Photo by Lyndon Stratford via iStock
As we near the end of 2019 (and the decade!), it's a prime time to look back on the year in photography.
It's been a crazy year with so many incredible innovations happening. I say that every year, but every year it's the truth!
When I think about the best photography gear, gadgets, products, and services, I think about things that are functional, easy to use, and innovative.
The list I've compiled below is full of products that tick these boxes...
Each item I've included on my Best of 2019 list is something that I have at the very least thoroughly tested or that I own.
With that said, here's a few items that blew me away in 2019.
Argraph Marumi M100 Filter System
One of the hallmarks of the companies featured on this list is that they have all innovated the photography industry in some way.
For Marumi, their claim to fame isn’t just crafting some of the best filter systems available today, but creating filter systems that streamline your workflow in the field.
Marumi’s Magnetic M100 Filter Holder and their line of magnetic filters are just what the doctor ordered for photographers that are sick of sliding filters in and out of their holders.
The M100 filter holder sports a slim 10mm design with strong magnetic attachments that hold the filter in place. The foam gaskets on the filter holder ensure that there are no light leaks to ruin your photos.
If using a circular polarizer, it rotates independently in the filter holder and features water and oil-repellent coatings on both sides that minimizes clean up.
The filter also has anti-static-anti-scratch, and anti-reflection properties that ensure you have the ideal shooting experience.
The other magnetic filters in Marumi’s lineup have the same features, including their graduated ND filters and solid ND Filters.
The graduated ND filters include hard-edge, soft-edge (as shown above), and reverse grads for photographing landscapes with a definite horizon, a variable horizon, and at sunrise and sunset, respectively.
Of course, there are also many different solid ND filters available from 2-stops all the way up to 15-stops.
Like the other Marumi filters mentioned above, these ND filters are made of durable Schott 5270 glass that offers high-definition results.
When photographing landscapes, the quality of light can change from one second to the next. That’s why this magnetic system is so compelling - by reducing the time spent swapping out filters, you can spend more time photographing the beauty before you!
Ikan E-Image Horizon One 3-Axis Gimbal
One of the most pleasant surprises for me this year was just how good the Ikan E-Image Horizon One 3-Axis Gimbal really is.
I use this rig with my Nikon Z7, and it absolutely rocks it in terms of helping me get ultra-smooth, cinematic-looking video.
This gimbal is extremely well built and feels solid and supremely sturdy in your hand.
Granted, my setup doesn't come close to meeting this gimbal's eight-pound load capacity, but I'm sure it could perform just as well if I used a heavier camera and lens package.
The Horizon One has brushless motors that give you ultra-precise stabilization, and with the 12-hour runtime, you can shoot all day long without stopping to recharge the gimbal.
Built into the unit are five operational modes, including my personal favorite, "Dream Follow," which gives you 360-degree spin on the roll axis.
I can't even tell you how many gimbals I've tested and owned over the years - maybe more than a dozen!
And this rig is by far one of the very best.
It's impeccably built, full of features, and easy to use. If that doesn't say "Best of 2019," I don't know what does.
Ikan Onyx Digital Color LED Panel Light
I know what you're thinking...
How can a light be part of the Best of 2019?
Well, as you know, photography is all about great light, and the Ikan Onyx Digital Color Light definitely delivers on that front.
What I've found so impressive with this light is that it has RGB, white, and amber LEDs. And with five color modes, you can use this thing for just about any kind of photo shoot or video shoot.
In fact, in RGB mode, this light gives you independent control over the red, green, and blue LEDs, which means you can literally create millions of different colors to suit your needs and tastes.
Meanwhile, the amber and white LEDs give photographers the option of recreating daylight or tungsten light with incredible accuracy.
This light even has a CCT mode that offers an adjustable color temperature from 2800K up to 10,000K. You simply don't find that kind of range in most lights!
On top of that, the Onyx has a Hue Shift feature of green and magenta lights, giving you yet another option for exerting pinpoint control over the kind of light you have available to you.
Ikan also stuffed the Onyx with eight special effects - like police lights and candle flames - as well as 33 different gels to give you even further light customization possibilities.
Heck, there's even a built-in 1/2-stop diffuser!
This is one of the best lights I've used this year, and the data backs it up - it has a CRI-TLCI rating of 95, so you know that the light it emits is clean and beautiful.
In my opinion, you just won't find a better light, which is why I've included it in my Best of 2019 list.
I've been a fan of Exposure Software for a long time, and it just keeps getting better and better with more and more tools available that make editing photos a simpler, more streamlined process.
The latest version of Exposure - Exposure X5 - is brimming with innovative and easy-to-use features.
There's a huge collection of "Looks," which give you the power to change the appearance of the image with a simple click.
You can make selective presets too, that way the edits you want to apply only apply to specific areas of the image.
Exposure has all the basic editing tools you could want as well, including nondestructive layers, linear and radial gradients, a brush tool, overlays, creative focus, and more.
In addition to all that, Exposure is also a complete photo manager.
You can apply camera profiles and presets, migrate collections over from Lightroom, use keywords to manage and organize your images, and review images side-by-side for easy comparison.
Exposure also enables you to create smart collections of photos - just add specific criteria you want for the collection (i.e., rating, color label, flag, camera data, f-stop, and so forth) and Exposure will populate the collection for you.
One of my favorite features, though, is the 3D color masking tool in Exposure.
Basically, this tool gives you precise control over where an adjustment is applied in the shot. This is thanks to the range of definitions that Exposure uses to define adjustment areas, such as saturation, hue, and luminance.
Because you can target colors of a specific hue, for example, you can apply adjustments to specific areas of the shot, like the sky or to skin tones. You can do all this with just a few clicks, too!
From the intuitive user interface to the powerful editing tools to the suite of support features that help make your workflow smoother, Exposure has everything you need to create your best images. They even offer a free trial to give it a test drive!
It's been a great year for Syrp...
They unveiled the Syrp Genie Mini II Linear this time last year to much fanfare.
If you're unfamiliar with this thing, the Genie Mini II Linear is incredibly portable and gives you the option to add motion control to your timelapse and films without lugging around a big, heavy piece of kit.
It can attach to any slider on the market and even cable cam systems up to 328’ in length, so you can quickly and easily upgrade your ability to capture gorgeous timelapses and real-time video.
Additionally, the Genie II Linear is loaded up with features for key-framing, shooting interviews, b-roll and timelapse with future available features including live view, and camera control for ramping exposure, just to name a few. It’s wirelessly controllable as well, via an iOS or Android device.
At the same time, Syrp introduced the Genie II Pan Tilt, which gives you an ultra-portable camera motion control that you can carry in your backpack.
You can use it with a tripod for ultra-precise pan and tilt motion control, or if you want three-axis, use it in conjunction with the Genie II Linear for the most powerful 3-axis device on the market.
Like the Genie II Linear, the Pan Tilt offers tons of functionality, including timelapse and real-time video capabilities, key-framing, and much more. With multi-row Panoramas, you can capture high resolution ‘gigapixel’ images and shoot Panoramas all controlled from the app itself.
It also has a built-in screen so you don’t have to use the app if you don’t need it and you want to pack light, not to mention a built-in joystick for quick setup and re-positioning from the device itself. Not bad, right?!
After that, Syrp brought us the Tilt Platform, which allows you to get perfectly level, vertical footage.
It couldn't be easier to use, either...
It requires no tools, has angle markings to help you dial in accurate adjustments, and it has a 3/8-16" - 1/4-20" UNC thread adapter in the base to expand its mounting options.
Just use the easy-adjustable knob to change the lever tension to secure your camera, and away you go!
You can position the Tilt Platform up to 180-degrees, it can be used with motion control or manual sliders, and it'll hold up to 13.2 pounds of gear.
And as if all that isn't enough, Syrp just released a new app feature available through the Syrp Genie II app - stop motion.
This mode allows you to create stop motion videos more precisely (and faster) than ever.
You can set up any desired movement using the app's keyframe editor, and you have complete control over the video's frame rate.
Once you have the motion set up, all you have to do is move the motion controller to each frame and trigger the camera's shutter.
Stop motion videos have never been so easy to make!
Excire is an innovative product that I became familiar with last year, and I just have to continue singing its praises.
For me, there isn’t much that I hate doing more than manually tagging my photos in Lightroom. That’s why there are thousands and thousands of images in my Lightroom catalogs that aren’t tagged at all.
What’s so great about Excire’s products - Excire Search and Excire Search Pro - is that they utilize artificial intelligence to tag your Lightroom photos for you.
Yeah...we’re living in the future, my friends!
Excire Search has 125 common keywords that can be used for tagging your images, so every shot you have of a mountain or a bike or a dog will be organized and easily identified.
Excire Search can obviously be used to search your images as well. Just use the plugin to find the images in your catalog that meet your criteria!
Even better, Excire Search Pro offers over 500 keywords for tagging, so you have even more capability to organize and search your photos.
It includes a keyword transfer function, too, which means you can use Excire Search Pro on your existing catalogs. That means no more hunting around for the images you need, even if you have an enormous Lightroom catalog of tens of thousands of images.
In other words, Excire transfers the keywords it extracts to your Lightroom catalog, and then those keywords can be used in Lightroom as if you had manually entered them.
Needless to say, Excire Search is a fantastic tool for beginner and hobbyist photographers, and Excire Search Pro is a great option for serious photographers and professionals.
It's this kind of innovation I looked for when considering my Best of 2019 list!
PolarPro Summit Filters
PolarPro has built a reputation over the years of developing well-built, high-performance products, and their newest filters are no exception.
The Summit filter system was specifically developed for the rough-and-tumble world of landscape photography.
These filters are built to withstand the rigors of shooting outdoors in harsh conditions while at the same time having a design that makes them incredibly easy to use.
On the one hand, the ND and graduated ND filters have aluminum frames that both protect the filter and help minimize fingerprints getting on the filter glass.
So, not only do you get filters that are more durable, but you also won't spend as much time cleaning the filters to get rid of fingerprints. It's a win-win!
On the other hand, the filters and filter housing feature materials that ratchet up the build quality.
For example, the filters are made of fused Quartz glass with 16 layers of coatings that improve color fidelity and clarity while reducing glare.
As another example, the filter frames are made of lightweight aluminum that helps cut weight in your pack while providing you strong durability for years to come.
Add in a user-friendly design, light-sealed slots, filter locks to lock down the filter position, and the ability to rotate the filter system 360 degrees, and you have the makings of the ideal landscape photography filter kit - one of the best of 2019, in fact!!
Wolverine Data F2D Titan
What’s so great about the Wolverine Data F2D Titan is that it’s an 8-in-1 rig.
In addition to working with slides, 8mm movies, and Super 8 movies, the F2D Titan also works with 35mm, 110, 126, 127, and APS film.
It has a 20-megapixel sensor that turns your analog memories into high-definition digital files at up to 5472 x 3648 pixels.
The F2D Titan makes quick work of scanning, too. In just three seconds, the scan is complete thanks to its speed-load adapters that are perfectly sized to each format of slide or negative that you’re scanning.
You can view the results of the scan on the onboard 4.3-inch color LCD. You can even fine-tune the brightness and color balance settings. If you prefer to see your newly digitized photos on a larger screen, simply connect the F2D Titan to a computer or a TV.
Saving the digitized images is a breeze, too. Just use its internal memory or add your own SD/SDHC memory card.
Better still, you don’t need a computer or external monitor or software of any kind, so this unit is totally self-contained. Just have a power source (via an AC outlet or USB) and you can digitize slides, film, and old movies anywhere you like.
If you’ve got a lot of old memories to digitize, there’s isn’t a better or faster way to do so than with this bad boy! It's simply the easiest, most functional film to digital scanner I've ever tested.
RODE Video Mics
I have several RODE mics, including the tiny shotgun microphone shown above.
The RODE VideoMicro is compact and lightweight, which makes it a perfect pairing for my GoPro.
But don't think that because it's a tiny mic that audio quality is sacrificed. In fact, it has a high-quality cardioid condenser mic capsule so you can get clear, crisp audio.
It's shocking just how good this little guy performs!
Since it's a directional mic, it minimizes sounds from the periphery so your video has focused audio from the subject.
Add to that a thermoplastic suspension structure for minimizing vibrations as you adventure around with your GoPro, and you have the ideal audio companion for the best adventure camera on the market!
For more heavy-duty action, I have a RODE VideoMic Pro.
This shotgun-style mic has a 1/2-inch condenser capsule, which results in ultra-clean audio that's broadcast quality. We're talking about a self-noise level of just 14db!
It has a super-cardioid polar pattern that reduces background noise while ensuring that it captures crisp audio of the source you want to record.
And, unlike lesser microphones, the RODE VideoMic Pro has a Rycote Lyre shock system that creates a buffer between the microphone capsule and electronics and the microphone mount. This, in turn, minimizes the vibrations of the mic and improves the quality of the audio even more.
Add in fantastic sound, easy-to-reach controls, and intuitive operation, and you have the makings of the ideal microphone for filmmaking!
I first learned about Camera Canopy last year, and I have to say that over the course of 2019 I've grown to appreciate this unique camera accessory more and more.
Photographers that spend any time outdoors understand that when it rains, it can really put a damper on their ability to get the photos they want. That’s because even weather-sealed gear isn’t completely water-tight.
And trying to manipulate camera controls with a traditional bag-like rain cover for a camera is a huge pain in the rear. That’s why Camera Canopy is a much better alternative.
Camera canopy attaches to a camera via its hot-shoe mount, and then acts like a roof to protect the camera and lens from rain. It even protects the from glass of the lens so there’s no water droplets messing up the shot.
Better still, it’s adjustable for lenses up to 500mm in length.
Camera Canopy also has a mirrorless camera version, so now that I've gone totally mirrorless, I can still enjoy the benefits of having my camera and lens protected by a Camera Canopy.
Just like its big brother, this mirrorless version is extremely easy to mount to your camera, simple to adjust for different lens lengths, and still provides you unfettered access to your camera's controls.
It's simply the best wet-weather camera accessory money can buy!
Hex Brand Ranger Sling Bag
I had an opportunity to head up to Los Angeles a while back and meet the masterminds behind HEX.
It was a fun time looking behind the curtain at their operation, plus I got to bring one of their Ranger Sling bags home to test out.
First impressions are good, to say the least! And that's coming from an admitted bag snob.
For instance, I check the stitching inside and out to see how well put together it is, and with this bag, it’s very well put together.
It’s part of thoughtful construction and design processes that make this bag one of the very best I've used this year.
One of the things I like most about the bag is the collapsible interior dividers - including the bottom divider. This gives you a bag that can not only be customized to your gear for each photoshoot, but you can also fold up or remove the dividers to allow the bag to be packed totally flat for travel inside another bag.
Speaking of customizations, this bag has side adjustable load straps and adjustable bottom carry straps so you can carry even more gear when needed.
This bag is also packed full of pockets to help you keep track of your stuff. There’s a front access organizer for small items, a faux fur lined pocket on the front for your phone or a pair of shades, a faux fur lined pocket for your table, and multiple hidden velcro stash pockets. And the bag sits very well when worn. It’s comfortable and easy to access your gear and really hugs your body.
With genuine Cordura material and YKK zippers with metal pulls, this bag will stand up to use and abuse, too. And since it’s so compact (just 1.3 pounds and 14.5"L x 7.25"W x 4.75"H), you can rock it in the urban jungle without worrying that it’ll be knocking into people as you move from shot to shot.
Something that really stood out to me was that, although the bag is listed at 8 liters, there is no wasted or negative space. In fact, I easily transferred all the gear I would normally carry in my Peak Design 10L Sling into the HEX Ranger Sling. I have to say that I am a big fan of the efficient use of space in this bag and the collapsible potential of the HEX bag certainly gives it a leg up.
With eight liters of storage space, a streamlined design, and looks that don’t quit, this is definitely one of the best products I tested this year!
Photo by anyaberkut via iStock
This entry on my Best of 2019 list is a little different from the rest...
Rather than a camera accessory or some kind of service you use to take better photos, TravelSchool.Info makes it on this list because of its innovative approach to education and furthering your ability to make money.
TravelSchool.Info enables you to learn how to harness the power of affiliate marketing all the while traveling the world. Sounds nice, right?
By teaching you how to create multiple revenue streams from affiliate marketing, TravelSchool enables you to earn active and passive income that frees up your time to pursue things that are more fun than working!
Travel School is a comprehensive training program for starting an independent affiliate marketing business. It will take you step-by-step through the process of building a business that is not only wildly successful in the short-term, but can sustain steady growth for the long-term too.
Travel School founder Emilian travels the world with his furry friend, Divak, and is eager to share his knowledge and experience with you and help you build a successful affiliate marketing business that will allow you to quit your traditional job and travel the world like you want!
But Travel School isn’t just a step-by-step training program. Instead, it will change your outlook on what it means to work, and at the same time will be a transformational experience that will change their entire life for the better.
With specific, actionable steps, you will learn how to connect with established brands, develop core marketing skills, and activate multiple income streams to realize their dream of living a life full of travel and freedom.
Not only does Travel School aid in leveraging the credibility of amazing companies, but they will also offer weekly private webinars to keep your loved one motivated and on track toward accomplishing their goals.
Additionally, all training sessions are recorded and available at any time, that way if questions come up down the road or a little extra motivation is needed, the lessons can be easily accessed. There are opportunities to learn and collaborate with other students too!
It’s not often that you have the opportunity to learn how to live a life with more freedom, but in this case, Travel School is does just that!
I’m a gear head and I buy and test all kinds of stuff - cameras, lenses, tripods, lights...you name it!
But one of the most pleasant surprises I had this year was the Octopus.Camera OctoPad.
I know what you’re thinking...how can a little weighted support system be all that innovative? Trust me when I say that OctoPad certainly is!
For starters, OctoPad is a much better alternative than suction cup mounts or even mini tripods because it actually stays put.
The weighted anti-slip mat keeps the OctoPad right where you want it, even if it’s on a smooth or uneven surface.
Additionally, OctoPad has a built-in 1/4-20 threaded male bolt for attaching any number of accessories like a microphone or a light. The included ball head also has a 1/4-20 threaded male bolt for accessory attachment.
That means that this little guy is a great option for supporting a compact camera or a smartphone, a GoPro, a microphone, or a light. Plus, it can be used for photo or video work, giving you even more versatility.
It’s easy to use and transport too - there’s a built-in grommet for attaching a lanyard and a cable strap to tuck cables out of the way of your shots.
This is just a well designed product that offers a ton of benefits for photographers and videographers alike. And the best part? It’s priced at just $26.95!
One of the most innovative products I encountered this year is Snaptiles.
These ingenious patented magnetic photo tile system takes all the fuss and muss out of displaying your photos.
If you want to create a mixed tile array, you can do so in a matter of seconds thanks to the easy mounting system that Snaptiles employs.
All you do is attach the mounting bracket to the wall using four adhesive strips. Make sure to press down firmly for 10 seconds so that it holds tight to the wall. You can snap up to 12 photo tiles onto the first anchor tile. If you really want to have some fun push in the 4 included thumbtacks for additional support. You can then snap up to 30 Snaptiles to the anchor! Not a bad tradeoff for 4 small pin holes if you ask me.
Next, you mount the anchor tile to the wall mount by snapping it into place.
Then, you can add any number of additional photo tiles, which connect together using rare earth magnets. And that’s it!
Now instead of having to put nails in the wall to hang additional photos, you can simply order 4 photo tiles from Snaptiles, add them to your array of mixed tiles, and enjoy your favorite photo (along with all your other favorites in the display).
These tiles are super lightweight so if they fall they won’t break. They are printed onto a premium SBS Acid-Free paperboard using the same printing technology as high-quality photo books. Likewise, the UV protective lamination ensures that the images don’t lose their color over time.
Snaptiles has a unique ability to let you display your photos in a creative and ever-changing way. When it comes to hanging art and your favorite images, being able to swap them out quickly and easily is a huge bonus.
Best of all, four tiles are just $59 with Free Shipping, so you can enjoy four of your favorite images without breaking the bank.
What’s not to like about that?!
Westcott Rapid Box Octa
As photographers, we all know the value of good light for creating compelling photos. And when it comes to modifying light to get the precise look you want, Westcott should be your source.
After all, Westcott has been in this business since 1899, so they know exactly what they’re doing.
In fact, Wescott holds 12 patents and has a product line of more than 600 products, so they’re much more than umbrellas and lights - they’re the go-to for all manner of durable, high-end lighting gear.
It would be impossible to expound upon Westcott’s vast array of products, so I’ll illustrate why they’re included on my list of the Best of 2019 by using their Rapid Box Octas as examples.
I know you’re probably thinking, “Aren’t all softboxes the same?” Well, no, my friend, they aren’t!
For starters, these things are supremely easy to set up - you can have them ready to go in a matter of seconds, so there’s no long, drawn-out procedure for getting your gear ready for the shoot.
They’re easy to transport as well, given that they are completely collapsible and super lightweight.
But don’t think that because they’re collapsible and easy to set up that they’re somehow not durable. Far from it.
The solid metal framework ensures that these softboxes retain their shape over the course of years and years of repeated use, and the built-in mounting hardware means there’s a snug fit with your speedlite whether it’s a Yonguo, Nikon, or something in between.
In other words, Westcott makes this list of the Best of 2019 not just because they create superb lighting gear, but because they also have a proven track record of innovation when it comes to lighting gear.
Their products are durable and easy to use and show a demonstrated effort by Westcott to think purposefully about design and functionality so you and I have a better user experience.
But don’t take my word for it...see the Rapid Box Octa in action in the video above!