THERE ARE lots of good things, other than cameras, for holiday gift-giving this year. Here are some of them:
STRAPS -- Look for a new (to me) line of straps called OP/TECH. The connection system is excellent: It's tough, easy to use and the first successful breakaway system in some time. When you pick up one of the straps, you feel it give or stretch the slightest bit. Made of neoprene and other space-age materials, the strap helps reduce neck and shoulder fatigue and makes your camera feel lighter. The non-slip grip really works. It didn't slip off my shoulder, no matter what I was wearing. There are OP/TECH straps for all cameras, small and large, as well as bag, binocular and video straps. Prices range from about $8 to $24.
TRIPODS -- The Benbo tripod can adjust to any terrain or elevation to turn an awkward situation into an easily manageable one. The swivel head allows adjustment of the telescopic legs up to and beyond the horizontal, while allowing independent adjustment of the center column elevation. The leg tubes of the Benbo are reverse of normal -- the larger tubes are at ground level. The leg ends are sealed and can be set in mud or water with no adverse effects. Prices start at about $225, but some of the smaller models are from $149 to $179.
The Cullmann Touring Set is a five-part tripod combination set that allows you to shoot from any angle in any situation. There is a free-standing tripod that extends from about one foot to three feet; a universal clamp for mounting on any round, triangular or irregular surface up to three inches wide; and a suction-cup pad that works with either the entire tripod or just the swivel ball head and can attach to glass or other slick surfaces. There is also a ground spike for mounting into soil, sand or gravel, and a wood screw attachment for holding the tripod in logs, planks, wooden fences, etc. Cost: about $110.
There are tripods to fit all needs. Slick and Velbon are well made standard brands. Look for the Velbon model at about $79.
FILTERS -- Tiffen, long known for their superior quality, continues with a complete line of filters, from simple UVs to complex special effects filters. Their newest is the soft/fx filters, which are great for portraits. They soften the image without loss of sharpness. The enhancing filter is a favorite for bringing a special warmth to a scene. These filters start at about $20.
The Schneider line of B + W filters is also proving to be of top quality. They have some wonderful special-effects filters as well as a complete line of neutral density and graduating filters. Cost: $26.
Cokin filters provide an extremely versatile range. They are easy to combine for dramatic effects. Two sizes of filter holders are available, so be sure you know the filter size of your lenses when you shop. Holder and adapter are about $16, and individual filters start at $16.
GLOVES -- Fingermit is a mitten that converts to an open finger glove for camera handling. It's wool with leather palms and thumbs and sells for about $30.
BATTERIES -- Manufactured by Gates Energy Products, Millenium is the first line of rechargeable batteries to offer a lifetime replacement guarantee and a quick three-hour recharging capability. They are available in all the popular sizes. The RapidCharger is a four-position charger that handles all sizes for three-hour recharging, and costs $19.99. A two-pack of AA-size batteries costs about $7; a two-pack with a two-place charger is $14.99.
PHOTO MAGNETS -- From Callen Photo Mount, Magnetic Shapes are thin sheets of magnetic material that will adhere to refrigerators or other metal surfaces. They come in sizes to fit all standard commercial prints. Prints stick to the adhesive front surface of the magnet. Magnetic Shapes can be cut with a pair of scissors to silhouette, outline or customize your pictures. Cost: from $1.49 to $2.50.
KALEIDOSCOPE LENS -- An attachment that fits onto your SLR lens to give a kaleidoscope effect to your shots, Camerascope is available only from Kaleidoscopes Inc., 10731 Manchaca Rd., Austin, TX 78748. Phone: 516/280-0120. Cost: depending on lens adapter ring needed, about $65.
FLASH ACCESSORIES -- From Lumiquest come some lightweight, easily attached hoods for flash. Some allow you to bounce a straight-on flash, some give a restricted spot, and there's even a set of "barn doors" that attach in seconds. Cost: about $20 each, depending on which you select. They fit most external strobes.
From Westcott is a larger hood that turns your strobe into a very soft, even light without bounce. It's an easily-carried unit that gives great light control. Cost: about $40.
BAGS AND CASES -- There are some excellent buys this year, from bags for compacts (about $12) to large enough to fit all your equipment (as much as $200) to mid-sized (about $75). Brand names to look for are Coast, Tamrac, Tenba and Diamond.
Next week: Gift books.