Buyer's Guide 2007: Digital Camera Accessories Matter!
The right selection of gear will make shooting easier and more successful
A good camera strap can really make a difference. The UPStrap is extra-long, allowing it to serve as a shoulder strap instead of a neck strap—this can keep the strap from pressing on your carotid arteries and cutting off blood flow to the brain when you're carting a pro D-SLR with a long lens (so that's why I forgot to zero the exposure comp after taking that one shot at +2 EV). Another good strap choice is a "stretchy" one like those from OpTech. These magically seem to lessen the weight of your attached gear. I've more than once carted a pro SLR with heavy telephoto zoom lens around for long hikes using the aforementioned straps and experienced no fatigue. These things work!
Your memory cards are your images. Protect those images by keeping the cards in the plastic cases that come with them. If you've lost the cases or want to improve on them, an accessory card case is just what you need. Gepe's Card Safe Extreme provides waterproof, dustproof, static-proof and shockproof protection for any combination of up to four CF, SM, SD and MS cards, and it floats even when fully loaded.
It can be hard to see the image on the LCD monitor in bright conditions like direct sunlight. A flip-up LCD hood fits over the camera's monitor, providing monitor-surface protection when flipped down and a shaded view of the image when flipped up. Hoodman, Delkin and Screen-Shade offer such devices.
Perhaps the major drawback of D-SLRs is that dust can settle on the image sensor (or usually, the filter just in front of it) each time you change lenses. When this happens, the dust will appear in every shot until the sensor is cleaned. Several companies offer sensor-cleaning kits, VisibleDust and Copper Hill Images among them. Remember that image sensors are fragile. Be careful, and follow the directions that come with the cleaning kits.
Most D-SLRs (and some compact digital cameras) come with rechargeable lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries and a charger, and that's a definite advantage—you can shoot many shots on a charge and won't have to buy a new battery until you've recharged the original 300 or more times. Some entry-level D-SLRs come with four AA alkaline batteries, which won't last long in a digital camera. For cameras that accept AA batteries, it's best to acquire a set of rechargeable NiMH batteries (at least 2300mAh) and a charger or some AA lithium batteries. Both will provide far more shots than standard alkaline AAs; the rechargeable type can be used again and again, while the lithium cells have a very long shelf life and good cold-weather performance.
Regardless of what type of battery your camera uses, always have at least one spare (or spare set, if the camera uses more than one battery) with you. It's annoying to run out of power just when you find something great to photograph.
If your camera uses proprietary batteries, it's always safest to go with the camera manufacturer's batteries for spares (at least one manufacturer is introducing a D-SLR that won't accept other-brand batteries). But if you're on a tight budget, you can save some money by buying batteries from a reputable independent battery supplier. If your camera uses common batteries, such as AAs, just stick with a major brand of the proper spec, and you'll be fine.
You might consider a battery grip for your camera. This attaches to the bottom of the camera via the tripod socket and provides more battery power as well as a more comfortable grip for those with larger hands. Many grips provide a second set of controls for convenient vertical-format shooting. The battery grip generally holds two of the standard camera batteries, or six AA batteries, which is handy should you run out of power in a location where only AAs are available.