10 Photography Accessories for Under $250
Matt Golowczynski | Product Reviews & Previews | Published Nov 18, 2011
10 Photography Accessories for Under $250
A lot of photographers are 'gear-heads', obsessed with the hardware, as well as the art, of photography. Sites like dpreview.com couldn't exist without them, and even if you don't think that you fall into this camp, the chances are you know a lot of photographers that do.
It's a simple fact of life that to most of these photographers, the 'big' hardware - cameras and lenses - is more interesting than the little accessories. Most accessories simply lack the allure of a sophisticated camera or a lens crafted to exacting standards. But there are a huge number of accessories out there that can enrich your photography: everything from extension tubes which you to focus down to tiny distances to remote timers for managing long or interval exposures and reflectors to control light.
This buyers' guide isn't comprehensive and obviously, for each of the accessories that I've selected, alternatives are available. What I hope this roundup will do is point you towards a some accessories that I really like, but which you might not have been aware of, and spark a few ideas for holiday gifts for that special photographer in your life. Products are listed in order of (street) price, and links to the manufacturers' websites go straight to the relevant product page.
As always, if you think I've missed anything, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the page to let other readers know what you think they should put on their shopping list.
Here's our selection:
- Giottos AA9100 Rocket Air Blower
- Fotodiox Hand-Hold Collapsible Disc, Tri-Fold Reflector + Gray Card/White Balance Target
- Lowepro Slingshot 100 All-weather Backpack
- Satechi TR-C Timer Remote Control
- Gorillapod Focus
- SanDisk 32GB Extreme Pro SDHC UHS-I card
- Nissin Di466 Speedlite Flash
- Western Digital My Book Studio 1TB FireWire 800 External Hard Drive
- Kenko DG Auto Extension Tube Set
- Manfrotto 055XPROB with 498RC2 Ball Head
- Street price: $8.95 (US) / £9.79 (UK) / €12.83 (EU) Check Price / Buy Now (Large size)
|The Giottos Rocket Air Blaster comes in three separate sizes and different colors|
If I had to choose one camera accessory to take to a desert island (in addition to a functioning camera of course) I'd probably choose this. The humble air blower. Regardless of whether you're a digital or film user, dust can be a real nuisance. No matter how good your equipment's dust sealing, or how effective your DSLR's inbuilt dust-reduction system is, you will at some point need to intervene manually.
When the large rubber bulb is squeezed, air is forced out of the 'needle' at the Air Blaster's tip. A valve at the base of the Blaster draws in air when you release pressure on the bulb, preventing expelled air from being ingested again. The needle at the Blaster's tip is long enough to poke into a camera's lens throat while allowing a firm grasp on the bulb, and when not in use, four fin-like 'legs' at the Blaster's base allow it to stand freely on a flat surface.
Crucially, since it cleans entirely by manually-pumped air, there is little danger of damaging delicate surfaces as there would be with compressed air (where accelerant can be sprayed out along with the air) or a 'wet' clean using swabs. For this reason if you need to get rid of dust from your camera's sensor we'd always recommend using an air blower first, before resorting to swabs and cleaning fluid. Its applications extend far beyond beyond sensor cleaning, though. The Rocket Air Blaster is very effective, too, at dislodging dust from lens elements and filters as well as computer keyboards and other electronic equipment.
Fotodiox Hand Hold Collapsible Disc, Tri-Fold Reflector + Gray Card/White Balance Digital Target Combo
|The dual-purpose Fotodiox Hand Hold Collapsible Disc, Tri-Fold Reflector + Gray Card/White Balance Digital Target Combo is ideal for portrait photographers, whether they are working in the studio or on location.|
White balance calibration targets range from pocket-friendly grey cards to translucent discs which fit over your lens, but whatever the form-factor it's pretty hard to get excited by them. Not so this clever combination target from Fotodiox.
While one side comprises black, grey and white targets for white balance and exposure measurement, the silver reverse means that it can also be used as a reflector. Should only one of its reflective sides be required it’s possible to fold the target in on itself, or alternatively arrange it so that the light is bounced from a number of directions. Furthermore, in addition to the target providing reference points for black and white, the white panel side may also be used to reflect some light, just as the black side can be employed to minimise reflections for product photography.
Of course, if you only need it for setting white balance then you may as well save some money and opt for a more standard grey card, which will be less of a burden to carry around. Otherwise, for portrait photographers in particular, it may prove to be a perfect combination of two useful accessories.
|Featuring a small form and a clever sling design, the Lowepro 100 AW allows you
to get fast access to a medium-sized DSLR kit without removing the bag from
Originally intended for photojournalists, but now fervently embraced by amateurs, Lowepro’s Slingshot range of camera backpacks is designed with accessibility in mind, allowing you to get fast access to your gear without needing to remove the bag from your shoulders.
The Slingshot 100 AW is large enough to contain an entry- to mid-level DSLR body and lens combination, as well as an additional lens or flashgun and other small accessories. The smaller compartment at the top of the bag can be used to fit a lens hood or even an additional optic, and as with many other Lowepro products an All-Weather (AW) cover is incorporated into its base to guard it against the elements.
The combination of its sling design and a side-opening flap means the bag can be pulled down and opened in seconds, and it can also be used with a secondary strap for greater security. Lowepro has even thoughtfully lined the inside of the flap with a memory card pouch, and integrated a microfibre cloth to quickly polish your camera’s LCD screen.
The Slingshot 100 AW is just one of many sling-type bags of its kind, and Lowerpro's Slingshot range encompasses many other sizes and designs which you may prefer, but for a basic DSLR and lens kits the 100 AW remains as one of the best options around.
|The Satechi TR-series of timer remote controls are affordable, yet well specified
alternatives to branded equivalents.
Time-lapse photography has grown in popularity with the rise of video-sharing websites, although the intervalometer functionality which allows images to be captured at consistent intervals is still absent from many cameras. Owners of such cameras will be pleased to learn, however, that they can still be used for time-lapse photography, either with a remote provided by the camera’s manufacturer, or, failing that, a more affordable third-party option such as the Satechi TR-series Timer Remote Controls.
Satachi produces a range of closely-related models to fit various brands and camera models (click the link above for a full product list) and all TR-series releases can be used for programming consecutive exposures in addition to more basic functions as a simple shutter release and for control over a camera’s bulb setting. Delayed exposures captured at a set time are also possible, and all of this is controlled via the LCD which occupies its upper portion of the device. Helpfully this is also backlit, which makes it usable for both night-time photography and in more general low-light situations.
Perhaps the most most appealing feature of the range is the price of the TR models; at a cent shy of $50 for all of the TR-series they cost significantly less than equivalent models from the camera manufacturers themselves. Between them, the various versions of the basic 'TR-X' design cover a large number of popular DSLR, interchangeable lens and compact cameras.
|Joby's Gorrilapod range stretches from inexpensive supports for compacts
through to sturdier alternatives for professional DSLRs.
As invaluable as they are for countering image blur and enabling steady exposures, there are occasions when carrying around a full-sized tripod simply isn’t practical. For this reason, an lightweight alternative which can be slipped into a small bag and used with similar confidence is going to have a lot of appeal - and the Gorillapod Focus is exactly that.
Based on the same principle as the more junior models which preceded it, the Focus has flexible legs which can be contorted into an endless variety of positions, and tailored to the surrounding environment. It can be wrapped around railings and lampposts, hung from rails and mounted on walls, or simply have its legs fully extended to act like a more conventional tripod.
It might sound a little risky, trusting your expensive gear to something that looks like a cross between pipecleaner and an alien craft, but Joby claims that despite its size and appearance, the Focus’s aluminium and thermoplastic construction enables it to support up to 5kg of equipment. For even greater flexibility, the Focus can be used with a ballhead specifially designed for the model - dubbed Ballhead X - which is available on its own or as a kit with the Focus (this kit is pictured here).
Those who don’t require the Focus’s 5kg support may be more interested in the SLR-Zoom model, which is capable of supporting DSLR/lens combinations of up to 3kg, but at around half the price of the Focus.
|SanDisk's Extreme Pro SDHC UHS-I cards offer an impressive maximum read/
write speed of up to 45MB/s with compatible cameras, and excellent reliability.
The best digital camera in the world is useless without memory to store its photographs. Although its unlikely to be one of the most exciting purchases you'll ever make, a good memory card could end up being one of the most important. In principle, the faster the memory card you install in your camera, the less time it will take for images to be recorded, and the more photographs you can take in a burst. Having a fast card isn't important solely for sports and action photographers though - shorter write times can mean shorter shot-to-shot times, making your camera more responsive.
Currently, dpreview uses a SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC UHS-I card as a 'standard' studio test memory card for cameras that accept SD media. UHS-I is a relatively new standard, which offers faster read and write times compared to conventional SDHC cards from compatible cameras. When dpreview tested the Sony Alpha SLT-A77 recently they saw a significant improvement in burst depth and buffer clear times with a SanDisk Extreme Pro UHS-I card compared to a conventional high-speed SD card. If your camera is compatible with the UHS-I standard you might be surprised at the difference that it makes.
I've featured the 32GB capacity here, but 8GB and 16GB versions are also available.
- Street Price: $139.00 (US) / £79.99 (UK) / €105.39 (EU) Check Price / Buy Now (M43 version)
|The mid-range Di466 may appear as a simple flash unit which lacks the convenience of a rear LCD,
but it's a more powerful alternative to similarly priced flashguns from the likes of Nikon and Canon
One of the most common 'second purchases' for the new DSLR or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera owner is a flash gun.
Currently available for Canon, Nikon and Four Thirds systems, the inexpensive Nissin Di466 Speedlite boasts a guide number of 33m and supports the most recent TTL algorithms for each system (although at time of writing, support for a handful of new camera models is yet to be provided). It lacks the swivel facility common to more expensive flash guns, but its head can be tilted upwards over a 90 degree angle, and comes equipped with the customary reflector card and diffuser panel. The rear of the unit is devoted to simple controls and LEDs for flash compensation adjustment between 1.5EV to +1.5EV, as well as a bright pilot lamp and power control.
Illumination from this small (4.1 inches high) flash covers an impressively wide focal range with its power zoom function, from 28-105mm in 35mm terms, expandable to a 20mm with the built in diffuser panel. Thanks to a built-in stand it can also be conveniently set up as a wireless slave alongside a master flash unit. At this price it’s hard to beat, although the slightly more expensive Sigma EF-610 DG ST delivers greater power and swivel functionality, as well as compatibility with a wider rage of systems.
- Street Price: $169.99 (US) / £109.95 (UK) / €138.90 (EU) Check Price / Buy Now
|The My Book Studio boasts a fanless design for quiet operation, as well as support for both USB and FireWire 800 connectivity.|
One of many third-party accessories finished to match Apple’s iMac and Macbook lines, this aluminium-encased hard drive boasts two FireWire 800 ports, in addition to USB 2.0 connectivity. Formatted for Mac but also compatible with PCs, it comes supplied with Smartware automatic backup software to keep your files safe, although Mac users have the further option of using it in conjunction with Apple’s Time Machine for the same purpose.
As well as complementing Apple's latest lineup of desktop and laptop computers the My Book Studio's aluminium enclosure is also designed to dissipate heat. This means that there's no need for a noisy coolng fan. The My Book's default vertical form factor also gives it a usefully small footprint when space is limited, and it even knows to power down automatically if the computer to which it’s connected does the same.
The further option of password-protection and encryption provide additional layers of security, should it be stolen or accessed by unauthorised users. Users with moderately sized image collections are likely to find its 1TB capacity sufficient, although photographers with sizable libraries of raw and/or HD video files might gravitate towards its 2TB and 3TB stablemates.
- Street price: $179.00 (US) / £130.99 (UK) / €TBC (EU) Check Price / Buy Now (Canon version)
|The Kenko DG Auto Extension Tube Set is available for users of Canon, Nikon and Sony DSLRs|
Extension tubes force a lens to focus closer to the subject than would be otherwise possible, and with no optical elements in their construction they don’t degrade image quality in the same way as a close-up lens or teleconverter might. This, and their low asking price compared to dedicated macro optics explain their enduring popularity, and Kenko’s DG Auto Extension Tube Set is one of the most popular options.
The set comprises three separate tubes - 12mm, 20mm and 36mm - each of which may be used on its own or in combination with any of the others. Each tube is equipped with contacts to maintain autofocus and TTL metering communication between camera and lens, and each also sports a large release button to make dismounting the individual tubes from each other easy.
True, their design is a little dated, and those looking to get into macro photography on a budget should keep in mind that there are a handful of more affordable alternatives available, such as reversing and coupling rings, both of which can be picked up very cheaply. Still, these extension tubes are a more flexible option for photographers with only a few lenses, thanks to the combinations in which they may be used. The most recent Canon version of the tubes provides support for EF-S lenses and both Nikon and Sony-fit versions are also available.
|The 055PROBX weighs 5.3 pounds (2.4 kg) and its centre column can be lifted and swung around to face the ground making it ideal for low-level macro work.||The 498RC2 ballhead offers panoramic markings around its base, as well as a quick-release plate.|
Manfrotto’s aluminium 055XPROB has been around sufficiently long to have earned a favourable reputation among photographers, and with a 7kg load capacity it can comfortably support anything up to professional DSLR and lens combinations. Its main draw, however, is its centre column. This column can be lifted and swung into a horizontal orientation in seconds, making it ideal for low-level macro photography or copy work.
The 055XPROB's adjustable aluminium legs can be set to one of four angles, to allow the camera to be positioned as low as 10cm away from the ground. The legs themselves have three sections, and each can be adjusted with clasp locks to elevate your camera to a maximum operating height of 178.5cm when the centre column is fully extended.
The 498RC2 ball head, meanwhile, is finished and specified to a matching standard, sharing the tripod’s aluminium construction, and slightly exceeding its weight capacity. Its base is also encircled by degree markings for panoramic shooting, while three ergonomically designed knobs allow it to be quickly locked and released.
If you'd prefer something a little lighter, the Manfrotto 190XPROB3, which is also constructed from aluminium features the same headline specifications as the 055XPROB but weighs in at 4 pounds - 1.3 pounds lighter.
|Smartphone applications range from simple depth of field calculators and photo uploaders to more elaborate location and meteorology tools.|
You've probably heard it said that the best camera you own is the one you have on you, but even if you don't use your smartphone's camera all that much, it has the potential to be one of the most useful photographic accessories that you have at your disposal.
Weather information, including times of sunrises and sunsets, can be found within seconds while local transport service updates can help re-plan a route should there be any delays. Most smartphones are also equipped with a GPS system linked to a mapping software as standard, which is ideal if you’ve lost your way or you simply don’t know how to get to a particular location. More recent models may also be equipped with a compass, for when you really have no idea where you are.
As well as its built-in online and geolocation functionality, your smartphone can also host countless mobile applications, many of which have been developed specifically for photographic purposes. Apps are available that can help you to calculate depth of field or work out hyperfocal distance with your camera and lens combination, while others are designed to help you display and upload your images to the web. Still more are on hand to transform the images from your smartphone's camera into minor masterpieces via filter effects.