Welcome to my “7th Annual Awesome Holiday Gear Guide.” I think what has made this guide extra awesome the past couple of years is that I’ve really tried to focus on choosing great value-for-the-money gear. As always, this year’s gear guide is packed with some really cool stuff that we absolutely, positively don’t need on any level, but we desperately want because that is, after all, half the fun!
The only thing better than actually buying cool gear for someone you love is having someone you love buy you cool gear (kidding—kind of). So, without further ado (that’s right—everything up to this point was “ado”), here’s this year’s collection of really cool, handpicked gift ideas. (Remember my motto: It’s perfectly acceptable to buy gifts for yourself if it has lots of buttons or any kind of LCD screen.)
These are my self-imposed guidelines for which products make it into the guide. It’s just two rules actually. 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).
- If a product makes the guide, it has to be one I would recommend to a close friend without hesitation, especially if my friend was a rich doctor (kidding).
A Large Print of One of Your Images
Giving a large print of one of your favorite images is a very personal gift, and you don’t even have to have your own printer to do it. I use Mpix.com a lot around the holidays for this very reason. I upload an image, choose a matt, plus a simple black metal frame with clear glass, and they ship it directly to the person on my gift list. Same thing with ArtisticPhotoCanvas.com. If you want to send someone a canvas print, they kick butt at it, and people lose their minds when they receive either a framed print or a canvas. You can buy gift codes from Mpix so the photographer on your list can choose to have her own image printed and framed or mounted just the way she wants.
Snapseed from Nik Software
This is one of the most clever, fun, and powerful photo-editing programs ever for iOS (for iPad and iPhone), and there’s even a Mac and Windows desktop version. If you want to give it as a gift, you can “gift” an app directly from the iTunes Store. Snapseed is only $4.99 for the iOS version and $19.99 for the desktop version, which honestly is way underpriced.
Moo makes business cards, but what makes them really unique is that you can upload 50 images and they’ll put one image on each card. So when someone asks for your business card, you can basically fan out your portfolio and say, “Choose whichever one you like.” The quality is excellent and they’re surprisingly affordable. Perfect for designers, photographers, and illustrators. They’ll dig it.
Price: Starting at $19.99 for 50 cards
A Blurb Photo Book
Even though custom photo books are becoming a big thing these days, there’s a darn good chance the photographer on your holiday gift list hasn’t made one yet. If she uses Lightroom (and she almost undoubtedly does), then she can choose her photos, click on the Book module, create a custom book right within Lightroom, and upload it directly to Blurb.com. In a few days a beautiful photo book arrives (well, as long as she takes beautiful photos), and you just pick up the cost of the book. She’ll be hooked once the book arrives, and you’ll be a hero.
Blurb Books - Order by Dec 16 and save 25% off your order by using the discount code KLBYVID456
Offer valid through December 16, 2012 (11:59 p.m. local time). A %25 discount is applied toward your product total. Valid for printed books only. This offer is good for one-time use, and cannot be combined with volume discounts, other promotional codes, gift cards, or used for adjustments on previous orders.
Price: Starting at $12.59 for a 20-page, 7×7″, softcover book on premium lustre paper
SmugMug Pro Business Account
If the photographer on your gift list wants a way to showcase and sell his images online, he would totally love a SmugMug Pro Business account, which lets him do both without having to have any Web design skills. Really well designed, but it’s a tad pricy. Well, pricier than last year anyway since they just raised their annual rates, but you’ll be a holiday hero for it.
Price: $35/month or $300/year
Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG Diagonal Fisheye Lens
It’s not a lens you use every day, but when you use it, it really has impact. If the photographer on your list shoots sports, weddings, or travel, she will be psyched to see this super wide-angle fisheye lens with a red bow around it. Plus, it’s significantly cheaper than the Nikon or Canon fisheyes, but it’s sharp and works great.
Lexar Professional 1000x UDMA 7 CompactFlash Cards
If you have a sports shooter on your list, there are two things you can count on: (1) The faster the speed of the memory card, the happier he is (for numerous reasons he already knows), and (2) he needs more memory cards. The new Lexar Professional 1000x cards are screaming fast (it’s what I use). Full disclosure: I’m one of Lexar’s “Elite Photographers,” so I might be biased, but I had Lexar cards even before that and, either way, for sports I’d still be using their 1000x speed cards.
Price: Starting at $78 for 16-GB card (at B&H with Instant Savings deal until Dec. 31st).
Wacom Intuos5 touch Pen Tablet
Want to really score some points? Get your designer or photographer the new Wacom Intuos5 touch wireless tablet. They’re amazing and they’ll change the way he works in Photoshop forever (and he’ll think of you every time he picks up the wireless pen). I use the Intuos5 touch Small when I travel (it slides right into my laptop bag), and the Intuos5 touch Medium in the studio. This is a can’t-miss gift!
Price: Small—$229; Medium—$349; Wireless Accessory Kit—$39.95
FolioBook Photo Portfolio for the iPad
If your photographer has an iPad, then she has probably been searching for the perfect portfolio app to show her work on the iPad, and there are a ton of them out there (and I’ve tried a bunch). But I think FolioBook is hands down the best one, and it’s cheap (just $12.99). Gift her the app directly from the App Store or buy her an iTunes gift card to get it.
FolioBook for iPad
LASTOLITE 8-in-1 Umbrella
LASTOLITE came out with this clever, very handy, and inexpensive shoot-through umbrella that acts like softbox, and I’m really impressed with it. Clever design, and it’s big enough that you’ll look like you spent a lot more on it than you did.
Really Right Stuff BH-30 LR II Ballhead
This year I’ve been using a smaller, more compact ballhead from Really Right Stuff (in my opinion, they’re the masters of ballhead manufacturing), and it has lightened my travel gear load while still letting me use the best ballhead on the planet. Same great features as the bigger BH-55 and BH-40 but in a smaller, lighter size. They’re not cheap, but they’re worth every penny. Give this to someone you love and she’ll love you forever.
Jay Maisel’s DVD Collection
Jay Maisel is a living legend of photography, and the two classes we produced on location with Jay in New York have become classics, melding the feel of a documentary with a master class in learning photography. People’s reactions to Jay, his work, and these classes have been amazing, and you’ll get lots of hugs for giving these two DVDs as a gift—one she will treasure.
Some Cool Books
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our own books because they make really great gifts. Matt’s book on compositing is, I truly believe, the best book ever written on the topic. Period. RC’s book, The HDR Book, focuses on postprocessing in Photoshop, and it’s been a megahit (and helped to make RC a household name in Photoshop and photography). I have two new books out: The Adobe Photoshop CS6 Book for Digital Photographers and The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Book for Digital Photographers. My company produced all of these books (just so you know).
Prices: See website
Another Cool Book
Here’s another book to check out: Moose Peterson’s new eBook called Taking Flight (for the iPad) is a fantastic book for anyone into aviation photography.
B&H Photo Gift Certificates
There’s nobody on the planet who wouldn’t love you to death (like a puppy) if you get him a B&H Photo Gift Card. That way, he can get whatever he wants (within the limit of how much you put on the card, of course), but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want something from the greatest photo store on earth. You can order them directly from the B&H site—they send a card and a catalog so it looks pretty substantial.
B&H Gift Cards
Price: Completely up to you
Silver Efex Pro 2 from Nik Software
If the photographer on your gift list is into black-and-white photography, this Photoshop and Lightroom plug-in from Nik Software will make him lose his mind. I don’t know a single black-and-white pro not using it because it’s just that good. You’ll score lots of points for this one.
G-Technology G-SPEED Q Drives
Photographers are constantly fighting the battle of shrinking hard drive space, especially with all the high-megapixel cameras today with their giant file sizes. This year I switched all my photo archival duties over to G-Technology drives, and I’m loving them. I use their 12-TB G-SPEED Q system, which would definitely be for someone you’re very close to because they cost a few bucks, but giving one of these will change your relationship status on Facebook for sure. (That’s right, I’m saying the photographer on your gift list will marry you, or if you don’t get him one, he’ll divorce you. I’m kidding, of course. Kinda.)
This is a reasonably inexpensive way to make a zoom lens even longer. It increases the zoom magnification by a factor of 1.4, so a 200mm lens becomes a 280mm for a fraction of the cost of actually buying a quality 300mm lens. I recommend buying one made by the same manufacturer as the zoom lens it’s going to be used with, so Nikon users would buy a Nikon teleconverter, Canon shooters a Canon, Tamron owners a Tamron, and so on.
Price: Starts at around $250, depending on brand
Subscription to Light It Magazine
If your photographer is into lighting, for $20 you can give him an App Store gift certificate so he can subscribe to my magazine on studio lighting and hot-shoe flash called Light It magazine (for the iPad). Of course, you could buy him just one issue for $3, but then it definitely goes in the stocking. For $620, you can get him a 32-GB iPad with retina display and a subscription and then you win the holiday gift-giver award for sure.
Light It Magazine
The Big Stopper ND Filter by LEE Filters
If you think the photographer on your list might want to make some of those gorgeous long-exposure black-and-white images (where the sea looks like silk), or she wants to shoot waterfalls in broad daylight and have beautifully smooth water (rather than frozen water), then get her an ND (neutral density) filter. It lets her keep the shutter open longer to get those wonderful water effects. Get her an 8- or 10-stop ND filter and she’ll lose control of her faculties. The Big Stopper will give her 10 stops, but it also requires the Lee System Foundation Kit filter holder, plus adapter ring, which will run you an additional $115 or more.
Lexar USB 3.0 Dual Card Reader
Everything’s moving to USB 3 right now, and the faster the card reader, the faster your images download from your memory card to your computer (and faster is better). I use a Lexar Professional USB 3 Dual-Slot Reader that has both SD and CompactFlash in the same unit and supports UDMA 7 (read my Lexar disclaimer above).