Holiday 2012: Breakthrough Photographic Products

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With 2012 drawing to a close, let’s take a few paragraphs to mention some of the more notable cameras and photographic accessories that debuted in 2012. Not simply new items, but products that really impressed our customers and/or blazed a new path for their specific company or for photo technology in general.


The Nikon D4 Digital SLR Camera was announced early in 2012 and offers numerous improvements over the Nikon D3s. The biggest distinctions are that the D4 has Photo and Video Live View Modes, and shoots Full HD 1080 Video at 24 and 30 frames per second. Add to that an external stereo microphone input and a headphone output for professional-level video recording, and the D4 is not only the go-to camera for photojournalists, but is now a fully integrated hybrid image machine. It has a higher number of effective pixels compared to the D3s (16.2MP compared to 12.1MP), a larger LCD monitor (3.2” compared to 3.0”) and slightly faster continuous-shooting speeds. It also has expanded its ISO range to 100-12800 with an even wider extended ISO range of 50-204800. Back-lit rear buttons, an updated AF system and a lighter total weight than the D3s are also improvements worth noting.

On the Canon side of the fence, the Canon EOS-1D X Digital SLR Camera was unveiled in October of 2011, and it combined the best aspects of its two predecessors (the speed of the 1D Mark IV and the image quality of the 1Ds Mark III) to create its best professional DSLR to date. With its newly developed full frame 18.1MP CMOS sensor, Dual DIGIC 5+ image processors, 14-bit A/D data conversion and dual CompactFlash card slots, the 1D X can shoot between 10-14 frames per second depending on shutter speed, ISO and focus settings. A new 61-point High Density Reticular Auto Focus system is considered the most sophisticated AF system Canon has ever produced. Its ISO sensitivity range is 100-51200 and extends to 50 and 204800 if desired. It also shoots Full HD 1080 Video with continuous autofocus and an external video mic option. As it’s built for hard working professionals, its body is tough as nails, fully made from magnesium alloy with a 3.2” LCD monitor, featuring Canon’s Clear View II technology, and it is fully weather sealed to work fast in the harshest conditions.  

As if Nikon wasn’t busy enough putting out the D4, they also found time to release two versions of the D800. In early February, the D800 and D800E were announced, after much anticipation. The Nikon D800 Digital SLR Camera is an ultra-high resolution DSLR with a full-frame sensor in a body significantly more compact than the D4. With 36.3MP (7360 x 4912) resolution, it was and remains Nikon’s highest-resolution camera, designed for professionals and enthusiast for whom image quality is of the utmost importance. Not satisfied with simple photographic prowess, Nikon included full professional video-making capability in the D800. With Full HD 1080 at 30, 25 and 24 frames per second in a body designed to be portable and versatile, it can stream an uncompressed Full HD signal directly out of the camera to a monitor and video recording devices and offers pro audio control with jacks for a stereo microphone and headphones. It can record video in FX or DX mode with full manual exposure control and utilize the 3.2” LCD screen to check focus. The D800 has become one of the most popular cameras of the year and is taking on the landmark Canon 5D for HDSLR bragging rights.

Along with the D800, Nikon put out a companion model, the Nikon D800E Digital SLR Camera, which is basically the same camera as the D800 with the anti-aliasing properties of its low-pass filter removed. When anti-aliasing is negated, an even more detailed, sharper resolution can be achieved and this is, of course, desirable for pro photographers who work in the fashion, commercial and architectural fields. If it offers better image quality, why not offer it standard, you might ask? The reason is that digital images are prone to show undesirable moiré patterns. However, by strictly controlling your lighting or by using professional post-production software, this digital artifact can be eliminated and you’re left with exquisitely sharp images.

It wasn’t just Canon and Nikon having all the fun this year. Sony released the SLT-A99 Digital Camera, with its translucent mirror technology, to much acclaim. The translucent mirror eliminates the delay of the reflex mirror action and allows for a dual autofocus system in which light goes to both the AF sensor and the image sensor at the same time. This is a huge breakthrough and allows for fast focusing speed and increased burst rate. The translucent mirror is of particular significance when shooting video because it allows for high speed continuous autofocus during Live View shooting. For optimal audio recording, the SLT-A99 features a 3.5mm stereo mic input, a headphone output, and with a separate adapter it can support XLR audio connections. The A99 also boasts a 24.3MP full-frame sensor, broad ISO range, dual noise reduction systems, in-camera image stabilization, a bright 2359K-dot resolution electronic viewfinder and a silent, vibration-free Multi Control Dial.

The Sony SLT-A99, as well as the Nikon D800, D4 and D600 Digital SLRs, support 4:2:2 video sampling when recorded to an external video recorder such as the Atomos Ninja 2. Passing your data to an outside recorder allows lengthier recording times without interruption and 4:2:2 sub-sampling includes more color information in your recording.

Switching gears, let’s talk about mirrorless cameras, which, arguably, saw the greatest number of developments and advancements in 2012. Canon inaugurated their mirrorless system with the introduction of the EOS-M Mirrorless Digital Camera with EF-M 22mm f/2 STM Lens. With an 18MP APS-C sensor, the DIGIC 5 Image Processor and Touch Screen Operation, the EOS-M immediately made Canon a competitor in the mirrorless game and may have been the signal that "mirrorless" is here to stay.

The camera that everyone wanted to take a look at this year was the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 Digital Camera. With its classic look, solid body and cutting edge digital technology, the X-Pro 1 is a formidable camera for pros and enthusiasts alike. A 16.3MP X-Trans CMOS sensor with color filter array, which eliminates the need for a low-pass filter, provides an exceptionally high-resolution image, and the Hybrid Multi Viewfinder allows you to utilize the same viewfinder as either an electronic or optical viewfinder. The unique X-mount provides instant communication between camera and lens and sets the X series lenses deep within the camera body for edge to edge high resolution. At present, five dedicated X series lenses are available for the X-Pro 1, including the XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 OIS Zoom Lens.

Camera makers clearly recognized the need to compete with smartphones that can record images and have them ready for immediate sharing, but maybe none did more about it than Sony, who in August introduced the Sony Alpha NEX-5R Mirrorless Digital Camera and then a month later brought on the Sony Alpha NEX-6 Mirrorless Digital Camera. Both cameras, via the Sony PlayMemories App, allow images to be immediately and wirelessly transferred to smartphones or tablets. The NEX-5R houses a 16.1MP APS-C sensor and on-sensor phase detection capability which creates a fast, accurate hybrid auto focus system. The NEX-6 also provides the same hybrid AF system, but added a Multi-Interface “Smart” hot shoe, an interactive control panel and a high resolution OLED viewfinder. The PlayMemories Camera Apps, available for both cameras, is an application download service which allows (and will allow more) functions to be added to the cameras, including the already available Direct Upload App, which can send images directly from the camera to Facebook or other image sharing sites. For more information on cameras with Wi-Fi capability check out this article.

After videographers started hacking the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 Digital Camera to boost the ISO sensitivity range and demonstrated their good results, Panasonic introduced the Lumix DMC-GH3 Mirrorless Digital Camera in late 2012. With an extended ISO range of up to 25600, a weather-sealed body, built-in Wi-Fi and a generally revamped system ready for the demands of pro-level photography and HD videography, the GH3 took everybody by storm. (Except maybe the skaters that had been using the GH2 to document their moves!) Starting with a new Venus Engine Image Processor and 16MP LIVE MOS sensor, image clarity and performance speed have been substantially improved on the GH3. The improved sensor brings with it faster autofocus speeds, and a redesigned user interface means faster operation. For shooting HD video, time code support is available, as are frame rates of 60, 30 and 24 fps with ALL-I and IPB compression options. Input for an external stereo microphone and a headphone ouput also put the GH3 into a new class of pro-video mirrorless cameras.

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera and the Pentax K-01 Digital Camera both impressed our staff and customers in 2012, especially with their design elements. The E-M5 took notice with its fast autofocus, ultra-durable, magnesium-alloy body and intuitive electronic viewfinder, and the K-01 did, too,  thanks to its wide ISO range (100-25600), funky body design/color options and its incredibly slim optional 40mm lens. 

Make a quick stop in the land of point-and-shoot and it’s easy to see that the big breakthrough of 2012, in terms of compact cameras, was sensor size. And setting the bar about as high as it can go, Sony has recently announced the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 Full Frame Compact Digital Camera. While the RX1 is still only available for pre-order, a compact camera with an f/2.0 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* lens and a full frame sensor as big as the best pro DSLR’s is getting a lot of deserved attention, not only from consumers but from competitors who might just be scrambling to see how they can match that in 2013. For more information on the RX1 and other already available point-and-shoots with large sensors, have a look at this link.

In terms of lenses, the Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Pancake Lens is a nice piece of glass to demonstrate some important developments in 2012. For one, pancake lenses from many manufacturers made a comeback of sorts, as their compact nature is working well with mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras. And the Canon STM technology on the 40mm f/2.8 (and other Canon lenses) impressed folks as it makes for smooth and virtually silent continuous autofocus when shooting video with compatible cameras, like the new Canon Rebel T4i.

Canon also made a leap forward as far as wireless flash is concerned. The Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT in combination with the Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter provides radio controlled, two-way wireless transmission for up to 15 individual flashes in 5 groups. Utilizing a 2.4 GHz frequency, signal transmission is not limited by direction, and signals do not get blocked by physical obstacles. Communication is possible up to 98.4’ (30 m). The ST-E3-TR Transmitter is designed for the 600EX-RT and will not function with earlier Canon Speedlite models, but does offer expanded control with the 600EX-RT, such as multiple flash metering options and flash modes.

Sony and Lexar both produced high speed memory cards that have proven to be major time savers for professional image makers needing fast speed to match the increasingly heavy file sizes created by their cameras. The Sony XQD Memory Cards, available in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB capacities, comprise a new format of memory card that offers a write/read speed of 125 MB/s with their H series cards, and 168 MB/s with the S series card. The S series cards, which debuted in July 2012, nearly double the transfer speed of traditional "fast" SDHC or CF memory cards and simply laugh at the pace of a Class 4 type card. Currently only compatible with the Nikon D4 DSLR, the XQD S-series card is capable of recording up to 108 frames in continuous RAW shooting. With the S series cards, a free download of File Rescue Software (ver 3.2) is included. The Lexar Professional 1000x Compact Flash UDMA Memory Cards can read as fast as 150 MB/s and write up to 145 MB/s. The cards are compatible with UDMA CF and CF devices and support VPG-20 for professional quality HD video. Image Rescue 4 Software is available via a free download and Lexar backs these cards with a limited lifetime warranty.

Finally, a new kind of photographic machine, not exactly a camera, has dared to challenge the fundamentals of how we take pictures. In February of 2012, the Lytro camera became commercially available through electronics retailers. The Lytro works by capturing everything it “sees” in the light field without the need to focus on one subject. More accurately, it captures the angle and direction of the light it senses and allows you to set the focus and even adjust the perspective of your scene afterward, on your computer or tablet. Without the need to focus before you shoot, capture speed is fast, and because the camera’s sensor captures so much of the available light, low-light scenes are easier to photograph. However, the camera is only available as a consumer-level point-and-shoot with sub-professional optics and resolution limited to about 1.2MP. But needless to say, a camera that creates the possibility of an infinite number of photos from just one exposure and allows you to adjust and readjust focus for practical or creative purposes is something that cannot be ignored for too long.

Looking back, it has been an extremely inventive (and busy) year for photography and photography products. Here's looking forward to 2013!

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When does the Lumix GH3 ship?

Hello Tim -

We do not have a firm ETA from Panasonic at this time.  We will post it up on our website as soon as they become available. Please sign up for an e-mail notification at the product page for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 Mirrorless Digital Camera.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

No mention of Canon 5D mark III?

Ronnie,

The Canon 5D Mark III is an exceptional camera, especially with the improved 61 point autofocus interface, improved resolution, 100% field-of-view viewfinder with superimposed LCD, HDR capabilities, and more. But it’s mainly an upgrade to the original 5D Mark II – a truly “groundbreaking” camera!

The Canon 6D is the answer to my prayers as a low light event photographer!

I agree that there were lots of new cameras in 2012, working in ways just a bit different from previous models. It was an interesting year for innovation, and thus a promising one for photography.

I do think that the mirrorless category has yet to be developed so well that one won't find oneself looking for gremlins, but such is to be expected, I guess.

My main point for writing is to suggest that the camera overlooked in the list, or maybe the camera I missed as I reviewed your list even though it is there (and if so, I do apologize) is Sony's RX-100. Would that more point and shoot cameras from other makers would follow its lead. It avoids the mirrorless systems' problems of multiple parts and delivers amazing pictures. At my age as an enthusiast who has used a variety of cameras during the past 45 years, such is the paradigm of an elegant solution.

Barely a mention of the Nikon D600???  Nothing about it as a regular still unit., That seems strangee.

Thanks for your comment, and yes, we agree, the Nikon D600 is a tremendous camera. However, when crafting this article we were looking at the truly unprecedented products of the year; those which either made a great leap from its predecessor or those that created an entirely new product line. The D600 truly does excel in bringing full-frame capabilities to a wider audience, and because of this we have featured it in several other holiday articles for 2012.