Real Photographers Gear of the Year 2009

Every year we get bombarded with product awards from various photography magazines and imaging associations (TIPA, DIWA, EISA, the acronyms keep on rolling!) but what we’re really curious to know is: What products are real photographers, not a judging panel, loving this year? To get the ball rolling we asked four of our expert photographers to pick three products each…

Remember we want to hear from you too – leave a quick comment with your top three products of 2009 :)

Koko BrownKoko Brown
Koko is an up-and-coming Scottish photographer from Edinburgh who has made a splash in the industry and is fast building an excellent reputation for both her photography and her enthusiastic attitude.

Wacom Intuos 4 Medium

Wacom Intuos 4 Graphics Tablet
When it comes to graphics tablets, Wacom are the market leader and I wouldn’t dream of using anything else. In my line of work a tablet is a must, fashion retouching for example requires very precise strokes and the nib of a pen is far superior to a clunky mouse. This tablet certainly seems to have everything; a whopping 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity allowing greater control & a user defined "touch ring" providing intuitive control over zooming, brush size, canvases, scrolling and layer selection! The keys are also customisable to allow you to create application short cuts. The Wacom Intuos 4 can be used for any digital imaging purpose where a mouse just doesn’t cut it. For a truly creative, comfortable editing experience, the pen is mightier than the mouse!

Bowens Ringlite Converter

Bowens Ringlite Converter
This little gem cuts out the need for a separate ring flash and generator! I have used both a dedicated ring flash unit and this, and the results are exactly the same. Don’t get me wrong the dedicated ring flash is slightly more accessible but for just a fraction of the price the Bowens Ringlite convertor is a great option for studio portrait and fashion photographers looking for more creative high end lighting. A good stepping stone from soft boxes and umbrellas, this attaches on to an existing Bowens flash units with ease and won’t weigh down lights. It’s easy to handle, lightweight and really well made! Delivering high end results, such as the double overall shadow around portraits and a lovely round catch light in the eyes.

Lowepro Magnum 650 AW

Lowepro Magnum 650 AW bag
This bag is absolute genius. It just has an insane amount of storage, zips, pulls, pockets, pouches - Lowepro have thought of everything! It’s comfortable to carry thanks to the specially designed vertebral shoulder strap; it’s sturdy and great for stacking other bags and cases on, delivers excellent results on location and can even accommodate your laptop. You can put just about anything in here, your camera, laptop, accessories; you could even get a few flash heads in there as well! The Lowepro Magnum 650 AW is a solid workhorse of a bag and definitely worth the investment. You’ll never need another bag! Read Koko's Lowepro Magnum 650 AW review.

Damien LovegroveDamien Lovegrove
After 14 years as a cameraman and lighting director working for the BBC, Damien burst onto the wedding photography scene in 2000 with an unconventional 'shoot from the hip' approach that soon gained him international acclaim.

Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 Lens

Nikon 14-24mm
The Nikon 14-24mm is widely regarded as the sharpest, optically sound, super wide lens there has ever been. Zoom or prime, it outperforms just about everything else that has ever been made. Praise indeed you might think, well this is not an exaggeration, this lens really does redefine the standards in wide angle optics. The bulbous front element has been designed without compromise to ensure light enters the optic with the minimum of scattering. You can’t attach filters to the front of the lens and it is heavy, but those drawbacks are a small price to pay for the phenomenal optical excellence.

Honl Speedstrap & Colour Correction Filter Kit

Honl speed stap gels
These two accessories have given my photography the best value for money boost this year. The impact the CTO filter and 1/2 CTB filters (both included in the colour correction filter kit) have had on my pictures never fails to impress. Combining a CTO gel on the Speedlight with an in-camera white balance setting of 3200K (or tungsten) has allowed the areas of my pictures lit by daylight to turn blue. The Speed Strap can be attached or removed from any Speedlight quickly and easily without leaving a sticky mess and now has earned a permanent place in my camera bag. Read Damien's review of the Honl Flasgun Accessory Kit.

Billingham 555 Camera Bag

Billingham 555
For over 10 years now my trusty Billingham 545 camera bag has accompanied me on every shoot. It has carried my cameras to over 350 weddings, 200 street photography workshops and 1000s of portrait shoots. Only now is it beginning to sag with the extra loads I carry. My latest kit includes Pocket Wizards, 3 Speedlights and 3 lenses so If like me you are carrying that bit of extra kit go for the slightly bigger 555 bag. It will last you a lifetime, is waterproof and looks fantastic too.

Steve AvesSteve Aves
Steve's expertise is in studio flash equipment. Having sold flash equipment for every kind of photography to social photographers, commercial studios and education, Steve is now running seminars and reviewing lighting equipment.

Bowens Gemini R 500

Bowens Gemini R 500
Bowens embarked on an ambitious project to redesign their entire range in 2009 & not only did they accomplish this, but they have really upped their game; combining quality and superb performance across the board. The Gemini R type 500 is a great head that anyone can use. It’s well designed, well built and has a layout of dials and switches that anyone can understand. That 500j power is still the best in my opinion, allowing the user top & bottom end versatility from 15 to 500j. Its best features are precise power calibration in tenths of stops, cordless triggering using the Pulsar card system and compatibility with Bowens new Travel Pak. Read Steve's Bowens Gemini R review.

WexPro Mini Umbrella Flash Bracket Kit

Wexpro Mini Umbrella Flash Bracket Kit
An accessory that caught my eye was the WEX Pro Mini Umbrella Flash Bracket Kit. This is a great lightweight kit that you can take with you and use anywhere. You can shoot inside or on location controlling the light either on camera, or using studio flash. The kit comes with a neat bracket that fits onto any stand and two brollies. The tilt bracket is well made and has a ratchet that ensures stability when shooting. The brollies that come with the kit, a 50cm translucent and a white reflective are both superb for controlling and softening the light. Use this kit to shoot with natural light by a window, or front on for a main light.

WexPro Multi Purpose Clamp & Clamp with Spigot

wexpro clamp
At first glance it doesn’t look much, but believe me the WEX Pro Multi Purpose Clamp is well worth having in your kit bag. It has so many uses I don’t know where to start! I’ve used it to hold pieces of background paper, fabric, models hair, gel filters, barn doors on reflectors – you name it, the Multi Purpose Clamp clamps it! I know I’m cheating a bit because I was only allowed three items, but I have to mention the Multi Purpose Clamp with Spigot, the same thing, but with a standard spigot that fits a flash head. This version lets you hold a small flash head onto a chair, ladder, stairs, and is a real bonus when you can’t squeeze a studio stand into the shooting area. So whichever version you buy I can assure you that you’ll find many uses for it!

Rob SprayRob Spray
Rob is an enthusiastic diver who was drawn to photography to share what he saw. As well as tropical sights he specialises in native marine wildlife.

Micro Four Thirds - Olympus and Panasonic

Micro Four Thirds
If I had Botox every time someone told me they wanted a better camera but wouldn't carry an SLR I'd look like Pete Burns by now. Micro Four Thirds seems like such a home run that it's a wonder it has taken so long. That it should be executed so well by both companies is a testament to how long it has been under consideration. The combination of retro styling, compatibility with the lenses of all nations engineered from the start and the best realised video modes for interchangeable lens cameras leaves only two questions... when will the dive housings arrive? ...and whether to get the Olympus EP-1 or Panasonic GF1?

Canon PowerShot D10

Canon Powershot D10
I've been a fan of tough, waterproof cameras for years. Our Olympus Mju 770 has proved totally indestructible whether it has been out in the snow, diving, rock pooling or in horrendous rain. Competition improves the breed and it's been great to see Canon's take on this niche. The PowerShot D10 is a fun camera in the best sense: simple and enjoyable but producing great results. It shouts about its credentials, and unlike my Mju it looks out of place at grown up parties but is just right for letting your hair down... and getting it soaking wet! Read Rob's Canon PowerShot D10 review

Olympus UFL-2 Strobe

Olympus UFL-2 strobe
Underwater flashes (strobes to divers) are a minefield which confuses many marine photographers. On land you can buy dedicated flashes which will talk to your camera but most divers have to make do with basic TTL or even plain manual. Housing a land flash gives you back some control at the cost of bulk but Olympus have bitten the bullet and actually made a strobe with a full land feature set. As well as complete control the UFL-2 includes wireless control which is a godsend underwater... It's been overdue, here's hoping it’s the first of many.

What's your Gear of the Year?

It’s time to step-up to the soapbox and share your 3 nominations for the Gear of the Year with fellow photographers. It can be anything: From gear you own & depend on everyday to something you’ve read about & love the concept. Go ahead!