What were the most innovative products to come to market in 2012? We asked our resident experts, David and Richard Kilpatrick, alongside Kevin Carter, to name the cameras, lenses and accessories that have inspired them this year
Fujifilm's expansion of the X range took the classic digital rangefinder concept even further with the X-Pro1 . The new short registration mount (only 17.7mm) supports compact, fast
AF-dedicated lenses, and accommodates classic Leica optics with the M-mount adapter. The real news was one of the first commercially credible moves away from the now traditional Bayer Colour Filter Array - a new psuedo-random distribution of RGB filters and complex algorithms for noise control and de-interpolation make the X-Trans 16-megapixel sensor unique.
The end result is, once again, a success for those who like to shoot straight to JPEG: where the S5 Pro displayed remarkable colour and extended dynamic range, the X-Pro1 delivers clarity and quality at high ISO. Fast AF with the benefits of both electronic and optical viewfinders, and HD video, complete the package.
Profoto ProDaylight 400 Air
Profoto got into the market for continuous lighting in 2010, but it wasn't until the following year that the Swedish firm announced its first true HMI lamp head and ballast, the ProDaylight 800 Air. In spring, it added 200W and 400W versions, which are similarly powerful and robust, but are significantly smaller and lighter.
The 400  is better value, costing a couple of hundred pounds more than the 200. Like the 800, it has no cooling fan, which allows near-silent operation, ideal for video shoots (together with 100Hz flicker-free, or a noisier high-speed 300Hz mode). It has one ergonomic handle, instead of the 800's two, which ensures the top control panel remains easy to access. But, best of all, it's possible to connect the lamp head to more than 20 light-shapers, including some heat-resistant softboxes, although use of attachments such as the ProBox, ProGlobe and Frensel Small are not recommended. A well-made product that performs impeccably.
If the D4 presented a challenge to buyers looking to upgrade by offering a relatively low pixel count, the D800  made its debut with a class-leading 36-megapixel sensor, causing something of a stir in the professional market. The technical feat of producing a full-frame sensor of such resolution was only part of the story; a marketing decision to offer the camera with and without an anti-aliasing filter (the latter named the D800/E), which opened up the full clarity and sharpness, promising results comparable with medium format backs. In testing, the loss of the AA filter proved to have few drawbacks, restoring detail in the transition between focused and out-of-focus regions, and very rarely giving troublesome false-colour Moiré effects.
The small body, with progressive improvements in AF and metering, still falls short of filling the role of the D3 as an affordable, extreme-environment camera, yet it exceeds many of the expectations Nikon's customers may have had for a D700 successor with class-leading HD video performance - and, of course, that significant resolution increase.
Light Blue 4
In the specialised area of studio management, few applications have approached Light Blue's flexibility and accessibility. With a need to tie complex data relationships together, it's unsurprising that most bespoke apps to date have been based around Filemaker Pro. Recently, however, Light Blue announced a new version of its package. Written from scratch as a dedicated application, yet providing continuity with previous versions, Light Blue 4 has stepped away from the development and performance limitations imposed by basing a solution on a third-party's commercial product, and offers a truly intuitive and natural flow.
A bespoke user interface and total developer control over updates and OS support is only part of it. Light Blue 4's new support and subscription model, including cloud storage and multi-seat access across devices, provides a natural environment for busy studios, with minimal setup effort. It builds significantly on the concept that the software is there to improve efficiency and workflow, without requiring the photographer to learn a complex new skillset.
Canon 24mm f/2.8 IS USM
In 2012 there were two notable visits back to the past of 35mm system lenses. Nikon reinvented the almost forgotten 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5, adding VR stabilisation, while Canon returned to its 24mm f/2.8 , 28mm f/2.8 and, most recently, 35mm f/2 EF lenses and did the same thing.
Full-frame users love 24mm - it's a great focal length. They love the size of f/2.8 designs. But the existing Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 was a quarter of a century old in design, and like all its contemporaries just didn't stand up to 2012's full-frame, high-resolution demands. The new 24mm f/2.8 with stabilisation and ultrasonic focus drive has been Canon's chance to update this lens and introduce a new generation of still and video shooters to a classic 83° angle of view, 20cm close focus and a neat 58mm filter size.
Sony Alpha SLT-A99V
Sony's electronic viewfinder full-frame Alpha 99  inexplicably costs more in the UK than the rival Canon and Nikon models it undercuts in other markets. The OLED Tru-Finder EVF has now been tried and tested for 15 months, and is power-hungry compared with the articulated, reversible three-inch rear LCD. The translucent pellicle mirror is huge, to allow for long lenses, but the phase-detect AF module is optimised for APS-C, which also defines the boundary of new on-sensor PDAF points. These enable better focus-tracking during 1080p video, to which Sony has added audio input control and headphone-monitoring with echo control. Built-in GPS, twin card slots, 6fps, 14-bit raw, a smooth "silent controller" for adjustments during filming, and uncompressed video output are among its many features.
This was the year of filter-based photo-editing apps. Many of them adopted Apple's Core Image Technology found in Mac OS, allowing prices to be slashed to ridiculous levels, which had an unexpected knock-on effect for imaging pros. Apple's premier image editor, Aperture, tumbled to £55, and even Adobe had to reduce the price of Lightroom by half. Software giant Nik, recently bought by search giant Google, is no stranger to filter-based apps. Its Snapseed app for the iPad won plaudits for its range of creative features and ease of use (it featured the firm's patented U Point technology, which seemed custom-made for the touchscreen), but image size was a limiting factor on tablets. A desktop version soon followed (for Windows and Mac) without such restrictions. For just £14, it has the much-vaunted U Point technology, supports raw files and is intuitive to use as the mobile version.
Canon EOS 6D
Now that the 5D Mk II has been killed off by a more pro-worthy but pricey Mk III, what, if you're Canon, do you replace your most affordable full-frame camera with? Priced at £1800 (body only), the EOS 6D  will occupy the vacuum left by the Mk II and compete head-on with the soon-to-ship pricier Nikon D600.
The body is smaller and lighter than the Mk II, while improvements to the 20.2-megapixel sensor's light efficacy and inclusion of the Digic 5+ image processor means maximum sensitivity quadruples to ISO 25,600. Although it gets a simpler 11-point AF system with just one central cross-type sensor, it focuses down to -3EV - far lower light levels than any previous Canon. And with built-in Wifi and GPS, it may just garner the same commercial success as the Mk II.
Photostream and iCloud
Cloud storage itself is not new, yet Apple's approach to it has proven typical of the Cupertino firm, simplifying and enhancing the experience without explaining how it was developed. For applications, iCloud storage is simply another destination for files - and user involvement is actively discouraged, with no iDisk or servers to interact with. Applications within the iWork suite store files on iCloud, and to bring them to a local machine, they are moved - not copied - and are present on all devices registered on that account, or publicly shared.
Photostream completes the sharing experience, publishing images imported into Aperture or iPhoto to your mobile devices with simple presets, with no user intervention. It offers a transparent insight into how commercial photography could evolve with enhanced connectivity, so a photographer's images are instantly available to art directors, retouchers and studio staff as appropriate. It even publishes images to the Apple TV set-top box. Yet it is just there - with little fuss, or cost.
Carl Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon T* Z
The heritage of Carl Zeiss wide-angle lenses is unmatched, from the early Biogon that survived decades as the eye of the Hasselblad Superwide, to the widest lens without distortion in the 15mm and 16mm Hologons for Leica and Contax G. And then there's the Distagon, with its huge front group and funnel-like shape. The retrofocus wide-angle could never be small, light or low cost; to perform, it needs big glass.
The 2012 version 15mm f/2.8 Distagon ZE (Canon)  and ZF-2 (Nikon) is the fastest and widest angle 35mm-format model in this distinguished line. You get no autofocus, just focus confirmation and auto aperture control. It weighs almost 800g and takes 95mm filters with little effort, focusing down to 25cm. T* coating gives high contrast, distortion is moderate and easy to correct, and vignetting is minimised by f/8.
Olympic years have often spurred technological development - from the earliest digital wire transmission and capture systems, to 2012's high-speed, connected professional bodies. Nikon's D4  took connectivity to a new level, adding an integrated "picture desk" facility and remote capture accessible through any web browser. Setting a template for image-sharing and interacting with the camera that has yet to migrate within the range, it demonstrates true innovation for platform-agnostic connectivity.
With the D4, Nikon set new benchmarks for low-light, high-speed shooting with a bespoke 16.2-megapixel full-frame sensor. Sensitivity equivalent to ISO 100-12,800 extendable to 204,000 is only half the story - at high ISO, the clean, recoverable output of the D4 offers unprecedented flexibility. For sports, the 11fps capture benefits from a larger memory and fast pipeline, clearing the buffer rapidly when fast cards are used - and all in an updated version of the familiar pro body, with the shutter rated for 400,000 actuations and illuminated controls. The price places it in a flagship position, but much of the technology could revolutionise consumer cameras if allowed to filter down.
Sigma USB Lens Adapter
From Canon's extensive firmware revisions to Sony's ever-expanding feature sets, it seems unlikely the SLR marketplace would have evolved as rapidly in the 21st century without the extensive user discussion and interaction of internet forums and user groups. This dynamic audience for the analysis of images and technical performance may have encouraged manufacturers to introduce in-camera distortion correction and lens micro adjustments as performance variations that would simply have been overlooked on film, rarely finding such collective audiences are now so publicly available.
Sigma has gone a little further, embracing its cross-platform nature and choosing Photokina to announce user control of lens behaviour and software, achieved via a USB interface  with the lens mount. Rather than relying on in-camera adjustments, it will be possible to fine-tune the focus position, speed and, on certain lenses, a restricted focus range for action-tracking. It will also allow user updates of firmware.
Leaf Credo 80
Despite being one of the oldest purely digital imaging firms in existence, Leaf has resisted pressure to enter mainstream markets, continuing to innovate at the high end. The 80-megapixel resolution has been seen before in the Aptus II. And in a sector motivated by the pursuit of the highest quality, regardless of user experience or speed, that can often be enough. Leaf, however, has not remained still, and the Credo range - with 40, 60 and 80 megapixels - leverages its new relationship with Phase One/Mamiya, providing an integrated camera solution with the Mamiya Leaf 645DF+ and introducing USB 3 to the connectivity options.
The Credo makes working with a digital back and technical camera almost as easy as a DSLR, with a relatively fast live view mode and a 1.15-megapixel, 3.2-inch touchscreen for fast control and preview. The £25,495 +VAT 80-megapixel full-frame back supports a wide range of cameras, including the relaunched DHW/Rolleiflex Hy6 Mk 2.
Last year's AR.Drone was, if nothing else, a proof of concept for what could be done with modern processing power - making an affordable, controllable quadricopter that could be flown by a total novice, yet carry a small technology payload for video. The popularity of kits to upgrade the power, performance and add mounts for devices like the Gopro HD camera did not escape Parrot's development team.
Enter the AR.Drone 2.0 , which is faster, more stylish and not greatly increased in price, but the big news is a wide-angle 30fps camera, capable of recording video on the fly at much higher quality than the captured video streams of the original. USB storage is supported, and stills can be captured, so the £269 quadricopter is now useful without any additional work. Software and games are enhanced, improving on what was already an impressive experience. It still has very little real competition on the market, with professional equivalents costing thousands and needing greater skills to operate.
Cambo Wide RS
The flat-field camera is enjoying some resurgence in popularity as high-quality digital backs from Leaf, Phase One and Hasselblad present real advantages over 35mm SLR-derived systems.
Cambo's Wide RS  sells as much on performance as it does on appearance. With an engineering rather than heritage-led brand, the bodies are under constant development and offer improved flexibility on a faster product cycle. Three new models launched at Photokina enhance work with digital backs by compensating for the weight in vertical shifts and increasing lateral shift by 5mm on the WRS-5000, offering a sliding back with locking positions for stitched images alongside a traditional focusing screen on the WRS-6000, and the low-cost WRS-500 and 400 compact models. Even the iPhone is integrated into the system, with a compact lens, holder and app to allow the use of the handset as a viewfinder.
Capture One Pro 7
Phase One's bespoke processing software, Capture One, has steadily progressed towards providing a solution for all digital camera systems, bringing the sophisticated raw development capability to mainstream bodies and supporting a professional studio workflow for multiple systems. With the introduction of Pro 7, the puzzle is almost complete, with live view support for tethered DSLRs finishing off a comprehensive range of compatible systems.
Already bundled with Samsung NX cameras in Germany, Capture One's mainstream appeal is further improved in Pro 7, with a significant reworking of catalogues, session and searching. With drag-and-drop keywording, and a wider range of supported export formats, it's more useful as a media manager. Under the hood, OpenCL processing, new camera profiles and refinements to the workflow improve performance, and professional tools such as the Lens Cast Calibration feature are more accessible. It's a convincing rival for Lightroom and Aperture, not only as a raw processor but as a general-purpose workflow tool.
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro
It barely needs an introduction - one of three stabilised macro lenses unveiled by Sigma in the past year or so, the 105mm  is one of the least-expensive, true macro primes on the market, and yet it is also one of the best, offering near-flawless optical performance, and adding the benefits of stabilisation, great resolution and contrast, and good handling. Available in Canon, Nikon, Sigma and Sony mounts, it's particularly appealing when paired with the latest high-resolution full-frame bodies, where flexible cropping can reveal astonishing detail.
It doubles as a particularly good portrait lens, with nine rounded blades in the diaphragm ensuring smooth bokeh. It performs at a level that would not be out of place on lenses costing three times the price, and yet undercuts most alternatives with a street price of around £550.
Canon EOS 1DX
The sports camera that just made it in time for the Olympics, the 1DX  marks the end of the 1D series' use of cropped APS-H sensors. With 18 megapixels, image size grew slightly less than the full-frame sensor size, allowing bigger, super-efficient pixels for high sensitivity and efficient architecture. With 12fps, it's the fastest full-frame DSLR yet, thanks to twin Digic 5+ processors, and the new AF module (also used in the 5D Mk III) extends sensitivity to match the sensor's ISO 51,200 unboosted maximum. The top setting of extended ISO 204,800 makes this a record-breaker along with Nikon's D4.
Although Canon has not said as much, the 1DX seems to mark the melding of the 1D and 1Ds lines with their large battery pack and built-in vertical grip. The 1D Mk IV and 1Ds Mk III don't need any other successor - it's a Swiss Army knife professional DSLR.
Apple MacBook Pro Retina
When viewed next to even a fairly modest external display, laptop screens tend to compare pretty badly, with uneven illumination, small colour gamut and low screen resolution. Apple has offered obscure high-resolution display upgrades to its MacBook Pro range before, if ordered from its site, but it's making a big deal about the new optional Retina display for the 15-inch and now the 13-inch model - and rightly so. With incredibly sharp, realistic-looking images the native 2880×1800pixel 15.4-inch Retina screen has nearly 5.2m pixels, 25 percent more than a 30-inch panel.
To take full advantage, apps such as Photoshop and Lightroom have had to be optimised (current versions only), otherwise menus, text and icons would be uncomfortably small to read, but images remain terrific. Other advantages include reduced screen reflection, desktop-like power from 2.6/2.7GHz Core i7 chips, flash storage, and fast data transfer using USB 3 and Thunderbolt.
Sigma DP Merrill
Being first can sometimes be a bit tricky. Sigma launched the large-sensor DP1 compact more than four years ago with a chip that claimed to deliver a 3× 4.5-megapixel resolution via 1.7× sensor and, not surprisingly, found the market obsession with ever-increasing megapixel counts hard to overcome. With the launch of the SD1 in 2011, Sigma's acquisition of chip designers Foveon bore fruit with a 15.4-megapixel sensor that claimed to deliver 46 million sensels and up to 70MB capture.
With a new emphasis on product development, the DP Merrill  range was announced in January and reached the market in summer in both the DP2 "standard" 45mm lens version and DP1 28mm-wide equivalents, respectively. The DP's compact, minimalist design remains, with further improved f/2.8 optics, a better LCD and improved manual control layout, including a lens-mounted focus ring.
At £799, the two cameras reduce the compromises made to bring Dick Merrill and Foveon's unique three-layer, uninterpolated capture to the market by offering fast responses, a full APS-C sensor and a competitive spatial resolution. Although some tertiary features are rudimentary or unavailable, the pure image quality of the Merrills is unmatched in this form factor or price bracket.
Think Tank 4-Sight Roller
Pick any Think Tank Photo bag and it's obvious this US-based maker is producing luggage intended purely for hard-working, frequent-travelling imaging professionals. It makes an expansive range covering just about every eventuality and combination of kit, but is particularly regarded for its rollers.
The 4-Sight is the first from the company to adopt the convenience of four wheels over the usual two, making the mid-size, reasonably lightweight (4kg) roller a highly agile bag that copes with tight spots and various surfaces easily. It gets four independent swivelling wheels paired as a twin for extra stability and additional load-carrying, a reinforced base, three grab handles, separate zippered cable tidy, lockable zippers (but supplied without a lock) and a sturdy two-position retractable handle. Inside, there's enough room for two pro bodies and four or five lenses, plus a few small accessories. It comes with a decent warranty for around £220.
Hasselblad's H body is now in its fifth generation, and a growing range of lenses, backs and choice of viewfinder make it one of the most complete medium format systems available. Nevertheless, super-wide has always been a weakness for 645-derived platforms, with most stopping at 28mm which, with many medium format sensors still operating with a 1.1-1.3 crop factor, falls short of the flexibility available with 35mm.
This is changing, and Hasselblad's new HCD f/4.8 24mm  is the widest lens available for a 645-based medium format body, offering an equivalent to 17.8mm on 35mm and an angle of view of 104°. Weighing in at 810g, a balance of manageable size and performance has had to be carefully engineered, and on 53×40mm sensors, fall-off is inevitable. The 28mm was designed for 44×33mm-sized 40-megapixel sensors and earlier models, so this is a significant lens for users of the 50 and 60-megapixel variants. It's also compatible with the HTS 1.5× adapter.
Canon EOS 5D Mk III
Canon's third-generation 5D  proves that users will pay more for a new model if performance is improved, despite no megapixel increase. Once lesser models had been introduced with new functions such as control over movie audio input levels, the 5D was due for a Mark III version to catch up. Improvements to the sensor structure and microlenses double its practical low-light quality and boosted maximum ISO fourfold, matched by a new AF module sensitive down to EV-2 with enhanced fast lens speed and accuracy. The Digic 5+ processor almost doubled the continuous frame rate, the Speedlite system got an upgrade to wireless RF remote control, Micro AF adjustment gained separate settings for the long and short end of zooms, and video shooters now have a headphone jack for monitoring. What should the next 5D offer? A deeper buffer and an articulated rear LCD screen would do nicely, thank you.
The New iPad
A strict and predictable product cycle has been the cornerstone of Apple's iOS strategy, with the annual release of new iPad and iPhone devices inevitably marked by record-breaking sales, queues round the block, and geeks trying to break them for their latest YouTube viral.
This October's announcement of a new iPad, therefore, was something of a surprise - the Retina model, officially referred to as "The New iPad", and thankfully recognised as the iPad 3 by almost everyone else, had only been on the market for nine months.
The iPad 4 could have been little more than a refresh for iOS 6 and the reversible, compact "lightning" connector. Instead, it's a significant upgrade that eclipses the processor changes between the iPad 2 and 3 with a dual-core A6X 1.4GHz CPU that outpaces that of the iPhone 5, in part due to upgraded graphics processing with 4 GPU cores. The Retina display remains and the form factor is essentially unchanged, but this is no mid-cycle refresh - this is a significantly more powerful system.
Sony's Alpha 900/850 eventually sold for well under the £2000 price barrier of four years ago. Nikon started with that advantage for the D600 , considerably undercutting rivals. It achieved this by borrowing the proven AF and metering modules from the D7000, slightly beefing up a consumer body design, limiting the shutter to 1/4000s and updating the D3x sensor.
Nikon already had a 24-megapixel history; the D600 adds an affordable compact body, a twin SDHC/XC card drive, 6fps in short bursts, and the vital 1080p 50/60i video for today's movie-capable market. It has audio-level control, GPS/Wifi connectivity, a good prism finder, in-camera raw processing and the familiar Nikon layout. Uncompressed video can be streamed to external HD recording. But the real advance is the image quality, with clean JPEGs to ISO 3200 and 14-bit raw files with detail from shadow to highlight even at ISO 6400.
Litepanels Croma LED Light
LED lights are great; they run cool, they make economical use of regular batteries or rechargeables, and they are so light you can pop a couple of 128-bulb panels into a kit without noticing them. But LED panels are not all made equal, and some can have unequal spectrum "daylight" balance leading to magenta or green casts in a cold blue mix.
Litepanels, part of the Vitec Group, don't do low cost and source the best daylight-quality LEDs. Its Croma  is a £400 solution, using two types of LED - one with a Tungsten warmth and the other with neutral sunlight quality - in a grid. Brightness and colour balance can be adjusted continuously, and a diffuser fitted to avoid subject discomfort. The ball-and-socket aimable mount fits hotshoe or tripod, six AA cells power it for 90 minutes, and it's got a rubber-texture finish to aid handling.
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC Di USD
As Canon's first stabilised 24-70mm f/2.8 lens goes on sale in 2013, Tamron has lost the unique edge of the 24-70mm f/2.8 VC Di USD. It was the first maker to offer this specification with optical stabilisation. Although the Tamron lens costs significantly less than Sony CZ, Nikon or Canon counterparts, it's not a low-cost optic and performs well enough to match the marque brands. It is also very well made, with a solid and smooth feel, and the USD ultrasonic focus drive is quiet enough to be operated during video filming, the driving application behind stabilisation arriving in shorter focal lengths.
We could have picked Sigma's new 12-24mm as a similarly significant 2012 design, had it not been a revision of a well-established model. This is also Tamron's return after a long absence to making anything like a 24-70mm f/2.8.
The big innovator over the past two years, Sony can claim to have made the mirrorless compact system camera universally popular, even if it didn't invent the idea.
The NEX-6 stands out as an example of a maker listening to owners. The NEX-7 launched last year was praised for everything except its 24-megapixel sensor, which many considered overkill in a camera with mainly go-anywhere qualities. The six steps back to 16 megapixels brings with it almost noise-free ISO 3200 and a better match to things like old rangefinder wide-angle lenses that users love to adapt. The built-in OLED electronic viewfinder and pop-up flash are joined by a new hotshoe, also found on the Alpha 99, and a collapsing 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens following Panasonic's lead. The 1.5× APS-C sensor is the largest used by mirrorless systems.
Canon Speedlite 320EX hybrid
Tomorrow's flashguns will also incorporate an LED light for video shooting, but they have not all arrived yet. Sony has one, at considerable cost, and Canon has one that is very affordable. The little Canon Speedlite 320EX  hybrid is sized and priced to be G-series compact-friendly, but at a street price of £150 to £190 it's also a must for DSLR system owners who already have Speedlites. The LED can be used as a modelling light, focusing aid or video light (45° diagonal coverage, 50mm lens on full frame) and this neat bounce flash also works wirelessly off-camera (IR line of sight). Off-camera it's ideal for small objects and macro, as a torch when working in the dark, and has a remote shutter release that can fire any camera body compatible with the RC-6 remote from the flash position. Check for compatibility with older DSLRs, though.
Alpa 12 FPS
Alpa's innovative modular camera platform deserves an award for its shear versatility - it's as open a system as you'll ever likely find.
The 12 FPS (focal plane shutter)  continues in the same vein as the Alpa 12 but adds an integrated (Mamiya-made) FPS mechanism, allowing it to be used independently as a camera (it was originally conceived as an add-on module). Besides being compatible with electronic and mechanical leaf shutters (Alpa 12 lenses using a Copal shutter) using the appropriate mount, the FPS permits electronic aperture control with Canon EF or Nikon F lenses (and using third-party adapters you can substitute lenses from Olympus, Leica and Zeiss Cine). Additional mounts are available for Hasselblad V and Mamiya 645 optics. At the rear, adapters are offered for backs from Leaf/Synar (AFi/Hy6), Phase One/Mamiya and Hasselblad V/H series.
Adobe Lightroom 4
Lightroom was thoroughly overhauled and brought up-to-date in 2012, with image process version (PV2012) algorithms adding state-of-the-art control (and results) over highlights, midtones and shadows. New local correction adjustments for white balance, noise and Moiré also proved popular with imaging pros.
Meanwhile, a later revision saw an end to troublesome chromatic aberration, particularly purple fringing, making it little more than a one-click correction. Although clearly intended as an aid to handling mixed content rather than a dedicated solution, Adobe also added greater support for video. Version 4  added video playback, including unfriendly .mts files from AVCHD cameras, as well permitting minor edits and geo-tagging. Throw in a new Maps module (for GPS), books and a professional-level soft-proofing solution, additional lens correction profiles and a raft of minor fixes and tweaks, not to mention a 50 percent reduction in price, and Lightroom 4 clearly stands as worthy candidate for mention here.
Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8
Everyone likes big fast primes, and after Nikon decided that a return to the full-frame 24×36mm format was the way ahead, the maker was pretty quick to update the legendary AF-D 85mm f/1.4 to AF-S spec (with silent wave motors and electronic aperture control). But it was still a pleasant surprise to see it move so briskly with its second-tier lenses.
Nikon has adopted a different approach to Canon, eschewing in-lens image stabilisation and swapping expensive home production (in Japan) for offshore facilities in China (in this instance). The result is a range of affordable lenses that have the optical quality to complement current and future demands from high-resolution sensors.
Compared with the current 85mm f/1.4 version, build quality isn't quite as good, and it's almost as large but it's a close match optically, and has similarly pleasing bokeh. For cash-strapped freelancers, the big attraction is the cost - just a third of the price of the f/1.4.
Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera
Blackmagic deserves a nomination for simply doing what no other manufacturer has done, or seemingly has the will to do - namely, produce a dedicated large-sensor cine camera  capturing 2.5K that outputs raw (12-bit uncompressed Cinema DNG) for just £2150. You can use more user-friendly formats, such as Apple Pro Res or Avid DNxH (albeit at 1920×1080), and it has options of 24/25/30p frame rates.
The unusual design is built around a five-inch monitor and records directly to relatively affordable 2.5-inch SSDs via a built-in slot (Compactflash cards just don't have the capacity). Available in two versions, one with a Canon EF mount while the other has a passive MFT mount, it also comes with the maker's DaVinci Resolve (v9.0) grading app, worth around £725, as well as Ultrascope software for live scope views on an external monitor (or MacBook Pro using a Thunderbolt connection).
Gitzo Systematic carbon fibre
Gitzo was the first to introduce lightweight carbon-fibre tubing for use in tripod construction and that, combined with the option of two different diameter leg tubes (resulting in the 3-series and 5-series) for various lens and camera combinations, and the versatility of the Systematic model with its removable top-plate, made it the definitive choice for professionals.
However, despite incremental improvements each year, there were signs that it was showing its age, and the new Systematic launched this year addresses accidental detachment of the top-plate using a new safety lock mechanism and replaces the aluminium 4-series enables with carbon fibre. The 4-series tubing allows improved stability with longer and heavier lenses than the spindly 3-series, without having to accept the extra bulk and weight of the 5-series. As well as a wider range of models from which to choose, it has a more rigid design and better build - and spikes are thrown in.
The next-generation H5D  system models were somewhat overshadowed by the surprise announcement of the Lunar mirrorless camera and Hasselblad's partnership with Sony. Even if the H-series isn't already the most highly developed range of medium format cameras, few could argue that the updates to the H5D aren't welcome.
Already confident of the camera's ability in the studio, a new brighter viewfinder, improved controls and enhanced weatherproofing, plus a compressed raw option (and print-ready JPEGs) mean the firm is now targeting location photographers, shooting untethered. True Focus, now at Version II and a part of the camera's unique Ultra-Focus system that automatically compensates for focus-shift in H-series lenses, has redesigned hardware and new algorithms, presumably to match the next generation of yet unannounced high-resolution backs for even greater accuracy during focus and recompose. There's even a new battery adapter solution for when backs are attached to technical cameras.
Elinchrom Quadra Hybrid RX
Already a critical and commercial success, Elinchrom's Ranger Quadra  range has been steadily enhanced since launch, gaining faster sync, full wireless control and improved top-panel design. Competitively priced and versatile, few would be surprised if it continued unaltered - yet with a new battery option added this year, the Ranger has been rebranded and refined further.
The Li-ion battery packs, previewed at Focus, transform the Quadra from a "lightweight luggable" into a truly portable lighting system, with new hybrid heads offering bright continuous LED lighting, as well as standard and fast duration flash. As part of a system, backwards-compatibility remains with all Quadra components, including the Eco Ringflash.
The 2kg pack and battery is lighter and smaller than the lead-gel system, yet the price premium for the new batteries is small, with packs starting around £1300, and a two-head kit available for under £2000.
After the M-Monochrom and now the confusingly named M (or Typ 240 or New M, as it's also known), Leica has been particularly active in 2012. Although the M-Monochrom could be a candidate for an award, the 24-megapixel M  has broader appeal, and due to the switch from CCD to CMOS leads to several significant advances. Live view with focus-peaking using the much-needed 920k three-inch rear panel is one, but it also captures 1080p video at 25 or 24fps. You also get stereo audio (with an optional adapter), complete with manual levels control (adjustable while recording).
Purists may prefer the coupled rangefinder, but the optional electronic finder (from the X2) makes it possible to get the most from lenses like the Noctilux with relative ease. Courtesy of a simple adapter (and micro-lens design of the sensor), the M has been Leica's chance to offer the long hinted-at R-solution, while a new multifunctional handgrip can even add GPS.
JuicedLink RM333 Riggy Micro
Thankfully, new DSLRs are coming to market with headphone-monitoring, and manual audio level controls and meters, but it doesn't escape the fact that these cameras lack XLR inputs for broadcast-quality mics. Usually, you need an external recorder and later sync in-post, but portable pre-amps, such as the seriously small and light JuicedLink RM333, boasts three XLR inputs and is small enough to mount to the camera's hotshoe.
Audio is recorded normally in-camera, along with video via a connection cable from the RM333, saving valuable syncing time, but the device is stripped of auto gain control disabling circuitry, headphone-monitoring and levels metering that makes rivals (designed for earlier DSLRs without those built-in features) so much bulkier. Excellent battery life, switchable 48/12V phantom power, novel audio bracketing as backup and low noise levels are the main features.
Samyang T-S 24mm f/3.5 ED AS UMC
The Korean optical company deserves an award for consistently matching the design and optical quality of the best lenses from the big names, while keeping the price to an absolute minimum. Like Zeiss, Samyang makes plain manual focus prime lenses and avoids the compromises of autofocus, zoom and stabilisation. Its 2012 hero is the 24mm f/3.5 full-frame tilt-shift with Canon-style opposable axes. Using two aspherical and one ED glass, the lens offers ±8.5° tilt and ±12mm shift, with each section rotatable by 90° with 30° click-stops. In Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony mounts the Samyang has a more versatile two-axis mechanism than Nikon's own 24mm TS-E. It's purely manual and does not report aperture or confirm focus to the camera body, so is best used with live view and focus magnification. The price is under £1000 in the UK.
Sony Handycam NEX-VG900E
Capturing still frames with a dedicated camcorder is as desirable as shooting video with a DSLR. What Sony's NEX-VG900E has introduced goes further - 14-bit raw capture of a 24-megapixel full-frame image in still shooting mode, optional 10-megapixel cropped raw, or 2.9-megapixel JPEG extracted from video.
The VG900E is the first consumer HD camcorder to combine a mirrorless system mount (NEX E) with a 24×36mm sensor, and includes an LA-EA3 lens adapter for Alpha lenses so it works out of the box with both systems. Zeiss, Nikon, Canon, Leica M and other mounts fit via third-party adapters. Video shooting is optimised for "graded" cinematic gamma 25/24p. With speeds to 1/10,000s in video, 1/8000s for stills, the VG900E  can also capture 6fps still sequences and comes with Windows 64-bit compatible Sony Vegas movie software.
Aquatica Digital 90m depth underwater
If you want to dive to three metres, or even to 15 metres, just pick up any new generation of rugged compacts from Pentax or Olympus - they have small sensors, high sensitivity and great depth-of-field. But if you want to dive to 90 metres and shoot at ISO 12,800 for a 22-megapixel still or an HD 1080p sub-aqua movie, there's one standout choice that will cost more than some DSLRs you could house in it. Canadian-made Aquatica Digital  transfers all the controls of cameras like the Canon 5D Mk III or Nikon D800 to the exterior in diver-friendly form. Corrosion-proof coated metal, dive ergonomics and clear labelling make it possible to adjust and control every aspect of the camera on its fast-fit tray inside. The 5D Mk III starts at around £2800.
Olympus OM-D E-M5
After running with the popular Micro Four Thirds format Pens for a few years, Olympus decided to build a beefier version with a built-in electronic viewfinder rather than continue to add the finders as an option. The result? Not the rangefinder-style, clean, top-plated model we were expecting, but one with an SLR-like hump square in the centre. It has a retro nod to the OM2 of yesteryear as well.
The files from the OM-D E-M5  impress with their film-like roll off to highlights, excellent highlight recovery and plenty of detail to IS0 1600. The electronic viewfinder is joined by a touch-sensitive pullout OLED panel for TLR-like operation, but the new five-axis IBIS shouldn't be overlooked. Performance-wise, it's easily a match for the best in-lens stabilisation systems, and works with any old legacy glass (using an adapter) for both video and stills.
Fujifilm XF 35mm f/1.4R
As one of three fast Fujinon-branded single-focal length lenses announced alongside Fujifilm's retro-looking yet innovative APS-C format X-Pro1 camera, the XF 35mm (50mm equivalent) f/1.4 quickly established itself as the most capable of the initial trio (the other two being an 18mm f/2 and a 60mm f/2.4 Macro). With eight elements in six groups and one an asphere, the autofocus 35mm Fujinon has an optical performance matching, even excelling, that of big-name rivals. It's also light at 187g, well made, with a metal barrel and generous, finely machined manual focus ring, and it even gets an engraved manual aperture ring with 1/3 stop detents.
Fujinon's EBC coating provides excellent colour and contrast, while firmware updates have improved autofocus and reduced iris noise.
It's more than a decade since Nokia released the first popular cameraphone, and in that time many photographers have been introduced to the art through the ubiquitous communications device. It was inevitable this bias would eventually see the camera take centre stage.
And if Samsung has pioneered connected compact cameras, it's also the primary competition for Apple's ecosystem. The Galaxy  is not the first, but it's the first to be competitive - both as a handheld tablet and a digital camera. Featuring the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system, a 1.4GHz processor, cellular and Wifi capabilities, the 4.8-inch 308ppi 1280×720 screen and 8GB storage ensure it rivals small tablets for performance. Flip it around and an f/2.8-5.9 lens covering a 21× zoom range (equivalent to 23-481mm) dominates the surface. A 16-megapixel, 1⁄2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS sensor offers ISO from 100 to 3200, and allows HD recording modes, including an 720×480 at 120fps.
At £399, Samsung has put together two competitive devices for less than the sum of their parts, and captured the very essence of modern photography and sharing.
Lomo Belair X 6-12
The Lomographic Society's investment in new manufacturing and film technologies has, for the most part, majored on what many would dismiss as toys. Splitting the enthusiast market into those who want character and those who want quality, even the better Russian camera bodies derived from Western and Japanese designs have been marketed with a greater emphasis on funky, flawed images. The Belair X 6-12  is moving towards high-end enthusiasts - those working with classic, pricey Fujifilm GW and GS bodies The Belair has been produced at a price that undercuts most second-hand options available for the 6×6/9/12 formats, shipping with both 58mm and 90mm lenses at an SRP of around £300 for the nicest metal-body variant. The optics may not be up to the standard of Fujifilm's classics, but this new system is off to a great start.
Phase One/Mamiya 28mm LS 4.5 Aspherical
Designed by Schneider-Kreuznach and made by Mamiya in Japan, the redesigned ultra-wide 28mm LS f/4.5 Aspherical features a leaf-shutter and is marketed under both Phase One and Mamiya brands, sitting alongside the existing focal-plane model. At €4290, there's a small price premium over the original, which also focuses to 35cm and has a horizontal angle of view of 90°. That's just shy of the widest lens for 645 format claimed by the new Hasselblad HCD 24mm.
However, the telecentric LS continues to cover the full 56×42mm frame of the 645DF body, allowing any of the Phase One IQ and Leaf Credo backs up to 80 megapixels, or even film, to be used without cropping. The coveted 92° horizontal angle of view of the HCD 24mm can only be achieved on Hasselblad's smaller sensor models, which means H-series digital backs up to 50 megapixels only. Syncing up to 1⁄1600s is feasible with the 645DF/645DF+ bodies.
Leica APO-Summicron 50mm f/2
At around £5400, if you can find it in stock anywhere, Leica's decision to add an apochromatic design of the 50mm f/2  at this time is undoubtedly connected with the maker's introduction of the M-Monochrom. After all, with that camera lacking a Bayer colour filter array, there's no colour data available to interpret for efficient removal of lateral and longitudinal chromatic aberration of lesser lenses in post-production. Paired with the Monochrom, resulting image quality is very high - but, that's not restricted to the Monochrom.
Leica doesn't do APO designs by halves (figuratively and quantitatively speaking), and designs its lenses to correct colour errors across the frame. Its small size (47×53mm) is at odds with the optical performance, and it weighs just 300g. Photographs taken contre-jour show no sign of fringing, and colour fidelity is outstanding.
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100
It's difficult to pick from the Canon G1X (almost APS-C compact), Canon G15 (finally ticking all the boxes), Fujifilm X10 (getting there before Canon did), Sony RX1 (full-frame, 24-megapixel non-zoom compact) or Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100. In the end, the RX100 has been the commercial success, packing 20 megapixels into a 2.7× factor sensor, then shoehorning this and a Carl Zeiss f/1.8-4.9 28-100mm equivalent lens into a metal body the size of a cigarette pack.
This camera allows uninterrupted capture of a 20-megapixel full-size JPEG during HD filming at any setting except the very high 28MB/s rate. It uses in-camera lens distortion correction, and raw files show an angle closer to 25mm equivalent, not 28mm from the zoom; the correction sacrifices coverage. This 13.2×8.8mm backlit CMOS sensor has shown that a full-frame 35mm could capture over 140 megapixels.
Canon Pixma Pro-1
Canon's printer range previously consisted of two strongly defined categories - the Pixma desktop, consumer models, and Image Prograf family of wide-carriage devices. The Pixma Pro blurs the lines and allows Canon to compete with desktop continuous ink systems with an A3+ model.
Photokina revealed that the Pro-1 was the first in a family, with the 10-pigment Pro-10 and eight-pigment Pro-100 replacing the 9000∕9500 models. However, the Pro-1 is unique, featuring a separate ink tank system with 11 pigments, and a gloss enhancer and remote print head. The five grey shades enable the Pro-1 to excel at monochrome fine art production, and the large print head offers fast output speeds. Simple colour balance and calibration software will appeal to occasional users.
Profoto Pro-B4 1000 Air
With its unrivalled flash speeds down to 1/25,000s (t0.5), delivering up to 30 flashes per second, allied to Profoto's legendary build quality and even faster recharge times, the Swedish maker's latest battery generator will appeal to photographers who like to thrash the throttle.
You get what you pay for, of course, and the Pro-B4 1000 Air will set you back more than £5000 +VAT for the battery pack alone. But will this be a popular workhorse for hire dealers?
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