Park Picks 2017
It is awards season, so we thought that if everybody else gets to say what their favourite things of the past year were, why shouldn't we?
So here we are, welcome to the inaugural Park Picks - where we have collaborated to pick out our favourite equipment to have hit the shelves in the year just gone by.
Picture this, a collective of Park Cameras employee's locked away in an office surrounded by pictures, graph charts and a whiteboard throwing out a load of different product names and arguing over the values of Dual-Pixel CMOS AF vs 4K Photo vs 3D Focus. It really has been quite the geek-fest, and we've loved it.
Locked away in the safest of safes until now was our list of winners and highly commended products - with 4 very special products taking home their 'Best Product of 2016' awards - and subsequent items being heralded within their respective product lines.
We hope you enjoy our selection below, and feel free to give a shout-out to your personal favourites by contacting us through one of our various social media mediums - Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Best Product of 2016
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV was always going to be a difficult release for Canon, with the 5D Mark III filling so many photographer's kit-bags and being such a fantastic all-rounder for images and video. With great power comes great responsibility, and Canon didn't disappoint by first replacing the sensor with an all new, and exceptional, 30.4MP sensor and combining that with the image processor as found in the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II (a.k.a. Park Picks Winner of Pro DSLR). The newly introduced technologies have brought a host of refinements that matches 'modern' expectation, but ultimately are what makes this camera a much better 5D Mark III - which is the goal right? A touch screen LCD screen is really nice and intuitive for focusing during video, menu navigation and image playback. The internal wireless connections allow for seamless connection to the Canon EOS Connect app for image transfer and live view from your smartphone, and the 4K video - albeit cropping some of the sensor - is up to modern standards. This is the perfect next iteration for the Canon 5D range - and is why it deservedly stands atop the podium for Best Product of 2016 in Park Picks.
Highly Commended Product of 2016
Best Pro DSLR
Canon EOS-1DX Mark II
It was a hard choice between this and the Canon 5D Mark IV when it came to Product of the Year, and there wasn't a great deal in it. Canon ushered in 2016 in spectacular fashion by upgrading their flagship DSLR camera - a welcome sight to wildlife photographers and sporting snappers on their way to Rio for the Olympics. The use of a CFast slot enables users to make the most of the integrated 4K video, from which stills can be grabbed, but more importantly could offer impressive write speeds for the hugely impressive 14fps capture in continuous mode. Dual image processors and a 20.2MP sensor work alongside class topping autofocus capabilities to make this perform to the maximum. Holding down the shutter button on this camera feels like you are harnessing the power of a Nordic camera god, and the razor sharp image quality will enlist you amongst these camera deities.
Highly Commended Pro DSLR
Best Mid-Range DSLR
Nikon joined other camera manufacturers in holding a new product party in the year of 2016. Making it a new gear rich year, and making our job as Park Picks adjudicators much harder, but much more exciting. The D500 headed up that party, joining it's excellent bigger brother the Nikon D5 in a surprise unveiling at CES 2016 catching the world of photography by surprise. To stand out as the greater camera of the two launches, when one is the flagship model, is no mean feat. The APS-C sensor touting D500 packs in touch screen, 4K video, a huge 153 AF points and wireless connectivity to name but a few of its standout features. For a camera of this class it is a market leader, its low light performance has been heralded by many, and should lead the line for a couple more years yet.
Highly Commended Mid-Range DSLR
Best Entry DSLR Kit
Canon EOS 1300D + 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II
Canon overhauled their range across pretty much every category across 2016, many of whom you will have seen in Park Picks already. Their entry-level DSLRs have adorned the hands of many a beginner photographer over the years, and the 1300D will now rightly join those ranks and make not only better photographers of many people, but make lifelong Canon fans along the way too. The 1300D is a great choice for those wanting to start out - with a range of suitable features to assist those wanting to learn all about photography. Combined with the EF-S 18-55mm IS II lens to give users a varied focal range to learn all about what different focal lengths can achieve. Add in wireless technology for getting your DSLR quality images on to the social media platform of your choice's feed/wall/timeline all at a more than reasonable price, this is a more than capable suitor for welcoming you to the world of DSLR photography - and a rightful winner.
Highly Commended Entry DSLR Kit
Best Mirrorless Camera
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
I think it is fair to say that the E-M1 Mark II took a fair few people by surprise when it was announced as a development product at Photokina 2016. A high-end mirrorless camera with punchy autofocus and continuous shooting capabilities opening up a viable wildlife and sports camera with a micro four-thirds sensor (as discussed in our blog where we were bold enough to call it a game-changer), it sounded almost too good to be true. Lo and behold, now it has launched it has become a wildly popular choice for Park Cameras customers, and is the perfect complement for the Olympus 300mm PRO lens to grab far-away fast-moving action. Battery life and camera build are also laudable - with the manufacturers of the Tough range of action cameras adopting some of those double-hard capabilities within this model.
Highly Commended Mirrorless Camera
Best Compact Camera
Sony RX10 Mark III
Although it has a whole extra I at the end of its product name, this camera was released to sit alongside the already popular Sony RX10 II. The main difference between the two being that the excellent ZEISS designed optics had a significant boost to now have an optical zoom of 25x, making this capable of an equivalent focal range of 24mm-600mm. Going from the verges of ultra-wide to super telephoto at the flick of a button, with a max aperture range of f/2.4-4 requires some very impressive optical and technical brains - and image quality is enhanced by the 1.0-inch sensor held within. 4K video recording, super slow-mo at 1000fps, OLED EVF and high speed autofocus all make this a compact camera with a ridiculously high spec - and would sit at the list of most people's recommendations when offering you that all-rounder that will be able to perform in any environment. It is an ideal travel camera too, with that amazing focal range being able to grab all sorts of shots.
Highly Commended Compact Camera
Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 Asph.
This lens is the brainchild from two photographic powerhouses who regularly combine to create great optics, and is a welcome addition the micro-four thirds lens world short of long telephoto focal lengths. Whilst it is a large lens for this class, it has to be so that it can offer its 200-800mm equivalent focal length - owing to the 2x crop factor of MFT cameras. Fast and silent AF along with strong optical quality make this a perfect combination with one of Panasonic's Lumix G cameras capable of 4K for shooting ultra high-definition video. It has opened up a whole new focal length to Panasonic and Olympus' range of mirrorless cameras which is exactly why this lens is part of Park Picks - we like innovation and a lens that can push the boundaries out what is currently possible is a deserved victor.
Highly Commended Lens
Best Action Camera
GoPro Hero5 Black
Like many of the cameras that we talk about throughout the year, the GoPro Hero5 was an iterative upgrade on an already popular little action camera. This was announced alongside the Hero5 Session and the soon to be re-released GoPro Karma Drone - with which it is compatible, and from which came the exceptionally popular GoPro Karma Grip stabiliser for lovely steady video from your Hero5. Improvements on the predecessor, and the things that help make it a Park Pick, are that it is waterproof up to 10m without extra casing, has rather delightful voice controls for image and video controls and an improvement in image capture to include RAW file output. The Hero5 ensured that GoPro is still the go to brand for Action Cameras.
Highly Commended Action Camera
DJI Mavic Pro
The first thing that strikes you about the DJI Mavic Pro, and this is of course by design, is the size - assisted by the fact that much of it is foldable, it is the ultimate transformer toy for adults. The form isn't the only amazing thing about the Mavic, although it genuinely can just be chucked in a bag alongside the also foldable remote control. It has a 40 mph top speed, a camera capable of both 4K video and 12MP Raw images and a 27 minute flying time all enhanced by the smartphone app from DJI which lets you combine with the remote control for live view of the Mavic's camera. Many of the specs are shared with the superb DJI Phantom 4 drone which preceded its release by just a few months, but ultimately what it boils down to is that this drone is absolutely tiny for the power that it packs and is a worthy Park Picks winner!
Highly Commended Drone
This professional camcorder could certainly win an award for sheer number of function buttons alone, but of course it holds a whole lot of clever technology that helps it to win this one instead. The form factor is one of the standout features, because it is small in size but huge in functionality - all built around a Super 35 Exmor CMOS sensor (the same as held in the bigger brother of the family, the Sony FS7). Capturing 4K at 100Mbps and capable of 240fps super slow motion in Full HD, this can handle top quality output, and the electronically controlled ND filter makes it a strong performer in challenging lighting conditions. It is fully compatible with Sony a-Mount lenses, meaning there is a huge selection of top quality glass on offer.
Highly Commended Video
Manfrotto Pro Light RedBee 210
One of the best parts of being a photographer is being able to have an endless supply of products to enhance your kit bag, one of which is funnily enough a kit bag itself. The Manfrotto RedBee 210 is more than just a backpack, it is like strapping the camera world equivalent of Pandora's Box on to your shoulders. It really is deceptively capable of containing a whole lot of camera gear, in not a particularly large footprint (or backprint?), It can hold two camera bodies, one with a 400mm lens, one with a standard zoom lens attached. Not to mention the fact that on top of that you can fit an extra lens or two in there, a flashgun and a boatload of other accessories. The cherry on top of the icing on the cake is that there is still room for a laptop or tablet device. Oh, and a front tripod connection and a rain cover to protect this veritable feast of goodies from getting ruined by water damage, because that'd be terrible and terribly expensive. Best of all is it won't break the bank, and for all these reasons is why we chose it as our Park Picks Best Bag.
Highly Commended Bag
Manfrotto BeFree Live
The Manfrotto BeFree Live tripod is the combination of two excellently capable products in the form of some compact yet durable aluminium legs sitting below the highly lauded MVH400AH Live Fluid Head - which is the lightest and smallest of video heads manufactured by Manfrotto. It is the ideal choice for a travel videographer where size is truly important, with mighty mouse strength capabilities in the head - where its weight of 0.4kg can handle a 4kg payload. When attached to the legs it comes in at a respectable 1.8kg and can shrink down to just 41cm, or as we like to think of it - one school ruler with an extra 11cm on top.
Highly Commended Tripod
Lee Super Stopper
The Lee Filters Big Stopper could boast a very impressive 10-stop light reduction assisting with long exposure photography for many a photographer wanting to explore their creative side with landscape photos. Along came the Super Stopper to push the limits of long exposures, and enable light reduction to a phenomenal 15 stops - meaning you could achieve this type of shot in brightly sunlit conditions. Turning a 1/1000sec shutter speed into 30 seconds, and for the most patient of photographer a 2 second one into an astounding 17 hours and 4 minutes... It's only a matter of time until, in the style of a Gillette razor, they come out with the Lee Ultimate Stopper capable of 20 stops, but until that time we're basking in the glory of the creativity that can be achieved with this fantastic accessory.
Highly Commended Accessory
Most Innovative Product of 2016
DJI Osmo Mobile
This is a real doozy as we are working in an industry where innovation is central to the majority of new products that are released, just in order to keep up with the Joneses - which is where the winning product of this category has managed to stand out - by keeping up with the Jetsons instead. Bursting on to the scene with their exceptional range of drones for aerial videography, the bods at DJI realised that they had harnessed some pretty spectacular stabilisation technology and that it didn't have to be adopted just within their drones. Joining the Ronin family of steadicams came the DJI Osmo which included their own camera technology for creating some lovely stable cinematic output. Not content at offering their own image capture technology, they then rebuilt the Osmo for the smartphone generation, combining the Osmo Mobile with the DJI go app and a smartphone to make that cinematic video recording possible from the latest iPhone or Android devices. When we first set our sights on the DJI Osmo Mobile the first feature that made us do a little gasp of excitement was the tracking element, with DJI's own marketing material making it look like an absolutely fantastic option for bloggers - which it is. It is that excitement that makes this product the winner for 'Most Innovative of the Year' in our Park Picks.