2011 Frugal Gift Guide for Photographers

Gift Guide

Let’s face it – the economy being what it is, the really high end items are likely out of the reach of most mortals.  While it’s true that in some cases “you gotta pay to play” (i.e. sports photography), there are economical ways to handle most any photo challenge.  Some are tried and true, some are innovative and new, while others are just plain cool!  The rules for my gift guide are simple – everything must be under $50! The reason?  Well, lots of photographers are posting their own versions of “Gift Guides”, and some are just plain decadent with money.   Ladies and gents, I give you…

The 2011  Frugal Gift Guide for Photographers

1.  Lens Cap Keeper – courtesy of the folks over at Photojojo, this handy lenscap keeper gets added to your camera strap and makes for a clever way to handle two lens caps (one size on each side…with varying sizes available).  It’s only $18, so definitely cheap enough to consider adding to your camera bag.  Fair warning – if you use the Rapid Strap from Black Rapid, it’s not going to fit.

2.  Camera Bag Flashlight – while most wouldn’t think twice to get a basic flashlight from the local Target, Wal-Mart or whatever your shopping preferences call for, consider getting one with a red light instead of the harsh white LED ones.  The red filter introduces less light pollution for your shots and those of others who may be around you.  I recommend the one linked here for night and astro-photography.

3.  A Spare Battery – Always a good thing to have is some spare batteries.  As we head into the colder temperatures of the year, you’ll be surprised at how quickly that juice will just drain away.  The crop sensor battery for the Canon SLR line is linked here (20D – 50D), but B&H carries most batteries for $50 or less. (The LP-E6 for newer models is a smidge over $50…)

4.  Gaffer Tape – Take your pick of size, width, color, to any degree you want – most are well under $50 and can be used for emergency repairs, marking a trail, and a myriad of other uses – it just makes sense to have a roll in your bag.  I would definitely recommend a colored one though as it’s easier t find in your bag or if used in trail marking.

5.  Gray Card Set – If you really want to get your colors spot on, a Gray card is an awesome budget-friendly option to ensure you know where your absolute white, black and 50% gray points are in any image.  These three cards are great for on-location work as they can snap off your neck strap easily to throw into a scene for a quick shot setup.  At only $10, a great accessory for any camera bag.

6.  Expo Imaging Lighting Gels – A great way to color the light of a scene to your particular tastes, and they are re-usable for all your lighting needs, these have got to be the most cool things I’ve seen with lights in ages.  At only $30, you can’t go wrong!

Those are my best picks of the year for 2011!  Have you got your own just perfectly cool photo accessory?  What really struck a chord for your camera gear bag under $50?  Sound off in the comments as more gift giving ideas are always a good thing!

Three Reasons You Should Be Using a Card Reader

Card Reader from B&H Photo

Card Reader from B&H Photo

One of the most surprising things I learned about during our recent trip to Brainerd, MN was that many photographers are tethering their cameras to their computers for transferring photos over for processing.  While tethering via cable is always an option, there are many risks to doing so, and during our talk, we took a few minutes to share some reasons why it’s better to use a card reader than to import from your camera.  Since there were so many people that seemed to appreciate the insights, I thought I’d take some time to share some of those insights here:

  1. Speed – Card readers have nothing else to do other than transfer data onto and off of a card to a computer.  No camera firmware is required, no menus need to be loaded, and no power is needed.  It’s a simple plug-and-play process for practically any computer and you can increase your transfer speeds significantly by taking this route over camera direct transfers.  Seriously…with the super fast UDMA cards out there today, you can really see a decrease in transfer times, which gets you on with other things even that much quicker.
  2. Reliability – Because cameras are such advanced devices that have so many working parts and components, the process of connecting them to a computer does take a certain toll and if the cable is frayed, or a connection is lost, or even power is lost, you can risk losing and/or corrupting your images during the transfer process.  Eliminate the risk of losing those precious memories you’ve created and use a card reader!
  3. Conserving Battery drain – In Minnesota it was cold!  We were in negative temperatures for a good portion of our stay, and with lower temps comes decreased battery time.  If we had to deal with draining our camera batteries to transfer images to a laptop or desktop computer, they likely would not have lasted.  It’s important here to remember that plugging a camera into a USB port isn’t like plugging in a phone or other devices.  Plugging in doesn’t charge the batter, it discharges the battery!  Something to keep in mind when conserving your battery life.

So, what kind should you get?  The answer here (as always) starts with “It depends…”  What kind of camera and card are you using? Do you have multiple cameras and multiple card format types?  Cards range in size and format from SD, CF, to Memory Sticks, and other proprietary sizes and shares.  Formats also include the new UDMA which increases write/read transfer rates, and varying capacities from extended capacity (XC) and other older ones which may require specific types of readers.  Check these considerations before making a purchase.  My suggestion though is to get a reader that can read both standard capacity cards as well as the XC formatted ones.  These can be found for as little as $5 through sites like Newegg.com and Amazon, but the better quality ones are available through camera retailers like B&H Photo, Adorama, and Sammy’s.

There are, of course, other reasons to use a card reader over a camera for data – and I could go on with a quite extensive list here, but would really like to hear from others:  what are your reasons for using a particular transfer setup?  Do you have a reader preference?  Or are you using the camera to tether?  Sound off in the comments with your own ideas and suggestions!

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Camera Bag Must Haves?

Over the weekend in between packing and moving boxes, I spent a little time with the Twitterverse and had a chance to get some fun dialogs going.  One of the questions posed was “Camera body aside, what are the must have essentials for you in your camera bag?”  My answer was my two filters, the polarizing filter and the ND filter for the wide angle (10-22) and telephoto (70-200) respectively.  I got some great responses from people that I thought would be interesting to share here on the blog today.  Here’s the responses from each twitter name:

  • tcrpmg:  Charger, extra cards, batteries bug spray and hand sanitizer
  • DIYPhotography: SB800, trigger, gridspot, flash clamp
  • playleimagery: extension tubes, reflector, filters, and a Cokin p350 hood  (plus tons of batteries)
  • steelersnm: batteries, charger, cleaning supplies and business cards
  • pwscott: Giotto Rocketblower
  • kevin_mullins: My lucky feather
  • lesault: 430EX, diffuser, wireless trigger, hair ties

Batteries seem to be a common favorite accessory, which makes sense because you never wanna be without the juice!  What about the rest of the reading audience?  Any personal favorite accessories you take along with you when shooting?  Sound off in the comments!  Oh yeah, and if you’re not following me yet, jump on board and you too can sound off in real time, as well as see your Twitter account up in lights (well, maybe not in lights, but at least mentioned when I do these questions from time to time…)

In the meantime, keep on shooting – this month the contest theme is Height and the Flickr thread is open for entries through the last Friday of the month – midnight mountain time as always is the deadline.  Happy shooting and we’ll see you back here tomorrow for more photo goodness!