Editor’s Note: It’s pretty clear that we’re passionate about gear. And with this series, we want to share with you our own personal favorite pieces. Over the next few months, we’ll bring you our staff’s 10 personal favorites — goods we personally own and use. The selection will run the gamut, from heirloom pieces to practical gear that can be easily procured. Last but not least, each will share one “holy grail” item that still remains the stuff of dreams, out of reach, but hopefully only temporarily so.
My favorite things represent what I consider to be truly great product designs. I love their exceptional quality — the kind I don’t mind saving or sacrificing for (college funds? pfft!) — and the way they each make my life better, whether it’s in concrete, practical ways or just in the simple pleasure of enjoying their presence in my life.
2005 Volkswagen Phaeton V8
The Phaeton was a commercial disaster for VW, but a critical triumph. It’s a supremely luxurious saloon with exceptional build quality and performance. There are only 2,000 in the country, and when VW abruptly stopped importing them in 2006, resale prices plummeted. I bought my 2005 model ($86,000 sticker) in 2009, straight off a lease, for just $17,000 — less than the price of a new Honda Civic. Since I had barely any skin in the game, I knew it wouldn’t be a huge disaster if the thing went thermonuclear on me one day, or if I ran into a few toe-curling repair bills. Neither has been the case; it’s been surprisingly affordable to maintain, because the initial build quality was so high. It’s fun to drive and, to my eye, possesses a timeless design. It’s my happy place.
Astronomy enthusiasts lust after Japanese-made Takahashi telescopes. They’re built like tanks, gorgeous, and have perfect optics. The lens assembly in this 4-inch (aperture) refractor is apochromatic, which means it exhibits no distortion or color haze around bright objects, such as the planets or the Moon. Stars are crisp pinpricks of light, and Jupiter, Saturn and Mars endlessly detailed targets. Seeing Saturn for the first time in this scope was a revelation. The Moon is a craggy, three-dimensional place, not a flat disk. This scope takes you there.
This is kind of obvious, but I’d be remiss to not count this as one of my favorite pieces of technology. It transcends the mere label of gadget — it’s part of the fabric of my life. It’s beautifully designed and, while I have niggling complaints mostly centering on inscrutable settings menus, an excellent piece of consumer-oriented technology. I’m pretty sure that history will separate our evolution into Pre-iPhone and Post-iPhone eras.
Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch
I bought my Speedy about ten years ago, at a time when I thought I could ill-afford such an extravagance. But it was the only watch I’d ever truly wanted to possess. It appealed to me by virtue of its decades-old affiliation with the U.S. space program and its clean, classic design. It’s a timeless timepiece, with a very specific combination of boldness and understatement. After a decade of wearing it all over the world, I’ve learned that a good watch is an anchor. It secures you to whatever club you want to be a part of — adventurers, captains of industry, fashion snobs, technophiles, racers, wannabe-astronauts — and when times get tough, it reminds you of what you’re striving for.
Zeiss 8×32 T-FL
Great binoculars don’t just magnify, they enhance. Images are brighter; colors pop; detail is exquisite. All of those things have made me fall progressively more in love with these binoculars, which I take everywhere. They’re light and compact, but double the enjoyment of whatever experience you’re enjoying — sports, wildlife, spying in the dark from smoky alleys…
I’ve been around the world with this camera, and it remains just as reliable as the day I bought it. It now has its share of dings, but little glints of silver in a black-anodized aluminum shell are badges of honor to me. I know there will be other cameras in my future, but this is the one that truly took my shooting to another level, so it will always be special.
ExoLens with Optics by Zeiss
This is the best attachment lens ever, turning your already excellent iPhone into a wide-angle beast, with improved sharpness and low-light performance. It’s an incredibly valuable addition to a photographer’s tool kit, for both video and photo.
3D Robotics Solo
I’ve become so attached to this drone that I’ve now accepted the fact that I’ll never travel without it. It’s always in my trunk or packed into checked bags for trips, fully charged and ready for launch within minutes of a photo/video opportunity. It’s also fun to fly and provides a satisfyingly non-glitchy interface with the GoPro camera onboard, and its smooth flight performance generates pure magic on film on in photos.
Microsoft Surface Book
Microsoft’s entry into the tablet game, via its Surface line, has been an impressive success. But this laptop is still mind-blowingly good, with a big, bright screen, a powerful processor, a magnetically attached stylus, and all the benefits of Windows 10. It’s also a design marvel, with a clever screen-release mechanism and a slick scrolling hinge to better balance the slightly heavy screen. Apple ain’t everything, my friends.
Icon Aircraft A5
The A5 is a dream to fly, gobs of fun, and thanks to truly innovative aerodynamics, exceptionally hard to upset. (It’s very tolerant of human error and resistant to stalls.) It’ll make every weekend an exciting airborne adventure, for less than the cost of, say, the average Lamborghini.