We listened to your nominations, read industry reviews, tested the finalists with our own eyes and came up with winners in the first annual TWIP Photo Hardware Product of the Year Award – the 2008 edition.

We picked two categories for this first year’s awards. Photo-related software and camera hardware. There were many products worthy of our award, but we had to narrow it down.

In the hardware category, we decided on cameras. Once we had that decision made, we needed to decide WHICH camera. We knew this could get political quickly, but also decided that we can’t control what other people think. We made the decision based on our interpretation of the facts.

The Nikon D700, then the Canon 5d MK II and the Panasonic LX3 were heavily favored by our audience. We wanted the award to go to the camera that produced the most bang for the buck, established new trends, created amazing images and broke new ground. Looking at that criteria, all three of these cameras could be the pick. Each has a special place in our hearts. But there can be only one winner, and in this case, looking at the feedback we got on the blog when we asked people which camera they liked, the Nikon D700 got the most votes, and we concur. It’s the camera of the year here at TWIP.

We’ve written about the D700. While it’s coming, we haven’t yet posted anything substantial on the 5D MK II because it’s too new. Our original plan was to give the award as a tie. Both the D700 and the 5D MK II broke a lot of new ground. But at the last minute, that plan changed due to the “black spot” problem reported on several 5D MK IIs. With Canon’s iffy and tentative response to their focus problems on the 1D MK III fresh in our minds, we couldn’t give the 5D MK II our award this year. We assume Canon will work out the black spot issue. And the 5D MK II is indeed an awesome camera, but the D700 wins but a hair because of its extraordinary price point, autofocus, high-ISO performance, feature set and build.

The D700’s sensor is identical to the sensor used by Nikon in the D3, a $5000 camera. For Nikon to lop off $2000 on the retail price, but still provide the same sensor took many in the photo world by surprise.

The D700 is not crippled in any way, and for many photographers who need a full-frame body, with ultra high-quality, high-ISO performance in a solidly-built frame, the D700 is a great choice.

Prices for both the D3 and the D700 have fallen, with the D700 selling for $2700 at reputable camera stores.

The 5D MK II has more resolution, but the D700 has better low-light performance. The D700 has other features not found on the 5D MK II including a popup flash, faster flash sync, much faster motor drive, a larger buffer and better build quality. The Canon trumps the D700 with video capability, and while we find that compelling, it’s not enough to tip the scales to the Canon.

We like all three cameras that were our finalists, but the nod goes to Nikon for creating what is in every way, a professional camera that works as well as the flagship in the line for almost half the price.