Gifts for the photographer in your life
The arrival of pumpkin pancakes at my favorite local restaurant means it's the start of the long autumnal march into the holidays. This morning I treated myself to my first plate of them for the season, which put me in just the right spirit to plan my holiday shopping. It's no surprise that I'm already thinking about gifts for the photographers on my list. Just for starters, I've rounded up a slew of interesting digital cameras, flash add-ons, and books.
Camera in a watch
If you're looking for a camera for a youngster in your life, consider a camera built into a wrist watch. The Spy Net Video Watch from JAKKS is a rugged, high-tech-looking watch that can record and store 20 minutes of video, 2000 still photos, or 3 hours of audio. Anything you capture can be played back on the watch's 1.4-inch color display or transferred to a PC via USB. The image quality is obviously not up to adult standards, but worrying too much about resolution and quality is missing the point. This is a camera built into a wrist watch, and it costs only $50. Where was this when I was a kid?
How do you like the idea of projecting your photos on a nearby wall using a gadget so small it fits in your pocket (if you wear baggy cargo pants)? Check out the Samsung SP-H03. This pint-sized pico projector literally fits in the palm of your hand, and projects images up to 80 inches in size. It has a gigabyte of internal storage so you can load it up with photos and video, or insert an SD card for additional space. There's no need to plug this projector in; it has its own Li-Ion battery with a 2-hour charge. The projector can also project Microsoft Office documents as well. Pick one up for $299.
The FujiFilm Real 3D W3 is an honest-to-goodness 3D camera, with a pair of lenses that can take true 3D photos and video. If you turn off the 3D effect, it's an ordinary point and shoot, with the usual handful of exposure controls for taking charge of your photos. But the 3D is the real draw. You can view the 3D images on the camera's LCD display without glasses, or connect the camera to a 3D TV or computer and watch your photo and video show with the usual glasses. You've even got—I'm not making this up—the ability to make 3D prints using Fuji's custom online print service. The bleeding edge of 3D photography costs $499.
Rogue FlashBenders are some of the most innovative tools for improving flash photos I've ever seen. They're reflective, semi-rigid-but-bendable screens made from Cordura nylon and Velcro fasteners. You position a FlashBender where and how you like—use it like a traditional bounce card, angle it to direct the light to one side of the scene, or even roll it into a snoot (a gadget that directs light into a tight beam). FlashBenders are intended for digital SLRs using external flash heads and come in configurations that range from $30 to $40. All three models can be purchased together for $100.
This gadget is a new favorite of mine. Professor Kobre's Lightscoop works with any digital SLR that has a pop-up flash. Lightscoop slides into the external flash attachment and uses a mirror to reflect light from the built-in flash away and upwards. This diffuses the light and gives you a soft, flattering bounce effect. To get the best results, you'll need to adjust the camera settings—changing the ISO, putting the camera in manual mode, and dialing in a particular shutter speed and aperture—but the results are good and it costs only $30.
Ultra rugged point and shoot
If you're a real-life spy, or at least have an active lifestyle, consider the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TS10. This camera is thoroughly ruggedized: It's waterproof to 10 feet, shockproof to 5 feet, dustproof, and even and freezeproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. That means you can take it snorkeling, skiing, dirt bike riding, and possibly even sky diving. It's got a 14-megapixel sensor and captures HD video. It costs about $249.
Give the gift of knowledge
There are two ways to become a better photographer: Taking a lot of pictures and reading about ways to improve your technique. Both are equally important. I mention this because this is the one time of year I hawk my own book, How to Do Everything with Your Digital Camera. If you are still learning your way around your camera and editing software, check out my book. Another book I've started recommending to friends is the Digital Photography Companion, by Derrick Story. This book is full of practical advice and photo tips, covering many common photo situations as well as some advice and tips for photo editing.