Well we are less than a month from Christmas. I never thought about doing this post until this last week. So, although it should have been out before Thanksgiving, here it is anyway. Of course we all know that cameras and camera equipment do not a good photographer make. However, we also know that the right tools can make the job much easier. So we always drool over this or that item. Sometimes we don't even know we want/need something until we see another photographer shooting with it.
This first item is something that I never thought about putting on my list until this summer when I saw a couple people with them. It never occurred to me that my strap that came with my venerable D80 was not really all that well designed. That is until I saw someone using a BlackRapid strap. These are awesome. I am definitely getting one (cannot believe I have not already rushed out to get it). Now I need to wait until after the holidays in case someone decides to get one for me (hint hint). The strap will let the camera hang so comfortably at your side (instead of bouncing off your chest) until you need it. Then with one swift and natural move it is up in place to shoot. They have several, including a strap specifically for women.
They have video on their site showing the use of the strap too. Make sure to check it out.
The second thing that is like a must have for any photographer is a tripod. This is especially needed for low light photography. It also works nice if you want to take photos of yourself. There are a lot of really good tripods out there. And let's face it, it's a tripod. Nothing revolutionary about them. The biggest differences will be first, in the material it is made out of, and second, the head on top and how well it works. Don't feel you need to go expensive unless you have a need for extreme light weight, or really stiff or something. I happen to stand 6'6" tall. My venerable cheap tripod that I got from Walmart 26 years ago has worked well, but it has always been short. I was in Best Buy the other day and found something pretty amazing. A Sunpak tripod that is listed as standing 72" tall! Now this is something where design matters a lot. I think they measure these without the center post extended too, because once I extended the center post all the way up it would put the camera above my eye level. At $99 it is more expensive than my $49 cheapy, and it weighed about twice as much, but it is totally worth it. They had a really nice Manfrotto that was very tall to, but for me I am not quite ready to spend two Franklins on a tripod yet.
For stocking stuffers you can never go wrong with memory cards. I always recommend to buy a name brand card. Do not go cheap on these. The last thing you want is a memory card failure during your parents 50th wedding anniversary or your child's 1st birthday! There are some really good places to go for memory cards. I usually go through www.tigerdirect.com or www.newegg.com for computer related stuff and memory cards, but you could go to www.bhphotovideo.com or www.adorama.com for your cards too. You will find them a lot cheaper on line than in a brick and mortar store.
If you have someone that wants to move beyond a point and shoot and start to get more involved in photography, then I would recommend one of the FujiFilm bridge cameras. I think I would go right to the top of the line of these with the FujiFilm HS20 camera. This is just a downright awesome camera for someone that wants to have a wide range of features without spending a mint on lenses and such. I started my serious digital photography with a FujiFilm S5200 and loved it. I put several people in the HS10 and they adore the camera. Yeah it has a bit of shutter lag compared to my D80 and has a touch more digital noise at higher ISOs, but for around $450 you have a camera that will do focal lengths from 28mm to 720mm with an optical stabilized lens, macro photography, has a hot shoe for external flash, and even does video.
One of the really important things for those that shoot a DSLR is lenses. There are a lot of choices here and it can get really confusing at times. Remember that for any particular focal length there are several "right" choices between brands, and even sometimes slight differences in models. I am going to list here some of what I consider top choices.
One lens that I think is a must lens in anyones camera bag is the 50mm f/1.8 lens. It is just a top notch solid all around lens. The aperture is so wide and lets in so much light. When you want to take photos of family inside a house or kids at a concert this is a great lens to have. Sure it is not a zoom lens, and you might have to crop later if you cannot get quite close enough, but you will have the light you need. Canon has one for you Canon shooters out there. If you are shooting Nikon you will want the G model if you have like a D5100, D40, D3100, or one of the other low end bodies that does not have a focus motor in the body. If you have something like my trusty D80 or the D7000 I drool over or a D300 etc. you can get the less expensive model of the 50mm.
I love Sigma lenses too. If you are looking for a really nice and inexpensive zoom lens then Sigma is a very nice way to go. A good all around lens for kids sports and other outside shooting is the 50mm to 200 mm lens. It is wide enough at the bottom end for some nice portraits, but will reach out and touch someone too. This particular Sigma lens has optical stabilization (OS - on Nikon lenses it is called VR and on Canon lenses it is called IS) for the low price of $159. They also have an 18 mm to 200 mm that is both without OS and with OS for the lens. Keep in mind that the links I have are for the Nikon mount version. If you shoot Canon or some other body make sure you get a compatible mount lens.
If you plan on shooting birds or wildlife and need even more reach Sigma has a lens for that too. They have a really nice 70-300mm lens that will do macro photography too. It does not have OS, but is a really nice camera. If you are shooting outside in the sun with fast shutter speed it should be fine (oh and with that tripod you got this Christmas). They also have the same lens with OS. I cannot stress how important the extra focal length is if you want to get wildlife that is a ways out there. The nice thing is that these Sigma lenses will not break the bank.
For Canon shooters I really am not the person to recommend anything with camera bodies. I shoot Nikon and FujiFilm. Those are what I know. Sorry. For those that shoot Nikon, well we are still waiting on an announcement for a D400 or a D800 or any of the other rumored upper end bodies. If you are looking for something this year though to replace an older body there are a couple really nice choices. Either the D5100 or the D7000. Both of these cameras have the same image sensor in them. So they both do AWESOME for high ISO shooting. I mean incredibly awesome!!! If you shoot a lot of low light then these bodies will rock your socks off. I am gunning for the D7000 personally. The D5100 is a definite entry level body. It does not have a focus motor built in. It also will not run as a commander for the Nikon Creative Lighting System. It has fewer focal points, and slower frames per second. But it is also something $400 less than the D7000. If you are looking for shooting family photos then it is a solid choice. But if you want to do sports, or get more serious in shooting then spend the money for the D7000. It is just rock solid. If you need the rapid shooting of continuous frames per second on it though, and want to go above 10 frames before the buffer fills, you will need to shoot JPG AND you will need a memory card that is the UHS-1 specification so you get a faster card. Yes they are more expensive, but well worth it if you need a longer burst of shots. I cannot say enough about either of the cameras, but especially the D7000. Personally I would steer away from the D3100. For only $200 more you get a lot more camera.
Well I hope this holiday season gets you exactly what you want. I put a few suggestions here. If you have others (I know a lot was left out here) put them in the comments below. I am anxious to hear what others think are needed items for shooting.