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At B&H, we are constantly exposed to innovative new products that help make life and work a little easier, whether you’re shooting photos, videos, making music or just relaxing at home. The most memorable aspects of this equipment often lie in the little details. It’s always exciting to notice a slight tweak in a design that improves the usability of a product. We decided to ask around the company and find out which innovations stand out in people’s minds, and what little design features impressed them the most. Without further ado, we present the B&H Great Design Awards.
The Nikon D4, announced early 2012, is loaded with features that pro photographers really appreciate, like a full-frame 16.2MP CMOS sensor, the ability to fire off 10 fps, a 51-point AF system, a magnesium-alloy body and even a headphone output for video shooters. The D4 is bursting with helpful workflow features, such as the ability to designate one card slot for RAW files and the other for JPEGs, but one really simple feature caught lots of people’s attention: all of the function buttons on the D4 are backlit. Everyone loves a good low-light camera, and the illuminated buttons on the D4 make it much faster and easier to locate the button you need when shooting in dimly lit environments.
When it comes to using supertelephoto lenses, weight can be a really big deal, especially when you’re hiking out in the wilderness to photograph nature. Canon released the EF 600mm f/4L IS II super telephoto lens in 2012, and while it features all of the hallmarks you'd expect in Canon’s L-Series glass, it has the great benefit of being 25% lighter than similar lenses. Its magnesium and titanium construction helps to keep things light, and the Fluorite optics deliver sharp images. Another nice touch is that this lens features a third image stabilization mode, which only activates when the shutter is fully pressed. This way IS doesn't interfere with composition and framing while you are panning.
Versatility is the key to the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye Zoom. The sweet design feature here kicks in when you mount this lens to a full-frame DSLR. When zoomed out, you get the traditional circular fisheye image. Zooming in fills up the entire frame. Because it's L-Series glass, you get all of the expected perks: solid, weatherproof construction, Fluorine and Subwavelength Structure coatings, fast AutoFocusing and pristine imaging.
We see lots of cameras here at B&H, and it's always a thrill when something unique comes along. The Blackmagic Cinema Camera is a standout in this regard. Every aspect of this camera system qualifies as an intriging design twist. Not only can it capture uncompressed RAW and compressed file formats with a 2.5K image sensor with 13 stops of dynamic range, it records video to a built-in SSD and features a touch-screen LCD for monitoring and control. The Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera is available with either an EF or a MFT mount.
It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting weddings, fashion shows or news events, if your external flash fails to recycle quickly, the most important shots could pass you by. In order to avoid slowdowns brought on by overheating, the Nissin MG8000 Extreme features high-heat-resistant materials and a quartz tube design. While this is extremely useful for rapid-fire shooters, the design tweak that piques our interest most is the friendly, icon-based display on the rear panel. The controls are brightly colored, easy to see and nicely sized and they rotate automatically when the flash is turned to the side. Different versions of the MG8000 Extreme are available for Canon ETTL/ETTL II and Nikon iTTL.
Over the summer of 2012, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 was introduced to improve upon the popular Lumix LX5. Among the upgraded features were a larger 1/1.7” sensor, a higher resolution 920K-Dot LCD screen and a faster f/1.4 Leica DC Vario-Summilux lens. While these are all really welcome features to have in a compact point-and-shoot camera, certain B&H staffers felt that the built-in ND filter on the LX7 was the most striking, deal-sealing feature. The internal ND filter allows you to open up the aperture in bright environments in order to achieve blurred backgrounds. The LX7 is also available in white.
I have the neck strap that came with my camera attached at all times, and I often bunch it up to convert it into a wrist strap. While this works, for the most part, the reality is that bunching up the strap like this isn’t very comfortable. The Joby 3-Way Camera Strap is a camera strap that quickly transforms from a wrist strap to a neck strap to a shoulder strap. It has clever locking controls that let you adjust the length of the strap until your camera hangs just where you want it. A “wrist-strap adjuster” detaches from the base and allows you to tighten the strap around your wrist. When you don’t need it, the adjuster slides back up and can be attached again.
The Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT was released in 2012 with an impressive list of features. In addition to being able to optically trigger other equipment, the 600EX-RT features radio communication as well, so you can control up to five groups of flashes and a total of 15 speedlites. It also has red, green and yellow screen colors—green for master, yellow for slave, and red to indicate overheating. A filter holder is built in, and it has a zoom capability that disperses the light to cover 20 – 200mm ranges. It also has an auto focus assist functionality that benefits users of the 1DX and 5D Mark III.
While it’s possible to build a light modifier for an on-camera flash with parts you can find at a hardware store, manufactured systems not only look more professional, they give you greater creative control, and they’re easier and faster to set up and adjust. The Spinlight 360 EXTREME Modular System is a good example. It includes two white and two black bounce cards, a snoot, several domes and half domes, gels and more. The 360 EXTREME is compatible with many Canon and Nikon speedlights, including the 600EX-RT and the SB-910. The most notable design feature is that you can add and remove modifiers to and from its ring assembly with one hand, as well as spin the attached parts to any angle required.
Many photographers require a certain amount of mobility when they work, and often times large camera bags are too cumbersome to use. When you need to move around, but you also want to protect your camera and lenses, Thinktank Digital Holsters are a great option. They are really well made, and offer an impressive number of pockets for such compact bags. However, the design feature that tickles our fancy is the “pop-down” bottom that adds expandable storage at the base. This enables you to use a longer lens, or keep your lens hood attached pointing forward in the shooting position. If you’re using a shorter lens, you can use the pop down to store another lens or a rain cover.
If you own a Nikon D40, D40x, D60, D3000 or D5000 and you’re in the market for a battery grip, Vello offers a thoughtfully-designed solution with their BG-N3 Battery Grip. It accepts two EN-EL9 batteries and features a unique second shutter release button for shooting in the vertical position. The interesting design tweak here is that the second shutter release button triggers the camera through an infrared signal. This frees your camera system from requiring a short cable to activate the remote shutter.
The Impact FA-300HS enables you to transform the lone hot shoe on your camera into three active hot shoes. It makes it possible to use multiple flashes on your camera when you need more coverage. Also, if you have flashes that overheat during rapid shooting, you can mount multiple units to the FA-300H, and set them at half power to avoid heating issues and slowed recycle times. The welcome design element is that this adapter features a 1/4"-20 thread to mount it remotely, and a 3.5mm jack that enables you to trigger the strobes with a wireless receiver. You can also use it to attach other shoe-mountable, on-camera accessories.
Two of the most compelling innovations in mobile computing over the past few years have undoubtedly been tablets and Ultrabooks. Ifyou can’t decide which one you want, the ASUS Taichi acts as both. It has two 1080p IPS screens, one of which is dedicated to laptop mode,and the other to tablet mode. Both screens feature cameras for photos and video chat. The Taichi can also be used as a drawing tablet because it supports stylus pens. All of the other expected trimmings are in place: a solid-state drive, USB 3.0, dual band Wi-Fi, Windows 8, etc. A neat feature is its ability to mirror the displays, which can be useful for presentations, showing off photos and other applications.
The designers in Cupertino have been busy as ever. In addition to releasing the iPad mini, new MacBook Pros with Retina displays, ultra-thin iMacs and loads of other great stuff, Apple came out with a few products that had little details that caught our eye. A totally redesigned iPod touch was introduced in September 2012. The back of the device features an unusual circular anchor that can be popped outward. A matching hand strap called a “Loop” can then be attached to the anchor. The Loop offers a nice way to hang onto your iPod while in transit or during exercise. Another design improvement is its Lightning dock connector. Unlike the old 30-pin dock, the Lightning connector doesn’t have to be oriented in a specific direction in order to engage.
Although the Nexus 7 is often promoted as a device made by Google, it’s really manufactured by ASUS. If you’re shopping for a tablet computer, there are many choices in the market. In regards to more compact options, the Nexus 7 stands out as the first very well designed 7-inch tablet. It has a lot going for it, aside from its quad-core Tegra 3 processor, GPS and micro-USB port. One of its biggest selling features is the clean install of Google’s latest mobile OS, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Among the many improvements is a new feature called Google Now, which acts as a voice or type activated personal assistant that learns your habits and then tries to anticipate your needs, such as offering you instructions for how to travel back to your home without prompting.
The cube speakers in the Bose Acoustimass system have always been a popular choice for use in home entertainment systems, partially because they have a nice sound, but also because they are so physically small. With the Videowave II, Bose took compact speakers to the extreme by making them invisible. The Videowave II is a 1080p HD flat panel LED television, with an array of rich-sounding speakers that are completely hidden from view. First introduced in 2010, the new Videowave II versions of this TV are a little lighter and thinner than their forbears. A nice touch is that the included “click pad” remote was updated to be even easier to use, and it can control your entire system. It has far fewer buttons than most remotes, and many commands are made by gliding and clicking its touch surface.
Computer audio interfaces used to be strictly utilitarian pieces ofequipment, but in 2007, a company called Apogee changed all of that with the introduction of the original Duet. It was an audio interface that looked sleek and compact, it was easy to use and it sounded incredible. Its replacement is the Duet 2, and many of the changes made to it were hotly requested by users. The main outputs were balanced for better performance, the breakout cable was improved, a full color OLED display was added and you can now send different audio to the headphone and main outputs, a necessary feature for digital DJs. The feature that appealed most to us are the touchpad buttons that enable you to mute the outputs, sum to mono and toggle the headphone source.
A new line of headphones was introduced in 2012, called AKG by TIËSTO. They provide premium construction and sound quality, a comfortable fit, ambient noise rejection and a folding design for traveling. The line is the result of a collaboration between Dutch artist TIËSTO and AKG, and it consists of the K267, which features 50mm drivers, the circumaural K167 and the supra-aural K67. The standout feature for us is that three different response settings can be made on the K267s. You can switch them into Studio mode for a flat frequency response, and there are also Club and Stage modes that add more bass for larger and larger venues.
Journalists have relied on Marantz tape recorders for decades. Today, portable digital recorders are the tools of choice, and Marantz makes a model called the PMD661 MKII, which was designed to suit the needs of journalists. It features dual locking XLR inputs on the base, with level controls and a headphone output on top, making it ideal for over-the-shoulder reporting. Many portable digital recorders these days consolidate functions into as few buttons and controls as possible. However, one of the handier aspects of the PMD661 MKII is the dedicated transport controls. It’s helpful to have separate buttons for Stop, Record Pause, and an oversized Record button, and the PMD661 MKII has them all.
The Koss C0_11 In-Ear Headphones feature all of the token attributes you'd expect from a premium pair of earphones. They have custom-ported transducers that deliver a wide frequency response of 10Hz – 20kHz, the cords are covered by a durable fabric that resists tangling, and two carrying cases are included with purchase. What sets these headphones apart is their unique dial-to-adjust ear cushions. When you put the C0_11s in your ear, a dial on the back of the earpiece makes the cushions inside your ears expand. This does two things: it creates a perfect fit for any-sized ear, and it helps to seal out ambient noise so you can really get lost in your music.
It goes without saying that MP3 players and smart phones have revolutionized the ways people listen to music on the go, but these changes have created a shift in home stereo systems as well. An elegant example of this is the Sonos Wireless HiFi System. It’s a collection of wireless powered speakers that connect to your Wi-Fi network. You control the music playback and other parameters with a free smart phone app for iOS and Andriod. You can just have one speaker in one room, or you can expand to other areas of your home by adding a Sonos Bridge. The most notable design feature is the controls on these devices. They’re so easy to use, there practically aren’t any controls at all.
When you’re working long hours on a film set, sometimes the smallest workflow improvements make all the difference. One such item that speaks to this are Redrock Micro Flares. They are flexible glow-in-the-dark sticks that attach to the marking disk on a Redrock microFollowFocus|Blue. When you’re working on a dark set, you won’t need any other light source to see your focus-pull markings. The flares are activated by snapping them, and they last for two to eight hours, depending on the temperature.
Everyone loves Joby GorillaPods. They’re great for holding and dangling cameras, lights and even portable digital recorders wherever you need them. Joby has another can’t-live-without accessory called the GorillaPod Micro. It’s an ultra-ultra compact tripod that folds away to almost nothing. Instead of having bendy legs like the original GorillaPod, the Micro features short, blade-like steel legs. The key here is ultra compactness. The idea is that you put one on the base of your camera and leave it there. When not needed, the three legs fold into one. The GorillaPod Micro features a ball head for various angles, and it comes in a Micro 250 model for compact point-and-shoot cameras up to 8.8 oz (249 g) in weight, and a Micro 800 model for larger cameras up to 1.8 lbs (816 g).
There are lots of different rechargeable batteries out there for a variety of different cameras, lights and other electronics. Pearstone decided to create a unified system that consists of a series of different plates that can be attached to the same chargers. This way you can have a single charger that is compatible with all of your various batteries. The plates are very inexpensive, and the compatible chargers are a nice bargain as well. The Pearstone Compact AC/DC Charger lets you charge a single battery and comes with a plate for an LP-E6 battery, and the Pearstone Duo Battery Charger lets you charge two batteries simultaneously.
Think of the Hoodman USB 3.0 UDMA as a memory card reader with teeth. It has a metal casing and a feature called “Pin Guard,” which is a door that drops down and protects the pins inside the reader. The door opens when you insert a memory card. It supports CompactFlash cards, SD, SDHC, SDXC and UHS-1 memory cards. If you have a computer with USB 3.0 ports, you can achieve time-saving 5 Gbps transfer rates. It’s also fully compatible with USB 2.0 ports. An unusual touch is that this card reader features a USB port on its rear, as opposed to a permanently attached cable. Permanent cables are more likely to break, and this card reader is all about survival.
When you’re shooting video and utilizing the HDMI port on your camera to send the feed to an external LCD monitor or another device, every inch of space around the camera is precious. The problem is that most HDMI cables stick straight out, increasing the size of the camera rig and the potential for the cable to accidentally get snagged. To help keep you camera system tidy, Pearstone makes an assortment of HDMI adapters that transform regular cables into space-saving right-angle cables. They’re available in vertical and horizontal orientations to suit the needs of different systems.
When you’re trying to shoot pictures inconspicuously, it helps to carry a bag that conceals your camera and other gear without attracting too much attention. The Think Tank Retrospective 20 Shoulder Bag does an excellent job of this with its staid black exterior. You’d never guess there was a full-sized DSLR with a zoom lens in there. The other key feature that makes this bag really interesting is the hook-and-loop silencers on the front flap that eliminate noise when you open the bag. This way, when you see the killer shot you want to take surreptitiously, opening the bag won’t make the usual jarring, ripping sound.
Even though the basic design of the backpack has been established for a long time, designers are always coming up with interesting new tweaks to push it further. The Gura Gear Kiboko 30L is a good example of this. It features a butterfly design that allows you to load each side of the bag with a different DSLR body and lens. It can accommodate up to 800mm lenses, and it’s made from a durable fabric that's also used to make sails.
If your photo travels take you deep into the woods, the Lowepro Rover Pro 35L is an excellent option. It’s essentially a serious hiking backpack that features padded compartments that are dedicated to protecting your camera gear. The key detail is its AirFlow suspension system, which is an adjustable trampoline-like panel on the back that evenly distributes weight when hiking over rough terrain and helps ventilation. The Rover Pro features torso adjustments to evenly distribute the weight, and breathable material mesh material to keep you comfortable. There is also a place to attach a tripod and room for a laptop. If you use a larger camera rig, the Lowepro Rover Pro 45L is the same design with more space.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something like the Kata Revolver-8 PL backpack jumps out at you. Unlike any backpack you’ve ever seen, the Revolver-8 PL features a main section that spins, giving photographers quick access to multiple lenses in seconds. As you’re shooting, you can sling this backpack on one shoulder so it swings down under one arm. You then open a flap on the side of the bag that exposes a section of an internal “gear wheel” of sorts. If you need to access a different lens, you can grab the wheel easily and spin it to expose the next section. This can all be done without setting the bag down, and the wheel can hold a 70-200mm lens, and there is enough room for a laptop, a large DLSR body with a grip, and a tripod can be strapped to the outside as well.
If you own an Apple iPhone 5, you can keep it protected in the Folio Stand Case by Macally. Not only does it protect the phone while giving you access to the ports and controls, it can also prop your iPhone up so you can watch movies on a tabletop without needing to hold it. Sure, there are loads of cases that can hold up your iPhone, but there's something eloquent about how the Folio does it. The Folio Stand Case is available in black, white/black and red/white.
Lastly, iSound makes a unique powering solution for two iPhones. The Power View lets you charge one 30-pin dock-connecting iPhone standing vertically, and a second iPhone resting horizontally. The sweet detail is that you can watch movies in landscape mode while your phone charges.
Now that you’re familiar with our picks, what are your thoughts on the most interesting design tweaks and updates to your gear? We’d love to hear about it! You are encouraged to submit a Comment below.