1. Fuji X100
I don’t think I’ve had more fun with a camera since I first held the 5D Mark II. Sure, it’s got some quirks, but the excellent image quality and amazing flash sync speed push the Fuji X100 into the front runner position as my personal pick for camera of the year. We’ll see what the rest of the year holds; however, it will take some serious innovation to unseat the X100. Find it at B&H Photo (when it’s in stock).
2. Nikon D5100
The Nikon D5100 has solid image quality, excellent noise control and good autofocus. It’s a well-rounded camera that edges out the Rebel T3i in the battle of entry-level DSLRs. However, if you plan on shooting lots of serious video, I would still recommend the Rebel T3i over the D5100. If you just want a DSLR for excellent still images and casual video use, the D5100 is my pick for 2011. Find it at B&H Photo.
3. Benro Travel Flat Tripod Series
If you are as serious about your traveling as you are about your photography, then you need to take a close look at the Benro Travel Flat tripods. Instead of the triangular folding method you get with all other tripod legs, this new series from Benro folds down with the legs beside each other. They also collapse to a short minimum height to easily fit into just about any camera bag or carry-on. They’re available in carbon fiber or aluminum. Find these at B&H Photo.
4. Think Tank Photo Retrospective Camera Bag Series
I’ve used several different camera bags in recent years; however, nothing has been quite as functional and as cool as the Think Tank Photo Retrospective camera bags. Available in pinestone or simple black (I prefer the pinestone flavor), the Retrospective series is the perfect “kit” bag for a camera (or two) and a few lenses and flashes. There’s likely the perfectly-sized model to fit your own kit. Available direct from Think Tank Photo.
5. Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Lens
Nikon finally gave us the lens we needed for the D5100 and lower series of cameras. The AF-S 50mm f/1.8G lens adds the all-important internal AF motor and gives beginners an affordable 50mm lens that will autofocus with their “beginner” DSLRs. While I haven’t gotten my hands on this lens just yet, early reports suggest that it more than lives up to its value and owners of D5100 and lower-grade cameras seem to be quite happy about it. Kudos to Nikon for this one. Find it at B&H Photo and Amazon.com.
500px is shaping up to be the Flickr-replacement for serious photographers. Bring your best work and check your ego at the door. Photos are subjected to ratings and critiques and its pretty easy to navigate to some of the hottest work on the site. Loads of talented photographers are jumping on the 500px bandwagon (e.g., Zack Arias, Thomas Hawk and Trey Ratcliff, among others). While 500px has been around for several years, it has really taken off in 2011 and looks to be well on its way to being one of the hottest photo sites by the end of the year. Check it out at 500px.com.
7. Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella
This is a massive light modifier that slides in at a penny under a hundred bucks. Sure, you can get a 5-footer for around $30 bucks, but 7-feet makes for some seriously soft light. Available in shoot-through or bounce flavors, you can get spread light however you want with these guys. Available at B&H Photo.
8. The Speedliter’s Handbook
If you want to get the most out of your Canon TTL flash system, this is must-have book. Syl Arena essentially created the bible for Canon Speedlites in this book. If you shoot another brand, you will most certainly comprehend the subject matter, but the menu specifics will be a bit off. If you are a Canon shooter and you use (or want to use) your flashes off-camera, this book will give you the information to take it to another level. Available at Amazon.com.
Instagram may have really gotten its legs in 2010; however, it has absolutely exploded in 2011. As a result, I’m sneaking it into this list. If you have an iPhone and you’re reading this site, it’s likely that you are already using Instagram. Those little, square photos are captured on nearly 4 million iPhones and iPod touches. If you’re an i-device user, check this one out. It’s free. Available on the iTunes App Store.
10. Canon Rebel T3i
While I give the Nikon D5100 the edge, the Rebel T3i certainly stands as one of the top products of the year thus far. Again, if you’re serious about getting started with HDSLR video and find yourself in the T3i and D5100 budget, I like the T3i better. However, as an all-around shooter, the T3i is a half-step behind the D5100. That said, you’ll do well with either of these fine cameras in your bag. Available at B&H Photo.
What Did I Miss?
I’m sure some folks will disagree with this list or have other products to add. Let me know in the comments where I went astray and how you would have ranked the best of 2011 thus far…