The PetaPixel Awards: The Best of Photography in 2023

We are proud to announce the results of the third-annual PetaPixel Awards where we give honors to a small list of the best new photography products released in the last year as voted by the PetaPixel staff.

Started in 2021, the PetaPixel Awards are designed to be exclusive. Unlike other awards that create a laundry list of categories that give every company a chance to be a winner, and we only pick seven products: best in camera, prime lens, zoom lens, smartphone, computer, software, and photography accessory. We are also continuing a final category that we started last year called “Photography Trend of the Year.”

Methodology: Because PetaPixel’s staff is entirely composed of current and former photographers, all were asked to vote for first, second, and third place across all categories. First-place votes were worth five points, second worth three, and third worth one. In all cases, those who deal directly with sales and marketing were excluded from voting to retain objectivity. No company is even allowed to submit nominations for consideration in the PetaPixel Awards, as all conversation is conducted internally.

At a Glance

Accessory of the Year: Maven Magnetic Filters

PetaPixel Awards maven

How does the phrase go? “Keep it simple, stupid”? That’s really the crux of what makes the Maven Magnetic filters so good. They don’t over-complicate the concept of streamlining the use of filters and they just work. It also helps that the glass they use is top-tier. Color-coded to make it easy to nab the filter you need at a glance and integrating very, very strong magnets to keep them affixed to the front of your lenses, these have become a mainstay with our YouTube team who regularly has to shoot in environments with rapidly changing light.

Originally a Kickstarter from late 2022 and only available widely in 2023, these are the best filters we’ve used in years. Simple and effective, they just plain work.

Software of the Year: Blackmagic Camera App (iOS)

PetaPixel Awards blackmagic app

For the first time in PetaPixel Awards history, a smartphone app has claimed top honors in our Software of the Year category. Blackmagic is deserving, as its iOS capture app has not only become the industry standard for shooting high-end video on a smartphone, but it’s doing so for absolutely nothing — it’s free.

The Blackmagic Camera App turns the iPhone into what feels like a dedicated, standalone video camera, runs smoothly, and supports the latest advancements of the iPhone 15 Pro Max. As Filmic Pro has fallen, Blackmagic has risen, and it is so ubiquitous among mobile filmmakers that even Apple uses it.

The rise of Blackmagic’s Camera app was fast, and for very good reason.

Computer of the Year: Apple MacBook Pro with M3 Max

PetaPixel Awards iPhone 15 Pro Max

Apple had a busy year in computing and while the M2 Ultra-equipped Mac Studio is impressive, what really blew us away was the performance of the newly-released MacBook Pro with M3 Max. This laptop has made it very hard to recommend any other laptop computer because of the unique combination of battery life, low noise, heat management, and pure computing power — power that doesn’t care if it’s attached to a wall or running on battery. With the addition of better gaming capabilities, the MacBook Pro is really leaping beyond the competition.

Oh, and in a majority of our benchmarking scores, this computer — a laptop, mind you — outperformed the Mac Studio with M1 Ultra.

“The M3 Max is remarkably impressive and in almost every metric we at PetaPixel test, it outperforms the performance of the M1 Ultra inside of the Mac Studio desktop machine. We were all so taken with the M1 Ultra when it first came out but the ensuing chips have not had that same impact since, well, they didn’t improve on that greatness all that much. But put in context, we really do have to give more than a cursory glance to what Apple has accomplished in the past few years in order to really appreciate it, because it is so very impressive,” I wrote in my review.

“I am in awe that Apple has already surpassed the performance of its M1 Ultra in a laptop less than two years after it hit the market. That’s absurd.”

Smartphone of the Year: Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max

PetaPixel Awards iPhone 15 Pro Max

Apple has once again nabbed our top honors in the smartphone category. The iPhone 15 Pro Max improves on the previous year’s model on the inside and out, and while there is some debate as to how it performs head-to-head as a photo-taking device against other smartphones like the Google Pixel 8 Pro and OnePlus Open, the vastly superior video capabilities of the handheld make it difficult to choose anything else when looking at the device as a whole.

“It’s easy to write off the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max as being marginal improvements over the iPhone 14 Pro that came before. Similar cameras, similar screens, and similar batteries are to be found. A few tweaks to the photo-taking experience and a new button don’t seem like huge additions, but they are thoughtful changes,” Chris Niccolls explains.

“What I think we should focus on is the changes to the shooting experience brought about by the A17 processor. Everything about the Main camera image quality has been improved and any of the features you would use like Portrait mode or Night mode are also better, regardless of what camera you use. Everything feels faster, sharper, and cleaner.”

Apple has closed the gap on image quality against its contemporaries and continues to push past them when it comes to video capture thanks to the addition of ProRes Log, more framerate and resolution options, and the ability to shoot directly to an attached SSD. From image quality to workflow, everything about the iPhone 15 Pro Max is better and, therefore, worthy of praise.

Zoom Lens of the Year: Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VC VXD G2

PetaPixel Awards tamron 70-180

For the second year in a row, Tamron has claimed top honors in the zoom lens category, cementing its place as the premiere manufacturer of high-end zoom optics. While 2023 brought us several outstanding options including the Nikon 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR, the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM II, the Sony 70-200mm f/4 OSS II, and the Sony 20-70mm f/4 (which came in close second to Tamron), the excellent performance mixed with the approachable pricing of the 70-180mm f/2.8 won out.

As explained by Chris Niccolls, this second-generation version of the 70-180mm f/2.8 improves upon the first in notable ways that make it worthy of praise.

“The bokeh is much more natural and pleasing to the eye, and sharpness has been refined over an already very sharp lens to begin with. Although the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 VXD VC G2 is slightly heavier and larger it is still a very easy-to-carry lens by f/2.8 telephoto standards. Tamron has managed to make a great lens even better and this adds even more value to an already affordable optic.”

We all hope to see this lens come to other mounts beyond Sony E in 2024 — all photographers deserve the option to use it.

Prime Lens of the Year: Sigma 14mm f/1.4 DG DN Art

PetaPixel Awards sigma 14mm

With a knockout combination of excellent optical performance and top-tier build quality, it’s hard not to love the Sigma 14mm f/1.4 DG DN Art. It is, absolutely, a specialized lens but it won over the PetaPixel team due mainly to the fact it can perform extremely well wide open. Optically, you can’t argue with what this lens can produce. It is an extremely impressive lens, especially given the combination of its ultra-wide field of view and its wide-open f1/.4 aperture. Usually, that combination of features leads to some level of compromise, but that didn’t happen with the Sigma 14mm f/1.4 Art and for that, this lens deserves praise.

“Excellent optical performance coupled with professional build quality; what’s not to love? The Sigma 14mm continues the tradition of Art series lenses, delivering the goods at a decent price. Despite the larger physical size of the lens, the trade-offs are worth it,” Chris Niccolls wrote in his review.

This was a close vote. The Sigma 14mm f/1.4 Art won its honor by just one point over the second-place selection, the Nikon 135mm f/1.8 S Plena.

Camera of the Year: Nikon Z8

PetaPixel Awards nikon Z8

For the second year in a row, Nikon has captured the top honor of camera of the year, this time with the Z8. Last year, Nikon nabbed the honor with the Z9 and while many might argue that the Z8 is just a repackaged, smaller version of the Z9, what it offers for the price went unmatched by anyone else in 2023.

It is the best camera for serious photographers and represents Nikon’s huge turnaround from just a few years ago. It’s highly capable for both photo and video use making it more compelling for more users than even the Z9, even if it drops a few features to reach a more compact size and lower asking price.

As Chris Niccolls said in his review: “The Z9 is still going to be the king of the hill in the Nikon lineup. Everything that I love about the Z8 is really a testament to just how good the Z9 was at its release. But the Z8 is better suited for so many people and at a more tolerable price too… I’m happy to say that the Nikon Z8 is as good as we had initially hoped. If you are a Nikon DSLR shooter that is ready to upgrade, or a professional photographer looking for a new compact kit, order one now.”

This vote was not close. The Z8 received all but one first-place vote and won in an absolute landslide with over 30 points more than the closest competitor.

Trend of the Year: Mirrorless Lenses are Living Up to Original Promises

Over the course of 2023, mirrorless lens design has become remarkably sophisticated. We’ve seen a 300mm f/2.8 lens from Sony become more compact and lighter than any before it while at the same time seen a 24-105mm f/2.8 from Canon. What is clear is that moving to mirrorless and the promises photographers were told would be the positive result of that is coming to fruition.

Mirrorless lenses are not only smaller and more impressive, they focus faster and weigh less. It’s an amazing time to be a photographer and the technology advancements we’re seeing can’t be understated. All lens makers deserve a round of applause for what they are achieving.

Image credits: Elements of header photo licensed via Depositphotos.