2011-2012 Camera Magazine Imaging Awards

As sports commentators like to say, the last 12 months in the camera industry has been very much a game of two halves. There was the period before 11 March 2011 and the period after. This, of course, is the date on which one of Japan’s major industrial areas was wiped out by the massive tsunami which followed a magnitude 9.0 earthquake 70 kilometres off the country’s north-east coast. Many towns and villages were totally destroyed and, in the end, the loss of life will top 20,000 (many thousands are still missing). The electronics and automotive industries were particularly hard hit with, in particular, interruptions in the supply of components causing problems for Japanese factories across the country and overseas.

The country – and the economy – are still recovering so there have been many delays in the launching of new products... if not because of manufacturing problems, then out of respect for the victims and their families. This has significantly reshaped the ‘camera year’ and there was a fraction of the activity we’d normally expect in the second half. As well as new model introductions being delayed, some existing models ended up in short supply until production could be restarted or moved to another site.

Things are picking up now as manufacturers and distributors rush to fill the supply lines in time for the potentially lucrative Christmas period, but quite a number of new products – which you’re reading about in this issue – didn’t go on sale in time to be considered for this year’s awards. Nevertheless, there was still plenty of competition in many of the categories, including both the consumer and enthusiast-level D-SLRs, consumer compact cameras and video camcorders.

The compact system camera (CSC) segment undoubtedly slowed from April onwards. Panasonic had already launched its third-generation of Micro Four Thirds cameras while Sony’s new NEX-series models and the all-new Nikon 1 system are only arriving in the shops now. Consequently, Olympus’s third-gen Digital PENs were the only CSC arrivals of note in a period expected to be chock-a-block with activity.

Of course, things are going to get very interesting now – especially when Canon eventually gets involved – and the debate about sensor size and target audiences intensifies. Nikon has confounded everybody by opting for a smaller sensor, ostensibly to avoid cannibalisation of its entry-level D-SLRs which are currently doing good business.

This does make sense, but then there seem to be a lot of Nikon D-SLR owners disappointed there isn’t a CSC body fully compatible with their existing lenses. Our contention remains that a big audience for CSCs is indeed existing D-SLR users who want a compact interchangeable lens camera body as an adjunct to their reflex system, not as an alternative.

Here, then, Panasonic appears to have the clearest thinking, having thrown all its eggs into the CSC basket and now offering Lumix G-series cameras to suit a wide variety of potential users from enthusiasts (G3, GH2 and GX1) to snap-shooters (GF2 and GF3).  

Importantly, Canon, Nikon, Pentax/Ricoh and Sony remain fully committed to entry-level D-SLRs and any suggestion that this might be a sector about to disappear look very wide of the mark. For starters, it was a very good year for new models – Pentax K-r, Canon’s EOS 1100D and 600D, Nikon D5100 and Sony SLT-A35 – while earlier versions (such as the 550D and D5000) have sold strongly on the back of pricing often undercutting the CSCs.

The enthusiast-level D-SLR is even more firmly entrenched as the camera of choice for the more serious shooter who isn’t overly concerned about size and weight (within reason). Of course, it remains to be seen what impact more enthusiast-orientated CSCs – like Sony’s NEX-7 (eligible for next year’s awards) and whatever Fujifilm is dreaming up – will have here, but it’s still hard to see the D-SLR being usurped from its premier position. Just look at what has been on offer in this category this year – Canon 
EOS 60D, Nikon D7000, Pentax K-5 and Sony SLT-A77.

Exceptional cameras all and undoubtedly hard-to-counter arguments for the D-SLR as the most accomplished and least-compromised tool for advanced amateurs and professionals.

Despite the upheavals for many of the Japanese camera makers 2011 was still a very good year so selecting winners wasn’t really any easier and, if anything, the competition was more highly concentrated. And, importantly, the bar was definitely raised again. It wasn’t just all about technology this year either, but with digital camera design now into a maturing phase, there was a welcome return to some individuality in the key areas of styling, ergonomics and functionality... chief among these being Fujifilm’s superb FinePix X100.

However, all our winners this year found clever ways of packaging up technologies or new ways of doing things that are better and, as ever, 
we are the beneficiaries.