Last-minute gift ideas for the photo buff in your life

Although Christmas is almost upon us, there's no need to panic when it comes to those last-minute gifts for the photographer or videographer in your life. Skip the stress of last-minute shipping from online outlets or the crowds and anonymity of big-box stores and instead head to a local camera shop.

Even if you're not a photo buff yourself, specialized stores offer both the selection and expert advice necessary to pick-out that perfect present for even the choosiest of shutterbugs.

"If they can gather as much information about the photography that the gift recipient is likely to be interested in, that would be helpful because our staff will be able to tailor the purchase," said David K. Hauver, a product buyer and tester at Samy's Camera, which has six full-service stores in California as well as an extensive web portal,

For example, for someone who's interested in sports photography, a big lens or monopod might be appropriate. Or if the gift recipient is into nature pictures, then salespeople (who are keen photographers themselves) can walk a buyer through the appropriate lenses and accessories for that genre.

Even a more humble accessory can be very useful. "Tripods are excellent," said Hauver. "It's something that people definitely need but it's not always the most fun thing to buy."

Photography bags, from rollers to backpacks, and other organizational tools also make practical gifts that can be chosen according to someone's specific needs. And then there are flashes and related accessories such as light modifiers.

"There's a company called Gary Fong which makes a very popular flash modifier that makes your pictures look not so amateurish when you're doing parties or weddings and things like that," Hauver explained.

For videographers, action cameras such as the popular GoPro range remain big hits, as do the vibration-eliminating gyro stabilized gimbals upon which these (and video-equipped smartphones) can be mounted.

"There's now more flavors of GoPros, or levels, than there have ever been ... Something from the $129 range all the way up to the $499 range and everything in-between," said Hauver. The lowest price point is perfect for the weekend warrior, while the higher-end cameras are capable of full broadcast video resolution.

To keep those shots on target, electronic gimbals start at around $279, while battery-free mechanical versions such as the Smoothee by Steadicam are more affordable.

As well as expert in-person advice and hands-on product demonstration, local stores are also hard to beat for selection and pricing (Samy's, for example, will match all legitimate prices).

If you don't nail it first-time with your photography gift purchase, a local shop allows for quick and easy replacement with a more appropriate item rather than going through the hassle and expense of shipping something back to an online outlet and then having to wait for a substitute to arrive.

"Samy's Camera does give a certain amount of time to do exchanges," said Hauver. That way, the recipient can always come back to any Samy's location to get the right item for their needs.

In-person neighborhood gift shopping also allows the recipient to be present for any follow-up service. This not only ensures that they'll ultimately get the item they really wanted, but also allows the fun of getting to know that product with an expert salesperson -- because there are few photographers who don't love to "talk gear" with fellow enthusiasts.

-Paul Rogers for Samy's Camera

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