Holiday Gift Guide

Gifts Under $100
One of the most useful and helpful gifts for any photographer--with any type of camera--who wants better flash pictures is a small slave flash that "reads" a camera's built-in flash and automatically synchronizes and fires to provide additional lighting. These tiny units (typically about the size of a 6 ft tape measure) can be placed to the side or back of the subject to provide needed extra light to add contour and form to the subject or to separate the subject from the background. They can even be held at arm's length in the left hand while using the right hand to fire the camera.

Although particularly suited for use with a small compact camera, they can be used with an SLR or any format camera to add an extra touch of light. Several new slave models are intended primarily to extend the flash of digital cameras, but also can be used with film cameras. There are several different slave flashes currently available, including the Morris Mini Slave (list under $30); RTS Nissin DigiSlave flash ($30); and the Sunpak Digital Flash complete with small flexible tripod stand for under $50.

Handling a camera with small button controls with gloves on in cold weather can be tedious. There is an easy solution. Photo Gloves are soft and warm but have all of the fingers and the palm covered with rubber-like Control Dots to ensure a tight, firm grip on the camera, its controls, or tripod. These black gloves are available in M, L, and XL from Lowepro and list for $22 a pair.

I like to take skyline pictures at sunset. But, the sun does not always cooperate and produce a nice red sky on the one night I might have available. So, just put a sunset filter on the lens to introduce a two-tone red sky to obtain an artificial sunset glow. This is one filter I always pack in my gadget bag when I travel. Many firms offer this type of filter including Cokin and Tiffen. They usually list for well under $25. Don't forget to get an adapter with a ring of the same thread type as on the camera.

If your photographer friend has an SLR camera with a number of accessories such as interchangeable lenses, a shoe mount flash, etc., there are several small, inexpensive items from OP/Tech USA that would probably be appropriate gifts. Soft wraps provide extra-soft protection for lenses and other valuable items. These foam wraps have a self-securing closure so they can be configured to fit most any size item. There is even an extra 5" removable pad to provide additional protection where needed. They are available in 11, 15, and 19 inch squares in a choice of colors and list for under $14 for the largest size.

I realized that I like putting myself into situations like this. When I'm a little uneasy, a little insecure, I have a tendency to look a little harder for pictures. And Asia always rewards my efforts. Everything is different there, and that's part of the allure. It's a spiritual place, where beliefs are part of everyday life. There are elements of mystery there, and there is serenity, too.

I realized, too, what the difference between Asia and Europe is for me. There are places in Europe where I have to play the pretend I've never been here before game--and there are places where the game no longer works. In Asia I never have to do that. It's new every time, and whenever I get there, no matter what city on the continent, it's step one all over again.

Most camera equipment and portable computers are quite expensive, thus the owner has legitimate concern about the safety of the items when they must leave it unattended. The Pacsafe from Lowepro is a slash-proof, noncorrosive stainless steel mesh material that can be secured with a lockable draw wire, high-impact, polycarbonate locking system. Each device includes a hardened-shackle padlock and three keys. It's offered in three sizes of Explorer series. The Travel Safe is a Pacsafe enclosed in a discreet weatherproof black fabric pouch. It's offered in two sizes. Simply place the wire loop of either type onto something secure and nonmovable, then you can safely leave your equipment. List prices are under $76 for the largest version.

Gifts $100-$200
Truly dedicated photographers typically don't care for the results of using a built-in flash near the camera's lens and the results from a shoe mount flash tend to be similar. An accessory that makes using a shoe mount flash produce far better lighting is a bracket. A flash bracket attaches to a camera's tripod socket and positions the flash unit 6-10 inches directly above the lens. This throws the shadow directly behind the subject for more natural lighting with a less prominent shadow. Many brackets have a tilting arrangement so you can flip the flash over when changing from horizontal to vertical composition thus keeping it positioned above the lens. Some also have a trigger on the grip for tripping the shutter. The Lindahl Specialties flash brackets (now a division of Photo Control Corporation) list for under $190.

A tripod can improve the quality of most longer telephoto lens pictures by helping to steady the camera from possible movement. They also are imperative when taking longer exposures (1/15 sec up to several seconds or minutes long) of nighttime subjects. Some tripods are heavy and cumbersome in the field, and extremely small tripods tend to become wobbly at full height, so they don't really do the intended job. The new Cullmann 2650 is a contradiction. It's both featherweight and sturdy. Each leg offers a variable angle, locking device so it has a usable height range from 3-61 inches. Flip-lock clamps on the legs make for a speedy setup. It has a geared reversible center column, and a quick release plate on the three-way fluid effect head. There is even a convenient carry bag included in the list price of $165.

Gifts $200-$500
Another handy camera steadying device is a monopod. Since there is just one extendable leg, the weight is about 1/3 that of a regular tripod. No, it doesn't provide the secure support that a conventional tripod does. But you would be surprised at the additional steadying support a monopod provides when using a 200mm, 300mm, or longer prime telephoto or a tele-zoom lens. Many firms offer monopods but one of the most complete lines carry the Gitzo name. They offer eight different models from the Mountaineer carbon-fiber tube models with a list price of $322 to several MonoTrek monopod/ walking stick models made of aluminum alloy that list for about $150. The latter version is offered with a small ball head, a rubber neck flexible head, or a wooden knob walking stick head.

No Price Limit Gifts
A megapixel digital camera with a fast zoom lens such as the Fuji FinePix 6900 zoom (with 6x zoom and 3.3 million sensor for a 6 megapixel picture file) would make a nice "toy" to experiment with to become more knowledgeable about digital imaging. But, I'm not holding my breath until somebody gives me one this holiday season!

Hopefully this will provide you with some ideas of presents for your photo friends. Maybe your Santa will take the hint and act on your wishful desire.