The last 12 months has de­liv­ered a bumper crop of new imag­ing prod­ucts, mak­ing judg­ing this year’s awards par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing, but also pro­duc­ing some ex­cep­tional winners.

Camera - - NEWS - Spe­cial re­port by Cam­era edi­tor Paul Bur­rows

It’s that time of year again, and our CMIA judges have been locked away de­bat­ing the mer­its of all the key new imag­ing prod­ucts launched in Aus­tralia over the last 12 months. We’ve let them out now so it’s time to re­veal all the win­ners… drum roll please.

The year 2016 was a par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing one for the cam­era in­dus­try af­ter the earth­quake which dam­aged Sony’s key sen­sor fab­ri­ca­tion fa­cil­ity in Ku­mo­moto, Ja­pan, re­sult­ing in many de­lays and even the can­cel­la­tion of some new prod­ucts. (As an aside, it’s an in­di­ca­tion of just how wide­spread is the use of Sony-made sen­sors, but that’s an­other story.) It took many months to get the fa­cil­ity up and run­ning again, but sub­se­quently it’s been like an open­ing of the flood gates, with a steady stream of new cam­era re­leases from Pho­tok­ina 2016 on­wards.

Con­se­quently, 2017 has been a stel­lar year in all cam­era cat­e­gories, fur­ther helped along by the fre­netic ac­tiv­ity which is cur­rently the ac­ces­sory lens busi­ness. There have been many high­lights, but they’re prob­a­bly topped by the de­liv­ery of the mir­ror­less dig­i­tal medium for­mat cam­eras from Fu­ji­film and Has­sel­blad. They have un­doubt­edly re­vived dig­i­tal medium for­mat pho­tog­ra­phy, with the GFX 50S, in par­tic­u­lar, mak­ing it much more ac­ces­si­ble. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see what hap­pens next here, es­pe­cially as things are hot­ting up very nicely in the area of full-35mm for­mat mir­ror­less cam­eras. Sony’s A9 is the cur­rently the star turn in this cat­e­gory with the clearly stated ob­jec­tive of lur­ing pro­fes­sion­als away from the tra­di­tional top-end D-SLRs. Of course, both Fu­ji­film and Olym­pus are also go­ing big game hunt­ing with their topof-the-line mir­ror­less of­fer­ings, but the A9 has been very de­lib­er­ately specced to win any com­par­i­son with a cur­rent D-SLR hands down.

Of course, the D-SLR is far from done – Nikon’s D850 is the proof of that – but it’s be­com­ing very much harder to ig­nore (or, in­deed, re­fute) the many ben­e­fits of the mir­ror­less con­fig­u­ra­tion. Just how long can Canon and Nikon hold out? In re­al­ity, prob­a­bly not much longer, and Nikon is al­ready mak­ing pos­i­tive noises about hav­ing a full-35mm mir­ror­less cam­era

in the pipe­line. Given how Nikon – cel­e­brat­ing a cred­itable cen­te­nary in 2017 – turned the cam­era world up­side down in 1959 with the leg­endary F 35mm SLR sys­tem (who thought 35mm would catch on?), this is a mouth-wa­ter­ing prospect in­deed. We’re pretty con­fi­dent we’ll be talk­ing about a Canon or Nikon (or both) ful­l35mm mir­ror­less cam­era sys­tem this time next year.

In the mean­time, mir­ror­less con­tin­ues to eat into the lower ranks of D-SLRs, given the ca­pa­bil­i­ties and in­no­va­tions in­her­ent in cam­eras such as the Fu­ji­film X-T20, Le­ica TL2, Olym­pus OM-D E-M10 III, Pana­sonic Lu­mix G85 and Sony A6500.

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 many new prod­ucts which were tra­di­tion­ally launched at the world’s big­gest photo show. But this has changed over the last decade or so, as few com­pa­nies want to de­lay a new prod­uct, and be­cause there are also other im­por­tant events on the cal­en­dar such as Ja­pan’s CP+. From 2019 Pho­tok­ina will be an an­nual event held in May rather than Septem­ber (well, es­sen­tially it’s an an­nual event from 2018, but you know what we mean). We’ll prob­a­bly stick with our cur­rent pe­riod of el­i­gi­bil­ity be­cause it still works in terms of the quar­terly cy­cles of new prod­uct launches.

An­other es­sen­tial re­quire­ment for el­i­gi­bil­ity is that a prod­uct must be on sale by the time we an­nounce the win­ners. 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. This is sim­ply be­cause, firstly, we ac­tu­ally have to get our hands on a prod­uct and, se­condly, if you’re suf­fi­cient en­thused by a win­ner to want to buy it, it’s bet­ter that you don’t have to wait. (That said, some­times a prod­uct is im­me­di­ately so much in de­mand that it sells out quickly and there’s a sub­se­quent de­lay un­til the next ship­ment ar­rives – Nikon’s D850 be­ing the case in point this year.)

We spend the whole year com­pil­ing long lists of po­ten­tial win­ners, and these are fine-tuned as we go along, in­clud­ing af­ter we’ve been in­volved with the an­nual TIPA Awards judg­ing ear­lier in the year. All the el­i­gi­ble prod­ucts in each cat­e­gory are eval­u­ated on a num­ber of de­sign, op­er­a­tional and per­for­mance cri­te­ria. The key con­sid­er­a­tion is just how ef­fec­tively the de­sign brief has been met, and whether the prod­uct de­liv­ers ev­ery­thing that’s promised, in­clud­ing in all per­for­mance ar­eas. The price is also taken into ac­count, but isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a de­cid­ing fac­tor as some prod­ucts would still be win­ners even if they cost a whole lot more be­cause they’re just so much bet­ter than any­thing else in the cat­e­gory. That said, some prod­ucts rep­re­sent such ex­cep­tional value-for-money that the price can’t be ig­nored.

Each of the judg­ing cri­te­ria car­ries a point score. Af­ter we’ve ar­rived at short­lists of the top­scor­ing prod­ucts in each cat­e­gory, we then look at the sub­jec­tive el­e­ments such as the styling, the user ex­pe­ri­ence and the many other, of­ten small, de­tails which en­dow a prod­uct, par­tic­u­larly cam­eras, with emo­tional ap­peal. These are char­ac­ter­is­tics that are of­ten hard to pin down and de­fine, but some­times it’s ob­vi­ous – Fu­ji­film’s X100 se­ries mod­els are a good ex­am­ple – and they make a prod­uct ir­re­sistible.

Once again this year, we’ve made a change to our cat­e­gories to re­flect the cur­rent trends, adding one for dig­i­tal medium for­mat cam­eras. We may be a bit ahead of our­selves here, but we think there’s go­ing to be a re­nais­sance in medium for­mat cam­eras, trig­gered by the mir­ror­less de­signs we’ve seen so far and the mar­ket growth that they’re al­ready gen­er­at­ing. As we had last year, there are sep­a­rate cat­e­gories for prime and zoom lenses which, again, are the most hotly con­tested, with new brands seem­ingly ap­pear­ing on al­most a monthly ba­sis.

If you’re ready to up­grade your cam­era – per­haps even change for­mats or make the jump from D-SLR to mir­ror­less – or add a new lens to your kit, this year’s Cam­era Mag­a­zine Imag­ing Awards win­ners are a great place to start.

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