The best Christmas gift ideas for myself

This Christmas I decided to buy gifts that would help me have a faster workflow in 2019. This is the list I created, and all the products in it are already being used… so I have more time for Christmas.

The best Christmas gift ideas for myself

Most of the gift ideas published at this time of the year are about products to give someone else. This is a different list, with the gifts I decided to give myself this Christmas.

Work faster! That’s something we all want – so as to have more free time –  but sometimes we just wish for it and really do not make the efforts to make it happen. I’ve promised myself a lot of changes to make it happen, and this period of the year I decided I would go ahead and create my own list of gifts that would make for a faster workflow.

I didn’t wait for Christmas, and most of the products I’ve chosen are already being used, but this is a list I wanted to share with readers here at ProVideo Coalition, because I believe some of the suggestions here will interest others. Most of my choices were about speed using computers, but even the choice of an air blower has to do with my goal: to work faster. Let’s dig into my choices!

 The best Christmas gift ideas for myself

An SSD to save an old computer

I’ve promised myself, for a long time, to change the OS disk of my email and writing computer, which is, although partially updated, still running on an old Intel D975XBX2 – known as Bad Axe 2 – from 2006. What was my main computer then is now a base machine that runs email,  Word and Web access. I’ve promised myself for a long time to clean the HDD and move the OS to an SSD, but it was only this November that I decided I was going to offer myself some extra speed this Christmas.

This Black Friday I spent $25 to buy a SanDisk SSD 120GB, which is enough for the OS and other programs, after I cleaned the HDD from stuff that was not needed, and now I’ve a faster machine, which is a joy to use, considering it’s an 11 year old computer. With this new lease of life, I believe, if nothing goes wrong, I’ve computer for a few more years, which confirms that my choice of motherboard, one decade ago, was one of the best decisions I made, computer wise. So, this is one of my best Christmas gifts, something that may well be used by readers who need to give an extra boost to an old computer.

The best Christmas gift ideas for myself

A faster card reader for 2019

When USB 3.0 first came, and with a computer having the ports to use the extra speed, I acquired one of the first USB 3.0 card readers available on the market. It was a bad choice, because it was/is so unreliable, that many times I use my old SanDisk  USB 2.0 card reader, which continues to run without problems after so many, many years. Recently, by suggestion of ProGrade Digital, I tried their Dual-Slot Workflow Reader and was immediately hooked.

There are different versions of the reader available, but I picked the one that made more sense to me, the CompactFlash & SD Dual-slot USB 3.1, Gen. 2 Workflow Reader, which offers two slots, CF and SD, like my old SanDisk card reader, but represents to it what the hare represented to the tortoise. With the difference that the hare always wins in this tale.

The Prograde Digital CompactFlash & SD Dual-slot USB 3.1, Gen. 2 Workflow Reader deserves a few lines more, and I want to write a short review about it, but right now I wanted to share with readers this reader as a wise gift idea, if you’re looking for ways to speed up the transfer of data from a card to a computer. Able to transfer data files at speeds of up to 1.25GB/s (10Gb/s), the ProGrade Digital Dual-Slot Workflow Reader now sits permanently at the base of my monitor, thanks to its magnetized bottom that connects the reader to any metal surface. Just a nice little touch on what is an excellent card reader.

The best Christmas gift ideas for myself

Seven USB 3.0 ports and two charging ports

I know USB 3.1 is widely available and that USB 3.2 is right round the corner, but with a 2013 motherboard on my photo editing computer, USB 3.0 is the best I can get. So, with this in mind, I wanted to have more USB ports, easily accessible, and a hub is the best thing you can get… if it is a reliable hub. I’ve had a four port USB 2.0  on my desktop for a while, and it has worked well, but now, with the ProGrade Digital Dual-Slot Workflow Reader mentioned above, I needed extra ports, so I looked after a USB 3.0 solution.

The motherboard has support for multiple 3.0 and 2.0 USB ports, but as usual when you start to add things, ports are never enough. Furthermore, for some stuff, like card readers, headphones, etc., I like to have a desktop hub, so I don’t need to crawl under the desk and search for a free port. So, the 4 port USB 2.0 has worked well, but now I’ve acquired a  USB 3.0 TP-Link 7-Port Hub with 2 Charging Ports – reference UH720 – which has six of the seven slots already occupied on a regular basis.

The TP-Link UH720 features USB 3.0 ports offer transfer speeds of up to 5Gbps, 10 times faster than standard USB 2.0, so I am better off than with my previous USB hub, and is backwards compatible with USB 2.0/1.1, although, as expected,  the actual transmission speed is limited by the setting of the device connected. The hub also includes two exclusive 5V/2.4A charging ports intelligently recognize and optimally charge attached iOS and Android devices. It’s just adequate to charge my smartphone and most USB-charged devices. It’s a nice little extra that made me decide for this unit.


The best Christmas gift ideas for myself

A docking station for your HDD collection

A docking station was something I had in my shopping list for a long time. Now I’ve one! It’s a BlueRay Docking Station USB 3.0 for two SATA 2.5 or 3.5” HDDs. I believe the brand does not matter – as long as it is reliable -, as there are so many different brands available. This is another device that uses a port on my TP-Link UH720 (see above) and makes it easy to access my growing collection of HDDs.

In fact, I’ve amassed a whole collection of hard drives throughout the years. I know I could build a home server or home cloud with an old computer case – of which I’ve a few around – but it would need to receive a series of disks, to make sense. In fact, much of the stuff in these hard drives is a bit like the contents of a ”morgue file”, which I rarely touch, so I keep them in a closet in my office.

The docking station is the easiest way to be able to check disks when needed, and the docking station I picked, having two slots, allows me to also transfer information between 2 disks and perform backups, besides sharing files. It feels like having a cloud on your desktop. With a USB 3.0 interface that allows for high transfer rates, it completes rather well my list of gifts that make for a faster workflow in 2019. And the TP-Link UH720 is here, again, the core element that makes all this possible. Great choice!

The best Christmas gift ideas for myself

A blower will make you work faster

I’ve had different kinds of air blowers to clean my lenses and sensors, including a rubber suction bulb ear washing syringe that works. But I wanted something else, and found this JJC CL-DF1 Dust-free Air Blower. It may not be the cheapest blower at +/-$25.00, and is not the smallest one to carry around, but the large volume of air output and the fact that this device has a filter were important to me, so I ordered through eBay.

Made of soft silicone, the blower features a long blowing nozzle with a soft tip to avoid accidental surface damaging when cleaning a lens or… a sensor. I acquired it essentially for cleaning the sensors on my cameras, so the fact that it has two single-way air valves set at both air inlet and outlet to guarantee only clean air blows out, was a key element. The filter at the air inlet – which also works as the base of the air blower – is equipped with quality filtering cloth, and the package includes three pieces of filter clothes and tool for installation, convenient for changing.

The JJC CL-DF1 Dust-free Air Blower – which is similar to the new Zee Pro from VisibleDust –  can be packed in a photo bag, but its size makes it more of a tool to use at home, for cleaning your gear after a shoot. That’s how I intend to use it, as one of the tools in my sensor cleaning kit, which is the final gift idea on my list.

The best Christmas gift ideas for myself

Cleaning your sensor the proper way

Since VisibleDust first introduced its kits for sensor cleaning that I’ve used them, to clean my own sensors, and those of people that were curious about the process but too afraid to try it. I’ve used other products too, mainly for testing, but my initial kit has lasted long and the original Sensor Brush is still being used. Those old enough will remember that the original kits had cotton tips applicators and not the swabs that came after. I still have some of those, along with the mode modern swabs from VisibleDust.

Now, as my original supply is almost gone, I wanted to acquire some more swabs and cleaning solution, and as I came across the JJC CL-DF1 Dust-free Air Blower on eBay, I also found sensor cleaning kits from the same company, and decided to order them together. What I got is a kit, reference CL-AS10, which contains 10 APS-C frame sensor cleaners and a bottle of 15ml cleaning solution.

There is another kit for full frame sensors, which offers the same quantities but is designed to cover the larger sensor. Made of high quality microfiber, the cleaning tongue features a high dust-attracting power and leaves no lint after cleaning. This works just like expected and, again, contributes to a faster workflow, as having the right tools to clean a sensor makes the whole operation faster. Not only that, having a clean sensor means you’ll spend less time at the editing stage looking for dust spots on your images. So, even this sensor cleaning kit contributes to my base idea with the Christmas shopping list: to have a faster workflow in 2019.

The best Christmas gift ideas for myselfBuy your own gifts before Christmas and enjoy them!

One final note: you don’t need to buy the exact same brands as I did to follow these gift ideas. Just pick the ones that are available in your country or region. Your list and the brands chosen may differ from mine, and you don’t even have to buy all these products. One good thing about buying your own gifts is that you can pick those that best suit your needs. The other good thing is that you don’t have to wait for the day of exchanging gifts to use them. That’s exactly what I did, setting all my devices and accessories to allow me to work faster, so I can start to enjoy some more free time. Right now!


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Journalist, writer and photographer since 1979, both print and online, with a vast experience in the fields of photography, software, hardware, web, aviation, History, video games, technology, having published content in almost all Portuguese newspapers…