Essential DSLR Accessories – Photography Gifts for DSLR Owners
An intervalometer controls your camera for you; allowing you to take very long exposure images; where the image is formed over tens of seconds, minutes or even hours and then take another one, and another one, at set intervals, for as long as you wish – hence the name ‘intervalometer’. The official ones from Canon and Nikon are high quality as you’d expect but both quite expensive too at well over $100 a piece. There are plenty of much cheaper alternatives out there such as one made by Neewer that’ll save you a packet. Check out some star-trails and light painting inspiration and tell me you don’t fancy a go at this yourself, they’re a really great gift for any DSLR owner.
Remote shutter release:
When you press the shutter button, even when mounted on a tripod it creates vibrations in the camera, which is not good for image quality! Wireless shutter releases eliminate this and are also great for eliminating those awkward group shots where you have to set the timer then run frantically into the image yourself to get everyone in.
Again there are official ones by Canon and Nikon as you’d expect, as well as plenty of cheaper alternatives from the likes of Neewer and others, such as Amazon who have ventured into the market themselves made their great value wireless shutter releases for Canons and Nikons – they’re a cheap DSLR gift if you’re looking for photography gifts but not looking to spend much money.
Theres a huge amount of people buying fantastic new DSLR cameras these days that never use them with anything other than the kit lenses. This is a tragedy! A wide-aperture prime lens is an inexpensive way to open up the capability of their great new camera – to enable it to perform much better in low light and deliver the creamy out of focus backgrounds that kit lenses with much smaller apertures just can’t match.
Remember the simple rule – if you double your aperture number, whatever it may be, whether from f/1.4 to f/2.8 or from f/2.8 to f/5.6 the light hitting the sensor is halved each time the number doubles.
All a bit technical? ‘What is ‘aperture’? ‘Aperture’ is simply the size of the hole light is able to pass through the lens and into the camera… Most lenses that come with DSLRs are about f/3.5 when zoomed out and decrease to f/5.6 when fully zoomed in. Smaller apertures such as this reduce the amount of light entering the camera; this in turn then means images have to be exposed for longer, or with a higher ISO (sensor sensitivity) to form the correct exposure in the image.
The downside to this is a poorer quality end image. Another limitation of smaller apertures is that those shallow depth of field shots you may be looking for are much more difficult to achieve. Both of these are solved with a wide-apertured lens, the cheapest and most versatile way to get your hands on one of these is by buying a prime lens such as a 50mm f/1.8 or f/1.4 – if you haven’t previously considered one of these and are looking for a DSLR gift then read on.
What should you be looking for? Well… If you’re looking at the entry prime lenses both the Nikon and Canon 50mm f/1.8 offerings are great value, no frills lenses, the Canon in particular can be picked up for less than $150. If you’re looking for a a more capable option the 50mm f/1.4 Sigma ART released in 2014 has stunned critics since its release with brilliant build quality and delivery of pro-quality images at a much keener price point than that fielded from Canon and Nikon’s closest equivalent lenses. Whatever your budget we would recommend a wide-aperture prime lens; it’s a DSLR gift that will really open up the capabilities of any digital photographer if they don’t already have one…
A UV filter as the name suggests filters out unwanted UV light from reaching the camera’s sensor, this reduces the haziness caused in images from ultraviolet light and produces a more accurate, clearer image. Unlike other filters a UV filter can be screwed on and forgotten about – they’re is suitable for use in near all situations.
Because of this suitability for everyday use they act as a layer of protection to the front element of your lens, protecting it from dust, sand, grease or direct strikes – UV filters can save you a packet in this regard saving damage to the lens itself which is always expensive.
The main manufacturers are Hoya, Tiffen and B+W, we’ve tried them all and although the most expensive would recommend the great quality of B+W UV filters. If you’re looking for a photography gift and unsure of where to start a UV filter makes a great, affordable photography gift.
‘ND’ refers to ‘Neutral Density’ – put simply these filters filter out (remove) a certain amount of light from that reaching the lens. ND filters have an important ability as they hold the secret, when used correctly, to getting those creamy, blurred shots of streams, clouds, waves or road traffic in daylight where you’d otherwise have too much light to produce an image exposed for long enough to create the motion. At least one ND filter is a must have in any landscape photographers bag.
ND filters – key points:
- The number after the ‘ND’ refers to how strong the filter is; how much light it removes – the higher the number the more light removed.
- Most filters have an external thread on them as well as the internal thread meaning more than one filter can be used at once, if you wish to multiply their effect.
- Thirdly, remember to check the size of the lens filter thread you have to ensure you buy the right size for you lens!
What’s best? We would opt for one medium strength filter to start with from a good manufacturer like Hoya. If you’re not so fussed about the very best possible image quality but keen to experiment with ND filters the cheaper option is to buy a variable ND filter from a manufacturer such as Zomei. These variable filters really unlock the world of daytime long-exposure photography with their variable dimming from ND2 right up to ND400 – another great gift for a DSLR owner looking to get more from their DSLR.
Camera carrying gifts:
If you think a satchel type bag is going to suit your friend best you can’t go wrong than with the age old favourite Domke 700 F-2. It’s still as popular today and offers the same quality as when it was first created in 1976 – a modern day classic. If you’re on a tighter budget Amazon’s DSLR satchel at less than $30 represents value for money that’s hard to rival.
If you think a camera carrying backpack would be better the pro-level Manfrotto 3N1-35 PL is a seriously high quality backpack with enough comfort for long days out walking with all your gear. If you’ve got a more fashion conscious recipient in mind we’d recommend considering the Koolerton Canvas Bag which is designed to look like an everyday casual rucksack. At the extreme budget end of the market the Bestek Caden at under $50 is hard to beat.
A good camera sling adds so much in comfort for long days out with the camera that it may make the difference between taking the DSLR or leaving it at home. We’re not fans of the straps that come with the cameras and would highly recommend upgrading from the strap supplied to improve carrying comfort and versatility. If you’re willing to nudge over $50 for a quality one we love the Black Rapid RS7. At the cheaper end of the scale the Altura Rapid Fire can’t be faulted for it’s value coming in at just under $20.
There’s not just one thing that’ll yield the sharp photos like the pros get, it’s a combination of things but a high quality tripod is the greatest single aid to super sharp, high quality images.
A quality tripod is also a gift for life; where a camera may last a few years before it’s replaced a top tripod will give decades of service. Of the many manufacturers out-there the most well known and most widely used in the professional world is Manfrotto; one of their most popular models – a versatile aluminium tripod called the ‘MT190XPRO4‘ comes in near the $200 mark. If you’re feeling generous it’s big brother, similar in many ways but made of feather light carbon-fibre, the ‘MT190CXPRO3‘ is a little more but one of the finest tripods in the land.
Cheap tripods that can be picked up for $20 or $50 often come with an integrated tripod head, most of which are sticky and jerky when trying to make the tiny final adjustments needed to get ‘the shot’. Pro-quality tripods do not come with a head – just the tripod.
There are lots of options when it comes to sourcing a quality tripod head but our recommendation for those that are new to photography is a simple ballhead; bullheads are great as with just one knob you can quickly and easily position your camera to any angle. Again, we would recommend Manfrotto’s 494 RC2 head for an excellent, mid-range, ball-head.
Sometimes you don’t want to lug your main tripod around. Although they look funny a gorrilapod provides a surprisingly solid base to get tripod shots without the inconvenience of carrying it around all day.
Joby make the best in the business and offer with or without a ball-head mount. If you buy without you can easily add a premium head such as the Manfrotto 494 RC2 with just a quick change of screw thread (that can easily be done with just a coin).
Camera care gift suggestions:
$20 on some lens protection may just save your bacon if your camera bag is ever thrown around when passing through an airport or tips over in some freak accident, spilling the contents onto the tarmac. From expensive experience, we say – It’s not worth the risk! Today you can pick up a 4 pack of drawstring lens cases with protective neoprene build and soft faux-fur inside for less than $20. These are great gifts for any photographer that’ll certainly be warmly received.
Essential Photography Software and Guides:
Adobe Photoshop remains the king and the one piece of software any serious photographer wants to have under their belt, and on their computer. Photoshop CS6 is the latest edition and although pricey has more functionality and power than ever before. If you’re on a tighter budget Adobe Lightroom is another versatile alternative, as is the bargain Adobe Photoshop Elements 14 which will give you plenty of functionality and editing power for well under $100.
Scott Kelby Digital Best of Digital Photography Series
Well known pro-photographer and Photoshop Guru Scott Kelby has been publishing great guides on both for years. His latest offering ‘The Best of Digital Photography Book Series‘ as the name suggests offers the very best from his most recent 5 books – it’s both a bargain and the opening to pretty much every question you’ve ever likely had about photography. If you are or know someone looking to improve their photography – this is the gift for them.