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Gear & Gadgets : New for the Camera Bag

March 06, 1994|JUDI DASH

Everyone, it seems, has been bitten by the photo bug. Whereas not so many years ago only professional photographers and serious amateurs carried equipment more complex than a simple point-and-shoot, the increasingly automated nature of sophisticated cameras has made more versatile models increasingly popular with the general public.

A fully stocked camera bag can be heavy and space-consuming, a problem for those who like to travel light and spend a lot of time on foot. Several new products on the market can ease the burden for shutterbugs on the go. Herewith, innovations for the camera buff. Prices do not include shipping and handling, where applicable.

I consider both wide-angle and telephoto zooms essential for travel photography. A wide-angle lens of 28 millimeters or wider lets me get close to my subject and capture a swath of people amid their surroundings. A telephoto lens of at least 200 millimeters is necessary for shooting wildlife and bringing distant scenes closer. Until recently, the number and size of lenses you'd need to cover such a range made for heavy going indeed.

Now Tamron Industries, a longtime manufacturer of lenses, has devised an auto-focus (AF) 28-200-millimeter zoom lens that goes from wide-angle to telephoto with the flick of a wrist. Amazingly, this little lens measures just 3.2 inches long and weighs only a smidgen more than 15 ounces.

On a recent photo assignment in Indonesia, that was the only lens I used most of the time, which made my neck and shoulders ever so grateful. The lens does have some drawbacks. With a speed of f/3.8-5.6, this is a slow lens, not at its best in situations of low light or rapid movement--though fast-speed film can help.

In addition, I found the images shot with the Tamron 28-200 less crisp than with my less versatile but razor-sharp Nikon lenses. Still, for the amateur photographer just looking for a wide range of fun shots, this lens is ideal, the resulting photos adequate. Currently the lens is available in models to fit Nikon, Minolta and Canon auto-focus cameras, or, with an adapter, about 20 manual-focus models.

Tamron Industries' AF 28-200-millimeter zoom lens lists for $453, but is available for under $300 at discount camera stores.

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My camera gets a lot of rough treatment. Whether stuffed into a carry-on bag or hanging from my neck strap, banging along through city walks and soggy rain forests, it's vulnerable to myriad dangers that could put it out of commission. But my leather camera cover takes up too much space in my bag when not attached to the camera, and when it's wet it takes forever to dry. I've found a solution in the padded neoprene camera covers made by Zing, a San Francisco company.

The lightweight, water-resistant covers stretch over any single lens reflex (SLR) camera and are available in three models: The Zing SLR Cover accommodates cameras with lenses up to 4 1/2 inches long; the Harness SLR Cover has an additional elastic waist harness that secures the bag and camera during vigorous activities, and the Zoom SLR Cover can handle lenses up to 7 inches long. A new addition is a Video Cover for small camcorders. I've found the covers good for absorbing the shock from minor bumps as well as shielding my camera from dust and light rainl; they squash into a tiny space in my carry-on bag.

Zing SLR Cover (5302) in red or blue, reversible to black, is $28.50; Zoom SLR Cover (5318) in the same colors is $36; Harness SLR Cover (5330)in black is $39.50. The Video Cover (5327)in black is $39. All are available from Travelsmith, a mail-order company, (800) 950-1600. For a store near you, contact the manufacturer at (800) 359-9119.

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Many photographers have a love-hate relationship with tripods. They're essential for steadying a camera during low-light exposures, especially with slow-speed lenses, but they tend to be a pain--literally--to schlep around. The Slik Corp.'s portable 450G aluminum minipod is a diminutive (12 inches when collapsed), 18-ounce lightweight product that's especially helpful for hikers and others who tote their equipment around on the hoof. Midway between a table-top tripod and a full-size model, the minipod's three telescoping legs and center column extend to 33 5/8 inches, appropriate for shooting from a ledge or--if you kneel--from the ground. Used with a camera's self-timer, it also can be set up so you can get into your own picture. The tripod's light weight makes it unstable for very long lenses, but it handled my full-size Nikon 8008 with 70-210-millimeter zoom, when the ground was firm and the swivel-tilt head well-tightened. The tripod comes with a long cord for slinging over the shoulder.

Slik 450G Minipod (5311) is $39 from Travelsmith, (800) 950-1600, or at camera stores.

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If all of the above sounds oh-so-sophisticated, take heart. Even the junior set can get in on the camera craze with "My First Camera Book," complete with a simple reusable fixed-focus camera that uses a 110-film cartridge (not included). The book, which uses the Bialosky teddy-bear character as narrator, teaches kids how to load the film, frame a composition, keep the camera steady and take fun shots of friends, landscapes and even the family dog. The tiny red camera has a pop-up view-finder and a wrist strap.

"My First Camera Book" by Anne Kostick, with reusable camera (Workman Publishing; $9.95), is available at bookstores or from Book Passage, a mail-order company, at (800) 321-9785.

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