My favorite $50 gadgets.

I just got a batch of new gadgets in, all in the $50 (or less) price range, and all have made my life a bit easier.
* Meike Vertical Battery Grip for Nikon D810. I don’t need a vertical grip for my D810 very often. I usually use my Nikon D4s in such situations. So, why pay $400 or more for Nikon’s MB-D12? I treat this plastic version with care, and for $60 it does the job. If I were covering the Olympics or Super Bowl with a D810, I’d want the Nikon grip. But this one is fine for casual use.
* Henge Docks HD01VB11MBA Vertical Docking Station.11 In Macbook Air. Normally, my 11-inch MacBook Air is plugged into a 26 inch monitor, real mouse, and a full-size keyboard. Stored vertically in this dock, to use the Mac on the go, all I need to do is disconnect the power, lift it out, and tuck into the inside pocket of my Scottevest. With my iPhone’s WiFi hotspot turned on, I can do anything I do with my iPad — plus type!
*Panasonic XX Battery Powered by eneloop, 2500mAh High Capacity, 4 Pack AA Ni-MH Pre-Charged Rechargeable Batteries These batteries keep 80% of their power when stored a year, so I can fill my electronic flash with them and not have to worry about whether I have any juice. At $17 for a four-pack, these cost no more than regular rechargeables.
* Neewer 160 LED CN-160 Dimmable Ultra High Power Panel Digital Camera / Camcorder Video Light. This video light cost me $35, which more than compensates for the cheap plastic construction. I didn’t want to pay big bucks for an accessory I don’t use very often, and if you avoid hard knocks, this panel is big, bright, and comes with filters. Stuffed with Sanyo eneloops, it’s always ready to go, too.

The miracle Nikkor that Nikon won’t sell you.

The 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF ED IF is a full-frame zoom that Nikon dropped like a hot potato when the company introduced its inferior 18-200mm DX lens. It’s compact, about three inches long and three inches in diameter, weighs just 12 ounces, focuses down to 1.3 feet, and, at least, with my copy, is super sharp. I paid $330 for mine.

When I travel light overseas, it’s one of only two lenses I rely on (the other’s either a 10-24mm or 17-35mm Nikkor zoom.) On a modern camera with decent performance at ISO 1600 and up, the 28-200mm G lens is certainly “fast” enough at f/3.5-f/5.6 that you don’t miss a wider f/stop or VR. Mine is sharp enough at large apertures to still allow the selective focus effects I favor.

Unfortunately, it was introduced just as Nikon was phasing out full-frame *film* cameras in favor of DX *digital* cameras and, as the company had no FX digital models to sell, when the 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VR DX lens was introduced, this one was scrapped.

After all, the 28-200mm optic had a shorter range, no VR, and no Silent Wave motor. But, in terms of image quality and versatility, it was better than its “replacement” in every way. You may be able to find one used for roughly the original price, but they’re not as easy to find as you might expect. I wouldn’t sell mine for double what I paid for it.

The earlier D model, with an aperture ring, is not bad, but this one is better. It does take an odd-ball 62mm filter size, but I have step-up rings that let me use either 67mm or 77mm filters with it. (I have a complete set in both sizes.)

Yes, I refuse to live without my 70-200mm f/2.8 Nikkor when size and weight isn’t a factor. But when I am traveling overseas and trying to fit an entire camera kit (including Gitzo Traveler tripod) *plus* two weeks’ worth of clothing into a carry-on and personal item, this lens’s versatility can’t be beat.