It's pretty common for writers to do a year in review type of thing, so here we go.
Best and Worst in 2017 Still Photography
2017 was an interesting year in still photography. Mirrorless adoption amongst new photographers was up, as was the transition to mirrorless amongst older photographers looking for lighter gear without compromising image quality.
My favourite new DSLR this year is the Nikon D850. This camera really showed that Nikon was not lying dead at the side of the road and can still deliver killer products. I am calling it the best DSLR of the year. I hope that the D850 is the norm and not the exception for what comes in 2018.
My top mirrorless of the year is the Sony a7 Mark III. I love the Mark II and this is a very good upgrade. It's not market changing, but shows that it is possible to evolve a successful product and to listen to customers about the missings in the predecessor. Sony is a large company, not known for being customer centric, but the Mark III hits most of the issues that folks had with the Mark II.
My favourite camera for emerging photographers this year is the Fujifilm XT-20. This little critter is just a joy to shoot, it's compact enough to take anywhere and it uses the Fujinon lenses that have proven their worth for decades in different iterations. Best value for the buck and you can really grow with it.
My top lens of the year is Sigma's 85mm f/1.4 ART. In fact numbers two and three are also Sigma ART lenses, the new 20mm and the 14mm. This is the first time I can say with confidence that a third party lens surpasses the OEM versions in terms of customer value. Construction is tank-like, and despite beig larger and heavier than their OEM counterparts, I find real benefit in these lenses.
My top flash of the year is Profoto's A1. It looks like a speedlight and acts like one, but is really a studio strobe in disguise. Great power, incredibly simple ease of use, dedicated and inexpensive light shapers make this a killer product. I was really sad having to send my pre-release eval back to Profoto. Expensive? Yes. But to the field working serious photographer, absolutely killer.
Most disappointing DSLR award of shame goes to the Canon 6D Mark II. How in 2017 Canon could release a camera that is outperformed by the model that came before it (the original 6D) is completely beyond me, and beyond most every other reviewer. While it can shoot in 4K, it uses the abominable and ancient Motion JPEG format, Canon continuing to reserve even barely modern 4K for the Cinema lineup. Canon clearly is unable to spell innovation and plainly continues to suffer from a serious case of cranio-rectal inversion.
Most disappointing mirrorless camera is the Canon EOS M6. Here we have a mirrorless camera without an EVF, with a very high price tag, and fewer features than Canon's excellent Rebel T6i which regularly sells for half the price. Couple this with a unique lens mount and zero innovation and it's clear that Canon cannot see the benefits of mirrorless and is using the ever-behind-the-times M platform as a way to take money out of people's products who would be better served with a Rebel SL-2 but think mirrorless is fashionable and want a Canon. Even if it's horribly overpriced and under-performing. Seriously, you can buy a Sony a6000 (if you can find this older version) for a LOT less and it will beat the M6 up after school every day of the week. Oh yeah, the old a6000 also has an EVF.
From a flash perspective, I was most disappointed by the continued glut of cheap crap flashes from Asia being carried as the only alternative in most brick and mortar stores. Yes they have super high margins, but are generally a load of cheap dung that turn folks off using flash. You can always buy a Yongnuo flash if you want to play battery leak roulette with your gear.
I'm sad to say that the world of walkaround lenses has not improved. My ancient and heavy Canon 28-300 beats the newest iterations in this space into the ground. Nikon's 28-300 FX is still a killer product. It's clear that the focus from the third parties remains on lenses for crop sensor bodies, and sadly most of these lenses still suck so bad they could revive a dead mollusk. Being the poster child simultaneously for pincushion distortion, barrel distortion and vignetting is not anything to aspire towards.
Best and Worst in Video and Audio
The fastest growing area in creative imaging is video. Sadly most retailers cannot see the reality through their rose coloured glasses and strategies of hoping that the DSLR boom will return. Future Darwin award winners, please line up to the right.
My top pro video camera is Sony's FS-7 Mark II. It slays the competition. Yes you have to go outboard to shoot in RAW video, but unless you have tens of thousands of bucks in your editing suite, you are not going to want to be shooting RAW video anyway. It is a great camera and couple it with my favourite new video lens, the Fujinon 18-55, you are rocking in the free world. I also very much liked the Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro. It's well laid out, has flexibility in lens mounts, a really decent shoulder mount kit and with an external battery kit, it's usable in the field albeit heavy. Just before the year end, BMD released a new add-on that allows you to directly record to an SSD drive instead of SD or CFAST cards. I only saw this, I have not tried it, but it definitely addresses the space challenge if you shoot 4.6K in CinemaDNG RAW. I'd give an honourable mention to Canon's C200. Nice layout, good functionality, but the RAW is a Canon specific "RAW-Light" and we don't need more proprietary downgraded RAW formats. Better, not worse please.
My top prosumer video camera is the Panasonic Lumix GH5. While less popular than the Sony alpha series, the GH5 is smaller and lighter and offers more 4K options than anything in the price range. There are also a lot of really great lenses at fair prices. I am personally partial to the Olympus pro grade lenses and the Leica lenses from Panasonic. Unfortunately it looks like Panasonic has taken their eyes off the ball here by moving photographic and consumer video into their appliances division.
My top pick for audio recorders this year is the new MixPre-3 from SoundDevices. SoundDevices gear has always been top in its class, but rather pricey. The new MixPre series bring SoundDevices audio quality to a lower cost family of products, perfect for use in video projects. Their new Kashmir preamps are killer.
My top pick for 2017 in video recorders is the SUMO from Atomos. Field recorders are awesome devices, but it's often hard to accurately judge your footage on a 7" display attached to them. The SUMO includes a 10" HDR capable display along with all the recording capability that you need. It can handle 4K at 60p, 12 bit RAW, and HD at up to 240p. The HDR support is a really big deal for tomorrow's editors as HDR TVs are the new normal and Rec.2020 supplants Rec.709. The LCD panel itself is 10bit from the get go and has 1200nits of brightness so you can work outdoors without a massive shade if needs me.
When it comes to media storage, this year I am in the same place as last year and that is with Synology. Synology's Network Attached Storage offerings combine incredible performance, superior ease of use, application hosting and a complete set of fault tolerant options. Don't trust your images and videos to just any hard drive, a Synology array is the best route to follow. From the two bay DS218+ to the 24 bay DS2415+, you're covered. Buying individual hard drives or single drive enclosures is a waste of money, power and connections. Especially if you use Apple computers where connections get in the way of their form over function design modality. There are more ports on my Lenovo P70 laptop than there are on an iMac.
What's the worst in video? Any company still thinking that FullHD handheld camcorders are a viable products needs to give their collective heads a shake. I have seen the same products with new model numbers for the last four years. Innovation in this space is generally spelled with Ks and Qs, meaning zero innovation. Micro sensors, terrible colour control, noisy zooms and chancy AF are not ok. Want to know why these things don't sell? Because they are overpriced crap and can be outdone with a smartphone. Still we see them stuffed into cases, attracting dust in brick and mortar stores because someone is sufficiently deluded in believing that this is viable market. Remember what smartphones did to point and shoot cameras? Right. They've ALREADY done it to micro sensor consumer video cameras. It's over, they're dead, suck it up and move on.
As for audio, I have never seen so many truly terrible offshore built recorders and plastic sticks pretending to be microphones. Look, I'm not expecting the quality of a Neumann, or even a Sennheiser or RODE here, but please, most of this junk is not as good as a tin can and some string. Bad audio murders good video like a sniper headshot. Stop with the junk. Sadly this looks too much like a case of store buyers not knowing anything about video or audio and only looking at gross margin. If you never sell the product, what's your gross margin again? Oh yeah. Zero.
The Year in Software
This year Adobe shot the perpetual license version of Lightroom in the head and as I write this, the very last update has been released. The trend is subscription, at least from Adobe. While I like Adobe software, mostly, there are alternatives coming that are of the perpetual license nature, although with annual upgrades they start to smell subscription-like anyway. Sadly none of the competitors that folks know such as ON1 or Skylum can touch Lightroom in terms of overall usability. Adding "layers" is not enough to supplant the superior file management and better performance of the Adobe tools. They may equal Lightroom in the future but right now, they are also rans, headed for the glue factory after the big race.
My top stills editor of 2017 is Capture One Pro 11. It does everything that Lightroom does, albeit with a different workflow, and I find it much faster. There are folks who complain about the learning curve and I would challenge them to give the current version a try. One place where some work needs to be done is on the user training side. PhaseOne should partner up with KelbyOne (see the commonality) and get some really good courses done by the experts at K1.
My top video editor of 2017 is, without question, DaVinci Resolve 14. I bought the Studio version, but if you don't need some of the add-ons, the standard version which is FREE to download is amazing. It has the best colour module of the big players, and the Fairlight audio module is amazing. Apple's Final Cut Pro X is a very good product and priced quite low but is Mac only. Adobe's Premiere Pro is respected but the pricing is now ridiculous. Avid has taken a new approach to Media Composer, but even at the full pop for DaVinci Resolve 14 Studio, it's still my top choice this year. On the subject of user training, Grant call Scott Kelby. Right away.
General Commentary on 2017
I have to confess that I am increasingly discouraged by the growing belief that smartphones are truly creative cameras. There is a running joke about the iPhone X having "deeper" pixels according to Apple VP Phil 'The Shill" Schiller. What precisely is a deeper pixel, other than a line of utter BS? Smartphone cameras might be fun and great for selfies and pictures of your tuna sandwich, but truly creative tools, they are not. Apple produces all this shite about how great they are for stills and video but very few people see the tens of thousands of dollars of rigging and extra stuff that goes into these mcmarketing lies. I have to give credit to Chris and Jordan at The Camera Store for reminding me of this line of Shill.
I value brick and mortar stores a lot because they are often the only place where a new or emerging photographer or videographer can go for advice. Also one of the few places where you might actually see something before you buy it. Sadly, due to the freefall of retail in general, the best sellers are moving on, senior leadership seem to think that their customer value proposition is product and price, not people, and the whole thing looks to be on a rocket sled to hell. It's tough for a real store to compete with inadequate inventory, lousy web sites and slow delivery against a B&H or Amazon. As much as I want to see real stores survive, I wish we had a B&H quality web retailer here in Canada, with fair prices and fast delivery. We have a really good one for motorcycle gear, a much smaller market, so why not a killer photo / video web store? As it stands today, I can get goods from B&H faster into Canada, than I can from Canadian web sellers in my own country. That sucks.
I want to suggest that if your company makes a camera in 2018 and it doesn't have two identical card slots, that your company needs to leap into a bucket of razor blades. Form over function is grade A, plus one, stupid. It's also time to take the SD card industry out back, tie it to a tree and beat it to death with a shovel. XQD and CFAST are not the future, they are the present. Get over it. SD used to suck, sucks today and will continue to suck. And to all the manufacturers who do two slots (yea!) but make the second slot SD (boo!) I have some razor blades for you too.
If your company makes a still camera that does video, and that camera does not shoot 4K with at least an H.264 capable codec like XAVC-S, then your company is stupid. Motion JPEG is not an acceptable 4K format. This is 2017 not 1917. The winners will be doing 4K at 60fps with selectable bandwidth using H.265 by the end of 2018. Everyone else, give up, you have NO video story. By the way, to get useful bandwidth, you will have to give up on SD architecture because it sucks and blows simultaneously.
In 2018, studio strobe makers who continue to ignore that the current generation of buyers expect TTL capability, will continue to be ignored by buyers. It's perfectly ok to think that TTL is unpure, so long as you don't mind massive market erosion in favour of those who show up with TTL as well as Manual mode. Also watch your ridiculous pricing levels, because despite the junk coming out of Asia, there is also some really good kit starting to show up that will not burn your house down when you power it up. I also hope that some of the better makers get off the stick and get CSA approval so Canadians can buy their goods and not have their insurance invalidated if something goes boom. Can you hear me Interfit?
If Steve Jobs were still alive, I swear he would be walking around Cupertino with an ME-101 Minigun. No shot against Tim Cook, the current CEO, but he's a brilliant ops guy, not a visionary, arrogant prick. Steve would have never let the form over function wahoos get so out of control. The iMac Pro properly kitted up for professional use is over ten thousand dollars. I could built multiple Windows 10 boxes that will wax its ass like a cheap surfboard for that kind of coin. The much ballyhooed new MacBook Pro, isn't Pro at all and the older 2015 MacBook Pros are still available and still selling well. That's because the new one is a locked down, underscoped piece of crap whose only metrics are "pretty" and "skinny" For such a socially correct company, Apple is behaving like a complete chauvinist pig. If Apple wants to keep the Pro market at all, they need to put Jony and Phil in a small room and keep them away from pros. Give all of Professional products to Craig Federighi and let him go wild with the mantra of best pro for the best dollar. Function over form asshats.
I've been a Mac guy since 1984. When my current trashcan Mac Pro buys the farm or my current MacBook Pro decides to take itself out, if things have not changed dramatically, I will be heading over to talk to the nice people at Lenovo. They will build me twice the machine at half the price and once the apps are running, i won't care about how much I don't like the Windows UI. I hate to say it but my Lenovo P70 blows the MacBook Pro away on performance and costs just over half what I paid for the MBP. Yes it runs Windows with all the snot and barf that doing so entails, but MS has done some good work with Windows 10 and if I can just learn to shut the "helpful suggestions" up, I'll be in good stead. No I do not like the software representation in the Windows environment as much as I do in macOS, but functionality matters more than pretty. Would I miss Final Cut Pro X and Logic X? Yes, for exactly how long it would take me to get up to equivalent competency with alternatives like Resolve and Audition.
2018 Predictions aka WAGs
The wonderful thing about predictions is that they can be completely wrong, so long as they are entertaining or pseudo visionary. Here we go. Let me be crystal clear. I am not telling secrets out of school. If I have signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement with anyone, I am not going to violate it for this article. I am MAKING THIS STUFF UP. Some of it might even prove to be correct.
Canon will finally deliver a full frame mirrorless camera. It will sell for more than a 5D Mark IV and have all the functionality of 6D Mark II. Canon loyalists will yell how great it is, but very few will actually buy one. Canon will release a 7D Mark III. It will not have improved high ISO performance, will cost more than the 7D2, and will not have 4K almost as good as the Sony from three years ago. It will sell well because it will be the closest thing Canon shooters will have to a D500, which will still outperform the 7D3. The rumoured 1Dx Mark III will not appear this coming year.
Nikon will not deliver a full frame mirrorless camera, but will continue to revolve their entry DSLRS in a market that is vanishing like a game of musical chairs where a customer block vanishes every sixty days. There will be a D650 to replace the aging D610 family but a replacement for the D750 will not make 2018.
Ricoh will finally decide to stop pouring money into the Pentax brand. The cameras are excellent, but market share continues to erode and when your best story is a 360 degree VR camera, you have bigger challenges.
Fujifilm will release the X-Pro3 and every reviewer will love it. And promptly ignore it because it behaves like a rangefinder. I will want one. Fujifilm will also release a bunch of new lenses for the GFX and take a leadership position in the medium format field camera space.
Hasselblad will continue to do firmware updates to the X1D. They will release a couple more lenses, but the pricepoint, and lack of customer focused dealers will make 2018 a challenging year. I know that Chris and Jordan over at The Camera Store didn't like the X1D, but I do, particularly with each firmware update. So Hasselblad, send me the stuff to review first.
Panasonic's move of its camera division into the home appliance space will prove to be the bad news that has been predicted. The company will take their foot off the pedal in stills and mat it in pro video. This is a space that they really understand and do exceedingly well at. Perhaps they will even send me an EVA1.
Sony will continue to lead in sensor development. They have such an enormous lead and really understand that it's dynamic range not megapixels that matter. The a7 Mark III will be a big success and we will see an FS-5 Mark II to hit the 6K video price point. The current a6500 is leaps ahead of its direct competition, so I see more money going into FE lenses to pull pros away from Nikon and Canon. No real professional wants to be using flakey mount adapters. Sony will build a sensor / AF system that is feature comparable to Canon's superb dual pixel AF. Once they do, videographers will be running to Sony en masse, and hitting the Home Depot for a high speed nail gun to close the lids on the Canon video coffins. The sensor business will sell that capability to anyone who wants it and then Nikon video focus will stop sucking, presuming that they go back to using Sony sensors.
Sigma and Tamron will finally start making Sony FE mount lenses, increasing the usability of Sony's full frame bodies. That's their biggest growth opportunity. The Sigma CINE lenses will surprise the old school folks and enable an entirely new group of filmmakers.
Apple will continue to yap about a replacement for the Mac Pro. This is the computer that they promised would be field upgradeable for years, for which they have done absolutely screw-all. Since the desired replacement Mac Pro, would have buckets of memory slots, card slots, drive bays and allow for plenty of user self maintenance, it will never actually happen, because the thought leaders at Apple think that we are all too stupid to take care of our gear. This is proven to them every year by all the lemmings rushing in to buy the latest iPhone which is nominally more feature rich than the current model and runs an OS that intentionally cripples the older version. Apple has become Ballmer's Microsoft. They don't give a f**k about their customer and that will not change in 2018.
In the End
I've been working on this for a few weeks, starting at the beginning of December. I just watched the video from The Camera Store which is their best and worst and I feel either magically aligned or that folks will think that I copied them since we are in full alignment on some of this stuff. I will say that great minds agree on things sometimes. And while I respect their choice of gin from Scotland for their celebratory game of non-denominational battleship, I must confess that I stuck with a different product from the Bruichladdich distillery for mine. If you have not seen The Camera Store video, check it out here.