While it’s always fun to window-shop $14,000 lenses, the best value for the dollar can be had from some simple $30 or less accessories. Over the last year, I’ve found 4 pieces of gear that have earned a permanent place in my bag — here are my favorite cheap and functional accessories that can all fulfill a variety of roles.
In the past, I’ve carried a Leatherman-style multi-tool on hikes and landscape shoots, and it’s come in handy a number of times. Whether I’m using the pliers to pull some cactus out of my boots, or using the bit driver to tighten up a mounting bracket, it’s a great tool to have around. If you’re just shooting around town, however, it’s probably overkill from both a budget and size perspective. Not to mention, a number of the tools are irrelevant for most photographic uses.
Instead, check out one of the photography-centric multi-tools. Smallrig, makers of my favorite L-Bracket, also make a variety of these multi-tools. They feature a variety of photographer and videographer-focused tools — think Phillips screwdrivers, flathead screwdrivers, Torx and allen wrenches, and a threaded storage hole for storing spare screws. The individual models feature slightly different loadouts of tools, but all of them would be much more relevant to photographers than an outdoors-focused multi-tool.
What’s particularly nice about this style of tool is that it’s much easier to stick in your bag and forget about it. As it doesn’t have any type of blade, it should be less problematic to bring while traveling (of course, make sure you’re following the rules of the location and erring on the side of caution). It’s also smaller, lighter, and doesn’t require any other accessories to be useful.
Mini LED Light
I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the functionality of mini LED lights. One of my favorites is the inexpensive W64RGB, a little RGB LED light about the size of an Altoid’s tin. With it being so small, and featuring a USB-C rechargeable battery built-in, I’ve started to just leave this light in a small pocket in my bag. So far, I’ve used it for a B-roll light for product photos in lieu of a separate light with gels, a little area light when setting up for a drone night flight, and as a “main” video light when recording a vlog. If you’re into light painting, this can also be a great option, thanks to the bright RGB modes and interesting square form-factor - it’s a nice contrast with the rounder, more intense light pattern from a flashlight.
Even at the brightest setting, it can get about 2 hours of light, which can be expanded up to 15 hours at the dimmer settings. Controlling the light is easy, with a dedicated rocker switch controlling brightness and another controlling the hue or function in other modes. Speaking of other modes, it also features a variety of special effects modes, simulating lightning, fire trucks, candlelight, or other modes.
While it won’t compete with a full-size light panel, it can put out a perfectly reasonable amount of soft light for the size and price, all while being easy to operate. It comes with a threaded mount, cold shoe, and even a magnetic backplate, making it a simple and self-contained package.
The Giottos Rocket Air Blaster is a little less multifunctional than the other entries on this list, but does one thing very well: produce a forceful stream of clean air that’s still delicate enough to use inside a camera. I’ve had one for years, and at this point, it might be the oldest piece of gear that I still use. In all that time, it’s held up well, unlike some similar products where the rubber has broken down quickly.
The rocket blower is perfect for dusting off gear, cleaning off-camera sensors, dusting off your laptop monitor before using a cloth, and any of the hundred other cleaning tasks you can think of. I’ve recently been flying my drone from a number of dusty locations, and the rocket blower has been helpful for dusting off both the gimbal and camera, so much so that I picked up another one just for my drone bag.
It’s a great replacement for canned air when cleaning around the office, as well. Since there’s no propellant, it won’t leave any residue on monitors, or leave that weird chemical smell in the air. If you’re looking for even more power, consider the DataVac electric duster. It’s more expensive and not nearly as portable as the Rocket Blower, but is even more powerful than “canned air”.
Whether you’re packing up cables to put in your bag, securing your tether cable to a tripod, or even just cable managing around the office, BongoTies are my new favorite. I’ve used those little Velcro straps and Zip ties in the past, but the BongoTie strikes the perfect balance between ease of use and strength. The closure mechanism, where you pass a little bamboo button through the rubber loop, is super easy to do, even with one hand. It’s quite secure in use while still remaining easy to “untie” at the end. Also, they come in a variety of colors, making it possible to even color coordinate cable groups with a little preparation.
Compared to zip ties, they’re gentler on your cables, as well as reusable. Unlike the Velcro straps, they don’t snag or catch on fabric, camera bags, or anything else. They also are completely free of adhesive — some cable sleeving has reacted poorly with gaffer tape, leaving a sticky mess behind. As a result, they’re my new favorite way to bundle up any cables, and at just a few bucks for a bag of them, they’re a great value. While not a complete replacement for a roll of gaffer tape, I’d reach for these first whenever I need to manage my cables.
I’m a big fan of cheap and versatile accessories, and I think that some humble tools can get overlooked in the coverage of camera gear. Are there any cheap tools you find indispensable when shooting?
Lead image courtesy of Jp Valery