Presents for the Shutterbug

Nothing makes camera buffs salivate more than new gear, which, in turn, keeps the photography industry happily debuting innovative items. The following gifts should please amateur and professional photographers alike. Prices do not include shipping and handling. Many items may be available at area camera stores.

Pockets galore: When a photo opportunity presents itself, you want to reach fast for the right lens, filter or fresh roll of film. A good photo vest loaded with spacious pockets provides quick access to gear and takes a load off your neck, since you can reduce the contents of your camera bag. Domke, well known for its canvas photo bags, makes a cotton photo vest that meets the needs of even the most pocket-crazy shooter. The zippered vest has 14 pockets, including three inside pockets good for stashing a wallet, passport or valuable documents. An oversized cargo pocket in the back can be used for stowing a Windbreaker or rain poncho. The vest has mesh panels in the front and back for ventilation. With a camera slung over my shoulder, I've been able to load all my camera gear into these vest pockets and head off without a camera bag--a very freeing feeling when traipsing around on foot.

Photojournalist Vest (item 3028) in small, medium, large and extra large is $99 from TravelSmith; telephone (800) 950-1600.

Camera backpack: For photo outings where more protection is desired for gear, Domke's Photo Daypack is an innovative backpack with well-padded compartments for camera bodies, lenses, filters, film and other essentials. Made of water-resistant nylon pack-cloth, the day pack has 14 compartments and pockets with removable partitions for custom-tailoring space based on size and type of equipment. The partitions attach via Velcro. The pack measures 15 1/2 inches by 13 1/2 inches by 6 inches, and weighs 3.8 pounds. The harness and waist belt are heavily padded and adjustable to fit most body shapes and sizes, and there are heavy-duty cloth handles at the top and side for carrying the pack. An outside side pocket is designed to carry a water bottle, cellular phone, point and shoot camera, or stash of film.

Domke Photo Daypack is about $200 at camera stores and photo supply outlets. For a store near you, fax the manufacturer at (800) 394- 3686.

Photo chest pouch: While backpacks and fanny packs are the two most popular hands-free systems for toting around camera equipment, Photoflex's Chestpouch 2 is designed to be worn against the chest, with straps wrapping around the body to keep the bag in place. Especially useful for cyclists, the bag doesn't bounce up and down as a backpack would and the pack is more compact than most photo fanny packs. Removable side compartments provide more storage space. Women might find the chest pouch a bit uncomfortable; but with some adjustments, the pouch also can be worn as a fanny pack. Photoflex Chestpouch with two side bags is about $60 at camera stores.

For a store near you, call Photoflex; tel. (800) 486-2674.

Mini reflector: Professionals often use reflectors (large, round laminated cloth disks) to direct sun rays onto a subject to lighten or brighten a picture or to block out rays that create unflattering shadows. Now hobbyists can get the advantages of a reflector without the size. Photoflex's pocket Lite-Discs are 12-inch-diameter reflectors made of a flexible nylon that folds into a tiny 5-inch-diameter round, then slides into its own zippered pouch stashing in a pocket or camera bag. Both the disk and pouch have loops for carrying on a belt or key ring. Various color combinations are available for different effects. I like the disks that are laminated gold on one side (for reflecting a warm glow on the skin of a subject) and white on the other (for reflecting maximum light in shadowy places). Both sides work well at blocking out sun glare when held over the head in the path of the rays. Photoflex Pocket LiteDisc is about $14 at camera stores.

For a store near you, call Photoflex; tel. (800) 486-2674.

Underwater shooting: Underwater photography once required either complicated, costly cameras and accessories or plastic housings for regular cameras that were hard to manipulate and often leaked. A new generation of automatic underwater cameras designed for amateurs makes subsurface shooting a snap. The Sealife ReefMaster is a waterproof housing and reusable point-and-shoot camera that remains waterproof to 164 feet below the surface. The camera features automatic winding, a large shutter lever (for easy use with gloves), and a flash designed to compensate for the blue-ing effect on close objects, while leaving the aqua blue color of the water unchanged. It accommodates any 35mm slide or print film. The ReefMaster's unbreakable rubber housing locks out water and protects the camera if dropped on land or a dive boat. For pictures on land, the housing provides protection from rain, snow and blowing sand, although it can be removed for convenience. The camera comes in a foam-padded waterproof case for extra protection during transport or aboard often bouncy dive boats. I found the ReefMaster easy to operate, though the housing snaps were sometimes hard to manipulate, a problem no doubt caused by the manufacturer's determination to make the seals close as tightly as possible to ensure waterproofness.

Sealife ReefMaster automatic underwater camera with waterproof carrying case is about $200 at camera stores. For a store near you, call the manufacturer, Pioneer Research; tel. (800) 257-7742.

Gear & Gadgets appears the first week of every month.

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