1st Place: Pentax K-7
Choosing a digital SLR for our top award for 2009 has been a very difficult decision. We've seen some superb cameras this year, including the Nikon D300s, D5000 and D3x, the Canon EOS 5D MkII, 500D and 50D, the Sony A300 and A330, and the Olympus E-620. One camera stands out even in such esteemed company though, and that is the Pentax K-7. Although Pentax lags some way behind Canon and Nikon in worldwide sales, its digital SLR cameras have seldom been less than excellent, and at their best can match or exceed anything the mass-market competition can offer.
The K-7 is a high-spec semi-professional model featuring a rugged weatherproof body, a 14.6-megapixel CMOS APS-C sensor, sensor-shift image stabilisation, HD video recording with a port for an external microphone, and an innovative in-camera HDR mode giving it the best dynamic range in its class.
In terms of overall performance, it's a match for any of its rivals, and its image quality is second to none. Add to the equation clever features such as an electronic spirit level, automatic tilt correction and aperture/shutter priority shooting and you have an instant classic that will appeal to professionals and keen amateurs alike. If we were buying a new digital SLR today, we would choose the Pentax K-7 without hesitation.
2nd Place: Canon EOS 7D
In a very close second place to the Pentax K-7 is the superb new Canon EOS 7D. Pitched at roughly the same market, the 7D fits into the Canon range between the EOS 50D and the full-frame EOS 5D MkII. In terms of performance and handling, it feels more like the EOS 5D MkII, and has the image quality to match.
With a strong environmentally-sealed magnesium alloy body, an 18-megapixel CMOS sensor and dual DIGIC 4 processors it is a viable APS-C alternative to the more expensive full-frame system, offering professional photographers a cheaper alternative without compromising on image quality. It's an expensive camera, but there's no doubt it's one of the highlights of the year.
3rd Place: Sony Alpha A900
Another of my favourite cameras from 2009 is Sony's DSLR flagship, the full-frame 24.6-megapixel Alpha A900. Launched as Sony's rival to the Canon EOS 5D MkII and the Nikon D700, the A900 offers the kind of performance, reliability, features and image quality demanded by professional photographers.
It has a weatherproof magnesium alloy body, a nine-point AF system with a dual-cross centre sensor, and what may be the largest, brightest viewfinder of any SLR camera. Coupled with Sony's outstanding Carl Zeiss optics it is the core of a photographic system that can rival anything from the two market-leading brands.