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’ve been a reader of Popular Photography Magazine (AKA PopPho) for quite a while (you could ask how long, but I don’t think I’ll tell you), and they sorta cover the bases in the field of photography and gear (though they do use a lot of exclamation points). But I suspect they got paid off by some gizmo makers while putting together their list of the 28 best Photo Gear Bargains for 2011. It could be the author of this article doesn’t have to work for his money, or it could be he just can’t keep it in his pocket (or maybe he’s a temp worker from an agency). But I’m sure you don’t want to waste your own precious earnings, so don’t you buy a thing until you scope out my take on their take (you’ll want to follow the experienced professional that actually uses these things - i.e. me).


The Datacolor SpyderCube: They say it “makes color balancing simple”. I say that at $40 it’s a mighty expensive Christmas Tree Ornament, which is how you will wind up using it. Come on, there are much cheaper alternatives to this thing that will work as well (such as a gray card or a peanut butter jar lid). You are more likely to be killed by terrorists than actually use (or need) this thing.


Adorama Flashpoint Radio Remote: All cheap radio triggers have one thing in common: they wind up in your box of junk gizmos that you think you might be able to find an alternate use for, someday. If you want radio triggers you can use everyday, buy the Pocket Wizards. They are more expensive than the made-in-China trash Adorama is selling, but they work; all the time. And they have resale value (all the guys that bought the cheap radio triggers are looking to buy some Pocket Wizards).


Joby Gorillapod Video: It’s for “mini-camcorders”, which you will use while lying on your belly. If you’re young and flexible, energetic and rich enough to buy yourself a real tripod when you’re tired of this one, go ahead and waste your money. You can always sell the thing for $2 at your next yard sale. You’re certainly an optimist if you think you can get a useable tripod for $30. It’s hard to get a kid to cut your grass for that amount.


Sandisk 4GB Extreme Class 6 SDHC Card: Here is the first thing the boys at PopPho have suggested that I can also recommend. You can’t have too many memory cards (I can’t remember how many I have). It’s good that it’s cheap ($14 for 4GB), as in my experience SanDisk does not honor their warranty (yes, memory cards do fail).


Lexar 8Gb Echo ZE Backup USB Flash Drive: This is a good idea. By all means, get one of these, or better yet, get the 32GB Echo ZX. It has 4 times as much storage (you’ll need it) for 2.5 times as much money. Remember, it’s never a bargain to buy something you’ll quickly outgrow. Amazon has the 32GB ZX for just $51.


Op/Tech Rainsleeves: If your work takes you into the elements a lot, these are, indeed, a good idea; as long as you don’t mind getting wet. An umbrella will keep both you and your camera dry.


Tamrac Rally 5 DSLR/Netbook Bag: Tamrac makes good bags, I’ve got several of them myself. But they’re hardly a bargain. If you want a bargain camera bag that you really will use all the time, try one of these. 40 bucks and if you destroy it, they’ll trade you for a new one. Mine holds two huge DSLR’s  with a gonzo lens (we’re talking big) on each one. Plus a macro lens and flash. And it doesn’t shout “Steal me”.


Cam Caddie Scorpion: Dan the PopPho man says this is “the poor man’s Steadycam.” That’s like saying a Chevy is “the poor man’s Rolls Royce.” Sorry, us po’ folks jus’ cain’t afford either a Steadycam or a Rolls Royce. The Cam Caddie Scorpion is just a handle, folks; a $40 plastic handle. If you can’t afford good gear, you also can’t afford trash that piles up in the corner of your closet.


Westcott 7-Foot Parabolic Umbrella: Now this is a good piece of gear; if you have a studio big enough to handle it. At $100, it costs 3 times what I paid for my 54 inch umbrellas, and you’ll need 15 foot ceilings, and expensive light stands to hold it (it’s bigger than you, remember) so this is not a product most of the “studio-at-home” bargain hunters can actually use. If you want umbrellas for your lights, get these.


Adobe Photoshop Elements 9: This is a good program for the “can’t-get-it-right-in-the-camera” crowd, but if you want a really useful program that will meet almost all your real photo needs, buy an iMac and download Aperture 3 from the App Store. The program is $80 and simply fantastic. No program on the market can touch it. It slices, dices, makes books, web sites and organizes your images. Check it out here.


NovaCon NovaFlip Flash Bracket: Another poorly designed piece of junk that you will eventually discard. I don’t think the PopPho fellas actually do photography for a living. If they did, they’d know this is the bracket to buy when you don’t want to have to buy another one, ever.


Canon 75-300mm F/4 - 5.6 III USM: Bargain lenses are ok, and this one offers a lot of range for the price. It’s also light weight. I haven’t used one of these, so I can’t say how good it is, but it is 1/8th the price of the 100-400 L series lens that I love so much.


Nikon 50mm F/1.8G ED AF-S Nikkor: If you really want a bargain 50mm, you will either buy a used Nikkor and save a hundred dollars, or you’ll own a Canon camera – their 50mm f1.8 is half the price of the Nikon, brand new.


Manrotto MKC3 Photo-Movie Kit Tripod: Dan the man likes this tripod because it’s light and has a pistol grip head. Just remember, light is equal to flimsy, and flimsy has never held any camera very steady. Steady is the reason you want a tripod, right? This tripod definitely won’t be your last.


Lumopro lp160 Manual Flash: A manual flash? For 160 smackers? What are we, nuts? If you know how to use a manual flash, you’ll also know that an ISO 100 Guide Number of 140 isn’t going to light up the Albert Hall; or much else, for that matter. Save your hard-earned cash for something usable. Try a used Metz 60 CT-4 ($200-300, used, at KEH or B&H) for great auto flash, easy manual operation and twice as much light (German quality, too, Achtung!) or buy a couple of these for studio work.


Western Digital MyBook Live 3TB: I’ve got three dead Western Digital hard drives sitting on a shelf and they took a lot of data with them. I have not had any other brand of hard drive fail at the rate of Western Digital drives. Why don’t you play it safe and have a nice game of Russian Roulette with your bowling buddies? If you want safe, reliable back up (for a bargain price), you want one of these.


Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS10: If you’re into toy cameras, by all means, be my guest. They come in pretty colors, so it’ll look good on your shelf. Oh, you were wanting to make photographs with it?


Sigma 50-200mm F/4-–5.6 DC OS HSM: Sigma makes decent lenses that seem to give good value for the money, so I won’t get snarky over this choice. At the price of $160, it seems an ok buy.


Quantum Trio Flash Basic: Yes, this flash is as awkward as it looks. No, it’s not any more powerful than the top of the line Canon and Nikon flashes. At  $645, though, it’s 50% more expensive. And the price doesn’t include the battery. That’s another $500. If you really want a powerful flash that can use the Turbo battery pack and fire all day long, try the Metz AF58-2. Unlike the Canon 580EXII, it will run straight off the turbo battery (without running down your AA’s ) and unlike the Canon flashes, it has a true Auto mode that doesn’t use the TTL control of your camera. This is good, because TTL stinks. The Metz also has a sub flash for fill light when you bounce off a ceiling. It cost less than the Nikon and Canon top-of-the-line flashes and out performs them, for less money. Made in Germany, jawohl!


Olympus PEN E-PL2 With 14–-42mm and 40–-150mm Lenses: OK, I’ll admit it, I’d love to have one of these kits to play with.  But I want the 12mm f2 & 45mm f1.8 as my kit lenses.


Epson Stylus Photo R3000:  Epson makes some great printers, and they keep sending me free stuff, but I prefer the replaceable print heads of the HP printers. Dan is right on about this one, though. It is “Nice.” Except for roll paper – have you ever used one of these little printers (I use 44inch and 54 inch printers, myself) for prints from a roll? You’d better have some large tomes handy to flatten the curl out of them!


Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5–6.3 DI II VC PZD: “With excellent SQF numbers at all but the longest focal length”; you won’t want to use this lens for wildlife… or sports… or architectural details… (all of which demand the longest focal length)… and the maximum aperture at 270mm is f 6.3… but otherwise at $640, this lens is “absolutely” a bargain? I guess they have to fit Tamron into this list somehow. For $35 more you could have a quality lens with 1.5 times the light transmission (f4 vs f6.3) and a much better build. It’s a 70-200, but you’ve already got an 18-55 kit lens, right? You could also buy one used and save $100. Remember, if you hate it, it’s never a bargain.


Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS: “relatively low noise” and a lousy flash… but since you’ll only be taking photos of your relatives with this thing, why not?


Vanguard Auctus Plus 283CT Carbon Fiber Tripod: I don’t think there is a carbon fiber tripod in the world that can legitimately be called a “bargain” (this one doesn’t even come with a head to mount your camera). For the same $430, you can buy a great aluminum tripod (with a head) that won’t blow over in a hurricane. And isn’t the purpose of a tripod to hold your camera still?


Pentax K-r with 18–55mm and 50-200mm Lenses: Pentax has always made great glass and solid cameras, so if you’re going to buy a kit and take it to the grave with you, this is as good a choice as any. If, however, you’re  looking for “a great way to get into DSLR’s”, go with a system that allows you to expand and has truly professional lenses. Your choices in that respect are Nikon and Canon.


Sony Cyber-shot HX100v “Our tests found imaging performance near the DSLR level”

For $450 you can get a lot closer than “near.” Forget the wannabe DSLR’s and get yourself the real thing. Try a Nikon  D3100 or a Canon Rebel  XS.


Rokinon 85mm F/1.4 : “its (sic) an incredibly good lens.” Maybe. I’ve never used one, so I don’t know, but in the photographic field (as in the rest of the world), price and quality always correlate. Caveat Emptor.


Sigma EF-610  DG Super Flash: Forget this flash, go with the previously recommended Metz 58AF-2. It has the sub flash and non-TTL automatic mode (as well as the TTL). It also has a metal foot (it makes a clinking sound when it walks).


Just remember, the equipment you soon outgrow is never a bargain. Buy quality and you will never regret doing so.