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The 'Best of the Best' does not always mean expensive. But then again, sometimes it does. While compiling the 2008 'Best of the Best' photo gift wish list, we had to keep the dizzying realities of the day's financial headlines in mind. And to the ancient wise man who said, "May you live in interesting times", all we can say is "Thanks… wish you were here."
But since this is the 'Best of the Best' photo article, we might as well go straight for the jugular. The Hasselblad H3DII-50, a 4th-generation Hasselblad 'H' camera, is hands-down one amazing piece of technology. Inside the camera's one-piece stainless-steel housing lies a 50Mp, 645-format ((8176 x 6132, 36.8 x 49.1mm) CCD that packs twice the number of pixels found in the full-frame sensors used in Nikon, Canon, and Sony's flagship DSLRs. They're also larger pixels, which means they capture a far wider range of tone and detail, especially in the highlights and shadows, than the sensors found in 35mm-format DSLRs. And it's just as easy to operate.
You can shoot tethered to a computer via FireWire 800 cable, or directly to CF cards (get the big ones!) or Hasselblad's compact FireWire 800-enabled Imagebank (100GB). 3FRAW (3FR) (65Mb) or TIFF (150Mb) files can be reviewed and edited using the H3DII-50's 3" LCD, or if shooting tethered, viewed on your computer screen.
If you have a favored set of shooting parameters, the H3DII-50 allows you to store them as a user-profile for easy recall as needed. You also have the option of setting the camera to 'Program' and use it like a pocket-size point-and-shoot… albeit a P&S that captures frighteningly sharp photographs.
To go along with this brute of a picture-taking machine, Hasselblad offers an extensive lineup of HC/HCD-series autofocus optics from 28mm ultra-wide through 300mm telephoto, including a zoom, a macro , and a 1.4x converter. Each HC-series lens is APO-chromatically corrected digitally within the camera's firmware to deliver optimum performance based on the lens' unique optical characteristics, and can be synced with studio lights at shutter speeds up to 1/800-sec. The look and feel of HC-series optics are solid and smooth, and in addition to a positive-action AF system, feature sure-gripped manual focusing rings for manual focusing, or instant manual over-ride when shooting in AF mode.
Interested but still prefer to shoot film? No problem. The Hasselblad H2F is the 645 film-format version of this state-of-the-art imaging system, and film magazine aside, has all the bells, whistles, and optics that make the H3D the very cool camera it is.
The term 'the best' doesn't always mean off-the-charts 'expensive'. Sometimes it can mean, "They finally made the point-and-shoot I've been hankering for". For seasoned shooters looking for something special to tuck away in the coat pocket, the Leica D-LUX 4 gets the nod for a number of reasons.
Packaged in a svelte-yet-reserved black aluminum body containing a 10.1Mp CCD, the Leica D-LUX 4 features a LEICA DC Vario-Summicron 24 to 60mm equivalent zoom lens. Consisting of 8 elements (4 of them aspherical), an impressively fast (f/2-2.8) maximum aperture throughout its zoom range, and an optical image stabilizer, the D-LUX 4 makes for a terrific low-light shooter.
In addition to capturing 6 levels of JPEGs, the D-LUX 4 can also capture RAW files, RAW+JPEG, and video. VGA (640 x 480 @ 30 fps), QVGA (320 x 240 @ 30 fps or 10 fps), HD (1280 x 720 @ 24 fps), and VGA-Wide (848 x 480 @ 30 fps). As with all Leica digicams, the firmware is designed to deliver natural color rendition under a wide range of lighting conditions. Images can be previewed and edited using the D-LUX 4's 3" (460,000-dot) LCD
A crowning touch is a shoe-mounted 24mm optical finder (scheduled arrival February '09), and a bottom-mounted Hand Grip that lends the camera a classic Leica feel. Did we mention the 3-year warranty?
Like the features – and the optics - on the Leica D-LUX 4, but want to spend a little less? Have a look-see at the Panasonic DMC-LX3, which is a first-cousin of the Leica. The DMC-LX3 is, mechanically, optically, and functionally the same as the D-LUX 4. The differences between the 2 cameras include different firmware profiles, a few different set-up functions, a 1-Year Parts / 90-Days Labor limited warranty instead of Leica's 3-year warranty, and it doesn't sport that sexy little red Leica badge on the front of the camera body.
If you spend your days with pro-style cameras and you're looking for a point-and-shoot that contains the same (or very similar) pro-style features, look no further than the Canon PowerShot G10.
As the ump-teenth version of this very successful camera series, the G10 features a 14.7Mp sensor, a 28 – 140 mm equivalent zoom lens with optical IS, a real-deal optical viewfinder, and a 3" TFT LCD screen.
But what makes the G10 stand out among pros is its ability to capture high-resolution RAW files, and its use of DSLR-style camera controls, an honest-to-gosh E-TTL hot shoe, and the solid feel of a 'real' camera.
If you like the idea of photo backpacks but hate working out of them you should take a look at Tamrac Aero-series Speed Packs. There are several cool features about these backpacks, but what tops the list in our books is the Aero-series Dual-Entry System, which enables easy access to camera gear while on the run.
There's no longer a need to stop in your tracks to pull a camera or lens out of your backpack while the action passes you by. The Aero's side door has water-resistant zippers, and the entire bag is weatherproof. To maintain a good balance between weight and structural stability, wire hoops offer rigidity without resorting to heavier structural design.
The Tamrac 3375 Aero Speed Pack 75 features a 600 denier PolyTek shell with thick, closed-cell foam lining for shock and vibration protection, and a comfortable, foam-padded, contoured harness that spreads the weight of the camera gear across the shoulders. A slightly larger version, the Tamrac 3385 Aero Speed Pack 85 also contains a padded compartment large enough to carry most 17" laptops.
The Lowepro SlingShot-series 420 denier ripstop nylon sling bags are made to go from carry mode to ready mode in just seconds. Waterproof in design, they can be carried comfortably on the back and can easily rotate to the front to allow quick access to camera gear. Depending on the model-size, Lowepro Sling bags can carry a variety of camera and/or camcorders systems with room for extra lenses, cables and accessories. A full-access lid design makes loading it a snap. Each of these bags includes a built-in memory card pouch, micro fiber LCD cloth and two organizer pockets.
An alternative is the CompuPrimus that subtracts some camera space to provide a slot for 15" widescreen laptops. Lastly, for shorter jaunts or less gear, the Primus Minimus is smaller than its two brothers, but is designed with the same motif. All three bags make use of recycled materials and are designed to be rugged and versatile with reach-around pockets and a back-pad that zips down while the user is wearing the pack to safely access all of the gear inside.
Still have a bunch of film negatives and/or transparencies you'd love to scan and print, and you won't settle for anything less than the best scans money can buy? If that's the case take a long hard look at the Hasselblad Flextite X1. The Flextite's vertical design enables glass-free, 16-bit high-definition film scans from 35 mm through 4x5". Scanned images are processed in the form of Hasselblad 3F RAW files, which can be infinitely adjusted for output as TIFF, JPEG, or other image formats.
Maximum resolving power for 35 mm film is up to 6300 dpi, 3200 dpi for medium-format images, and 2040 dpi for 4x5" film images, with a dynamic range of up to 4.6. Scan speed is 60MB/minute, which works out to a bit over 7-minutes for a 35 mm scan, about 6-minutes for a medium-format scan, and 5-minutes for a 4x5" film scan. As for image quality… don't ask… it's amazing.
If you'd like to print museum-quality fine-art prints up to 17 x 22" without having to spend a small fortune, Epson's Stylus Pro 3800 is hands-down the best deal around. Unlike smaller desktop printers (13x19" & under) the Stylus Pro uses larger (80ml) ink cartridges, which are far more cost-efficient than the smaller-capacity cartridges typical to the smaller desktops.
The Stylus Pro 3800 uses Epson's 8-color (P/MK, Kk, Kkk, C, Cc, Y, M, Mm), pigment-based UltraChrome K3 inks, which when used on Epson premium paper surfaces, produce stunning color or B&W images that are fade-resistant for up to 200-years under proper storage and/or display conditions.
Need to go big? We mean really, really big? If so, Epson's Stylus Pro 11880 can print your precious image files onto your favorite paper or canvas media in sizes up to 64" across by however long you want (or need) to go.
Using Epson's UltraChrome K3 Ink with Vivid Magenta (and 3 shades of Black) the Stylus Pro 11880 is about as good as it gets in the world of high-quality, color and advanced B&W digital output.
Aside from heavyweight fine-art papers – sheet or roll, glossy or matte – and canvas, the Stylus Pro 11880 accepts posterboard up to 1.5 mm thick. Depending on your choice of media, the SP 11880 can reproduce black densities up to 2.55 with an L* value of 2.9. And to better ensure uninterrupted print sessions, the SP 11880 uses 9 individual 700 ml ink cartridges.
The Canon imagePROGRAF iPF8100, with a maximum print width of 60", is Canon's offering to those who wish to print billboards at the rate of 350 square feet per hour from the comfort of their own living room.
Using Canon's pigment-based, 12-color (C, PC, M, PM, Y, K, MK, Kk, Kkk, R, G, B), LUCIA inkset, the Canon imagePROGRAF iPF8100 accepts a variety of media including fine-art papers, canvas, and posterboard to fill most all of your large-format output needs. Gentlemen (Gentleladies?), start your print engines.
If you're a demanding studio shooter, the Profoto Pro-8a Air will make you think twice about any other lighting system you've ever worked with. Available in a choice of 1200 Ws or 2400 Ws, the Pro-8a Air can produce precise bursts of accurately-colored light as short as 1/12,000th-second.
Other tricks the Pro-8a Air can perform are high-speed bursts of up to 20 pops-per-second, up to 1000 full-power pops-per-hour, flash-to-flash precision of ± 1/50 f-stop at all power settings, and flash output that can be adjusted over a full 10 f-stop range from 5 Ws up to 2400 Ws, and in increments of 1/10 f-stop.
Color balance can be contained within +/- 40° Kelvin throughout the entire power range, and you have the ability to control an unlimited number of packs and heads clustered in up to 6 groups on 8 channels.
Designed to work with all Profoto Pro-series heads, the Profoto Pro-8a Air is capable of intelligent wireless sync, and features automatic, self-seeking voltage regulation regardless of where in the world your job takes you.
A new alternative to the sealed-lead-acid motorcycle batteries found on many popular battery-powered studio strobe systems, Hensel utilizes Lithium Ion battery chemistry to power its newest Porty units.
The new Porty Lithium power packs use smaller and lighter Li-Ion cells to provide 600 (Porty 6) or 1200 (Porty 12) joules of energy. This type of battery commonly powers digital cameras and laptops. The two ports are individually controllable for asymmetrical light distribution with a 7 f-stop range, adjustable in 1/10th or full stop increments.
It is quick to charge, taking only 50 minutes to achieve 80% charge and it recycles rapidly too: ranging from 0.03 to 0.95 seconds depending on output strength. Alternately, by using Speed Heads, the flash duration can be reduced (1/8100 for the Porty 6, or 1/5100 for the Porty 12), which is very useful for sports and studio shooters.
Two long awaited GPS geotagging units have arrived. Nikon announced the GP-1 alongside the release of their D90 camera. For users of the Nikon D200, D300, D700, D90, D2-series, D3-series, Fuji S5 Pro, and IS Pro, the GP-1 is a tethered GPS receiver capable of embedding location data into an image's metadata at the time of exposure, also referred to as active geotagging.
Canon, Pentax, Olympus DSLR owners and any brand of point shoot camera with a hotshoe are able to multi-stage geotag with the thrice-announced Jobo photoGPS unit. This GPS functions by receiving that all-important spark triggered by a camera's hotshoe to signal when a photo is taken. It then saves the current location in its own memory. When connected to a computer back at home, the photoGPS with some included software, is able to add the latitude and longitude information to digital photographs.
Hopefully the Gitzo Traveler Titanium is a sign of things to come. The world of tubing materials starts with aircraft manufacturing, runs through bicycle design, and ends up with tripods. Materials like carbon fiber, and titanium have been lightweight and solid alternatives to aluminum for all three industries – with one exception. Tripod builders haven't caught titanium-fever until now.
The Traveler Titanium uses the material for the very limited production run of 390 tripods. A fine Italian leather case sheaths the Traveler and custom engraving is an option. Looking beyond this gorgeous collectible tripod, there may be a time that more utilitarian camera supports will be available with titanium construction.
Sometimes the proof isn't so much in the picture as in the print. People old enough to recall the thrill of instant photos from a Polaroid camera may appreciate an accessory that adds such functionality to today's digital cameras and camera phones. The Polaroid PoGo Instant Mobile Printer uses special paper and heat to create each 2- x 3-inch print in 60 seconds.
The sticky-backed prints are actually better than old-fashioned "Polaroids" because they're full-bleed borderless images that are dry, water-resistant, tear-proof, and smudge-proof. And there's no ink-cartridge waste. Certain model Bluetooth phones transfer the picture to the printer wirelessly. PictBridge-enabled cameras use a USB cable. You can also print from a Bluetooth-capable notebook. The printer is 8 oz. including the rechargeable lithium-ion battery. It measures only 4.7- x 2.8 x .9-inches (HxWxD), making the PoGo an excellent stocking stuffer, too.