Digital Focus: Killer Photo Accessories
I celebrated my birthday this week. And while I'm not going to tell you how old I am, I will give you a clue that only fans of the late Douglas Adams will be able to decrypt: My age is now the answer to life, the universe, and everything.
Whenever one reaches such an important milestone, it's obviously a moment for quiet introspection. You can't help but ponder the big questions in life, like "What cool photographic gadgets can I ask for on my birthday?" This week, you can benefit from my own soul searching on this important issue.
Lensbaby 2.0 Selective-Focus Lens
Looking for a way to take some truly unusual photos? Lensbaby might be just the ticket. You'll need a digital single-lens reflex camera, since Lensbaby requires interchangeable lenses. Attach it to your Canon Digital Rebel, Nikon D50, or any other SLR-style digital camera, though, and I guarantee you'll never see photographic opportunities quite the same way again.
Lensbaby is a selective-focus lens, a flexible tube that you twist and position to put one part of the photo in sharp focus while leaving the rest of the picture in a state of blur. It's like a cross between a soft-focus lens and a tilt lens (which is used to correct perspective when shooting pictures of buildings). Using Lensbaby takes some practice--it's more art than science. You need to move the flexible lens around with your fingertips until you like what you see through the viewfinder.
Lensbaby is compatible with a handful of add-on lens kits, including a wide-angle adapter, a telephoto adapter, and a macro filter. Lensbaby costs $150 and is available online.
Don't have an SLR? Browse our Top 5 chart for ideas.
Apple iPod Camera Connector
A lot of readers write to ask me how they can back up their digital photos on a trip. One way is to bring a laptop and transfer your photos from the memory card for safekeeping. Another is to buy a specialized (and expensive) photo storage device like the Epson P-2000, which costs about $450.
But I have a better suggestion: Use an Apple iPod. If you have a fairly new model with a color display, you can take advantage of all the extra storage space by copying your digital photos to your iPod when you travel. When you get home, copy the images to your PC and reclaim the space on your iPod.
How do you do that? Just get Apple's $29 iPod Camera Connector. It's a tiny adapter that plugs into the bottom of your iPod and lets you attach your camera's USB cable.
Ultra-Portable Dye-Sub Printer
Don't keep your photos trapped in the digital prison of your PC: Print them. Sony's new DPP-FP55 ($150) is a compact, portable dye-sublimation printer that makes 4-by-6-inch prints. You can connect your camera directly to the printer or insert a Secure Digital Card. The printer has a 2-inch LCD and can handle some photo processing--like red-eye reduction, color and sharpness enhancement, and cropping--all without ever needing a PC.
Spyder Monitor Calibration Tool
It's a common complaint: The colors on your computer screen don't match what your printer produces. It sounds like you need to calibrate your display.
I've used Spyder calibration tools from ColorVision for years and I trust them to keep my monitor tuned properly for consistent color reproduction. The best part of using a Spyder is that you don't have to have a degree in rocket science (or color management) to use it; just stick the Spyder on your screen, run the calibration program, and then pack the Spyder away for 6 months. (You should re-run the color calibration occasionally since your monitor's color characteristics change over time.)
The $79 Spyder2express is an eminently affordable gadget that works on both CRT and LCD monitors, and is tuned to deliver accurate skin tones as well as shadow and highlight details. (Our Product Finder has the latest pricing.)