It’s Here: My Fourth Annual Gonzo Holiday Gear Guide (Part 1)
That’s right folks, I thought I’d use this Holiday week as a kick-off for my releasing my Fourth Annual Gonzo Holiday Gear Guide (well, that and the fact that it’s the cover story on the current issue of Photoshop User magazine which most NAPP members already received in the mail).
Anyway, it’s here and this year I tried to include lots of affordable gear (which isn’t as easy task when it comes to gear), but don’t worry—I did keep a few items in there for the rich doctor or personal injury attorney on your Holiday Gift List.
NOTE: I named this Part 1, so I can add some extra Part Two stuff that we didn’t have room to fit in the printed magazine edition of the Gift Guide. Look for Part 2 next week.
I really wanted to make this year’s guide my most useful yet, so I came up with some rules for what would make it into the guide.
Rule #1: 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).
Rule #2: If a product makes the guide, it has to be one that I would recommend to a close friend without hesitation, especially if that friend was really loaded (kidding). And…
Rule #3: Although this is mostly camera gear (which isn’t a cheap hobby), I wanted to include a number of items that were under $100, and even some under $50 if I could find them (that’s a lot harder than it sounds).
OK everybody, here we go (Happy Shopping!)
Lastolite Hot Shoe EZYbox:
If you’re ready to have studio quality light from your flash, this is a great way to do it. It’s a small, collapsible softbox that does a very slick job, and everybody I know that has one, loves it. In fact, they say it’s gonzo (no, not really). The 24×24″ version sells for $190.00. There are also kits available containing various brackets and adapters that will cost you extra. www.lastolite.com
Elinchrom BXRi 500 Compact Monolight:
You’ll love these new lower-priced strobes from Elinchrom because they have built-in wireless receivers, so all you need is the little match-boxed sized transmitter (that comes with their two-light kit) and you’re good to go. Plus, you can use the transmitter to control the power of the strobes from right at your camera position. Give this to someone on your holiday list, and he will love you so much you’ll probably have to get a restraining order. A single strobe will run you $624.95 and the two-strobe kit which also includes the transmitter, a couple of softboxes, lightstands, case, sync cords, and Monolight case is $1,425.95.www.elinchrom.com
Wacom Intuos4 pen tablet:
If you can spend a little more, you can give him a gift that will impact what he does in Photoshop all year, and you’ll change the way he works forever. Ask anybody that has an Intuos tablet, and you’ll hear nothing but raves. Once he uses one, he’ll never want to use a mouse again, and he’ll thank you every time he picks up that wireless pen. The Medium tablet, which has a 5.5×8.8″ active area, sells for $349.www.wacom.com
MPIX Gift Card:
Want a gift that will have a double impact? Get the photographer on your list an MPIX Gift Card (well, it’s actually a gift code) to have a large-sized print made from a photo she uploads. She’ll be happy when you give it to her, but then you’ve got to convince her to upload a photo immediately. When she gets her big print back from MPIX, she’ll lose her mind and become an MPIX fanatic and you’ll always be the one that turned her on to MPIX (double impact). This one is a lock, and you’ll get the “love” twice! www.mpix.com
Think Tank Photo’s Airport International V2.0 Rolling Camera Bag:
These are, hands down, the best designed, rugged, and just clever camera bags on the market today (well, at least I certainly think so, but luckily I’m not alone—Think Tank Photo has a lot of pros that wouldn’t dream of using anything else). I have the Airport Security V2.0, and the slightly smaller Airport International, and now I can’t use anything else. They’re not cheap, but nothing this good ever is. You can buy the Airport International directly from Think Tank’s website for $329.www.thinktankphoto.com
Ray Flash: The Ring Flash Adapter:
The ring flash look is hot for fashion and portraits, and this adapter fits right over the Nikon SB800 and SB900 or Canon 580EX (I and II) flash units to give that ring flash look. My only gripe had been that it was about $100 too expensive. That was before they lowered the price by $100. Now, it went from being a little overpriced to being a bargain at $199.95.www.expoimaging.net
Remote Cable Release (for Nikon & Canon):
This is one of those gifts that everybody knows they need, but it’s also one of those things that most photographers don’t actually own, which makes it perhaps the best kind of gift (that thing you know you need but won’t buy). It just lets you fire your camera (on a tripod) without touching the camera itself, so it dramatically reduces camera shake, which gives you sharper photos. They have wireless ones and ones with wires, and they both work great. Prices range from between $10 and $100.
Famous wedding photographer David Ziser convinced the folks at F.J. Westcott (www.fjwestcott.com) to create a shoot-thru umbrella using the same material Westcott uses for the front diffuser on their popular Halo softboxes, and the long and soft of it is, he’s created a small, lightweight collapsible umbrella (that literally can fit in a coat pocket) that has a more softbox-like punch than other umbrellas. Now it’s the only umbrella I use. It’s $34.95 direct from David. Worth every penny. Also, if you want to stay “lean and mean,” get a Cheeta Stand 8 auto pop-up light stand ($89.95 at www.cheetahstand.com), and a Westcott Cold Shoe Umbrella Mount swivel adapter ($35), and your photographer will have an entire setup for under $160.http://store.ziser.com
Nik Software’s Viveza 2:
Making selections in Photoshop, even with all the latest tools, for correcting specific areas of an image is still kind of a pain. When Nik introduced their groundbreaking Viveza Photoshop plug-in for correcting brightness, contrast, and color, the pain was gone. Now, with Viveza 2, it’s actually a pleasure. Just flat-out amazing technology that can correct a precise area of an image without creating selections or masks—a perfect gift for anyone who constantly makes selections for color correcting in Photoshop (which for readers of this magazine, is everyone!). Viveza retails for $249.95, but it was actually on sale for $149.95 as I was writing this.www.niksoftware.com
Elinchrom White Minisoft 17″ Reflector (or Beauty Dish):
If the photographer on your list shoots portraits, chances are he has a softbox or two, but he prob-ably doesn’t have a Beauty Dish, which is why you should get him one. It provides a little edgier light (without being harsh), and works great for everything from fashion photography to portraits of men. It just attaches to the front of a strobe. The one I use is the white 17″ model from Elinchrom that sells for $162.45. I also use a 17″ diffuser ($21.95) made by Elinchrom specifically for the Beauty Dish.www.elinchrom.com
onOne Software’s FocalPoint 2:
The idea of being able to add realistic-looking depth-of-field effects via a filter or plug-in isn’t all that new, but how this puppy works is, because all the other ones make you do the work—this one doesn’t. The technology is just so cool, and so easy to use, that suddenly the photographer on your list will look like she shot everything with an f/1.4 lens. In short, she’ll love this. FocalPoint 2 retails for $159.99www.ononesoftware.com
MPS Sticky Fill Flash Filters:
If the photographer on your list has a flash, this gift is a no-brainer, because it not only gives her the gels she needs to adjust for different lighting situations, the clever design makes it so easy to use she’ll actually use them. The price is right, too! For $49.95 you can get two complete sets of their standard size filters directly from their website.www.stickyfilters.com
Lastolite 30″ TriGrip One-Stop Diffuser:
Every photographer should have one of these TriGrips because they do an amazing job of letting you shoot in direct, harsh, ugly sunlight, and turn it into soft, wrapping, wonderful light. The handle lets you easily hold it over your subject (while your right hand holds the camera), and you can even use it as a reflector. When you’re done with it, it collapses down to a small disc. Just brilliantly designed—trust me, he’ll love it. The 30″ model sells for $65.95.www.lastolite.com
Nikon’s AF-S VR Zoom-NIKKOR 70–300mm f/4.5–5.6G IF-ED lens:
This lens has been called “Nikon’s Best-Kept Secret” because it covers such a wide range, yet it’s incredibly lightweight and, perhaps even more shocking, it is amazingly sharp at it’s inexpensive price ($589.95—remember, we’re talking about lenses here). This lens just rocks, and if you buy this one as a gift, you’ll be a hero.www.nikonusa.com
Getting what comes out of your printer to match what you saw on your screen is still (unfortunately) a big challenge for most of us, but ColorMunki does such a nice job of it, it’s really starting to steal the color-calibration show by finally giving photographers that dream of having the screen and printer match up. At $360 from B&H, it’s not cheap, but once you see those two finally match, you’ll wish you had bought it years ago (except, of course, it didn’t exist back then).www.colormunki.com
Canon EF-S 18–200mm f/3.5–5.6 IS lens:
There’s something about always having the right lens on you, and an 18–200mm (which gives you wide angle, portrait length, a nice telephoto, and everything in-between), makes sure you have that right lens almost all the time—without ever changing lenses. Everybody I know with an 18–200mm swears by it; especially as their one “go-to” lens for travel photography, where they want to stay lightweight and not have to change lenses in the street. Buy this for the photographer you love (because you probably don’t have any friends that you like enough to spend $595 on for a holiday gift).www.usa.canon.com
Photojojo! Insanely Great Photo Projects and DIY Ideas by Amit Gupta with Kelly Jensen:
This is a very clever book for the DIY freak on your holiday list. There are just so many great projects in this book that the person you give it to will be so busy trying all this new stuff that he’ll probably forget to thank you (that’s okay, as long as he doesn’t forget to give you your gift, which should be either a studio strobe, Wacom tablet, or a lens, right?). This book is published by Potter Craft and retails for $21.99.http://photojojo.com
Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision by David DuChemin:
This critically acclaimed book isn’t so much about which button does what, but more about the process of taking great
photos. David’s photography in the book is just wonderful (and great photography books have great photography), but there’s more here than just pretty pictures. It’s a learning guide about how to see, and people love it. This is perfect holiday gift at a just $39.99.www.peachpit.com
Manfrotto 244 Variable Friction Magic Arm with Camera Bracket and Manfrotto 035 Super Clamps:
This is another one of those things that every photographer wants, but only the pros buy (but it’s not because of the cost—it’s just one of those, “Yeah-I-really-should-get-one-of-those” type of gifts that gets you big props for giving). These arms attach to just about anything, they hold anything, and they’re almost like having a photo assistant on the shoot with you (of course, even real live photo assistants swear by them because they feel like they have their own assistant on the shoot). The Magic Arm will run you $109.95 and the Super Clamps go for $24.90 each. www.manfrotto.com
The high-contrast, desaturated look is really huge these days, and a lot of people are getting that look using this surprisingly inexpensive Photoshop plug-in that keeps getting better and better. If the photographer on your list hasn’t heard of Topaz Adjust yet—don’t worry—she will. It’s getting lots of attention, and by giving this very cool plug-in as a holiday gift, you will, too. And it’s only $49.99 direct from the Topaz Labs website. www.topazlabs.com