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Gifts for Geeks on the Cheap
Pages: 1, 2, 3

Digital Photography Done Better

You don't have to be a professional photographer, or even a gadget hound, to appreciate things that help make your photographs better.

Since my family seems to have caught the digital camera bug during the last year, I went looking for gifts that even a non-geek could love, and found these terrific stocking stuffers.

UltraPod I and UltraPod II; UltraClamp
by Pedco
Works with: anything with a standard tripod socket
Price: UltraPod I, $14.95, Ultrapod II $21.95, UltraClamp $29.95

It's fairly common knowledge that avoiding camera movement using a tripod can be a great way to improve your photos. But we've all been there. We pack up our gear for an outing, and though we want to get great photos, we don't want to carry the big old' tripod with us.

Enter the Pedco UltraPods. These handy table-top sized tripods are compact and light-weight, yet they're sturdier and more carefully constructed than some of the drugstore varieties you may have seen. They're cleverly designed with a built-in Velcro strap, so if there's not a tripod-friendly surface available, you can strap the Ultrapod to a more convenient branch or fence post.

The Ultrapod II is larger and more heavily constructed than the Ultrapod I and may be better suited for all but the most compact cameras. My Nikon Coolpix 775, which is about 6.5oz or 185g without the battery, seems like it's about at the upper limit for the Ultrapod I. There's a trade-off, however, and the Ultrapod I is quite a bit smaller and lighter.

The Ultrapod II is currently available in black only. The smaller Ultrapod is available in black, red, yellow and blue.

Ultrapods and Ultraclamp.
The Ultrapod II is about twice the size of the Ultrapod I. Its cousin, the Ultraclamp, is a heavy-duty solution for situations where a tripod just won't work.

You might also consider the Pedco Ultraclamp. The Utraclamp lets you attach your camera to anything you can clamp to--a car window, bicycle handlebars, or just about any sturdy object that's less than 1.5 inches wide. I can imagine using this for great fun on road trips.

This year, digital camera owners on my Xmas list will be getting a great little bundle of a Pedco Ultrapod and our next item here:

Digital Photography Pocket Guide
by Derrick Story (published by O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.)
Works with: anyone who wants to get better photos from their digital camera
Price: $14.95

Digital cameras are subject to the same fate as many film cameras: folks are excited to get them and love to take snapshots, but can often be disappointed with the results. The wildlife that seemed so very close at the time turn out to be tiny specks, or you get the perfect portrait of your toddler niece only to find out her skin comes out blue. Fortunately, this is a situation where a little learning can go a long way, and this pocket guide by professional photographer (and Mac DevCenter editor) Derrick Story may be the best investment you make in your photography.

Related Reading

Digital Photography Pocket Guide
By Derrick Story

I should be clear about my own bias here: I work with Derrick at O'Reilly, and I've also been a client of his photography business. That said, I also know that he has an unwavering passion for photography and technology, and he's a great teacher. It's a winning combination for this little book. Digital Photography Pocket Guide distills the essentials of digital photography in a friendly and yet complete portable guide. It's jam-packed with tips and examples and covers an amazing variety of digital camera features.

The guide goes beyond camera features, though, and discusses situations in which you might use them. What should you consider when planning a museum visit? What are some general rules of thumb about composition? This book helps you get the most out of your camera, and the most out of the photographer.

One problem with most how-to photography books is that it's difficult to find the information you need when you're actually in the process of taking photos. That's why I especially like the comprehensive "Quick Reference Charts" in the Appendix of this book. It's all right there. The book is small enough to take with you, but still big on content.

At last, an O'Reilly book that my not-so-technical family can appreciate.

P-500 Digital Photo Printer
by Polaroid
Works with: CompactFlash and SmartMedia cards
Price: varies wildly -- seen online anywhere from $28. 95 to well over $100; try searching Google or your favorite price comparison site for best prices.

Polaroid cameras can be a lot of fun. There's nothing quite like getting that instant print. Wouldn't it be great to get those instant prints from your digital camera? The Polaroid P-500 Photo Printer lets you do just that, instant Polaroid prints without sacrificing everything wonderful about your digital camera.

The P-500 uses the same Polaroid 500 instant film as the familiar "JoyCam." These film packs include a single-use battery, so the P-500 itself doesn't require any power source. In fact, no batteries, cables or computer are required to use the P-500. To use it, you remove the CompactFlash or SmartMedia card and insert it into the P-500 and then print your photos directly from the card.

The P-500 Photo Printer.
The P-500 Photo Printer gives you Polaroid gratification with digital camera convenience.

Most digital cameras have a Digital Print Order Format (DPOF) feature that allows you to specify photos to be printed, the number of prints, and the print order, and this information is stored on the memory card. The P-500 reads this information, which allows you to control exactly what gets printed.

This little photo printer even includes an infrared interface. You can download software for your Palm OS device that will let you view and edit images on your PDA before printing them.

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