Five great digital camera accessories for under $70 (Holiday Gift Guide)
If big-ticket electronics are out of your gift-giving budget, you can still impress your favorite digital photographer with an inexpensive camera accessory. Here's a list of great photo-related gifts, priced from $70 to $15.
By all accounts, the state of the economy is gloomy, but the consumer electronics world seems to be in denial, with big-ticket items like tablets, TVs, and other high-tech gadgetry topping holiday gift guides and year-end best-of lists. Yes, I'm as guilty as the next, offering up a top digital SLRs list with street prices that range from $680 to $1,200, not to mention my top 10 compact digital cameras list that included a $1,200 point-and-shoot from Fujifilm (in my defense, the list also included a great $87 model from Canon). So to make it up to you all, here's a list of great digital camera accessories you can snap up for under $70, in descending price order:
Tenba Discovery Top Load - $69.95
I've been a fan of Tenba's Discovery line of lightweight, adventure-friendly photo bags since I first discovered them this spring (no pun intended). And that's no small praise, since the perfect photo bag is the elusive holy grail for most photo enthusiasts. When the company sent me a new addition to the line to check out, I had high hopes. Like the rest of the line, the Top Load was designed to be lightweight but rugged. It holds a large dSLR body with a mid-sized zoom lens (my husband's Canon EOS 5D Mark II and 24-70mm f/2.8 lens just fit, though I had to flip the lens shade around). It's not big enough to be a mainstay, but perfect for grabbing for the day when you don't want to carry around your big bag. With a pro-size camera like the 5D Mark II, you won't have room for much more than a few memory cards and extra batteries in the side pockets, but if you have a smaller SLR, you could probably fit a couple of lenses. At just 16 ounces, it won't add much weight to your load, and the waterproof bottom panel is a nice touch. I still prefer the (more expensive) medium daypack that I featured in my Father's Day Gift Guide in June, but if you're looking for a more portable bag to grab and go with, the Discovery Top Load is a reasonably priced and well-designed option.
For the point-and-shoot adventurer, a waterproof housing or case is a great gift idea. Unfortunately, camera-specific custom housings can set you back a pretty big chunk of change depending on your camera (the waterproof housing for a Canon PowerShot S100 lists for a whopping $300, for example), and many point-and-shooters don't even have a custom option. Aquapac's line of submersible waterproof cases are a more affordable alternative that still work well for casual underwater shooting. They use a patented plastic sealing mechanism that is essentially dummy proof (just snap two pieces of a clamp together and twist the small levers shut) with no removable parts to drop in the water. There's a range of bags that fit anything from a mini pocket camcorder to large camcorders or dSLRs and even tablet devices. The Mini Camera Case with Hard Lens that I tested fits popular compact cameras like the S100 and S95 (but is a bit too small for a larger enthusiast's compact, such as the Canon Powershot G12). It was simple to use and surprisingly easy to see the camera's LCD through the very pliable TPU material (which you can even operate a touchscreen through). Though it can be a bit awkward to operate buttons and mode dials through the pouch, the snugger the fit around the camera, the easier it was. The hard acrylic lens piece protects your zoom lens when protruded and photos shot through it were clear and of good quality. The case is rated to a depth of 15 feet (and didn't leak when I tried it) but I'm not sure I'd be comfortable keeping it submerged for very long since Aquapac's warranty covers the case, but not any items you put in it. Still, for casual snap-shooting in wet conditions, it's an affordable, easy to use option that makes for a great gift.
I love my iPad 2, but getting photos from a camera onto it is more of a hassle than it should be. Apple sells a handy iPad Camera Connection Kit, but it only supports SD cards or USB devices, so folks that use CompactFlash cards are out of luck when it comes to official support from Apple. Happily, you can find third-party CF card readers, such as the M.I.C. iPad 2 CF Card Camera Connection Kit. Photojojo, one of my favorite online shops for photo gadgets also sells one that looks very similar, but it's currently out of stock (with a ship date of 12/16 listed on the site). Reports on these card readers from third-party resellers find that they're not quite as reliable about connecting to the iPad as the SD card reader from Apple, but photographer Rob Galbraith tested the M.I.C. model with 30 different CompactFlash cards and had fairly good results from at least 24 of them. While there was still some flakiness here and there, and it only supports CompactFlash Type I cards, unless Apple decides to offer an adapter for CompactFlash cards, the M.I.C. connection kit is a useful option.
I spotted this gem of a charging station at at ThinkGeek, a great place to find gifts for the gadget head with a whimsical side. I've looked all over for a good way to tame the veritable snake-pit of cables that slithers on the corner of our kitchen desk, aka the default charging zone for cell phones, Bluetooth headsets, point-and-shoot cameras and camcorders in my household. Cable-management systems can get the wires in order but they don't do much for the cluttered pile of electronics, and the other charging stations I've seen have either been too stuffy/officey looking or not compatible with the various types of devices we need to charge. This simple but clever option from modern design shop Kikkerland is perfect: You feed your cables in through the bottom of the white plastic pot and up through the faux grass, and your electronics sit comfortably cushioned in a grassy mound, looking casually scattered yet still neat and tidy. When I first opened the box, I thought the grass looked a little chintzy and, well, fake. But apparently no one else gets close enough to notice this -- everyone who sees it is slightly delighted and most folks do a double-take thinking we've dropped our cameras and phones in a pot of wheat grass. And best of all, there's no more crazy pile-up of wires.
Let's face it: no one with a compact little camera wants to carry around a tripod -- even the portable table-top models can't fit into a pocketable camera case. But anyone that's tried to balance a camera on the slippery hood of a car, a bike seat, or a not-quite-level boulder or railing knows how nice it would be to have an easy way to stabilize a point-and-shoot camera. Enter the Tiltpod, a very good thing in a small package. Designed to be looped onto your camera's wrist strap so it's always with you, the Tiltpod is a tiny camera support that stabilizes your camera without taking up any room in your bag. It works with a small magnetic ball pivot that screws into your tripod socket (an adhesive version is also included in case your camera's tripod mount is off center). The curved pivot attaches magnetically to a little socket on the base and the ball-and-socket design lets you pivot your camera to different angles. The rubbery base grips most surfaces so you can position your camera on an incline and it won't slide. It's also magnetic, so you can attach it to a metallic surface as well.