Wednesday, November 27, 2013

DIY product photography using iPads for light painting (VIDEO)

DIY product photography using iPads for light painting (VIDEO)

Photographer Laya Gerlock has proven that you don't need a high-end lighting rig to take excellent product photos. In fact, he manages to take professional looking photos using just an iPad and an iPhone as light sources — by using them for light paintings.
As demoed in the video below (and furthered at DIY Photography), Gerlock sets up his rig with the camera on a tripod, and roughly a 20 second exposure at f/8, ISO 200. You can see his actual technique in the clip, but it involves him first using his iPhone or a flashlight to light the subject directly, and then the iPad is used to light paint a background.
In order to get those patterns on the iPad, Gerlock said he used "an app in my iPad which had some cool patterns to use as a catchlight, then I saw a pattern which I knew would look great if I used it for lightpainting." You can use apps like SoftBox Pro, or just make images like that yourself, and load them up for free.
It's a straightforward way to play with interesting looking product photography, and one that uses items there's a pretty good chance you already have.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

How to Photograph a Smoking Lightbulb – PictureCorrect

How to Photograph a Smoking Lightbulb – PictureCorrectlight bulb photography

Guide to Photographic Photo Paper

Guide to Photographic Photo Paper

Photographic photo papers are designed to produce a high quality image in an effort to best reproduce the photographed object. How good or bad the paper is at meeting this objective will depend on the type of printer, type of ink and of course the subject of this guide; the type of photo paper. In this guide we will explain the various considerations to take into account when evaluating your options.

Inford Photo Paper

Inkjet Vs. Laser Photo Paper

The mostly widely adopted technology by the professional printing community is the Inkjet printer technology. Laser printing is able to outperforming Inkjet printing in terms of speed, but it lacks the accuracy that high quality photographs require. Laser uses melted powder-like substance in CMYK colours, while Inkjet uses the same colours though liquid ink form that are delivered to the paper by means of small jets (hence Ink-Jet). This method of printing can achieve 2880Dpi vs. 720Dpi commonly found in laser printers. Therefore from here on, the various parameters for choosing photo paper will refer to the Inkjet type.

Photo Paper Brands and Printer Profiles

Most printers will support universal compatibility. The fact that you own a major manufacturer's brand of printer does not limit you to its range of printed media. For example, an HP printer will naturally support its range of papers as well as these papers produced by other manufacturers. The difference lies in the setting part of the printing process, in which you have to decide on paper size, quality, finish and other printing attributes. Choosing your own printer's brand of paper will mean that settings are pre-configured, though do not let this put you off from considering other brands. Many manufacturers and particularly the professional niche players the likes of Ilford, Hahnemuehle, Innova, etc. are able to provide you with a colour profile file. This computerized file will adjust the printer settings for you. During your research, keep an open mind as to your options and consider photo paper from various brands as long as they meet your criteria.

Photo Paper Finish

The first aspect that consumers often evaluate is the photo paper finish. It is a translucent chemical coating that is designed to improve the appearance of the print which otherwise may appear dull. The problem lies in the inconsistent terminology that brands use to describe their finish and the headache of making sense of which is which. Common options include matt, glossy and satin, but when consumers come across terms such as semi-gloss, pearl, luster and other finishes, confusion is likely to occur. Here are the most common options you will come across.

  1. Glossy – The most widely used finish is the glossy finish which comes in degree of glossiness from normal to high glossy. The shine from the chemical coating helps distinguish the smallest details of the photograph, however the resulting glare makes viewing the print from certain angles challenging on occasion.
  2. Matt – Depending on the brand, you will come across this finish as Matt or Matte. It is situated on the other side of the scale with zero glossiness. The lack of expensive finish makes the photo paper slightly cheaper to produce and more affordable to buy which helps explain why it is commonly used in brochure and flyer printing. It is also commonly used when printing black and white photos, as glossy finish can diminish from the photo's credibility.
  3. Satin – The satin finish is situated precisely in the middle, between the glossy and matt finish. It benefits from a level of glossiness, but nowhere near that of the actual glossy finish. Certain brands such as Epson call their range of satin finish, semi-gloss so the best description will be a toned down glossy finish.
  4. Pearl and Luster – These are offered by the more professional manufactures and represent a type of satin finish with a textured feel. The normal satin or semi-gloss finish is flat, but these two include a delicate texture to make the print feel more special when held.

Photo Paper Quality

The quality of photo paper is measured in colour range, archival properties, instant dry to touch and other factors of quality. It is the 'receiving layer' that determines it. This chemical layer is designed to receive the huge amounts of ink laid by the printer during the printing process. Without one, the paper will soak from ink, the ink will penetrate to the other side and will fade in a matter of months. Basically, the result you get when printing a photograph on copy paper. There are two common type of receiving layer that cover most photo papers:

  1. Cast Coated Receiving Layer – The cast coated receiving layer is commonly found in the budget and "Every Day" range of the various manufacturers. It yields satisfactory results, but often may appear slightly duller than the Micro Porous alternative. Because there is no barrier coating on the paper, ink sinks deeper into the product and will fade quicker with time. Cast coated paper is instant dry but if pigmented inks are used (especially black), may be susceptible to some smearing. Cast Coatings have limited archival properties.
  2. Micro and Nano Pores Receiving Layers – These two are the ones used in the professional and high-end range of the various manufacturers. In complete contrast to the previous type, the ink sits within nanoscopic pores in the chemical so it is instant dry and the archival potential is much improved. It is the receiving layer choice of most photographers.

Photo Paper Weight
The last consideration that consumers are faced with is the weight of the paper measured in GSM or if you will, the weight of paper per one square meter of area. Contrary to what you might think, GSM does not equal quality of print but higher GSM leads to thicker photo paper which at times can be useful but in other times, a waste of money. As a measure of paper density, higher GSM weight feel thicker when held hence you will often come across greeting card papers boasting GSM weight on the high end of the spectrum, while prints with low keepsake potential such as brochures that will likely be discarded quite quickly will feature more modest GSM weight.

We hope this has helped evaluate your photographic photo paper options.

This guest post was written by Joseph Eitan, the managing director of Photo Paper Direct. Joseph has over 25 years experience working in the paper and printing industry as the managing director of several companies.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013 - Holiday Guide: Best DSLR Cameras of 2013
Holiday Guide: Best DSLR Cameras of 2013
by Laura Hicks -  11/12/2013

High-end DSLRs typically offer the best overall performance and control a photographer can ask for. But that level of functionality usually comes at a higher price. These cameras use mirrored through-the-lens viewing systems (though some offer Live View shooting through the LCD), and feature interchangeable lenses.

Always known as the workhorse of the photography world, DSLR cameras have become increasingly more available than ever before. This has created a new brand of buyers called "prosumers." These buyers are looking for a camera with maximum flexibility, creativity and rugged design. In a class of cameras that has generally been reserved for the professional photographer, all of the major manufacturers have now released DSLR cameras that are suited for use from the budding photographer to the creative professional. Check our picks this season's top performing DSLR cameras.

If you don't see the perfect camera in the list we've provided, be sure to seek out buying advice in our "What Camera Should I Buy?" discussion forum. Our forum members, moderators, and staff will graciously offer their insight in helping you pick the best camera for you.

#1 Canon EOS 5D Mark III

The Canon EOS 5D Mark III has been a fan favorite amongst creative professionals for well over a year now. It offers all the benefits of the Mark II along with some notable AF and speed improvements.

As a serious professional photographer, there is so much to love about the Mark III. Canon pulled out all the stops for this full-frame DSLR. This supercharged camera has the ability to produce amazing images with its 22.1MP CMOS sensor. With the ability to produce beautiful HD quality video, the only thing standing in your way might be the $3,400 price tag.

Rating Average: 9 out of 10

Read the Canon EOS 5D Mark III Review

#2 Nikon D800

Nikon introduces the D800 as the highest megapixel DSLR in their lineup. With an unheard of 36.3MP FX-format CMOS sensor, we are surprised the pixels aren't falling off the sensor. Speaking of sensors, Nikon has unleashed a newly designed sensor for the D800. It promises to have great dynamic range and extraordinary color sensitivity. Priced at a mere $2800, this camera makes us wonder if medium format digital camera companies are getting a little worried.

Thinking about the D800, but the camera seems a bit much for your needs? Check out the Nikon D600 (new for $1900). It's a great camera as long as you don't pick up one that has dust issues (refurbished for $1500). Want to avoid the dust issue? Try a D610 with a new shutter mechinism for $2,000 instead.  

Rating Average: 9 out of 10

Read the Nikon D800 Review

#3 Pentax K-3

The Pentax K-3 entered the market with little fanfare, but quickly impressed me. In a head-to-head competition against the Nikon D600, the Pentax K-3 outperformed its competition when it came to color quality. Image sharpness of the two cameras was a near match. The Pentax K-3 boasts a 24 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, 8.3 fps continuous shooting, selectable (on/off) anti-aliasing (AA) filter, and dual card slots. The K-3 also features an enhanced video recording including the ability to change from still image to video recording with the flip of a switch to capture full HD movie recording in H.264 format.  

The Pentax K-3 is available for $1300 (body only) just in time for the holiday season.

Rating Average: 9 out of 10 (initial reaction)

Read the Pentax K-3 Comparison (full review in process)

#4 Canon EOS Rebel 70D

The EOS 70D is Canon's latest addition to its midrange DSLR line, targeting "advanced amateur photographers and photo hobbyists". The camera retains an APS-C sensor and 1.62x crop factor like its stable mate 60D; resolution increases an insignificant 2 megapixels to 20. More importantly, the new camera features a Canon DIGIC 5+ image processor and the 3-inch articulating LCD monitor acquires touchscreen functionality. The native ISO range extends an additional stop on the high end from 100 to 12800 and is expandable to 25600. The autofocus system features a new dual pixel CMOS phase detection design that permits continuous AF during video capture, and incorporates 19 focus points instead of 9 on the earlier camera - with all 19 being cross focus, including a high-precision f/2.8 dual cross-type AF center point.

Fantastic video, however, is what the 70D does best. This is the first DSLR at this price point with video quality that will appeal to budding videographers and budget minded independent filmmakers. Purchasing this camera with the 18-55mm IS kit lens retails at only $1100.

Rating Average: 9 out of 10

Read the Canon EOS Rebel 70D Review

#5 Nikon D7100

The D7100 is in many ways Nikon's way of showing that APS-C DSLRs still have a place in the world despite how much the ILC market has grown. The camera boasts  24.1MP sensor, 51 point autofocus system, that can autofocus down to f8, 7fps shooting, a 3.2 inch 1,229K dot LCD, ISO 100-6400 natively, dual SD card storage, and weather sealing.

The D7100 is light and compact--especially when compared to the DSLRs listed above. The camera is great for budding photographers and professionals on a budget. The D7100 has a price tag of $1,150 for the body only.

Rating Average: 9 out of 10

Read the Nikon D7100 Review

Want to know which cameras are tops in the minds of DigitalCameraReview's readers? Check out our Most Popular Cameras list, based on traffic across our site! - Holiday Guide: Best Point and Shoot Cameras of 2013
Holiday Guide: Best Point and Shoot Cameras of 2013
by Laura Hicks -  11/12/2013

This rapidly improving class of cameras includes both compact and "ultra-compact" systems that are primarily designed for quick and simple operation. Most of these cameras feature auto-focus-only lenses, various exposure options and a built-in flash.

Sometimes a point and shoot is all you want. Being able to slip a sleek, slim line camera into your pocket for a night on the town or a family get together is convenient and easy. Where DSLR's can seem large and intimidating, point and shoots allow subjects to be relaxed and easily photographed. Also, more of the point and shoots are equipped with Wi-Fi technology making it easy to post your pictures to social media and image hosting websites. Check out our selection of top point and shoot cameras for this holiday season.

If you don't see the perfect camera in the list we've provided, be sure to seek out buying advice in our "What Camera Should I Buy?" discussion forum. Our forum members, moderators, and staff will graciously offer their insight in helping you pick the best camera for you.

#1 Fujifilm X20

I love, love, love the Fuji X20. The manual zoom lens is perfect for those that shoot DSLRs. And the Fuji colors bring your image to life. The Fuji X20 comes equipped with an advanced 12MP 2/3 inch X-Trans CMOS II Sensor and the EXR Processor II to deliver the world's fastest autofocus speeds in its class. The X20 also receives a new, advanced optical viewfinder. Additionally, a highly randomized and unique color filter array on the new sensor eliminates the need for an optical low-pass filter. The X20, like the X100S, has been given an Intelligent Hybrid Autofocus system that allows the camera to switch between phase and contrast detection to achieve the best image. 

The Fuji X20 uses the premium FUJINON F2.0-2.8 4x manual zoom lens. The lens also offers Super Macro Mode where users can get as close as 0.39 inches from a subject. The X20 has a 2.8-inch LCD screen with 460k dots. Like the X100S, Fuji also left the "Q" button function on this camera which allows users to easily access frequently used menu items.

The Fuji X20 is available for $550. Don't need the new viewfinder? Check out the Fuji X10. It's available for as little as $340! That's a steal of a deal for this awesome camera.

Rating Average: 9 out of 10 (initial reaction)

Read the Fujifilm X20 Image Gallery (review in progress)

#2 Canon G15

Up until I reviewed the X20, the Canon G15 was my favorite point and shoot camera. What sent the X20 over the top in my opinion? The manual zoom lens and the beautiful Fuji colors.

But the Canon G15 is also a fantastic choice for a great point and shoot camera. The camera features a 12.1-megapixel 1/1.7-inch CMOS sensor with the latest generation Digic 5 Image Processor. This sensor is on the larger size for point and shoot cameras. Also, the Digic 5 has some pretty significant improvements over the last version. The Processor has increased speed and power. It also has improved noise reduction to help the camera reduce grain in high ISO images. 

The camera offers a ton of manual functionality for those that require it, but also can be used easily by those that don't. The G15 is available for $450. Want Wi-Fi? Go for the new G16. It's practically the same camera as the G15 with Wi-Fi added. It sells for $550.

Rating Average: 9 out of 10

Read the Canon G15 Review

#3 Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100

Sony describes the RX100 as the new flagship of their compact digital line. The camera carries a newly designed 1.0-inch Exmor CMOS sensor (13.2 x 8.8 mm), the same physical size as the sensors in the Nikon 1 system cameras. But while the Nikon sensors carry 10 megapixels of resolution, Sony has squeezed 20.2 megapixels onto the RX100 sensor. The camera also features a high-resolution 3.0-inch LCD monitor, offers fully automatic, scene and full manual shooting modes, full 1080 HD video and a 10 frame per second (fps) continuous shooting rate at full resolution. Images may be captured in JPEG, RAW or RAW/JPEG formats.

The stellar video and sound quality put this camera in the top five list. Very few point and shoots can offer the quality and sleek design packed into this small, but formidable camera. The Sony RX100 is available for $600 and it's a beauty.

Rating Average: 9 out of 10

Read the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 Review

#4 Olympus TG-2

I never dreamt I would love a rugged camera--that was until I reviewed the Olympus TG-2.

Olympus decided to change the "rugged camera game" with their newest addition--the TG-2. I knew this would be a good camera when I first saw it at CES. But I didn't realize how much I would love it until it was shipped to me for a full review. I immediately knew this was not your typical rugged camera. The TG-2 performs with the precision and speed of Olympus' top rated cameras. It has a 12-megapixel CMOS sensor and a 3-inch OLED screen. But the best part of this camera is the bright f/2.0 lens (an exceptional feature for a point and shoot at this price point) that does a great job of capturing images with good depth, color and contrast. It has a 4 times optical zoom and a 4 times digital zoom (if you absolutely must use it).

The Olympus TG-2 sells for $360 and is worth every penny. 

Rating Average: 9 out of 10

Read the Olympus TG-2 Review

#5 Samsung EX2F

The Samsung EX2F is an attractively understated camera with an 1/1.7-inch BSI CMOS sensor. It is small enough to be dropped in a jacket pocket and light enough to be used all day without fatigue. The EX2F features a robustly constructed magnesium body over a light-weight metal alloy frame.  The EX2F's build quality is reminiscent of the precision machining and iconic mechanical engineering of premium quality German cameras from the fifties - it was clearly manufactured to withstand the rigors of heavy use.

The 12 megapixel Samsung EX2F is a well built imaging tool that was obviously designed for serious photographers. No worries, though, if you are not already a great photographer. This camera will make it easy to take a fantastic image. The Samsung EX2F sells for $320. It's the least expensive camera in this category. Make no mistake. This camera is well built for years of use.

Rating Average: 9 out of 10

Read the Samsung EX2F Review

Want to know which cameras are tops in the minds of DigitalCameraReview's readers? Check out our Most Popular Cameras list, based on traffic across our site! - Holiday Guide: Best Mirrorless Cameras of 2013
Holiday Guide: Best Mirrorless Cameras of 2013
by Laura Hicks -  11/12/2013

ILCs are small and highly capable cameras that feature a "mirrorless" viewing and rely on an electronic viewfinder and DSLR-sized sensors to capture and record images. These cameras are great for the more advanced photo enthusiast or pro looking for an always-available camera.

The newest class of digital cameras to the holiday guide is mirrorless compact interchangeable lens cameras. This class of cameras has given the user the flexibility of interchangeable lenses like the DSLR photographers, but the convenience of a smaller size due to a mirrorless design. Whether you are a budding photographer or an amateur shooter, this type of camera is designed for the creative person who loves the flexibility of multiple lenses. Find our top choices for mirrorless cameras in the link below.

If you don't see the perfect camera in the list we've provided, be sure to seek out buying advice in our "What Camera Should I Buy?" discussion forum. Our forum members, moderators, and staff will graciously offer their insight in helping you pick the best camera for you.

#1 Olympus OM-D E-M1

Arriving about a year and a half after its predecessor, the E-M1 packs a powerful punch with a 16.3-megapixel LiveMOS sensor, TruePic VII image processor, 5-axis image stabilization and weather proofing. In fact, the E-M1 has plenty of other great features like no AA filter, 10 frames per second continuous shooting rate, a pretty great EVF, and an awesome LCD screen, too.

Is this high-end mirrorless really worth it? The answer is a resounding yes! The E-M1 features all of the great functionality of the E-M5, but the E-M1 offers better ergonomics and better button placement than its predecessor. But this high end ILC comes at a price. Body only, the camera is $1,400. Want to purchase the E-M5 instead? You are still making a great purchase. The E-M5 still sells for $1,300. It's a great camera that is retaining its value.

Rating Average: 9 out of 10

Read the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Review

#2 Samsung NX300

The NX300 is the flagship model of the NX lineup of cameras--and with great reason. The camera has a large 20.3-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor and a new hybrid autofocus (phase and contrast) that proves to be fast and reliable. The NX300 has a 3.3-inch AMOLED tilting touchscreen. It also offers users ISO sensitivities from 100 to 25,600 and a respectable 8.6fps continuous shooting speed. It has a maximum shutter speed of 1/6000th of a second for better action photography. The NX300 can shoot RAW or JPG files and takes SD, SDHC, SDXC, and UHS-1 enabled memory cards.

The camera has an MSRP of $800 and includes either the 18-55mm or 20-50mm lens. However, we were able to find holiday deals for only $570 with the 20-50mm kit lens and the 50-200mm lens. Talk about an amazing deal!

Rating Average: 9 out of 10

Read the Samsung NX300 Review

#3 Fujifilm X-Pro1

Fujifilm created a winner with the X-Pro1. The camera is a mirrorless interchangeable lens system camera with the retro look of a classic rangefinder 35mm. The X-Pro1 features a newly designed 16 megapixel CMOS sensor whose color filter array introduces a higher degree of randomness of its pixel units than a more conventional sensor. The X-Pro1 has a 3-inch LCD, ISO sensitivities of up to 25,600, and a hybrid viewfinder.

Designed for those that value style, quality build, and beautiful form, the Fuji X-Pro 1 does not disappoint. The Fuji X-Pro 1 is available for $1,200, body only.

Rating Average: 9 out of 10

Read the Fujifilm X-Pro1 Review

#4 Sony a7R

Top of the line! Sony's newest ILC is a full frame camera with a 36-megapixel sensor.

I recently spent a week shooting with the a7R in Nashville, Tennessee. The camera is a workhorse and built to withstand heavy use. The camera features the new Bionz X image processor (just like the RX10), fast AF capabilities, full HD 60p video recording, and Wi-Fi /NFC connection. It offers fully customizable controls and functions: 9 customizable buttons and 46 assignable functions. The camera has a 2.4 million dot XGA OLED Tru-Finder and a tiltable 3-inch LCD screen. 

The Sony a7R will be available just in time for the holidays for $2,300 body only. Also available from Sony is the new a7. An ILC with a 24-megapixel full frame sensor. It is available for $1,700, body only.

Rating Average: 8 out of 10 (initial reaction)

Read the Sony a7R Image Gallery

#5 Samsung Galaxy NX

It's a game changer, no doubt about it.

The Samsung Galaxy NX Camera features the same 20.3-megapixel APS-C sensor found in the NX line of cameras. The sensor offers a hybrid autofocus system.  It features a huge 4.8-inch fixed LCD touchscreen, SVGA electronic viewfinder and very similar user interface as what we saw in the Galaxy Camera. The camera is powered by a 1.6 GHz Quad-core processor. It is 3G/4G LTE and Wi-Fi compatible for constant connectivity and sharing of images. It has a maximum shutter speed of 1/6000 of a second and hast 8.6 frames per second continuous shooting speed. The body style is very similar to the NX20 -- giving users a nice sized hand grip.

Rating Average: 8 out of 10 (initial reaction)

Read the Samsung Galaxy Preview or check out the Image Gallery

Want to know which cameras are tops in the minds of DigitalCameraReview's readers?  Check out our Most Popular Cameras list, based on traffic across our site!

Holiday Guide: Best Luxury Compact Cameras of 2013

Holiday Guide: Best Luxury Compact Cameras of 2013

#1 Sony RX1

While the initial excitement surrounding the 24 megapixel RX1's launch was based mostly on the fact that its compact body is built around a full-frame sensor, enthusiasm and respect, for this camera doesn't stop there. Once you start shooting with the camera, you understand that beyond the sensor size, the RX1 is special from its solid build and design to the camera's consistently amazing image quality. 

Although it costs more than some higher end DSLRs, the RX1 makes a great second camera for pros and semi-pros and will probably appeal to photographers who want excellent quality in a convenient, compact body. The RX1 sells for $2,800.

Rating Average: 8 out of 10

Read the Sony RX1 Review

#2 Fuji X100s

Besides having some heart-palpitating good looks, the X100s has many other things going for it. For starters, the camera's heart is a 16.3MP APS-C sized X Trans II sensor. While that right there is a lot to swallow, note that the sensor has been revamped for better high ISO noise processing and there are now phase detection sensors on the semi-conductor. And in front of the heart is the other lip-biting feature--the lens.

The X100s has a permanently fixed 23mm f2 lens with Fujinon glass comprising its design. Fujifilm has been in the business of optics for many years and have made what many professionals may consider some of the best lenses ever made in the medium format and large format territory. Bringing that knowledge down to the APS-C level, this lens renders a 35mm field of view due to the 1.5x crop factor of the APS-C sized sensor. Around this lens is an aperture ring--which will tug at the nostalgic memories of many experienced film photographers and retro-infatuated enthusiasts.

The Fuji X100s sells for $1,300.

Rating Average: 9 out of 10

Read the Fuji X100s Review

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Coolest Light Painting Tool I’ve Ever Seen | Photofocus

The Coolest Light Painting Tool I've Ever Seen

I must admit…  I dig long exposure (particularly light painting).  I'm also into time-lapse.  It takes a lot for me to give to a Kickstarter campaign (particularly if I don't know the folks).  It takes even more for me to write about it (guys, this better work… or we'll have issues).
Okay, disclaimers aside… I present Pixelstick.

"Pixelstick reads images created in Photoshop (or the image editor of your choice) and displays them one line at a time, creating endless possibilities for abstract and/or photorealistic art. Taking this one step further, Pixelstick can increment through a series of images over multiple exposures, opening up light painting to the world of time-lapse, and allowing for animations the likes of which have never before seen."
The full package contains:
  • LED PCBs (198 LEDs total)
  • Two 3' aluminum extrusion with connecting bracket & diffusion lens
  • Handle with foam grip and rotating sleeve
  • Controller box with connecting cables and clips
  • Battery holder (AA Batteries not included)
  • Carry bag
I've already signed up to get one (as well as take their workshop in NYC).  The unit is not expected until May of 2014.  I promise a full review when it's received.   There's a little over 30 days left in the campaign. If you want one, pledge $300.
Yeah… it's crazy.  But I'm excited to see what's possible and commend the team at Bitbanger Labs for pushing the envelope until it burst.
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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

40 of the Most Powerful Photographs Captured in the Last Century – PictureCorrect

40 of the Most Powerful Photographs Captured in the Last Century – PictureCorrect

Finding Perspectives in the Landscape - Christopher O'Donnell

Finding Perspectives in the Landscape

The untamed beauty of the landscape and its unpredictability is what attracts me most to this field. The idea of photographing a moment in time that was not the result of orchestrated efforts, but rather the erratic temperament of nature, is a source of great inspiration for me. This lack of control means that as a photographer, I must adapt my workflow to compliment the environment, using in-the-field techniques to create the image I want to express.

Perspective plays a key role in manipulating an environment I have no control of – the conscious choice of vantage point and placement of the horizon line can greatly improve the balance, flow, and overall success of my composition. However, altering the perspective is more than simply choosing where to place and position my camera. By making deliberate technical choices in my gear, I can develop my ability to improve a composition without sacrificing my vantage point.

Longer focal lengths will decrease your depth of field, but also bring forth the background/ foreground elements – you're basically compacting the distances, making objects around your main focal point appear to be much closer to it than they really are. Alternatively, wide focal lengths will exaggerate those distances, making objects appear to be much further away from your focal point.

Adjusting the focal length is a method I use often in the field when I want to redistribute the weight of my main subject(s) for a more balanced composition. Below are two images that show how differently your composition can appear by simply changing your focal length. Both these images were taken on the same evening, within minutes of each other.

Doubling Point Lighthouse in Arrowsic, Maine with the setting sun in the background.

The scene above was captured with an 85mm lens, set at f/11, with the focus locked on the foreground wheat. Since I was focusing so closely, I was able to obtain a shallow depth of field with a relatively small aperture, throwing the lighthouse and sunset sky into some degree of obscurity. The reach of 85mm was able to pull all the elements together and compact the distances between the background sky and tree line, middle ground lighthouse and pier, and foreground wheat.

Alternatively, the image below had a much different workflow. The approaching thunderstorm made for quite the sunset display, so a wider focal length of 24mm was needed to capture the entire scene. Using a deep depth of field at f/16, foreground to background was rendered in sharp focus. The distances between the foreground, lighthouse, and background had been exaggerated, making the environment seem much deeper than it was in reality.

Shorter focal lengths will exaggerate the distances between focal points, pulling them apart and making your scene appear to be deeper.

I was standing in the same position for each image, but the 24mm lens made the lighthouse seem much further away, while the 85mm compacted the distances and brought the focal points closer together.

Focal lengths also affect your depth of field, despite using the same f/stop. The longer your focal length, the more shallow your depth of field will be for a given aperture – which explains why the 85mm image had a very shallow depth of field, despite using an aperture set at f/11. So not only can you use your focal length to control your depth of field, but you can also use it to manipulate your environment – pushing elements further back, or bringing them forward.

Even with the same lens, you can drastically alter the composition and content of your environment simply by controlling your depth of field. Aperture certainly has a prominent role to play here, but other elements affect your depth of field in a profound way, such as distances, placement of focal point, and your focal length (as mentioned above). I go into further detail on how to control your depth of field in my eBook The Art of Bokeh, but for now I want to demonstrate how differently your perspective can change by exploring different depths.

Rock along the edge of a tidal pool in Maine

The image above was taken under sunset light filtered by a thin layer of clouds, side-lit as it descended towards the horizon. I used my 24mm f/1.4 lens, with the aperture set wide open, to capture this unique shoreline rock with a very thin slice of focus.

The photo below was taken the same evening just moments prior, and with the same lens. Instead of focusing on the rock and making
that my main focal point by isolation, I turned towards the setting sun and set my aperture to f/16. By simply changing my vantage point and depth of field – moving away from the rock and widening my frame to include more of my environment – I was able to create two entirely independent images from the same location and conditions without ever changing my lens or gear.

Altering your vantage point and depth of field can drastically change your composition.

Any element of your landscape can be a potential focal point – from grand vistas to small pieces of foliage. While the volatile forces of nature may constrict your ability to manipulate the environment, it does not mean that you have to limit your compositions. I find this lack of control to be quite liberating – allowing yourself to be influenced by the environment, which can be conducive to your development as a photographer. By using your skills to direct a composition, you can transform mundane subjects into textured focal points of light and shadow, creating a successful representation of your vision.

Landscape photography can call on many different photographic techniques in order to find a successful perspective – long exposures, macro, panoramics – and can require various combinations of apertures, focal lengths, shutter speeds, and vantage points. The opportunities are endless, and are only limited by the creative boundaries that you define for yourself. Look around your environment and fully embrace the light and texture you see; try new techniques and explore different subjects, and don't let the assumed quality of your atmosphere discourage your endeavors. If you find your surroundings uninteresting, pursue other parts of your environment by changing your perspective – you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

Exposure Blending Tutorial: Why Auto-bracket Your Images?

Part One: Why Autobracket Your Images?

To download an expanded version of this guide as a free eBook, click here.

This is a three part series on the somewhat complicated, but incredibly beautiful art of exposure blending your images. This article here helps to explain the theory behind it all, and my next two articles will give you step-by-step instructions on how to:

1. capture images for exposure blending properly, and

2. how to blend the bracketed images manually in Adobe® Photoshop CS6.

At the end of this tutorial, you'll see how to take an evaluative image (left), and blend multiple exposures together for a complete tonal range (right):

This free eBook will detail how to go from the before to the after in a step-by-step instruction.

What is Exposure Blending?

Exposure blending is one of the most powerful ways to create a stunning photograph. As you've probably noticed, it can be difficult to capture an entire landscape accurately (especially those with a sky) because your camera sensor is limited to one aperture and one shutter speed at a time – it's not possible to have two different settings within the same frame. You'll often note that your photos rarely live up to what you actually saw – exposure blending is one way to overcome the limitations of your camera and photograph a landscape with the full tonal range that you see in the field.

Simply put, in order to have a well-exposed landscape you'll need one image exposed for the brightest tones in your photo (typically the sky) and another for the darkest tones (the ground, usually) when the lighting isn't suitable to capture it all in one exposure – think of sunsets and how differently the natural light level is when you compare the sky to the ground. Once you have your two extremes, you'll blend them together to make one perfectly exposed landscape.

I love to use visuals so let's look at my image below. As you can see, the setting sun is beautiful but caused some problems in exposure…the image where the foreground is exposed well (slower shutter speed) has an extremely overexposed sky, while the photo exposed for the sky (faster shutter speed) has the foreground in complete shadow. To get a proper exposure, I would need to combine these two images to get my result shown – and that, my friends, is exposure blending.

In addition to these two photos on the extreme ends, a middle exposure (one that's been light metered for the entire frame using evaluative metering, which finds a middle ground between your fastest and longest exposure) is useful to have as well for any middle ground elements you need to blend in. At times, the gap between your fastest and slowest exposure may be so great that you end up skipping the optimal exposure for those elements that fall in between the two. An example of this would be the water in the above scene. Notice how the image exposed for the ground (left) has the water slightly overexposed, and the image metered for the sky (middle) has some noticeable shadows. A middle exposure was needed to balance this out, and is what you see in the final blended scene (right). For intricate images with vast tonal ranges, it's not uncommon to have 5 or more photos of the same scene at your disposal in order to avoid any lost data.

The range of your exposures will depend entirely on how bright your highlights are and how dark the shadows appear – in other words, how vast your tonal range is. For example, a cloudy day will have very little difference in values, but a sunset image may have 5 or more stops in your complete tonal range.

How do I combine different exposures? It's actually quite simple once you learn the technique – and DSLRs have made it a lot easier with auto-bracketing.

How Auto-Bracketing Works

To get three different exposures of the same scene, you don't have to calculate your settings and manually input a different shutter speed. Auto-bracketing is a common feature with digital SLRs, which allows you to capture one photo exposed normally (your base image), and then will automatically expose two more – one directly after the other – of a slower and faster shutter speed than your base. The difference in exposure will depend on your camera and chosen settings, but usually 2 full stops is the maximum increase/decrease from your base photo that you can use auto-bracketing for.

This is where the term "auto-bracketing" comes from since you're bracketing your images off automatically by capturing the same scene at different exposures within "X" amount of stops.

This allows you to capture three sequential images of different exposures without having to adjust your settings manually – it's very handy, and helps to streamline your workflow when you're presented with a wide tonal range that one exposure can not contain.

For more intense differences in lighting – as you'll often find for sunrises and sunsets – you'll still have to adjust your settings manually to capture more of a range in exposure than two stops (or whatever your camera's auto-bracketing limit is). I'll explain how to do this in the next article, but first I want to show you why you should auto-bracket instead of adjusting just one RAW file.

For brevity, a RAW file is the digital equivalent of a film negative before it is printed onto paper – the "raw" state of your image that

you can't really use as a photo, but all the information you need to create a photo is there. A RAW file is just that – you can't upload a RAW file to your website or email it to others without special viewing software, but you can take that RAW file and turn it into a universal image.

RAW is preferable to JPG in many ways, most notably because of image quality. When you take a photo in JPG format, it is instantly compressed – and this compression will take detail away from your photo, thus limiting your processing capabilities.

With a film negative, you can adjust the exposure by exposing the negative onto your paper for longer or shorter amounts of time. RAW allows you to do the same – at least, for a limited amount of stops. Since you're working with the unprocessed digital "negative", you can recover some blown highlights or blocked shadows by adjusting the exposure of your RAW file before converting it into a more universal file format for display or print, such as JPG or TIFF.

You can artificially adjust the exposure of a JPG image in post process, but this is not a true exposure adjustment and will not recover any data for you. In the example images, we can see the true benefit of RAW when trying to recover these blown highlights. In Figure 1, you can see that while the foreground is exposed accurately, the sky is noticeably overexposed – a common occurrence.

RAW vs JPG comparison of adjusting exposure in Photoshop.

Figure 2 shows how much detail is recovered by reducing the exposure by two full stops in RAW editing. In contrast, Figure 3 displays the same reduction in exposure (two stops) for the JPG version. Since the JPG file holds no additional data, the exposure is artificially reduced simply by adding a layer of black tones – there is no recovery of data, and the photo looks noticeably worse than the RAW adjustment.

RAW vs JPG comparison of adjusting exposure in Photoshop.

RAW vs JPG comparison of adjusting exposure in Photoshop.

RAW does have its limitations however – it does not give you the power to shoot blindly with no regard to exposure, and it is always best to achieve a proper image in-camera. A RAW file will typically give you two stops of recovery capability – if you adjust the exposure more than two stops beyond the original exposure, you most likely will not recover any additional data and will start to notice the quality to deteriorate.

With RAW being such a versatile format for editing, why is there a need to auto-bracket when you can simply adjust the exposure in RAW and import all those exposures into one file? It would save you the time of setting up a tripod, taking three (or more) images, as well as saving on disk space – I thought RAW was supposed to be a magical exposure recovery tool?

It's always best to capture the optimal exposure for a scene in-camera simply because you'll have more data in an actual photo than an image adjusted artificially – even if it's in RAW. The more data that is retained, the more detailed your image will be. Auto-bracketing is superior to RAW for the following reasons:

1. You may need more range in your exposure than what RAW can offer you. Typically, you can only adjust your exposure +/- two full stops in RAW before you start to see damage – depending on what you're photographing, you may need 3, 5 or even 10 stops difference between your brightest and darkest photos.[/box]

2. While RAW is a great, low-damage, accurate way to adjust your exposure, it's still better to capture the image with your camera to make sure you have the highest quality photo.[/box]

I'm going to compare a scene where I underexposed my photo by two full stops using auto-bracketing with my camera vs. dropping the exposure in RAW.

Taking the overexposed version that was adjusted in RAW from above and zooming in on the recovered sky (Figure 1), you can see that there is still some overexposed areas. When compared to Figure 2 – the photo that I took two stops lower with my auto-bracketing – you can see that more detail was retained in the sky that RAW could not recover.

RAW vs. exposure blending comparison showing the difference between adjusting exposure in RAW and using a bracket of the same adjustment from the field.

RAW vs. exposure blending comparison showing the difference between adjusting exposure in RAW and using a bracket of the same adjustment from the field.

So while RAW provides a great recovery tool, it's more of a "last effort" way to adjust your exposure when you have no other alternative, or if you only need a very minor exposure adjustment. Adjusting your exposure in-camera will always give you a superior quality when compared to RAW adjustments, and is worth the extra effort of auto-bracketing.

Versatility of Bracketing

Although RAW can not replace auto-bracketing, it's still a file format that has many benefits over JPG and should be used when you bracket. Not only is there more data in RAW format, but you'll greatly increase your tonal range for editing. If you auto-bracket in JPG format, you'll typically be taking three images – your base image, one taken two stops faster, and another two stops slower – for a total range of four stops. However, if you shoot in RAW format, you can increase or decrease your exposures by two stops in post process. That safety net will add another two full stops to your range on both ends of your bracket, bringing your total tonal range up to eight stops (assuming you shoot three auto-bracket images in two-stop increments).

Blending exposures using one RAW file is best for those candid shots where you didn't have enough time to set up a tripod but need to correct some blown highlights, or simply want to brighten/ darken parts of your image – like in wedding or action photography. It's a fantastic way to save an otherwise unusable photo, but if you have the time and ability to auto-bracket your landscape for exposure blending, this is the method which will give you the highest quality output with the largest tonal range.

Exposure blending and bracketing is not just for combining bright skies with dark grounds – you can use it in many different ways. You can recover blown highlights in water reflections, use it as a no-damage way to dodge and burn your landscapes, or to blend a brighter foreground with a darker sky (like under stormy, overcast skies).

Another popular use of this technique is to blend different long exposures together – for example, blending an extended exposure that captures moving clouds with an image that shows stationary grass that would otherwise be windswept if taken at the same shutter speed as the sky: the possibilities are endless.

But first, you need to know how to get those exposures to begin with. In Part 2, I explain step-by-step how to capture different exposures the right way using a tripod.

To download an expanded version of this guide as a free eBook, click here.

Monday, November 4, 2013

2013 Best of Year Camera Awards - Cameras

2013 Best of Year Camera Awards

While 2012 saw a host of excellent new full-frame and flagship cameras hit the market, 2013 brought plenty of innovation as the camera industry adapts to changing times. From more affordable full-frame cameras, to a slew of new incredible fixed-lens cameras aimed at enthusiasts, and even pod-like lens-cameras for your smartphone, the camera industry has been quick to try new things.

Still, with two new excellent flagships from Micro Four Thirds and improving performance across the board, it's hard to look at 2013 as anything other than the year of mirrorless cameras. Every camera manufacturer now has a mirrorless lineup, with options for casual shooters and professionals alike. After taking the entire field into account and putting more than 100 cameras through our rigorous lab tests, we've culled down the list to give you the best cameras of 2013.

Camera of the Year - Olympus OM-D E-M1

For 2013, no camera performed as well in our labs as the Olympus OM-D E-M1. The E-M1 combines the gorgeous retro looks of the 1970s OM line of film cameras with a brand new image sensor. With oodles of manual, customizable control, fantastic image quality, a superb new EVF, and full weather sealing, the E-M1 is a true, professional-caliber mirrorless camera. Paired with Olympus' new 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens, the E-M1 was our favorite camera of all that we tested in 2013. (MSRP $1,399.99 body-only)

Read our full review of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 here

Runner-up - Panasonic GX7

The Panasonic GX7 wowed us with an improved design, superlative handling, and a great new EVF. Slightly smaller and cheaper than the E-M1, the GX7 still delivered excellent performance, proving that there's plenty of room for two stellar cameras in the Micro Four Thirds system. While we feel the E-M1's build quality, integrated phase-detect autofocus, and customizable control earns it the award here, the GX7 is also deserving of recognition. (MSRP $999.99 body-only. $1,099.99 w/ 14-42mm II lens)

Read our full review of the Panasonic GX7 here

Best Innovation in Cameras - Sony QX Series

It's no secret that smartphones are quickly making the cheap point-and-shoot a thing of the past. With the QX10 and the QX100, Sony is imagining a world where your camera is a separate, symbiotic device. Clamping onto your smartphone or working as a standalone accessory, the QX-series is a wild reimagining of what a point-and-shoot might be in the future. (MSRP $249.99-599.99)

Read our full review of the Sony QX10 here

Best Enthusiast Camera - Sony RX1

On paper, the RX1 seems like either a happy accident or an outrageous bar bet. What if Sony were to take the phenomenal 24-megapixel full-frame sensor from Sony's A99, stash it in a point-and-shoot body, and pair it up with a superb 35mm f/2.0 Zeiss lens? In reality, the RX1 is a dream for anyone looking for truly professional-quality images from a camera that can be taken anywhere. While its price keeps the RX1 firmly as an aspirational buy for mere mortals, if you're a camera enthusiast you can't help but love the future that the RX1 promises. (MSRP $2,799.99)

Read our full review of the Sony RX1 here

Runner-up - Fujifilm X100S

While the RX1 represents a future where we may all carry full-frame cameras in our bags, the Fujifilm X100S is the perfect marriage of present and past. Styled after traditional rangefinders with digital filters simulating the look of classic film stocks, the X100S is a paean to retro camera lovers. In pure performance terms, the X100S improved dramatically on the X100—winner of this award last year—with faster autofocus and a superb hybrid viewfinder that follows in the footsteps of rangefinders past. (MSRP $1,299.99)

Read our full review of the Fujifilm X100S here

Best Professional Camera - Canon 1D X

Officially announced back in 2011, finally released in 2012, and continually updated in 2013, the Canon 1D X is the professional camera of choice for many professional news and sports photographers. For those who make their living behind a viewfinder, no camera represents the current ideal of multimedia integration and immediate connectivity than the 1D X; there simply aren't many cameras that can justify having an Ethernet port. When it comes to capturing action, the autofocus control and customization that the 1D X offers simply can't be matched. This is the second year in a row Canon's flagship claims this award, but with firmware updates that continue to enhance the AF control available on the 1D X, it's an easy choice again this year. Canon won a massive part of the news and sports camera market by getting autofocus right in the early 90s, a legacy that the 1D X continues to live up to. (MSRP $6,799.99 body-only)

Read our full review of the Canon EOS-1D X here

Runner-up - Nikon D4

While the 1D X may be our winner as the best camera for the working professional, in truth there is little that elevates it above the Nikon D4. The D4 offers roughly equivalent performance, with an excellent sensor, superb build quality, and some unique video features. We're especially impressed with the performance of the new XQD memory cards that the D4 can take advantage of, and we don't know why every pro DSLR doesn't come with backlit keys. The 1D X's superior autofocus is tough to ignore, but the D4 presents an excellent alternative for Nikon shooters. (MSRP $5,999.95)

Read our full review of the Nikon D4 here

Best Prosumer Camera - Nikon D600

Photokina 2012 saw the launch of two new, relatively affordable full-frame cameras. Competing directly with the $1,899.99 Canon 6D, the 24.3-megapixel Nikon D600 simply offers more bang for your buck. With dual card slots, both headphone and microphone jacks, better dynamic range, and faster shot-to-shot speed, the Nikon D600 is the affordable full-frame camera that we've been waiting years to see. Recently replaced by the nearly identical D610, the Nikon D600 should be available at a bargain. (MSRP $1,899.95)

Read our full review of the Nikon D600 here

Runner-up - Canon EOS 6D

The Canon 6D is by no means a bad camera—in fact, it's an excellent one—but it simply trails in the D600's wake here. The lack of a headphone jack is a puzzling omission from the so-called king of DSLR video and the inclusion of built-in WiFi simply doesn't make up for the loss of features elsewhere. Those invested in Canon's lens system will find the EOS 6D to be an excellent budget-friendly full-frame alternative, but as brand agnostics we have to hand it to the D600 here. (MSRP $1,899.00)

Read our full review of the Canon EOS 6D here

Best High-End DSLR - Canon 70D

While the Canon EOS 70D also lacks a headphone jack—something alternatives from Nikon and Pentax both provide—it does make up for it with a revolutionary new tech, Dual Pixel AF. For the first time providing camcorder-like autofocus capabilities in a DSLR, the 70D delivers on the promise of a do-everything DSLR for consumers. With plenty of manual control, excellent build quality, built-in WiFi, and an excellent AF system, the Canon 70D is an excellent value for those not willing to step up to a full-frame body just yet. (MSRP $1,199.00)

Runner-up - Nikon D7100

The Nikon D7100 goes toe-to-toe with the Canon EOS 70D and comes up just shy of the mark. The D7100's 24.3-megapixel APS-C sensor gives it a slight advantage in low light, its 51-point AF system is much more robust than the 70D's 19-point system, and the inclusion of a drive motor in the body gives it compatibility with dozens of legacy Nikon lenses. That said, the 70D's improved video quality and slick new autofocus capability gave it a slight edge over its rival, though both cameras are worthy additions to any kit. (MSRP $1,199.95)

Read our full review of the Nikon D7100 here

Best Mid-Range DSLR - Pentax K-50

While Canon and Nikon certainly dominate the high-end DSLR game, Pentax has quietly been churning out excellent consumer-grade DSLRs at affordable prices for years. The K-50 is the culmination of those efforts, showing a vast improvement over older affordable Pentax models like the K-r or the K-x. Available in dozens of fetching colors and designs, the K-50 still offers serious performance, excellent control, and is fully weather-sealed—a feature far too many consumers overlook when shopping for a DSLR. (MSRP $699.95)

Read our full review of the Pentax K-50 here

Runner-up - Nikon D5200

One area where the Pentax K-50 does struggle is in video features—it doesn't even have an HDMI jack, something practically every point-and-shoot under the sun now has. The D5200 picks up the slack there with full manual control for video, a microphone jack, and, yes, an HDMI port. The D5200 backs that up with excellent video quality, as well as excellent all-around performance. Nikon has just refreshed this line with the D5300—adding WiFi, GPS, 1080/60p shooting, and a slightly larger screen—but the D5200 should be available as a steal as stocks dwindle. (MSRP $799.95)

Read our full review of the Nikon D5200 here

Best Value DSLR - Sony A58

While entry-level mirrorless cameras are generally more affordable, there are still budget-friendly options for those who prefer traditional DSLRs. The A58 has a 20.1-megapixel sensor, captures shots at up to six frames per second, and features an EVF and a tilting screen. While its initial MSRP was $599.99 with the standard 18-55mm kit lens, you can now find A58 kits for $499.99 everywhere, with prices likely to drop even more. (MSRP $599.99)

Read our full review of the Sony A58 here

Runner-up - Nikon D3200

Buying a DSLR means committing to a lens system, and for those looking at Nikon there's no more affordable option than the D3200. We don't feel the D3200 quite outdoes the A58, but it was an excellent performer in our labs and is an easy camera to learn and grow with. Its MSRP still stands at $699.95 with a kit lens, but the kit can be found almost everywhere at retail for $549.99. (MSRP $699.95)

Read our full review of the Nikon D3200 here

Best High-End Mirrorless Camera

Olympus OM-D E-M1

As we wrote above, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 is simply the best camera that we tested this year. While the sensor still can't quite match up with the (more expensive) full-frame options from Canon and Nikon, it comes close enough for most professionals. What's more, those with older Four Thirds lenses will find drastically improved compatibility with the E-M1 thanks to its integrated phase-detection autofocus. Paired with the weather-sealed body of the E-M1, these larger, more durable Four Thirds lenses can finally come off the shelf. (MSRP $1,499.99 body-only)

Read our full review of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 here

Runner-up - Panasonic GX7

With last year's GH3, Panasonic proved that they could produce an excellent flagship Micro Four Thirds camera that could appeal to professionals. This year, the company is focusing on the design game, with its slick, compact GX7. The GX7 is an expertly crafted camera that manages to fit a hot shoe, EVF, tilting screen, and superb grip in a travel-friendly package. The GX7 may sit in the E-M1's shadow, but it's a spectacular camera and a worthy alternative for Micro Four Thirds shooters looking to save a few hundred dollars. (MSRP $999.99 body-only, $1,099.99 w/ 14-42mm II lens)

Read our full review of the Panasonic GX7 here

Best Mid-Range Mirrorless Camera

Samsung NX300

Samsung's line of NX mirrorless cameras have generally been overlooked in the last few years, despite offering consistently improving performance. The NX300 is the company's best model yet, with superb performance from its 20.3-megapixel APS-C sensor. Unsurprisingly, the smartphone-maker also has outfitted the NX300 with the best touch interface we tested all year. Easily found for less than $700 with a kit lens, the Samsung NX300 is an appealing option thanks to its improved burst shooting, simple and approachable menu system, and access to some of the most underrated prime lenses on the market. (MSRP $749.99)

Read our full review of the Samsung NX300 here

Runner-up - Panasonic GM1

The Panasonic GM1 is one of the most intriguing cameras to come through our labs in recent memory. Though it is just coming to market, the GM1 features an excellent Micro Four Thirds sensor, interchangeable lenses, and a body that is the same size as the so-called best point-and-shoot ever, the Sony RX100 II. Oh, and it costs the same as the RX100 II, with a $749.99 MSRP. While the NX300 narrowly beats it out, there's no better pound-for-pound option in this part of the market than the Panasonic GM1. (MSRP $749.99)

Read our full review of the Panasonic GM1 here

Best Value Mirrorless Camera - Sony NEX-5T

While the advantage of mirrorless cameras is commonly assumed to be more compact bodies and lenses, the lack of a traditional viewfinder and mirror box also lets companies engineer cheaper products that are simpler to manufacture. As a result, mirrorless cameras have been getting cheaper and cheaper. While Sony's NEX-3N and A3000 are both cheaper than the NEX-5T, we feel the 5T's improved performance and video quality is worth stepping up. Given that the 5T is easily found for $549.99 body-only and the price is likely to drop further, it's one of the best values on the market. (MSRP $549.99 body-only)

Read our first impressions review of the Sony NEX-5T here

Runner-up - Fujifilm X-A1

Few associate Fujifilm's superb line of X-series cameras with the word "value." Fuji has built its name as a camera maker in the last two years by producing attractive, well-built bodies that appeal to more advanced shooters. With the X-A1, Fuji has produced a body that looks like the higher-end X-series cameras, but is built of much cheaper stuff. While we aren't fans of that particular trade-off, there's no cheaper way to get into Fuji's excellent X series. At $599.99 with a kit lens, the X-A1 is a bargain buy that's hard to ignore. (MSRP $599.99)

Read our full review of the Fujifilm X-A1 here

Best Prosumer Compact Camera - Ricoh GR

There were several fixed-lens cameras that hit the market this year with DSLR-sized, APS-C image sensors and built-in lenses. Between the Ricoh GR, the Nikon Coolpix A, and the Fujifilm X100S, advanced shooters looking for a compact body with uncompromising image quality had plenty to choose from. With apologies to the excellent X100S and Nikon's A, the Ricoh GR provided the best performance and the most finely-tuned control of the three. That it also costs several hundred dollars less doesn't hurt, either. (MSRP $749.99)

Read our full review of the Ricoh GR here

Runner-up - Fujifilm X100S

While the Ricoh GR outperforms it slightly, the Fujifilm X100S does have one major trump card: its hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder. It costs a pretty penny, but there's no better way to experience the classic feel of shooting with a rangefinder on a modern camera than with the X100S. Add to that the improvements Fuji made in autofocus speed, image quality, and general operation over the X100, and the X100S is hard to pass up. (MSRP $1,299.00)

Read our full review of the Fujifilm X100S here

Best High-End Point-and-Shoot

Sony RX100 II

While the Coolpix A, Ricoh GR, and Fujifilm X100S are all phenomenal fixed-lens cameras, they certainly appeal to seasoned photographers. For those looking for a simpler experience who still want image quality on par with many DSLRs, the RX100 II is the way to go. Following up on the RX100—widely considered one of the best point-and-shoots last year—the RX100 II adds a tilting screen and a hot shoe, while preserving the compact size that made the original such a phenomenal camera.

Read our full review of the Sony RX100 II here

Runner-up - Canon G16

Death, taxes, and Canon's annual G-series update. Some things are truly dependable. Canon's G16 is the latest iteration of the company's long-running series, offering excellent video quality, improved low light performance, and plenty of manual control. The chintzy tunnel-vision viewfinder is firmly in the "better than nothing" category, but the G16 is still one of the best point-and-shoot cameras you can buy. (MSRP $549.99)

Read our full review of the Canon G16 here

Best Mid-Range Point-and-Shoot

Canon S120

When shopping for a point-and-shoot, there isn't an appreciable difference in image quality between cameras under $350. Among 2013 models, the Canon S120 is where performance really begins to improve, thanks to its larger 1/1.7-inch image sensor. With a gorgeous screen, improved operability, and pocketable form factor, the Canon S120 is the best point-and-shoot for those who want great image quality under $500. (MSRP $449.99)

Runner-up - Sony HX50V

Sony's HX50V doesn't quite offer the same level of performance as the higher-end point-and-shoots, but it does manage to fit a 30x optical zoom range into a compact body that easily fits in your jacket pocket. Of course, such a lens requires sacrifices, and Sony makes up the gap with a heavy dose of processing tricks. These aren't great, but if your shots primarily land on Facebook or in small prints, you'll hardly notice the difference, while still enjoying the expansive zoom range. (MSRP $449.99)

Read our full review of the Sony HX50V here

Best Value Point-and-Shoot

Canon 330 HS

While most people these days rely on their smartphones for daily snapshots, there's still plenty of room for a dedicated point-and-shoot. For those on a budget, the WiFi-packing Canon 330 HS represents a great value, with performance that outdoes most smartphones and a 10x optical zoom that no phone will match anytime soon. Though the MSRP currently stands at $179.99, the Canon 330 HS should be available for a steal throughout the rest of 2013. (MSRP $179.99)

Read our full review of the Canon 330 HS here

Runner-up - Sony WX80

The Canon 330 HS is the best performing sub-$200 camera we tested this year, but the Sony WX80 comes close. The WX80 has just a 7x optical zoom, but it has slightly better styling, is a little more compact, and also comes with Wi-Fi. The WX80's street price has dropped to $159.99, and it should also be very affordable throughout the holiday season. (MSRP $169.99)

Read our full review of the Sony WX80 here

Best Superzoom Camera - Canon SX50 HS

The one real advantage of having a smaller image sensor is the ability to produce a large amount of magnification with relatively compact lenses. Superzoom cameras are built on this idea, with the current crop capable of ridiculous 60x optical zooms. The Canon SX50 HS came out last year, but it's still Canon's current model, and we still feel it's the best the category has to offer. The Panasonic FZ70 offered a better zoom range, but with a 50x optical zoom and much better performance, the SX50 HS is still the best superzoom you can buy right now. (MSRP $429.99)

Read our full review of the Canon SX50 HS

Runner-up - Nikon P520

The Nikon P520 was the best superzoom we tested this calendar year, even though it lags behind the SX50 HS in overall performance. Side-by-side there's not much differentiating the P520 from the SX50 as both have a DSLR body style, comfortable grip, flip-out LCD screen, and included EVF. The P520's 42x optical zoom range doesn't quite measure up to the competition, but the overall performance is enough for us to give it the nod here. (MSRP $449.95)

Read our full review of the Nikon P520 here

Best Travel Zoom Camera - Sony HX50V

For those who want a great deal of optical zoom but still want something that is relatively compact, travel zooms are the way to go. The HX50V's 30x zoom covers a great deal of range, with solid image quality, an easy-to-use menu system, and plenty of automatic and creative modes that anyone can enjoy. (MSRP $449.99)

Read our full review of the Sony HX50V here

Runner-up - Canon SX280 HS

Canon's PowerShot line of point-and-shoots aren't always the best in their respective category, but they're almost always well-designed, easy-to-use cameras. The SX280 is no exception, following up on last year's SX260 with a 20x optical zoom and a compact body that easily fits in a jacket pocket. At full zoom the image quality takes a big hit, but the the SX280 is otherwise a good all-around camera. (MSRP $279.99)

Read our full review of the Canon SX280 HS

Best Pocket Camera - Canon S120

As fixed-lens cameras have gotten better, they've almost invariably gotten bigger. The Sony RX100 II, the Nikon Coolpix A, the Ricoh GR: all great fixed-lens cameras, all too big to fit in your pocket. The Canon S120 is a little more svelte than the competition, but still offers great image quality with a bright lens and bigger-than-average image sensor. (MSRP $449.99)

Runner-up - Olympus XZ-10

The Canon S-series established a pretty clear blueprint for a great pocket camera, calling for a telescoping lens, 1/1.7-inch image sensor, and a control ring around front. While the original is still our pick, the Olympus XZ-10 has a lens that is better in low light, with more customizable control that advanced shooters will enjoy. The XZ-10 isn't quite as good as its big brother, the XZ-2, but it holds its own in a competitive category. (MSRP $399.00)

Read our first impressions review of the Olympus XZ-10 here

Best Waterproof Camera

Olympus Tough TG-2

We settled this debate back in June with our 2013 waterproof roundup, looking at all the best waterproof point-and-shoots on the market. The Olympus Tough TG-2 came out on top then and nothing has truly changed in the interim. The TG-2 still offers great all-around image quality, has a bright f/2.0 lens, has a built-in GPS, and is still shockproof, freezeproof, and waterproof to 50 feet. While the image quality in low light certainly isn't on par with a DSLR, the TG-2 would be an excellent point-and-shoot even without its tough credentials. (MSRP $379.00)

Read our full review of the Olympus TG-2

Runner-up - Nikon AW110

Even though the TG-2 retains its throne as the best waterproof camera of 2013, the Nikon AW110 is a perfectly good alternative. The AW110 is just as tough as the TG-2 in everyday use, offers similar image quality, and has a fantastic mapping interface (with points of interest) that is the best use of an in-camera GPS on the market. The TG-2 may take home top honors here, but we wouldn't fault anyone for opting for the Nikon based on personal preference. (MSRP $349.95)

Read our full review of the Nikon AW110 here