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Gear of the Year 2015

Our technical experts round up the best of this year's cameras, lenses and accessories that photographers need to know about

Leica SL

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This CSC/DSLR cross-breed camera has really caught the attention of the industry. As madly expensive as you’d expect it to be (£5050), the camera does though offer a good deal that’s unique, and which you can’t get elsewhere. The mirrorless 24-megapixel camera behaves and feels like an SLR but with all the modern technology and convenience of a compact system camera. There’s no thundering mirror for a start, and the constant live view means you can have useful touch functions on the rear screen. The camera’s EVF is the best there is – a massive display with 4.4 million dots of resolution to provide a crisp and reactive interpretation of what the lens is seeing. Leica claims the AF is the fastest in the world but even if you doubt that, there’s no denying the 11fps drive mode beats the best and that it’s useful to have high-quality 4k video in a machine like this. Neither small nor cheap, but interesting and pretty impressive.

Profoto B2 location kit

Robust, lightweight, reliable – Profoto’s highly portable B1 off-camera flash lighting was a big hit when it launched a couple of years back, thanks also to its TTL metering and built-in battery pack. The second generation makes a design concession by making the battery pack external, but in return the B2 head is much more compact, “like a speed light on steroids”, according to one enthusiastic review, with the performance of a professional monolight.

The battery pack is compact enough to be carried on your hip, while the head can be placed on a camera bracket or monopod. So, combined with the ability to shoot high-speed sync with a focal plane shutter at 1/8000s, TTL via Profoto’s Air Remote (compatible with Canon and Nikon) and recycle time of 1.35 seconds at full power, you get 250 watts of power on location without ever feeling weighed down.

The kit includes a B2 battery pack, two B2 flash heads, two Li-Ion batteries, a charger and a carry bag to hook the battery to your waist or stand, and a location bag for the full kit.

Canon EF 11-24mm f/4 L USM

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Canon has always offered a somewhat conservative range of wide-angle lenses, and that’s not just with the current EF range – you can trace it back to the FD lenses with chrome breach-lock. However, Canon is intent on dominating the 35mm format, and introductions such as the truly impressive 17mm f/4 TS-E and the innovative (if arguably less useful) 8-14mm f/4 L fisheye zoom have helped redress the balance in the range. The one obvious omission, however, was an ultra-wide-angle zoom.

In response, Canon now leads the way with a £2800 model to outdo the Sigma 12- 24mm f/4.5-5.6 as the world’s widest rectilinear full-frame zoom, while at the same time rivalling the less extreme Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 in control of distortion. It’s far less suitable for handheld use than the Nikkor, and it’s a highly specialised lens, which will limit its appeal, but it’s no less impressive for that.

Capture One Pro 8

Phase One’s Capture One Pro software has taken a massive step forward this year, and it is now a fully featured software package for all photographers rather than just an accessory for Phase One cameras. Designed in a way that photographers will find a natural extension of the shooting process, the package is now compatible with a much wider range of raw files, and offers really in depth and extensive tethered control for Canon and Nikon DSLR users. Tethered shooting allows a mass of in-camera functions to be controlled from the software window and adjustments to be applied as the images arrive. Streaming live-view images can be magnified for focus and detail checking, and composition can be checked on a big screen instead of the camera back.

This year has also seen the introduction of new colour controls that have proved ideal for helping to develop atmosphere in images, while new layering and selection tools provide much of what we relied on Photoshop for. Extended dynamic range tools make eye-opening adjustments that draw an amazing amount of detail from highlight and shadow areas to create beautifully moderate contrast without the look ever having to become false and plastic. An outstanding package that is well worth a look.

Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD

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Tamron’s pro-oriented 24-70mm f/2.8, complete with sonic-type AF motor, nano-type coating and weather proofing, created a precedent by adding stabilisation at a relatively accessible price, and set the standard for this category. It was once rare that third-party makers could steal a march on the main marques, but it’s almost becoming commonplace. Not wishing to lose any momentum, Tamron has applied the same formula with the 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD. This is the first full-frame ultra-wide with optical stabilisation built in, which will ensure popularity with videographers and stills photographers alike. Not covering the popular 35mm focal length may seem like a limitation at first, but it’s not vital given the likelihood that the target audience would already have a 24-70mm or 24-105mm in their kit bag. And at around £850, it is substantially cheaper than the existing Nikon and Canon offerings.

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