There are lots of people that are hard to buy for, and photographers seem like they should be easy–a strong interest, perhaps verging on an obsession, usually helps–but the very gear-intensiveness of photography seems to undermine it and make things harder than it should be.
The Big Stuff: Photographic Gear
Photographers tend to be particular about their gear, and so much of the gear is identified by obscure numbers and letters. How’s a non-photographer to know the difference between a 50mm f1.4 lens and a 50mm f1.8, especially if you throw in variants like D-AF, G-AFS, MF, ED, AI, AIS, as well as different brands? And just changing one letter or number can make the difference between something that’s $80 and something that’s $1500 and one that’s compatible and one that isn’t.1
Buying expensive gear for someone else can turn what should be the fun of gift giving into a (potentially expensive) crap shoot. So if you’re going to buy the big stuff, it’s better to spoil some of the surprise and ask exactly what they want.
Or go with a gift card. Even if they don’t cover the full amount of a purchase, any contribution is likely to be gratefully received.
Some of the places with the best selections of photography gear (and therefore safe bets for having something a photographer will want/need) are:
- B&H Photo (US, but ship worldwide)
- Adorama (US, but ship worldwide)
- Jessops (UK and Europe)
- District Camera (Washington, DC, area)
In Praise of Wishlists
If you’re a photographer, you can do people a favor by setting up a wishlist at B&H, Adorama, or Amazon, or whatever your preferred photography retailer is. Many photography retailers with a serious online presence now have these available. Setting up a wishlist doesn’t need to appear presumptuous. Like a wedding registry, it’s not sending the message of expectation; it’s sending the message that I really don’t need four toasters.
GoPro HERO7 Blacktaking photos too. They’re fun to shoot with as an alternative to pulling out the bigger, heavier cameras. And they can go places most cameras can’t, including underwater, in the snow, or on the front of snowboard or bike. The HERO7 Black is the current flagship model, has all the bells and whistles, and is the most expensive, but there are two other models, the Silver and White, that are still very capable at much lower price points. If those prices are still a bit steep, another option is a knockoff like the Akaso EK70000 or the SJCAM SJ4000, which can be surprisingly good for a very reasonable price.
Olympus TG-5 Waterproof Cameradetailed review here.
Rent-Lenses-by-Mail Gift Card: $50-$200 approx.
Camera gear can be expensive, and it’s often not realistic to get an expensive lens or camera as a gift. But here’s another great idea: give a gift card to a rental by mail vendor. In the past few years, several lens, camera, and equipment rental places have sprung up and have really impressive ranges of equipment available. You can rent for as short or as long a time as you like, and the lens or other item is shipped to you via Fedex or UPS with all the necessary packaging and pre-paid mailer to return it when you’re done–a bit like Netflix (although you pay per rental, not as a subscription). It gives you the option to try fancy equipment you could never realistically afford to buy, and it’s a great way to try a lens before you commit to buying it.
There area a number of good rental places online. Some of the more established ones with large selections of rental gear are:
Here are some gift ideas and stocking stuffers that won’t break the bank, that have a high fun quotient, and that the photographer in your life is unlikely to have.
Photography-Themed T-Shirts: $10-$40
I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorites, but Googling “photography t-shirt” will show a bunch more. Some are funny, some nostalgic, and some are kitschy, so there’s a good chance you’ll find something that fits the personality of the person you’re buying it for.
Random Bits & Bobs
The Photojojo Store has a lot of fun gift ideas and stocking stuffers that won’t break the bank, have a high fun quotient, and the photographer in your life is unlikely to have already. Some are kitschy, some are cute, some are fun, and some are functional.
Lens Coffee Mug
FujiFilm Instant Camerashooting with these. And they’re also great for grownups and kids. Just don’t forget to pick up some film to go with it!
Platypod Ultra Versatile Platformdetailed hands-on review here.
Small Dry Bags
Spivo Travel Lens for Smartphones
The cameras in smartphones are getting to be very good indeed, but one area that many smartphones fall short is in having a fixed lens. The Spivo Travel Lens is a wide-angle snap-on lens that instantly gives you a much wider perspective. Whether you’re pointing the camera at yourself and taking selfies or just wanting to get more of the scene in the shot, it gives a much more dramatic look. There are several different ones available, but this is one I reviewed recently and was impressed with the results. It’s compatible with any smartphone, but I found that it’s especially good with an iPhone, especially when used with one of the dedicated iPhone cases (optional extra). You can find them at Spivo’s website.
Peak Design Everyday Backpacklarger and smaller versions as well as a selection of colors.
Photography Magazine Subscriptions: $12-$125
Being such an inherently visual field, glossy magazines are one of the publishing formats that has long been one of the best places to see high quality photography. They’re also a great way to keep up to date with new gear and equipment, admire other photographers’ work, and learn something new. There are a lot of very good magazines to choose from with subscriptions anywhere from $12 to $120 per year. I’ll be putting together a more detailed list soon, but in the meantime here are a few of my favorites:
National Geographic Magazine. A classic full of stunning photography. This magazine has probably inspired more photographers than any other.
National Geographic Traveler. A much more commercial publication than its older sibling, Traveler nevertheless features some excellent photography, and traveling photographers will also appreciate the travel aspect.
Shutterbug. A good generalist photography magazine. UPDATE: Shutterbug discontinued their magazine in 2018, although it lives on as a website.
PDN. More of a specialist industry magazine, it features stunning photography from pros and has industry news.
Photography Monthly. A British magazine, so more expensive for Americans to have shipped over. It’s aimed at enthusiast and pro photographers.
Digital PhotoPro. This is a great option for pro photographers and those who have mastered the basics. Includes the work of working pro photographers, industry news, and pro gear.
Digital Photo. A good general photography magazine with a mix of gear, news, and how-tos.
Photography Monthly. A British magazine pitched at the enthusiast to pro markets.
Digital Photographer. Another British one aimed at enthusiasts and pros.
Practical Photography. Another glossy British magazine with a mix of general photography news, reviews, and how-to guides. Again, a bit pricey for American audiences.
I love a good photography book–and there are an awful lot of really good photography books out there. These have a higher risk of them already having it, but there’s the advantage that they’re generally easily exchanged in that case. There are basically two types of photography book: the art/coffee table type that features the work of one or more photographers, and the instructional type. Some of the best ones sit somewhere in between. I’m personally a fan of the Lark Books and Focal Press series, most of which are pretty new and up-to-date.
Here are some of my current favorites that are sure to both teach and inspire:
- Krist, Bob (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- Freeman, Michael (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- Freeman, Michael (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- McNally, Joe (Author)
Gift card for a self-published photo book: $15-$100
Among the most impressive new products offered by print labs are high quality photo books. They’re a fantastic way to preserve and share photos, and they’re easy and quite cost-effective to create. Using your own photos, you can customize layouts and add captions, etc. There’s a choice of sizes, covers, and print quality. Overall, I’ve found the print quality these days to be excellent. Some places even allow you to offer your books for sale, if you so choose. Most of the big photo labs now offer them. Some companies that offer them that I’ve personally used and been very happy with include:
- A word of caution if you’re outside your camera-gear-buying comfort zone: If you know the precise model you’re looking for, try to ensure that the retailer you’re buying from is a reputable one. Unfortunately, photography equipment retail has some less-than-reputable places that advertise heavily and engage in dodgy practices. If you see a price advertised from a place you don’t know that seems too good to be true, there’s a reasonable chance it is. And it’s always worth checking resellerratings.com to see what others have to say about a particular retailer. That said, there are a lot of highly reputable camera stores out there. I personally have nothing but good things to say about places like B&H Photo, , Amazon.com, Calumet, and
Penn Camera. Always check their return policy, just in case. And when buying photographic hardware, there’s something called “grey market” merchandise, which has been imported through channels other than through those of the manufacturer. While “grey market” items can be identical and often cheaper, there’s often problems with warranties. So when buying as a gift, the best bet is to try to ensure that it’s not grey market. ↩
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