2014 Back to School Buying Guide

Forget the highlighters and Trapper Keepers, it's time to stock up on photo gear

In a way, we're all students of photography. The medium is constantly teaching us things and reminding us how much we have left to learn. But, for actual students, having the right gear can mean

Grade School
Your little ones may not be taking many of the photos, but primary school can be prime time to get great photos before they grow up.

When you have kids, time is at a premium. Everything happens so quickly that even taking a second to switch lenses could mean the difference between getting an awesome shot and totally missing it. that's why an all-in-one lens like this one can come in so handy. You do make some trade-offs. The image quality can't compete with primes or pro-grade lenses and it's not as fast, but the flexibility is invaluable.

Want to get up close when the kids are playing in the yard? Go to 16mm. No problem. It's as wide as you'll find in a super zoom. Someone has a football, soccer, any other outdoor sports game? Zoom in to 300mm and get the tight shots. It's also fairly compact, so bringing it with you won't seem like too much of a chore.

Many people don't' do much printing of their photos anymore, but we still think it's great to have a tangible version of your photo you can hold in your hands. One of the more interesting ways to do that is with a photo book and Blurb has tons of options to choose from. You can make the process as simple or as custom and complex as you'd like. It's not as cheap as churning out a bunch of 4x6 prints at the local big box store, but the quality is better and the final product is much more likely to last.

If you use the simple editor, it's even easier enough for a small kid to do it, so you could let him or her design a book and make their own custom piece they can bring in for show and tell. Let's see that rock you found in the yard beat that, little Johnny.

Chances are you're going to be sharing quite a few photos of your little people as they grow up through services like Instagram. A full-fledged editing app like VSCO lets you apply a whole array of different stylized filters to your photos, almost all of which blow the native Instagram filters out of the water. Past that, they have a whole suite of editing tools that let you adjust things like exposure, contrast, and even color temperature.

If you like the app, you can download more filters, but the free version is actually very excellent. Plus, the interface is extremely easy to use, so if you do want to let your kids in on the editing action, they can pick up the process in a snap without a marathon explainer session.

You're going to want to bring your camera to all kinds of special events, from recitals to sporting events. Chances are, though, that you're going to have to carry another bag with you anyway. That makes a dedicated camera bag a hassle. This ultra-sturdy camera pouch is a great solution. The top-loading design lets you get at the camera in a hurry. It comes in three different sizes, so you can opt for the big one if you're the type of parent that goes packing the big telephoto lens or the small one if you're more apt to bring a mirror less camera.

The dedicated shoulder strap is adjustable, so it's eassy to get the right fit and the extra pockets let you cram in other essentials like memory cards, batteries, or extra tissues. Never enough tissues.

Trying to get your little ones into photography can be tremendously rewarding and tons of fun. Unfortunately, it can also be extremely tough on your cameras. The AW120, however is the toughest camera in Nikon's line. It's resistant to drops and other impacts, as well as dirt and grime. Perhaps most importantly, though, it's also waterproof, so not only can it survive a dip into the pool or the sink (and yes, even the toilet), but it's also really easy to clean.

But, even despite its tough exterior, it's certainly not a toy camera. It gives you the performance of a real, dedicated camera with a 16-megapixel sensor, a 5x optical zoom lens and a real flash that puts your smartphone to shame.

High School
This is where many kids start to pick up their real love for photography. Many high schools don't have dark rooms anymore, but digital photography and art classes are even more prevalent. It's a great time to get started.

High school students are some of the most prolific smartphone photographers around, which makes it hard to stand out online. The Olloclip, however, gives smartphone photos an entirely different look by actually adding optics to the system.

The 4-in-1 offers, as you might expect, four different options for lens modification. You get a fisheye adapter for a 180-degree field of view, a wide angle lens for more realistic looking wide shots, a 10x macro for close-ups, and a 15x macro for seriously close shots. The whole thing is easily carried in a pocket, too, so he or she can dominate Instagram without having to carry around a lot of extra stuff.

In grade school, choosing a backpack is simple. It's all about which super hero you want to wear around on your back. But, high school is a different story. This daypack has a fully-protected camera compartment in the bottom that tilts out so it's easy to get at any gear you may need. The top section is meant to carry all kinds of personal belongings with a few extra zippered pockets to protect fragile things like hard drives. It can even hold up to a 17-inch laptop, so it's ready to carry just about everything a student would need, even if they're not lugging any camera gear. Plus, it's all-black and stylish, so it's as far as you can get from the super hero graphics.

Being able to use a tripod correctly is an essential photography skill that's unfortunately lost on many people in the smartphone camera generation. The MeFoto Road Trip, though, is a totally portable camera support system that comes in a multitude of colors and folds down to just 15.4-inches when it's collapsed. It doesn't look nerdy, but it has all the functionality and stability you'd expect out of a high-end tripod.

It even sets up and tears down quickly, which all but negates the typical gripes most shooters have with putting the camera on sticks. The photography habits kids develop now may stick with them forever.

One of the first things you learn when you become a photographer is how to recognize great light. The next step, then, is learning how to manipulate light to make it great, and a reflector is a great way to get started doing just that. Profoto's one of foldable reflectors come in a variety of sizes and surfaces. All the classics are represented, like black, white, silver, gold, and even a silver/gold mix for vibrant-but-warm highlights.

They fold up to be very compact, but they have sturdy handles and burly frames, so a student can get one now and likely use it until current generation camera technology seems about as fresh as the floppy disc.

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College
Even if you're not in a photograph program at school, picture making can still be a big part of life on campus.

Instant film cameras have been a party staple since they were first introduced, giving guests a chance to memorialize their wild times in one-off prints. This wireless printer, however, takes that functionality and gives it to the ubiquitous smartphones residing in the pockets of every partier.

The battery-powered printer is controlled by a special smartphone app. It can spit out Instax Mini-sized prints emblazoned with custom messages, headers, and even Instagram information. The film isn't the cheapest, but the little prints are a lot more awesome than a Snap Chat could ever be.

With storage options up to 6 TB, you can fit a lot of photo files onto the Western Digital MyCloud. that also leaves room for lots of other stuff like videos, movies, and music files. The My Cloud hooks up to a wireless network and allows users to access the data living on the drive from smartphones or browsers. So, If you want to edit photos between classes, you can get at your files. Or, if you want to watch a movie during a particularly boring sociology lecture, you could do that too. We don't condone that last one, though.

Tenba BYOB Camera Insert

Most of the time on campus, lugging books and other standard school supplies is paramount. The BYOB insert is meant to take some dedicated camera gear and keep it safe while it's lugged around in a non-camera bag. They come in a variety of sizes, the smallest of which is meant to lug a mirrorless camera, while the biggest is good for a small DSLR with enough room left over for a lens or two. They have extra zippered pockets for carrying small accessories and a handle on top making them easy to get in and out of your bag.

The real draw, though, is the padding, which is both rugged and customizable so no matter what basic kit you want to bring with you, it won't suffer the attacks from your keys or whatever else you keep in your bag.

Rode iXY Stereo Microphone

Whether you're making a Vine or trying to capture sound for a student film, audio is important and the mic on your camera or your phone just doesn't cut it. The i-XY, however, is a real microphone that plugs into the Lightning port on the iPhone of iPad. it records 24-bit/96k audio, which is much more fidelity than the native mic could hope to deliver. Because it's stereo recording, you can get true directional sound, which can make a big difference if you're recording live music. It can't, however, make the recording of a long lecture seem less tedious.

With so much media coming by way of the internet, a monitor is no longer just an extension of the computer. It doubles as a media center. This 22-inch display is LED backlit, which gives it even illumination and makes it eco-friendly.

Most importantly, though, it uses an IPS panel, which means that it will provide more accurate and reliable color for editing photos and videos. It even comes with a few added bonuses, like an integrated 4-port USB hub for connecting extra peripherals.

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Photography Student
If you're taking your photography education to the university level, these products will make life a little easier while you get your hustle on.

Epson V550 Film Scanner

It used to be tough to find a college campus without an active darkroom, but sadly that's no longer the case. Still, film can be a big part of a photography program and immediate access to a decent scanner can make life a lot easier. The V550 scans film or flat images at up to 6400 dpi. So, while it won't be creating any billboards, it will save some cash compared to having it done at the lab. if you want, the scanner can also upload scanned photos directly to Facebook.

Photo school used to mean blowing through box after box of film, but things have changed. Now, we deal in memory cards, and they can be scarily easy to lose. Clik Elite's Memory Card Valet holds up to 16 different memory cards in a burly nylon wrap. It closes snugly with strong Velcro and has a larger zippered pocket that can hold more cards or other small accessories. The whole thing is bright orange to make it easy to find whether you're digging around for it in your bag or trying to find it on the floor of your dorm room beneath a mountain of dirty laundry.

Lacie Thunderbolt Rugged
A basic hard drive is fine for saving snapshots, but when you're backing up your thesis project, your storage becomes extremely crucial. LaCie's brightly accented drive connects via USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt, giving it a max transfer speed of 387 MB/s. If you're using a medium format camera or shooting a ton of frames, that fast transfer can save a ton of time. Plus, the whole package is shock, dust, and water resistant, so even if there's something of a small disaster, all your hard work will live on.

When you're doing photography all the time in a high-pressure situation, it can start to seem too academic. It can even be a chore. That's why the Lomography Konstruktor camera kit can be a great change of pace. The camera comes in pieces and part of the process includes the several hours it takes to put it together. it offers a tremendous amount of entertainment and satisfaction even before you wind up roll number one.

It has a fixed lens and you can also get the optional flash as part of the kit if you'd prefer to make the project even more robust.

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Continuing Education
There are lots of great continuing education photography classes out there for people of all ages. They can be anywhere from the local high school to an area college. There's always a place to learn.

Shooting a lot of photos won't necessarily make you a great photographer, but getting better means spending a lot of time behind the camera. All those photos files take up a ton of space and Seagate's Central drive offers a simple backup solution for keeping them organized in one place. It comes in either 2 or 4-terabytes, so it has tons of space to store photos in addition to just about anything else you might want to stick on a hard drive. Plus, it has wireless capabilities so you can remotely back up your stuff or stream media to a device from afar.

If you're getting serious about photography, that also means getting serious about editing your photos. Starting up with raw capture, however, can be a bit intimidating. Capture One Express carries many of the same features as its more sophisticated sibling, but the interface is simplified to make things easier to navigate. It uses a clever and speedy library system, too, so not only will it help you make your images look better, but it will also keep you from falling into the trap of one folder on your computer called "pictures" with a hundred thousand unsorted photos in it. You can also try the free trial before you buy to see if it fits your needs.

As you start on your journey to learn lighting, you'll get to know a variety of modifiers very well. Picking the right ones, however, can be extremely important. The Rapid Box series is built around Wescott's theme of easy-to-assemble soft boxes. The rods come built into a sturdy frame, so setting the whole thing up takes just a few seconds rather than minutes. The flash sits on the outside of the box to keep it cooler and to give you more options in terms of distance and flash head zoom. Plus, they're built specifically for speedlites, so you can get started with gear you probably already have.

Self-Teacher
You don't have to be in school to be a student of photography. If you're teaching yourself the ways of the camera, here's some gear that can help you along your journey.

There's nothing quite like having a knowledgeable teacher ready to answer your questions about the photographic process, but that's not always an option. This video series from photographer Zack Arias, however, does a good job explaining some of the basics involved with starting in on flash photography. It assumes you're already comfortable with your camera and doesn't talk down to you like some other videos tend to. It's also taught in a very conversational tone, so it doesn't get tedious and feel like a lecture.

It's broken up into two parts, the first demonstrating the techniques and explaining the theories and the second showing everything in action on real shoots. You'll likely watch it more than once.

People often debate whether or not you should use a filter on the front of your lens all the time, but if you're the type of person who is constantly putting your lens in harm's way to get the shot, it's definitely not a bad idea. Hoya's Antistatic filters actually repel dust and are resistant to other common annoyances like the dreaded fingerprints. This is because they use a special coating and ultra-hardened glass to give your front element lots of extra protection.

But, more importantly, Hoya claims a 99.8% light transmission rate, which means adding more glass to the front of your lens won't ruin your images like some other cheap-o filters will. They're light weight and have a low profile, too, so you can use them with walk-around and wide-angle lenses.

Yes, your camera has a light meter built-in, but working with a dedicated meter can really change the way you see and set up photographs. The L-308S is extremely small, but it does everything you'd expect a full-on light meter to do. It can do both ambient and flash meter readings and it can read both reflected and incident light. The screen is easy to read without giving you information overload and the settings are simple due to the pared down button array.

It gives you the kind of granular control over light and exposure that will have a tangible effect on the way your pictures look if you're willing to take the time to use it.

Star Trail photography is one of the hottest segments right now and to do it properly, an intervalometer is a crucial tool. Satechi's Bluetooth rig wirelessly syncs up with your camera and tells it what to do via a dedicated smartphone app. You can do regular exposures as well as timed exposures just by tapping on your phone. The receiver is relatively tiny and fits directly in the camera's hot shoe, which makes setting it up pretty easy. Just make sure to get the right one for the type of camera with which it's going to be used.

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