Photography gear keeps getting better and better, with 2017 bringing us some great products. The Fstoppers team has been working on a list of our favorite gear of the past year, and we're happy to present it now. Here's the top photography gear of 2017.
There were two main issues to consider when we were creating this list: what "best" means and how strict we were about gear being released in 2017. First, to us, "best" means something that the working professional or serious amateur will consider top-notch without breaking into stratospheric pricing relative to that category. In other words, we're looking at gear that offers amazing results before a sort of law of diminishing returns begins to kick in or we've simply out-priced the category we're talking about. When it comes to how recent gear is, it wouldn't make sense to stick to strictly equipment released in 2017, as the refresh cycles of a lot of things (lenses in particular) are longer than a year, and a certain camera or lens from yesteryear may still beat out anything newer than it. So, we were fairly relaxed for this requirement.
Camera of the Year: Sony a9
This was an easy one to decide. For years, mirrorless has been creeping up on DSLR territory in capabilities (and in some areas, exceeding it), but the Sony a9 was the first camera that took direct aim at the flagship bodies of Canon and Nikon, not only matching or exceeding them in most aspects, but coming in about $2,000 cheaper. With a 24-megapixel sensor, 20 fps shooting with no viewfinder blackout, internal 4K, ISO 204,800, 693 phase detection AF points covering 93 percent of the frame and 5-axis in-body image stabilization, the Sony a9 is a revolutionary camera, and for that, we chose it as Camera of the Year.
All-Around Cameras of the Year: Nikon D850 and Sony a7R III
This was a tougher one to decide, because we've shot with both these cameras, and simply put, they're ridiculous. The D850 wowed us with its 46-megapixel resolution combined with a ludicrous 9 fps continuous rate (with the grip). Add in a tilting touchscreen, 4K, top-shelf AF, excellent ISO performance, 8K time-lapses, and more, and it's easy to see why people have been drooling over the D850.
And then came along the Sony a7R III. We were similarly impressed, as suddenly, you didn't have to choose between sports-level frame rates and landscape-level resolution. Built on the same 42-megapixel sensor as the a7R II but with improvements in dynamic range, a 399-point AF system, 10 fps shooting, 4K video, 5-axis in-body stabilization, Pixel Shift multi shooting, dual SD ports, improved battery life, a new AF joystick, and more, Sony essentially took any complaint you could have about the already-excellent a7R II and fixed it, then added some more. Personally, I've been shooting with adapted Canon glass on the a7R II for a few months now except in situations that create a high demand on autofocus, but after seeing how well even the Eye AF does with adapted glass, I'm selling my a7R II and 5D Mark IV for an a7R III.
Entry-Level Camera of the Year: Canon T7i
My first DSLR was the Canon T3i, and its easy of use and range of features helped me to learn quickly (I liked it so much that I had mine converted to shoot infrared and still have it). Canon's entry line has remained an excellent option for anyone looking to get into photography or even for a light backup body. It now features a 45-point all-cross point AF system, Canon's lauded dual pixel AF, 6 fps continuous shooting, and built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Couple all that with good image quality, and the T7i is really one of the best beginner's cameras out there.
Medium Format Camera of the Year: Fuji GFX 50S
It was obviously between this and the Hasselblad X1D, but we had to give the win to the Fuji. Having personally shot the X1D, I can attest to the astounding quality of the files it puts out, but the shooting experience can be a bit frustrating at times, particularly with the (in my opinion) overly minimalist design that makes it difficult to work unimpeded and the finicky interface. On the other hand, the Fuji carries over the highly regarded ergonomics from the X-T2, making for a much better shooting experience. It also features a 51.4-megapixel 44x33mm sensor, removable OLED EVF, 117-point AF system, 3 fps continuous shooting, a weather-sealed body, and Fuji's popular film simulations, as well as a nice complement of lenses, making the GFX 50S a tempting medium format option.
Micro Four Thirds Camera of the Year: Panasonic GH5
Panasonic's little video monster got a much-anticipated update in 2017, and micro four thirds enthusiasts got quite a treat. In fact, we've switched from Nikons to GH5s for video work at the Fstoppers headquarters. With a 5-axis stabilization and no-crop internal 4:2:2 10-bit 4K, it's an excellent option for video shooters, while the 20.3-megapixel sensor, dual slots, and 12 fps continuous shooting make it a tempting option for stills shooters. Add in the ultra-friendly size of the micro four thirds system, and you have a winning option.
Compact Camera of the Year: Sony RX100 V
Sony's pocketable point and shoot is ludicrously good. I had the original, and it's only gotten better in the last four iterations. With a 20-megapixel sensor, 24-70mm equivalent f/1.8-2.8 lens, 24 fps continuous shooting, 960 fps slow motion video in full HD, a pop-up EVF, and internal 4K, it's a pocket monster, perfect for people want to have something better than their cellphone without sacrificing portability.
Prime Wide: Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art
I recently had the pleasure of shooting with this lens for about a month (the review is coming), and I can firmly attest that it's a stunner. Of course, the marquee feature is the ridiculous maximum aperture, and that makes a huge difference for astrophotography or any sort of low-light shooting, not to mention the lens is very sharp at f/1.8. Add in a nine-blade aperture for pleasing bokeh, Art build quality, and excellent flare resistance, and it's a real winner. Autofocus can be a smidgen finicky, but it really wasn't a dealbreaker for me, particularly since it's an ultra-wide angle lens.
Prime Standard: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art
We had to give the award to Sigma again here. The 50mm f/1.4 Art is sharp, renders out-of-focus elements beautifully, is durable, shows low amounts of flare and aberration, and undercuts the price of first-party manufacturers. For that, it was an easy choice.
Best Prime Telephoto: Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art, Fuji XF 56mm f/1.2 R, and Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM
It's a really good time to be a portraits shooter. When we discussed this amongst the Fstoppers crew, it was pretty much impossible to narrow it down more than this, because each person who shot one of these lenses could do nothing but rave about it. Quite simply, no matter what system you shoot, it's hard to go wrong with these lenses. The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art is the long-awaited Art version of a portrait lens, and though it's heavy, we found in our review that it delivers wide-open image quality in spades with pleasing bokeh and generally reliable autofocus, all while undercutting its competitors on price.
The Fuji XF 56mm f/1.2 R is the portrait lens all Fuji shooters should want. It's sharp, autofocuses well, and makes backgrounds melt. Honestly, given the size of the X-Series cameras and the price of this lens, I'm a little jealous of my friends who have one that they carry wherever they go. And then, there's the Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM. It has all the things a good portrait lens should: wide-open sharpness, good autofocus, and creamy bokeh, but the addition of weather and dust resistance and a ludicrous 11 aperture blades really sets it apart. As I said, if you're a portraits shooter, you really can't go wrong no matter what system you're on.
Prime Super Tele: Canon 200mm f/2L IS USM
Brands like Sigma and Tamron are definitely making major headway in the lens market, but the world of long, fast lenses is still ruled by the likes of Canon. I call this lens my "butterfly bazooka" because using it is like using a bazooka to kill a butterfly — complete overkill in most situations. But at the same time, it's tack sharp wide open, autofocuses perfectly, offers lots of compression, makes background nonexistent, and gives your subjects a real pop. For sports people, it's a great lens. For portrait photographers, it falls squarely in the definitely not necessary, but oh, so addicting category.
Most Innovative/Interesting Prime: Canon 85mm f/1.4L IS USM
A wide-aperture, image-stabilized 85mm lens is the holy grail for a lot of photographers. Canon's 85mm f/1.4L IS is just that, with early reviews indicating excellent image quality, autofocus, and stabilization, making it a bit more easy to use than its big sibling, the 85mm f/1.2L II USM. However, there's also the Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD, which offers image stabilization with a two-thirds of a stop slower but still fast aperture at less than half the price.
Zoom Wide: Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM
Canon's first two iterations of their wide angle zoom lacked a bit in sharpness, especially as compared to their excellent normal and telephoto zooms. The third generation really got it right, though, and it's found a permanent spot in my bag. It's sharp, autofocus is quick and accurate, the nine-blade aperture makes for great bokeh, it has all the latest optical coating and element advancements, and it's been able to handle all the various forms of terrible precipitation Cleveland has been able to throw at it. It's definitely a winner.
Zoom Standard: Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2
If we had written this list five years ago, it would have consisted almost exclusively of a couple of first-party manufacturers, particularly with bread and butter lenses like the 24-70mm. And yet, here's Tamron taking the award with their 24-70mm f/2.8 offering, which is weather resistant, has a nine-blade diaphragm, good autofocus, and good image quality. And it's about $500 less than the competing lenses from Canon and Nikon. Oh, and it has vibration compensation, something neither of the other two do. Well done, Tamron.
Zoom Telephoto: Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2
Tamron strikes again. Let's be clear: this is not the best 70-200mm zoom in terms of image quality. What it is, however, is an almost-as-sharp lens with great autofocus and better vibration compensation than first-party competitors, as you can read in our review. And yet, despite being nearly as good (or better in some respects) as its competitors, it's $600 less than the Canon version and literally more than half less than the Nikon version. It's hard to argue with that.
Zoom Super Telephoto: Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM
Let me be clear: I love this lens. I shoot a lot of classical music concerts, and because of the genre, I have to be in the very back of the hall at all times. Because of the low light, I need wide-aperture supertelephotos. This means playing a constant game of hurriedly changing primes between pieces (because of varying ensemble sizes and stage placement), then losing resolution when I have to crop in after the fact. Not with this lens. It sits on my camera almost the entire time and I frame exactly as I'd like. And it's remarkably sharp for a zoom of its size, focuses well, renders beautifully, and has optical stabilization while coming in at half the price of a 300mm f/2.8 prime with ten times the versatility. The sports shooters I know who have shot it love it as well. If you shoot sports, wildlife, certain events, or the like, it's a home run of a lens.
Most Innovative/Interesting Zoom: Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM
I enjoyed the heck out of this lens when I reviewed it; the only reason it doesn't live in my bag is that I just can't find a reason to shoot below 16mm often enough to justify owning it. If you can find a reason, you can bet that shooting that wide is ridiculously fun (and you'll accidentally include your feet in the shot a lot). It's sharp, tough, and performs reliably, plus it's one of those lenses that instantly enables you to get shots others simply can't.
Drone of the Year: Phantom 4 Pro
This was an easy choice. DJI offered a bunch of improvements from flight time, speed, obstacle avoidance, and more, but the real story here was the camera. I had a lot of fun with my Phantom 4, but with a small sensor, fixed aperture, and 12 megapixels of resolution, it left me wanting just a bit more. The Phantom 4 Pro has a larger sensor, 20 megapixels of resolution, a mechanical shutter, and a variable aperture, and the difference in image quality is very noticeable. Couple this with DJI's refined flight system, and it's a real winner. That being said, if portability is important to you, the Mavic Pro offers great image quality in a much, much smaller package.
Best Tripod: Benro TMA38CL Long Series 3 Mach3
Surprise surprise! Our favorite tripod was actually the cheapest we tested! It's small, but expands to almost six feet, is highly durable, and comes with a nice case and accessories. We bought five of them for our office.
Best Gimbal: Zhiyun-Tech Crane-2
With a higher payload and longer runtime than the original, the Crane-2 is essentially a turnkey kit that does its job and does it well. It allows 360-degree rotation on all axes, has a 3.9-pound payload, includes a lens support for longer lenses, and has a great app if that's how you prefer to work.
Best Studio Lighting (High-End): Profoto D2 1000Ws AirTTL Monolight
With a 1,000 Ws output and 300 W modeling lamp, the Profoto D2 has ample power to spare. It features a built-in AirTTL receiver, fast recycling times, an ultra-short 1/50,000 freeze mode duration, 20 fps burst, 10-stop range, and HSS of up to 1/8,000 s, plus you get compatibility with Profoto's deep library of modifiers. If you're headed out on location, check out the B1X.
Best Studio Lighting (Budget): Paul C. Buff Einstein
Nope, it's not new at all, but it's still one of the best values in the photography world. With a 9-stop range in 1/10 f-stop increments, 640 Ws of total power, 1/13,500 s t.1 flash duration at minimum power in action mode, 1.7-second recycle time at full power, +/- 50K color consistency, color screen, compatibility with their excellent wireless system, and a ludicrously bright modeling lamp, it's a fantastic option for almost any photographer, and it's no wonder they're still so popular.
Best Location Lighting (High-End): Broncolor Siros L 800Ws
Good luck prying my Siros Ls from my hands. It features a fast-charging battery, quick recycling, speed mode flash duration of 1/18,000 s, a 9-stop range, and built-in wireless, plus an insane amount of power for a battery-powered monolight and 220 full-power pops from a battery. You also get Broncolor's legendary color temperature control and with an exposed tube, it takes full advantage of a large range of modifiers.
Best Location Lighting (Budget): Godox AD200 TTL Pocket Flash Kit
With built-in wireless, HSS, TTL support, 500 full-power shots per battery, and a small footprint, the Godox AD200 is a favorite of a lot of photographers looking to travel light and still do on-location work.
Best Speedlight (High-End): Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT
Canon's flagship speedlite is powerful, has a built-in wireless transceiver with great range, TTL, a large zoom range, and HSS, plus it runs on standard AA batteries. Mine has never missed a pop and is still going strong. Wedding photographers will be happy to know that the new model features shortened recycling times, improved weather resistance, and a better menu system.
Best Speedlight (Budget): Yongnuo Speedlite YN600EX-RT II
Yes, it's basically a copy of the Canon, but at a little over a quarter of the price, it's a great option for anyone on a budget. Aside from a very slightly cooler white balance and slightly longer recycling times, I've noticed no differences with mine from the Canon version.
We hoped you enjoyed our gear awards for this past year; it's getting tougher and tougher to pick the winners as time goes on. Do you agree with all our choices? Have any favorites you think we missed? Tell us about them in the comments!