My 7th Annual Holiday Gear Guide

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 (kiddingâ”kind of). So, without further ado (that's rightâ”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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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 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 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.

Artistic Photo Canvas


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.

Snapseed by Nik Software

iOS: $4.99
Desktop: $19.99


Moo Cards

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.

Moo Cards

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 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.

SmugMug Pro

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.

Sigma 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens

Price: $830


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.

Lexar 1000x UDMA 7 CF 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!

Wacom Inutos5 touch Tablets

Price: Smallâ”$229; Mediumâ”$349; Wireless Accessory Kitâ”$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

Price: $12.99


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.

Lastolite 8-in-1 Umbrella

Price: $173


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.

Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ballhead

Price: $290


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 giftâ”one she will treasure.

A Day with Jay Maisel 2-Part DVD

Price: $89.99


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).

Books from Kelby Training

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.

Taking Flight by Moose Peterson

Price: $14.99


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 siteâ”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.

Silver Efex Pro 2 by Nik Software

Price: $199.95


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.)

G-Technology G-Speed Q Drives

Price: $799.95-1,799.50


1.4x Teleconverter

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.

Nikon 1.4x Teleconverter
Canon 1.4x Teleconverter
Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter
Sigma 1.4x Teleconverter

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

Price: $19.99


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.

Lee Big Stopper ND Filter

Price: $160


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).

Lexar USB 3.0 Dual Card Reader

Price: $64.99


  1. Cool list, I’ve already told everyone not to buy me anything (ill take care of that myself) :)
    I use the 1000x Lexar’s but those XQD cards are so much faster!

  2. Hey Scott, some great stuff on the list, thanks for sharing… if you dont mind could you clarify if these are things you guys really love or if these are things companies are paying to promote? Want to try some of them but they are a chunk of $ for a couple if you guys arent really holding these up as the coolest stuff this year. Appreciate the clarification and love your stuff. thanks brian

    1. As he said in the intro, these are products that Scott loves. If he only promoted them for the money, his reputation won’t last very long. And no, he’s not getting paid to promote them.

      1. Scott always speaks his mind about products, good or bad, I don’t think he would ever give up that luxury.

    2. Dude, I am pretty sure that these guys never get kick backs for anything. You are questioning their integrity when you question their motivation for sharing. If you think these guys will pawn crap to you for personal gain, you don’t trust them.

      1. I think what Brian was asking was, “Are these companies on your list because they are sponsors?” I have FULL faith in Scott’s recommendations and I know it is a bit of a catch 22 for him because although they may be Kelby sponsors (not all products are), he accepts their sponsorships BECAUSE they are products he believes in and uses himself.

    3. Brian: These are not things I love. These are things I’m paid, quite handsomely I might add, to pitch. It’s how I paid for my boat. I don’t actually use any of them. In fact, no one does. But the kickbacks…ahhhh, the kickbacks. Well, they’re insane. I look forward to my kickback checks from Canon and Nikon. LOL!!! ;-) OK, in all seriousness, if you buy one of my books, I get a royalty. Outside of that, I’m trying to get Moose to send me a few bucks. I’m not hopeful though. Now, if I could get nik/Google to send me a check, that might be something. But sadly, none of them send me kickback checks, but I can dream, can’t I? :)

      1. …it would in fact be smart of you to get the smugmug referral bonus through this article though (it would surprise me if you didn’t because it costs your reader nothing extra).

    4. Ba ha ha If you ask this Brian G then you don’t know Scott too well. Scott is in one word, Classy. He would never, ever promote something unless he totally loved it himself as well as has gotten lots of feedback about it from ALL his employees!

  3. I love my Big Stopper. A few years back, I told my kid I was going to get Big Stopper and she replied, “What’s wrong with your little stopper?” Kills me to this day. :) Anyway, I recommend checking out Moo’s new Luxe cards…they’re super slick.

  4. Makes a boy wish this was free stuff Thursday! And it’s always fun when he talks about Really Right Stuff, you just KNOW he’ll mis-spell ballhead! Every time! ; )

    I think $249 IS a bit pricey for a CF card, even if it is a fast 16 GB card, but if you need it, you pay for it!

  5. Look Scott, I’m a gracious chap, I would be happy to receive any of the above from you, I’m really not fussy and it’s very kind of you to make such a list to tease me. UPS probably the best option for pre-Christmas delivery to UK :)

  6. Hi Scott, one question related to your first pick, a large print. Do you sign them when you give them away? If yes, where do you sign them, on the photo itself, on the passepartout or do you leave some space between the photo and the passepartout and sign there?
    Thanks /Anders

  7. i’m going to get the NIK suite for myself and am wondering if the difference between LR-only vs LR &PS plugins is important enough to justify the price

  8. I always enjoy this list every year. As luck would have it, my latest order of Moo cards arrived today. Outstanding quality and designs on those things. I even ordered an extra set of the Luxe cards for my work outside of photography – they’re just cool.

    It seems like I have at least half the items on this list, though I got my large print from ImageWizards this time. Ought to have a nice hunk of aluminum arriving tomorrow.

    1. I Disagree Steve. Kelby Media is among the absolute best teaching material on the market. And after all, Scott is simply telling us how he feels about the things he uses. Of the things on this list, I’ve used 8 or more if you count all the books I have purchased from Kelby. One of those above is not in my collection but it’s only because I don’t use Lightroom. If I did, I would own it too. I’m quite surprised he didn’t have Kelby Training out there. One can get several peoples’ different ideas on like subjects.

      1. I agree with Michael. Kelby’s products, especially his books, are fantastic learning tools (Is a book a tool?). And his sense of humor contributes to the ease-of learning.

        dr. j

  9. I’m missing the usual Tuesday blog post, Scott, but the Annual Gift Guide was good enough for two days!. Why didn’t you include any of the gear that you showed on your new Kelby Training lighting course? And a KT monthly or annual subscription makes a great gift, too. :-)


  10. Hey Scott,
    Thanks for the early Christmas gift! Who needs kick backs with vicarious, computer chair cyber shopping like this! I get to pretend I own all this nifty gear rather than having to pick between Nikin vs Canon vs Sigma vs Tamron lenses. Can you imagine the carnage that must go on behind a closet door if all those brands were locked up in one house together?!!

    Question about that Big Stopper? Yeah, maybe this gal could use one of those…. Ok, until I read this recommendation I was leaning towards bribing Santa for a Singh Ray blue and gold polarizing filter. If you were too bad this year to get both in your stocking, which one would you pick?

    Annie not Leibowitz

      1. Thanks for the info, Greg. I will just be patient and hope they manufacture more soon.
        Happy holidays,

  11. Hey Scott, I recently watched “Light it, Shoot it, Retouch it for Hot Shoe flash on-a-budget” on kelbytraining… It was awesome. But I am trying to find details on the flash/softbox gear package deal you mentioned from lastolight? Where can I find details on the flash combo package? Thanks.

  12. Scott, just love your gear guides, saves me so much time comparing reviews. As a NAPP and Kelby Training member for a few years now I can trust your judgement. This Christmas on your recommendation i’ve decided i’m defecting from Canon (my trusty old 50d) and going for …Nikon 600 with with a 24-70 f2.8. Now I know the gear alone won’t improve my images but I’ve also got Kelby Training for that! Merry Christmas to all the photoshop guys.

  13. Scott, Have a couple of your books (Digital Photo 5 pack, Lightroom, and Photoshop) and do some of my shopping based on info in them (I even do some of my shopping at B&H). Saw a photo of your SD card storage case in Digital Photo Vol 1 page 59, but couldn’t find a similar hard case at B&H. What brand is the model shown? Just getting back into photography after being away from “film” for several years, and liked the “good sense” equipment tips in your Digital Photography series

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