As 2021 comes to an end, Chris Niccolls and Jordan Drake from DPReview TV look back at some of their most memorable moments of the year. Our dynamic duo found time to shoot portraits with classic lenses, shoot stars with an astrophotographer, recreate old black and white movie reels, and even introduced us to a new co-host, Jordan’s evil twin brother Gordon. Take a trip down memory lane to remember some of their favorite episodes from 2021 and what made them special.
Receiving the GFX100S and Sony a1 while Chris was quarantined
Jordan: 2021 let us know right from the start that it wouldn’t be a big improvement from 2020. At the end of January, Chris had to isolate and recover from Covid 19. Bad enough situation, and I was totally willing to take on the role of host for a few weeks while he isolated. Unfortunately, two of the biggest cameras of 2021 arrived days apart, the Fujifilm GFX 100S and Sony a1!
I’m happy to be on-camera when reviewing the video functionality of a camera, or dedicated video equipment, but I hadn’t fully reviewed a hybrid camera since the Sony RX100 IV back in 2015. Sure, it was exhausting and stressful, but the Seattle team helped me out enormously with their own tests and I had an opportunity to spend several days shooting stills, which rarely happens. The portrait shoot of my wife with GFX 100S was the standout, and I’m so glad we have those photos now.
Despite the joys of photography, it certainly reminded me how fortunate I am that Chris shoulders the bulk of the sample gallery and review work for every episode of our show.
Chris goes outside again
Chris: The scene begins. I finally style my hair after weeks of sleeping and coughing on my basement couch. Still a little weak from the ordeal, I step out into the sunlight for the first time. Jordan is waiting for me, and damn is it cold outside!
Well, at least this is how our opening for the Panasonic 70-300 4.5-5.6 review plays out. To be fair, it wasn’t far from the truth. After I became infected with COVID in February, 2021, I spent two weeks terrified that my symptoms would take a turn for the worse, and paranoid that my friends and family would take ill as well. I’m so grateful that no one else contracted the virus, and luckily I pulled through, but the experience was harrowing.
So, when I headed out for the first field review since my recovery, it was with a sense of great relief. Despite the freezing temperatures, it felt wonderful to be outside again, in the sunlight, and back to our usual DPReviewTV routine. The Panasonic 70-300 wasn’t bad either!
The introduction of Gordon
Jordan: Covid makes it tough to have guests on the show as often as we’d like, but we think we found an interesting solution for our Atomos Ninja V vs. Blackmagic Video Assist episode. If we need a co-host, why not a different version of myself? Despite never doing anything like this before, Chris did a great job shooting the episode so compositing would be easy afterwards.
I’ve worked on quite a few short films over the years, but still feel like I don’t spend enough time on a proper set. Gordon is the personification of all my insecurities. Also, what works for a YouTuber like myself might not work in a large, collaborative environment. Gordon gives me the opportunity to present a different perspective, in a meaner way. This episode was a lot of fun, and I can guarantee you’ll see more of Gordon in 2022.
Astrophotography with Vladimir Kabanov
Chris: Shooting with the Sony 14mm F1.8 G-Master was easily one of my favorite moments of 2021. Sony designed a lens which is incredibly compact, relatively affordable, and really delivered the goods when it came to image quality. It could handle any kind of landscape or architectural situation, but the real fun started when we headed down south on an adventure.
Vladimir Kabanov, a gifted landscape and astrophotographer, was gracious enough to invite us out for a late night out shooting the stars. We headed down to Writing-On-Stone provincial park under some worrisome cloud cover, which delivered a beautiful sunset as we drove through the small town of Milk River, but it was hard to appreciate the view as we worried about cloud filled skies and obscured stars. Luckily, everything cleared as we pulled up to meet Vlad opposite a stunning view of West Butte.
It’s nice enough to have a clear night sky and a brand new Sony lens well-suited for the task. It’s an absolute dream to have an expert photographer to guide you through the process. We had so much fun finding good compositions and setting up flashes and light panels. I was really happy with the photos that evening, and we had the added bonus of comparing the Sony 14mm against Vlad’s Sigma 14mm ART lens. We made a new friend and shot late into the evening. The lack of sleep was a price worth paying for a memorable night under the stars.
The training video
Jordan: Whenever possible, we like to start our episodes with something fun, and this is my favorite of our ‘cold openings’ this year. Writing the script and recording the narration were a pleasure, but the highlight was getting to try a new technique when we filmed the intro.
I’m a big fan of classic films, so I’m very familiar with the ‘sped up’ look of many silent movies. This effect was caused when older films were shot at 16-20fps and played back on 24fps projectors that later became the standard. One cool trick with many Panasonic cameras is the ability to shoot at 20fps and output the video at 24P, creating a very similar effect in-camera. This is a big part of what gives the intro its old-timey aesthetic.
Afterwards, all it took was a black and white conversion, the addition of a lot of vignetting, and a projection filter to nail the look I was going for. I love that shooting DPReview TV gives me an opportunity to try out new techniques, and this was a highlight for me.
Testing the legendary Canon 200mm F1.8 with Irene Rudnyk
Chris: Every year, Jordan and I like to shoot videos that are NOT focused on the latest and greatest gear. In fact, these videos tend to be some of our personal favorites, and 2021 was no exception. Even if they aren’t the biggest view-getters, they’re often more laid back and fun to shoot.
When we decided to review an old piece of ‘gear from yesteryear’, the universe clearly wanted the video to happen too! So many things fell perfectly into place for us. Craig from canonrumors.com suggested, and then promptly sent us, a legendary Canon EF 200mm 1.8L. A beast of a lens which built a cult following amongst sports and portrait photographers alike.
Enter the incredibly talented Irene Rudnyk, known not just for making stunning portraits but for sharing so readily her extensive knowledge with her YouTube viewers. As a local Calgarian and a Canon shooter, she was the perfect choice to test out the 200mm. We had a great time catching the golden hour light with Irene’s friend Shantal as our model. Heavy though the lens was, it delivered gorgeous out of focus backgrounds, especially for full body shots. Irene gave us some amazing imagery for our video, and we had an awesome time together. I even got to try on a new scarf, and I think it worked for me.
Shooting video on the Pentax K-01
Jordan: It all seemed like innocent fun. If we reached our subscriber goal, I would shoot four episodes on a lackluster or outdated video camera. We asked our viewers to suggest which camera they would like to see me struggle with, and the clear audience choice was the Pentax K-01.
No reason to worry, there was no way anyone would actually still have a functioning K-01, right? To my surprise, one was quickly located in the DPReview offices, and right before it was shipped up here, it turned out that my old boss Peter Jeune of The Camera Store had kept a white K-01 fresh in the box, for God-knows-what reason, and I started unboxing. Then I set off to record the show using a camera with video functionality that was already substandard when it launched nearly a decade ago.
My trials are well documented in the embedded video, but needless to say it was a long, annoying month producing our show. However, the entire process reminded me how good we have it now. I’d started taking amazing video quality and interfaces for granted, but after four shoots with a K-01, using the Panasonic S1H, Sony a7S III and Nikon Z9 felt like miracle cameras.
Chris touches a Nikon Z fc
Chris: Let’s go back in time to 2013. Nikon announces to the world the release of a classically inspired DSLR, which will mate modern technology with timeless design. Now this is something I had been asking – or maybe annoying – Nikon to make for years. A digital Nikon FM was the dream, but alas the Nikon DF arrived with awkward controls and only a vague resemblance to the legendary film cameras. It was basically a chrome colored D600, with the sensor from the D4, and I was shattered.
I never thought Nikon would revisit the classic design in a modern body, ever again. That didn’t stop me from asking every sales rep, and company executive, every opportunity that I could. So you can imagine my reaction when I was first handed the Z fc. I was in blissful shock at how accurately the Z fc captured the feeling of the classic line of cameras. My first camera was the Nikon FE, which I still have to this day, and the Z fc felt just like home. You really do have to get it in your hands to appreciate it. And if you do, you might fall in love. Remember that there is more to a camera than just specifications. The Z fc is perfectly capable as a shooter, but it achieves something which precious few cameras can. It reignites a nostalgic passion which shouldn’t be underestimated.
So what should I ask Nikon to do next? It might take another eight years, but dreams can come true.
Returning to Seattle
Jordan: After a year and half without travel, Chris and I finally found ourselves back on a flight to Seattle to get our hands on the Canon EOS R3.
That was the purpose of the trip, but the highlight wasn’t eye-control autofocus; it was getting to see our friends from the DPReview team. There were many reasons for Chris and I to bring our show to DPReview several years ago, but the biggest one was that we got to know their team through various press events. We liked them and wanted to work with them. Reuniting in Seattle reminded me that’s still the case.
2021 might not have been the return to normalcy I was hoping for, but flying to Seattle at the end of the year gives me hope that travel will become a part of our show again in 2022.
The Best and Worst Of 2021
Chris: How could we not pick our annual Best and Worst episode of the year as a top ten moment? Our end of year celebration has become a fan favorite, and as much of a Christmas tradition as turkey dinners and presents under the tree.
Now, let’s say you haven’t seen our end of year roundup. What frivolity could you expect to witness? Well, we reveal our picks for our favorite cameras of the year, both for photography and videography. We also choose the lenses which had the biggest impact on us, and always pick from gear that we have actually reviewed ourselves. However, not every piece of gear we play with is a winner. Sometimes we encounter a lens or camera which leaves us less than impressed, so we also announce our picks for worst gear of the year. Think of it as the Oscars and the Razzies wrapped up into one big show! Throw in some other entertaining categories, and a unique libation to usher in the end of the year, and you can see why we love doing it.
Our end of year celebration has become a fan favorite, and as much of a Christmas tradition as turkey dinners and presents under the tree.
But that’s not all. Jordan and I also go head to head, in a no holds barred battle to the finish. Egos and hangovers are often on the line, and we have had some fierce competitions. These duels started well before DPReview TV, back in our days with The Camera Store. Our epic battles started in 2014 with a classy game of chess!
So why did I pick this year’s episode as one of my top ten choices? We had many truly innovative products as winners, paid homage to Pentax, and enjoyed some lovely Moscow Mules. Oh, and I won our spelling bee contest, so I’m back in the pole position and ready for our next battle in 2022!
A big thanks to all of you, our viewers, for joining us, and supporting us, all through 2021. We look forward to what exciting products 2022 brings to our industry. See you all next year.