It’s about the time of year where many people are looking for gift ideas. This list outlines multiple options for a film photographer at multiple price points.
To start, I’m going to break down my suggestions by price point. There will be broken down by items less than $25, $50, $100, and $250. There are, of course, other more expensive options but I wouldn’t suggest spending more than $250 without knowing very specifically what the person wants. I don’t plan to suggest, explicitly, any cameras throughout on the assumption that the photographer already has a camera. With that said, should you be set on gifting a camera, I will cover at the end of the article a bit on why it’s difficult to make a specific suggestion for someone I’ve never met. Further, I am not breaking anything down by camera type so the suggestions are a bit more broadly applicable. Lastly, I will reference some items that can be (and in some cases, need to be) picked up used at which point I suggest you reference my article on picking up film gear on the used market.
This is both the easiest and the most difficult category because it’s the category film falls into. Unless the person you’re reading this for insists on shooting black and white, I would highly recommend single rolls of Kodak Portra 400 or 800 (see a review here). Any suggestion for other color negative films will open up a can of worms that we’ve already dived into previously. As such, I’ll leave the film stock suggestions here for now. One suggestion that I highly recommend to go along with film would be archival sheets. I recommend these for 35mm and these for 120.
There are two additional things that I suggest to every film photographer. The first, a shutter cable release, has several options which range from being from cheap to about as much as you’re willing to spend. For the cheap options, there’s really only one but if you’re willing to spend a little more, I would recommend the Nikon or Gepe cloth-covered shutter release cables. The more expensive options will do the same job as the cheapest option but will hold up better over time and are definitely more of a pleasure to use. The second suggestion I have would be The Negative by Ansel Adams. For anyone that considers themselves a film photographer, there is a great deal to learn from Mr. Adams and I don’t think I’ve ever met a single film photographer who didn’t have something to learn in this book.
Briefly getting back to film, getting a pro pack of a favorite film is always a good move. Personally, I asked for a pro pack of Kodak Ektar and one of Fujifilm Provia 100F. If the photographer in your life shoots 4×5, I would recommend getting them some color film. Another suggestion would be a good camera strap. I like the Peak Design straps so I can have one strap for multiple cameras. They hold up really well and feel good to wear. They have multiple sizes to choose from. My fiancé really likes the smaller, trimmer camera strap and prefer the one that is what I would consider a more normal width.
If the film photographer in your life is not yet developing their own black and white, now is the time! I wrote an article previously which outlined what it takes to get into processing your own black and white film. The actual process itself is really not difficult but can be intimidating to those that haven’t tried it. After processing one roll, they’ll be glad they got started.
Coming in at just over $100 is a wonderful light table from Kaiser. If the photographer in your life doesn’t already have one, they can be great to have. More over, if they ever shoot slide film, they’ll be addicted in a quick hurry.
Every photographer needs a tripod – particularly if they are a landscape photographer. Personally, I prefer Manfrotto and 3 Legged Thing. Both companies make splendid tripods and the with a budget of $250, you should be able to get a carbon fiber tripod. My suggestion for the Manfrotto would be the Element and for 3 Legged Thing it would be the Billy. If they already have a tripod, I would go for a nice photography-specific backpack. The Peak Design everyday backpack is weatherproof and can hold up to quite a beating. A lesser expensive but still good quality option would be the Pelican MPB20.
I would first like to note that for film photographers, cameras are a very personal thing. It’s not quite as simple as the choices in the digital world where you have DSLR cameras and mirrorless cameras. With that said, should you be adamant about picking up a camera for someone, I would direct you to two previous articles; the first article briefly covers a list of over- and under-rated film cameras in 2020 and the second article outlines the different types and formats of cameras that are available. I would highly recommend that if you’re the person requesting a camera, you think through what you’re looking for in terms of format (35mm, 645, 6×6, etc…) and style (TLR, rangefinder, SLR, etc…) so that you can make a more informed request. If you’re buying a camera for another person, I would highly suggest that you attempt to understand which camera type would suit the gift recipient best. If you buy someone a 35mm rangefinder but what they really wanted is a 6×6 TLR, you’re out of luck.
While gift cards are not always an ideal idea for a gift, they can really be quite useful. A gift card to B&H would be helpful for buying film or any of the other new items on the list. In addition, B&H sells used gear which includes film cameras and lenses. Other retailers, such a local camera shop and KEH would also be helpful for buying gear. Aside from buying gear, a place where a gift card could be most helpful would be with the company where the photographer gets their film developed. Indeed, film developing costs a significant amount of money, and relieving some of that burden would be greatly appreciated by every film photographer.
Did I miss something? What would you suggest to someone looking for ideas?