DPReview Awards 2020
How is it nearly the end of the year already? Not that any of us are keen for 2020 to last much longer. To say the least, this has been a strange and difficult few months for people all over the globe, and one that we can’t wait to put behind us. The photo industry (like most industries) was impacted by the COVID-19 epidemic this year, but a lot of great products were released nevertheless, even if launch schedules were a little more erratic (and access to samples a lot more disrupted) than normal.
At the end of every year we get together as a team to recognize the standout products of the past 12 months in our annual DPReview Awards. Normally we do that in a room, but hey – contentious multi-participant discussions about which products a bunch of very opinionated professional reviewers like best are what video calls were invented for!
Without further ado, take a look through this article to find out which products made our list of the best gear of 2020.
- Apple iPad Air (2020 version)
- DJI Mavic Air 2
- DJI Pocket 2
- GoPro HERO9 Black
Runner up: GoPro HERO9 Black
‘Go big or come home,’ is a phrase we can only assume is often spoken (or shouted?) at GoPro HQ. And with the new flagship HERO9 Black, GoPro really did go big.
The HERO9 Black offers up to 5K/30p or 4K/60p video from a new 23.6MP sensor; the former gives room to crop-in in post, assuming you’re outputting in 4K. It also features GoPro’s impressive HyperSmooth 3.0 video stabilization, which is easily the best in the action camera class.
Still images are captured at 20MP, up from 12MP on the HERO8 Black. And a new accessory wide angle attachment (sold separately) adds increased versatility to the unit. Long gone are days of confusing button combinations: The HERO9 Black offers a rear touchscreen as well as a front-facing ‘live’ screen. It’s also waterproof, without the need for a case and provides 30% improved battery life over its predecessor. That’s good enough to make it our runner-up for best accessory of the year.
Winner: DJI Mavic Air 2
The DJI Mavic series has likely done more to popularize drone photography than any other product, but in 2020 DJI really hit the sweet spot with the Mavic Air 2. It’s a true Goldilocks product that’s not too little or too much – it’s just right. In our review we called it ‘The best all-round drone for most people’.
While not the smallest drone on the market, the Mavic Air 2 still fits in the palm of your hand. Despite its compact size, it features a camera with a 1/2″ CMOS sensor to deliver better image quality than models with smartphone-style sensors. It captures impressive 4K/60p video and photos in JPEG or Raw, includes HDR and panorama modes, and packs useful features like an obstacle avoidance system and impressive subject tracking. Most important, it’s fun to fly and makes it easy to capture great photos and videos, earning it our photo accessory of the year award.
Best smartphone camera
- Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
- Google Pixel 5
- Huawei Mate 40 Pro
- Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G
Runner up: Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G
Sitting at the top of Samsung’s Galaxy S20 lineup, the Ultra earns its name in multiple respects, starting with its massive 6.9” OLED screen. But what stands out most to us is its impressive camera hardware. It offers a large 1/1.33″ 108MP sensor in its main camera module, complemented by a 12MP ultrawide and depth-sensing time-of-flight sensors. An additional 48MP telephoto camera features a 103mm periscope configuration with an f/3.5 aperture, making it a native 4x optical zoom. A 10x “hybrid optic zoom” mode is offered that combines data from both the 108MP wide and 48 MP telephoto modules, and you can go up to 30x with some software upscaling wizardry. All but the ultrawide module offer phase-detect autofocus.
This phone was announced in February of this year and at the end of 2020 it’s still unrivaled in terms of raw camera specs. It’s large main sensor, 8K video, and its Nonacell and Tetracell technologies in the main and tele- modules that allow for higher quality images in low light thanks to hardware binning, to name a few.
In recent history, smartphone camera advancements have largely come from more sophisticated software. To be sure, the S20 Ultra has plenty of software tricks up its sleeves, but Samsung also went big on hardware in this device. For this unique combination of cutting-edge software and hardware, it earns our Best Smartphone runner up.
Winner: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
Apple reserved its most impressive imaging specifications for the iPhone 12 Pro lineup, with telephoto lenses, LiDAR scanners that enable night portrait mode images, and up to 4K/60p Dolby Vision video. In fact, iPhone 12 phones are the only devices in existence that allow you to capture, edit and display video in the 10-bit Dolby Vision HDR format all on the smartphone itself.
But the iPhone 12 Pro Max takes things a step further, introducing a 47% larger sensor with bigger pixels to the device’s main camera, which in conjunction with the F1.6 main lens aperture allows the Pro Max to capture nearly twice as much light as the previous generation phones. Sensor-shift stabilization has also been added to the main camera for the first time in an iPhone, allowing for better night mode photographs.
While this may not sound like a big deal considering the 1/1.33″ sensors we’ve seen in competitors, it’s the total package that makes the 12 Pro Max our winner. It’s the only smartphone not just capturing but displaying HDR in both stills and video, in more hands than ever before. Yet also doing so also with a large sensor, sensor-shift stabilization and the image processing many have come to know and love of Apple. And seeing HDR photos and videos is believing – it’s one of the next big steps forward in image capture and display, and the 12 Pro Max is going to turn a lot of people into believers. Especially if you set your screen brightness to max!
Best zoom lens
- Nikon Nikkor Z 14-24mm F2.8 S
- Nikon Nikkor Z 70-200mm F2.8 VR S
- Olympus 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25x
- Sony 12-24mm F2.8 GM
Runner-up: Nikon Nikkor Z 14-24mm F2.8 S
The third and final member of Nikon’s Z-mount ‘Holy Trinity’ is an impressive lens – the Z 14-24mm F2.8 S. This one had a hard act to follow, vying to replace the very well-liked AF-S 14-24mm F2.8 in the kitbags of Nikon mirrorless upgraders.
Instead of simply adapting and re-housing the older optical design for the new Z-mount, Nikon’s engineers went back to the drawing board, creating a fast wideangle zoom that manages to be smaller, lighter and more practical than its F-mount predecessor, without sacrificing optical quality and, actually, improving on it. This is a wonderfully sharp lens, and very practical too, weighing in at less than 1.5 lbs, with the option of screw-in filter compatibility via an included hood adapter. This is a lens which – like one of its main competitors this year, Sony’s FE 12-24mm F2.8 GM – really shows what optical designers can do with a short flange-back distance.
Joint-winner: Nikon Nikkor Z 70-200mm F2.8 VR S
A good 70-200mm F2.8 equivalent seems to be essential in any system which wants to be taken seriously. Nikon announced the Z 70-200mm F2.8 VR S way back in January (which feels like years ago) but disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that even now, it’s hard to get hold of.
Assuming you’re lucky enough to get your hands on one, you’ll find a lot to like about the Z 70-200mm F2.8 VR S. Perhaps the sharpest of the current (all very sharp) range of similar lenses for competitive mirrorless systems, this powerful telezoom features a very good minimum focus distance, excellent customization, and the ability to accept teleconverters. While it doesn’t have quite the same magic bokeh as the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8E FL ED VR, the cross-frame sharpness and flare-resistance of this native mirrorless lens is superb, making it a very capable companion for users of Nikon’s Z-mount, and the joint-winner in this year’s DPReview Awards for best zoom lens.
Joint-winner: Sony 12-24mm F2.8 GM
In the end we couldn’t choose between the Nikon Z 70-200mm F2.8 VR S and this one. The Sony 12-24mm F2.8 GM is a very different kind of lens, but equally excellent in its way. Aimed at landscape and astrophotographers alike, it’s a lens that can replace a handful of primes thanks to its optical performance. It’s tack sharp wide open, and three extreme aspherical (XA), two Super ED and three ED (extra low dispersion) elements help the lens achieve little to no lateral or longitudinal chromatic aberration. Stars and city lights are faithfully rendered thanks to minimal coma, and the precision of XA element grinding ensures smooth bokeh with no onion-rings.
The Sony 12-24mm F2.8 GM is impressively lightweight at 847g, only 6.5% heavier than the compact Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art lens. It accepts rear-mount gel filters, and is fast to focus thanks to four extreme dynamic (XD) linear motors that allow it to keep up with the 20 fps frame rate of the Sony a9 cameras. A newer Nano anti-reflective coating allows for lower flare and ghosting. Video shooters will be pleased by the linear focus response, lack of focus breathing, focus shift, and axial shift while zooming.
Best prime lens
- Nikon Z 20mm F1.8 S
- Sigma 105mm F2.8 DG DN Macro
- Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG DN Art
- Sony FE 20mm F1.8G
Runner-up: Sigma 105mm F2.8 DG DN Macro
Another in a line of excellent ‘DN’ (Digital Native) lenses from Sigma, the 105mm F2.8 was designed specifically for full-frame mirrorless cameras, and delivers excellent results on the latest Sony E-mount and Panasonic/Leica/Sigma L-mount bodies.
Medium-telephoto macro lenses like this one are excellent for closeup work of smaller animals and plants, where you want to be able to maintain a reasonable camera-subject distance. They’re also handy as portrait lenses, where the longer focal length and sharpness wide-open help compensate for the relatively slow maximum aperture compared to a conventional portrait prime. As one of (still) very few native macro options for full-frame mirrorless shooters, the Sigma 105mm F2.8 DG DN Macro earns its runner-up spot in this year’s DPReview Award for best prime lens.
Winner: Sony FE 20mm F1.8G
The Sony 20mm F1.8G takes the top spot in our awards for prime lens of the year thanks to the fact that it’s nearly optically flawless. It’s sharp enough wide open to pair with the high-resolution 60MP a7R IV, with nearly no lateral or longitudinal chromatic aberration to speak of – particularly impressive for a lens of this type. Bokeh is smooth with no onion rings or bright edges. Nine aperture blades ensure smooth out-of-focus highlights even as you stop down, and for astrophotographers, there’s minimal sagittal flare or coma.
Autofocus is extremely speedy thanks to XD (extreme dynamic) linear focus actuators. Distortion and vignetting are also well-controlled and easily fixed in post-processing. The only flaw we can find really is a tendency to flare and ghost, but that’s excusable for a lens of this type and considering its lack of other optical aberrations.
As the most well-corrected lenses of this type that we’ve ever seen, the Sony 20mm F1.8G easily wins our prime lens of the year.
Best compact/fixed lens camera
- Fujifilm X100V
- Nikon Coolpix P950
- Sony ZV1
- Zeiss ZX1
Runner-up: Nikon Coolpix P950
In a year with few highlights, testing the Nikon Coolpix P950 was definitely among them. Maybe the perfect camera for shooting during quarantine, if you can’t find some interesting photographic perspectives with a 24-2000mm zoom range, it’s time to find another hobby.
It’s all too easy to sneer at ‘big lens, small sensor’ cameras like this, but do so at your peril. The Coolpix P900 sold like hotcakes, and the P950 is a better camera, and nicer to use, too (thanks to Raw mode and a better EVF, respectively). If you respect its limits, the P950 will reward you with images that would be near-impossible to get with any other comparably-priced setup. A good camera removes obstacles to creativity, and for that reason the Nikon Coolpix P950 earns its runner-up spot in our category for compact / fixed-lens camera this year.
Winner: Fujifilm X100V
And the Nikon Coolpix P950 would probably have won outright, were it not for this pesky kid. The Fujifilm X100V is the fifth camera in the company’s perennially-popular X100 range, and brings far more substantial changes compared to previous iterations. Featuring a new 26MP BSI-CMOS sensor, flip-out, touch-sensitive rear-screen and redesigned lens, the X100V is a significantly better camera than its forebears.
We’ve always loved the X100-series, and it was very good to see Fujifilm’s engineers really grasp the nettle this year and make some bolder updates to the concept. And while some photographers might still consider the X100V’s fixed 35mm equivalent lens to be limiting, it’s worth noting that the redesigned lens makes the company’s wide and tele-converters perform a lot better than they did on some previous X100-series models. For everyday photography the X100V is a reliable and enjoyable companion, and as such it takes the top spot in our 2020 DPReview Award for best compact/fixed-lens camera.
Best stills / video camera
- Canon EOS R6
- Fujifilm X-T4
- Panasonic Lumix DC-S5
- Sony a7S III
Runner up: Canon EOS R6
The EOS R6 risks being overshadowed by the 8K-capable R5 (and the initial concerns about how it recovers from overheating), but its a hugely capable stills / video camera.
The ability to record in 10-bit, either as Log or PQ HDR footage, is impressive, as is the option to shoot 4K/60p, but its appeal goes beyond that. Its stabilization is excellent, its autofocus is reliable and the video and stills settings are kept separate to a good degree, making it easy to switch back and forth. A firmware update that improves recovery times means it’s primarily its rolling shutter that counts against it. But even with this taken into account, there are few cameras at the price that make it easier to shoot genuinely excellent video.
Winner: Sony a7S III
Instead of chasing headline specs, Sony told us its priorities for the a7S III centered around reliability. In that spirit, it stuck with a 12MP sensor to capture native 4K, but its an all-new BSI sensor with dual gain architecture and fast rolling shutter performance. As a result, the camera can capture 4K/60p using the full width of its sensor, and up to 4K/120p with a slight (1.1x) crop, all in 4:2:2 10-bit color.
The a7S III also benefits from updated codecs, including a new All-I ‘intra-frame’ option, 16-bit Raw video output over HDMI, and dual-twin card slots that support both SD and CFexpress Type A. It’s also the first a7-series camera to feature a fully articulating screen in addition to Sony’s class-leading AF system, and it can record 4-channel audio with a new XLR adapter. the a7S III’s biggest drawback is that it’s stuck at 12MP for stills. Native 4K may result in slightly less detail than the oversampled video found on competitors, but it’s still the most impressive stills/video hybrid we’ve seen this year unless you really need more than 4K resolution.
Best entry-level ILC
- Canon EOS Rebel T8i
- Fujifilm X-S10
- Fujifilm X-T200
- Olympus OM-D E-M10 IV
Runner-up: Olympus OM-D E-M10 IV
The Olympus OM-D E-M10 IV is one of the dark horses of the current photography market. Introduced this year without much fanfare, on the surface the E-M10 IV might look like an iterative update to the venerable E-M10-series, and in some ways of course it is. But iteration is good! With the Mark IV, Olympus has created arguably its most competitive consumer ILC yet.
With a 20MP Micro Four Thirds sensor (an upgrade from the rather long-in-the-tooth 16MP sensor used in the last generation) and built-in IBIS effective for ~4.5EV, the OM-D E-M10 IV is a more powerful tool than its predecessors. It’s fairly fast (max shooting with AF is possible up to 4.5fps) and offers a decent electronic viewfinder, a flip-down touchscreen on the back, and 4K video. While its menu system and GUI can be overwhelming at first, the amount of features and technology that Olympus has packed into the E-M10 IV make it an excellent option for a keen beginner.
Winner: Fujifilm X-S10
The Fujifilm X-S10 is one of our favorite cameras of the year (spoiler alert). It uses the same sensor, processor and AF system as the flagship X-T4, and is only the third Fujifilm X-series camera to offer built-in stabilization, using a newly-developed compact IBIS mechanism. Meanwhile the deep handgrip recalls the popular X-H1.
Far from being a ‘parts bin’ camera, the X-S10 brings something genuinely new to Fujifilm’s lineup, offering a more conventional (less dial-driven) interface with a PASM exposure mode control which will be familiar to anyone who has used an entry-level camera from another manufacturer. Its performance, both in terms of autofocus and speed, is excellent, as is image quality in stills and video modes. While just on the cusp of ‘midrange’ considering its price, if you have the money, the Fujifilm X-S10 is one of the best entry-level ILCs on the market, and takes first place this year in our DPReview Awards.
Best midrange ILC
- Canon EOS R6
- Fujifilm X-T4
- Nikon Z5
- Nikon Z6 II
Runner-up: Fujifilm X-T4
Fujifilm’s flagship APS-C format camera, the X-T4 is a model that we find ourselves recommending to friends and family quite often. There was apparently some debate within Fujifilm about whether to call this the ‘X-T3S’ but it was decided that enough had been changed to justify an entirely new model name.
We tend to agree. While the X-T4 looks a lot like the X-T3 (and the X-T2… and the X-T1…) it’s a better and more competitive camera. Now featuring a powerful in-body stabilization system (effective up to an impressive ~6.5EV) and 4K/60p video, the X-T4 is a highly versatile tool. We’ve seen the 26MP BSI-CMOS sensor before in the X-T3 and X100V, but it’s still among the best (if not the best) of its type on the market. Pound for pound and dollar-for-dollar, the Fujifilm X-T4 offers fantastic value, and it’s a lot of fun to shoot with, too.
Winner: Canon EOS R6
Now that full-frame mirrorless cameras have joined APS-C models in all market segments, it’s harder than ever to divide products up into categories. As you’d expect, the full-frame Canon EOS R6 costs a lot more than the APS-C Fujifilm X-T4, but it’s aimed at essentially the same kind of customers: advanced amateurs and enthusiast photographers, and perhaps professional photographers looking for a second, video-capable body.
It’s hard to imagine a camera better suited to this constituency of users than the Canon EOS R6. It’s fast, powerful and offers excellent autofocus. It’s a great stills camera, which produces very nice JPEGs and offers good (while not class-leading) dynamic range in Raw mode. The R6 also provides one of the sharpest and most responsive electronic viewfinders on the market, and offers an impressive video feature-set, in addition to stills. As a ‘do everything’ camera for enthusiast photographers the Canon EOS R6 is very hard to beat and is likely to remain competitive for a long time. As such, it’s a worthy winner of our 2020 DPReview Award for best midrange ILC.
Best high-end ILC
- Canon EOS R5
- Canon EOS-1D X Mark III
- Nikon D6
- Nikon Z7 II
Runner-up: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III
Announced in early January this year, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III was meant to be Canon’s ‘Olympics’ camera, for the games originally planned in Tokyo this summer. We all know how well that worked out of course, but sports isn’t the only thing that the EOS-1D X Mark III is good for. Despite being a ‘Mark’ update, the Mark III brings a lot of new and impressive technology to Canon’s pro market segment. Blazing speed and extreme durability are a given, but in the Mark III, Canon created the nearest thing to a true ‘hybrid’ camera we’ve seen to date.
In DSLR mode the EOS-1D X Mark III is a conventional pro camera, albeit an extremely good one. But with the mirror locked up in live view mode, it offers many of the advantages of a high-end mirrorless ILC. These include near full-frame autofocus coverage, sophisticated AF tracking courtesy of an advanced Dual-pixel CMOS autofocus system and silent shooting with a maximum frame-rate of 20fps. Oh, and up to 5.5K/60p Raw video. The vast majority of photographers won’t need many of this camera’s features, but for those that do, the EOS-1D X Mark III is up there with the best of the pro bodies currently available.
Winner: Canon EOS R5
The R5 is a more costly and pro-focused camera than the R6, and at the time of its announcement, the big news was its unique ability (among cameras of this type) to shoot 8K video. Arguably, though, 8K video is the least of the reasons to be interested in the EOS R5. Much more useful to most photographers is its excellent resolution, highly effective autofocus system (closing the gap substantially with Sony’s best-in-class implementation in the a9/II) and photographer-friendly ergonomics. As a stills and video tool for serious professional photography, the EOS R5 has a lot to offer, even if overheating concerns did take the shine off some of its headline video features (something which, to Canon’s credit, has been improved via firmware since its release).
It seems strange to talk about any company having ‘a good year’ given the unmitigated chaos of 2020, but for Canon it’s actually kind of true. Alongside the EOS-1D X Mark III and several excellent lenses, this was this year that Canon made its most convincing entry into serious full-frame mirrorless imaging with the winner of our 2020 DPReview Award for best high-end ILC – the EOS R5.
DPReview innovation award
- Canon EOS R5
- Canon RF 600 & 800mm F11 IS STM
- DJI Mavic Air 2
- iPhone 12 Lineup
Runner-up: Canon RF 600/800mm F11 IS STM
While neither of these lenses will challenge more conventional, brighter-aperture telephoto primes for ultimate image quality, they’re unique in that they bring true, practical telephoto shooting into range for amateur and enthusiast photographers. Considering their reach, both lenses are relatively small and lightweight, and while F11 can be limiting, autofocus support (including even using the RF 2X converter on the EOS R5 and R6) and built-in image stabilization make them surprisingly versatile.
We’ve seen collapsing mechanisms in lenses before, and we’ve seen diffractive optics used to reduce the weight and complexity of telephoto lens designs. It’s the combination of the two technologies which makes the Canon RF 600mm and 800mm F11 IS STM so innovative, and so special.
Winner: iPhone 12 Lineup
This year we’re awarding the entire Apple iPhone 12 lineup for our Innovation of the Year award, because it brings HDR to the masses. No, not the overly tone-mapped, flat HDR you’re thinking of. We’re talking about high dynamic range (HDR) display of both images and video. Like the previous two generations of iPhones, the iPhone 12 captures a wide dynamic range and tonemaps this large range into the final image. Under SDR viewing conditions (like your web browser) this can lead to high dynamic range images appearing somewhat flat. However, these very images viewed directly on iPhones with OLED displays appear quite the opposite of flat, with very bright brights (skies, clouds, lights) and dark shadows, thanks to HDR playback. HDR playback (like Dolby Vision/HDR10/HLG for video) tries to preserve the contrast between brights and darks to produce more realistic results, so that sunlit grass actually looks radiant compared to grass in the shadows, for example.
This year, down to its cheapest iPhone 12 Mini, Apple has included an HDR OLED display and Dolby Vision video. Apple has been displaying HDR stills since the iPhone X, but this is the first time it’s doing so across its entire lineup, and for video as well with Dolby Vision, a format that optimizes scene dynamic range on a frame-by-frame basis. Add to that the wide P3 color space used for both stills and video, and you have some of the nicest looking imagery from any device. Not to mention one you can carry in your pocket.
DPReview product of the year 2020
- Canon EOS R6
- Fujifilm X100V
- Fujifilm X-S10
- Sony 12-24mm F2.8 GM
Runner-up: Fujifilm X-S10
The Fujifilm X-S10 might not bring much to the X-series lineup that’s genuinely ‘new’, but the way that its various features are packaged is extremely impressive – and very appealing. Built around a newly-designed compact IBIS system, the X-S10 breaks with Fujifilm’s traditional ‘traditional‘ control layout, offering a slightly more streamlined experience, more in line with competitive models.
These tweaks – plus a large, comfortable grip and a very attractive stills and video feature-set – make the X-S10 a seriously compelling camera for its price. The competition for our ‘Product of the Year’ award is always very tough, but the Fujifilm X-S10 beats out stiff competition to take the runner-up spot thanks to its uncommonly attractive suite of features, coupled with a great handling experience that make it a pleasure to shoot with.
Winner: Canon EOS R6
The Canon EOS R6 is one of relatively few cameras we’ve seen over the years which can genuinely be described as ‘multi-purpose’. While not class-leading in terms of resolution, 20MP is enough for most applications, especially when paired with such a powerful autofocus system, which rivals or outclasses the best of the R6’s competition at this price-point.
Designed as a ‘do-everything’ camera for both stills and occasional video shooters, the R6 offers a suite of advanced features in both modes. But arguably none of this would matter so much if it weren’t such a nice camera to use. The Canon EOS R6 is one of the most photographer (and videographer)-friendly cameras of its type, with performance that means it’s equally comfortable shooting sports and wildlife as it is covering weddings and events. It’s this combination of features, performance and excellent handling which make the Canon EOS R6 such a compelling camera, and the winner of this year’s DPReview Award for product of the year.
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