Holiday Gifts for Photography Buffs: Digital Cameras, Flash Attachments, and Books

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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. Last year I came up with some pretty cool ideas--see "Digital Photography Gift Guide: Image Editors, Eye-Fi, and More" and "Great Photography Gifts: Tripods, Camera Bags, Stocking Stuffers"--so you might want to take a look at those, too.

This week, I've rounded up a slew of interesting digital cameras, flash add-ons, and books. In a few weeks I'll have even more recommendations, including photo storage, tripods, software, and even Apple iPhone and iPad apps.

Cool and Unusual Cameras

What would photographers be without cameras? Painters. Cameras are the heart and soul of photography, so it's not surprising I've got a few cameras in my goodie bag this year.

But rather than talking about the usual crop of point and shoot, digital SLR, or megazoom cameras out there--if you want to investigate those, check out PCWorld's camera reviews--I've got a few cameras that are tantalizingly different.

3D Camera. 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.

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?

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.

Project Your Photos Anywhere

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. And though I'm geeking out over the possibility of showing impromptu photo slideshows while on vacation, the projector can also project Microsoft Office documents as well. Pick one up for $299.

Flash Photography Gadgets

Flash photography is tricky, and I write a lot about how to get better flash photos (like in "Five Tips for Better Flash Photography"). Sometimes a gadget can help.

Light Diffuser. 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.

Bendable Screens. 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 sell for $40 each.

Gift 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, in its fifth edition. If you are still learning your way around your camera and editing software, check out my book. I've written a number of other books as well; see my Web site for a partial list.

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. One feature I especially like: Derrick lists all the exposure information and related metadata for photos in the book, making it easier to try to replicate his techniques.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This week's Hot Pic: "Bee and Butterfly" by Bernie Gellman, Floral Park, New York

Bernie says he got this photo after "chasing butterflies around during lunch." He used a Pentax K20D and an 18-2500mm lens set to 250mm.

This week's runner-up: "On a Line" by Geoff Brown, Lynnwood, Washington

Geoff captured this photo with a Canon EOS 30D.

To see last month's winners, visit the September Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? E-mail me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have Digital Focus e-mailed to you each week.

This story, "Holiday Gifts for Photography Buffs: Digital Cameras, Flash Attachments, and Books" was originally published by PCWorld.

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