Tips & Techniques » Stocking Stuffers for the Photographer
It looks like we all made it through this year's Black Friday pandemonium. I hate thinking of all the holiday shopping I need to do, and always say I will start early and buy online, but alas, never quite accomplish it. Maybe some of these ideas will help you get a jump on it all. I have found a series of smallish, relatively inexpensive but very helpful items which will go well to replace that lump of coal.
|Look closely at the accompanying chart to determine the flash card's specs.|
|Lexar is one of my favorite brands for flash cards.|
This is as important as it can get! Flash cards are what hold the imagery once the shutter is released. Fingers crossed, but I have never really had any problems with cards. They come in different formats, sizes and shapes and have a wide range of capacities. First, make sure you know what format is required by the camera - Compact Flash, HC, Micro, Mini HC, etc. - this is critical! If you intend to shoot video, you may need certain kinds as well. Next you can usually find specs about data transfer speeds, and while there may be some slight variation in them, most are in a similar range. So which capacity to select? I spent most of my early years shooting with 1GB and 2GB cards. Now I shoot mostly in RAW format, which takes as much space as possible on storage devices and provides the largest files, so I opt for larger cards. But I do not like to put all my eggs in one (digital) basket. I usually use a couple of 8GB cards, each one allowing me to shoot for a few hours before switching to another. I have also just picked up a 16GB card so that I can start to shoot more video, which takes up more space on a card than stills. I suggest starting small, say 4GB, see how it goes, then work up to 8GB or 16GB. Try to stay with some names you recognize instead of unknown entities. Prices range from $15-$75 depending on brand and capacity.
|Consult the specs on the back of the card reader's packaging to determine transfer speeds.|
This is the next natural step in the process, whereby you transfer the files from the card to the computer. Again, I have never had problems with any I have used. They come compatible with several types of connections - USB 2.0 (most common), USB 3.0 (fairly new and much faster) and Firewire (fastest for Macs.) The speed at which they transfer data is important because it saves you time. Pay attention to that when you shop, and go for the fastest you can afford.
|Seen here is the Lexar reader, which can accommodate several types of cards.|
When traveling I think it important to have redundancy, so I travel with 2 different types of card readers. Some are shaped like little thumb drives and are very inexpensive (around $10) while others read a variety of 4 or more types of cards, come with a short cable and are a little more expensive (around $25). Some readers even come with a free download of recovery software - now this I have had to use in the past, following a card crashes or similar occurrence.
Remote Control Switch
These are devices that attach to the camera to allow you to trigger the shutter without actually touching the camera. The idea is to take the picture without any possibility of introducing camera movement with your hands. In the old days they were actually small, cable-like accessories, with a plunger that tripped the shutter button. Nowadays they usually have a USB-like attachment that goes to your camera’s electronics, and a separate hand-held trigger button. Another option is a wireless remote, which sends a signal wirelessly to your camera. Make sure you check that the device has a compatible connection for your camera. Again, when traveling, I need redundancy, so I like to have one of each kind. They can be basic and inexpensive, like those from Vello, to ones with more bells and whistles, such as those made by Nikon and Canon, which run from $25 to $200.
|Never run out of power – always carry extra batteries for your equipment.|
The first time I ran out of power for my new DSLR while on an assignment, I swore it would never happen again. So I always have at least one back-up fully-charged battery with me, sometimes even two extras. Usually the original manufacturer is the best way to go, and they run between $25-50 each. Make sure to have the correct recharger as well.
|One can never have too many fully charged rechargeable batteries.|
Even better are rechargeable batteries This is such a nice thing for our environment, it saves the landfills from those problematic, toxic batteries and saves you money. Battery rechargers are simple to use, can recharge 2 or 4 batteries at a time and plug into regular wall outlets. I even have one that has an adapter for use in my car's lighter port, allowing me to recharge while traveling. Rechargers and rechargeable batteries can be found at electronic stores, photo shops and big-box retailers, and they cost around $25.
|Sturdy pouches like these provide protection for your delicate equipment.|
When I am on assignment and working around a site, I do not like too many things around my neck and shoulder. In the old days, when prime lenses were so much sharper than zooms, this was necessary. But now, with the computer-designed zoom lenses so sharp, I feel pretty comfortable with a camera around my neck with a zoom on it, then a second zoom in a pouch on my waistband. In this way, weight is taken off my neck, and the second lens is readily accessible. I have a couple of belt pouches. One for a wide zoom, one for a long zoom and one for a flash. I may use one or two at a time. Look for sturdy materials, like ripstop nylon - I had one that was made of a spongy material that ripped. I like lightweight and strong materials, with some waterproofing as well. Your pouch should accommodate the lens with the lens shade on it, so you can change lenses quickly. Many manufacturers offer these accessories, so investigate a variety before making your decision.
|Small pouches hold small and delicate items like flash cards.|
I also suggest choosing a small pouch to hold an extra set of batteries for the camera and associated devices, and extra flash cards. These are so delicate and small that I like them to be stored separately and close.
|External hard drives come in a myriad of sizes and shapes, and they range in price from $25-$150.|
An external hard drive (aka thumb drive, flash drive or jump drive) is a mission-critical piece of equipment, in my opinion. When I am done with a day’s shooting, once the files are downloaded to my computer, I want some redundancy. I do not format the cards I shot on until I am sure I have a second copy of all files on either a set of DVDs, or better yet, some sort of hard drive. I prefer one that is small and light, but built for travel. I am currently testing a 64GB and 128GB thumb drive (with USB 2.0 or 3.0) as the backup equipment. These are solid state, so no disk is spinning and they do not require formatting for PC or Mac. With an external hard drive, I can shoot for a weekend, duplicate incrementally each day, and walk away with a redundant copy on the drive, which will fit in my pocket. There are variations in downloading rates, some are USB 2.0 or 3.0 compatible. Look for the fastest download rate and connection you can afford. Try to stay with the major manufacturers, Lexar is a brand I like.
|Lightweight reflectors fold into smaller cases and cost from $25-75.|
Reflectors are handy, portable, lightweight and extremely useful for certain kinds of photography. For instance, when shooting insects or flowers, reflectors can be used to focus an abundance of light onto that small subject, and with no flash needed. They can also be used to fill in dark shadowy areas of a person in a portrait situation, or you can bounce your flash into one to soften and spread it out to cover 2-3 individuals in a group shot. Reflectors are usually flexible and can be folded into a pouch for easy transport, and then they easily pop open to become quite large. They can be white, silver or gold.
|Lens caps, shades and filters, like these from Nikon, provide protection for your expensive glass.|
To me, the glass is the thing. The image must be carried through several pieces of glass, and so to get the sharpest images, I use the sharpest glass possible. That is my investment, and yours too. So protect it. First, you need front and back lens caps, to protect the lens in storage and transport. Next is the front filter - in this case the typical Ultra Violet filter. Finally a lens shade is necessary to protect the front element of the lens from hitting corners and other protuberances. All of these elements are specific to each type of lens, so sizing is critical to make sure they fit and protect properly. I have never been a fan of the rubber flexible shades, as I do not think them as protective as the firm shades. You can usually get the best fit with original manufacturers' equipment, but you might save a few dollars looking for used or replacement equipment. Cost can run from $15 to $75.
It is amazing to think how delicate your lenses are. Since the light must pass through them to create your image, keeping them pristine is crucial. No matter how soft your shirttail is, or even if you have the kindest, gentlest tissue paper, do not use either to clean your glass - they will scratch your lens. There are only a handful of non-destructive materials you should use for this purpose. One of them is a lint-free microfiber cloth, like those commonly used to clean eyeglasses. They come in many sizes and shapes, made by many different major and minor manufacturers. My favorite is about 6” x 6”, and it comes with a handy stuff sack and keychain. I keep it attached to the outside of my camera case so it is always with me as I change lenses and modify equipment. Microfiber clothes can be washed occasionally to remove aggregated oils and dirt. They range in cost from $2-$15, depending on size and quantity.
|Small but mighty - canned air is very useful for clearing dust and debris from your lens and camera body.|
Canned, pressurized air is another way to clean lenses. It is easy to find in variety of sizes, ranging from $3-10 in price. I have one can at home in the studio, which is the larger size with replaceable cans and removable sprayer. I also carry a smaller size as seen in the picture, which can fit in a pocket, purse or camera bag. Use canned air to spray the front and rear elements of the lens and the filter. It can be used – carefully - to clean the interior of the camera body, behind the lens. When used on the interior of the camera body, make sure to start with the camera and can level, relatively far away from each other, and move in closer slowly and carefully. Too much of a rush of air can damage your camera! Read instructions carefully. What you want to avoid in all cases is to shake the can or somehow cause the propellant to come out and spray chemicals into the lens or camera body.
Hope these gadgets and devices help spread holiday joy to your photography fans.
Happy holidays…f-stop fitzgerald