2017 CAM­ERA MAG­A­ZINE IMAG­ING AWARDS

It’s been an ex­cit­ing year in new imag­ing prod­ucts so pick­ing win­ners has been a chal­lenge, but in­evitably the cream has again risen to the top.

Camera - - AWARDS - Spe­cial re­port by Cam­era edi­tor PAUL BUR­ROWS

If we thought 2015 was a year of “con­sol­i­dat­ing trends” – as we de­scribed it in the pre-am­ble to our last Cam­era Mag­a­zine Imag­ing Awards – that’s only be­cause it was paus­ing for breath be­fore the on­slaught that has been 2016. What a year! Of course, it al­ways makes for ex­cit­ing times when both Canon and Nikon launch their next gen­er­a­tions of flag­ship pro­fes­sional D-SLRs – up­hold­ing a 45-yearold ri­valry – but there’s been a long roll­call of bril­liant cam­eras and was even be­fore we got to this year’s Pho­tok­ina. Here, in no par­tic­u­lar order, are the high­lights – Fu­ji­film X-Pro2 and X-T2; Nikon D5 and D500; Canon EOS-1D X II, EOS 5D IV and EOS M5; Olym­pus PEN F, Pana­sonic GX85 and G85, Has­sel­blad X1D, Leica SL, Sony A7S II and A6300, Pen­tax K-1 and Phase One XF 100MP. And that’s just the in­ter­change­able lens cam­eras too. There were some notable fixed-lens ar­rivals – we’ll just high­light the Canon Pow­er­Shot G5X, Pana­sonic Lu­mix TZ110 and Sony RX1R II here – and the video ac­tion­cam mar­ket con­tin­ues to boom. Not all the cam­eras just listed are el­i­gi­ble for this year’s awards, but all were an­nounced prior to our clos­ing date so if we thought 2015 was a big year for in­ter­change­able lenses, it was also just a warm-up for 2016. Lenses ap­pear to be the new weapon for win­ning over buy­ers, es­pe­cially in the mir­ror­less sec­tor. They’ve al­ways been im­por­tant, of course, but now they’re as crit­i­cal to buy­ing de­ci­sions as the vi­tal sta­tis­tics of cam­era bod­ies. You’re just as likely now, for ex­am­ple, to opt for the Mi­cro Four Thirds mir­ror­less sys­tem on the strength of its ever-grow­ing choice of very ca­pa­ble lenses, as the many and var­ied at­trac­tions of the Olym­pus or Pana­sonic bod­ies. Lens de­signs con­tinue to be­come more ad­ven­tur­ous in terms of op­ti­cal de­sign, fo­cal length/range, max­i­mum aper­ture and even styling.

Did some­body men­tion mir­ror­less cam­eras? The cat­e­gory con­tin­ues to gather strength, adding both Leica and Has­sel­blad to the ranks which al­ready com­prise Fu­ji­film, Olym­pus, Pana­sonic and Sony. These four have all their in­ter­change­able lens cam­era eggs in the mir­ror­less bas­ket, but there’s huge sig­nif­i­cance in pres­ti­gious mar­ques the likes of Leica and Has­sel­blad opt­ing to take this route for their new-gen­er­a­tion pro­fes­sional sys­tems. Also sig­nif­i­cant is the ap­pear­ance of Canon’s EOS M5 – which is el­i­gi­ble for next year’s awards – the com­pany’s first se­ri­ous mir­ror­less cam­era and the first in­di­ca­tion that it too, recog­nises the mar­ket is chang­ing. The M5 is es­sen­tially the EOS 80D sans mir­ror box and pen­taprism so it’s a very ca­pa­ble cam­era, but sig­nif­i­cantly more com­pact and light­weight than its D-SLR cousin. As we’ve noted be­fore, the de­sire for smaller – but still highly ca­pa­ble – cam­eras isn’t just a fad, but is be­ing driven by sig­nif­i­cant ex­ter­nal forces. Firstly, tra­di­tional D-SLR users are get­ting older and no longer can – or want to – carry around a bulky and heavy cam­era kit. Se­condly, low-cost air­lines – in­creas­ingly the way we all fly these days – are charg­ing you to travel with that bulky and heavy cam­era kit, as carry-on bag­gage lim­its are be­ing more rig­or­ously en­forced. And fi­nally, there are more is­sues with os­ten­ta­tious dis­plays of cam­era gear than ever be­fore… it’s now wiser to be more low-key, no mat­ter where you are in the world. With the tech­ni­cal is­sues mostly all sorted – par­tic­u­larly those re­lat­ing to elec­tronic viewfind­ers – mir­ror­less will con­tinue to in­crease its share of the in­ter­change­able lens cam­era (ILC) mar­ket, es­pe­cially in the en­try-level and en­thu­si­ast cat­e­gories.

While 2016 was ac­tu­ally a pretty big year for D-SLRs – and big D-SLRs for that mat­ter too – the ma­jor­ity of this ac­tiv­ity was at the up­per end of the mar­ket where cam­era size and other con­sid­er­a­tions such as the high cost of long tele­photo lenses aren’t necessarily is­sues. These are the sec­tors now be­ing specif­i­cally tar­geted by the likes of Fu­ji­film, Olym­pus and Sony with pro-ori­en­tated mir­ror­less cam­eras and lenses. Again it’s not hard to see the unique com­bi­na­tion of ca­pa­bil­ity, porta­bil­ity and af­ford­abil­ity ul­ti­mately be­ing very ap­peal­ing.

And still on the sub­ject of size – those of sen­sors and pix­els – the mar­ket seems to be com­fort­ably set­tling into an ac­cep­tance that big­ger isn’t al­ways necessarily bet­ter. The ex­tra chal­lenges which arise when 50 megapix­els is packed onto a full-35mm sen­sor or 100 MP onto a ‘645’ chip have per­haps con­vinced many that there is a ‘sweet spot’ when it comes to pixel counts and, besides, the way the data is pro­cessed is equally – if not more – im­por­tant in terms of im­age qual­ity (IQ). With both Pana­sonic and Olym­pus de­liv­er­ing ever bet­ter per­for­mance from their Mi­cro Four Thirds sen­sors – be­tween 16 and 20 MP res­o­lu­tion – the con­cept of ‘suf­fi­cient IQ’ is start­ing to sink in. In other words, it’s not so much about how many pix­els you’ve got, but what you do with them. This is shift­ing the em­pha­sis back to the de­signs of sen­sors and mi­cro­pro­ces­sors, and away from mere pixel counts which are ac­tu­ally pretty mean­ing­less any­way. The tech­ni­cal­i­ties can be pretty in­ter­est­ing, but in the end, it’s the ac­tual per­for­mance that counts most.

TIME FOR CHANGE

Ev­ery so of­ten we tweak our prod­uct cat­e­gories to re­flect changes in the in­dus­try and, this year, the big change is split­ting the lens cat­e­gory into two – one for primes and one for zooms.

We may have to go fur­ther in the fu­ture be­cause, as noted ear­lier, lenses are now very in­flu­en­tial, par­tic­u­larly in terms of at­tract­ing con­verts to the mir­ror­less sys­tems. And par­tic­u­larly in these sys­tems, we’re see­ing the emer­gence of much more in­no­va­tive and in­ter­est­ing de­signs, both from the cam­era man­u­fac­tur­ers them­selves and the in­de­pen­dents (of which, in­ci­den­tally, there are

now many more than just a cou­ple of years ago). Now that the mir­ror­less sys­tems have all the ‘bread-and-but­ter’ lens mod­els in place, there’s scope to ex­per­i­ment with more ex­otic cre­ations which lever­age tech­ni­cal fac­tors such as sen­sor size and the shorter flange back dis­tance. We’re fol­low­ing TIPA’s lead from this year and us­ing the term “mir­ror­less” on the rel­e­vant cat­e­gories. Back in the early days of mir­ror­less, TIPA pro­posed the de­scrip­tion of “com­pact sys­tem cam­era” – or CSC, for short – which was sub­se­quently adopted by its mem­ber mag­a­zines and a num­ber of the man­u­fac­tur­ers. How­ever, “mir­ror­less” is now much bet­ter un­der­stood as a dis­tinc­tion from a re­flex cam­era.

Fi­nally, we’ve de­cided to drop our In­no­va­tive Prod­uct cat­e­gory be­cause it was re­ally too broad in its scope. These days so many imag­ing prod­ucts in­cor­po­rate one in­no­va­tion or an­other which are all com­mend­able in their own way, so it’s hard to make mean­ing­ful di­rect com­par­isons. How­ever, con­sider it just stored in the tro­phy cabi­net and if, in the fu­ture, some­thing re­ally spe­cial comes along that isn’t cov­ered by the other cat­e­gories, we’ll dust it off again.

MAK­ING THE CUT

The pe­riod of el­i­gi­bil­ity for the Cam­era Mag­a­zine Imag­ing Awards runs from 1 Oc­to­ber to 30 Septem­ber, These dates were orig­i­nally se­lected to pre­vent things be­ing skewed in a Pho­tok­ina year by the rush of new ar­rivals at the world’s big­gest photo show. Com­mer­cial im­per­a­tives mean that many com­pa­nies no longer wait to use a ma­jor show as the launch pad for a new prod­uct, but Pho­tok­ina is still well-timed for oth­ers and gen­er­ates plenty of ac­tiv­ity. Our thoughts are that it’s not ex­actly fair for a po­ten­tially win­ning prod­uct that’s been do­ing well in pre­vi­ous months to be knocked out at the last minute by some­thing which looks bet­ter on paper, but is yet untested. We’ve also kept this pe­riod of el­i­gi­bil­ity be­cause it works in terms of avoid­ing the same is­sues with the preChrist­mas rush of new ar­rivals.

An­other es­sen­tial re­quire­ment for el­i­gi­bil­ity is that a prod­uct must be on sale by the time we se­lect the win­ners – and this means be­ing phys­i­cally avail­able at a sub­stan­tial num­ber of re­tail out­lets in the coun­try’s ma­jor metropoli­tan cen­tres – by 30 Septem­ber. Be­ing avail­able for pre-or­der­ing isn’t suf­fi­cient be­cause there could be – and quite of­ten are these days – de­lays in ac­tual de­liv­er­ies. Like­wise any on­line seller has to be able to guar­an­tee a de­liv­ery by 30 Septem­ber too. All the el­i­gi­ble prod­ucts in each cat­e­gory – long lists are compiled through­out the year – are judged on a num­ber of de­sign, op­er­a­tional and per­for­mance cri­te­ria. The over­rid­ing con­sid­er­a­tion here is just how ef­fec­tively the de­sign brief has been met and the prod­uct de­liv­ers what’s promised. Price is also a fac­tor, but isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker be­cause some prod­ucts would still be win­ners even if they cost a whole lot more – they’re so com­pre­hen­sively bet­ter than all their ri­vals. Con­versely, some prod­ucts rep­re­sent such ex­cep­tional value-for-money that they also com­pre­hen­sively beat the field.

Each of the judg­ing cri­te­ria car­ries a points score. Af­ter we’ve ar­rived a short­list of the top-scor­ing prod­ucts in each cat­e­gory, we then move from the head – i.e. all the ob­jec­tive stuff – to the heart. These sub­jec­tive ele­ments in­clude the styling and look, the ex­pe­ri­ence and in­volve­ment, and the many other – some­times quite small – things that give a prod­uct – par­tic­u­larly cam­eras – real emo­tional appeal. Some­times it’s hard to de­fine why one prod­uct has the ‘X fac­tor’ – you just can’t wait to get go­ing with it – and an­other doesn’t, but there’s of­ten an in­tegrity to the de­sign and execution that’s sim­ply ir­re­sistible. These are in­tan­gi­bles, but wor­thy of recog­ni­tion be­cause, over the decades, we’ve found that there are ded­i­cated en­thu­si­asts be­hind these prod­ucts… prod­uct plan­ners, en­gi­neers, mar­ket­ing peo­ple and man­agers. They’re mostly anony­mous and of­ten un­sung, but pho­tog­ra­phy is a hugely per­sonal thing – with both emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal di­men­sions – and so the value of the hu­man in­put in de­vel­op­ment and de­sign should never be un­der­es­ti­mated. We hope every­body in­volved in the creation of this year’s crop of win­ners feels jus­ti­fi­ably proud of their achieve­ments. We, at this end, are truly grate­ful.

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