photo by zeljkosantrac via iStock
It was a great year for photography, particularly on the software and gear fronts.
From camera accessories to post-processing software, camera bags to lighting gear, we saw tons of new, updated, and innovative products and services come to market in 2019.
It would be impossible to review everything that rocked the photography world this year, so we’ve done the next best thing and outlined more than a dozen of our favorite updates below.
I’ve been a big fan of Luminar going back to when it was called Luminar 2018. And when Luminar 3 came out, I got my copy and began enjoying it immediately.
Now Luminar 4 is here, and with a host of improvements and expanded capabilities, it is the best Luminar yet.
If you’re unfamiliar with Luminar, let me give you a quick overview…
It’s chock-full of revolutionary tools that help you create better photos, faster.
That’s thanks in large part to artificial intelligence that drives easy-to-use tools that streamline your workflow yet still give you pinpoint control over how your images look.
Joining tools like the Accent AI Filter and the AI Sky Enhancer from Luminar 3 is a suite of new AI-powered tools that take image editing to a whole new level.
For portrait enthusiasts, the AI Skin Enhancer and Portrait Enhancer tools will revolutionize the way photo editing is done.
Using human-aware technology, the AI Skin Enhancer detects all the skin in a photo, smooths it out, removes blemishes, and does so while preserving the texture of the skin, pores, and hair.
It takes just one click to apply the Skin Enhancers edits, and then with a single slider you can adjust its strength for a picture-perfect result.
The AI Portrait Enhancer gives you a host of tools to quickly and easily make detailed changes to portraits, like whitening teeth and eyes, removing dark circles under eyes, and removing red eye, just to name a few.
In all, the Portrait Enhancer includes twelve revolutionary tools that turn editing portraits into a process that takes a minute or less!
Luminar 4 has some goodies for landscape photographers as well.
Primary among them is the AI Sky Replacement tool.
As its name suggests, this tool replaces the sky in your photos automatically - there’s no masking or selections to be made on your part.
The selection algorithms work so well, in fact, that it knows to exclude leaves, grass, and animals from the sky selection.
Not only that, but this tool relights the entire image, that way the foreground matches the brightness of the new sky.
It’s advancements like this that make Luminar 4 one of the most powerful, easy-to-use editing programs on the planet today.
Need more convincing? Get Luminar 4 today and see for yourself!
Hakutatz Pocket Size RGB+AW LED Light
Gone are the days when you have to lug around huge lights to get the key light or fill light you need for awesome portraits.
Instead, companies like Hakutatz have developed powerful pocket-sized LED lights that give you the power to customize the type of lighting to your specific needs.
This particular light has RGB, amber, and white LEDs, so you can add accent colors to your photos and videos or dial in the ideal white balance by using the amber or white lights.
This light is completely adjustable, with controls for saturation, brightness, and color temperature. Better still, you can adjust the light’s settings via a well-designed and user-friendly smartphone app.
That means that with a simple touch or a swipe of your finger, you can fine-tune everything from the RGB color to special effects. You can even control multiple lights at the same time right from the app. No wonder their Kickstarter campaign was such a huge success!
Hakutatz literally puts the power to dial in complex lighting schemes in the palm of your hand, and does so in a way that’s clean, simple, and super functional. That’s by this little light rocked the photography world in 2019!
Be on the lookout for Hakutatz’ online store to have these lights in stock in December!
Hazard 4® Cyclone™
Framing shots with your action cam in direct sun can be frustrating; glare in your eyes and the camera’s tiny, reflective screen are really fatiguing. Blowing sand, water or snow don’t help. But the best action is shot outside - Cyclone™ is the first real solution.
This patent-pending optic blocks the sun, but it’s lens also magnifies the screen and protects it. You effectively add mirrorless camera style composition and review to your tiny affordable GoPro or DJI action cam that survive where real mirrorless can’t. Better still, the viewfinder mounts to your action cam’s bottom screw in seconds, so there is no fumbling. But you’ll probably choose to keep it on since this little guy doubles as a tiltable handle - keeping fingers out of frame and for extension. With cheap additional hardware you can even head mount it for hands-free composition while biking, paragliding etc, and it tilts out of the way at will.
The simple, waterproof, tough, design accordions flat for easy portability and flattened can be a selfie mini tripod. It has diopter focus - even helping out ageing eyes. The high-vis cap self closes to protect the lens. And you get a tether loop action cams don’t include.
Hazard 4® has a reputation for innovating outdoor photo accessories; the Cyclone™ is no exception. As usual they have gone above and beyond to design a multi-functional, easy to use bombproof solution to a common video shooter problem. Perhaps this may push GoPro® or DJI® to finally up the resolution on their LCD’s under magnification and drive the mirrorless wars into the action cam space. Either way, you don’t have to rely on the wide angle lens for your framing anymore- you can actually compose like a pro.
This device is currently on Kickstarter, with a fund date of January 7, 2020. Head over to Kickstarter now to learn more about this device.
The Camera Pack by Nomatic and Peter McKinnon
Billed as a “functional camera pack for all types of travelers,” the Camera Pack by Nomatic and Peter McKinnon is certainly worthy of inclusion on this list.
The Kickstarter campaign to fund this pack had a goal of $100,000. It raised nearly $2.3 million. That speaks to the reputation of Nomatic and Peter McKinnon!
This bag is ridiculously well designed and has a functionality level that’s off the charts.
It’s designed to cure the woes of travel photographers who have to have one bag for their gear and another bag for their personal items.
The Camera Pack solves this problem by having a clothing side and a gear side which are separated by an interior panel. This keeps everything neat and tidy so you aren’t rifling through the entire back when you need something.
Better still, the bag has a “Cube Pack” inside, which serves as the ideal organizational module within the interior ecosystem. However, as the gif below shows, the Cube Pack converts to a daypack, so if you need to run and gun a little, you don’t have to take the larger Camera Pack with you. Ingenious!
Overall, the Camera Pack can hold 35 liters of gear, but can be expanded to accommodate up to 42 liters of gear. That’s a lot of stuff! And with a full clamshell opening, you can see all the gear you’ve stowed away with ease.
And everything is neatly organized thanks to a main camera compartment with moveable interior dividers. There’s a sleeve for your tablet, pockets for your camera accessories, and quick side access for easy retrieval of gear, too.
On the clothing side, there’s compression cubes for your clothes, compression straps to keep everything where it should be, and more pockets for smaller items.
This is just a really well designed and impeccably built backpack. And with the input of a photography expert like Peter McKinnon, you know that it’s been designed with photography needs in mind.
If you buy and sell your used photography gear on places like Craigslist, you’re doing it all wrong.
That’s because there are much better alternatives that take the hassle out of buying and selling used gear. GearFocus.com is certainly one of the best.
One of the top reasons GearFocus makes our list of the Top Software and Gear Updates is because they focused on building a community where people like you and I can buy quality used gear and get fair market value for stuff we sell.
Unlike other used gear sites, GearFocus doesn’t take a giant chunk of your profits when you sell your gear. Instead, they offer the lowest seller fees among B2C and C2C marketplaces, which means more money in your pocket when your item sells.
Additionally, GearFocus ensures each transaction is safe and secure by screening and monitoring every single post and transaction. Gear Focus was made by creatives, for creatives and they’ve been in this business long enough to be able to spot suspicious listings and red flags from a mile away. Without scammers creating fake listings, the buying and selling experience is enhanced so you can get the best deal on used gear and the most money for the items you sell.
Heck, they’ll even intervene on your behalf if something goes wrong! Having that kind of peace of mind alone is enough to land these guys on this list!
It’s not often that you find companies like this that prioritize community building and supporting one another over making a buck. That focus on customer service is just the icing on the cake for patrons of GearFocus. They are here to help FEED YOUR PASSION!
To say that the Litra Studio is powerful is an understatement.
Weighing in at just 33.5 ounces and measuring 5.5" x 3.9" x 2.9", the Litra Studio is certainly easily transported without taking up a ton of space in your camera bag.
But don’t let its small size fool you - this light can produce over one million unique colors that will help you light up your portraits and videos.
The Litra Studio can produce up to 3,000 lumens of continuous light and up to 6,00 lumens of flash. In CCT mode, you get 2,000-10,00K adjustable bi-color lighting with green and magenta color shift controls to allow for tunable blue and green screen optimization.
On top of that, this light is fully tunable and dimmable, and offers CCT, HSI, RGBWW, gel presets, flash modes, and effects, too.
The light it produces is clean and flicker-free at all shutter angles. The CRI and TLCI of 97 speak to its impeccable color accuracy.
Litra even made sure this light is rugged and durable. It’s waterproof, has highly efficient passive thermal management, and offers up to 20 hours of battery life on the low setting.
That makes this a go-anywhere, do-anything light that made huge waves in the photography world this year.
GoPro HERO 8
While the GoPro HERO 8 doesn’t boast any major updates, it does represent a culmination of a wide range of smaller updates that, taken together, make it the best GoPro thus far.
In fact, I’d say this is the most innovative and user-friendly GoPro yet.
It has built-in mounting pins so you can directly mount the camera to accessories rather than needing a frame to do so.
There are built-in digital lenses for multiple field of view settings from Narrow and Wide to Linear and Superview. The camera’s physical lens cover is not not removable and it twice as strong as those found in older models.
Also on the ease-of-use front are numerous capture presets that allow you to create and save popular types of videos. SuperPhoto, which is GoPro’s version of HDR, gets a refresh that results in improved image quality as well.
The GoPro HERO 7 debuted incredible image stabilization with HyperSmooth, and the HERO 8 builds on that with even better results with HyperSmooth 2.0.
The HERO 8 also gets upgraded TimeWarp features, including an auto mode that uses sensor to detect motion and adjust the recording speed accordingly.
The camera also has improved photo-taking capabilities with face detection, smile detection, and blink detection functions, as well as LiveBurst mode for taking 1.5-second-long images before and after the shutter button is depressed.
Add in built-in GPS, motion sensors, live streaming capabilities at 1080p, 4K video at 60fps, and a host of mod accessories to expand the camera’s capabilities, and it’s no wonder that this rig set the photography world on fire in 2019!
Aputure 120D II
As far as studio lights go, it’s tough to beat the quality lights that Aputure puts out.
And at the top of their lineup is the 120d II, a light I reviewed earlier this year and was very impressed with.
This light is 1000-watt tungsten equivalent, so you get plenty of brightness for your studio work. It’s fully dimmable, too, and has a CRI and TLCI of 97+. That kind of quality light is a must-have for discerning photographers.
Aputure also included a variety of built-in lighting effects so you can dial in custom looks for your images. With this light, there’s nothing stopping your creativity!
But what’s really impressive about the 120d II is what’s “behind the scenes.”
It has an integrated power and control box, which keeps clutter to a minimum in the studio. Any studio photographer will appreciate that!
What’s more, it has an 18dB quiet fan, which keeps that annoying “whooshing” sound to a minimum so you can concentrate more thoroughly on getting killer shots.
Add in the fact that this light is 25 percent brighter than its predecessor and that it has DMX controls, a wireless remote, and excellent portability, and you have the makings of a top light for your photography studio.
Exposure X5 is yet another software update that sent shockwaves through the photography world in 2019.
Its predecessor, Exposure X4, was highly functional, user-friendly, and super powerful, so it was hard to imagine how the folks at Exposure could make X5 better. But they did.
For starters, Exposure X5 has custom camera profiles that allow you to control how the software interprets color from RAW files. These profiles (created by X-Rite, among others) can be applied automatically by matching the serial number of your camera or by using the camera model. Furthermore, these profiles can be matched to a specific lens or ISO range.
You get advanced chromatic aberration correction in X5 too. This allows you to remove unwanted artifacts using lens profiles, or you can remove them by making manual adjustments if you prefer.
There’s also a new fringe removal tool, so X5 makes getting rid of chromatic aberrations easier than ever before.
There are a host of other new features too.
Exposure X5 includes new complementary color presets, new season-inspired looks, and new light and airy presets that give you expanded creative potential when editing your photos.
There are more black and white film options than ever before, support for grayscale TIFF and JPEG images, and new image flip options too. Exposure X5 also has multiple language options, including English, German, and French.
But for me, the best new feature in Exposure X5 is 3D color masking.
Basically, you can use this tool to make incredibly precise selections for applying adjustments to your photos. You can see it at work in the video above.
This fine level of control is made possible by using specific color characteristics (hue, saturation, and luminance) to define the adjustment areas.
What this means is that you can quickly and easily target specific areas for color masking, like the sky in a landscape photo or skin tones in a portrait. This is all done with just a few clicks.
Exposure X5 is powerful, easy to use, and incorporates tons of new features that make it the best Exposure software to date. If you’ve never tried exposure, give it a test-drive for free.
Holdfast Tanker Belt
I’ve been a Holdfast customer for a long time, and what initially drew me to them was the absolutely outstanding build quality of their products.
They use only the finest materials - things like full-grain leather and stainless steel - so when you buy a camera strap or harness or bag, you get something that is durable and will last you for years.
But as the years have gone by, I’ve come to appreciate more and more the sheer innovation that these guys display when developing new products. That being the case, I had to include Holdfast on this list of the best gear updates of the year.
One of Holdfast’s latest products is the Tanker Belt, which changes the way you carry your gear.
It’s actually two belts in one, the first of which cinches around your waist like a normal belt and the second, outer belt, which forms loops for attaching your gear.
This ingenious design means the belt stays put (as do your pants) while maximizing the amount of gear you can carry around your waist.
There are three D-rings on the belt for attaching things like your keys or a wallet, and the D-rings are moveable, so you can customize precisely where your items hang on your waist.
And, as you’d expect with Holdfast, this belt looks and feels like a million bucks - it's gorgeous handmade leather is something to behold!
Better still, the Tanker Belt was designed with functionality in mind, so it’s compatible with a wide range of Holdfast products.
With sizes from 28-inches up to 44-inches and multiple colors (black, tan, chestnut, and burgandy), you can customize the Tanker Belt to your specific needs and tastes.
Panasonic 10-25mm f/1.7 Lens
I picked up a Panasonic GH5 earlier this year, and it quickly won me over with its astonishing video capabilities.
It wasn’t until recently, though, that I got to test out the Panasonic 10-25mm f/1.7 lens, and I have to say, I wish I would’ve gotten my hands on it a lot sooner! This is a fantastic lens, to say the least.
You can get some of my thoughts on this lens in the video above, but I want to expound on its features a little bit more.
Make no mistake - this is a gigantic lens, especially for a micro four-thirds camera. Fortunately, it’s not hard to handle at all, and despite its footprint, it’s actually not all that heavy.
But it’s massive size means that Panasonic was able to cram lots of goodies inside to help you get superb images.
This lens is supremely sharp, beautifully responsive, and gets you clean, crisp images each and every time. Its bokeh is buttery smooth and there’s wonderful brightness throughout its aperture range.
It has 17 elements in 12 groups, including three aspherical lenses and four extra-low dispersion elements which work to all but eliminate spherical aberration, distortion, and chromatic aberration. The result is images with impressive quality.
But where this lens was a game-changer in 2019 was in its video capabilities…
It’s compatible with up to 240fps high-speed sensor drives and offers silent operation thanks to the inner focus drive system and the de-clicked aperture ring.
The focus clutch is a nice touch as well, as it enables instant switching between autofocus and manual focus as well as improved accuracy when manually focusing.
With next to zero focus breathing, a micro-step drive system that accommodates brightness changes when panning and zooming, and Leica build quality, this lens certainly doesn’t disappoint!
Sony a7R IV
When the Sony a7R IV was announced earlier this year, it set the internet on fire with news of its massive 61-megapixel sensor. And while the sensor is impressive, it’s just the beginning of the impressive specs of this camera.
Paired with a BIONZ X image processor, the a7R IV’s back-illuminated sensor is capable of rendering images that are beautifully crisp.
You get an eyeful of all that beauty with the brand-new UXGA OLED Tru-Finder viewfinder, which has a whopping 5.76-million dots of resolution for a clean, bright, detailed look at what you’ve framed up in the shot.
This camera has a native ISO range of 100-32000 for low-light shooting, and with 15-stops of dynamic range rendering, you’ll have no problem getting tons of details in the shadows and the highlights.
Of course, the a7R IV carries on the Sony tradition of excellent autofocusing, with an ultra-fast hybrid AF system that has 567 phase-detect AF points to give you quick and accurate autofocus tracking.
Throw in UHD 4K video at 30p, Real-Time Eye AF tracking, 10fps shooting, and a bevy of other features, and you can see why the Sony a7R IV was one of the best gear updates of 2019.
Haida M10 Filter System
The Haida M10 filter system is something I’ve been testing as of late, and I have to say that I’m impressed with this system.
Like the other products and services on this list, I’ve found numerous innovative and unique features that compelled me to include this product on this list.
Haida is a great value for the money with well-built components that show an attention to quality and detail that many filter companies just can’t match.
I have multiple components in my kit - the M10 filter holder, a circular polarizer, a couple of solid ND filters, and a soft-edge grad (shown above) - but you can also buy complete kits of varying sizes, including their Master Filter Kit, their Professional Kit, and their Enthusiast Kit, if you’d rather go that route.
Either way, I think you’ll find, as I have, that the Haida system is one that enhances your ability to get quality shots.
The aluminum alloy filter holder can accommodate two 100mm filters, but it can expand to include a third slot if needed. The Haida filters are made of shock-resistant optical glass and features 10 layers of anti-reflective nano coating and 10 layers of scratch and water resistant coatings.
The holder rotates a full 360-degrees, which is enormously helpful for getting just the right positioning when using graduated ND filters.
I also like the fact that Haida incorporated gaskets in the filter slots to help prevent light leaks. They even include a “dummy” filter housing that can be dropped into the filter if you’re shooting without the circular polarizer in place. Again, this helps prevent light leaks so you get a cleaner exposure.
The pinch and pull system for adding and removing filters make using this system super easy, as do the rounded edges of the rectangular filters - they’re much easier to slide into the filter holder without sharp edges.
This is just a well thought out system for beginners and enthusiasts alike!
Though the Sony a7R IV probably got more attention, the Sony a6600 is certainly not something to forget about…
With a much smaller price tag than the a7R IV and more applicability for more photographers, the a6600 rocked our world this year by bringing many flagship features to a mid-range camera.
Its 24.2-megapixel Exmor CMOS sensor is ideal for capturing beautifully resolute images while the native ISO range of 100-32000 gives you excellent low-light shooting capabilities with reduced noise.
As I get more into video creation, I appreciate the fact that this camera sports UHD 4K video capabilities that can be internally recorded in XAVC S format.
The five-axis image stabilization is a dream, giving you five full stops of stabilization, while the weather-sealed construction means you can head out in adverse weather with less worry about what will happen to your camera.
With additional features like a beautiful XGA OLED Tru-Finder viewfinder, a tiltable LCD monitor, 11 fps continuous shooting, and much more, this camera is certainly worthy of the title of gear that rocked 2019!
RODE Wireless GO
A final product I wanted to mention on this list of the top software and gear updates is this handy little guy, the RODE Wireless GO.
This wireless system automatically pairs in just three seconds and transmits via RODE’s new Series III digital transmission system. It’s a 2.4GHz system that’s optimized for short-range operation, particularly in environments in which there is a lot of RF and Wi-Fi interference. It also offers line-of-sight range of up to 70 meters.
You also get broadcast-grade audio thanks to the built-in condenser mic’s superb isolation and transparency. Alternatively, you can use it with a lavalier mic using the 3.5mm TRS input.
Additionally, the Wireless GO system operates up to seven hours on a full charge, and since the unit is so small and compact, it’s super lightweight and portable.
You can even use up to eight systems in one location if you have the need!
If you’ve ever used a ROD mic before, you know they’re some of the best in the business. The RODE Wireless GO is certainly no exception!