Plugged In: Get gadgets for photographers on your list

By Joe Kashi. for the Redoubt Reporter

For most of us on the Kenai Peninsula, Santa’s sleigh is built by Boeing and pulled by Pratt and Whitney, rather than eight speed-of-light reindeer. Unless you’ve been incredibly good this year, those Christmas gifts need to be “in transit” very soon.

So, in the spirit of helping our national economy, here are some suggestions for that special Christmas photo gift for your children, your significant other, or perhaps even yourself. Rather than causing an immediate coronary infarction, we’ll help you become conditioned to financial shock by starting this week with less expensive gift suggestions.

As a brief aside, I’d like to invite everyone to the opening reception for the Kenai Fine Arts Center’s big retrospective photography exhibit that features juror-selected works of 17 peninsula photographers. The free opening reception is Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Kenai Fine Arts Center, across from Oilers Bingo near the bluff. The exhibit runs through the end of December.

  • Camera bags: Many photographers spend hours minutely comparing camera and lens specifications, seeking the smallest and lightest camera capable of quality work. They’ll anguish over a few millimeters and a few grams, yet then throw all of their gear in a heavy, awkward camera bag.

Personally, I prefer to carry no more than necessary. As a result, I use a range of camera bags for both my Pentax K-5 and Olympus systems, probably more than I need, because I like the versatility of choosing a camera bag that’s just right for a particular occasion, neither too bulky nor too constrained, and with every lens easily accessible. Which camera bag works best for you is very much a matter of personal preference and working style.

Camera bags come in many shapes — messenger-style bags, sling bags (a sort of backpack that balances on one broad, padded shoulder strap), midsize holster-style bags, photo backpacks and traditional prostyle camera bags that resemble a miniature duffel bag with hand straps. I avoid prostyle bags, finding them bulky, intrusive and ultimately an impediment to the fast working style I prefer.

Although I own a few nicely made two-strap backpacks, I don’t use them for the same reason. They’re a hassle to constantly put on and take off. But if you believe that a photo backpack fits your style, then take a look at the AmazonBasics photo backpack ($30) or the Tamrac Expedition series. I’ll sometimes use a sling-style pack because it’s faster and easier to deploy. AmazonBasics offers a decent, single-shoulder, strap-sling photo backpack that’s worth considering ($30).

More to my personal taste are holster and messenger-style photo bags. Tenba makes a very nice messenger camera bag that’s easy and quick to access. I paid $95 for mine at Stewart’s Photo in Anchorage and thought the money well spent. Olympus makes a somewhat smaller, but nice, messenger bag that often sells for as low as $16 at Amazon and Cameta Photo. These work well not only for Olympus Micro Four-Thirds cameras plus a few lenses, but also for other compact-system cameras and compact digital SLR cameras plus a few lenses.

Among holster-style bags, the compact Lowepro Rezo 170AW stands out. It’s often available at Fred Meyer and Best Buy in Anchorage. This bag is well-made, compact and very handy. I can fit four prime lenses, a Tamron 17- to 50-mm zoom lens and a Pentax K-5 in my Rezo 170AW. The reason that I can fit so many lenses is that I put each detached lens in a lens pouch to protect it.

There are many lens pouches on the market, most of them overpriced and too bulky. A very nice exception is the Pentax leather lens pouch made for Pentax’s 21-mm Limited series lens. Bhphotovideo.com sells these well-made leather pouches for $15 to $21, and they’re usable for most prime lenses under 100 mm. They also fit very compact kit zoom lenses, like the Olympus 14- to 42-mm and 12- to 50-mm lenses.

  • Printing: Sooner or later, most people want to share their photographs by making prints and giving them to family and friends as memories or gifts.  Canon’s MG6220 ($119 Amazon sales price) and Canon MG8220 ($199 Amazon sales price) printers do a very nice job making prints up to 8.5-by-11, letter size. Although both printers feature the same good print quality and wireless connections, the MG8220 includes more elaborate all-in-one features, like the ability to scan film negatives and slides. Both are excellent buys and have a good reputation.

There are times, though, when most photographers want to make larger prints. The next standard photo print size is 13-by-19. This is a very useful maximum print size and probably the largest size that most people are likely to consider. Canon again makes the best buys in this category, with the Pro-10 pigment-ink printer ($700) and the Pro-100 dye-ink printer ($500). The less-expensive, dye-based Pro-100 printer is probably the best choice for most users and, used properly, should provide excellent results. Use Canon paper for best results, as it’s matched to the ink characteristics.

  • Tripods: Although there’s certainly a temptation to shoot every photograph hand-held, there are times when you simply need a tripod. I’ve found several useful ones that won’t break the bank. The Dolica Proline series, sold by Amazon, is probably the overall best buy. These are strong but light metal tripods that include either a robust ball head best suited for still photography, or a more traditional three-adjustment pan head that’s a better match for video work.

Dolica model numbers refer to the maximum extended height of a particular model. The basic 62-inch model is the Dolica AX620B100, $38 including ball head. The 68-inch AX680P104 sells for $49 with a pan head. At 73 inches, the Dolica AX730P105 tripod and pan head is the largest in the basic series and sells at Amazon for $65. Personally, I prefer a sturdy ball head for still photography because I find ball heads easier and faster to position. Hence, my preference for still photography would be the least expensive Dolica, the 62-inch model. I’ve used one for years without any problems.

However, if photo backpacks are your thing, then check Amazon’s very reasonable $92 package price for both the Manfrotto VELOCE V Backpack and MKC3-P01 Compact Series tripod. Manfrotto, based in Italy, is one of photography’s major brand names, making excellent tripods, camera bags and other photo accessories. This would be a nice but affordable outfit for an outdoor-oriented photographer.

It’s worth knowing about some specialty tripods. Joby’s GP1-A1EN GorillaPod Flexible Tripod ($12) consists of three flexible legs and a standard, quarter-inch to 20 tripod attachment screw. Gorillapods can either be used as a light-duty, tabletop tripod, or their flexible legs wrap around objects like pipes or tree limbs to provide portable light-duty support. Children, in particular, seem to enjoy them.

More traditional tabletop tripods are very small and handy when taking indoor photos and video. Slik’s Tabletop Travel Tripod ($30 at Amazon) has worked well for me and it’s much sturdier than the usual under-$10 junk. A comparably good-quality tabletop tripod is Manfrotto’s MP3-D02 Pocket Series Tripod ($28).

Macro photography, in particular, requires very steady support when taking photos. Hand-holding a macro shot typically doesn’t work very well. That’s because the extremely limited depth of field is often exceeded by unavoidable front-to-back wavering camera motion. A tripod is the only realistic answer.

However, when using a tripod, you’ll generally get better photos by remotely releasing the shutter rather than creating camera shake by manually pressing the shutter release button. The trick is to use a remote release. Most cameramakers sell affordable remote infrared releases for their advanced dSLR and compact-system cameras. JJC offers very affordable third-party remote releases for most major brands. Remote releases usually cost between $5 and $20. In a pinch, you can use the several-second delay self-timer built into your camera’s “drive” settings. It’s adequate for static macro subjects.

  • Macro lenses: Let’s briefly recap our discussion of macro lenses from several weeks ago. Some of the very best macro lenses are reasonably priced third-party models available for most major lens mounts. These include the 70-mm and 105-mm Sigma macro lenses and the 60-mm and 90-mm Tamron macro lenses. These are excellent all-around lenses and excellent values. Nikon’s 40-mm G-series macro lens is quite good and readily affordable. Pentax’s 35-mm Limited and 100-mm WR series lenses and Canon’s 100-mm L series lenses are more expensive but superb optically. Any of these are excellent presents for the serious photographer in your family, or perhaps even yourself.
  • Software: Adobe’s Lightroom is among the most versatile and effective “straight” photography software on the market. It’s always been a very good value, but more so now that Adobe has dropped its “street” retail price as low as $120 for a new purchase of the Windows and Mac versions. Amazon sells the “student and teacher” version for less than $80, an excellent buy.

Local attorney Joe Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. He has published many articles about computer technology, law practice and digital photography in national media since 1990. Many of his technology and photography articles can be accessed through his website, http://www.kashilaw.com.

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