Digital SLR users are among the easiest folks to shop for during the holidays. Either they’ve spent so much on their cameras that they can’t afford more accessories, or they have an insatiable appetite for shiny new toys to feed their gear habit. Either way you can’t miss with one of the products below. (Click here for a slideshow with larger images, or here for gifts for point-and-shoot users.)
These relatively inexpensive “selective focus”lenses (as the inventor calls them), are among my professional photographer husband’s favorite photographic toys. Essentially, a Lensbaby allows you to manually select an area of sharp focus while the rest of your image remains blurry, giving your SLR something like the effect of a tilt-shift lens (minus the price and precision). There are three versions available, the Original ($96), 2.0 ($150), and 3G ($270). I chose the Lensbaby 2.0 because it was a significant improvement over the Original (with better optics and a higher maximum aperture of f/2.0), but still well priced. If you splurge for the 3G version, you’ll be able to set the focus more precisely and lock the settings while you adjust camera controls. With the two earlier versions, the process is much more variable, but then that is part of the Lensbaby charm as well.
Card readers make it much easier to download images off your SD or CompactFlash memory cards, but DSLRs generate such large files that unless you have a fast reader, the process can take forever. The $30 SanDisk Extreme USB 2.0 is a relatively speedy option, offering about 18MB/second read/write speeds. It includes two slots that can accept CompactFlash, SD, and Sony’s MemoryStick Pro Duo cards. Compact enough to drop into a pocket, the SanDisk reader supports USB 2.0 for both Macs and Windows PCs and requires no external power source.
Keeping track of multiple memory cards can be a juggling act, but a good, solid case can help keep things organized in your camera bag AND protect them while you’re out shooting. The water- and climate-proof Gepe Card Safe Extreme ($19) protects cards against impact, dust, humidity, and electrostatic charge. There are four card compartments that are each compatible with five different types of flash memory (CompactFlash, SD, Memory Stick, and more). A connector lets you attach the rugged case to a belt or camera case, and it comes in three neon colors as well as plain black for your less flashy gift recipients.
It’s tough to find good waterproof cases for digital SLRs that don’t cost an arm and a leg (read $1,000 and up). That’s why the German-made Ewa-Marine underwater housings are so interesting, despite some limitations. Probably not the best option for the serious, deep-diving underwater photographer, they’re fine (and affordable) for casual underwater shooting (even down to 60 feet)-- though they do take some patience and getting used to. The U-A series includes models that accommodate most digital SLRs and start at about $260 for the U-A (pictured here), which is compatible with SLRs that have a built-in flash or are being used without a flash (i.e., it’s not big enough to fit a top-mounted external flash). To get a better idea of what these housings are like, check out this hands-on review from Photo.net of the U-AXP 1000, which does fit an external flash (and runs about $380).
It seems like every SLR user I know is always looking for a good camera bag. The Kata T-214 ($95) is not only cool looking, but it’s also ergonomically designed and functional. It’s designed to hold a SLR with lens attached in a quick-draw position. You can carry this sling style bag in front or on your back or easily switch between both positions. With nice touches like the well-positioned cell phone pocket, it’s actually a very adjustable, modular bag, that works as part of Kata’s EPH bag system (e.g., you can attach it to a backpack or waist pack for carrying more gear. Check out this hands-on review of the pack from ShutterTalk.