Roger’s Under $50 Photographer’s Christmas List

Published November 27, 2011

As usual, I’m supposed to write a Holiday article this time of year. And subtly suggest that a gift certificate would make the perfect gift for everyone on your list. So, OK, we’ve covered the gift certificate thing. That’s good since last year’s Holiday article was an epic fail that way. And caused enough trouble that they check my articles now to see if I’ve followed directions.

I’m usually not that much into the gift thing — I don’t mind gifts, of course, but they’re usually a let down. My list is usually something like “maybe a Hasselblad medium format system, or a Canon 800 f5.6”. Then I get a tie. You can understand my pain. As soon as they hand me the tie box I know there’s no 800 f/5.6 in there. And I wear jeans and t-shirts to work every day, so ties aren’t really that useful. Except for the tie that looked like a slice of bacon I got two years ago. I liked that one.

So, bowing to the inevitable fact that I have really cheap relatives, I’ve toned down my “Stuff I want for Christmas” list this year. I’ve made a list of items under $50 so it’s in the Christmas-tie price range that my ungrateful family appears willing to spend on me.

And in an effort to kill two birds with one stone (Efficiency in all things, that’s my way.) I thought rather than emailing it to everyone I’d just make it a blog post. Everyone who is likely to get me a present this Christmas is also an avid reader of my blog. (Because I ask every one of them if they’ve read my latest article every day until they have.) So this should get the word out without it appearing that I’m groveling for certain gifts.

Of course you’re probably thinking “won’t they read what you’ve just written and figure this out?” Nah. Most of my friends and family are barely literate. The deepest reading they do is limited to 140 characters. They’ll just look at the titles and pictures, get some ideas, and never realize it was aimed at them. Plus, since I put the Gift Certificate thing in the first paragraph, there’s absolutely no chance those-who-check-up-on-me read past that point except to skim the photos.

So without further ado: here are some excellent gift ideas (and a few awful ones) for under $50. Or wait, there is some further ado:

My usual recommendation rules apply: I recommend stuff because it I like it. I don’t get any money if you buy it (well, except for the Gift Certificate, obviously). I work for a living and write blog posts for fun. Yeah, I know, I need to get a life.

iPhone Apps

There are a ton of killer apps available right now. Some are pricey enough to make a stand-alone gift. Others are nearly free (and if you sneak in and add them to someone’s iPhone or iPad you’ve done one of those “thoughtful” gifts that make it seem you really cared without spending doodly). I know a lot of you have Androids. I don’t though, so this is mostly an iPhone / iPad list, although where apps are cross-platform I’ve also linked to the Android version.

The majority of apps do things like make cell phone pictures look like they were taken with a Brownie or Holga, or post your latest snapshot to all 13 of your Facebook identities. I didn’t list any of those kind of apps here, but for people who might like that kind of thing, instead I suggest an iPhone camera case ($12). If they really think their phone is a camera, might as well make it look like one.

But the apps I’ve chosen below are for big boy and girl photographers with real cameras and lenses.

pCAM Film and Digital Calculator $29.99 Maybe the best app you’ve never heard of. It’s geared toward video and filmaker people (and has won an award from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences). But it contains 22 different programs, some of which are invaluable to photographers and many of which are not available in any other app. It can turn your iPhone into a Siemen’s Star chart for focus testing. It has a field of view calculator (plug in focal length and shooting distance and it tells you how big the field of view will be).  Or you can tell it how large and far away your subject is and it will tell you the focal length needed to nearly fill the frame with the subject. The only downside is it’s iPhone sized, not iPad sized.

Artemis Director’s Viewfinder $29.99 A one trick pony that’s probably overpriced, is iPhone only, and is limited to standard lenses and longer (25mm and up). But it’s a very good trick: you plug in your camera type, take a quick shot with your iPhone, and it shows you how the shot would frame at various focal lengths. I used to carry a director’s viewfinder in my camera bag, so this makes one less thing to lug around.

Photographer’s Contract Maker $2.99 There couldn’t be a better bargain. For the price of a cup of coffee you get an iPhone / iPad program with customizable contracts for Model Release, PhotoShoot, 2nd Shooters, and copyright release. You can electronically sign them, email them directly from your phone, add your logo, website, whatever. Simple and superb. And also available for Android.

Helios $29.99 Another somewhat overpriced single use program from Chemical Wedding (who also sell the Director’s Viewfinder). But this one is really unique: you tell it where you’ll be (or are) and when you’ll be there. It tells you more about sun position than you’d ever want to know: elevation, angles, shadow percentages, even a map showing where to position yourself so the sun is behind or beside you as you shoot a certain object. And it’s really just a beautifully laid out bit of software. Very worthwhile for the outdoor photographer or filmaker.

The Photographer’s Ephemeris $8.99 OK, if you have a landscape or wildlife photographer on your list, this is the one absolutely “must have” app. I’d like to pretend I’m so smart, but I had to look up what Ephemeris meant: it’s a table of values that gives the locations of various objects in the sky at a given time and location. It gets information for anywhere on the planet, not just tourist destinations, so it’s perfect for those who leave civilization to do their photography. Sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moonset (even moon phase), the elevation and azimuth for both sun and moon, the time and duration of twilight, and a lot more. It works fine on the iPhone but is really spectacular on an iPad. Also available for Android.


True Depth of Field $1.99  I think a depth of field calculator is the most indespensible tool we can carry around with us and there are dozens of DoF apps available. They’re all OK but none of them are perfect. This is my current favorite because it alerts you when diffraction softening occurs as you try stopping down for increased depth of field. And it has a very nice interface. A similar, if a bit less elegant program is available for Android.

Popular Photography $9.99 for 6 months, $14.99 for one year. A very nice, very slick, iPad version that contains every bit of the information in the monthly magazine. If you’re going to get one magazine in an iPad version, this should be it (not necessarily because it’s the best magazine, but rather because it’s the best magazine app).

ND Calc (Android) $2.99 Here’s one where the Android folks get the better program. Just plug in your camera’s suggested shutter speed without an ND filter and it tells you what the exposure time will be without a filter. There are some filter apps for iPhone, but none this simple and easy to use.


DataColor Spyder Cube $40 The Spyder Cube contains 18% grey faces at different angles light reflects off of them in the same way it does the objects in your photo. Plus white faces and a 100% black trap to let you check the entire dynamic range. It provides way more information than a grey card and can be a real help when converting RAW images to jpeg. And it’s 2 inches square so it fits in your bag.


Gorrillapod $19-$99 This is the third year I’ve recommended Gorillapods. You getting the hint yet? A stand or mini-tripod for cameras (especially nice set up in a corner at family functions with a remote shutter releases), off-camera lighting, microphones, anything. Set them on things, wrap them around things, they even have magnetic ones now. And they’re small enough to fit several in a camera bag.

8″ Digital Photo Frame $49 OK, almost everybody has one already. But if you know someone who doesn’t a nice 8″ frame (like the one I payed $150 for 18 months ago) can be had for less than $50. And it takes up a lot less space than prints of 700 favorite photographs.

A Wireless Remote Shutter Release. $39-$49 It’s one of those accessories that no one every buys for themselves, but once they get one they wonder how they ever lived without it. Practical. Fun. Useful. Perfect. And there are a host of inexpesive, reliable ones made by third-party vendors for every camera.

PhotoCharms Necklace $49  Or Laser engraved pendent $49-199. OK, not so much for the male photographer. But there may be 1 or 200 guys out there who suffer from gear acquisition spousal interference (GASI). So it might be a nice touch to provide some evidence that yes, you did buy that $2,500 lens just so you could get pictures of the kids for her.


Collapsable Reflector $35-$69 Useful for fill light both outdoors and in the studio, they can be used flat or curved slightly to aim the light a bit. They come in sizes from 22 – 42 inches in diameter and collapse down to 1/3 of their size for storage in a nylon pouch.

Shoe Mount Flash Diffuser $39 Perfect for anyone who uses a shoe-mounted flash a little or a lot, these soften the light and avoid that “flash” look. There are dozens fo kinds for under $50, but I suggest the Fong Collapsible one pictured below: it universally fits all brands of flash the collapsible part makes it less obtusive.

USB 3.0 Memory Card Reader $35 There are still some people out there downloading photos directly from their camera. There’s a lot more still using a USB 1.0 or 2.0 reader when their computer has  a nice, fast 500 Mb/second USB 3.0 port available. It’s the difference between porting a card over in 30 seconds or 3 minutes. And even people who have one card reader can use a second one for travel or the office computer or whatever.

Things to Not Get (Except in Specific Circumstances)

OK, I’ll admit, I keep these filed in the back of my mind. Just in case I need to get even with some close-relative-photographic-wannabe. These are the subtle back-handed presents for people you don’t particularly like. Or have a major vendetta against.

Spider Black Widow Holster $50 Yep, just the thing for that gunslinging wanna-be-action-photographer on your list. There is one kind of photographer that can wear this without ridicule: a card-carrying Sports Illustrated sideline photographer toting 3 cameras with $20,000 worth of lenses attached who keeps his close up lens and camera on his hip. Everyone else looks like a complete idiot: “Gotta strap on my Black Widow today, little Jimmy’s soccer team is taking on the Lakeside second graders. Gotta be ready to catch that action.”

8Gb Eye-Fi card $59 OK, I know. The promise of wirelessly transmitting images from card directly to computer or iPad or whatever storage device you use is very cool. So the person you give this to will think it’s a great gift. At first. But since these things work great some of the time, really slowly some of the time, and not all some of the time you get the secret satisfaction of knowing your gift is driving someone insane with frustration. We’ve all got one or two of those people on our shopping list.

A Bottle Cap Tripod $9 and almost worth it. Granted, it’s designed for point and shoots. But it could be the perfect gift for that person who really wants a new camera, but is facing stiff spousal resistance  (see PhotoCharms necklace above). Just use the bottle cap tripod a few times and you’re sure to need a new camera and lens.



So there you have it: a bunch of really good, reasonably inexpensive ideas for perfect Christmas presents (and three bad ones) for the photographer on your list.

But if you’ve waited until the last minute, or don’t have a clue what they want despite this extensive list, you can buy them a gift certificate. Print it right out from your computer and have it under the tree in 10 minutes.

Roger Cicala

November, 2011

Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

Posted in Equipment
  • I gotta say that I disagree on the Eye-Fi card. It is tricky, but on cameras with two card slots I can save the RAW files to my camera and send low (or medium) jpgs to my iPad. For small shoots when I can’t have a digital tech it keeps the art director from having to look at the camera’s LCD screen every 2 minutes. I’ve also used it to receive images that are going out to media outlets almost in real time. Not for everyone- I’ll give you that- but it’s saved me a lot of time in the field. (Now if only Canon/Nikon would build one into the cameras…)

  • Joe

    I have to admit, the Spider Holster comes in very handy when using two bodies, especially on an ‘active’ shoot. Just last week I ran around the woods with a couple of little kids and I had a body and tele zoom (actually one purchased from this site) attached to a Black Rapid strap and a body and normal zoom in the holster. Keeps everything secure and within reach. Not sure why that would look idiotic.

  • Richard Hatch

    I couldn’t resist… I bought a Vello remote shutter release. It works! I know I’ll use it now that I have it. It does seem rather flimsy though and would not suggest relying on it for summit shots on Mt. Everest.

  • Scott C.

    Rodger you forgot a lens mug, they a cool and always get funny looks.

  • Mark Olwick

    FYI: There’s an iPhone version of NDCalc too.

  • Your “cheap” sister here – relax big brother, not tie for you this year. I passed along your name to another. Be afraid, be VERY afraid~

  • Where’s the intervalometer? A seriouly fun and cheap photography gadget for making time lapse movies with a DSLR.

  • Nic

    Just plug in your camera’s suggested shutter speed without an ND filter and it tells you what the exposure time will be without a filter.

    Uhm… huh?

  • Anthony

    I have something similar to the black widow thing, and it actually comes in very handy if you’re carrying multiple cameras, or you’re hiking or some such (attach the camera to your backpack (not sure. If the spider thing you mentioned will do that)), but yes, you look rediculous walking around with a camera on your side.

  • DJ

    Great article Roger! Good reading, thanks for tips and tricks! Happy Holidays Lenrentals! :p

Follow on Feedly