2013 Blast Holiday Gift Guides: Photography 35

There are as many different types of photographers as there are grains of sand. That’s the wonderful thing about photography, especially in this digital era- it is an accessible and practical artistic voice- we NEED photography as much as we WANT photography. We also want a ton of cool gizmos to make our photographic expression as uniquely ours as possible.

Photography is about going and doing, and these products are as perfect for the new mom- trying to chase the wee one around the house to capture all those firsts, as they are for the professional Baby Photographers; All those green-goodies riding around on their bicycles- a mode of transportation growing quickly for professionals and hobbyists alike, deserve to have gear that is useful!

What about the hikers, motorcycle riders and tourists or professional photographers on the go, out in the field, doing what they love; I also thought about the treasure-trove of talented high-school-aged kids who have grown up their entire lives with digital photography and as they move onto college- and a pre-pro career, what will help them achieve that next level?

This Guide is about giving you the creative approach to gifting for every type of photographer- not just the full-time pro, but for the part-time and aspiring artists as well. The products included range from $15 to $200 so it fits everyone’s budgets, too.

You won’t find an expensive camera or a new-to-market lens. It’s not that kinda guide. We found those creative ‘toys’ that help expand your vision and art forms, practical gifts as well as kitschy, unusual accessories guaranteed to inject a little creative motivation into the pro-sumer or professional photographers’ lives.The gear does not make the photographer, but when you have the correct support systems in place- creativity can thrive.

Steadicam Smoothee

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Steadicams create perpetually smooth camera action, but can be notoriously difficult to get the hang of. However, with the Steadicam Smoothee, made just for mobile devices, in 2 minutes I was easily drifting around my house, floating from room to room with no jerky movements, no sudden sways to the left or right, and am able to use thumb and/or forefinger as extra steering tools. Turning corners takes getting used to, but I turned to the trails to do a double-test and see how comfortable I was.

When assembled and waiting for action it sits nicely on the tabletop, and the iPhone 5 adapter snapped right into place with the tripod-like footpad. There are adapters for most Apple mobile devices, Flip and GoPro cams. There are fine tuning knobs for frame alignment, and the design is overall sleek and unassuming.

This has really opened up my video shooting options, as I am not a fan of camera shake or hand-holding jitters- and I can’t wait to see what you create with it. This device is certainly for the “professional-iPhone-user”, perhaps a video-blogger, or a photojournalist’s back up cam or street cam.
Cell phone camera ability has grown quickly in the 20-teens, and will continue to do so- the Smoothee is for those users who are already using video on a public platform and need something to help smooth out the wrinkles for a more professional product. Although- I can’t say that ‘Mom’ wouldn’t love to have one to capture first steps, vacation or birthday parties, so it definitely has the ability to move between the markets as smart-devices continue to take over the consumer photography markets. (Special thanks to B&H Photo)

Davis & Sanford Tripod: The Traverse TR553-P228

This is a great tripod for those on the go–meaning most photographers. It folds up to an incredible 12” and yet still manages to extend the full natural height of a typical tripod (53”) and can hold up to 10lbs. Each leg has 5 extendable sections, and our model has the ball-head, which made negotiating the camera angle easy and. The ball-head is an Arca-Type Compatible (fancy words meaning a Swiss-type build that prevents rotation of the camera once it’s locked onto the tripod). When folded, the tripod head is surrounded by the legs, protecting it from bumps and bruises- which would be hard to come by anyhow with this all-metal tripod.

The tripod comes with it’s own little carrying bag, which has a secret little pocket and allen wrenches- that way you can always tighten up easily on location!

My trick? With its design and lack of center-stem when fully extended, you can contract the legs in to a small, single footprint, creating a very balanced monopod. Often times tripods are not as flexible as you need, but this little guy doesn’t have that problem with that center-stem design, as it seldoms blocks the legs from achieving the angle you desire.

As a backpacker and photographer I know that each ounce counts- so the 2.6 pound Traverse is the way to go when you leave your house or studio!
(Special thanks to B&H Photo)

Lomography: Konstruktor Build-A-Kamera Kit

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Guest review by my creative-partner @J_O_S_H_U_A_

When I was a kid, I was given a model car as a present. A late 60’s plastic Camaro seemed like an appropriate project for an 8 year old, right? In my excitement, I tore open the box, punched out each of the plastic parts, spread them across the floor, then grabbed the instruction sheet. Oops, apparently you were supposed to wait to punch out each piece as they were actually labeled in place. My model building career ended about 10 minutes later when I proceeded to superglue a few pieces to the floor.

Fast-forward a few decades and Lomography has given me a chance to redeem myself with the Konstruktor 35mm SLR camera kit. Carly got cracking on the build but eventually at step 17 needed to step away from the half-formed camera and I stepped in and got to work.

First off, Lomography gets style and function points for the packaging. The cardboard trays make great holders for the tiny parts and the baby blue interiors make them very easy to identify.

The fixed 50mm lens attached right to the body and the large mirror box slid right into place. Piece by piece, our SLR was coming together. I had a little bit of trouble with the takeup spool/ shutter mode switch/ shutter button which is all one assembly. It took a little bit of trial and error, but patience and gentle force prevailed.

A few hours later (we did this project over 2 nights as we had the time and leisure to do so) I had found myself in a dilemma that I have not experienced for years: I needed film!
Aside from a little bit of fumbling with the precision assembly steps, I was able to get it all together. If clumsy first timers like us can finish this kit, then the majority of folks with a little bit of patience can finish it with no problem.

The first roll will get posted on Carly’s blog as soon as it gets back from the lab!

As a final note, I feel inclined to mention that taking the DIY camera out and shooting a roll of film is WAY more rewarding than putting a tiny plastic Camaro on the bookshelf and staring at it.(Special thanks to Lomography)

Epiphanie Bags: The Madison Bag-Convertible to Backpack

In its beautiful deep Teal, the Madison got me several looks on my commute to a shoot down in DC this week.

I used it specifically as mixed use- something I recommend this bag specifically for! The Madison is one of Epihanie’s new, easily convertible bags- from shoulder bag, to messenger, and backpack- after a full day carrying it around as one thing, switch to the next and get some relief!

I found this to be the case for me, as the bag itself is admittedly heavy. She’s 4lbs empty- but that’s 4 pounds of pure organizational wonder! As I was modeling and commuting that day- I took my 5d and 85mm, tablet and Mac Air, plus all my makeup and hair things, and my “purse items”- wallet, cell, keys, chapstick… I didn’t weigh her full, but let me tell you- it’s a good thing there were backpack straps. I think this bag will work for you best, full and on your back. Albeit doesn’t have the typical ergonomics of a backpack, it’s still plenty comfortable.

Constructed of a soft, synthetic leather that is mildly-water resistant, you won’t worry about having to dodge the sprinkles, kids or pets that end up on your set. Should you want to take it out of the studio and onto vacation, all the pockets are removable, which leaves you a nice day bag. The heavy stitching and D-rings seem to take most of the weight well, and I looked as this is where I tend to wear out bags from over-filling. This bag cries to be overfilled, and I am looking forward to each new invention of her at every shoot and adventure! (Special thanks to Epiphanie)

ThinkTank Photo: 2nd Brain Laptop Bag 11”

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I love bags- and yet I need them to make sense. To be useful. Never before has a more useful laptop bag existed. I’ve looked- searched, even.

Carrying a camera bag already, or at least a purse, and often a tote- I don’t need a laptop bag that is super high profile, and another brick to cart around. The 2nd Brain Bag is just that bag to end all other laptop bags.

They were specifically designed for Apple users and all the extra bits and pieces in Mac Life, plus have extra external pockets for cell, tablet, pens, you name it. Even with all this space, the bag is super low-profile.

Completely packed full it was only about 3” ‘thick’. They’re available from tablet size to 15” size, and we have the one specific to the MacBook Air. Plus this baby is water-resistant, and of the highest quality in finishing and details.

If you’re not a mac user- be not afraid. In fact, if you’re not a computer user at all go for the tablet bag, and be amazed how much easier your techno-life just became. Small enough for seniors or for kids- this is really the “Every Man’s” technology case. (Special thanks to ThinkTank Photo)

ThinkTank Photo: Turnstyle 20 Sling

Slings are, in theory- an excellent idea! Very few companies have done one well, but ThinkTank has, not surprisingly, managed to master that also!

This sling is the largest in the family of Turnstyes- available in 5/10/20, which ranges from mirrorless cameras and lenses up to the full sized DSLRs. You will not believe how much I managed to fit in this bag! And yet, completely full, it was still comfortable on my back, easy to maneuver around to the front for gear access, and when I dropped something and bent over to grab it- the sling’s true enemy is our own natural movements, the sling stayed dutifully in place-. It didn’t slip or slide or knock me in the face.

Yes. That has happened with other slings.

Another thing this sling does- it transforms into a beltpack! So if that shoulder gets sore after a full day of adventuring, or you’re in place, on location- sling that thing around your waist for even easier gear access. It’s adverted as accommodating a large tablet, but our MacBook Air fit easily. There’s even a secret pocket that I envision being a great hat/scarf/gloves stash place.

Overall- I can’t imagine another sling being as efficient, comfortable and practical as the Turnstyle models. (Special thanks to ThinkTank Photo)

Cotton Carrier: 2-Camera Vest System, Belt system (Lite) and Hand Straps

Guest review by my creative-partner @J_O_S_H_U_A_

Cotton Carrier Camera Vest System for 2 Cameras

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The Cotton Carrier System for 2 cameras is a great one-stop shop for a complete harness system. Basically, for under $200 you have a full blown 2-camera system AND it breaks down into a single camera chest strap, a belt loop carrier and 2 hand straps, or any combination of them. There are also additional camera tether straps to ensure it doesn’t ever hit the ground, even if dropped while being hand-held. Many companies offer a la carte systems (and Cotton Carrier does as well) but I am unaware of any company other than cotton Carrier that offers such a complete package, down to every strap and adapter that you will need with this system. It is an invaluable tool for photographers on the go and it comes in at a great price point.

You will want to have a buddy around for the first time that you put on the chest strap system. It is infinitely adjustable and you want to make sure that you get the proper fit. Thankfully, this only has to be done the first time, but it is worth the time as it guarantees that you get a comfortable fit. (Special thanks to Cotton Carrier)

Cotton Carrier Lite Belt System

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The Cotton Carrier Lite is a belt system for a single camera. The adjustments ensure a snug fit, or allow for a loser fit if you want to use it over your outerwear when the temps turn cold. The nylon material is tough and durable and the shoulder strap helps distribute the weight so that you don’t feel bogged down. There are also additional camera tether straps to ensure it doesn’t ever hit the ground, even if dropped while being hand-held.

This system is perfect for walking around and working with a client, but you would likely want the vest-system for more physical activities such as skiing, rock climbing or riding a bike. Certainly the belt is more comfortable overall for women, and the vest for men as this mimics the natural gravity of our bodies.(Special thanks to Cotton Carrier)

Cotton Carrier Hand Strap

Hand straps are just one of those useful, inexpensive tools that should be a part of every photographers bag, and the Cotton Carrier hand strap is a combination of good design and comfort.

Each of the above systems attach via durable hardware to the tripod-mount of any camera, so be sure to grab the mount system that is made specifically for use with a tripod if you will be doing so- it has a special place for the foot to attach to the mounting system. Some cameras this may cover the battery compartment, so be sure to have an allen wrench in your camera bag for battery changes. Once the mounting system is in place, it locks tight into the vest or the belt pad.(Special thanks to Cotton Carrier)

Photojojo’s Pocket Spotlight

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The Pocket Spotlight from Photojojo is something that seems a little underwhelming, but has such a variety of uses that you’d be amiss to not have one in your camera bag at all times. The 2.5” 32 LED light is capable of doing anything- from lighting your Ebay listings to being a rescue light when the sun drops too fast doing sunset shots. It charges via usb, and will last a little longer than an hour, and has a bit of a cool temp- 5200K. It can attach to your hotshoe or to your pocket devices via a headphone-jack-pin.

I do often carry an on-camera LED light with me, but when it comes to being out with friends and capturing that birthday cake, this little guy won’t be as intrusive and that’s a perk. (Special thanks to Photojojo)

JOBY Gorillapod Mobile

The Gorillapod Mobile is adorable. Yes. Adorable. Good thing it’s functional too!

Pop this little guy into your bag, and have an instant pair of extra hands- that don’t wobble and shake as much as human hands do! No need now to handhold video from your smartphone, this little guy-about 3-4” tall, can be wrapped around anything or sit on the table, so you won’t miss out on the fun.

This model of Gorillapod is brand spankin’ new- and built just for our smartphones. There’s an elasticated ‘mouth’ that easily gripped my Samsung Galaxy S4, but that’s probably as wide as you’ll be able to open the ‘jaw’. Once in the grips of the Gorillapod, my device is safe and stable.

This also makes a great way to show off portfolios or slideshows- no more creepy group of people hovering over your shoulder breathing loudly! Same goes for movie watching- pop the Gorillapod onto your device, and onto that tray-table and enjoy some hands-free movie watching! And at long last- capture that #selfie with BOTH ARMS in the photo- no more amputee self-shots! (Special thanks to Photojojo)

Photojojo’s Spy Lens

This is one of those things you don’t think you want until you have it. All those elusive shots of your cats doing something funny, or a baby being cute, or an awesome stranger on the street you don’t want to freak out because you’re photographing them…..see what I mean- it can quickly become a habit!

The Spy Lens has super-high quality glass in the mirror to diminish image quality loss, and peaks a 90-degree angle from the direction your phone is facing- look down to shoot forward, straight to shoot up or left/right- you get the idea. (Special thanks to Photojojo)

Flex Lens Shade

Simple, and effective- the Flex Lens Shade is proof positive that sometimes it’s the simplest things that make the biggest difference. Use it for rain or for sun, it will keep your lens and your photos in clean condition. The main bendy bit is made of a flexible nylon shell so you can bend and rebend as needed in all situations.

The shade attaches to the lens via a velcro strap that wraps completely around the lens-body. You’ll have to be careful on placement of this strap if you plan on zooming a lot or using manual focus as they did get a bit in my way, but nothing too difficult to work around. I can also see this being used on a speedlight, as a type of ‘barn door’ or similar to NVN’s Black Foamy Thing. (Special thanks to B&H Photo)

MobileCloth

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There are a lot of hands that touch our devices- has that ever freaked you out a bit, as you pass your camera or your tablet or phone around the room to show off your photos? Don’t despair- the MobileCloth Z5 has just been released and has the same effective germ- and smudge-killing properties as the original, but now is trimmed in bright, cheerful colors- so everyone in the family can have their own and know who’s is who’s.

The Z5 pack has 5 colors- pink, yellow, green, red and white and are about the size of a standard washcloth- allowing for plenty of room for cleaning without the re-smudge and can remove up to 98 percent of the germs on your device without any chemicals or even that much effort. They are also durable and washable and will last for years if the care instructions are followed.

Many clothes I’ve tried before take a bit too much elbow grease for my comfort-we are wiping a glass screen with numerous sensing organs afterall. The MobileCloth took virtually zero elbow grease, easing my nerves and speeding along the process altogether.

I may have gone overboard as I’ve ventured through my entire house cleaning any shiny surface with the MobileCloth-I dare you to not do the same! (Special thanks to Mobilecloth)

Peak Design: Capture Pro Camera Clip & Pad Pro

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Let me start with this: Kudos to Peak Design for being just that! I was super impressed with the design of the product and the packaging!
The Capture Pro Camera Clip and Pad Pro go hand in hand- although you can use the Capture bit without the Pad bit. In some situations this would be uncomfortable- so buy them in tandem. With Capture Pro you can carry any camera on any bag, belt, you name it. This puppy has some serious grip! It can also be used as a tripod head! Let me explain.

The Capture Pro is an all-aluminum 3-piece system. The clamping bit and the camera mount. You can choose between 3 standard mounts- mine being an ARCA-Type, which is the standard for DSLR, essentially. The 2 pieces that clamp around the strap of any bag or belt screw together allowing for straps of varying thickness, and then the mount locks the camera into the clip.

The bonus of being a tripod head is possible because of a standard-sized threading on the underside of the bottom of the clamp. So pull the clamp off the bag, and pop it onto a tripod for ease of use when going from the trail to sunset vista, or from street to studio.

The edition of the Pro Pad to the Peak Design line brings added stability to the Capture Pro when using heavier lenses or even speedlight on your camera, and I would recommend that it is used with bags whose straps aren’t as substantial. (Special thanks to B&H Photo)

Glidecam: iGlide

Made for the pro-sumer or vacation market with cameras up to 14 ounces, this is the smaller version of the full-sized Glidecam- it uses a 360 ‘gimbal’ while counterbalancing with smaller weights under the ‘sleigh’, but a smaller, low-profile build for the smaller consumer cameras out there.

A camera mounting plate with 1/4″ mounting threads is integrated for attaching a camera. You can also use the stabilizer with an iPhone via an optional iGlide Adapter.

Underneath the camera plate is a telescopic post that extends from 10 to 13 inches. On the side of the post is a handle on a 3-axis gimbal that’ll let you pan, tilt and perform Dutch angles. On the bottom end of the post is a flat base that accepts two included counterweight discs and serves as a stand. Together with the counterweights, the stabilizer weighs just under 14 ounces. (Special thanks to B&H Photo)

MacPhun: Intensify Pro editing software

Don’t tell anyone, but I’m cheating on Lightroom. Once you use Intensify Pro, you will too. Or- if you’ve never used an editing suite before, start here.

Intensify Pro has all the sliders and adjustments you expect from a post-production engine- exposure, contrast, etc but where it really stands out is the level of micro-fine tuning you can achieve, and it’s layers system. You can also choose from pre-sets or your set your own custom pre-sets when working on an image.

Just like Photoshop and Lightroom had a baby, Intensify Pro utilizes a layers-structure, allowing for multiple pre-sets to be layered over an image, including the ability to mask, use gradients and paint-in adjustments. This is a feature that I’ve been wishing for in Lightroom for a long time!

The ease of user interface is to be applauded- it’s all right on the home screen, no bouncing back and forth between modules. Intensify Pro isn’t a library manager, you will have to do that on your own or through another platform, and if you would like to really tweak the color, there’s not a lot of control here, but it easily ‘plugs-in’ to Lightroom and Photoshop so you can easily move back and forth between the programs. That’s the best big thing about IntensifyPro is that it’s capable of being a stand-alone image editing platform, or a needed addition to another platform to gain access to multiple detail-fine-tuning adjustments, making it perfect for the professional and pro-sumer or blossoming artist. (Special thanks to MacPhun)

What other ideas do you have for photogs this Holiday Season? Share your thoughts on Twitter with #HoHoPhoto