SLR Lounge Product Awards
The year of 2020 has been an interesting and challenging one for photographers and the industry as a whole. From supply chain issues presented by the pandemic to the tightened wallets of out-of-work photographers, many of the industry-leading companies reported another round of revenue decline. The fact that technological advancements are at an all time high while industry profitability moves in the opposite direction is ironic and unfortunate. However, despite the challenges, many companies released incredible, game-changing products. We’ve seen significant new cameras from every major system, impressive new lenses, and many more noteworthy product releases.
Here is a list of the most exciting, indeed the best pieces of gear from 2020.
The Criteria and Process
The following awards are based on the results of votes by the SLR Lounge editors and writing team. To qualify, the product has to have been released or updated in late 2019 or 2020. We asked our team to factor in the following criteria: 1) the impact on the photography industry and 2) the overall quality and performance of the product.
Cameras and Drones of the Year
Best Full-Frame Camera
Despite being surrounded by a little bit of “heated” discussion, the Canon EOS R5 stands head-and-shoulders above the other cameras released in 2020 for one reason: 8K RAW video. If you need this feature, then your alternatives cost tens of thousands of dollars, whereas the Canon EOS R5 will only set you back $3,899. Oh, and it also has flagship-level autofocus, stabilization, (that combines with lens-based IS!) …and incredible image quality, too.
Best Affordable Full-Frame Camera
Nikon did our absolute favorite thing to see in the camera world this year: they shattered the mold for full-frame mirrorless value. For $1,399, they’re offering the Nikon Z5, which is ruggedly built, full-featured, and offers both dual card slots and in-body stabilization, plus very impressive autofocu, and image quality that is just as good as the best 24-megapixel full-frame cameras.
Best APS-C Camera
Fuji gets a win this year for the most exciting APS-C camera. Why? Because the X-S10 is the only APS-C camera as of late to offer IBIS (in-body stabilization) for under $1,000. That’s right, for just $999 you can now get Fuji’s flagship X-Trans BSI sensor, (26 MP) plus a very rugged body with a nice grip.
With 4K30p video in a 249g package, the DJI Mavic Mini 2 is an attractive choice for those who are looking to get a portable, affordable drone that doesn’t compromise on quality. They start at just $449, with options that include extra batteries and/or a carrying case running just $599 or $649
Best Full-Frame Vlogging Camera
With their industry-leading eye and face autofocus, and extremely capable low-light sensor, Sony’s long-awaited A7S wins the award for being the hottest new vlogging camera around. It doesn’t hurt that Sony also recently created a 20mm f/1.8 lens, which is a perfect focal length for vlogging. (And extremely light weight!)
Best Compact Vlogging Camera
Sony took their highly popular RX-series of ultra-compact (2.7x crop-sensor) cameras, and created the ultimate compact vlogging camera: the Sony ZV-1. Not only does it have a fully articulated LCD screen and a decent microphone with an included deadcat, it also has an accessory selfie handle + tripod, with integrated recording, zooming, Fn, and Photo functionality.
Lenses of the Year
Best Telephoto Zoom
This much-anticipated, long-awaited flagship lens faced the full brunt of the Coronavirus pandemic’s economic slow-down, however, it has proven to be well worth the wait. In short, it’s the best 70-200mm f/2.8 lens we have ever reviewed and is the new cornerstone of Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless lens stable. At nearly $2,600, it’s not cheap, but it’s well worth the investment.
Best Telephoto Zoom – Runner Up
For those who are looking for portable, affordable lenses for their full-frame mirrorless cameras, 2020 has really been the year when a lot of long-awaited lenses arrived. The Tamron (Sony E-mount) 70-300mm is a perfect example–it is compact and lightweight, only costs $549, and yet delivers incredible image quality and very reliable autofocus.
Best Wide-Angle Zoom
Not to be outdone by Nikon and all other makers of ultra-wide f/2.8 zooms, Sony decided to make one that goes to 12mm. Not only that, but it is, in fact, incredibly sharp, even sharper than the 12mm prime lenses out there! The Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM will set you back $2,999, but it is worth saving up for if you need what it offers.
Best Wide Angle Zoom – Runner-Up
More than thirteen years ago, Nikon revolutionized the world of ultra-wide-angle zoom lenses by creating the original 14-24mm f/2.8. It was so sharp, it defied all “primes are better than zooms!” stereotypes, and became the best lens in existence that reached 14mm.
Today, the Nikkor Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S is an impressive modern ultra-wide lens for the full-frame mirrorless Nikon Z-mount, and it is a worthy successor to the original. Not only is it incredibly sharp and ready for 45+ megapixel sensors, it is also even more portable, and has an added hood system that allows front filters to be used, too!
Best Travel Zoom
The most exciting super-zoom of the year, this Tamron lens is unique among all superzooms in that it achieves the fast aperture of f/2.8 on the wide end, and is uncompromising in its overall sharpness throughout the entire zoom range. If you’re looking for a great travel lens that can also handle low-light situations with ease, (at the wider end, at least) then check out the Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 Di III RXD for $725.
Best Travel Zoom – Runner-Up
10X zooms used to be a unicorn to serious photographers. If you wanted that much zoom range in one lens, you had to make some serious compromises in terms of image quality. Often, the lens was terribly soft at both ends of the zoom range, or decently sharp at one end, but only mediocre at the other, and with a zone of terrible image quality somewhere in the middle. The Canon RF 24-240mm f/4-6.3 IS USM is by far the best 10X zoom ever made for full-frame cameras. It is extremely sharp throughout its entire range, and the optical image stabilization allows for even more consistent sharpness at the telephoto end, compared to camera systems that only offer IBIS.
Best Portrait Lens
Sigma has been known for making lenses that seem to just get bigger and bigger, as they get sharper and faster, but in this case, they’ve bucked the trend–the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art (Sony FE/E-mount) is a whole pound (nearly 600g) lighter than its DSLR predecessor, and yet is just as sharp, or better!
If you’re looking for the best 85mm f/1.4 that is an incredible balance of no-compromises image quality and rugged build, without breaking the bank or your wallet, check out the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art for $1,199.
Best Portrait Lens – Runner Up
After making a rather impressive arsenal of large, heavy, flagship-grade RF-mount prime lenses, Canon has also taken care of the budget-conscious shoppers who would like a medium-telephoto portrait lens, but only have ~$600 to spend. The Canon RF 85mm f/2 Macro IS STM is one of the most versatile 85mm’s around, with both 1:2 (0.5x) macro capability and optical stabilization.
Flashes of the Year
Best Studio Strobe
A powerful battery-powered light, the Westcott FJ400 Strobe is one of the most versatile flashes we have seen in a while. With a whopping 4400 mAh battery and a 0.9 sec recycle time, you can get 480 full-power (and thousands of low-power) “pops” on a single charge. Oh, and it offers TTL metering, and is compatible with Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji, Panasonic, and Olympus systems.
Best Compact Studio Strobe
Sitting right between the highly popular AD200 and AD400 flashes, as its name suggests, the AD300Pro offers a balance of great value and professional performance. Offering wireless control, TTL, and HSS, the AD300Pro is one of the best values in ~300 Ws flashes, at a starting price of just $499.
Best Pocket Strobe
With more power (450 full-power pops) and a 1-second recycle time, the A1X offers HSS and TTL, of course, and the articulating, round head that enables you to achieve beautifully natural light in every situation from “bounced” light to direct, modified light. If you can afford its $895 (when on sale, as it is right now) price tag, you’ll appreciate the Profoto flagship quality and performance.
Bags and Tripods of the Year
Best Camera Backpack
One of the biggest backpack’s we’ve ever reviewed, the Fernweh is capacious. The surprising thing is, it is actually one of the most comfortable backpacks we have ever reviewed, too! Whether you are traveling with everything on your back from camera gear to clothes and food, or you’re simply working on a huge project with every piece of camera gear you own, you’ll love this bag. Read the Full Review.
Best Outdoor Backpack
For the adventurous outdoor photographer who is looking for a strong, durable backpack that has a great balance of traditional design, gear access, protection and comfort, the Backlight Elite 45 is a versatile, rugged backpack that will set you back $399. It offers a removable padded camera compartment for when you need to slip your most precious gear into an overhead bin or under your airline seat, plus a substantial yet detachable waist belt and top pouch for quick trail runs with a minimal amount of gear. Read the Full Review.
Best Messenger Bag
Peak Design’s Everyday Messenger v1 was already one of our favorites, but they went ahead and improved it. We love the new condensed look and other improvements. If you want one of the best balances of style, comfort, and gear protection that we’ve ever seen, check out the Peak Design Everyday Messenger V2.
Rolling Camera Bag
Think Tank is the standard in Rolling Camera Bags and Cases. This year, they released the Airport Advantage XT, which combines the functionality and carrying capacity that they’re known for and adds an attractive grey, textured exterior that they call “Graphite.”
This new Zhiyun combines heavy-duty support and an improved overall design, the Crane 2S Pro is a flagship, workhorse gimbal for $849. Adding features like motorized focus/zoom pulling make it ready for high-end professional work, too!
The most versatile tripods on the market, the Slik VARI series offers not just one but technically three different tripod configurations. It is perfect for photographers who value extreme stability with big cameras and telephoto lenses, while also preferring lightweight design and impressive portability. If you’ve ever wanted a tripod with a solid base platform, and/or a leveling base, and/or a center column option, the Slik VARI CF series offers this for as little as $399-429. (They’re currently on sale for $100 off!)
Best Travel Tripod
With a thorough redesign of the whole tripod concept, Peak Design did what they do best when they delivered their Travel Tripod – they created an innovative product that changes the way we think about traditional design. The Travel Tripod is downright tiny, when collapsed, and yet extends to an impressive 60-inch maximum height. The integrated head design isn’t for everybody, but it is a portability champion for those who would otherwise just not bring a tripod at all.
Storage Devices and Computers of the Year
Best Storage Device
With a handful of professionally-capable cameras in the last couple years that only have a single memory card slot, on-location backup and storage solutions are just as important now as the ever were before.Gnarbox has by far the best option on the market, with their rugged, (indestructible, almost) high-quality Gnarbox 2.0. With SSD storage capacities of 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB. You can rest assured that your next epic adventure, or major paying job are safe and sound in your pocket.
Now that Apple has their M1 chip, our favorite Apple product is the relatively affordable 13-inch Macbook Pro, which you can begin pricing at $1,299, and get very well-spec’d for under $2,000. It may not be the sheer powerhouse that Apple’s 16-inch models offer, but for the photographer or videographer who does a lot of traveling, and who attaches their laptop to a large high-quality display while at their desk at home, this new line of Macbook Pros with M1 chips is the one to keep your eye on!
With Adobe Lightroom being so picky about computer specs and how it consumes things like your RAM And CPU, the best way to get maximum performance in Lightroom is to go with a Puget Systems custom build. They are not stock desktop computers, with their ultimate Lightroom machines starting around $3,000, but what you get is roughly equivalent to an Apple Mac Pro costing close to $8,000. That’s a value that a full-time working professional can appreciate; likely saving them innumerable hours in Lightroom every month.