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| Tom Weijand

The Luxury that is Photography: A Review of the Best of 2022

Ask yourself, if the house were on fire, what would you save? Assuming all my loved ones were safe, I’d grab my computer. There are many things I’d be sad to lose, but my computer is the repository and vault that keeps all my memories. In actual fact, my computer is thoroughly backed up, both on site and in the cloud, but metaphorically, the answer goes to the fact that my lifetime of photos is functionally my most valued possession. I’ve always loved the process and technology, as well as the art of photography and videography. But as my collection grows, cataloguing the events of my life, it’s become more and more about a treasury of memories, and to put it succinctly, better photos make for better memories. So here are my picks of the best items for 2022 to help you make better memories. So go buy this stuff now, your future self will thank you profusely for it.

 

Sony A7 IV. (Sony A7 IV)

The world of cameras used to be a two-horse race. Plain and simple it was Nikon and Canon, and anyone else was a quirky also-ran. And so in 2010, I researched and I tried them both and I picked Nikon. I bought my first DSLR, and was hooked, on cameras, and on Nikon. Nikon and Canon were optics companies, they dealt with the manipulation and capture of light, first on film, then on an electronic sensor. And then something game-changing happened to cameras. In an effort to shrink these cumbersome devices down, a new kind of camera was born, one that stripped out the bulky prism and the mechanical mirror that accompanied it. This had the effect of removing around 30% of the mass of a camera and removing the optical component (sort of) from its focusing. These new ‘mirrorless’ cameras focused by reading the live image off the sensor. In an instant, these cameras went from being pieces of high-end optics, to being pieces of high-end technology, and this opened the door for a company that was a definite ‘also-ran’ to stampede past its two rivals. That company was of course Sony, and what they lacked as an optics company, they more than made up for on the cutting edge of electronics. Within a few years, their pioneering mirrorless cameras leapt ahead. They were inventive, fast, powerful, accurate and reliable whereas Canon and Nikon looked hackneyed, trotting out iterations of their previous generations that fell more and more behind. Though a couple of years ago, they too jumped on the mirrorless bandwagon, and have had to scramble to catch up. A few months ago, Nikon released their new flagship camera, the Z9, and it is stunning. It can shoot glorious quality 46 megapixel images at up to 30 frames per second, increasable to a barely believable 120 frames per second if you’ll tolerate a drop in resolution. It’s the most successful, anticipated, desired and impressive camera in the world at the moment, and if you want one you should order it now, because Nikon can’t make them fast enough. So why when choosing to upgrade, did I opt for the equally new Sony A7 IV? Well in short, the Nikon Z9 is way more than I need, wrapped up in a package that’s way bigger than I want. If you’re a pro, or fancy yourself one, get in line for the Nikon, for everyone else the Sony is less than half the size and weight, and probably still enough camera to hold me for the next decade. Let me tell you why you should want one.

To begin with, I borrowed one to review it, and was so stunned by it, that I decided to buy one for myself. So popular and in demand was it, it took me nearly 5 months to get one. But now it’s here…

The Sony A7 IV is a hybrid 33 megapixel full frame camera, in terms of the intersection of power, speed, usability, photo and video quality and bang-for-your-buck, I think it’s the best camera in the world. Let’s unpack that. Before you tell me how many megapixels your iPhone has and what great photos it takes, it’s not really about megapixels when you’re comparing such disparate devices. An iPhone’s sensor is between 24 and 72 times smaller than this full frame camera. So whilst mobile phones can take some great pictures, they’re mostly achieved by digital trickery, and demand ideal conditions.  The vast Sony sensor guzzles light, and is so good at it, you can increase the sensitivity of the sensor to remarkably high ISOs and get incredibly clean images. In practice, this means that when paired with a fast lens, (one that has a large aperture to let in as much light as possible) you can shoot beautiful photos in low light, and in almost no light at all. This camera can’t quite see in the dark, but it’s close. Now the ‘party-trick’ that catapulted Sony to the head of the pack is its remarkable ability to autofocus. The one drawback about my DSLR over the last decade is you needed a little skill to operate it. All that has changed with Eye Autofocus. Click the camera into ‘always on’ eye autofocus mode, and the camera will grab and stick to a human eye, keeping it in focus, no matter how the subject tries to squirm away. Most of the pictures I’ve binned over the last decade have been because they were out of focus. This is a thing of the past. The system is crazy fast, and reliably tracks even the fastest moving athletes, or sugar-fuelled toddler, meaning 99% of my photos of this moving blur of destruction are tack sharp. (It utilizes a mind-boggling combination of 759 phase and contrast detection autofocus points, and it’ll do all this at 10 frames per second too.) The camera’s clever, as this new iteration of the Alpha series tracks birds and animal eyes with equally reliable fastidiousness. And if you suddenly want to track something else, just tap it on the touch screen. 

Sony have also brought their newest ergonomics and software experience to the A7 IV. All the tech in the world is useless if it takes too long to turn it on and navigate the menus to change a setting. Previous software versions have been needlessly complex and what seemed like intentionally unhelpful and unintuitive. Thankfully, that’s gone too, and their new UI has a vastly improved layout that’s a joy to use, it’s fast and with great customisation; there are buttons and dials on the camera that can be set to control whatever takes your fancy, and bucket loads of settings can be set in the memory and instantly recalled for shooting sports, landscapes or other scenes that require vastly different settings. 

But the A7 IV is a hybrid camera, which means it’s videography powers are as impressive as its still images. The camera oversamples the full 7K sensor width to produce a vibrant, rich, clean and sharp 4k image (at 30fps) and will also do 4k at 60fps with a small image crop. The data rate the camera can record in at 4K resolution is so high, it beggars what comes down the pipe from Netflix. Netflix delivers 4K in anything from 1.8 to 17 Mbits per second, the Sony records at up to 600 Mbits per second. It sucks in light and records such a very lot of it. In fact it would fill a CD every 8 seconds and a DVD every minute. It also records in 10 bit 4:2:2, so those who want to tinker with colours after the fact will find there’s plenty of headroom.

The touchscreen flips out and rotates, so you can angle it more helpfully for shooting, or for the vloggers who want to film themselves, it can be swung out to face forwards. It can also be connected to a computer (and will charge like this) and be used as an incredibly sharp webcam, without any additional software. It has dual memory card slots for redundancy, (one of which takes the new CF Express type A), and a full-size HDMI port. The camera has built-in 5 axis optical image stabilisation, which reduces movement from impacting the sharpness of a still photo in low-light, or the juddering movements in video. 

Naturally it’s got Bluetooth and 2.4 and 5ghz WIFI connections, which means it can be invisibly offloading all your footage in the background whilst you’re shooting.  You can take a hundred photos at home, and they fly off the camera to your computer wirelessly almost as fast as you can shoot.

To wrap up. This is a remarkable device. The second you point it at people or animals, it grabs an eye, and hangs on to it like an obsessed rottweiler. This camera dramatically elevates the quality of your photos, turning every picture of a person into a portrait, every casual landscape into a tableau, and every rapid moving moment into a perfect frozen memory. They say the best camera is the one you have with you, but I don’t want all my pictures to be casual iPhone snaps. They have their place, but the Sony A7 IV with its aperture closed down to its smallest pin-prick, captures more light than the iPhone’s tiny lens and tiny sensor can when cranked as wide open as they’ll go. 

But with the semiconductor shortage, getting hold of them is tricky. I couldn’t find an A7 IV anywhere, but thanks to the joys of the internet, every camera shop is your new local camera shop. I finally found one tucked away at one of Camera Centre UK’s branches, and they seem to have an unusually direct pipeline to the source, and were so knowledgeable and helpful. They have them in stock now, when even Sony doesn’t have them in stock. They also do a great trade-in program, so all your old gear can be put towards an A7 IV, (or a Nikon Z9 if you’re feeling flush.)

Sony A7 IV here and Nikon Z9 here.

 

Samyang 24mm 1.8 (Samyang)

This is rather a special wide-angle lens. I love fast primes (a fixed focal length lens, with no zoom) because the quality of the photo they achieve is second to none. Stripping out the zooming mechanics yields a lens that’s much smaller and lighter, and the smaller and lighter it is, the more likely you are to have it with you. Couple this to its superlative image quality, and this is why this lens lives on my camera. It’s a 1.8 aperture lens, which means this lens gathers and directs an incredible amount of light for the camera sensor. Wide open, it provides that wonderful portrait look, where the objects in front and behind your focus point become gradually blurry. The Samyang 24mm yields very pleasing bokeh (the visual quality of the out of focus areas of a photo) and razor-like planes of focus that fade gradually and smoothly. I’m also rather partial to the fetching red stripe that just happens to match the red Sony stripe too. 

Now, to brass tacks. In a prime lens, we care about image quality, focusing speed and quietness (very important for video). The Samyang employs a new STM (Stepping motor) and the lens is quick and silent to move focusing points from even the two extremes. If you haven’t seen what modern lenses can do in terms of speed of focus and the silence in which they do it, it’s really something: In the Samyang, it happens in the blink of an eye and there’s just no hunting for focus. It goes from one perfectly in-focus object to another perfectly in-focus object in a completely different plane without overshooting and correcting. This holds true for tracking as well, and the interplay between lens and camera is pivotal. There’s great harmony between the Sony and the Samyang, the lens allows the reliable and speedy grabbing of an eyeball by the camera, and then those quiet clever motors track subjects flawlessly. It grabbed and stuck to my toddler’s eyeball and followed him relentlessly around the frame. I fired off 25 or so shots in a couple of seconds and was able to select the exact one I wanted, at precisely the moment his foot contacted the ball and his face registered it. Even as he thundered towards me, eyes on the ball, each of the 25 frames was perfectly sharp. This lens really just gets out of the way of your photographs and means the limits on your images are no longer the equipment. Similarly for video of the same scene, the focus just followed him around the frame unfazed, and watching the video back later, you don’t even notice the focusing happening, it’s just always dead-on, even wide open. Really impressive.

The 24mm is part of Samyang’s new wave of Sony releases, hot off the press so to speak, and this generation is a quantum leap over the previous. They’ve paid attention to the optical quality, and pixel-peepers who want to compare it to other lenses in the most demanding conditions (wide-open, flooding the sensor with light), and then judging edge and corner sharpness will find it sharper, brighter, lighter, and cheaper than the Sigma lens, and all but indistinguishable from the Sony GM lens which is twice the weight and 3 times the price. 

And this is before we get to the new Samyang’s party piece. It’s been given a special Astro-photography mode, which sets the lens to the optimal star-shooting conditions, and automatically locks focus on infinity, (and an indicator light shines to confirm lock). Now you may not have ever taken a photograph of the stars, I hadn’t, but this lens begs you to, and once you see what’s achievable, you’ll be hooked. Even as a backdrop to any other photo, there’s something amazing and awe-inspiring about having a starscape in your photos. 

Samyang have come up with an incredibly impressive lens, a really stellar (pun very much intended) performer at an aggressively competitive price. 

 

Leofoto Mr Q (Leofoto)

If you’re going to shoot the stars, you’re going to need a tripod. In fact, a camera like this Sony, allows you to do so much, it sort of should be sold with a tripod. The photos are so good, you’ll want a portrait, a landscape, a starscape or perhaps some timelapse. The videos are so good, you’ll want to leave it statically recording a scene, or a kid’s football game, and just pan around the action. For the best tripod of 2022, I picked Leofoto’s new range, the Mr Q series. Now there are three big brands when we’re talking about premium tripods, and I mean the absolute best you can buy. Leofoto is the new arrival into that top three, and it’s done it by offering a product that bristles with innovation, is constructed out of the most bleeding edge calibre carbon fibre, and that is structurally solid and dependable at a price so competitive it’ll make you double-take the sticker. Oh, and Leofoto’s so confident in their product, they back it up with a ten-year warranty. Let’s unpack all that.

Let’s start with the build quality. This is one of those products that’s a joy to hold. Tripods live and die by the calibre of their carbon, and the precision and finish of their CNC machined 7075 aluminium, particularly the head. In both cases, this Mr Q is the best I’ve seen, and I find my fingers drawn to touching it all the time, such is the tactile satisfaction and quality. The carbon fibre is the latest generation (3rd gen) weave, and a definite step up over the already impressive diamond weave that still adorns other brand’s flagship products. All this results in a ridiculously light package, 1.2 Kilos for a full-sized tripod, (anything under 1.4 kilos is considered ‘light’). So this clears the bar with room to spare, and in fact tends to sit atop any list of featherweight supports. The first thing that drew me to Leofoto’s Mr Q, was its stability. A hallmark of premium tripods is their ability to resist wind and remain rock-steady. It’s not just about needing steadiness for sublime shots, but with thousands of pounds balancing metres off the ground, a spill can be terribly costly. The Leofoto combines the ‘never-the-twain-shall-meet’ twin duties of steadiness and light-weight that is testament to its design and materials. It’s hard to get big scores in both, but the Leofoto is quite simply outstanding. And of course, we come back to ‘the lighter it is, the more likely you are to have it with you.’. 

I’ve developed a bit of a penchant for light painting, (which is setting your shutter for exposures around 30 seconds long, a small aperture, and some form of light moving through the frame, check out my favourite artist, Michael Bosanko). What you get is an image or words, written in light, floating in the air. And if you keep moving, your body is never stationary long enough to register on the image, so you’re effectively invisible. Beautiful tableaus can be painted, you can shine a spotlight on a single item that seems to come from nowhere, it’s so versatile and interesting, and just fascinating that this can be done in camera without effects. What it requires is a rocksteady platform, even the slightest vibration at that exposure length can create a blurry image. Suffice it to say, the Leofoto seems to be an immovable object. 

Finally, innovation. Here we get to talk about centre columns, and this can divide the room. Some love them, some despise them, I don’t really have a foot in either camp, and thankfully I don’t need to with Mr Q. Its innovative quick detaching centre column allows you to install or remove it (without tools) with a simple release button, and it lifts right out. Leofoto has been good enough to supply you with a centre platform if you don’t want to use the full-size centre column, which is jolly sporting of them. There are both ¼” and ⅜” threaded accessory sockets for mounting gadgets and doohickies, which is wonderful. 

Penultimately, the quick lock/release mechanism of the legs, is a rapid and smooth quarter turn that again just screams premium construction and components. You can do it one-handed, and all three sections at once, so the tripod goes up and down very promptly. It has a working height from 160mm to nearly 1600mm, and will support up to 10 Kilos. The icing on the cake is a frankly luxurious and smart carrying case. As I say, this is my choice for tripod of 2022, and is so good I feel it should be a compulsory purchase with a camera of any quality.

 

Rode VideoMic NTG (RØDE)

If you know one name in microphones, it’s probably Rode, or RØDE as the branding goes. There’s a lot to like about this plucky Australian company, I say ‘plucky’ like they’re an upstart, they’re not, they’re 55 years old and predominant in the market, but there’s something about them that I love that never makes them feel like a soul-less mega corporation. They still seem like a family industry tilting at giants when in fact they are the giant. They released the first VideoMic in 2004, a microphone that sat on top of digital cameras. It did very well, but really exploded later in the decade with the launch of the Canon 5D MK II. This was really the first ‘photo’ camera that did video well enough to change the marketplace. In fact it did it so well, that it was famously used for episodes of House, and cinematic films. With quality like this at your fingertips, creators swarmed to the VideoMic, seeking a commensurate quality audio device, and the VideoMic delivered in spades. It was remarkable, suddenly you could get cinematic video and sound from this tiny package, and uber quality content creation became accessible to everyone, precipitating the explosion of YouTube amongst many other things. The VideoMic NTG, is the latest incarnation (and this one carries the NTG moniker, indicating its premium standing), and like its forebear, it sits happily atop your camera. I was ready and expecting to be impressed by it, I’d read a lot of superlatives about it, so I thought my expectations may have been unachievably high, but the microphone topped them all: It brings broadcast quality to the palm of your hand. It’s a supercardioid shotgun microphone, which means it picks up what you point it at, and disregards other noise. It does this with immense precision and incredible sensitivity, and can be connected directly to your camera, your smartphone, or your computer through its combinations of 3.5mm and USB-C ports. It’ll also go into an XLR port for professionals, without complaint and transmit HQ audio wherever you want it. It’s tiny and light, weighing 94 grams, and featuring a built in 30-hour plus rechargeable battery. It’s got pads, and filters built in to reduce and cut certain frequencies so you can tinker with your output right on the microphone, and you can monitor your output directly from the 3.5mm output too. So what does this mean?

Well, there were a couple of experiments done to see how important picture quality and sound quality was to an audience and the results were surprising. What they showed was that audiences were more tolerant of a poorer picture quality than poorer sound quality. It also demonstrated quite unexpectedly that a film shown without a picture was more enjoyed, than a film shown without sound. All this suggests that sound is more important to video than the picture. Secondly, they played some Science Friday interviews to audiences, and downwardly adjusted the quality of the audio. The subjects who listened to the lower quality audio had a harder time following the arguments, understanding the points, and overall found the speaker to be less knowledgeable and persuasive (and trustworthy!) than when the audio was played at high quality. In short, better sound impacts the enjoyment of your videos more than the picture quality does, AND it makes a person sound more impressive, knowledgeable, trustworthy, and intelligent. The VideoMic NTG is the best microphone I’ve ever used. It’s wildly powerful, sensitive, and produces beautiful clean audio. My voice sounds rich and rounder, and we all need all the leg-up help we can get to sound smarter. If you’ve ever despaired after hearing yourself on a video, and asked ‘is that really how I sound?’ well the VideoMic NTG makes you sound like you think you sound in your head. It’s a master of all trades, pressed into service on a camera, or a tripod at home to try and inject a few extra IQ points into Zoom calls and meetings. In fact, for these purposes, the VideoMic NTG is the in-person equivalent of a warm smile, firm handshake, and sharp suit, it just makes everything you say sound better. Perhaps of all the items on this list, this is the most impressive. It’s a staple in my bag, and I never leave home without it.

Manfrotto Pro Light Multiloader. (Manfrotto)

When I do leave the house, this is what I pack everything into. Manfrotto is a household name in photography, and they’ve bought their decades of knowledge to this new Pro-bag from their premium stable, and my God is this thing packed to the rafters with features. Now the thing about bags, is they must make hauling around your many thousands of pounds worth of gear, both comfortable and safe, and ideally without screaming that there’s several thousands of pounds worth of gear inside. This is why I picked the Manfrotto, I think it looks stylish, and slightly techy, without advertising too loudly. I leave the ‘stylish’ adjective to your own good taste and judgement, but in terms of its techy credentials, stay right there. 

The modular internal dividers comprise their M-Guard protection system. They’re made from high density EVA foam, so provide bulwark protection in a featherweight package, and can be configured to fit whatever you want to carry. In fact the whole bag is deceptively flyweight; it looks sturdy and solid, but feels feathery in hand. The bag is awash with expensive fabrics, it’s built out of a water-repellent ripstop nylon/polyester selected for its strength and lightness, and has SAS-TEC padded armour inserts (yup) on the base to protect the bag and gear, and every flap, buckle, seam and stress/friction point is Hypalon reinforced. To cap it off, all the hardware is Duraflex or YKK, the only names to trust in such things. And the brilliance of the design is something that is only arrived at through generations of iterative improvement: The bag can be worn as a backpack, single-strapped as a sling or carried as a duffle. There’s a separate easy access laptop pocket running vertically that swallowed my MacBook Pro with alacrity, and there’s even a built in TSA approved padlock and steel-wire to wire lock the main compartment. Naturally, like the carry straps, this all tucks away to be invisible when not needed. There are four different ways to access your gear, yes you read that right, through their ingenious zipper routings, making your gear accessible from just about any angle. The Hypalon attachment points dotted over the bag allow for tripods to be carried externally, either on the sides, or down the middle for better balance, and finally, they provide a built-in REVERSIBLE rain/sun fly to cover the pack, one side for stormy weather, and one side a sunshield to keep your gear cool in bright sunlight. This is overachievement bordering on precociousness, and I love it. 

When carrying it, you’ll be struck by how lightweight and solid it feels, a unity of adjectives not often achieved. It’s comfortable, and the straps are thickly padded and wide to disperse even heavy loads. I also love the top quick-access compartment, and found I use if far more than I thought I would. I keep smaller fragile items like my sunglasses in here, a light down jacket, and a tech organiser which wrangles all my cables and USB paraphernalia. Sometimes when you use products, you find yourself bemoaning some design-choice and ‘backseat’ improving it in your head. The opposite has been true of this bag. It is so patently and consummately designed by people who knew what they were doing, out of premium materials, that I find myself impressed by something new, very frequently. I’ve carried it for seven or so weeks and it’s cemented itself as my daily carry. It’s one of those design halos that raises my opinion and esteem of the entire brand to apex levels. I’ve got nothing but the finest superlatives for Manfrotto, well done, it’s unimprovable. 

 

Joby Gorilla Pod (Joby)

Every other bit of kit in this review sits atop its pile, best of the bunch and king of its niche. But the Joby GorillaPod is the only item here that actually created its own niche. People have been using tripods to hold cameras since there were cameras, but we didn’t know we needed a Gorillapod until we saw one. Here is essentially an infinitely articulating mini-tripod, in a different league of adjustability from every other small tripod that went before it. It is now so distinctive and unique, you probably recognise it. This is their latest iteration, the 3k pro Rig version. This means it’s rated to hold up to 3KGs, which means you can trust it with a huge amount of gear; a chunky camera, beefy lens, and with the RIG arm-like attachments, lights and microphones too. All told, this might be holding several thousand pounds worth of gear, so that quality and assurance allows you to breathe easy. I fell in love with GorillaPods years ago, for that occasional holiday-selfie, or the ability to wrap the legs around just about anything, set a timer, and have a perfectly stable tripod shot without lugging a tripod around. It coils snake-like round branches, chain-link fences and furniture legs without fuss, and does what no other tripod does: If you need a GorillaPod, there really is no substitute. Again, this new version is the zenith of its form, the materials are just first-rate, a high-grade aluminium and tactile rubber. It’s far more metallic and sturdier that the plastic versions I’d used and loved previously, and the new head is both smooth and reassuringly beautifully machined. It grips like a firm handshake and imparts the same level of confidence. The rubber touchpoints and feet feel preternaturally grippy, and this thing just refuses to slide on even the slickest wettest surfaces I could find. For me it has two functions, which is a real over-achievement; it both sits on my desk holding the A7 IV, lens, and microphone as my Zoom/video-conferencing rig, and it goes in my bag with me everywhere my camera goes. It folds down discretely to about the size of a water bottle, if you can take but one accessory, this is it. Don’t leave home without it.

 

Lexar Professional (Lexar)

Memory cards. The perfect example of the thankless task. If you think about it, no-one’s ever raved about their memory card. Users groan and shout and post and tweet if memory cards fail, but the bar of expectation is undoubtedly high; flawless work 100% of the time. And of course, even a tiny failure is catastrophic. So how do we judge memory cards then? You need one, or two in fact for safety and redundancy, so who do you pick? I went with Lexar because they stood atop all the charts, at the perfect intersection of reliability and performance. They’re one of the big memory brands (an area I feel I don’t want to be trusting mission-critical imagery to plucky newcomers, I definitely want decades of establishment and know-how), and this is their professional card, their top of the line. It is both capacious at 128GB, (though they do a cavernous 256MB version too) and crazy-fast too, acquiring the ultimate UHS-ii Class 10, U3 and V90 certifications at the 300MB per second ceiling. In practice, it was closer to this theoretical speed than the others I benchmarked it against, and I have been delighted with its performance. It sucks up the images generated by the camera as fast as the Sony can generate them, to the point I have never yet filled the buffer, and imagine I probably won’t. Don’t spend all this money on a gorgeous camera, and then skimp on the device you trust to store the images. Poor performance here really bottlenecks throughput, hamstringing your camera’s speed. Feed it great quality blazing-fast memory cards from the market-leader. What more can you say? It’s the fastest I tried, has redoubtable reliability credentials, and I even like the colour!

DxO PhotoLab 5 (DxO)

I’ll confess I’m quite new to photographic software. I’ve long been in the camp that thought photographic postproduction was a question of wringing out very small increments of improvement, a few percent here or there, perhaps removing something unwanted now and again, and the odd red-eye correction. Boy has this been an eye-opening experience.  The consensus amongst those who know, seems to be that postproduction is worth at least 50% of your finished image quality. So let’s take a look at my pick for best software of 2022. 

It’s DxO’s PhotoLab 5. Now there are hundreds of smart adjustments this software can make, so I’ll skim some of it, and focus on the ground-breaking and defining areas. There are adjustment toggles where one can play with everything from the hue, saturation, contrast to the colour and sharpness. All pretty standard. Where DxO excels, is it couples all this power with an incredible ease of use, for anyone terrified of the learning curve of software like this. After a few minutes, I could see my way round, and it was all intuitive, after a few hours I was comfortable, and now 7 weeks later, it’s essentially revolutionised my processing. It terms of the power it brings to bear, you can micromanage every slider yourself, or let the software take charge. Excellent stuff. There’s also a variety of additional add-on packs that are too numerous and extensive to detail, but suffice it to say, they provide countless pre-formed and curated drop-ons that can be parachuted onto your image that will apply a multitude of changes simultaneously, doing everything from optimising colours, to pulling out contrast, to rendering images in golden old-timey hues, and sepias… As I say, beyond extensive and powerful.

But now to the two-fold real power under the bonnet. DxO has tested essentially every combination of camera and lens in a lab, and has benchmarked and detailed the abilities, proclivities, flaws, faults and characteristics of them all, and it provides an automatic correction for the inevitable insufficiencies and idiosyncrasies of every lens coupled with every camera body. As soon as you open an image, it reads the metadata, and provides you with the option to download a correction for that exact camera and lens combination. Doing so, you’ll find the software corrects for the specific distortion of that combination, the specific vignetting of that combination, and applies it to the photo. It’s incredible to see lines that look more or less straight, become ramrod straight, buildings are corrected so they don’t bend or warp, the darkening from centre to edge is corrected, and the purple fringed chromatic aberrations are removed. It’s one of those things that once you see and notice, you can’t unsee. And the beauty of it, is once installed, the software automatically applies the corrections to every image. It’s here, in their encyclopaedic catalogue of lens and camera combinations, that DxO stands utterly unchallenged. 

The other noteworthy feature one must talk about is the RAW processing, for which DxO is widely regarded as the best there is, and the A.I. used in their DeepPRIME; it’s incredible. You can let their staggering A.I. loose on an image and it can penetrate the haze of sea spray to see shapes and detail you can’t even make out in the original, it’ll pull contrast apart to show you people hiding unseen in shadows, and it’s denoising ability is absolutely class-leading. There’s something strangely antiseptic about writing about this, all the finest adjectives I want to throw at this software seem incongruous when we’re talking about ‘denoising,’ I understand. What you really need is to see some before and after pictures and try it for yourself, (they offer a free trial) to see the seismic improvements that can be made. I detest the myth fostered by Hollywood films, that blurry license-plates seen in low-resolution reflections of a shop window can be rendered perfectly clear by pressing the magic ‘enhance’ button. It doesn’t work like that. However, PhotoLab is the closest we real people can get.

Lastly, if you want all this magic, but you don’t need any of the editing abilities, you just want the spectacular RAW processing horsepower, DxO also offers PureRAW 2, a hot off the press sea change of an update that contains all the DeepPRIME A.I. wizardry, that plays nicely with other editing software, and can send your pre-processed image to Lightroom, or anywhere else. 

DxO have made a stunning bit of kit, accessible to even beginners, with the deep-pocketed power to pull almost Hollywood levels of detail out of shadows, and an A.I. that’s preternaturally talented. It really is the definitive one-stop shop.

 

Peak Design Capture (Peak Design)

If there’s a thesis to this article I’ve discovered, it’s the recurring axiom about the best camera being the one you have with you, and lightness and ease of transport are two of the sharpest contributing factors to what you actually carry. In an effort to steer people away from reliance on smartphones, enter the Peak Design Capture system. This is the 3rd iterative generation, improving yet further on Peak Design’s original Kickstarter monster hit. As a design house, Peak Design has never put a foot wrong, and they’ve been reliable innovators since that first 2011 Kickstarter. In full disclosure, I discovered them and was a backer of their first Messenger series back in 2015, and have been a vocal advocate since then. Peak Design hang their hat on innovation, all their Kickstarters have born this out, as they aim to revolutionise and reinvigorate (if not disrupt) photographic niches. Such is their skill, that even their first forays into new products are colossal successes, (their first attempt at a tripod tore up the conventions of design, size and weight of the establishment, and garnered a staggering $12 M in pre-sales.) Let me tell you about the Capture. It’s a clip, that attaches to belts and straps, and it holds your camera. Simple. The genius is in the engineering that makes the system so damn user friendly. The clip splits apart so it can sit in front of and behind a belt or strap, and clamp on tightly. It does this without tools, and is comfortingly secure. There’s a little Arca compatible plate that screws to the bottom of your camera unobtrusively, and you’re good to go. The camera now clicks into the Capture and is locked. This is a brilliant and definitive way to carry your camera so it always to hand. It can be strapped on your hip to your belt, and released with single one-handed button push. The capture is also wide enough to attach to straps of bags, rucksacks, slings, duffels whatever really. It really is quite simply the best design execution of the simplest, most comfortable way to carry your camera, giving you immediate access, and holding it securely when unneeded. Like all Peak Design, it’s a thing of beauty, a combination of gorgeous machined and anodised aluminium, and a tactile and grippy rubber-like compound. This new version 3 is smaller, lighter, all metal and holds well over 90 Kilos. 

 

Masters Of Photography.  (https://mastersof.photography)

Finally. If you love photography, and want to hear from the greats, there’s Masters Of Photography. They have around 170 online masterclasses with 4 of the giants: Joel Meyerowitz, David Yarrow, Steve McCurry and Albert Watson. These are fascinating and helpful lessons to radically improve your techniques, and actually, just glorious audiences with these masters.

 

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