Digital SLR cameras
Digital camera accessories
By Ryan Shaw
Whether you’re looking for a top-of-the-range tripod or a card reader with more memory, read on for our guide to choosing the best digital camera accessories.
Need advice on choosing a camera accessory? We take a look at some of the more common accessories that are available to help you take better photos or just make your photographic life easier.
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Digital camera batteries
Batteries are the most vital digital camera accessory, but are often overlooked when you buy a camera. The battery life of traditional 35mm cameras would sometimes last for several weeks, however, digital cameras are a completely different situation.
Typically, digital cameras often have their own matching Lithium-ion (Li-ion) rechargeable batteries, and come with a charger. However, some cameras use regular AA batteries, which can prove to be costly over time as they tend to run out of power quicker than Li-ion batteries.
Spare lithium-ion batteries are available for most camera brands, although the original manufacturer’s branded batteries may prove expensive, averaging around £30. Cheaper compatible batteries can often be found for around £10.
If your digital camera doesn't come with rechargeables, it's definitely worth buying a set of rechargeable nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) AA batteries. They're not too expensive, at around £15 including the charger, and they'll provide hundreds of charges before they need replacing. Check out our full results from the best and worst AA rechargeable batteries.
In the long run, it's far cheaper, and more environmentally friendly, than buying disposables all the time. Aim for NiMH batteries with a capacity of at least 2000mAh for maximum life.
Digital camera lenses
Conversion lenses, also called lens converters, are available for some compact digital cameras. Attach one to your camera's built-in lens and it changes its optical zoom range. There are telephoto converters that allow you to zoom further in, and wide-angle converters, that allow you to zoom further out.
Each DSLR camera brand has its own lens mount, and brands aren't interchangeable or compatible with other brands. Lens mounts can be categorised as Canon, Four-Thirds, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma, and Sony Alpha. However, lenses from brands such as Sigma and Tamron will fit other brands of camera using the right mount. DSLR lenses fall into the following categories:
- Fixed focal length
- Standard zoom
- Wide-angle zoom
- Telephoto zoom
Digital camera tripods
Although the camera might be perfectly focused, sometimes when there's not much light or if you've zoomed right in, your photos might turn out blurry.
This is the curse of camera shake – sometimes even the smallest hand movements can affect the picture. To minimise camera shake electronically, find cameras with optical image stabilisation (OIS).
Putting the camera on a portable stand, such as a tripod, is one good solution, and will ensure your photos are as sharp as possible, especially if you're shooting at night or when shooting with slow-speed exposures. Here, we highlight three options:
- Tripods: they come in all shapes and sizes but full-size models range in length from 24 to 36 inches. They basically adhere to the same basic design; they use three legs to support a plate which your camera is attached to. The support legs telescope, where one part slides out from another, to save space and can lock into place via a mechanism. Tripods are quite portable and can be transported easily but typically, the more expensive tripods are made from lighter materials, such as carbon fibre, which are better for carrying for long periods of time. Full-size tripods can be pricey accessories and can cost from around £15 up to hundreds of pounds, from brands such as Calumet, Manfrotto, Slik or Velbon. If bulkiness is an issue, get a mini tripod – these are much smaller and range in length from 5 to 12 inches. They sit on a hard surface, such as a table top, and are cheaper, although they're not quite as steady as a full-size tripod. The major drawback for a mini tripod is load capacity and they may only be able to handle a mobile phone or compact camera.
- Monopods: another alternative to a tripod – with one leg instead of three, so they're not as stable as a tripod. They won't support your camera by themselves and you've got to hold them up. Monopods are a similar length to a full-size tripod, they offer some flexibility when shooting and are especially useful when the use of tripods is not permitted or when there is limited space. They're also popular with sports photographers who may need to move quickly around the field of play, for example.
- Gorillapods: you could also consider one of the new breed of camera stands, such as a Joby Gorillapod. A Gorillapod consists of flexible plastic ball joints which can be bent into position around objects such as fences, banisters or tree branches. There are different models for compact cameras, bridge cameras and DSLRs, and the larger models are designed to support the additional weight of DSLR lenses. Prices start at around £10 for the small Gorillapod, but expect to pay upwards of £30 for larger versions.
Digital camera memory card reader
A memory card reader, attached to your computer, is a better way of transferring photos from camera to computer than linking the two with a USB cable. It's quicker and saves camera battery life. Most memory card readers are pretty cheap, costing around £5.
Multi-card readers are also available. These can read many different types of card – useful if you have several cameras or electronic devices that use different types of memory cards. Most can read standard Secure Digital (SD) and high capacity (SDHC), Compact Flash (CF), Memory Stick (MS) and xD cards.
Digital camera external flashguns
Sometimes, the flash on your camera might not be powerful enough for your needs – a typical digital camera flash will illuminate your subject within a range of a few metres of the camera only (this is why most pictures from the stands at night-time football matches come out looking foggy and unclear).
Some higher-end cameras come with a hotshoe on the top onto which you can fit an external flash and other accessories. An external flash will give you a bigger flash range and illuminate subjects that are a bit further away. Also, you can usually change the direction of the flash. External flashes also have the advantage that they have more stamina (or recycling time), so you can take more consecutive flash photos without waiting for the flash to recharge.
Flashguns use their own batteries, usually AA, saving your digital camera's batteries. Plus, as the flash is further from the lens, the incidence of red-eye is reduced.
For DSLR cameras, each manufacturer has its own range of external flashguns, and these aren't usually interchangeable between brands.
The major branded flashgun product ranges are:
- Canon Speedlite
- Nikon Speedlight
Flashguns can attach via various methods:
Hotshoe – the most common type, a small mounting point in the shape of a 'U' that provides electrical contact for a flash attachment.
Ring flash – provides an even light source around the lens, eliminating shadows and ideal for macro or fashion photos.
Twin flash – similar to a ring flash, but with two flash units.
Hammerhead – often high-powered, these sit on brackets to the side of the camera body, giving off-centred lighting.
Digital camera cases and bags
A good camera case or bag will protect your camera from scratches, knocks, bumps and some drops. Some are also waterproof – good for that unexpected shower or extreme weather conditions.
They fall into the following categories:
- Shoulder bags – carried on one shoulder for easy access, often with external pockets for digital camera accessories
- Backpacks – generally larger than shoulder bags, some with capacity for a tripod
- Sling bags – a cross between a shoulder bag and a backpack
- Rolling cases – for the professional with large amounts of heavy equipment; with wheels and handles
- Hard cases – briefcases often made from aluminium with internal foam padding