Welcome to my 10th Annual Gonzo Holiday Gear Guide. I know it’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years. When I wrote the first one, Roosevelt was still President, The Dick Van Dyke Show was a prime-time hit, and the Spice Girls had just released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (please don’t dwell too long on any of that—just let it go). Anyway, that’s not important; what’s important is that there are some really cool, fun, and tasty gear in this year’s guide (including my throwback pick—the Flowbee). It’s almost time to unleash the “gonzoness” of this guide upon you, but first, some housekeeping stuff.
As is my sacred Gonzo tradition for more than a 10th of a century, I’m breaking things into three distinct categories:
- Stocking Stuffers: But you can use these as actual holiday gifts if you’re not that crazy about the person.
- Great Value Gear: Stuff that’s a really good deal for the money, and even though it’s not a lot of money, they’ll still totally dig it.
- Cha-ching! Stuff you buy for the surgeon/Wall Street banker/rap mogul on your Holiday gift list. This is the stuff that makes them burst into spontaneous tears of joy. Well, at least I would.
These are my annually self-imposed guidelines for which products make it into the guide. It’s just two rules actually. First, to be listed here, they have to be products that I use myself, and that I absolutely love, and now can’t live without (well, I could live without them, but I just wouldn’t want to). Second, if a product makes the guide, it has to be one I’d recommend to a close friend without hesitation, especially if my friend was Justin Bieber.
Okay, folks, hang on to any loose body parts; here we go!
YONGNUO YN-560TX Wireless Flash Trigger
If the photographer on your gift list has a YONGNUO flash, this is an inexpensive wireless controller that sits on top of their hot-shoe and controls up to six groups of flashes. It’s simple, it’s effective, and it’s cheap at less than $45. If they don’t have a YONGNUO flash, then it becomes a unique tree ornament.
YN560 TX (for Canon): $44.95 (link)
YN560 TX (for Nikon): $39.99 (link)
Lastolite Ezybalance 12″ 18% Grey/White Target
If they shoot people…(let me rephrase that). If they take portraits, this is an awesome gift because it helps them get the white balance right on the money. It’s super portable (it collapses like a diffuser or reflector so it’s really small and fits in any camera bag), super lightweight, and pretty cheap.
Tether Tools RapidMount SLX Speedlight Holder
Okay, so technically it’s for mounting a flash just about anywhere, but it’s really for mounting just about anything anywhere. So clever, and very affordable.
Some Cool Books
If they’ve ever wanted to create really professional-looking headshots, they’ll love Peter Hurley’s The Headshot. It came out this year and it’s already going into its third printing. A huge hit! (Full disclosure: I was the development editor, and despite that—it’s still a good book.)
Every photographer and/or graphic designer/illustrator needs Ed Greenberg and Jack Reznicki’s The Copyright Zone book. It’s full of invaluable information for protecting your work, and lots of great business advice, as well. Good stuff.
Our dear friend Glyn Dewis wrote quite an awesome book this year. It’s called The Photoshop Workbook and it’s packed with great techniques for intermediate users and up.
If you have a few extra bucks to spend, check out Jay Maisel’s It’s Not About the F-Stop and Light, Gesture & Color. Both brilliant books (from us and Peachpit Press).
GREAT VALUE GEAR
Perfectly Clear Plug-in 2.0
This plug-in is pretty much your “retoucher-in-a-box” type of plug-in (for Lightroom or Photoshop) in that it applies up to 20 automatic image corrections. Yes, there are other plug-ins that do automatic corrections and retouching, but this is probably the best I’ve ever seen. Good stuff.
Photoshop or Lightroom Plug-In v2: $149
Photoshop and Lightroom Bundle v2: $199
The Everyday Messenger by Trey Ratcliff and Peak Design
This awesome little camera bag/messenger bag was co-designed by travel photographer Trey Ratcliff, and funded through a Kickstarter program that raised more than $500,000 its first day (raising nearly $5 million total), and when I got mine, I saw exactly why. It’s beautifully made, thoughtfully constructed, very clever, holds a little or a lot (and cleverly adjusts for both), and overall it’s just an awesome camera bag that the photographer on your gift list will love you for.
Platypod Pro Deluxe Kit
This is a very slick, small, lightweight camera support that you use in place of a tripod (you just put a ballhead on this incredibly sturdy plate and you’re good to go). Its small size lets you use it in places where tripods aren’t allowed, which is a big thing. I love it for doing interior photography with a wide-angle lens down low, or travel photography for getting a really low perspective in a cathedral or palace, but I’m also using it for remote cameras at sporting events. It also has a very well thought-out carrying case.
CamRanger: Wireless Camera Control & Tethering
This is one of the most useful, smart, and just brilliantly designed things to come along for photographers in a while. It lets you wirelessly control your Canon or Nikon camera for everything from tethering (with touch focus) to time-lapse photography, to making movies, and more with your iPhone or iPad, Android-based mobile device, and even your Mac or Windows desktop computer, and the level of control you get is pretty astonishing. You can view images, save images (RAW and JPEG), adjust the controls all wirelessly, change metering modes, do bracketing—it’s just sick! It’s won about every industry award you can win and its fan base of evangelists around the world grows larger every day.
Tether Table Aero System
This is a shelf that attaches to a tripod to hold your laptop for tethered shooting, which by itself is incredibly convenient for shooting in-studio or on location, but the optional accessories they make for it are awesome, including a little under-mounted holder for external hard drives, to a secondary holder for your iPad, to a pullout drink holder that I personally just love. It’s totally worth it.
Price: Starting at $175.95
Westcott Apollo 50″ Mega JS Softbox for Hot-shoe Flash
It’s a big, beautiful, super portable, lightweight softbox that’s a miracle for the money. Perfect for lighting portraits, full-length shots, or even group shots, all with just a single flash. It collapses like an umbrella but forms into a big ol’ 50×50″ softbox, and at $169.90 you can’t beat it.
If you have an iPhoneographer on your Holiday list, this gift will blow them away. It’s a pro-quality 20-megapixel camera lens and sensor that attaches to your iPhone via a lightning connector, and the results are pretty stunning. With its f/1.8 aperture, now you can take shots with those soft out-of-focus backgrounds right from your iPhone, but it integrates directly into your iPhone so you can still do all the iPhone stuff to the images it captures. The images are sharper, clearer, better in low light than your iPhone, and well, it’s basically a whole new experience in quality and size.
Vello Shutterboss Version II Timer Remote Switch
This is so inexpensive that it probably should go under “Stocking Stuffers,” but it doesn’t look cheap, so I’m sticking it here. This accessory does double-duty—it acts as a cable release for your camera, but then it also does time-lapse photography (well, that’s actually its main act). It’s pretty well made (mine has lasted for years now), and it’s only $49.95 at B&H.
Use MPIX to Print, Mount, Frame, and Deliver One of Your Own Images
This is a really personal gift—giving one of your images, framed, to someone else. The impact this will make is pretty incredible. Expect them to follow you around like a puppy for the rest of the year for giving them something only you could do. You upload your image to MPIX.com; pick your mounting, framing, etc.; and they’ll ship it directly to the person on your gift list. Don’t go chinchy on the size—get a 16×20″ or larger (figure around $100 with mounting, framing, printing, and delivery or more if you choose a larger size).
Price: Depends on size, mounting, and framing you choose
The B&H Photo Gift Card
Not exactly sure what to get them? Get them this! That way they can get whatever they want (within the limit of how much you put on the card, of course) from the greatest photo store on earth. You can order gift cards directly from the B&H site. They’ll send a card and a catalog so it looks pretty substantial.
Price: That’s up to you
A Fisheye Lens
I’m just saying a fisheye, because you have to pick one that fits the camera make and style (crop sensor or full frame) that the photographer on your Holiday gift list uses, but whichever brand you wind up getting, they’ll super-dig this special-effect lens.
I use the Canon EF 8–15mm f/4L Fisheye USM zoom (for full-frame cameras), and it’s awesome! ($1,249).
For crop-sensor bodies, a lot of folks like the Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG Diagonal Fisheye (around $600).
Nikon makes an AF Fisheye-NIKKOR 16mm f/2.8 for full-frame cameras that’s right around $1,000.
Their AF DX Fisheye-NIKKOR 10.5mm f/2.8 for cropped sensor DX bodies is around $771.
Price: Starting around $600 and on up.
Elinchrom ELB 400 Battery Pack
If you want the photographer on your list to fall in love with you with a burning passion that knows no bounds, get them this awesome little battery pack that can use two small lightweight (but very powerful) flash heads. This is what I use when I want studio-quality light on location, and this latest version is better than ever. It has its own built-in (better) version of high-speed sync for freezing motion and strobe special effects that’s just awesome. Very lightweight battery back, well designed, and incredible for the money.
Price: $1,019 (without optional Lithium-ion battery or strobes)
Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Ultra-Wide-Angle Zoom Lens
This is the greatest super-wide-angle lens I’ve ever used, and I believe it’s the widest wide-angle lens ever made without becoming a fisheye lens. It’s sharp as a tack, it’s a rectilinear lens so it minimizes distortion, and the images you’re able to capture with it are just stunning. It’s just so darn wide! I love it! Of course, this much love doesn’t come in a cheap package. It’s around $3,000 but for the greatest wide-angle ever made, it’s worth it.
DJI Phantom 3 Standard Flying Camera
Everybody wants a drone copter for taking aerial shots these days. Everybody! It’s “a thing.” I know I included a copter in my list last year, but however popular they were last year, it’s pretty much quadrupled for this year, so I had to include one. It’s a really fun thing, and the DJI Standard is, well, it’s the standard! (Note: If you give this to someone, prepare to receive the same reaction a dog gives his owner when he returns home: They’ll jump up on you and lick your face. Just sayin’.)
Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 Professional Inkjet Printer
We have one of these in our offices, and it’s among the best printers Canon’s ever made. It’s a 17″ wide-format pro-quality printer with all new guts (print head, new inks, new technology, new special magic, etc.) to make prints that are just unbelievable in quality, sharpness, and vibrance. They’ll not even believe you bought them a printer. It will totally freak them out (in a good way).
COOL STUFF FROM US
A One-Year KelbyOne Online Training Membership
How awesome would this be? (Mighty awesome!) They’ll think of you for a full year as they’re learning cool new stuff. From lighting to landscapes, weddings to travel photography, portraits to pet photography, there are more than 500 in-depth online training classes here (including lots of classes from me). They’ll love you (I’ll love you). It’s only $199 for a full year of unlimited access. Feel the love.
Get Them a Ticket to My Live Full-Day Seminar
I’d love to see the awesome photographer on your gift list in person at my live full-day photography (and Lightroom and Photoshop) seminar. I’m heading all over here in the U.S., and I even pop over to Canada and the U.K. You can see a list of cities over at www.kelbyone.com/live. They’ll super-dig it, and you’ll be a hero.
Treat Them to Photoshop World Las Vegas
It’s a three-day photography, Photoshop, Adobe CC, video, and Lightroom lovefest coming this summer (July 19–21, 2016), and you can send your loved one (or hope-to-be-loved-back one) for an experience they’ll never forget. They’ll learn more in three days than they have in three years, and they’ll have you to thank. Plus, if you buy their full conference pass now, you’ll save a bundle.
Well, there ya have it folks. Remember, it’s not how many gifts you get. It’s about how many gifts you get me! ;-)
Hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving Week!