Wednesday, December 2, 2009

30 great gift ideas for photographers

With the festive season around the corner, there’s no need to tear your hair out just because you can’t find the right gift for your photo-fanatic friends! I’ve assembled a list of photography-related gifts for you to choose from, ranging from under US$50 to US$200. So if your loved ones are having problems choosing your gift, just point them to this blog thread!

Great gifts up to US$50

Gary Fong Lightsphere Universal Inverted Dome (US$50)
Fits onto most flash heads via a universal mount, the Gary Fong Lightsphere delivers a dose of well-balanced bounce easily. There’re many bounce systems for on-camera flashes, but the Gary Fong system is supposedly one of the best around.

Joby Gorillapod Flexible Mini-Tripod (US$22)
If you have a compact camera and you want a flexible mini-tripod, this is one of the best choices. It’s not cheap, but it’s one of the most robust and flexible mini tripods. Also works great if you want to mount your flash and trigger it wirelessly off the camera for directional lighting. You can wrap the bendy legs on branches or railings.

Sanyo Eneloop Rechargeable NiMH Batteries with Charger (US$30)
Go green! Stop throwing expendable batteries into the landfills! The Sanyo Eneloop Rechargeable NiMH batteries present cost-savings advantage while delivering a unique advantage – they maintain their stored energy for a long time unlike other rechargeables, so your Eneloop batteries are always ready for action!

Wimberley Plamp Articulating Arm & Clamp (US$37)
You can use the Plamp to hold your pack of chips while watching TV, but the device is really more useful holding reflectors, bounce cards and other stuff while you’re shooting macro or still-life. Great for holding a plant still in a gale.  Recommended for still-life and macro.

Manfrotto Modo Pocket Tabletop Tripod (US$19.90)
If you find the small Joby too large for your bag, here’s something that’ll fit into your shirt pocket. The Modo Pocket tabletop tripod folds neatly like a metal origami, and springs out when you need to support your compact camera on the tabletop. Adjustments to the camera position is limited, but you do get the most compact tripod ever.

LumiQuest SoftBox for Shoe-Mount Flashes (US$39)
This is not a bounce system, but rather diffusing the flash through a small soft box system. Personally I’m skeptical about the small surface area of the softbox being sufficient for any significant softening of the light, but hey… people are buying it so what can I say?

Op/Tech USA 15" Soft Wrap (US$12)
During the times when you just want to bring a small camera without a camera bag, wrap your gear in the Op/Tech neoprene softwrap and you can stow your camera with other stuff in your regular bag. Great for wrapping lenses or flashes as well.

ExpoCap White Balance Aid (US$50)
Today’s DSLRs are darn smart, but they’d still get fooled (pretty frequently) by artificial lighting. Snap on the ExpoCap White Balance Aid like a lens cap, and you’d end up with much more neutral white balance. It’s a small inconvenience to pay compared to adjusting all your images in post-processing. Price is indicated for 58mm, but expect to pay more for larger sizes.

Domke Gripper Camera Strap (US$21)
This is my all-time favorite camera strap – the Domke Gripper Camera Strap. I love that it doesn’t get tangled up or fight with you when you grab the camera in a rush – it just falls nicely into place, and the woven rubber gripper provides just the right amount of friction on your shoulder. The Swivel Quick Release is also a god-send in changing the strap off the camera.

SanDisk ImageMate All-in-One USB 2.0 Reader (US$25)
Don’t under-estimate the importance of having a good card-reader in your arsenal. It helps you transfer your files to your computer quickly, easily and safely. The SanDisk ImageMate All-in-One USB 2.0 Reader works with all popular types of memory cards, with read/write speeds of up to 34Mbps. Groovy…

Great gifts up to US$100


Seagate 500GB FreeAgent Go Portable Hard Drive (US$100)
Don’t put all your images on one basket. I mean hard disk. You wouldn’t bet all your life-savings on a game of poker, so why would you entrust all your photos on a single hard disk? The Seagate FreeAgent Go portable hard disks are great, so get a couple and spread the risks.

50mm f/1.8 lens (US$90-120)
Can the cheapest lines deliver outstanding results? If it is the humble 50mm f/1.8, the results will surprise you. The 50mm f/1.8 delivers impressive quality compared to many kit zoom lenses, and it allows you to shoot in low light situations without flash to maintain the ambient mood. At this price, every photographer should have one!

Kenko 1.5x DG AF Teleplus Teleconverter (US$99)
I remember being amazed when I learnt about teleconverters long time ago. You can now have a super telephoto lens for small price – it’s magic! Today, teleconverters still offer great value for that occasional extra reach. Before you purchase, check if the teleconverter work on your favorite lens, especially if you’re buying third-party brands.

Lensbaby Muse Special Effects SLR Lens (US$100)
Amuse yourself with the Lensbaby effects when you mount them on your expensive DSLR. The results are gimmicky and terrible, which makes them really cool compared to your exotic lens collection. US$100 is not terribly expensive, but you won’t find yourself using it too often though. Share it with a couple of buddies…

Close-up lenses (US$40-90)
I’m so surprised that many photographers still do not know about close-up lenses. These stuff screws on to your lenses like filters, and they allow you to focus closer than you normally can, giving you (sort-of) macro capabilities. There’s no light loss or compatibility issues, so all you need is to get the right screw-on size for your lens (works best with telephoto lenses). Get the Canon or Nikon ones… they’re really good!

Metz mecablitz 36AF-4 AF flash (US$100)
If you do not intend to spend too much moola on a flash, check out the Metz mecablitz 36AF-4 AF. The German company has been making top-quality flash units since the dawn of time, and this baby will deliver dedicated TTL flash for most brands. Great value for money considering how much the system flashes cost today.

Circular polarizer (US$80-100)
There’re many effects which filters do that can be replicated in Photoshop, but the polarizer remains indispensable. It darkens clear blue skies, reduces reflection off non-metallic objects and delivers better visibility through slight haze/fog. Keep one in your camera bag – always!

Manfrotto 3216 Monopod with 234 Swivel Tilt Head (US$64)
A monopod helps you steady the camera without the cumbersomeness of a tripod, making it useful for shooting in tight situations, or when mobility is a concern. I find a monopod invaluable when shooting with a telephoto lens over extended period of time. It makes all that difference in the sharpness of a telephoto shot.

Joby Gorillapod SLR-Zoom w/ BH1-01EN Ballhead (US$80)
This is the daddy of the Joby Gorillapod, and he supports the heft of your DSLR with ease, or up to 6.6 lbs (3kg) at least! It offers the wrap-around legs of the original Joby, so you can wrap your DSLRs around branches or railings to get that shot, without the heft or bulk of a full-tripod.

Domke F-3X Super Compact Shoulder Bag (US$99)
This bag doesn’t look like much, but don’t underestimate the amount of gear it can swallow. A mid-range DSLR and 2-3 lenses can fit within its small confines without much difficulty, and you can pack in a fair amount of accessories as well! The single hook cover lets me work quickly as well… it’s a great bag for its compact size.

Great gifts up to US$200

Seagate 1.5TB FreeAgent Desk (US$140)
This is a huge hard disk by any standards, so you can be sure it’ll hold your images for quite some time to come, even if you’re a prolific shooter with a high MP camera! You can back up your images (always keep another copy somewhere else) here as a main archive for a peace of mind. It’s great for those HD videos you’ve been shooting on your DSLR as well.

Manfrotto 190XPROB Pro tripod  (US$145)
The Manfrotto 190 series has always been the cornerstone of their affordable aluminum tripod range. Compact and relatively lightweight, the 190 series delivers a good balance of performance and price. Now in the umpteen revision, the 190XPROB features even better performance than ever. If you’re looking for a good value tripod that lasts a long time and will not wear you out excessively in the field, this is one versatile tripod to consider.

Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G DX (US$200)
This new Nikon lens is unique in that it offers a 50mm f/1.8 equilvalent on APS-C (crop factor) DSLR bodies. On paper, this is an attractive focal length with a bright aperture, and at US$200 it’s not an expensive lens. But I still feel the pinch thinking that the conventional 50mm f/1.8 costs only half as much.

Kenko Extension Tube Set (US$169)
Like teleconverters, extension tubes deliver miracles in little packages. Stick the tubes between the lens and the body, and you’d be able to focus closer than ever. And it costs so little compared to a dedicated macro lens. Stick a long extension tube to a telephoto lens, and you’d be chasing butterflies with ease. Check for compatibility issues before purchase.

Compact dedicated flash (US$110-130)
If you want a compact system flash to go with your DSLR or prosumer compact camera with a hot shoe, consider the Canon 220EX Speedlite, Nikon SB-400 Speedlight or Sony HVL-F20AM. They offer full dedicated flash metering and bounce head, in a small compact body. They’re not cheap compared to what you’d get for a third-party flash for the same price, but if you want an original compact flash, then these are the ones to go for.

PocketWizard MiniTT1 Radio Slave Transmitter (US$199)
Ok I cheated on this one… You’d need a PocketWizard FlexTT5 and a MiniTT1 to achieve wireless TTL flash with Canon and Nikon systems, but I liked the product so much that I wanted to squeeze it in under the US$200 category. If you like using flash on-location, then these are the ones to get for Canon and Nikon users.

Sekonic L-308S Flashmate (US$190)
If you’re looking for the most accurate metering, nothing beats an incident metering. Having a handheld meter like the Sekonic lets you read incident and reflected light readings, and you can use it for studio flash meter readings as well. Definitely a worthwhile purchase for portrait and still-life photographers.

DataColor Spyder3Pro Display Calibration System (US$150)
If you edit your images on your computer, how can you be sure your screen is showing you the right brightness, contrast and colour? The DataColor Spyder3Pro is the affordable display calibration system for your screen. It’s simple to use as well, and it takes less than 5 minutes to follow the instructions to calibrate your screen. If you’re spending a premium on your lenses and cameras, make sure you complete the workflow with a calibrated display when editing your images.

Domke F-803 Camera Satchel Shoulder Bag (US$120)
The Domke satchel bags can be used to carry your camera gear, and on the days when you’re not shooting, they can be transformed into a document satchel bag. The canvas is pretty hard wearing, and I like the clip enclosure system that is easy to use.

Lowepro Magnum 400 AW Shoulder Bag (US$200)
This is the all-time favorite bag of chiropractors – lug a fully laden Magnum 400AW around often enough, and I assure you that you’ll be having a slipped disc pretty soon! This huge camera bag fits up to two pro DSLR body as well as seven to nine lenses, and that is some serious weight! It’s very well padded and weatherproof though, so your gear will survive any tropical storm with ease.

All prices listed are approximate street prices, so you may find variations depending on where you shop. And please do not ask me why your favourite items are not listed in my list – there’re a gazillion items and these are just some of the items which I think you may find interesting. Have a great festive season ahead... cheers!

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