When I was about 10 years old, I begged my parents for a pocket-sized transistor radio. I didn't really want the radio very much; instead, I secretly wanted to pretend it was a number of other things, including a walkie-talkie and a camera. That's right: Cameras were too expensive for 10 year olds, so I asked for something more affordable as a prop for my photographic imagination. Since then, I've learned to ask for what I really want. To help you do the same, I rounded up a bunch of cool photo gadgets in the first part of my annual holiday gift guide. Here's part two, filled with more software and camera peripherals. Happy holiday shopping!
Shiny New Photo Editing Software
I recently discovered that a friend of mine is still using Corel Paint Shop Pro 8. I was aghast: Digital photography has grown up twice over since that program was new. I know what I'll be giving him for Christmas: a shiny new image editor.
All-Around Photo Editor. If you're already comfortable with an older version of Paint Shop Pro, a logical choice for your upgraded digital darkroom is Corel PaintShop Photo Pro X3 Ultimate, the newest member of the family. PaintShop Pro is one of my all-around favorite photo editors, with full support for RAW photos. It can also merge a series of images into a High Dynamic Range photo. The new Ultimate edition includes Corel's KPT Collection of photo-effects filters and Corel Painter Essentials 4 (which is designed for digital sketching, drawing, and painting), all for about US$90.
Pro Tools for Non-Pros. Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 is another superb option. While the full version of Photoshop—now called Photoshop Creative Suite 5 —packs a lot more photo editing than most nonprofessionals need (or can easily master), Photoshop Elements is chock full of easy-to-use tools to make your photos look awesome (and it costs a more affordable US$90). You can use Photomerge, for example, to blend similar photos with differing exposures or to combine elements from different flawed photos to make one better image. Recompose lets you crop and resize images without changing elements within the photo—the effect is not unlike magic.
Disc Burner Makes 3D Movies. Want to experiment with 3D? Roxio Creator 2011 has you covered. This is my usual go-to program for burning, copying, and sharing CDs and DVDs, and all that stuff is still in there. But among the dozens of things this all-around media management software does is let you make 3D photos and videos from 2D originals. It's fun to play with, and even includes a pair of red/blue glasses to sample your results without a 3D television. It costs about US$90.
Apps for Your Apple iPhone, iPod, and iPad
If you have an Apple iPhone, iPod, or iPad, you probably already use it for music, reading, games, and video. But these handhelds are awesome tools for photography, as well. Here are best things to do with that iTunes gift card.
Air Display isn't a photo app per se—but it's a great way for photographers to leverage an iPad while working with photos on the PC. Here's the deal: If you don't own a second monitor, you can use your iPad as a wireless display. That's great for photo editing programs, in which every inch of screen estate is precious. Yes, it costs US$10—but that's a lot less than another monitor.
MobileMonet gives you a creative boost for 99 cents. This fun little app converts any photo into a black-and-white sketch, and then gives you a slew of tools to colorize and otherwise enhance your image into an Impressionist masterpiece.
Corel Paint It! Show (iPad only) starts with the same premise—turning your photos into Impressionist paintings—but does so within a slideshow. Select a stack of photos, choose a style, and go. You can also turn opn a soundtrack from your iPad's music collection. It's a cool way to use your tablet as a photo frame to display your photos in a unique way—and it's only 99 cents.
Pano is a US$3 app that stitches together a series of shots you take on your iPhone into a panoramic photo. Not only is it quite convenient, but I get a smug sense of satisfaction from stitching together panoramas on my phone without resorting to any software on the PC.
Adobe Photoshop Express won't cost you anything, and it includes 2GB of free online storage for your photos. Editing tools include cropping, exposure, and artistic effects.
And finally, do you use Flickr? Then the free Flickr for the iPhone is one of your must-have apps. Not only can you browse your own photos, but see images from the rest of the Flickr community as well.
Steady, There: Tripods
I've recommended using a tripod many times before, and sometimes I worry that I sound like a broken record. In response to that, readers often complain that they don't want to use an expensive, heavy tripod just to take sharp photos. The good news is that you don't have to spend a fortune or carry around a 30 pound monstrosity to get support.
Spring-Loaded Tripod. Take Zipshot, for example. I wouldn't trust this US$49 tripod to a heavy digital SLR in a windstorm, but Zipshot—which unfolds almost instantly due to a clever, spring-loaded leg design that resembles tent poles—can handle cameras up to about 3 pounds.
Flexible Support. The Joby Gorillapod is a flexible tripod that you can wrap around poles and trees, or you can flex the legs to stand flat. It comes in a variety of configurations (in the photo to the left you'll see a version with magnets on its feet, so you can "stick" the tripod on a metal surface, like your refrigerator). The Gorillapod starts around US$20.
Every photographer could use another memory card. If your current card is getting old—or is less than a gigabyte in size—it's time to step up to some new storage for your camera. They've never been cheaper, so it's a way to expand your options without breaking the bank. (Read "Memory Card Questions Answered" for some advice.)
Capacities From 4GB to 32GB. Many companies sell different lines of cards, offering value-priced cards for hobbyists and faster performance cards for more serious photographers. Lexar, for example, sells the Platinum II SDHC card in 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, and 32GB capacities at prices that range from US$40 to US$165. The Lexar Professional 400x CompactFlash Card is rated to write high-def video without a hiccup and comes in capacities of 8GB, 16GB, and 32GB from US$115 to US$270.
Wi-Fi Connected Card. What if you want a card with infinite capacity? Of course, there's no such thing as a bottomless card, but you can get close with an Eye-Fi wireless Secure Digital card. Eye-Fi cards come in 4GB and 8GB capacity, and use built-in Wi-Fi to automatically transfer photos to your PC whenever the camera is turned on and in range of your Wi-Fi network. That's not all: You can configure the included Eye-Fi software to automatically post your photos online to Facebook or Flickr. Prices range from US$49 for the 4GB Connect X2 to US$149 for the US$149 Pro X2. To see if you can use an Eye-Fi card with your camera, check out the compatibility list on the Eye-Fi Web site.