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Gift Guide 2013: Gadgets for the digital photographer

It's the time of year when gift guides are all the rage, and since I'm an avid digital photographer it's only reasonable that I pull together a cornucopia of gifts aimed at the 'tog' in your life.
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1 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Introduction

It's the time of year when gift guides are all the rage, and since I'm an avid digital photographer it's only reasonable that I pull together a cornucopia of gifts aimed at the 'tog' in your life (and if you're the photographer, then maybe you're in the mood to treat yourself!).

In this guide there are gifts ranging from a few dollars to, well, a lot of dollars, and cover a broad range of hardware and software. Because photographic gifts are very specific, it is best to discuss any possible gifts with the recipient before purchasing (unless you're buying for yourself that is!) just to be sure.

Note that all prices are approximate.

If you'd like to check out my photography, or connect with me outside of the tech world, I have some of my images uploaded to Flickr, so if you have sme spare time please feel free to drop by. If you have images available for viewing, please feel free to share with me where so I can see them.

Here's one of the photographs I took on the day of the shoot shown in the shot above.

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2 of 26 Formatt-Hitech

Formatt-Hitech Colby Brown signature landscape filter kit - Highly recommended!

In my mind, once you've invested in the camera and lenses, the next thing to get and master are filters, specifically neutral density filters. These filters allow you to tune what you're seeing in front of you, enabling you to capture as much of the detail as possible in the photos you take by better balancing the light that enters the camera.

Formatt-Hitech is a manufacturer of high-spec camera filters, and the Colby Brown landscape filter kit is a great set for anyone looking to capture dramatic landscapes, and consists of the following:

  • 100x150mm (4x6") Resin Neutral Density Grad Soft Edge 0.6 (2 Stops) - Ideal filter for balancing the brightness of a sunny sky against the darker land.
  • 100x150mm (4x6") Resin Neutral Density Reverse Grad 0.6 (2 Stops) - A special grad filter that is darkest near the center and lightens toward the top of the filter (opposite of a standard ND grad filter), perfect for balancing out shots of sunrises and sunsets.
  • 100x100mm (4x4") Resin ProStop IRND 6 (6 Stops) - Perfect for creating ethereal flowing streams, shorelines and waterfalls by slowing down the exposure time without compromising image quality by closing down the aperture. This filter also blocks out infrared light, thereby further eliminating color casts and keeping the colors authentic.
  • Circular polarizer - This fits in front of the square filters in its own ring holder, which means that it can be rotated separate to the filters in the stack. This filter is great for removing glare from shiney objects such as water or metal, and for boosting the saturation of skies and greenery when the weather conditions aren't ideal.
  • Threaded adaptor for 100mm aluminum holder.
  • 100mm aluminum holder.

The kit comes well presented in a pouch and comes with an instructional (and very inspirational) leaflet.

This kit contains three essential filters, hand-selected by world-renowned photographer Colby Brown, and should be consider a "must have" filter kit for any serious landscape, travel, or outdoor photographer. Below are a few examples of shots I've persoanlly taken with these filters.

(Source: Adrian Kingsley-Hughes)
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(Source: Adrian Kingsley-Hughes)
(Source: Adrian Kingsley-Hughes)

I've been using filters for years from manufacturers such as Cokin and Lee, but these are by far the best filters that I've used. The color accuracy is spot on and the light transmission is even, showing no signs of patchyness or color casts. Blacks are a deep, rich black, while whites stay pure. This means I can spend more time taking photos and less time in front of my PC processing.

What's more, in 2011 Colby founded "The Giving Lens", an organization that combines his prodigious talent as a photographer with humanitarian work on various causes such as clean drinking water, education, women's rights and species preservation. A portion of the proceeds from this kit will be donated to "The Giving Lens."

This is a truly wonderful kit and it allows you to take yoru photography to an entirely new level.

Formatt-Hitech also have a great (and for now, free) iOS app that you might like to check out.

More info | Price: $399

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3 of 26 Vanguard

Vanguard Supreme 53F case

There's no point having a ton of awesome camera gear and then being too scared to take it into the outdoors. When traveling it's a great idea to have a hard case to put camera bodies and lenses into, and the more gear you have, the bigger the case you need.

The Vanguard Supreme 53F is huge – 24.75 x 20.5 x 9.5-inches – and is built to last.

The Vanguard Supreme cases are O-ring sealed and waterproof up to a depth of 16.5 feet. They are also airtight, and built to withstand the most extreme conditions (-40°F/-40°C to 203°F/95°C), and are great for airline travel because they feature an automatic pressure equalization valve. And, to keep things civilized, it has wheels.

These cases can support up to 265 lbs/120 kg of exterior weight and have anti-slip rubber feet and a solid carrying handle offer extra durability. Thick, quick-release latches lock in place and steel-reinforced lock holders are great for use with pad locks for added security.

Inside is a dense, customizable hexagon-shaped foam for an extremely tailored, custom fit for gear. There's also an option to have dividers fitted.

More info | Price: $250

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4 of 26 Duracell

Duracell batteries

Genuine Nikon or Canon camera batteries are expensive, and if you buy online there's a good chance that you might be paying top dollar for a fake (I've had counterfeit batteries sold to me by a number of prominent retailers). This is why I tend to buy Duracell-branded batteries.

In my tests they seem to be just as good as the genuine batteries, lasting just as long, and being just as resistant to cold and heat, while at the same time being significantly cheaper.

More info | Price: varies depending on type

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5 of 26 Think Tank Photo

Think Tank Photo Hydrophobia 70-200 rain cover

If you're going to take your camera into the outdoors then you have to be prepared for rain! Wile some high-end cameras claim to be "weather-proof," it's not something I like to push my luck with too much, which is why I recommend a rain cover.

There are countless kinds of rain covers on the market, ranging from simple polythene bags to sophisticated covers designed to take the worst that Mother Nature can throw at a photographer.

The Think Tank Photo Hydrophobia falls into the latter category.

Sized to fit most DSLRs with a 70-200 f/2.8 or similarly sized lens attached, the Hydrophobia 70-200 protects expensive – and delicate – photo equipment from the elements, including rain, snow or blowing sand.

Note that the Hydrophobia requires an eyepiece element, which is sold separately.

More info | Price: $150

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6 of 26 3 Legged Thing

3 Legged Thing Eric tripod

A tripod made by photographers, for photographers.

The Evolution X4 Eric is the most stable 26mm system. It features 4 leg sections made from 8 Core Stealth Carbon Fiber giving Eric has amazing rigidity and stability. Designed for multipurpose use, Eric folds down to a petite 500mm but is versatile enough to extend from 135mm to over 2 meters, making Eric one of the tallest and shortest carbon fiber tripods going.

That's a heck of a huge range, and you really have to see it to believe it. Not only that, but even at over 2 meters, the tripod feels solid, and the camera feels safe.

With a detachable Monopod, and a double section removable and reversible central column, Eric really is the ideal all-round tripod.

More info | Price: Starting at $400

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7 of 26 Datacolor

Datacolor Spyder4ELITE color calibrator

A properly color-calibrated screen means that you can be more confident when editing your images, enabling true-to-life reproduction.

There are plenty of other reasons:

  • Displays render the same image differently: Calibration tunes your display to a reference standard and brings color consistency across desktop, laptop, multiple displays, televisions, projectors, iPad, iPhone and Android devices
  • Displays change over time: Recalibration returns it to reference state for brightness and color
  • Prints often do not match display: Display calibration provides a base for better print matching
  • Wide gamut displays may be oversaturated: Without calibration even wide-gamut displays may be inaccurate
  • Highlight and shadow details may be inaccurate: Control of brightness, white point and tone response with calibration
  • Image colors are not true to life: After calibration, images can be viewed and edited with confidence

The Spyder4ELITE is a full-spectrum 7-color sensor that can accurately characterize a variety of wide gamut and normal displays.

More info | Price: $200

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8 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

HDRsoft Photomatix Pro software

Anyone who has ever tried to photograph a high contrast scene knows that even the best exposure gives you blown out highlights, or flat shadows, or both. Filters can certainly help, but there's only so far they can go sometimes.

This is where HDR comes in. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and this is a process where you take several photos at different exposures and combine them into a single image.

Using Photomatix you can produce HDR images that are either natural looking or extreme, depending on choice. While there are a number of HDR tools on the market – even Photoshop has that feature built-in – Photomatix is currently the most sophisticated easiest-to-use solution out there.

More info | Price: Essentials: $39 | Pro: $99

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9 of 26 GoPro

GoPro Hero 3+ camera

Want to take photos and video under conditions that would wreak a regular camera? You need a GoPro. And if you want the best GoPro, go for the all-singing, all-dancing GoPro Hero 3+.

Waterproof to 131 ft/40m, the camera also features video resolutions up to 4K, 12MP photos at up to 30 frames per second, built-in Wi-Fi, SuperView lens, and Auto Low Light modes.

These cameras can survive extreme conditions, from skiing, surfing, mountain biking, and off-road motor sports.

More info | Price: $399

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10 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Nik Software plugin collection

The Nik Software collection (which is now owned by Google) is a collection of plugins that can be used to turn a great photograph into an awesome one.

Fantastic tools.

More info | Price: $149

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11 of 26 SanDisk

SanDisk memory cards

Without a doubt the best memory cards available. I have cards that have given me years of awesome performance and excellent reliability.

More info | Price: varies depending on type

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12 of 26 G-Technology

G-Technology G-RAID 4TB storage

G-RAID is a dual drive, professional RAID 0 storage solution with high-speed USB 3.0 and FireWire interfaces.

Designed for professional content creation applications, G-RAID supports simultaneous playback of multiple layers of HDV/DVCPRO HD ProRes 422 HQ with the leading video editing applications, including Apple Final Cut Pro, AVID Media Composer and Adobe Premiere.

An all aluminum enclosure, soft power switch and quiet smart fan round out G-RAID’s professional feature set.

A solid piece of kit. Not really portable as it needs a power adapter, but great for editing back at home or in the office

More info | Price: $380

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13 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Topaz Labs plugins

A bundle of 13 awesome plugins, ranging from practical stuff such as de-noising an image and masking, to professional black and white conversions and color adjustments.

Really powerful tools that I turn to and use all the time.

All the plugins are available separately.

More info | Price: $380

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14 of 26 Wacom

Wacom Intuos Pro (medium) tablet

For most applications, a keyboard and mouse are all you need to drive a computer, but when editing photos a pen can make things a lot easier.

The Wacom Intuos Pro tablets offer 2048 levels of pen pressure sensitivity and tilt recognition that gives you a high level of accuracy and precision in your work. Not only that, but the surface is touch-sensitive, allowing for multi-touch gestures to navigate your work intuitively.

Add an optional wireless kit and you have all the advantages that a tablet offers, with none of the wire hassles.

More info | Price: $349

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15 of 26 Kirk Enterprises

Kirk Enterprises L-bracket

Right angle, quick release "L-brackets" that fit to the bottom of a range of digital or film camera, allowing easy access to both the battery compartment and I/O ports.

Quickly release, turn, and remount your camera for either a horizontal or vertical shot with no need to flip the tripod head on its side or changing your shooting position.

Must be used in conjunction with Arca Style Quick Release Platforms

More info | Price: varies depending on type

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16 of 26 3 Legged Thing

3 Legged Thing Budgie Smuglaz stone bag

High winds can blow owner even the most stable of tripods. This is where a stone bag comes in handy, allowing you to add a little more weight to keep the everything a little more stable.

This stone bag is tough and will last a lifetime. While it has been designed by 3 Legged Thing to complement its range of tripods, it will also fit other tripods.

More info | Price: $30

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17 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Adobe Creative Cloud

Photoshop, Lightroom, Premiere Pro, After Effects, and much, much more.

Everything you need to create, edit and process digital media. Yes, it's expensive, but Adobe's creative tools are a decade ahead of the competition. Not only that, but many of the applications can be augmented with plugins and add-ons, allowing you to take your creativity to the next level.

More info | Price: varies depending on plan

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18 of 26 LensPen

LensPen cleaner

A LENSPEN is the easiest and safest way to clean your camera lens. A completely non-liquid cleaning system so it's 100% safe for your lenses.

I always have a few of these on me when out and about.

More info | Price: varies depending on type

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19 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Star Circle Academy Advanced Stacker PLUS software

Want to do star trail images? I've covered the process here, but after taking your shots you'll need to stack the images and without a doubt the best tool for Photoshop users is Advanced Stacker PLUS. This tool, created by Steven Christenson, "Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2010/12" and founder of Star Circle Academy, is an easy to install and easy to use set of Photoshop action that not only allows you to create a myriad of different star trails, but also helps you enhance your images.

I'm not going to attempt to cover what Advance Stacker PLUS does here because there's just too much to cover, and Christenson has written detailed instructions covering all of its features.

Christenson's site is also a treasure trove information for the budding, and the not so budding, night-time photographer.

More info | Price: from $37

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20 of 26 GGS

GGS DSLR screen protector

Made of 0.5mm ultra-slim optical intensified glass with anti-shatter layer, the GGS DSLR screen protector protects screens and displays on modern cameras.

GGS LCD screen protector features high light transmission and clear transparency. They are highly durability, anti-scratch (hardened to 8 on the Mohs Harness Standard), not to mention being easy to fit and remove.

More info | Price: varies depending on type

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21 of 26 ROR

ROR cleaner

Simply the best cleaner available for lenses, screens and other optics. I use this stuff on everything from LCD panels to eyeglasses.

More info | Price: from $4.50

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22 of 26 LensBand

LensBand

A very unique and effective solution to an age-old problem.

A LensBand has one purpose – to prevent lens creep. The strong silicone rubber band stretches over the zoom ring of your lens and holds it firmly in place.

I also find them handy to lock the focus ring during night shoots.

More info | Price: $12.99

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23 of 26 Buff

Buff headwear

Multifunctional headwear, that's both useful and stylish. I find the UV resistant versions particularly handy in summer months, and there are also versions that are impregnated with insect repellant.

More info | Price: varies depending on type

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24 of 26 LRTimelapse

LRTimelapse software

Turn a series of photographs into stunning a time lapse. LRTimelapse integrates with Adobe's Lightroom package to allow you to edit and grade video sequences, and it can also be used to remove annoying flicker that plagues many time lapse sequences.

A professional package at a low price.

More info | Price: varies depending on version

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25 of 26 TriggerTrap

TriggerTrap Mobile

Use an iOS or Android device to control your camera to capture a wide range if stunning effects,

  • Time lapse mode
  • TimeWarp mode
  • Sound sensor mode
  • Shock and vibration sensor mode
  • LE HDR Mode
  • LE HDR time lapse mode
  • DistanceLapse mode
  • Cable release mode
  • Star trail mode
  • Bulb ramping time lapse
  • Wi-Fi slave mode
  • Wi-Fi master mode (trigger other devices running Triggertrap Mobile

More info | Price: $30

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26 of 26 Manfrotto

Manfrotto ML360H Midi-36 Hybrid LED panel

The Manfrotto LED panel is a hybrid 36 LED panel that produces both continuous 6000 degree Kelvin (sunlight to you and me) light as well as a flash mode for shooting stills. The flash output is x4 that of the continuous light.

Two flash shoe mounts let you mount the unit on the camera either vertically or horizontally.

These panels are also stackable.

More info | Price: $140

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