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December 28, 2008

Digital Cameras of the Year: December 2008 edition

The year is almost over, so it is time to pick our Cameras of the Year! Our readers have already made their choices known, check out the Reader's Choice Awards. Before we get started, be sure to note these:
+ prices and competitive products are among the many factors factored in, we are not making the choices in a "bubble"
+ this is only an opinion, not the universal truth
+ all cameras that are generally available (regardless of their introduction date) qualify
+ agree/disagree? Write in the comments or post them on your blog or favorite forum and let us know!

Camera of the Year: Panasonic LX3

In a year of full frame DSLRs, DSLR-Video, and more megapixels, the Panasonic LX3 (reviews) is the surprise winner of our Camera of the Year award. Why the LX3 you ask? It is a camera that offers a lot of features and intangibles at a reasonable price. And the intangibles were a distinguishing factor in this selection. As you can see in the LX3 diary, waves of photographers and non-photographers alike were inspired photographically and creatively by the LX3. It's by no means a perfect camera (distortion, Monet, etc), but it offers wide-angle, RAW, compact body, and megapixel restraint at a rather reasonable price.

Other "Camera of the Year" nominees:
+ Nikon D700 (reviews)
+ Olympus E520 (reviews)
+ Pentax K20D (reviews)
+ Canon A590is (reviews)
+ Canon 5D Mark II (reviews)
+ Nikon D90 (reviews)

DSLR Awards

We are breaking the DSLR of the Year awards in three categories. We are intentionally trying to avoid using terms like "professional" and "entry-level", which mean different things to different people.

Full Frame DSLR of the Year: Nikon D700
The Nikon D700 (reviews | diary) offers 35mm full frame goodness for the full-frame starved Nikonians by balancing image quality, speed and price and at the same time showing megapixel restraint. The 5D Mark II was a close second, and perhaps if it had come out at the same time as the D700 it could have built up enough momentum to overtake it. But not as of late December 2008.

Other Nominees:
+ Canon 5D Mark II (reviews | diary)
+ Nikon D3 (reviews)
+ Sony Alpha A900 (reviews | diary)

Not receiving Nominations:
+ Nikon D3x (price an issue) (diary)
+ Canon 1Ds Mark III (reviews)

Enthusiast-Advanced DSLR of the Year: Pentax K20D
This is a broad category that covers a variety of digital SLRs, so picking a winner was not an easy task. Ultimately, the bang for the buck co-efficient pushed the Pentax K20D over the top. At $700, it is the best bang for the buck DSLR of this group in our opinion, but it certainly wasn't so at its starting price. By no means a perfect camera, and surely many people can make the case that perhaps a 12mp sensor would have been a better choice considering the current sensor technology, but hey, nobody's perfect!

Other Nominees:
+ Nikon D90 (reviews | diary)
+ Canon 40D (reviews) and 50D (reviews | diary)
+ Olympus E3 (reviews)

Affordable DSLR of the Year: Olympus E520
This field is indeed very crowded and this makes chosing a tough choice for those who do not already have a brand affiliation or a strong mount preference. And with that in mind, we picked a winner. It was not an easy decision, but ultimately, the sensor-shift stabilization and its "bang for the buck" strength pushed the Olympus E520 over the top.

Other Nominees:
+ Canon Digital Rebel XSi (450D) (reviews)
+ Nikon D40 (Ken Rockwell's favorite camera) (reviews)
+ Sony Alpha A300 (reviews)
+ Pentax K200D (reviews)
+ Panasonic G1 (yes, we know it is not a dSLR) (reviews | diary)
+ Olympus E420 (reviews)
+ Nikon D60 (reviews)

Fixed-lens Camera Awards

There are different ways of breaking down this vast market segment. For organizational purposes, we broke them down in a way that minimizes overlap.

Compacts with RAW: Panasonic LX3
Being the "Camera of the Year" also means that the Panasonic LX3 (reviews | diary) is the compact RAWsumer of the year as well, with wide-angle, size, "inspiration" and megapixel restraint winning over the quasi-GINO G10.

Other Nominees
+ Canon G10 (reviews | diary)
+ Ricoh GX200 (reviews) and GRD II
+ Sigma DP1 (reviews)

Not receiving a nomination:
+ Nikon P6000 (reviews)

Big SuperZoom of the Year: Fuji S100fs
This is unfortunately a sparse category, as we had just two contestants among the generally available models. Ultimately, the Fuji S100fs (reviews) is more camera in more ways and for a lower price than the Casio EX-F1, so we are giving the nod to the Fuji S100fs.

Mid-range Superzoom of the Year: Panasonic FZ28
This was not an easy decision and if the FZ28 (reviews) did not have a RAW option we would have had two winners in this category. But ultimately RAW is an important photographic option for photographers, so it tilts the scales for the Fz28.

+ Canon SX10is (reviews)

Other Nominees:
+ The rest

Fun-Zoom of the Year: Panasonic TZ5
Philosophically we prefer AA batteries, UNLESS a LiIon option provides superior battery performance over equivalent AAs or a LiIon choice allows for improved camera design. However, the TZ5 (reviews) is simply a more "fun" camera, and since this is the fun zoom segment, it was the winner.

Other Nominees:
+ Canon SX110is
+ Sony H10
+ Fuji S1000hd

Cameras with 1/1.8"+ Sensors without RAW: Fuji F100fd
In this disgraced category (no RAW!!!), it's really a choice of the least flawed camera out there. Each and everyone of the cameras in this segment feel like they were overlooked by their designers or intentionally limited ("crippled" is not a socially sensitive word to use in this context) by the marketing departments. The jump to 14 and 15-megapixels for this sensor size given the currently technology was rather unfortunate, especially for cameras that were designed as basic point and shoots, without even manual exposure or RAW.

So by elimination, the Fuji F100fd (reviews) claims a pyrrhic victory over the competition, and really, the only non-Fuji competition was the late-blooming Sony W300, which lost the "megapixel madness punching bag" title to the new 15mp cameras. We'd love to see Fuji put some more time and thought into developing more advanced versions of their F-series and revitalizing their E-series or coming up with something else creative in the RAWsumer segment.

Other Nominees:
+ Fuji F60fd, F50fd, F40fd/F45fd
+ Sony W300 (reviews)

Li-Ion Compact of the Year: Too close too call
Just because there is a category, it doesn't mean we have to pick a winner. The LiIon compacts are the most populous and popular category, but at the same time, a lot of cameras are bunched together, and the differences between them are just not enough to let one camera stand out from the rest. So rather than rolling the dice or tossing a coin to pick a winner, we are simply not picking one :-)

+ Canon SD880is
+ Pentax Optio W60 (reviews)
+ Olympus Stylus 1030SW and 850SW (despite xD)
+ Sony W170 and W120
+ Nikon Coolpix S210 (look at the price!)
+ Panasonic FX35 and FX37
+ and many more

AA-based Compact of the Year: Canon A590is
We have a solid winner in this category, the Canon A590is (reviews), which also received a nomination for the "Camera of the Year" award. This is the best bang for the buck digital camera of the year. Where else can you get manual exposure at $110 and the long tradition of the Canon A-series?

Other Nominees:
+ Panasonic LZ8 and LZ10
+ Nikon Coolpix L18
+ etc

Worst Cameras in the Woooooooooorld

What? You think we wouldn't take a walk on the Negative Side? The "Worse Cameras in the World" category tries to pick the biggest disappointments, disasters or failures of the year. And while we were eager to pick a winner in this category, none of the nominees were bad enough or disasterous enough or disappointing enough to win the category. That's one award one is happy not to win :)

The Nominees:
+ 15-megapixel 1/1.72" P&S cameras: Nikon S710, Canon SD990is, Samsung NV100hd (TL34hd), Panasonic FX150 (at least it has RAW)
+ Canon 1D Mark III for the AF Denials soap opera
+ Nikon P6000 for the half-baked NRW RAW "feature"
+ The Olympus cameras that do not support SD/SDHC or Compactflash (see special commentary)
+ Canon A1000is and A2000is for dropping manual exposure control

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