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Best camera accessories and gifts



If you're shopping for camera accessories and gifts, you've come to the right place! At my sister-site Camera Labs I write in-depth reviews of cameras but understand you're busy people who sometimes just want recommendations of the most outstanding products.

So here I'll cut to the chase and list the best camera accessories around right now, with links to those I've reviewed.

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SanDisk 32GB UHS-1 SD memory card

 
SanDisk 32GB SD UHS-1 card
 

A memory card is of course the number one accessory for any digital photographer, and apart from a handful of top-end pro cameras, the World is steadily adopting the SD format. So surely the thing you should do is simply buy the biggest and cheapest memory card you can find, right?

Not quite. There are key advantages to buying a decent card. First of all, SD cards come in different speeds, identified by a Class or UHS rating. The faster the card, the quicker you can write data onto it and read data back off it. If you have a camera which supports high speed cards, you'll be able to minimize the writing time after a burst of shots, and ensure you're ready to shoot again as quickly as possible. This is critical not just when taking action and sports photos, but equally when shooting portraits - no-one wants to wait for your camera to catch up. Even if your camera doesn't exploit the fastest cards, your computer might when it comes to copying images onto it. The fastest SD cards at the moment are UHS-1, followed by Class 10. While some HD movie modes may only require Class 6 or even 4 for smooth recording, I'd still recommend going for Class 10 as a minimum and UHS-1 if you have a decent camera and are serous about your performance.

As for a brand, I've used and can recommend Lexar, but the name which keeps coming up again and again is SanDisk. The 32GB capacity is also at a sweetspot right now, so my pick is the SanDisk 32GB UHS-1 card.

 




Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod review

 
Manfrotto 190XPROB / Bogen 3001BD tripod
 
 

A decent tripod is an important accessory for any photographer. Along with holding your camera steady and taking the load off your own shoulders, a tripod can often make you think more carefully about your composition. They’re absolutely invaluable, but the key is to buy a good model.

Cheap and flimsy tripods invariably disappoint, and if you can’t stretch to a decent model, I’d recommend checking out a Gorillapod instead - see below.

Manfrotto (previously known in some regions as Bogen) produces some of the best tripods in the world with a wealth of models to choose from. All but the cheapest models are sold in two parts: the legs and the head, allowing you to find a combination which exactly matches your needs.

The most affordable Manfrotto legs are in the 190 range, with the 190XPROB being one of the best-selling models worldwide. It's sufficiently small and light to be portable, while delivering decent height and stability. It's a great tripod which represents a big step-up from cheap models, although if you're very tall, you will prefer the larger 055XPROB version. Those with bigger budgets who like to travel light should also consider the carbon-fiber 190CXPRO3 version, and again its bigger counterpart the 055CXPRO3 for taller folk. Remember all four of these tripods will need a separate head, and two of the most popular options are right below.




Manfrotto 327RC2 grip ball head

Manfrotto 327RC2 grip ball head
 

The beauty of a decent tripod system is being able to buy the legs and heads separately. Not only does this allow you to choose the perfect combination for your needs, it also allows you to own multiple heads and swap them for different types of work.

You have to start somewhere though, and one of the most popular all-round Manfrotto heads is the 327RC2 grip ball model which allows you to quickly and easily adjust your camera’s position with just one hand.

There are of course several other heads I can recommend depending on your requirements. If you prefer a traditional three-axis model, the 460MG is light, flexible, and one of my personal favourites. If you’re into video, you’ll need a fluid head with smooth panning action, such as the 701HDV, or if you need absolute technical precision, a geared head like the 410 is ideal. If money is tight, the basic 056 Junior head is a good, albeit basic choice, although remember you can always upgrade the head later. If you're looking for a ball head, check out the option below!




Manfrotto 498RC2 ball head

Manfrotto 498RC2 ball head
 

Arguably the most popular and versatile type of tripod head is the ball and socket. By mounting the camera on a smooth ball, you can easily point it in any direction before then turning a screw to lock it in place. If the friction is set just right you can also make subtle readjustments without having to unlock and relock again.

Ball and socket heads are available at all price points, but it's important not to skimp or you'll end up with one that doesn't move smoothly or lock securely. It's also critical to buy one which can support the weight of your heaviest gear.

If you're shooting with lighter system cameras or budget DSLRs with kit lenses, then Manfrotto's 496RC2 is a good starter option, but I'd recommend spending a bit more on the 498RC2. Not only is it able to accommodate a heavier load, but also offers 360 degree panning with the main ball locked. This is great for shooting panoramas or even for panning during video, although if video is you're priority, a fluid video head remains a better choice like the 701HDV.



Joby Gorillapod review


 
Joby Gorillapod SLR Zoom
 
Tripods are invaluable accessories, but can be a real pain to lug around, especially if you ’re hiking or on holiday. Mini-tripods also rarely cut the mustard, being either too short or too flimsy for serious work. Enter Joby’s cunning Gorillapod which features jointed bendable legs with rubber grips which can be twisted around almost any object for a secure hold.

Joby offers four versions. The smallest ‘Original’ model is designed for compacts, measures 15x3x3cm, weighs just 45g and can carry weights up to 325g. Next up is the ‘SLR’ model, designed for smaller DSLRs and camcorders, measuring 25x5x5cm, weighing 165g and good to handle a load of 800g.

After this comes what I consider to be the sweetspot in the range, the ‘SLR Zoom’ model, which measures 25x6x6cm, weighs 241g and can handle a load of 3kg. If you need to accommodate something heavier still, the latest ‘Focus’ model can handle up to 5kg loads, although it costs double that of the ‘SLR Zoom’.

I've attached various semi-pro DSLRs with hefty zooms onto the Gorillapod SLR Zoom and securely wrapped its legs round fences, posts and even tree branches. So long as there’s something to wrap its legs around, the larger Gorillapods can prove invaluable for anyone who fancies taking the occasional long exposure or HDR shot, but likes to travel light. Note, for the greatest flexibility and ease of use, couple a Gorillapod with a decent ball head, such as the Manfrotto 496RC2 or 498RC2.




Photography eBooks which work on PCs, Macs, laptops and tablets including the iPad!

   
         
Living Landscapes eBook
By Todd and Sarah Sisson
Price: $29.99 USD (PDF download)
More details!

Todd and Sarah Sisson are two of my favourite landscape photographers and in this superb ebook, they'll reveal the secrets behind their wonderful photos. Over 130 pages, it combines tutorials, field guides and technical advice, using the beautiful scenery of New Zealand as a backdrop. An informative and attractive ebook that's highly recommended for anyone wanting to improve their landscape photography! Well worth the price.

  Photographing the 4th Dimension: time
By Jim M Goldstein
Price: $20 USD (PDF download)
More details!

A great-looking and highly informative eBook for anyone interested in long exposure photography. Whether you're into painting with light, capturing star-trails or creating timelapse video, author Jim M Goldstein has the answers. One of my favourite eBooks to date and one you'll want in your collection even if it's just to browse the great images.
  The Art of Photographing Wildlife
By Mike Kiss
Price: $9.97 USD (PDF download)
More details!

In the first eBook published by Cameralabs, discover the techniques behind great wildlife photos. Mike Kiss is a respected wildlife photographer based in Saskatoon Saskatchewan Canada, and in his eBook explains how to approach and photograph different types of animals, birds and marine life while always respecting them and the environment.




More photography eBooks which work on PCs, Macs, laptops and tablets including the iPad!

    Photoshop tips
         
Composing the photo
By Trey Ratcliff
Price: $9.97 USD (PDF download)
More details!

Learn how to better compose your shots, from setting-up at the scene to cropping later for the most impact. Trey gives an equal emphasis on people and landscape photography and reveals why he believes the Golden Ratio is superior to the classic Rule of Thirds when it comes to positioning your subject on the frame - and I'm inclined to agree.

  Top 10 HDR Mistakes &how to fix them
By Trey Ratcliff
Price: $9.97 USD (PDF download)
More details!

Delve into High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography, where multiple exposures are combined to capture detail in shadows and highlights. It's a very popular technique, but one which can be fraught with issues if you don't learn its strengths and weaknesses. Trey reveals everything you need to know about HDR processing and ensures you'll avoid common pitfalls.
  10 Essential Photoshop Skills
By Trey Ratcliff
Price: $9.97 USD (PDF download)
More details!

Mystified by Photoshop? Learn how to get to grips with the World's greatest photo editing program in Trey Ratcliff's latest eBook! Across ten useful tips, Trey starts with advice on sharpening and cropping before moving onto layers and curves, and finishing with spot-healing and lighting effects. A great guide for Photoshop beginners and just beyond.



Photomatix Pro 4 HDR software - receive 15% discount when using coupon 'CameraLabs'

 
High Dynamic Range, or HDR photography is a popular way to capture a wide range of tones in your photos and in extreme cases, give them an other-worldly or hyper-real appearance. HDR solves the problems of details lost in bright and dark areas by simply combining several different exposures of the same scene. The shorter exposures retain detail in bright areas, while the longer exposures capture detail in the dark shadows.

All you then need is the right software to combine them into a single optimised image and by far the most popular and effective is HDR Soft's Photomatix. We've partnered-up with the good folk at HDR Soft to give you 15% discount on Photomatix: simply use the coupon code CameraLabs to receive the discount when checking-out.

PS - if you get hooked-on HDR, I can highly recommend buying Trey Ratcliff's eBook, 'Top 10 HDR Mistakes, and how to fix them' - see above.

 




Giottos AA1900 Rocket Air Blower



Giottos AA1900 Rocket Air Blower
 

Dust is the bane of every DSLR or system camera owner. It gets into your camera body when you change lenses and settles on the filter in front of your sensor, casting shadows onto it. The result? Annoying dark fuzzy patches on your photos. Most interchangeable lens cameras feature anti-dust features but few have proven 100% effective, so the simple fact is at some point you will need to manually intervene.

One of the simplest but most effective ways to get rid of dust is with a few well-placed gushes from a blower, and they don’t come better than Giottos Rocket Air. Shaped like something Tin-Tin might pilot to the Moon, the Rocket Air Blower delivers powerful gushes of air which should dislodge all but the most stubborn particles. They’re also great for getting rid of dust from nooks and crannies of other components - and stood vertically on its tail fins, they look pretty cool too.

Giottos offers produces several versions of the Rocket in different sizes, with the largest AA1903 model delivering the most powerful blast. Not far behind it though is the AA1900 model, featured here, which I’ve found more than capable while remaining portable. Of all accessories, this is the one I never leave home without.




Hoya 58mm UV Multi-Coated filter

Hoya 58mm UV Multi-Coated filter
 

High on the shopping list of any new DSLR owner is a filter to protect their lens from dust and scratches. The most common type used for protective purposes is a UV filter, which are essentially transparent, but also feature a coating to reduce the Sun’s ultra-violet rays.

The first step in buying a filter is identifying the right size for your particular lens. The filter thread size, measured in millimetres, is typically printed at the end of the lens barrel and usually indicated by a zero with a diagonal line through it. Canon’s EF-S 18-55mm kit lens has a 58mm filter thread, while the one on the Nikkor DX 18-55mm kit lens measures 52mm. Larger filters are understandably more expensive.

But before you go and buy just any UV filter though, remember that anything you put in front of your lens has the potential to reduce its image quality. A cheap filter can have a serious negative impact, so always go for a higher quality Multi-Coated model instead. Hoya is one of the most respected brands in filters and its Multi-Coated (HMC) range of UV filters won’t compromise your lens.




Hoya Circular Polarizing filter

Hoya 58mm Polarizing filter
 

One of the most useful filters for any photographer is the polarizer – these can cut through haze, deepen blue skies and reduce reflections on non-metallic surfaces like glass or water. So whether you want to sharpen distant mountains or canyons, make colours more vibrant on a sunny day, or photograph something behind a window, a polarizer will become an invaluable accessory.

Polarizers come in two types: Linear and Circular. Circular polarizers, or CPLs for short, are designed to work with the autofocus or metering systems on modern cameras, so this is the type you’ll need to buy for your DSLR. As with UV filters, you’ll also need to identify the right size for your lens barrel, and again it’s worth spending extra on Multi-Coated models for the best quality. If you’re using an ultra-wide angle lens, look out for slimmer polarizers which won’t darken the corners of your image.

Once again Hoya is one of the best brands around for polarizing filters, especially its Multi-Coated (HMC) range, although regardless of the model, always avoid mounting multiple filters on top of each other, such as a polarizier and UV model together. For more information, see my Polarizing Filter tutorial at our sister site, DSLR Tips. Once again remember to choose the right size for your lense: the filter size, measured in millimetres, is typically printed at the end of the lens barrel and usually indicated by a zero with a diagonal line through it. Canon’s EF-S 18-55mm kit lens has a 58mm filter thread, while the one on the Nikkor DX 18-55mm kit lens measures 52mm. Larger filters are understandably more expensive. If you have an ultra wide angle lens, you may need a low-profile filter to avoid vignetting.




Zoom H2n microphone / sound recorder

 
Zoom H2n microphone recorder
 

An increasing number of cameras are being equipped with microphone inputs. These let you connect an external microphone to record better sound quality during movies. If you're looking for a great external microphone which slides onto your camera's hotshoe I can highly recommend Rode's VideoMic Pro for interviews or the Stereo Video Mic for general and ambient stereo recordings.

The most important thing when recording audio though is getting the microphone as close as possible to the subject. You could use a long cable to connect an external microphone to a camera's mic input, but recently I've adopted the Hollywood approach of using a separate sound recorder and simply syncing the audio and video files when editing later.

Zoom offers a choice of three excellent sound recorders. At one end is the budget H1 and at the other is the professional H4n, but for me the perfect balance in price and performance is the H2n. This features no fewer than five microphone capsules for stereo or surround and records audio onto SD memory cards. While primarily designed as a sound recorder, you can also connect it direct to a camera or a computer (via USB) as an external microphone. I used mine to record the audio for my series of Working Holiday Video blogs, and have also used it as a USB microphone for Google+ hangouts. An invaluable accessory I carry with me at all times.




Western Digital My Passport portable hard drive

 
Western Digital Portable Hard Drive
 

Photographers can never have too much storage, and the ability to backup and transport your digital photo and video collection in a convenient manner cannot be under-estimated.

Enter Western Digital's My Passport series of portable hard disks. They use low-powered laptop hard drives, which means they're not just small and light, but can also be powered by a single USB port, eliminating the need to carry a separate power supply. The Passport drives come in 500GB, 1TB or 2TB capacities, allowing you to pack-in a vast amount of data.

Best of all, it's small size and light weight means you'll happily take it everywhere you go. I know I do: my pair of 1TB portable drives have accompanied me on every trip since I bought them, whether it's flying-off on holiday or simply heading out for a local shoot. After all, a backup is only a true backup if it's kept separate from the original. Oh, and it even supports USB 3.0 as well as USB 2.0.

 




Anker Astro Mini portable USB battery

 
Anker Astro Mini portable battery
 

An increasing number of cameras are now recharged over USB, which opens up a wide range of options when it comes to topping-up your battery. You could connect it to a laptop, or a socket on a bus, or of course to one of the many AC adapters you almost certainly have for other devices including phones and tablets. But for me one of the most compelling options is to carry an additional USB battery. They charge-up over USB, and then can trasnfer their charge to other USB-powered devices when they need it.

I use an Anker Astro Mini battery rated at 3000mAh to topup my phone when I'm out for long periods, and I love that I can also use it to topup my USB-powered cameras too. If I'm running low on either device, I'll often connect the Anker while I walk between locations or catch public transport, and by the time I reach my destination they're both significantly replenished without ever having to find a mains socket. I topped up the Sony RX100 Mark III on Brighton Beach opposite!

 




Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
 

Adobe has created some of the most impressive and powerful image editing tools, but cleverly knows how to package them for specific types of people. Photoshop may remain the Grandaddy of image manipulation, but is overkill for many photographers. Realising this, Adobe created Lightroom to appeal to the desires of photographers who want powerful tools to process, adjust and catalogue their images, but have little or no need for the other stuff.

It essentially gives photographers most of what they'd actually use in Photoshop, but presented in a more appealing way at a lower price. The RAW processing capabilities are excellent, allowing you to adjust almost any aspect of your images. Once imported you can easily rate and catalogue your photos, before outputting in a variety of formats, even to photobooks.

Lightroom is so good, many photographers don't even bother with the full Photoshop anymore. Indeed it's become a no-brainer for most photographers who are serious about their image processing. Beginners may however find it intimidating, so are better-served by Photoshop Elements below.




Adobe Photoshop Elements 13

Adobe Photoshop Elements
 

Image processing has become an essential ally for digital photographers, allowing you to adjust the appearance of your photos in almost any way imaginable. The undisputed heavyweight in image manipulation is Adobe Photoshop, but this package is expensive and over-complicated for most photographers. Recognising this, Adobe cleverly produced the simpler and considerably cheaper Photoshop Elements, now in version 13.

Photoshop Elements 13 features almost everything most photographers would want or need from the full Photoshop, but presents them in a much easier-to-use manner at an affordable price. If you want to correct mistakes, enhance your images, or even adopt the styles of others, it'll help you do it quickly and easily. Unlike the pure approach of Photoshop, Elements also doesn’t shy away from helping you create popular projects like photo books and slideshows, and will also help you organise your photos.

So if you want to easily manipulate your digital photos and only buy one program, this is the one to go for. No wonder it's the best-selling photo editing software. Expert users will prefer Lightroom, above.



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