2008 Editors' Choice Awards

Our annual Editors’ Choice Awards

is consistently one of the most popular features in PCPhoto, but it’s also one of the toughest for us as editors. We cover hundreds of new products each year, and trying to pick just a handful of these for recognition isn’t easy. So, while we can’t include every product worthy of mention, we try to highlight a variety of products we think represent the best of what’s available for photographers today.

From the latest cameras and lenses to software and essential accessories that will help you make better images more easily and in less time, the following products get our thumbs up for innovation and the value they’ll bring to your photo experience.

Nikon D300

Amid the big splash of Nikon’s new D3 professional D-SLR introduction, the company also unveiled another new camera. While the D3 looks to be an amazing piece of photographic technology, the new D300 comes into the line making its presence felt with a bang, and it shares plenty of technology with its top-of-the-line sibling. The camera has a 12.3-megapixel image sensor and features live-view capability, enabling you to use the large three-inch LCD monitor to compose shots. Of course, you can still use the standard viewfinder and relegate the LCD for menu surfing and image review. That new LCD stands out because of its size, resolution (920,000 dots) and brightness. Looking at shots, sometimes called chimping, is comfortable, and I can really check out small details if I want to. Nikon’s EXPEED image-processing system keeps noise at bay and makes image quality as good as it can be. Of course, there are the usual features you’d expect on a new D-SLR—instant startup, no shutter lag, 51-point autofocus system—the list goes on. Estimated Street Price: $1,799. Contact: Nikon, (800) NIKON-US, www.nikonusa.com. -CR

B+W Redhancer Filter

Have you heard the one about the digital photographer who didn’t think he had a use for on-camera filters anymore? That joke was on me about six years ago. I switched from film and immediately decided that I didn’t have to use a filter at all because I could do all of my enhancements in Photoshop. I quickly learned better. One filter that I keep around pretty much all the time is the B+W Redhancer. As the name implies, the filter enhances the reds, oranges and near-red components in the frame. This helps a potentially dull, flat scene pop with much more vivid color. Estimated Street Price: $49 to $165 depending upon size. Contact: B+W, (800) 645-7239, www.schneideroptics.com. -CR

DxO Optics Pro

I’m a sucker for the wide-angle perspective. I find myself reaching for super-wide zooms more than anything else in my bag, but along with that perspective comes the possibility of objectionable distortion, particularly at the corners and edges of the frame. Using DxO Optics Pro, I’m able to mitigate the distortion without sacrificing the perspective. The remarkable software has given new life to some of my images, which had become a little too distorted when I simply wasn’t paying attention. The software also features sophisticated color correction and a series of presets that takes care of it in one click. Estimated Street Price: $299 (DxO Optics Pro Elite). Contact: DxO Labs, www.dxo.com. -CR

Olympus PT-037 U/W Housing Setup

Scuba diving changed my life. Ask any of my friends and coworkers, and they’ll tell you I can’t shut up about it. It didn’t take long before I brought photography into my passion for diving. One of my favorite underwater setups is the Olympus PT-037 housing with an SP560UZ Olympus camera inside. The setup can go to 130 feet, which is nice when I’m diving, but because of its relative light weight and compact size, I also love to use it when I’m just snorkeling. The image quality is dramatically better than the ubiquitous disposable cameras that you see people take into the water on vacation, and the price can’t be beat. Estimated Street Price: $299 (housing only). Contact: Olympus, (888) 553-4448, www.olympusamerica.com. -CR

Sigma 18-200mm DC OS

A feature once found on only a few lenses, image-stabilization technology is thankfully becoming quite common. Sigma’s 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 DC OS lens offers an ideal zoom range for just about any photo opportunity and incorporates Sigma’s Optical Stabilizer system, which uses sensors in the lens to detect and counteract unintended movement and shake that usually results from handholding our SLRs. Another excellent feature is the minimum focusing distance of approximately 18 inches throughout the zoom range, making it a capable close-up lens, too. It’s available with Sigma, Nikon or Canon mounts. List Price: $820. Contact: Sigma, (800) 896-6858, www.sigmaphoto.com. -WP

Manfrotto 055XPROB Tripod

The classic Manfrotto 055 tripod has been updated to be even more versatile than before. Part of the new “X” family of tripods, the aluminum 055XPROB weighs just over five pounds and can support about 15 pounds. Fully collapsed, it’s 25.8 inches in length; when in use, it can range from 3.9 inches off the ground to a maximum of 70.3 inches with the center column fully extended. My favorite feature: Extend the center column to its maximum height, and it can be oriented horizontally, allowing you enhanced compositional flexibility. Estimated Street Price: $169. Contact: Bogen Imaging, (201) 818-9500, www.bogenimaging.us. -WP

Apple iMac

We’ve long been fans of Apple’s iMac computers, with their all-in-one integrated designs that boast powerful specs but keep space requirements to a minimum. The newest incarnation is arguably the most beautiful yet, and certainly the most powerful: The top-of-the-line 24-inch model can be equipped with Intel’s 2.8GHz Core 2 Extreme processor, up to 4 GB of RAM and 1 TB of storage. Available in 20- and 24-inch models with bright, glossy LCDs, the new iMacs also include Apple’s redesigned keyboard-a low, ergonomic design that’s really comfortable and is, hands-down, the best keyboard I’ve ever used. List Price: Starts at $1,799 (24-inch model). Contact: Apple, (800) MY-APPLE, www.apple.com. -WP

Pentax K100D Super

D-SLR photography has become affordable for every photographer, and leading the way is the Pentax K100D Super. With solid specs and some advanced features like integrated Shake Reduction and Dust Removal systems, this 6.1-megapixel camera offers 2.8 fps capture of RAW or JPEG images. Numerous modes make it easy to get great results of a variety of subjects, or shoot in traditional modes like aperture- and shutter-priority. Compatible with a wide range of Pentax lenses, the K100D Super comes with an 18-55mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 lens to get you started, at a price that’s as impressive as the camera. List Price
: $599 (with lens). Contact: Pentax, (800) 877-0155, www.pentaximaging.com. -WP

Panasonic Camcorder SDR-S10

Panasonic has a knack for delivering cutting-edge camcorders, and the SDR-S10 is no exception. A small, light, water-resistant cam that’s drop-protected from around four feet, the SDR-S10 is the perfect unit to add to your camera bag and use in the field. It utilizes tapeless flash memory storage in a slimmed-down body with a choice of SD/SDHC memory cards for video recording. I like the style and PDA-sized body of the unit. Plus, it’s a cool cam to have around. Estimated Street Price: $400. Contact: Panasonic, (800) 211-PANA, www.panasonic.com. -SW

Datacolor Spyder3Elite

No matter where you shoot, you still need to calibrate your monitor for a color-neutral workspace. Nothing compares to the horror of prints that look nothing like the beautiful image you behold on your monitor. Enter the Datacolor Spyder3Elite, an easy-to-use calibration tool, now with a 7 detector color engine and a 27mm aperture to precisely calibrate your LCD, CRT, laptop and front projector displays. This affordable, state-of-the-art tool also calibrates your display during ambient light changes. Now there’s no excuse for bad prints. You’ll have total control over that elusive digital workflow. Estimated Street Price: TBA. Contact: Datacolor, (609) 924-2189, www.datacolor.com. -SW

Tamrac Velocity Sling Pack

Simply put, this great line of bags with fast and convenient access to your camera gear still carries comfortably like a backpack during travel. The Tamrac Velocity Sling Pack easily accommodates your pro digital body with an eight-inch zoom lens attached. The foam-padded dividers reinforced with rigid plastic for extra support are a smart touch, and the unit’s design allows for easy access to your gear. Simply swing the bag around to your front, and the aptly named Quick Flip Top allows you to grab your camera and take the shot. Tamrac’s Modular Accessory System also allows you to customize the bag to your liking. Estimated Street Price: Varies by model. Contact: Tamrac, (800) 662-0717, www.tamrac.com. -SW

ErgoRest Tabletop Tripod

Small, effective and strong give me ample reasons to grab an ErgoRest MultiTripod. This light, versatile unit has obvious advantages as a tabletop stand, but its added ability to attach to a car window or work as a shoulder and chest support for long, heavy lenses makes it a genuinely useful tripod. Macro photographers also will love the unit, plus it transports easily because of its small size. Strength is another consideration you need not worry about—it’s made of solid steel and coated in polyurethanes. Estimated Street Price: $100. Contact: HP Marketing Corp., (800) 735-4373, www.hpmarketingcorp.com. -SW

Canon EOS 40D

I own EOS 10D, 20D and 30D cameras, so obviously I like the family. Excellent image quality and AF performance are the main attractions. But I change lenses a lot in the field, and so always seem to have dust on the sensors. The new 40D resolves this problem with a self-cleaning sensor unit. Of course, that’s not all Canon has added to the new EOS 40D: There’s a 10.1-megapixel image sensor, a three-inch LCD monitor with live-view capability, 6.5 fps shooting, a DIGIC III image processor, 14-bit A/D conversion and more—all for $100 less than I paid for my 30D! Estimated Street Price: $1,299. Contact: Canon, (800) OK-CANON, www.usa.canon.com. -MS

Tamron AF18-250mm Di II Zoom

My favorite subjects are birds, but when I’m out hiking, I like to shoot scenic vistas and flower close-ups, too. This means taking two or three lenses, which, in turn, means traveling with a photo vest or backpack. Tamron’s AF18-250mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 Di II zoom was designed for small-sensor D-SLRs, on which it provides 35mm camera-equivalent focal lengths of about 28-400mm, so it can handle those magnificent vistas as well as camera-shy birds and wildlife. It also focuses down to 17.2 inches at all focal lengths, great for those flower close-ups. I enjoyed using our Tamron 18-250mm test lens: It let me hike the way I like—with a camera on a neck strap, unencumbered by no other gear. Estimated Street Price: $499. Contact: Tamron USA, (631) 858-8400, www.tamron.com. -MS

Hoodman HoodLoupe

Those LCD monitors on D-SLRs are terrific, letting you check exposure, focus (and in people shots, expressions) right after shooting an image. But they’re hard to see in bright outdoor light. Hoodman’s HoodLoupe Professional is a hooded magnifier that fits over the monitor for easy, glare-free viewing. Built-in +/-3-diopter eyepiece correction means sharp viewing even for those with aging eyes. Use the camera’s monitor-zoom feature as usual to zero in on a portion of the image. A comfortable lanyard lets you carry it around your neck. Estimated Street Price: $70. Contact: Hoodman USA, (800) 818-3946, www.HoodmanUSA.com. -MS

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Many of us are in the habit of going on a trip, taking tons of photographs, coming home and letting those stunning images sit on a memory card. While Adobe Photoshop Lightroom isn’t a replacement for your photo software, it’s a comprehensive workflow tool for efficiently importing, organizing, managing and nondestructively editing images. What immediately impressed me was the interface. With a clean black and dark-gray background, your photos are the focus. The controls are split up into identifiable groups. The application segments your workflow into five modules that you see from the interface—Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print and Web. All act independently of each other, giving you full, intuitive control. List Price: $299. Contact: Adobe Systems, (800) 833-6687, www.adobe.com. -KC

Adorama Cam-Pod

It can be a pain to lug a tripod everywhere, and there are places where tripods aren’t even allowed. Image stabilizers in cameras and lenses help steady the camera, but won’t lock in a composition as you study it, and your arms can get tired from holding the camera in position for extended periods. Adorama’s Cam-Pod is a bean-bag-like support with bifolding cushions you can mold to your camera/lens for better support and easy positioning on almost any surface. Estimated Street Price: $20 ($15 for the Mini version). Contact: Adorama, (800) 223-2500, www.adorama.com. – MS

Epson Stylus Photo 1400

Taking your photos from the screen to a hi
gh-quality print is easier when the printer you’re working with delivers rich colors, operates quickly and is affordable. The Epson Stylus Photo 1400 produces colorful, archival-quality prints up to 13×19 inches. The printer uses the DX5 MicroPiezo print head, which delivers five droplet sizes with the smallest at 1.5 picoliters. Having a range of droplet sizes matters because it allows for smoother gradations and transitions between the light and dark areas of your photos. Epson’s six-color Claria Hi-Definition dye-based inks make colors pop, and they’re rated to be smudge-, water- and fade-resistant for up to 98 years under glass and 200 in an album. An 11×14-inch print takes about three minutes. Estimated Street Price: $349. Contact: Epson, (800) GO-EPSON, www.epson.com. -KC

Lowepro Factor Messenger

Function and style make the Lowepro Factor Messenger an ideal bag for carrying around your laptop. With a dual-compartment design, the bag comes in two sizes—medium and large. The medium size fits most 15.4-inch widescreen notebooks, and the large holds 17-inch widescreens. The second compartment offers plenty of space for files and books, plus there are pleated pockets for cords and adapters. It’s designed with reinforced, padded laptop protection and durable, water-resistant exterior fabrics. Breathable mesh back panels regulate airflow for comfort. Estimated Street Price: $49 (medium); $59 (large). Contact: Lowepro, (800) 800-LOWE, www.lowepro.com. -KC

Kingston 8 GB CompactFlash Card Ultimate 266X

I’ve found that getting the best performance from your D-SLR depends not only on the speed of your camera, but also on the kind of memory card you use—especially if you’re shooting action photography. Trying to capture fast-moving subjects in continuous-firing mode with a slow card can be disappointing. The new Kingston 8 GB CF Ultimate 266X is a blazing-fast card that keeps pace with my camera’s fps, plus it’s no slouch when transferring image data to my computer. With a sustained reading speed of 45 MBps and a writing speed of 40 MBps, this little card hasn’t let me down yet. Estimated Street Price: $250. Contact: Kingston, (877) KINGSTON, www.kingston.com. -AC

SanDisk Sansa Video MP3 Player

The SanDisk Sansa View 8 GB and 16 GB does more than just play back music. The 2.4-inch high-resolution screen is capable of playing back multiple video codecs at 30 frames per second, including MPEG-4, WMV, H.264 and DivX. With the 16 GB model, you can store 24 two-hour movies, up to 4,000 songs and 8,000 JPEGs (8 GB equals 12 two-hour movies, 2,000 songs and 4,000 JPEGs). Some other cool features are an FM radio that gives you 20 channel presets, an internal microphone for audio recording and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that powers your player for 35 hours of audio and 7 hours of video. You also can use the SD/SDHC expansion slot to up your storage space. Estimated Street Price: $150 (8 GB); $200 (16 GB). Contact: SanDisk, (866) SANDISK, www.sandisk.com. -AC

Samsung Syncmaster 275T

Doing detailed imaging on a large, 27-inch LCD screen is so much better than a 15-inch, or even a 20-inch. Working on photos is easier because they can be displayed in larger sizes, which reduces the amount of zooming in and out you usually have to do. Plus, you can have two letter-sized documents or photos open at the same time, side by side! The thin, 27-inch Samsung SyncMaster 275T monitor is loaded with high-quality features, including six-color hue/saturation adjustment, multiple USB ports and component video input. It also packs in a 3,000:1 contrast ratio, 500 cd/m2 of brightness and 178-degree viewing angles. With the MagicTune software, brightness, contrast and color levels can be adjusted in a few mouse clicks. Estimated Street Price: $1,020. Contact: Samsung, (800) SAMSUNG, www.samsung.com.-KC

Sony DSLR-A700

The Sony DSLR-A700 camera is a great new D-SLR. Using this midrange D-SLR in the field was a fun and intuitive process. It has a fast motor at five frames per second and great image quality of 12.24 megapixels. Super SteadyShot lets me shoot handheld, without a flash, up to four shutter speeds slower than normal. With Sony’s DRO (Dynamic Range Optimizer), I could choose levels of detail recovered in shadow areas, which is a nice feature to have in low-light conditions. The A700 also has an eye-start AF system that begins focusing as soon as I put my eye to the viewfinder. Being largely into action sports, I have to say this made getting the perfect shots so much easier. Estimated Street Price: $1,400 (body only). Contact: Sony, (877) 865-SONY, www.sonystyle.com. -AC

Lensbaby 3G

Like many other photographers, I love to try new instruments when shooting. There are certain pieces of gear that have become my favorites and one of those is the Lensbaby 3G. This lens is one part tilt-shift and one part old-fashioned bellows. It blends these two technologies into one unique lens capable of making elegant, selective-focus effects, with one area of an image in sharp focus, while the rest of it can be rendered out of focus to varying degrees. And perhaps best of all, the Lensbaby 3G is affordable. List Price: $270. Contact: Lensbabies, (877) 536-7222, www.lensbabies.com. -AC

Color Mechanic Pro

Being able to selectively adjust particular colors in a photograph is a wonderful option to have. Maybe the blue in a sky is a little dull or a different shade would look better. Or perhaps you wish that scarf was red instead of green. Color Mechanic Pro v2.0, a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, makes these kinds of changes extremely simple. Photos are displayed with a before-and-after view and a color hexagon below. Just click on the color in the image you want to adjust. This activates a control point in the color hexagon. Then just drag the control point to the color you want, and voila ! Done. List Price: $60 (Mac or Windows); $30 (Upgrade, Mac or Windows). Contact: Digital Light & Color, (617) 489-8858, www.dl-c.com. -HM

Colorado Fiber

I had a chance to try a selection of Moab by Legion’s new papers this year, and two of my favorites are the Colorado Fiber Gloss and Satine fine-art papers. They make images look like they’re printed on traditional air-dried silver-halide photo paper, which gives them a little extra zing. At 245 gsm, both papers have a nice weight and are reported to have excellent archival qualities. Available sizes range from 5×7- to 17×22-inch sheets and rolls. List Price: Varies by size. Contact: Moab by Legion Paper, (800) 727-3716, www.moabpaper.com. -HM

< h4>Bamboo Fun

Two things I enjoy doing besides photography are drawing and painting. The ability to quickly combine all three mediums into a single image on my computer, without having to deal with expensive photo oils, is a marvel. With Wacom’s Bamboo Fun tablet, I can navigate programs and menus, edit photos, create paintings from them and draw on them—whatever I want. Plus, I can use the tablet to handwrite notes and e-mails or make notes on existing documents. If you don’t already have Photoshop or Corel, it comes with Photoshop Elements, Corel Painter Essentials 3.0 and Nik Color Efex Pro 2.0 GE for selectively applying lighting and photo enhancements with the pen. The small tablet has a working active area of 5.8×3.7 inches; the medium tablet has an active area of 8.5×5.3 inches. List Price: $100 (small); $200 (medium). Contact: Wacom, (360) 896-9833, www.wacom.com. -HM

Lexar Professional UDMA Dual-Slot Card Reader

Importing images, especially those with large files, takes way too long if you upload them off your camera. A card reader like the Lexar UDMA Dual Slot is great to have around, whether you’re transferring files at home or on the road. It’s fast, highly portable and reads four types of memory cards: UDMA CompactFlash (CF), standard CompactFlash (CF), Secure Digital High-Capacity (SDHC) and standard Secure Digital (SD) cards. List Price: $45. Contact: Lexar, (510) 413-1200, www.lexar.com. -HM

Tokina Fish-Eye Lens

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—I’ve never had so much fun with a lens. The ultra-wide-angle view of Tokina’s AT-X 107 10-17mm ƒ/3.5-4.5 fish-eye lens provides an unusual look similar to the peephole in a door. With the 180-degree view, I was able to capture images that began at my feet and extended all the way to the clouds above. Unique to the AT-X 107, the fish-eye lens also doubles as a wide-angle zoom for capturing large scenes, even when I was close up. Estimated Street Price: $550. Contact: Tokina (THK Photo Products), (800) 421-1141, www.thkphoto.com. -DW

Mpix Gallery Wraps

There’s nothing quite like seeing your images presented on a wall in museum-like quality. The Mpix line of Gallery Wraps do just that. Available in large sizes ranging from 11×14 inches to 24×30 inches, images are submitted to the Mpix site and returned to you as full canvas prints stretched over a wooden frame backing. Image prints extend over the edges, eliminating the need for expensive framing. Ideal for art, family photos or collages, Gallery Wraps showcase your images as the centerpieces they are. Estimated Street Price: From $70 to $150. Contact: Mpix, www.mpix.com. -DW

Singh-Ray Vari-ND Filter

I love filters and the varied effects they provide, but carrying around a selection of them can be disorganized and expensive. Stacking filters is also a time-consuming task that often makes you miss the moment. Singh-Ray’s Vari-ND neutral-density filter provides two to eight stops of light loss with one adjustable twist. Two stops are perfect when there’s just a bit too much light for exposing a scene correctly. Eight stops are ideal for heavy, artistic effects like motion blur. Estimated Street Price: $340 (77mm Standard Ring Mount); $390 (77mm Wide-Angle Ring Mount); (82mm sizes will be available soon). Contact: Singh-Ray, (800) 486-5501, www.singh-ray.com. -DW

HP Photosmart A820

The Hewlett-Packard HP Photosmart A820 Home Photo Center is designed to work a lot like a kiosk, with an easy-to-use 7.0-inch touchscreen interface. The large screen also can be used as a digital photo frame for sharing images in full screen, as thumbnails or as a slideshow. Images can be printed in multiple sizes, including 5×7 inches, 4×6 inches, wallet sizes and more; plus, the A820 can add borders, graphics and messages. The A820 even performs basic image edits and, best of all, the A820 is PC-free, functioning as a stand-alone image center. List Price: $249. Contact: Hewlett-Packard, (800) 752-0900, www.hp.com. -DW

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