Archives for Photo Equipment category

If you’re not familiar with an extension tube or haven’t used one it is worth the relatively small investment to get some and see what you can come up with.  There are several brands and mounts available for all the major brands (Canon, Nikon, Sony).  Check out extension tubes on Amazon for some of the better deals.

The basics: An extension tube is a lens accessory that is attached to the lens mount of the camera at one end and to the lens itself at the other.  The tube has no optical element in it and it may or may not have and electrical contact.  Those with a contact can retain the auto focus of an AF lens (but at a bit more cost) while those without the contact convert an AF lens to manual focus.  By adding an extension tube between the camera and lens it allows you to move the lens further away from the camera.  By doing so it allows the lens to focus much closer on an object resulting in objects smaller than the sensor still filling the frame.  So they are ideal for macro photography and could eliminate the need for a specialized macro lens.

These photos are of my dog Rylee, a very good model.

Dogs and Extension Tubes One

Dogs and Extension Tubes Two

Dogs and Extension Tubes Three

Still searching for a gift for the photographer in your life?  If none of the ideas in Tuesday’s post, Photography Gadgets that Make Great Holiday Gifts for Photographers, sparked your interest or you want something more specific for the photographer that loves the outdoors here are some more photography gadgets that make great gifts.

For the photography enthusiast who loves to shoot nature, landscapes and wildlife there are countless gadgets to make them a happy photographer.  Here are just a few.

1) The Green Pod – Think of this like a go anywhere tripod.  It attaches to the bottom of the camera in the tripod mount but instead of three extending legs it has a bean bag sack.  This allows the outdoor photographer to steady their camera on any surface (think rocks and logs) in order to get the stability of a tripod without having to lug one around the great outdoors.  It is also great for steadying those long telephoto lenses often used for wildlife and nature photography.  Not bad for only $22.

2) Camera Sling System – A camera sling system is so much more than a camera strap.  It’s like a super strap.  A typical camera strap has the bulky DSLR hanging around your neck.  On a hike or trek through the jungle the camera is bouncing in every direction.  So you may put it diagonally across your chest.  But then when a surprise shot jumps in front of you there is a lot of fumbling to get the camera into shooting position.  Here is where a Camera Sling System saves the day.  The camera slides along the strap to your eye when needed and then back down to your hip so you can continue on your hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon or the top of Mt. Everest.

3) Binoculars – Wait? Binocualrs? They may have a telephoto lens on their camera but that is not good for scouting ahead for the next great subject to shoot.  A small pair of binoculars like the BARSKA 12×26 WP Naturescape Binocular is light weight and compact which makes throwing them in the camera bag a breeze.  Plus these are water and fog proof which makes them ideal for the outdoor photographer.

4) Rain Protection – One thing that can put a damper on an outdoor photo safari is rain. The Op/Tech Rainsleeve is the perfect solution.  Its like one of those plastic disposable ponchos, but for your camera.  It takes up no room in the camera bag and fits most DSLR camera set ups even with a flash unit on.  There is even an opening for the eye piece so you are not looking through plastic when you compose your shot.  A pack of 2 is under $7.

5) Not sure about going the equipment route for a gift for your outdoor photographer?  No problem.  A subscription to Outdoor Photographermagazine  is a gift that reminds them once a year of how thoughtful you are.  What could be better? Well it does get better. Outdoor Photographer is also packed full of tips, gear reviews and of course photographs aimed specifically at the outdoor photography enthusiast.


So you have a photographer on this year’s holiday shopping list and you are at a loss?  fear not, buying a great Christmas gift for a photographer is a lot simpler than you may think.  Most photographers love the gear and gadgets of photography.  And there are a lot of photography gadgets out there.  Some are just gimmicks but many are very useful.  So here are a few gift ideas for the photographer’s on your holiday shopping list.

Photo of a camera hot shoe level1) Hot Shoe Level – The “hot shoe” is the part on the top of the camera where you attach a flash.  But you can also attach other accessories.  And a level is one such gadget that attaches to the hot shoe.  I have one of these and love it.  For any photographer that shoots architecture or landscapes this little gadget that sells for $10 or less in most cases can be a valuable asset to insure your photos are nice and straight.

Photo of a white balance lens cap2)White Balance Lens Cap – This is no ordinary lens cap.  The serious photographers on your Christmas shopping list are probably not shooting with their camera on automatic.  That includes their white balance settings.  For advanced DSLR cameras today the photographer can set a custom white balance for the specific subject they are shooting. In simple terms that means they can make sure they are setting the camera up for the lighting situation they are in.  This special lens cap allows them to get the white balance customized to whatever lighting conditions they may be shooting under.  These run about $25.

3) Gloves for photographers – Even in mildly cold climates the fingers can be the first to go numb.  That makes it hard to operate a camera.  Mittens are definitely out, they are worse than numb fingers for clicking the shutter.  Regular gloves are often too bulky to manage the small dials and buttons of a camera.  There are of course fingerless gloves available, but that still means cold finger.  But fear not, there is a solution, the Freehands Ragg Wool Knit/Thinsulate Glove.  This glove has “grip dots” on the palm and finger tips that allow you to hold your camera securely as well as manage the controls.  It also has the option of only exposing the thumb and index finger to the cold for better camera control and more protection from the cold.  For only about $22 this can be a great photography gadget for the amateur or professional photographer on your Christmas list.

Photo of a lens pen for clening camera lenses4) Cleaning supplies – Cleanliness is next to Godliness, especially when it comes to expensive (and even not so expensive) camera equipment.  One of the best gadgets I have ever spend $10 on is the Lens Pen.  This is a dual sided “pen” with a retractable brush on one side and a fancy patented cleaning tip on the other end.  Use the brush end for removing surface dirt and dust that if it were to get to the sensor could ruin your photographs and be much more costly to have professionally cleaned.  Use the other end for removing the oils and finger prints from the lens glass.  This little gadget does a much better job than microfiber clothes that often get dirty themselves being carried around in a camera bag and then don’t do much to remove dirt.  Every photographer should have one in their bag and at only about $10 you can be the great friend or family member that puts it in their stocking this year. (Have a cleaning theme going on with this year’s Christmas gifts?  Here is another good small gift idea in that category: Rocket Air Blaster

5)  Lego Camera – Does the photographer on your list already have every gadget known to photography?  How about something just for fun then?  Lego has a camera that looks like a toy but is a real working digital camera.  Granted it is only 3 MP, but the real appeal is the novelty.  And it was not that long ago that 3 MP was top of the line.  So for only $39.99 you can give the photographer who has everything a little camera fun in their stocking.

Image of the Dapper Dog Camera CreaturePhoto of the Outrageous Owl Camera CreatureIf you do portrait photography of children you know how hard it can be to keep them focused on the camera.  And it is not easy to hold a toy or other object over the camera while you are trying to capture the moment.  That is where Camera Creatures come to the rescue.  Dapper Dog and Outrageous Owl fit over the lens of your camera freeing up your hands and giving the kids something fun to look at that happens to be in the exact spot you want them to look.  At $24.99 each (on sale through 12-9-11 for $19.99 each) these are a good investment for anyone photographing children.  They also make a great gift for a photographer on your holiday shopping list.

This is a great little gadget for photographers and iPad users.  These CF and SD memory card readers fit into the docking port of your iPad to give you quick and easy access to your images on the go.  When the LCD screen of your camera doesn’t cut it for reviewing your images you can use the larger screen of your iPad before you leave your shoot location.  No more getting home, downloading your images, and realizing they didn’t quite turn out as you initially thought based on the small LCD preview.

These are available from Photojojo for $30 for the CF card and $15 for the SD card.

  •     Upload photos to iPad at lightning speeds!
  •     Compatible with iPad 1 or iPad 2
  •     Review photos on the go
  •     Smaller than a pack of gum!
  •     Easy to use, just connect & upload
  •     No wires or cables necessary

Disclaimer: Although I think this is a great idea, I have not yet invested in one of these so I have no personal experience to pass on as to their performance.  I do however have a friend that had something similar that did not work very well.  It was slow and did not cooperate well with RAW files.  It was not these same exact make or model, but they were problematic.  So if you have any first hand experience with these please leave a comment.


Photo of an iPad CF and SD Card Reader

Photo of the Polaroid Triple Axis Hot Shoe Mount Bubble LevelBefore I took an architectural photography workshop in LA last month I did not know this little gadget even existed.  But one of my fellow photographers had one and I quickly added it to my “must have” list of photography gadgets.

There are several varieties of hot shoe bubble levels available.  Button, two axis and three axis are the most common.  You can also find them from numerous manufactures and at numerous price points.  On the high end they go can go for about $35 and all the way down to $6-7 for a low end one.

The one I ultimately went with is from Polaroid and is a triple axis variety.  Polaroid Triple Axis Bubble Level – Flash Hot Shoe Mount

These are great for architectural and landscape photography.  They allow you that extra bit of confidence that your horizon or building is straight, saving post-processing time or worse a ruined photograph.

There are a few pros and cons of the hot shoe bubble level of course.  Lets get the cons out of the way first.


  1. As the name suggests, this device slips on to the hot shoe of your camera, where the flash goes.  So obviously you cannot use this with a flash.
  2. It really is only useful for tripod photography, which most architectural and landscape photography is anyway.  But as you can imagine, if you are looking through the view finder you can’t see the level on the top of the camera and if you move to see it you lose your composition.
  3. Beware of the cheap versions.  That generally goes without saying for most anything.  Although the one I bought works great, I have seen complaints that some of the low priced ones are not calibrated right and do not give accurate readings.  Your photographs are probably worth investing a little more for the better quality.
  4. Pay attention to what you are buying.  This may not impact most people.  But for Sony Alpha users the hot shoe is the reverse configuration of most other camera brands, Canon and Nik0n.  So when the description says “fits all standard SLR/DSLR hot shoes,” know that yours is not standard.  You need one made specifically for Sony Alpha.


  1. Level photographs nearly every time.  This is such a simple little gadget but for those of us who have a hard time keeping that horizon straight this really does save a lot of post processing.  Bottom line, it works (see #3 above of course).
  2. Go for the triple axis.  I have not used the button type or a two axis variety, but for a few more dollars the versatility of the three axes (I looked it up, that is the plural of axis) is well wroth it.  You can double and triple check your layout and make sure you are getting a level shot in all ways.  It is also great for when you change your camera orientation from horizontal to vertical.
  3. I can only speak for the one I bought, the Polaroid Triple Axis Bubble Level, but this one is well constructed.  The bubbles are truly level and the plastic housing is durable and well constructed.
  4. Again, only speaking for the one I bought, the price was great.  I’m not sure what you might get for 3 times the price, but at $9.99 through Amazon this was a good deal.

Overall, I definitely recommend getting one of these if you shoot architecture and/or landscapes.  It is an inexpensive little gadget that gives a lot of value and that little bit of help to make sure everything turns out right after you have clicked that shutter.  A tool worth having in your camera bag.

Photo of a Triple axis bubble level on a Sony Alpha 850

Before you get halfway through a shoot and realize you left the ISO on 1200 or white balance on tungsten it is a good idea to make is a part of your photo shoot habit to check and reset all your camera’s settings. To help me get my best shots I have come up with a short pre-photo shoot camera check list.  These are all the things I need to quickly verify are as they should be for the shoot I am about to do and not as they were for the last time I was photographing.  Your camera or specific needs may be a little different but this should be a good starting point for you to make a check list of your own.

  1. Anti-Shake (Stabilizer) On/Off – When shooting on a tripod it is a good practice to turn this feature off.  So if the next shoot does not include a tripod make sure you turn it back on.  Or vice versa.
  2. ISO Setting – You may not adjust this setting much depending on what and how you photograph, but check it to make sure it is set for the lighting condition of your current shoot.
  3.  Manual / Auto Focus – You’ll notice if this is not set right pretty quickly, but helps to make it a habit to make sure it is where you need it to be.
  4. RAW/JPEG Setting – I rarely shoot anything other than RAW, but there is always that one time which could ruin the photo shoot the next day.  Better to just check each time.
  5. Drive – This may be called something else on your camera, but it is where I set my bracketing and continuous shot settings which I change often.
  6. White Balance – Maybe you leave it on auto all the time, but if you ever alter this setting for various lighting conditions  you’ll want it on your check list.
  7. Focus Area – This includes Wide, Spot or Local for the Sony Alpha 850 I shoot with, but whatever your camera calls it, it’s better to have it set where you need it before you start shooting.
  8. Clean the Lens – OK, so this is not a camera setting, but it is something you should definitely get in the habit of doing every time you go out to photograph.

There you have it, eight quick and easy things to check every time you pick up your camera for a photo shoot.  Making sure you have your settings right can save you a lot of time and trouble.  Did I miss any that you have on your list?  Let me know in the comments.

A lot has changed in my camera bag since I last wrote a “What is in my camera bag?” post, including the bag itself.  So it is time for an update on what I use for my photography.

Starting with the bag – or bags in my case.  I have several including the newest addition to my collection and most frequently used,the Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home.  Love, love, love this bag.  Read my review of it here.

Photo of the Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home Camera Bag

So inside my Crumpler is quite a bit of camera equipment (it holds a lot!).

First the camera.  I have had my Sony Alpha 850 for a little over a year now and still love it.

Photo of a Sony Alpha 850 Full Frame DSLR Camera

Sony Alpha 850 Full Frame 24 mp DSLR Camera

And now the lenses:

Image of a Sony DT 18-70 mm Lens

Sony DT 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6

Photogrpah of a Sigma 12-24 mm wide angle lens
Sigma super wide angle zoom 12-24 mm f/4.5-5.6

Photo of a Minolta 50 mm prime lens

Minolta 50 mm f/1.7 -(22)

Photogrpah of a 100-300 mm telephoto lens

Quantaray 100-300 mm f/4.5-6.7

Photo of a Kenko 25 mm Extension Tube

Kenko 25 mm Extension Tube

Next are the camera accessories:

Photo of the front of the Sony Alpha HVL-F42AM Flash

Sony Alpha HVL-F42AMFlash

Photo of a Sony VG-C90AM Vertical Grip

Sony VG-C90AM Vertical Grip

Finally a few miscellaneous but still very important contents of my camera bag.

Back up batteries, memory cards with a case and a lens hood.

Sony NP-FM500H Info Lithium Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery

Hakuba Hard Plastic Digital Media Storage Case

Photo of a Lens Pen and Giottos Air Blaster

LensPEN Lens Cleaning System

Giottos Rocket Air Blaster


I did  a review yesterday of my two latest photography gadgets, a Giottos Rocket Air Blaster and a LensPEN Lens Cleaning System.  But as they say (they being Benjamin Franklin for the curious), an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  So I figured as great as these little cleaning gadgets are, it is better to keep your camera free of dust and dirt in the first place.  Here are a few tips to keep your DSLR clean and your sensor dust free.

  1. Changing lenses – one of the easiest ways to get dust on to your sensor is by being careless when changing lenses.  You are exposing the inner workings of your camera to the elements every time you change a lens.  Short of never changing a lens, which defeats the purpose of having a DSLR, you can take some steps to minimize the dust that creeps in during the lens changing process.  Eliminating it altogether is probably not a realistic option.
    1. First, be conscious of the environment where you are changing the lens.  It is not possible to get to the nearest sterile clean room every time you need to change a lens but you can make sure you aren’t in a dust storm.  Shield the camera as best you can from whatever may be blowing about.
    2. Do a little prep work before switching out lenses.  Make sure the lens you are going to put on is lined up and ready to go before you press that release button to take the lens off the camera.  Do not remove the lens or the cap off the replacement lens until you are ready to quickly make the switch.  The move as fast as you safely can, dust is better than a dropped $1000 lens, and switch out the lenses.
    3. Always keep your lenses clean, especially at the lens mount end.  Clean it after taking it off the camera with a soft brush and air blaster if you have one (which you should after reading yesterday’s post).  And even more importantly, clean it BEFORE you mount it on the camera.
  2. Keep your camera bag clean – The camera bag is designed to help you organize your camera and accessories, carry them easily and keep them clean.  But the bag itself can get dirty too.  So you need to do a little camera bag maintenance every now and then.  The easiest thing to do is to assign one day a month (or really 15 minutes of one day a month) as camera bag cleaning time.  Put it on the calendar and then clean out your bag.  Empty everything out, vacuum out the bag (gets the fine stuff and animal hair), then make sure everything is dust free as can be before putting it all back.
  3. Cleaning mode – Become familiar with your camera’s built in cleaning mechanisms.  My Sony Alpha 850 has two built in defenses against dust; static-resistant anti-dust coating and CCD-shift dust reduction mechanism.  Most DSLRs today have something in place to help keep the dust off the sensor.  Read up on what your camera has and understand how it works and what you can do to keep it working.
  4. Call in the Pros – Like a car or any complicated piece of machinery sometimes you need a professional for both routine maintenance and repairs.  A sensor cleaning costs about $30 at my local camera shop and is sometimes  just necessary.  You can also get routine maintenance cleaning and tune-ups to keep things going at their peak.



Photo of a Lens Pen and Giottos Air BlasterIf you have a DSLR camera you quickly learn that dirt and dust are not your camera’s friends.  The consequences of dust on the sensor can range from annoying spots on your images to a damaged sensor depending on it s severity.  So like all electronic equipment, you want to make sure you keep your sensor and the camera as a whole clean.

Many higher end DSLR cameras have a mechanism to shake dust off the sensor.  But it is almost a guarantee that at some point you are going to get dust on the sensor that the camera can’t dispose of on its own.  You are also going to get other parts of the camera, like the lenses and LCD screen, dirty just from day-to-day use.  So a small investment in some cleaning tools will go a long way to keep you and your camera happy.

I recently purchased two such tools.  The first is a Giottos Rocket Air Blaster. I got the large version in black, but you can go for some color in your life and get red too or for those with limited space there is a small version as well.  Regardless of the color or size you chose I am certain you will not be disappointed in your purchase.  For an investment of about $10 this is a powerful little tool.  It far surpasses those little blowers with a brush on the end that often come in camera kits.  And it is far safer than canned air, which is a DSLR no-no by the way.  For DSLRs with a cleaning mode where the mirror is flipped up to allow you to blow dust off the sensor the Rocket Air Blaster makes quick work of this task.  It also does wonders on getting pug hair out of your keyboard, should that be a problem that plaques you.

Highly recommend the Giottos Rocket Air Blaster.

Second tool I bought is a LensPEN Lens Cleaning System.  This will set you back another $10 or so but like the sir blaster, so worth it.  I’m not sure what a “patented carbon compound” is (here’s where paying more attention in Chemistry 101 would have come in handy) but I can tell you it works.  The carbon compound end of the pen has a cap over it, like a pen, and removes fingerprints and smudges from your lenses way better than then micro-fiber clothes or lens tissue.  The other end of the pen is a brush that slides out and is perfect for keeping the surface of your camera dust free.  Very handy little tool that easily fits in any camera bag.

Highly recommend the LensPEN Lens Cleaning System.

To make your camera even more happy check back tomorrow for some keeps on keeping your camera dust and dirt free in the first place.  Or if not dust free, less dusty.