Isn't it great when a product turns out to be better than you expected? It's like getting something for nothing! :D That's the case with these products. Some of them are even flawed but I've found all of them to be far more useful than I ever imagined.
1. ADOBE PHOTOSHOP LIGHTROOM 3
What I expected: a faster way to organize photos and edit them. I didn't expect that much out of it, even after trying out the software. I only bought it when I found a way to get LR3 at half price legally.
What I got: it's not only perfect for organizing thousands of photos and publishing my photos online (to Picasa, Flickr, and Facebook), but is also an easy to use, incredibly fast, AND surprisingly powerful photo editor. Despite lacking the ability to handle layers, I would absolutely recommend it as the best and most important postprocessing program that I'm aware of.
Intro to Lightroom 3
Moving to Lightroom 3
2. TARGUS SLING BAG
What I expected: a camera bag that would allow me to use my camera more quickly, and would allow me to carry my tripod.
What I got: the camera bag unfortunately suffered from a ripped seam, which I was able to get repaired. Notwithstanding the less-than-stellar build quality, I find this bag extremely useful because it allows me to carry both of my camera bodies (with lenses attached), both flashes, and a tripod when I need one, all in a compact bag that I wouldn't hesitate to carry around with me.
Note: the Targus sling bag design is similar to that of the Lowepro Slingshot 202 AW, which may or may not be sturdier.
Related posts: Targus Black Label DSLR Essential Kit
3. NIKON D70
What I expected: I decided to get a second body in order to make better use of my Sigma 50-150. I chose a used Nikon D70 because it can be bought inexpensively and had a native sync speed of 1/500.
What I got: after getting the D70, I started using my Sigma 50-150 more often, easily by a factor of ten. I also found out how to get unlimited sync speed (using manual flash). At the same time, the quality of the images is still quite good for such an old camera. Even noise is fairly well controlled. Because of the very high sync speed, I actually prefer using the D70 over the D300 when I'm using flash in bright conditions. All this from a camera that can be had for less than a new Nikon flash.
Second Body vs. Second Flash
Base ISO vs. Sync Speed
Nikon D70 Sync Speed Tests
Update to Nikon D70 Sync Speed Tests
4. 2nd CLS FLASH
What I expected: I got an SB-600 as a second flash primarily because of the remote adjustment capability.
What I got: Not only did the remote adjustment allow me to adjust flash exposure more quickly, but because the SB-600 is a wireless TTL unit, I've been able to coordinate its flash exposure with my SB-800 to create subtle but interesting effects. With the immense possibilities that this creates, it's like discovering how to use flash all over again!
Second Search for Second Flash
In Retrospect: Second Search for Second Flash
5. MANNEQUIN HEAD
What I expected: I got a mannequin head to help me study portrait lighting.
What I got: By practicing with the mannequin head, I learned how to execute the basic portrait lighting styles (butterfly, loop, Rembrandt, split) anytime, reliably. In addition, I was able to do experiments on fill ratios, compare the effects of different modifiers, study TTL flash exposure, and conduct a whole host of other tests, on a subject that has infinite patience.
Related post: Studying Portrait Lighting