SLR camera accessories?
November 27, 2007 9:52 AM   Subscribe

GiftFilter: My wife just treated herself to a nice SLR digital camera. I'd like to gift her some accessories or books to help her realize the camera's true potential.

The camera in question is a Canon EOS Rebel XTI. It came with a telephoto lens, camera bag and UV filter. As far as accessories go, I was considering a gorillapod, a macro lens or other type of lens, or some interesting and informative books. Please recommend some cool stuff to enhance her photographing experiences!
posted by gnutron to Technology (33 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Get her a 50-mm ƒ1.4 lens if you can swing it (these are often referred to as "prime lenses").
posted by adamrice at 9:54 AM on November 27, 2007

A flash diffuser. It will soften flash photos. They make them to fit built in flash or external flash units.
posted by Gungho at 9:56 AM on November 27, 2007

Best answer: A fast normal lens is good to have - which on her Rebel will be a 35mm lens, not a 50mm (which it would be on a 35mm film camera.) Canon's 35/f2 ($230-ish) is very nice; I've got one myself. (The 'speed' refers not to focusing speed, but to how wide the shutter aperture can be made; this allows working in lower light. The kit lens she has is pretty slow, by contrast.) Canon makes an even faster version, but it gets very pricey.

adamrice's suggestion of a 50/1.4 isn't bad, but on a Rebel's cropped sensor, it'll have the field of view of a short telephoto rather than a normal, and for a starter setup, I'd definitely recommend the normal instead.

A good tripod with a quick-release would also be useful. Macro lenses are cool, but if you're not going to use the macro capabilities, they're just a pricier, heavier version of a lens length you might not even have bought otherwise - IMHO, it's not a great purchase idea until/unless she's certain she wants to do macro work.

A 'real' external flash, like the 430EX, wouldn't be a bad idea; the built-in flash is all but useless, can't be bounced, etc.

Overall, a lot of it depends on what kind of shots she's taking. If she was going after a lot of flowers and tiny details, the 60mm EF-S macro might be perfect; if she's walking around cities a good wide-angle could be just the thing; if she's doing low-light portraits, a good flash would be a great investment. If you have that kind of information, our recommendations could get a lot more specific.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:05 AM on November 27, 2007

A fast compactflash card (like a SanDisk Ultra IV) will allow her to snap off photos almost as quickly as the camera can write them.

A tripod and a remote switch (like the Canon RS60E3) will help her take longer exposures. For a tripod, the gorillapod is fun, but I also like carrying a unipod, for times when it's getting kind of low-light, but I still want to hand-shoot things.

A flickr pro account makes a great gift too, if you ask me.
posted by Laen at 10:12 AM on November 27, 2007

Definitely a tripod of some sort, and maybe more lenses (wide angle, macro, etc.). Good rechargeable batteries and a large high speed flash card are nice to have too, if you don't have them already.

Also, consider getting a photo printer or a gift certificate to an online printing place.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:17 AM on November 27, 2007

You didn't mention her photography skill level, so I'm going to assume that she's fairly new to it.
Reading the manual the whole way through is often a good start. Seriously.

Also, what about a 1-2 day photography class? I see those listed quite often, usually at the local community center. Go for the basics first.
posted by drstein at 10:18 AM on November 27, 2007

-If she doesn't have it already, the most essential accessory for any camera is a tripod. A GOOD one, or at least a DECENT one. Not a gorillapod, which is a cool novelty but insufficient for many situations. Read this page, and shop around. Ballhead is much more versatile and convenient (trust me on that, I'm stuck with a 3-way panhead that restricts my range of motion to an almost comical degree).

-Photoshop, or a similar graphic design program. That's the number one advantage of digital over film: you can take a shitty exposure and make it adequate, or turn an adequate snapshot into a goddamn modern art masterpiece.

Lenses are a whole other issue. You can blow thousands of bucks on a big set of prime lenses, but unless you're really planning on making a career out of it, you don't need all that. Two or three zoom lenses will work just fine.

This article is a decent overview of the whole DSLR thing.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 10:18 AM on November 27, 2007

50mm 1.8 -- $89
posted by mmdei at 10:22 AM on November 27, 2007

A polarizing filter will do wonders for many of her shots.
posted by The Deej at 10:26 AM on November 27, 2007

Best answer: Oh, a few other helpful terms that'll come up as lenses are suggested, that will help you in your hunting:

"Prime" lenses are those that have a fixed length - ie, they don't zoom. To make up for that, they're much faster (as in wider aperture), are lightweight, and generally cheaper. Basically, all-around better, other than being fixed-focal-length.

"Normal" means a lens is sort-of roughly equivalent to a human field of view. Kind of. Basically, it's a classic length that produces a very 'natural' seeming perspective. On a 35mm film camera, a normal lens is pretty much a 50mm, which is one reason 50s tend to be so cheap and high-quality; for a cropped sensor like on most low and mid-range dSLR, it's more like 28-35mm.

"Wide" and "Telephoto" lenses are on either end of Normal. Note that these are independent of being prime vs zoom - a 300mm lens is a prime telephoto; a 10-22mm is a wide zoom. A "normal zoom" tends to mean something that's approximately normal in the middle, and doesn't go particularly wide or tele at either end. That's probably what your wife has, if she got the 18-55 kit lens - it can go modestly but not particularly wide, and out to be a short telephoto, but not enough to get really far-off stuff.

Macro lenses are just like other lenses, except they're capable of focusing on very up-close things, which makes super-close-ups of things like bugs and flowers possible. Once upon a time, the word was only applied to lenses that could get a life-size image on the sensor (or film), but these days manufacturers throw it onto lenses that can get 1/4 as close.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:27 AM on November 27, 2007

Flickr account!
posted by matildaben at 10:28 AM on November 27, 2007

Oh, and I much prefer a Picasa account to flickr. More free storage.
posted by The Deej at 10:31 AM on November 27, 2007

yeah, flickr pro
posted by matteo at 10:34 AM on November 27, 2007

As for books, Understanding Exposure and Light:Science and Magic are both highly recommended. An off-camera (non-built in) flash will almost eliminate red-eye and enable bouncing; I like the Canon 580 EX but there are other less expensive alternatives. Canon and the aftermarket suppliers have an extensive collection of lenses but I would suggest holding off on those until she knows what type of photography she enjoys (i.e. what's good for sports is not necessarily best for portratis, etc.).
posted by TedW at 10:40 AM on November 27, 2007

I have the 50mm 1.8 mentioned above and LOVE it. Great investment, especially given the price tag.
posted by toomuchpete at 10:51 AM on November 27, 2007

50 Fast Digital Camera Techniques is my favorite "how-to" book. Lots of before/after examples of each topic discussed.
posted by xena at 10:51 AM on November 27, 2007

I agree that a good tripod (and a cable release) is a great idea. "Lack of sharpness" is a major complaint of amateur photos.

I want one of these. I hear they're very useful for shooting outdoors or in bright light.
posted by sevenless at 10:56 AM on November 27, 2007

Best answer: Thirding (fourthing? I lost count) the 50mm lens, in either the f/1.4 or f/1.8 flavors. The f/1.4 is about 3 times the price of the f/1.8 but has more solid construction and performs better in low light without the need for flash.

Here's why this is a must-have: she will use it to take excellent portraits. People will see the pictures she will take of them and immediately comment that she is a good photographer, because the 50mm lenses produce a soft background while keeping the subject in crisp focus. You almost can't take a bad portrait with this lens. It's a big self-esteem boost for a budding photographer to have happy subjects commenting about how great their pictures look.
posted by mullingitover at 10:56 AM on November 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Awesome answers everyone.

One more questo: can someone explain how a 50mm 1.8 lens would be different than the normal 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 lens that came with the camera?
posted by gnutron at 10:59 AM on November 27, 2007

Response by poster: mullingitover: get out of my head!
posted by gnutron at 11:01 AM on November 27, 2007

Canon's 50mm f1.8 lens is a great starting point - good performance for not a lot of money.

If she's new to photography, Understanding Exposure is a good book to read in order to learn about all the different terms and how to create the kind of images you want.
posted by entropic at 11:02 AM on November 27, 2007

Gnutron: F Stop (the "1.8" in "50mm 1.8") is the maximum size of the shutter aperture. Smaller numbers are better, meaning that you can get more light in per amount of time.

Why this is good? You can shoot pictures in lower light without needing a flash. A general rule of thumb is any picture shot without a tripod at speeds less than 1/60" will show camera shake. And using the flash is usually something to be avoided. So, you could shoot using natural light, indoors with the 50mm lens more more often. The 18-55mm telephoto lens has a variable maximum aperture, ranging from 3.5-5.6 meaning you will be forced into using the flash more often than you would like.

Also, the F Stop helps you hack the depth of field. A smaller F Stop = larger aperture (more light) = narrower depth of field. Being able to really isolate a single element within the picture leads to fun and interesting composition techniques. The 3.5-5.6 wouldn't be as good for that. (see mullingitover's comment)

Also, fixed focal lengths can be at first a slight annoyance to the user, but the idea of "You have to move your body to get the shot" adds a sort of interactivity to the process vs "Well, I'll just stand here and zoom in or out as necessary."

Apologies if this was overly simplistic. Also, I pretty much only shoot with my Canon 50mm 1.8, so I'm a fan of the lens (my Sigma telephoto almost never gets any use).
posted by mjbraun at 11:16 AM on November 27, 2007

The XTi comes with a rather stiff all-nylon neck strap. It's edges are rough on the skin and it's too stiff to coil gracefully into a camera bag. I was happy when I swapped mine out for an all-cloth one ($20). As far as lenses go, the 100mm f/2.8 Canon Macro lens is consistently drooled over for professional-level optical quality in macro and portrait ranges ($400).

Also, Aperture or Lightroom would be a colossal step up from the gimpy Canon software for RAW processing and basic post-production work. I have an XTi, a few lenses, filters, bags, etc. but I'm still bummed that I don't have one of those programs to streamline things off-camera.
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:17 AM on November 27, 2007

Gnutron: The big advantage on the 50-mm fixed-length lens is that it stops down to f1.4 (or 1.8, or whatever). That changes your shooting dynamics. For one thing, the bigger aperture (smaller number = bigger opening) means you can shoot at a faster shutter speed, for better low-light photography. For another, bigger aperture means shallower depth of field, as mullingitover alluded to. That means that only the area she's focusing on is actually in focus; the foreground and background will be blurry. With higher f-stops, the DoF increases, which limits your artistic options.

The kit lens only stops down to f3.5 (at best), which is 3 or 4 stops tighter than f1.4. Captures less light, and has more DoF. It also weighs more, I think, and gives you one more variable (zoom) to worry about.
posted by adamrice at 11:21 AM on November 27, 2007

The lower the F- number the wider the apeture. Lower numbers means that the lens can open up and allow more light in. This can also mean a faster shuuer speed can be used in low light situations. The difference between f 3.5 and f1.8 is two 'stops'. Meaning that if you have to shoot at 1/15 second at f 3.5 you can shoot at 1/60 second at f 1.8
posted by Gungho at 11:25 AM on November 27, 2007

gnutron, the 1.8 aperture is the biggest difference in the lenses. By opening the aperture further (smaller number=lets in more light) the lens can still operate quickly in low-light settings and provide a shallow depth of field (which draws tons of compliments).
posted by sjuhawk31 at 11:25 AM on November 27, 2007

...or, what they all said.
posted by sjuhawk31 at 11:26 AM on November 27, 2007

2nding cowbell's suggestion of Lightroom. I have it, and a few "presets" for processing photos, and it's a brilliant way to add interesting color treatments on photos or simply correct a slightly over/underexposed shot, which you'll find as a new photographer (like myself).
posted by sjuhawk31 at 11:28 AM on November 27, 2007

A 'normal' lens for a 1.6x cropped sensor is closer to 28mm, not 35mm. I have the 28mm (f/2.8?) but I barely use it since I got the 28-135 IS, which is a great lens and fairly inexpensive. That range is pretty good unless she's shooting wildlife or something. I came to digital from Hasselblad so I kind of always thought prime=better but really modern optics are so good it doesn't matter unless you have some kind of specific need for an ultra-low f/stop or something.

Non-lens wise I think Lightroom is a good idea, I don't know how I functioned without it previously. I would also look into photo 101 type classes at a local community college (digital or wet darkroom, doesn't matter). That will help her develop her eye and learn to talk about photos critically, which is a lot more helpful than any amount of gear.
posted by bradbane at 11:35 AM on November 27, 2007

While my one-lens-buy suggestion is still a 35/2.0, the 50/1.8 does make a really great super-cheap portrait lens. At a 1.6x crop, it functions like an 80mm lens - and 85mm is, depending on who you ask, the classic portrait-shooting length.

Photoshop's also good to have (*not* the crippled but cheaper Elements.) It's pricey, but as you may have noticed, most worthwhile photo stuff is noncheap. (Exceptions: Lighting can be done on the cheap depending on what it is; the 50/1.8 is a heckuva bargain.) If you get it, though, also invest in a good book on it. I'm a fan of those that are specifically aimed at photographers - a huge portion of Photoshop's functionality is worthless for photo work, and none of it is particularly intuitive for a newcomer, even if you know the effect or adjustment you want.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:37 AM on November 27, 2007

I think, no amount of lens, gear or filters or tricks will let you take good photos.

If you think about it, all you are doing is recording light.

I recommend, that you take the money you would use on all your gear and enroll in a night class for photography.

The better you get with photos, the more you realize it doesn't matter what gear you got; if you know how to take good picture, you can take good pictures even with a crappy range finder. (as a matter of fact, a famous well known photographer only used a Fixed 50mm lens on a range finder for all his photo work. )

Anyway, other then that, in all my photo career, the most useful thing is a tripod, #1. After that a Off camera flash. And then after that a fold-up diffuser/reflector. (and a bag to hold all these)
posted by countzen at 1:18 PM on November 27, 2007

I would recomend not getting the 50mm lens and definitely getting the aforsuggested 35mm f2. On the cropped sensor camera like the XT the 50mm lens will end up being an 85mm lens, which is quite long. It's great for taking portraits but is not an everyday walk around lens. A lot of people are into them because they are sharp and fast, but they make you back far away from what you are taking pictures of....not the best way to become a good photographer.

The 35mm f2 is not a perfect lens, optically, but it's pretty damn good. It works really well on the small sensor cameras. It's quite fast and will give you the rought equivalent of a 50mm lens on a regular (film or full size sensor) camera.

This probably all sounds like gobbledigook, but I definitely recomend the 35mm. It's super fun. It will not limit her. The 50mm may, and she may get some weird ideas about photography in the process.

I wouldn't necessarily suggest a tripod. Definitely not a flash diffuser (total waste of time, another favorite of amateurs that doesn't really do anything). Tripod is great but a nice fast sharp lens is WAY better.
posted by sully75 at 1:48 PM on November 27, 2007

I recently got an XTi a few months ago myself.

I'd like an "Understanding Exposure" book for myself so I third that recommendation.

If she wants to do walk around photography without looking too conspicuous I highly recommend this sling bag: Lowepro Slingshot 100. I've used it in a variety of situations from covering a video game convention, to rockclimbing, to just my sunset beach path walks.

As a female I appreciate not completely advertising the fact that I have a moderately expensive camera on my person.

For event photography the sling and side zip feature means I can sling it forward without removing it, take a picture and then put the camera back in quickly.

On the lens note, I recently got to use a higher model Canon (the 5D) with some really nice Canon "L" lenses, if you can swing one it would be a very nice gift. I own a non "L" lens, a 50mm 1.8 and am happy with it but price played a big factor in that purchase otherwise I may have gone for a 35mm.

Software wise I recommend Photoshop CS3. It has features particularly useful for digital photography as well as a stand alone application called Bridge that you can use for organization and more.

If you don't want to go the no additional cost route, I recommend just using the supplied software and then Picasa for quick viewing, organization and simple editing.

And finally, I'll second the compact flash card suggestion to round out any gift package.
posted by Fricka at 1:22 AM on November 28, 2007

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