The Top 10 New Video and Photo Gear Releases of 2018

The Top 10 New Video and Photo Gear Releases of 2018

Last year, several high-profile flagship upgrades were released, including the Sony a7R III, Nikon D850, Canon C200, Panasonic GH5, and Zeiss CP.3 cinema lenses. 2018 had a few notable upgrades and some long-awaited innovation from Canon and Nikon.

Here, you’ll discover our 10 favorite releases of this year and get a little bit of a deeper dive on the specs and features for each one. For a full list of 2018 favorites to rent, visit our Best of 2018 gear page.

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1. Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K (73* for a 3 Day Rental)

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K is the much-anticipated update to the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. The original offered a unique set of video features in a very sleek and affordable package and Blackmagic expanded on this with the new version. Responding to the video prowess of competitors like Panasonic with their GH5S (also released in 2018), Blackmagic has overhauled their unique camera to keep up with the shooting demands of videographers:

• New, wider sensor (the original has a 12.48mm wide sensor, while this one has an 18.99mm wide sensor – mount is Micro Four Thirds).
• 13 stops of dynamic range.
• Uncompressed 12-bit DCI 4K Cinema DNG RAW over USB-C and internally to CFast or SD (with some limitations with SD).
• Choice of a 3.5mm input or a mini-XLR socket with 48V phantom power.
• Huge 5″ 1080p touchscreen.

Compatibility with the Blackmagic Pocket 4K

Shooting 4K RAW to an external drive via USB-C is a wonderfully smooth workflow and all inside a very travel-friendly package. Just make sure you choose the right drive because some will use data compression to claim higher write speeds and that will mess with your capture. See this guide for more.

The USB-C port can be paired with a portable charger that supports USB PD up to a 20V output to charge the LP-E6 battery inside but only when the camera is turned off (no pass-through charging). If you want to trickle-charge your LP-E6 with the camera running, you’ll still need to use a broadcast-style 12V DC battery connected via adapter to Blackmagic’s 2-pin LEMO-like connector.

This camera is compatible with Micro Four Thirds mount lenses and has been tested for full compatibility with the following lenses…

This doesn’t mean that other Micro Four Thirds lenses aren’t compatible – just that they haven’t gone through Blackmagic’s rigorous testing yet. We personally like to pair this camera with the very portable Veydra Mini Prime Micro Four Thirds mount cinema lenses or the new Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 II lens.

While currently the smallest option for obtaining uncompressed RAW DCI 4K, this camera is not for just sticking in your pocket. It’s rugged, has a deep grip, and sports just enough heft to support handheld shots (but would be much better served with the use of a handheld gimbal). Access LUTs, presets, frame rate, and everything else on the massive touchscreen or via one of the 6 control buttons (including 2 record buttons – one on the very front and one in the more standard position). Despite all of these controls, it does not feel crowded on the body.

Approachable for Beginners, Designed for Serious Shooters

The Blackmagic Pocket 4K accommodates novices with an intuitive menu layout, touch-to-focus ability, 4 built-in stereo microphones, two cards slots for popular media types (CFast and SD), and compatibility with common Canon LP-E6/E6N batteries. There are no built-in NDs, no built-in stabilization, and no continuous autofocus functionality, however.

The touch-to-focus feature is a little sneaky: you can focus your lens in any region of your scene by tapping the LCD. Press the “focus” button to focus your lens in that chosen area. Double-press this button to reset the point to the center. It’s not a true touch-to-focus and it’s definitely not continuous AF. Pro shooters won’t miss these missing features too much but if you’re a dabbling vlogger, take note. Also, we’re finding the real-world life of the LP batteries is lower than the claimed 50 minutes. As with the original Blackmagic Pocket, you’ll chew through batteries.

Experienced shooters will welcome the extensive ports layout (for a camera of this size). The Blackmagic Pocket 4K is equipped with:

• USB-C for connecting aforementioned drives (supports uncompressed 12-bit Cinema DNG RAW). Also great for connecting to USB-C batteries packs but only in-between shoots, not while shooting.
• 3.5mm microphone input (mic and line supported) that will also accept SMPTE compliant LTC timecode.
• Mini-XLR microphone input (to use a standard XLR mic, you will need to use an adapter which we supply with our rental) with 48V phantom power. If your mic doesn’t require phantom power, be sure to turn it off in the camera or else risk damage to your mic!
• Headphone input.
• Full-size HDMI A out that supports 10-bit 4:2:2 1080p HD.
• DC jack for connecting an outside battery source (which can also trickle-charge your in-camera battery). Requires D-tap adapter.
• 1/4-20″ mounting point at the top of the body for connecting microphones, LEDs, or grip accessories. We include a cold shoe with our rental.
• Bluetooth-enabled but not for relaying any live feeds. It’s just for commanding and controlling the camera wirelessly using the Blackmagic Camera Control App, which will let you change settings, adjust metadata, and trigger record up to 30′ away.

Like the much-bigger (and much more expensive) Panasonic EVA1 and Panasonic Varicam LT cinema cameras, the Blackmagic Pocket 4K offers dual native ISO (400 and 3200). This allows for clean footage in lower light – instead of dialing up the gain to get more sensitivity, you have a second base ISO of 3200 that will have less noise than what you’d typically experience jacking 400 ISO up to 3200. For a small sensor, this camera performs admirably in low light. It is an incredible value for filmmakers who need a tool that strikes a balance between no-fuss portability and high-end control over footage.

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2. RED Monstro VV 8K ($1,775 for a 3 Day Rental)

Currently occupying the top position of RED cameras, the Monstro is pure performance power with its 8K resolution at 60 FPS in larger-than-full-frame Vista Vision format. It’s the largest RED sensor yet, though the body will be familiar to those who have been using RED for awhile. This year, RED consolidated their complicated lineup into 1 DSMC2 body/brain type. Going forward, there will be a single carbon fiber body/brain that can house 3 different kinds of sensors: Monstro, Helium, and Gemini.

The Monstro sensor boats 16-bit color with unprecedented dynamic range and will shoot in 8K in 2.4:1 at 75 FPS or 60 FPS in full format. This gives you 35.4 MP footage and 8192 x 4320px stills. While not the first 8K sensor, the Monstro is the current best for shadow detail, providing the most flexibility in post production. Compared to the Dragon and Helium sensors, the Monstro produces a brighter image even when all are shot at the same exact ISO, shutter, and aperture. For example, the Monstro boasts about 2/3rds of a stop greater range than the Dragon 8K VV.

RED’s Exceptional New Workflow

This camera also features RED’s latest version of their image processing pipeline (IPP2), which can be monitored and controlled in-camera and not just in post with REDCINE-X PRO. Being able to monitor all this out in the field gives discerning shooters ultimate control over their captures.

This latest pipeline includes smoother highlight roll-off, improved shadow detail, and an overall more intuitive workflow. IPP2 will help future-proof the camera as the industry moves more and more into high dynamic range territory. It does this thanks in part to RED’s latest camera color space, REDWideGamutRGB, which can gather all the colors a RED can generate. REDWideGamutRGB’s data is then encoded by RED’s log curve (LOG3G10) for easy grading later.

IPP2 now adheres to industry-standard naming in addition to standardized color space and gamma, which allows for much easier blending of footage from different camera sources. For filmmakers who have been waiting to shoot with a gorgeous large format look in extremely variable lighting conditions, your time is now.

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3. DJI Ronin-S Handheld Gimbal Stabilizer ($53 for a 3 Day Rental)

DJI’s long history in the drone world has allowed them to adopt some of the tried-and-true ergonomics of their controllers and use them in other areas, namely, in their innovative handheld gimbal stabilizer. The Ronin-S is the strongest gimbal in its size class and sports the following features:

• 8 lb payload, which is enough for any DSLR and even some smaller cinema cameras.
• 23.23″ tall, 11.54″ deep, and 10.08″ wide – provides enough clearance so that the roll axis sits at an angle that allows full and easy access to the back of your camera.
• Built-in 12 hour battery with pass-through capability.

The motors are strong enough in the Ronin-S to withstand wind speeds of moving vehicles (up to 45 MPH), allowing you to obtain footage in similar situations as the much larger (and much more expensive) full size Ronins. While heavy for a single-handed tool (the Ronin-S is 4.1 lbs), that heft is required for limiting unwanted sway during heavy action. Taking the edge off that load is a very comfortable grip with a no-slip rubber surface. This grip can be extended or used as a tripod thanks to small support feet.

Ergonomics Meets Customization

Near your grip position are easily-accessible controls, including a trigger and joystick. Squeeze and hold the trigger to lock your orientation, double tap to re-center – very easy first steps for those just getting used to handheld gimbals. When using the DJI Ronin app, you can personalize your shooting experience by assigning different motor parameters to the joystick. Adjust your movement threshold, rotational speed, smoothing, and rotation range for each axis. The Ronin-S also has an integrated follow focus, controllable via a large, tactile knob that can be mounted to either side of the gimbal. See this guide for follow focus compatibility.

DJI Ronin-S vs Zhiyun Crane 2: Which Compact Handheld Stabilizer is Right for You?

Adding a handheld gimbal to your process will give your work the kind of smoothness that is impossible to attain entirely on your own. It also gives your footage a unique perspective that will separate you from amateur shooters. Whether you’re used to larger gimbals and want to downsize for on-location shooting, or you shoot crowded and hectic events, the Ronin-S is the travel-friendly, approachable-but-professional tool for the job.

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4. Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS II ($42 for a 3 Day Rental)

The 70-200mm telephoto zoom is an iconic and practical lens offered in nearly every mount type. They are favored among portrait artists for their ability to provide full length, half length, and headshot framing all in one lens. They are a superb choice for sports and wildlife shooters for their incredible sharpness, adaptability with teleconverters, and extreme portability when compared to many other telephoto lenses.

Portable Performance

For all of these reasons, Canon’s 70-200mm family of lenses are among our most popular rentals. They come in two basic models: the portable f/4 and the flagship f/2.8. This year, Canon finally released a long-anticipated update to each. For the first time probably ever, the f/4 version eclipsed the f/2.8 on accolades. Part of this is because Canon’s new 70-200mm f/2.8 IS III simply didn’t have much to improve on. The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II was already an astounding lens. The Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS, with its 1 stop sacrifice, is beloved mostly for its portability. So what does the new Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS II give us? Here are the updates:

• Improvements to Image Stabilization, with support for up to 5 stops of compensation and an added Panning Mode.
• A closer minimum focusing distance.
• A pleasing, tapered design for a better handheld feel.
• Abandonment of Canon’s dated “putty” color in favor of bright white.
• Updated coatings for flare and ghosting control, ultimately resulting in sharper imagery.
• Reshaped lens elements for better performance overall.
• 9-bladed aperture for rounder bokeh.
• Updated processor, resulting in faster AF.
• Note: Front element is larger and the filter size has changed. This lens uses a 72mm filter vs the prior’s 67mm.

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III Arrives: Review, Rental Price, and More

The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS III also got a new paint job and coatings and…that’s about it. Rent that if you already love the prior lens but want to shoot with something newer. For this list, we’re letting the little sibling shine. The Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS II is a stronger performer than its predecessor and a welcomed addition to our telephoto zoom collection.

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5. Sony a7 III ($83 for a 3 Day Rental)

Blending the features of the a7R III and a7S II, Sony’s a7 III is as close as they come to “having it all”. We said that about the a7R III last year, so let’s look at how they compare:

Sony a7 III vs Sony a7R III

 a7R IIIa7 III
SensorBack-illuminated design with 42.4 megapixels and 14-bit RAW out. Lacks optical low-pass filter/anti-aliasing filter.Back-illuminated design with 24.2 megapixels and 14-bit RAW out.
SensitivityExpanded ISO from 50-102,400 with S-Log2 and S-Log3 for footage color grading in post production (dynamic range up to 14 stops) plus access to the Hybrid Log Gamma picture profile. Assisting low-light shooting is built-in image stabilization system with a 5.5 stop compensation effect. Expanded ISO from 50-204,800 with S-Log2 and S-Log3 for footage color grading in post production (dynamic range up to 14 stops) plus access to the Hybrid Log Gamma picture profile. Assisting low-light shooting is a built-in image stabilization system with a 5 stop compensation effect.
AF System399 phase-detection AF points covering 68% of the image area, plus 425 contrast-detection points with access to 4D focus. Shoot up to 10 FPS silently with AF/AE tracking. Buffer max is 76 shots. Control points with an ergonomic multi-selector joystick.693 phase-detection AF points covering 93% of the image area, plus 425 contrast-detection points with access to 4D focus. Shoot up to 10 FPS silently with AF/AE tracking. Buffer max is 177. Control points with an ergonomic multi-selector joystick.
Video Resolutions
  • XAVC S 4K: 3840 x 2160 at 23.98p, 29.97p (Up to 100Mbps)
  • XAVC S HD: 1920 x 1080 at 23.98p, 29.97p, 59.94p (Up to 50Mbps)
  • Slow Motion: 1920 x 1080 at 120 FPS (Up to 100Mbps) Supports full-pixel readout in Super35 mode. Down-samples to 4K from 5K.
  •  XAVC S 4K: 3840 x 2160 at 23.98p, 25.00p, 29.97 (Up to 100Mbps)
  • XAVC S HD: 1920 x 1080 at 23.98p, 25.00p, 29.97p, 50.00p, 59.94p (Up to 50Mbps)
  • Slow Motion: 1920 x 1080 at 100 FPS, 120 FPS (Up to 100Mbps) Supports full-pixel readout across entire width of full frame sensor. Down-samples to 4K from 6K.
  • Composition2.95" Touchscreen 1,440,000-dot tilting LCD with a 1.3 cm 3,686,400-dot electronic viewfinder that has 100% coverage and .78x magnification.2.95" Touchscreen 921,600-dot tilting LCD with a 1.3 cm 2,349,296-dot electronic viewfinder that has 100% coverage and .78x magnification.
    ConnectivityHDMI Micro (Type D), USB-C, USB 2.0, ⅛ Headphone, ⅛ Microphone, PC-in for flash sync. Supports NFC, Bluetooth, and WiFi.HDMI Micro (Type D), USB-C, USB 2.0, ⅛ Headphone, ⅛ Microphone. Supports NFC, Bluetooth, and WiFi.
    PowerAccepts Sony NP-FZ100 batteries that will last about 530 shots with EVF or 650 with LCD. Will last about 100 minutes for video recording with EVF or 115 with LCD.Accepts Sony NP-FZ100 batteries that will last about 610 shots with EVF or 710 with LCD. Will last about 115 minutes for video recording with EVF or 125 with LCD.

    They both “have it all” but if you’re trying to decide on which one to rent, it’s going to depend on what you need. The a7 III is the better choice for video because of its better low light sensitivity (the dual-gain design of the sensor helps reduce noise while retaining detail) and its 6K pixel readout (full frame at 24 FPS, 1.2x crop at 30 FPS). The rolling shutter effect that plagued prior a7 cameras is very reduced in the a7 III. You are limited to 4:2:0 8-bit out internally and 4:2:2 8-bit via HDMI to an external recorder.  If you plan on really pushing color and exposure in post production, or you’ll be doing a lot of green screen work, then you might want to instead consider the Panasonic GH5 or the GH5S.

    The a7R III is no slouch on video but it really excels for portrait and landscape photographers with its higher resolution sensor, EVF, and LCD. If you’re a strobe user, the a7R III’s PC-sync port is a must and missing from the a7 III.

    As Good for Generalists as it is for Specialists

    If you’re more of a generalist, the a7 series cameras will all start to blur. The differences are in the details (and in the price tags). The a7 III is the perfect “all around” camera for any subject you throw at it. It’s fast enough for wildlife and sports, high enough resolution for large 6000 x 4000px files, has a plethora of ports (though, again, no PC-sync so if you’re using command flash or a transceiver you need to connect it via hot shoe), is equipped with a UHS-II SD slot (plus a UHS-I secondary slot), has built-in stabilization, and has Fast Hybrid AF for locking onto and smoothly tracking moving subjects. It’s the ideal multitasker and a superb choice for combination stills/video artists.

    canon-eos-R-full-frame-mirrorless-system-best-camera-of-the-year

    6. Canon EOS R Mirrorless Collection ($94 for a 3 Day Rental of EOS R Camera)

    This is probably Canon’s most important release since the EOS system began about 30 years ago. Finally responding to the popularity of high-resolution, full frame mirrorless cameras from competitors, Canon created a whole new lens mount for a sleek mirrorless body that aims to keep up with ever-enhancing digital performance and increasing optical speed. In other words, it’s “future proof”. Before we look forward, let’s look back…

    The EOS system first launched in the 80s with a 54mm inner-diameter mount with a flange distance (the distance between a lens’ mount and the surface of the sensor or film plane) of 44mm. It was the largest mount of its time for 35mm cameras, allowing for lenses with really wide maximum apertures, including the ultra-fast (and ultra-rare) 50mm f/1.0L.

    New Mount, New Flange Distance, and How They Affect Imagery

    When full frame mirrorless from Canon was merely just a rumor, many assumed Canon would maintain the flange distance to accommodate their current line of lenses. However, this would do nothing for portability. For the EOS R, Canon did end up maintaining the 54mm diameter of their mount but had to otherwise redesign it to accommodate a short 20mm flange distance. So rather than giving us a mirrorless version of their DSLRs, we got an all-new camera and a small collection of lenses in a new “RF” mount type. You can pair existing EF glass to the EOS R, but it requires an adapter, which we’ll circle back to in a bit.

    There are a few unique things about RF lenses. Their large rear elements sit much closer to the full frame sensor, allowing for tight control over aberrations. There are a number of physical limitations manufacturers are faced with that can be solved, in part, by reducing the flange distance. Less travel time, coupled with the large mount diameter, allows light to hit even the edges of the sensor at a more perpendicular angle (or, to use Canon’s language, “more gently”).  Overall, you should see less coma at the edges of your scene when photographing stars and less distortion, even at the widest angles.

    On top of this, Canon incorporated a Digital Lens Optimizing system right into the camera for real-time corrections of aberrations. So before anything even reaches the sensor, it goes through a set of filters for correction. Where this particularly shines is when shooting at the extreme ends of a given lens’ aperture range. This is a feature that can be turned on or off. It is taking your RAW capture and applying in-camera corrections to it and providing you with a “finished” JPEG. Don’t like that process? You can keep your RAW and apply similar corrections using Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software instead.

    Creating Your Own Unique Camera

    The other standout feature of the EOS R is the high degree of customization. This extends to the lenses, which provide the unique ability to have custom shooting functions assigned to a tactile control ring, including aperture value, shutter speed, ISO adjustment, and exposure compensation. New microprocessors in these lenses increases the speed of communication while keeping power consumption low. It does this, in part, by having 12 contacts in the new mount (vs 8 in the EF mount). You can also assign functions to an intuitive swipe-and-tap style multi-function bar, which sits right next to the EVF. This is accompanied by a large settings top panel and a super nice 3.15″ articulating touchscreen LCD – which somehow all fits onto a relatively small body. There are tons of little cool touches, too, like temperature changes for the LCD, vertical composition mode in the EVF, and a closing shutter that protects the sensor when the camera is powered off.

    EOS R Adapters

    In a unique move, Canon released not 1 but 3 different adapters to go with their EOS R collection. In addition to a standard adapter, you can pair your EF lenses to the EOS R using an adapter that maintains the RF control ring. This allows you to use the new, innovative customization features of RF lenses but with your existing EF mount lenses instead. Your third option is an adapter with a drop-in filter slot, which is a great feature when using ultra-wide lenses, like the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L, that don’t accommodate screw-on front filters. Full rotation capabilities of the filter are maintained.

    EOS R Specs

    We’ve covered a lot of the physical benefits of the EOS R system. Let’s go over some of the internal features:

    • New semi-automatic mode: In Flexible-priority (Fv) mode, the camera will choose your shutter speed, aperture, and ISO automatically to fit the scene without taking away your ability to adjust each of those settings. This combines the benefits of both Aperture-priority and Shutter-priority modes in one convenient, powerful mode.
    • Shoot UHD 4K up to 30 FPS at 480MB/s with in-camera 4:2:2 sampling and 8-bit color depth (4:2:2 10-bit out possible with optional external recorder via HDMI).
    • Integrated Canon Log, which enables the capturing of flat footage with 12 stops of dynamic range.
    • Dual Pixel CMOS system with an astounding 5,655 AF points.

    The EOS R mirrorless camera provides incredible possibilities with its vast customization options to accommodate Canon’s advanced features. It is a unique multimedia tool that is ideal for events, vlogging, travel, portraits, wildlife, and more.

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    7. Nikon Z Mirrorless Collection ($120 for a 3 Day Rental of Z6 or $180 for Z7)

    Released around the same time as Canon’s full frame mirrorless collection, Nikon joined the party with two in tow: the 25.28 megapixel, 12 FPS, 200K+ ISO Nikon Z6 and the 46.89 megapixel, 9 FPS, 100K+ ISO Nikon Z7. As with the EOS R, the Z system’s main attraction is the revamped mount and flange distance. With a 44mm throat (and 47mm inner diameter), Nikon’s F mount is a bit too narrow to compete with Canon’s 54mm one, giving Canon the one-up on lens maximum apertures throughout the years. Finally, after nearly 60 years, Nikon has a full frame mount large enough to accommodate ultra-fast glass.

    Though this large Z mount is designed specifically for Nikon’s new line of Z mount lenses, it can still be paired with an optional adapter for use with most of Nikon’s F mount lenses. With a flange distance of only 16mm, Nikon’s aim was to get light to the sensor in the purest, quickest way possible. This short flange gives Nikon Z shooters the same benefits shooters of the EOS R get to enjoy: better control over aberrations while maintaining portability.

    Nikon’s Future-Proof S-Line

    This Z mount birthed the S-Line, a new collection of “future-proofed” lenses, including one with a jaw-dropping f/0.95 lens. These lenses are designed to meet the resolving requirements of future sensor innovations up to, and beyond, 8K. Operation is similar to Canon’s RF lenses. There is a customizable control ring on the barrel of each lens that can be programmed for manual focusing (the default setting), aperture control, or exposure compensation. Jumping between video and stills shooting is made easier thanks to better management of focus breathing in the S-Line. There is far less apparent shift in angle of view when changing focus on these lenses vs your typical F mount lens and their built-in stepping motors work in concert with the Z cameras’ advanced on-sensor Phase-Detect AF system as well as its hybrid system, which will automatically switch between phase-detection and contrast-detection for optimal results. It will also mimic focus pulling techniques. Nikon’s careful arrangement of these phase-detection pixels ensures more accurate AF even in very dimly lit conditions.

    Nikon has always prided themselves as low-light giants and adding to their reputation is a forthcoming 58mm f/0.95 S Noct lens (as in “Nocturne”). It is designed to perform particularly well for night sky shooting with its adept suppression of coma flare. It will also be a very exciting release for portrait shooters thanks to its incredible bokeh potential. These features will pair beautifully with the Z cameras’ large ISO ranges. The in-body image stabilization (a first for Nikon) compensates for movement up to 5 stops along 5 axes, which stacks with F mount VR-equipped lenses you might want to use with the optional adapter.

    Bold Build Benefits

    While Canon opted for more “at your fingertips” style controls on its new body, Nikon went with fewer buttons for a more sleek look. How this pans out for you ergonomically will require hands-on use. The Z7 and Z6 borrow as much of the layout from the D850 as possible, including a very deep grip. A large touchscreen LCD and ultra-high resolution EVF make composition not only easy but a joy. The EVF was designed to feel as much like an optical viewfinder as possible without sacrificing any of the electronic benefits, which include automatic brightness adjustments for reduced eyestrain, rich tonal gradation, and two display modes.

    Which Z is Right for You?

    While both cameras have robust video recording options (UHD 4K recording at up to 30p in N-Log 10-bit 4:2:2 HDMI Mini out), they each cater to specific photography needs. Discover which Nikon Z body is right for you:

    Nikon Z7: Ideal for Portraits, Landscapes, and Fine Art

    Sensor Size: 46.89MP
    Shooting Speed: 9 FPS
    ISO Range: 64-25,600 (Extended Mode: 32-102,400)

    Nikon Z6: Ideals for Sports, Wildlife, and Extreme Low Light Shooting

    Sensor Size: 25.28MP
    Shooting Speed: 12 FPS
    ISO Range: 100-51,200 (Extended Mode: 50-204,800)

    The Nikon Z mount mirrorless collection opens up new possibilities in low light imagery. Boasting both beauty and performance, it has quickly become a rental favorite for both serious Nikon shooter and casual vacationers alike.

    quasar-science-rainbow-led-lighting-best-gear-of-2018

    8. Quasar Science Rainbow LEDs ($70 for a 3 Day Rental)

    Quasar Science is quickly becoming an industry favorite. Their lights have been seen in music videos for major artists like Missy Elliott. Independent filmmakers love them for their relative affordability, outstanding quality of light, and versatility. Quasar Science is obsessed with high quality lighting not only for media uses but for hospitals, offices, labs, and galleries. Their exacting color technology is best demonstrated in their new Rainbow series of LEDs.

    These low profile tubes not only offer your standard RGB color mixing but they go extra on it with the ability to crossfade independent 2000-6000º diodes for amazing color saturation. With more and more RGB-mixable lighting being released, Quasar Science stands out among the competition thanks to their affordable and versatile lights that can also produce pastels, neon, and everything in between.

    quasar-science-in-action-lux-behind-the-scenes-example

    Quasar Science tubes in use on the set of Lux’s The Way I Loved You music video by Locke and Stache.

    Any Color, A Variety of Effects

    Achieve amazing color manipulation right on the built-in control panel where you can adjust intensity, Kelvin, hue, and saturation – all without having to ever mess with gels. These not only emit just about every color there is, but they can also produce lighting effects to make it look like there is a fire in your scene, a cop car approaching, or paparazzi firing off flashes. In a future firmware update, you’ll be able to change the colors in these effects.

    These tubes use simple AC power, though you can optionally connect them to broadcast-style DC batteries. These do not have built-in light stand ports but our rentals come with a couple of mounting options that go well with C stands. Each Rainbow has two RJ-45 ports for controlling via a DMX console and each have DMX In and Out for daisy chaining. These lights are also equipped with a LumenRadio TiMo chip for wireless DMX control.

    These innovative LEDs, with their cross-fading abilities between RGB color mixing and white light, are the ideal solution for adding unique lighting to video and photography projects.

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    9. Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 AF-S FL ED VR Lens ($375 for a 3 Day Rental)

    When Canon released their EF mount 200-400mm f/4L IS lens with a built-in 1.4x extender in 2013, folks naturally wanted to know when Nikon’s was coming. Canon users knew the feeling. They waited nearly two years for their extended super-tele to come to market after it was first announced. For 5 long years, it was rumored that Nikon would – any day now – release their own 200-400mm with a built-in extender. That day has come and we got something a little extra for it: an expanded 20mm on the short end without sacrificing reach on the long end. This makes the lens slightly more versatile than its Canon counterpart.

    For sports and wildlife shooters, the subject/moment is very fleeting and sometimes very difficult to track. On top of this, especially with sports, you’re often assigned to a particular spot that you can’t move from. This is what makes this kind of lens seductive. It’s wide enough to reasonably compose and focus as close as 6.5′ from your subject while offering the option to shoot as long 560mm with only 1 stop loss in max aperture.

    Key Features of Nikon’s First Built-In Extender Super-Tele

    The Nikon 180-400mm is both comfortable and utilitarian. It aims to give you everything at once: variable range with bonus reach without being too big or too heavy – all while maintaining sharpness, suppressing distortion, and focusing fast enough for today’s high-speed cameras. Convenience and optics are a hard thing to blend. Nikon delivered with some key features:

    • Enhanced AF algorithm designed to catch subjects more quickly, even at the edges of the frame.
    • Vibration Reduction with a Sport Mode, which makes tracking easier during panning and burst shooting.
    • Highly accurate aperture blade control when using auto exposure during continuous shooting. This is controlled by an electromagnetic diaphragm instead of with mechanical linkage levers, which allows better syncing with a camera’s shutter due to a small motor inside the lens that’s controlled via signals from the camera body. Note that this isn’t new – just a more recent development for Nikon specifically. Canon has used electromagnetic diaphragms since 1987. What this means in practical terms is that you will see less variation in brightness when shooting at very high frame rates.
    • A fast and quiet pulse motor (AF-P) that uses stepping motor technology to keep the lens operating nearly silently. This is particularly beneficial for continuous AF during video recording. The start/stop time of AF operation is highly responsive.
    • A redesigned tripod collar that rotates more smoothly than prior super-teles thanks to ball bearings integrated into the built-in ring. It’s also a lighter design overall.
    • The built-in extender is activated with a single flick of a switch, converting the 180mm-400mm range to 252-560mm. Since the extender is integrated into the lens and not merely attached to it, it is optically matched and weather sealed.

    Only certain cameras can take advantage of all of these features. The electromagnetic diaphragm and the pulse motor, as of this writing, only work with more recent Nikon cameras (D800 series, D4/5 series, D500, etc). Some cameras will need a firmware update. Be sure to visit Nikon’s download center to find out if your camera requires it.

    HOW TO UPDATE FIRMWARE

    • Visit your brand’s site and search for the downloads page. Find the firmware notes for your camera model.
    • Compare the firmware notes to the current firmware version of your camera. Navigate to your camera’s “Firmware Version” via its menu system. If you have an older version, you will want to install the update.
    • To install a firmware update, download the firmware file from your brand’s site. Save that file to a memory card (treat it like a USB jump/thumb drive). Make sure this memory card has already been formatted to your camera – don’t just use any card that’s laying around.
    • Insert the card into your camera, navigate again to Firmware Version and it should prompt you to begin installation. Check online for specifics for your particular camera model.

    The zoom ring is over 3″ wide with a pleasing amount of resistance and a bit more grip texture over prior super-telephotos from Nikon. Behind this is the distance scale (marked for the focal range of the lens without the extender activated). Offering the same control layout and function buttons as the 70-200mm f/2.8E VR, this lens will have a familiar feeling for many shooters. It’s possible to handhold it, though at over 7 lbs and over 14″ long, outside support is still recommended. This lens creates masterful images and is an ideal choice for sports and wildlife.

    fuji-X-H1-top-cameras-of-the-year

    10. Fuji X-H1 ($75 for a 3 Day Rental)

    The first in the X-series lineup to offer 5-axis in-body image stabilization, Fuji’x X-H1 delivers an extremely fast processing engine for overall speed increases in autofocusing, continuous shooting, and interval shooting over previous X-Series models. It has a special flicker reduction mode for indoor sports shooting (provides better color stability under fluorescent lighting) and three user-adjustable focusing parameters for AF-C mode, including special modes for accelerating objects or for ignoring obstacles. A tactile focus joystick allows you to change your focus point swiftly with your choice of among 325 points. Intuitively move the focus point while maintaining contact with the viewfinder or simply use the touchscreen on the tilting LCD. With a shooting speed of up to 14 frames per second, it’s a great choice for both wildlife and sports.

    Mirrorless Features with DSLR-Style Build

    Adding to all this quickness is a deeper grip, a 25% thicker frame, and better shock absorption. It’s a bit beefier than other X-Series models, with a professional feel that’s weather resistant. It’s designed to handle larger lenses, like the Fuji XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR, very comfortably due to a revised mount structure that better resists shock or impact. The deep grip style allows for ergonomic placement of your shutter finger, which works nicely with Fuji’s new feathertouch-style shutter button that employs a leaf-spring switch for very delicate shutter release actions. Borrowing features from the Fuji GFX medium format camera, the X-H1 is equipped with a large top plate LCD monitor that displays main settings as well as detailed exposure information. Complementing this is a large 3″ LCD touchscreen and ultra-bright EVF.

    For video, the X-H1 can shoot DCI 4K at 24p at 200Mbps for up to 15 minutes (30 minutes with the optional Vertical Power Booster Battery Grip).  It supports the digital cinema 17:9 aspect ratio and you can also enjoy recording at ISOs as high as 25600. The high dynamic range F-Log gamma profile is available for both internal recording and for uncompressed output to an external recorder, giving excellent color grading flexibility in post production (HDMI out is supported with an 8-bit 4:2:2 signal).

    Maintaining a Filmic Look

    With the Fuji X-H1, Fuji introduced a new film simulation to go with their famed ACROS, Velvia, and the rest: ETERNA, which simulates the output of traditional cinematic film with desaturated colors and rich shadow tones. A play on the word “eternal”, ETERNA is a nod to Fuji’s history in the cinematic film world (Fuji’s first product ever was film designed specifically for movies). ETERNA film is something you can still purchase, so it’s neat to be able to just get that look immediately in the digital world. The dynamic range is comparable to F-Log, so it’s extremely flexible in post production. ETERNA is also a great choice for photographers. With its slight saturation suppression and very subtle shadow gradations, ETERNA prints very well on matte paper and aesthetically blends with an editorial look. This makes the Fuji X-H1 a very attractive choice for photojournalists who also want to incorporate video into their work.

    Conclusion

    This was our biggest year yet for mirrorless technology. All of our new camera rentals this year, whether they made this list or not, are mirrorless. We’re also seeing more continuous lighting vs strobe lighting and 4K is becoming more and more available in even the smallest devices, as is higher frame rate shooting and higher dynamic range. It was hard to narrow this list down to only 10 favorites, so please check out all of the Best of 2018 here.

    *Prices as of this writing and subject to change.
    **At the time of this writing. Compatibility likely to expand over time.

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    Alexandria Huff's photography and lighting tutorials can be found on 500px and her blog. She is a Marketing Coordinator for BorrowLenses.com and also writes for SmugMug. She learned about lighting and teaching while modeling for photographers such as Joe McNally and has since gone on to teach lighting workshops of her own in San Francisco. Previously, she shot motorsports for X-Games, World Rally Cross, and Formula Drift. See her chiaroscuro-style painterly portraits on her website.

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