your camera directly via USB, and the drive can automatically ingest and backup your photos. Then use it to connect to services like Adobe Creative Cloud, Dropbox and Google Drive for wireless backups to the cloud. You can also use the drive to serve image, music and movie files to your smartphone or tablet. It’s available in 2TB and 3TB capacities. List price: From $229. Contact: Western Digital, wdc.com.
Macphun Aurora HDR 2017
When you think “HDR,” it may conjure images that are excessively processed and oversaturated, and while that’s certainly possible with any photo application, it’s not the only result achievable with Macphun’s Aurora HDR 2017. In fact, the name implies that the software is more limited than it actually is. Able to handle RAW files from most popular cameras, it can create HDR images from bracketed files or process a single image with a variety of presets, some of which are actually subdued in palette. Slider controls ranging from basic exposure and color adjustments to special effects like “Glow” allow you to fine tune the settings for results that can range from subtle and realistic to over the top, as you prefer. List price: $99. Contact: Macphun Software, macphun.com.