Tool / Toy of the 'Week'

Inspired by my fellow photo club members, here's a compilation of "Rich's Toy of the Week" from our weekly club newsletter.  I've recently change this from 'Toy' of the week to 'Tool / Toy' since my accountant pointed out that these are now tools since they are tax deductible. And really, they are just tools that we use even if they most of the time feel like toys!

It's a tool, not a toy! (stip #744)

*What the Duck is an online comic strip. Viewers are welcome to link, post, copy/paste, or save the strips to their own sites, blogs, forums, newsletters, etc.

September 29 (guess the year!)
Still with the straps! Found another that seems to give the Black Rapid a run for it's money - Sun Sniper. Better attachment to the belt, but still a bit pricey.
December 2
Back to the straps and other ways to hold a camera when you're not shooting.  This one comes from the Cottoncarrier Camera Systems.  This is either a vest type carrier or belt with an adapter that fits on the bottom of the camera.  You have to turn the camera 90 degrees to release the camera.  

October 31
If you've never hear of GigaPan then check out their website.  An amazing system of taking lots (100's) of pictures to create a very high resolution panoramic image.

September 2
If you're looking to make a small pano (low resolution) then you might want to look at Pano Pro. A little pricey, but could be interesting.
February 5
Back to white balance - the eternal 'Holy Grail' of digital photography. A few weeks ago I found a product that you carried around with you as a small card or key chain fob. How about one that stores on your lens cap? Precision Caps has done just that. It turns your lens cap into a gray card that you place in the photo. You then use the gray card when converting the raw file to set the white balance. Available for almost every brand of lens. Also available in gray/white and gray/white/black for finer adjustments.

January 24, 2009
Ever want to dabble with a shift lens? Find the $1k+ cost of the lens a bit prohibitive? The guys at Araxfoto make an adapter to put on the bottom of the lens. Not quite a sharp as the real deal but not bad! Last price check was $89. They also have tilt adapters for $129.

December 24
Camdapter hand strap. It attaches with a plate to the bottom of the camera and then to the top strap mount on your camera.
December 16
White balance can be a constant problem, specialy when you're inside with mixed lighting.  Carrying around a grey card or other white balance tool can be a bit of a challenge until these guys came along. has a keychain or credit card sized grey card that's virtually indestructable.

December 11
It's heeeaaaar! After an announcement in September and pre-ordered before that, I finally have a Canon 5D Mark II.  I've been using a full frame Canon 1Ds for the last 3 years and really like what it can do.  This will now become my main portrait and fine art camera.  I'm still shooting houses with the Rebel, however!

October 13
This is the second time I've put a camera strap up here - it seems to be an obsession just like camera bags and tripods. This one goes cross body and the camera attaches from the tripod mount. The camera slides along the strap as you bring it up from your hip to shoot. Very natural and seems to look like a winner. I've one on order and it might replace my UpStrap! There's also a version with pockets for accessories and a camo version.

September 26
I've tried a number of color calibration units for my monitors and even one for printer (it sucked) but I finally think that I've found one that works pretty well and for the money is a bargain. X-Rite (who now owns most of the competition) earlier this year (2008) came up with a new system called the Colormunki (think animal) that will calibrate your monitor(s), generate profiles for printers, pick up spot colors (can you match the color on my shoes?) and - here's the really good part - calibrate a projector hooked up to your computer. In the past a system like this would be anywhere from $1,500 - $3,000. The Colormunki is one unit and goes for about $500. Best part is - it actually works! Go for the Photo version.

September 25
I finally got so tired of cleaning my sensors with the 'clean - take picture - load picture into PS - repeat' method that I went out and purchased a sensor scope. What a great tool!! Shortens the cleaning cycle from minutes to seconds and does a nice job. While I have a Delkin, I'd recommend the loupe from VisibleDust.
April 22
I recently subscribed to JPG Magazine and one of the giveaways was an Ultrapod. Very cool and useful!
January 6, 2007
I noticed this item a while ago and recently became interested in it again. Problem: you're taking a macro photo of a flower or something similar and the breeze keeps moving the flower. Wimberly has a clamp where one end attaches to your tripod and the other to the plant holding it still - called the Plamp.
December 12
Think Tank Photo has a lot of innovative stuff but the item that I have my eye on is the Pixel Sunscreen. I take my laptop along with me to use the GPS navigation software and the sun makes it hard to see as well as heats up the notebook. This gizmo keeps the glare off and lets you see the screen. Now if they only made it in a white exterior to keep the interior cool.
November 4, 2006
It has been a really long time since I've found a new tool worth mentioning and this one is a bit of a stretch, so there will be a bit of story to explain how we got to this one.  This summer I bought my very first official and very visible PHOTOGRAPHERS VEST. (read that with an echo and lots of reverb)  It was a purchase born out of necessity and I really came to appreciate what those silly looking things do for your workflow - not to mention how polite people are now when I ask to step in front of them to take a picture. "Hon, please step aside for the PHOTOGRAPHER so that he can work."  Kinda nice!  Well, recently I needed a new coat as the leather one I've had for 15+ years has worn out.  Off to the stores to find something with lots of pockets, kind of like a PHOTOGRAPHERS VEST but an actual winters coat. Nothing to be found that isn't unbelievably out of my price range.  Now a long time ago (read 5 years) I'd heard of a guy who invented a vest to put all of his electronic gadgets into so he could get through the airport faster.  Called the ScotteVest it's now on it's 4th version - yes v4.0 - and now has 40 pockets!  So... I have one - with the fleece liner (that adds 12 more pockets for a total of 52) and makes it suitable for year round.  Check out the web site at and drool over the goodies.  I really like mine!  And check out the vestimonials (his word not mine).  Some are amazing.

October 8
Visible Dust, maker of the Sensor Brush (see below) has done it again.  This time, they've developed a way to charge the brush without using compressed air with the Artic Butterfly.

August 18
Time for another book and this is a good one.  I recently subscribed to LensWork magazine and really enjoy it.  The editor Brooks Jensen has compiled a small book of some of his articles and editorials from the past 10 years and published them as Letting Go of the Camera.  No matter where you are in your photographic journey these articles will get you in the proper frame of mind to expand and improve your viewpoint and skills.  This is one of those books that I'll continue to pick up and read again and again.
June 17
Now why would I be talking about just a little shoulder strap for your camera?  Everyone that gets this goes zealous over the fact that it just doesn't slip off your shoulder - ever.  Available for cameras and camera bags.  Get them direct from the web site for about $30 each.  I just got mine and it's true - I can't get it to slip off my shoulder.  Incredible.

January 17
Sensor Brush
Continuing with the digital SLR sensor cleaning theme this is another product to check out.  While it's only been out a few months the reviews are very good and this looks like a winner.


January 14, 2005
CO-2 Duster from American Recorder
For those of you that clean your own sensors, this little kit will supply you with absolutely clean compressed CO2 gas.  Other sources of CO2 and canned air can have moisture and lubricants that you don't want all over your sensor.
December 30
Canon ST-E2 wireless flash transmitter
In order to use your flash off of the camera, you usually need an off camera cord (see Toy from 12/23/03). With this transmitter, you get rid of the cord! It can also control multiple flash units in 2 different groups allowing you to adjust the light output between the 2 groups. The 550EX and 580EX also have this master control capability. Another feature is that the unit can be used for low (or no) light focusing assistance. The ST-E2 will emit a pattern of red lines that the camera will use to focus before shooting. Available almost anywhere. Bonus for Nikon users, some DSLR's have the master control feature built into the on camera flash. Score one for Nikon.
December 20
Wacom Intuos3 graphics tablet
Back to the post processing equipment. If you've ever tried to do small delicate editing in Photoshop using a mouse then you should try a graphics tablet. I've done without one for years and I finally broke down and got a tablet. I had several hundred pictures to edit and I'd heard how wonderful a tablet can be. Well, they weren't kidding. The stylus with the tablet is so natural that I don't even pick up the mouse much any more. It comes with a 5 button mouse and is powered by the USB port. Both the stylus and mouse get their power from the tablet so there are no batteries and no external power supply. Control in Photoshop is amazing - these were made for each other. Go to the Wacom site and run the little wizard to figure out which of their models is appropriate for your work.

December 12
Welcome back. I was talking to some friends last night and learned that they still check for new stuff here! Sorry I've not been updating this. Here you go.

Stroboframe Press-T flash bracket
I'm still shooting homes and now I'm also shooting weddings so flash shadow is very important. With this little gizmo I can keep the flash above the camera in either landscape or portrait orientation. More importantly, when in portrait mode, the camera is rotated counter-clockwise to keep the vertical grip in the proper place. Most of the other rotating flash grips rotate the camera clockwise. Also the bottom bracket is thin enough to still allow me to grip the camera vertically.

June 26
Leveling Center Column
I use this with the previous Toy to get a quick level on the head when taking the panoramic shots. I could use the built in level on my tripod, but that can be a rather tedious process where using this center column is very quick. Just a quick twist at the bottom to release it, adjust using the built in level on the column, then tighten down and shoot. The bottom knob comes off for easy removal and replacement with my other center column that has my ball head attached. A big time saver.

May 23
Panoramic tripod head
The topic this week is panoramic photography. We've discussed it at past club meetings and I've even taken a few shots and stitched them together with Photoshop and the Panorama Factory. For panos in close places, however, parallax error can be a problem unless the camera and lens rotate about the nodal point of the lens. To center the camera over this point you'll need a special head for your tripod like the one on the right. There are many other models and even a few companies that specialize in panoramic product. I'm using this one to shoot home interiors for virtual tours.

May 10
Radio remote controls
OK... this is a bit out there but I've recently added wireless (radio) triggers to my studio flash units. I'm using the system from Pocket Wizard as it's not too expensive, seems to be sold everywhere, and my light meter has an integrated transmitter for the Pocket Wizard system. These are used instead of a sync cord to trigger the flash units. The advantage is that I no longer have to worry about where the cord is and keeping it out of the way. The transmitter mounts in the hot shoe of the camera and can use either the hot shoe or a cord to trigger from the camera. The receivers connect to the flash heads with another cord. Another advantage of this system is now I have a way to remotely trigger - my camera! Yup, with a cord (that I built) I can mount the receiver on the camera and plug into the remote cable release socket (see the March 8th toy) of my camera. Since the range of these are 1,600 feet I can be a long way away from the camera when I trigger. Think of the possibilities!

May 3
I can't believe it's taken me this long to talk about a monopod. If you just can't take a tripod with you then carry a monopod (or one legged "tri"pod). They cost much less than a tripod and start at about $35 for a decent one. The Bogen 679 is a nice starter. If you want to get fancy I've tried an auto adjusting one from Adorama.
April 26
Chest Strap
Occasionally someone will ask me how to keep the camera from swinging while they are hiking or just walking around. There are several chest straps available including this one from Lowepro. A friend just picked up the Tamrac N-75 from Roberts and likes it very much. Less than $30.
April 19
Portable reflector
When you're on a location and need a little extra reflected light or want to diffuse the direct light then one of these is very nice. This particular model has silver and gold reflecting surfaces as well as a white or black cover that fit over a translucent circular disk. I've a 32" model that folds down into a 12" pouch that fits in my camera bag. You can also use the black or white surfaces for backgrounds. I recently use mine at the butterflies (I keep going back!) to give a nice warm color to some butterfly chrysalis' and orchids. About $45.
April 12
External Flash Battery
I've a shoot coming up where I'll need to take hundreds of flash photos and I need a lot of battery power for my 550EX flash unit. I did a bit of research and there are 3 options, Canon, Quantum and Digital Camera Battery. The Canon attaches to a special connector at the bottom of the flash to power the flash tube only and uses either 6 AA batteries (not much improvement over the 4 in the flash) or 6 C cells - large and then I have to dispose of batteries. Quantum has a unit but you have to replace the batteries in the flash and strap the battery door closed. I really hate something that has to be 'adapted' and doesn't really work with the design of the flash to begin with. The Digital Camera Battery unit is rechargeable, connects to the special connector like the Canon battery, has 2 regulated outputs and works on the principal of getting an adapter cord to fit whatever you are powering. I got the proper cord for my camera and the recycle times are amazingly fast. You can also get adapter cords for cameras and even your PC. There is also a case with a belt clip and shoulder strap. I've talked to several others that have this gizmo and they have yet to run the battery down during a shoot.
April 6
Hand Strap
OK... I'm stretching a bit here, but I recently got a hand strap for my 10D and it's really helping when I doing a lot of rapid shooting - like chasing butterflies. The E-1 hand strap attaches to the bottom of a power grip or booster and the right side strap mount and allows you to hold the camera with only one hand without gripping the camera very tightly. One nice feature is a little metal clip that allows you to still attach the neck strap as well. Granted that not all cameras are able to use one of these, but for those that can it's very nice.
March 29
Bean Bag
When you need a little more stability to take the shot and a tripod isn't practical (or you left it in the car) a bean bag in the kit does a nice job. I could have used one yesterday when I was on my belly shooting butterflies. You can make your own, go to the hobby store and see what they have or go to Grippa in England and get one.
March 22
Better Beamer
Have you ever wanted to have more reach on your flash and thought that the only way was to get a bigger flash? There is a better way - the Better Beamer. This is a very simple attachment to your flash - brand doesn't matter - that focuses the light much farther away from the camera. This image by Larry Grider from the Photo Venture Camera Club's competition for March used this device. It folds down to a very small size and it relatively inexpensive at $36. Just be careful where you point it. I've read of people accidentally pointing the flash at the sun while fiddling with their camera and looking up to see their flash melting from the sun being focused back onto the flash head! There is a nice write up with example images up on Luminous Landscape.
March 15th
Filter Pouch
If you've been playing around with different filters then you've probably managed to collect a few filters. How do you keep them organized and clean when they're not on the camera? I use a filter pouch from Lowepro. It has 6 pockets and will take my 77mm filters quite nicely. I can usually get up to 2 filters in each pocket in the pouch so there's plenty of room. The pouch will 'roll' up, is water-resistant and made of ripstop fabric.
March 8
Remote Cable Release
I can't believe that I've gone this long without mentioning this little jewel. If you are using your tripod to steady your shot, then you really should also be using one of these. They are traditionally a mechanical device for the pre-electronic cameras and are a wire and switch for most of the electronic, computerized newfangled film eaters. They can be as simple a just a switch or as complicated as a little computer to set number of exposures and time between exposures and how long to hold down the button. On the right is one from Canon, but everyone has them. This is definitely something that you should buy at the same time that you get your tripod if you haven't already done so!
March 1
Extension Tubes
Well it's almost time for the butterflies again at the Hilbert Conservatory and I'm looking for a better way to get close ups of those elusive little critters. While the macro works well sometimes it's better to get a little more working distance with a telephoto. By using extension tubes, you are enlarging the image in the camera without adding any more glass (or distortions) and keeping the image sharp. You will, however, lose a stop or two of light. I don't have any yet, but the Kenko line is known to be a very good bargain - much less than the name brand extensions. These are not to be confused with a teleconvertor which does contain optics and will degrade the sharpness of the image. Using a longer extension will give a larger image but also less light. Here they are at B&H.
February 23
Tripod carrying strap
Another tripod goodie that was very useful on the trip. This strap clips onto a ring near the top of my tripod that can be used to hang a counterweight and the other end is a loop that straps around the end of the legs. You then sling it over you shoulder and your hands are free. I got mine locally for about $30.
February 16
Tripod Leg Protectors
Yes, that's what it says - leg protectors for your tripod. The catch is that the protectors are really for your hands - not the finish on the legs. When working out in the cold the tripod legs can get very very cold. Have you ever picked up your 'pod after shooting on a winters day? Makes you think of the kid with his tongue stuck to the flagpole. These cover the legs and make the tripod much easier to handle on cold days. Speaking from experience on my last trip these things really do work. I have a hunch that I'm going to like these this summer as well. They also deaden the clanking noise from my 'pod when it flops around in the trunk of my car. In the $32 price range from B&H. I picked my up at Cord.
January 26
Catch-all bag
My camera bag seems to gather a lot of little things like batteries, memory cards, bubble levels and such. I went looking for something hard to put just the batteries in and came across these little bags at Galyans. They are mesh on one side so you can see what's inside (canvas on the other), have a zipper closer and a clip hook if you want to hang it on something. Originally made for camping and hiking they are perfect for the odds and ends in the camera bag. Mine holds my extra batteries and memory cards. Only a few dollars at a sporting goods store near you.
January 12
Seconic L358 light meter
Yes - even with a digital camera you'll still find a need for a good light meter. It's most useful in the studio for triggering the lights and setting the power outputs and ratios. I also use it for checking the exposure for my slides as well. This one is a good compromise of features and price and while it doesn't have a spot meter, you can add one later if you like. And for those of you with a Pocket Wizard wireless system, you can add a module to the meter to trigger the PWs.
December 25
Merry Christmas! Still making up for missing weeks, this 'weeks' toy is a gadget that I've come to rely on in the studio as well as tough lighting situations. It's a little pricey in my opinion, but after having it for a while it's really saved me time color balancing my shots. Available only from their web site. It also can double as a lens cap.
December 23
Off-Camera flash cords
Looking for a last minute gift? These are handy little devices that don't take much room in the camera bag and can really help your flash pictures. Connect in between your flash and the camera hot shoe to hold the flash up higher. You can get much more dramatic lighting effects and eliminate any chance of red eye with this cord. Available from most everyone here are the ones from Nikon and Canon.
December 22
It's been a couple of busy weeks so it's time for another gadget. While this one isn't in the camera bag, it's in the lab and gets a lot of use, especially when I'm evaluating slides. I started out with an inexpensive magnifier and then soon upgraded to a lens grade one from Promaster. While the inexpensive one worked, there were obvious optical irregularities and distortions that made evaluating images difficult. Try a cheap one first for about $10 then go and look through a good one at the store, if you dare.
December 1
Angle Finder for Canon or Nikon
Last year I was taking a shot very low to the ground looking straight up and I had a very difficult time seeing in the view finder so I went out and got this little gadget. It attaches to the viewfinder and provides a right angle view into the viewfinder for easier viewing. The Canon version also allows for a 2.5x magnification for easier focusing with macro work.
November 27
Real World Photoshop 7
For most of us this is a short work week and you might have some time to sit around and relax. Now would be a good time to read a little of this amazingly detailed and very well written book by David Blatner and Bruce Fraser. The topics are dead on and the examples very easy to understand and put into practice. I've learned more about color management (a favorite topic lately if you haven't noticed by the toy selection) that I probably should ever need to know but I'm finding it fascinating. $50 and a bit pricey but it is 800+ pages!
November 18
Colorvision Spyder Monitor Calibrator
It seems that almost every week someone asks me why what's on their screen doesn't match what comes out of the printer. The problem is usually that the color on their monitor isn't calibrated properly. Until I got this device I was very frustrated by the same problem. Now, things are much better - still not perfect - but then the system to fix that problem would be much more than the $169 that this costs. Probably one of the best toys I have and some of the best money that I've spent in my digital photography 'darkroom'. Monaco Systems also have very good products as well. If you want to spend the big bucks check out GretagMacbeth.
November 10
Hot shoe two axis bubble level
A double axis spirit level that mounts effortlessly to the hot shoe of any standard 35mm SLR camera to help achieve a finer degree of accuracy in capturing image content. Ideal for QTVR shooting sessions. Paul showed us this one at last weeks meeting. Thanks for the idea Paul!

November 3
Macbeth mini color checker
Mostly for the digital shooters, but also valuable for the film crowd. Ever have trouble getting the color balance just right? Have your model hold this or put it somewhere in the picture for the first take and you have a known, calibrated reference shot that you or your lab can use to adjust your white and tone balance. Two sizes are available - 3 1/2" x 2 1/2" and 8 1/2" x 11". Of course the smaller size costs a few dollars more! (And yes, the link and image are from B&H.)
October 27
Manfrotto micro positioning plate
Time to get small - macro small. Ever been taking really close up macro shots with your camera at the minimum focusing distance and you just can't seem to get the tripod / camera at just the right distance? This plate attaches between the camera and the tripod and allow you to make extremely small adjustments in camera distance. It also has a quick release lever for quick adjustments before fine tuning.
October 23
National Geographic's Photography Field Guide
About a year ago I purchased a number of books to learn more about photography. One that I enjoyed the most was this one. While it covers the basics of equipment and technique as do a lot of other books what it adds are personal experiences and narratives from some of the NGC staff photographers. This is one of those books that I keep going back to for a re-read. Small enough to fit into your camera bag to take with you there's a bonus: the inside covers are gray cards. The second edition was released in June of 2003. There are also portrait and landscape editions.
October 16
Lumiquest ProMax
Photography is all about the light and flash photography is doubly so. My gadget this week is a flash reflector that also has a mini ‘softbox’ modifier that attaches to the external flash on your camera. Lumiquest, among other, make a number of gizmos that attach to your flash to soften the light. I use their Promax system to get a softer look to my flash pictures. The Promax folds flat enough to easily in the camera bag and with the included Velcro straps will fit on any flash. True, it isn’t a real softbox and you will still get some shadowing, but the edges are much less harsh and the light is much softer than directly from the flash. There are also silver and gold inserts to change the color of the light. 
October 8
Instead of keeping a brush, microfiber cloth and cleaning solution in the bag, this small marker sized device has a retractable brush in one end and a lens cleaning pad with cleaning solution in the other end. I like to use it for the light cleanings that you occasionally need. It's not a replacement for the cloth and solution, but much easier to carry. They are about $10 at local stores.
September 23
Wein Safe-Sync
Mounts on the hot shoe of your camera and supplies a PC flash connection. Many of the newer cameras (anything electronic with a processor in it) cannot tolerate voltages higher than 6-9 volts. Some studio lighting can put out over 200 volts back into the camera frying the internal electronics of the camera. The newer digital cameras are most prone to damage from studio lighting. The Safe-Sync limits the voltage to 6 volts and will protect your camera from damage. This is a "must have" accessory if you are going to use any PC connected lighting. Both Roberts and Cord Stock them.
last modified 09/29/2010 6:10 AM
Canon Nikon Gepe Promaster Nikon Canon