Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Pentax User's Holiday Gift Guide 2007

This time of year, most of us who have got a Pentax DSLR camera (or three) are still wishing for yet more amateur photography gear. Well, I cobbled together an idea list of over 40 items for your spouse, family member, or friends, to pick and choose from for you. This is the stuff that if you don't already have, you're gonna wish you did. And if you haven't yet got a DSLR, by all means jump up and get either the K100D Super or the K10D, right now. The prices are incredible this season (I heard recently that an eBay store in Canada was selling new K10D bodies for just $550). While Canon, Nikon, and Sony literally throw money at retailers each year to help them dissuade you from buying anything but their brand, I think you'll love your Pentax just the same. When you walk into a store you're going to face the hard sell for one of those other cameras, but just remember, money can't buy you love.


The just released Pentax DA 18-250mm (~$499) is the ultimate zoom lens for any travel scenario (wide-angle or telephoto) and for those who don't want to carry more than one lens. It's the equivalent of the two Pentax amateur starter lenses (the DA 18-55mm and the DA 5o-200mm), but with a wider lens diameter and faster focusing power. Unlike the Tamron 18-250mm lens for the same price (and based on the same manufacturing), the Pentax has a nicer build quality and does away with the unnecessary M-AF switch, because it's already on your camera.

The Pentax DA 40mm Limited lens is a "pancake" style prime lens that's a tiny marvel. It's flat and light, adding barely any weight to your camera. Pentax has been reknown for these pancake style lenses for years. This one boasts a wide F2.8 aperture and terrific sharpness. If you haven't yet got a prime lens in your arsenal, this should be the first of many Pentax collectables. (~$299 to $399)

For creative photographers, the Pentax DA 10-17mm wide-angle "Fish-Eye" lens (pictured to the right) is a tool that helps out with panoramic shots, close-ups, and anything that requires a bit of in-your-face character. Fish-eye lenses have often been considered an interesting folly, but this is a terrific lens that delivers plenty of punch. (~$499 to $579)

The Pentax FA 31mm Limited, pictured way up at the very top left, is considered the ne plus ultra of Pentax lenses for its razor sharp clarity, beautiful contrast, and amazing engineering artistry. It's among the most expensive Pentax prime lenses, but everyone who's used it recognizes it as possibly one of the finest optics ever produced for SLR cameras. Period. No serious Pentax LBA fanatic can say they know bliss until they've played with this lens. (~$1499)


The Pentax AF540-FGZ is a bounce flash I love so much, I wish I had a few of them. Similar to the venerable SB-800 Speedlight from Nikon, the AF540 is a swivel head bounce flash that includes high-speed flash features and wireless TTL connectivity for master, slave, and multi-flash set-ups. I feel it's better than the AF360-FGZ in that it's a lot more powerful (flash guide no. 54, hence AF540) and that the swivel head is good for vertical portrait photography. The AF540 is also a P-TTL flash, which means that in P-TTL Auto mode, it fires a pre-flash to gauge proper exposure, but it's also backwards compatible with regular Pentax TTL flash systems, like those before the *ist cameras. (~$289 to $399)

And to compliment any flash, it never hurts to have a simple flash stand (~$20) + tilting head (~$15), an umbrella (~$20), a collapsible reflector (~$25), some Honl velcro snoots and flags ($10-$22) and a Sto-Fen Omnibounce (~$16), all of which help you create more dynamic lighting options from just that one little strobe. And don't forget a bag to tote your stands and tri-pods. I really like the F.64 light stand bag, which can carry at least 4 light stands and 2 small tripods at once (~$35).

If you have an older flash with manual capabilities, like a Vivitar 285, an inexpensive radio transmitter set helps you get it wireless and useful again, like the Cactus Radio Flash Triger (~$35 - pictured right), or get at least a couple of the expert Pocket Wizards (~$190 each). Just keep in mind that older flashes can have high trigger voltages that can damage your camera if you connect them directly to your hot shoe, so if you don't go wireless at least go safe with a Wein Safe Sync (~$40).

And probably one of the most affordable ring lights ever made (and I'm not including macro ring lights in this statement), the Alien Bees Ringflash (pictured left) is a trick portrait flash that delivers an even fill of light around your subject. These set-ups used to be the domain of the professional photographer, but an affordable light like this gives you no excuse anymore for not pretending you're David Hemmings snapping models in Blow Up. (~$399)

Mac and PC

Adobe Lightroom 1.3 is one of the best RAW photo format developing and organizing applications, and it's a big step up from Pentax Photo Lab. It lets you batch process, apply metadata, sort quickly, and then export to the web or your printer with the kind of fluidity that we all dreamed about just 3 years ago. Even though it's not a full Photoshop replacement, it's a tight enough application that for most work it's all you need. (free 30-day trial, retail ~$199 to $299)

Everyone likes free stuff, too, so if you've got Lightroom, don't forget to download OnOne Software's WOW! Presets. Jack Davis has taken a some creative processing looks and made them easy to apply to your photos, such as Cyanotype, and they make a great start for tweaking your own custom presets.

And if you've never experienced a digital pen tablet, Wacom's latest tablet that replaces the older Graphire series is the Bamboo (pictured left). For $79, it's never been easier to afford to get your feet wet with a tool that makes correcting flaws and making imaginative tweaks in Photoshop or Painter like second nature.

The Drobo (pictured right) is quad-bay USB 2.0 external hard drive enclosure that has its own special RAID controller and firmware so that it functions as both extended storage and a safety backup, for up to 4TB. It's compatible with Windows XP, Vista, and Mac OS X 10.5 (including Time Machine). It's $499 to start barebones, but you can buy the hard drives of your choice to fill just one or all four spaces.

Have you put off fine tuning your display? No more excuses. Calibrate your monitor and color settings like a professional with either the Spyder 3 Elite from Colorvision ( $279) or the Eye-One from Pantone and X-Rite ($249). Budget minded beginners will still appreciate the Spyder2 Express ($79) or the Pantone Huey Pro ($129), which offer a similar level of calibration, but with features that are limited to just a few profiles.

($24.95) and Apple's .Mac ($~79 or $99) annual memberships are perfect for getting your images online with the least amount of pain. And for Flickr users, Moo cards are surprisingly easy to make and fun to share.


One of the nicest people I've met this year is Yvon Bourque, who's written terrific companion books to both the Pentax K10D and K100D Super. Each one is full of first hand knowledge and is paced in a way that's more intuitive to learning about your camera than even the standard manual, so that you'll know the nitty gritty of the camera quickly without hearing any of the condescending tone that you frequently find in "Getting Started With Your..." books. The books are available as ebooks ($15 for download) and spiral-bound editions ($20 plus shipping), which Yvon makes himself. It's a great deal, so if you want one of them printed for a family member for the holidays, try to order it soon.

If you're near New York's International Center For Photography, an annual membership for $75 gets you free admission, library access, portfolio review resources, and book shop discounts. For everyone else with a mailing address, a $60 Aperture magazine subscription will bring the world's most acclaimed photography right to your door quarterly for 2 years, with a free Paul Strand book. As well, this month Aperture.org has 30% off their book stock and 15% off collector prints.


Get close, really close, with a macro extension tube. You'll be able to magnify your lens to over 1:1, which can make flowers and bugs really impressive. I bought a set of the Kenko Extension Tubes DG (pictured left) for Pentax last year and I love them. They're designed so that you can use them with auto focus lenses even without an aperture ring, like any of the Pentax DA lenses. (~$150 to $175)

What self-professed camera lover would not want to keep their cameras stored in style? That's why Pelican makes cases like the dreamy Pelican 1600 (pictured right). "Watertight, crushproof, and dustproof." And, of course, it looks a mighty bit nicer than a ratty old satchel in your closet. (~$150 to $185 with foam inserts)

Why do I *heart* the K10D's optional BG-2 Battery Grip? It fills out the proportions of the K10D with added heft that make handheld shots that much sweeter to do. The vertical shutter trigger makes portraits easier to handle thanks to an added e-dial, just like the main trigger. The extra battery tray not only keeps you juiced up longer, it has storage room for a spare SD card and the Pentax remote. (~$149 to $199)

How can you not love having a spare memory card like the 4GB SanDisk Ultra II SDHC ? Any high speed 4GB for under $50 is soooo worth it. Toshiba and all the other brands are hitting rock bottom pricing. It's tempting to just load up on a whole bunch as stocking stuffers.

And, of course, I love the simple Pentax Remote F, too. It functions with almost every Pentax camera made in the last few years. Just walk away and click. Pesky timer and cables be gone! (~$20)

And two more things. Just for me.

I have to admit, what I'd like is a decent monitor and printer to replace my antiques. The Apple HD Displays may not be as good a deal as the Dell equivalents, but I like that they have a sleek aluminum look and come with decent built-in Firewire and USB ports (Certified Refurbished from Apple.com are a terrific deal: $599 to $1499). And thanks to the new Vivera archival quality pigment inks that HP has been using lately, I think the HP B9180 (~$650 - pictured right) is looking like a pretty good deal. It prints 13" x 19", the refill ink cartridges aren't too expensive, and it would look just swell on your desk. But preferably under my Christmas tree.


Hawk said...

I don't want to rain on your list, but that Alien Bee wireless trigger only works with their flashes. Well, it doesn't only work with them, but it only works with flashes that have a sync connection, and it only is powered by AC power (the receiver).

You probably meant to link to the numerous 'ebay triggers', all made by Gadget Infinity (often branded as Cactus). While not super reliable, their cheapness more than offsets it.

Michael said...

Duly noted! I was trying to remember the Cactus from Gadget Infinity and I'm glad you caught on to my line of thought and corrected me. I've fixed the list to show the Cactus.

John said...

Pretty good list! I only disagree with your choice of memory card. I'm a big fan of OCZ Technology's SDHC cards (and their other memory products as well). Very fast, very reliable. Back at the camera shop I used to work at, SanDisk was the brand of memory card I saw most often come back with problems, so I tend to avoid them.

However, SanDisk's little MicroMate SDHC card reader is fantastic (http://tinyurl.com/2ramo4). I keep one on my computer and one in my camera bag, since most people still have card readers that don't support SDHC.

John said...

By the way: today I sent my K10D to Pentax to have its AF adjusted (it consistently focused behind the intended subject), hopefully under warranty. Anyone have any experience with how long Pentax takes to perform repairs and return your camera?

Michael said...

Hi John: my experience with Pentax repair turnaround is usually 60 days from sent to received, but it really varies for a lot of people and the work done. I imagine December and January will be busy months for them, on top of a holiday schedule.

Pavel said...

Excellent list! Matches mine pretty closely :-)

Anonymous said...

What's the difference between the HP printer on your list and the hp9180?

Anonymous said...

One correction: HP B8750 uses dye-based Vivera inks (HP90/100 series cartridges). B9180 uses pigment-based Vivera inks (HP38 series cartridges). It is important to notice that there are both dye and pigment inks in Vivera family.

Michael said...

Printer questions: I made the correction. I was under the misunderstanding that the B8750 was pigment Vivera. Even though the B9180 has been out for a year, it's a good printer and a bit more cost efficient than the Epson or Canons right now. Admittedly, though, I think I liked the cosmetic design of the B8750 more, followed by the Canon 9500.

Sune said...

Some nice stuff for sure :-)

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