Every year my sister asks me year I want for Christmas, and every year I give her a specific list of links to camera gear. I only ever want camera gear. Chances are, someone on your Christmakah list (shout out to The OC) is a photographer, or has hopes and dreams of being a photographer. Maybe you’re a photographer yourself and you have absolutely no need for another coffee mug that looks like a Canon 24-70mm lens. I get it. They’re fun. And I occasionally actually use them. But I also have like 9 of them. Whoever makes that, please consider a 70-200mm version.
I've compiled everything I’ve bought from Amazon and B&H over the last two years and picked out the most useful gear. Not only will these gifts be super helpful, but the cameraman or woman in your life will be impressed with the knowledge you’ve dropped in the form of a box under the tree.
For the awkward secret santa you're doing at work (Or is that not allowed anymore?), or for the person in your group of friends that is totally cool when you're with the whole crew, but the second you're one-on-one, you end up talking about the weather. Here are some easy stocking stuffers for a photographer.
A thing to organize the shit show that is your "battery section" of your camera bag. Preferably two of them. One for charged batteries, and one for batteries that need to be charged.
...for said Battery Holster.
I don't know why it took me so long to finally buy these. If you shoot weddings, you know you blow through a pack of AA batteries. Spend the extra $10 and get the rechargeables. It will save you so much money. Don't go cheap on these either. I bought a bunch of the Rayovac ones when I first made the transition. They were a lot cheaper, but they don't last nearly as long.
I lose my lens caps the second I take the lens out of the box. In order to make sure my 5 main lenses are covered, I need to own at least 15 lens caps and covers. (This is the Canon version. You can get them for any brand.)
These are so much more valuable than they look. Everything always needs to be mounted to some kind of stand or tripod. To do that, you need the right mount. For 99% of mounts, you need 1/4" screws. Get these.
More Tiny Screws
Same as above. Just different variations of ways to attach a camera to something. Personally, I would prefer these over Tiny Screws part 1.
Memory Card Case - SD Cards
When a memory card is blank, it's worth however much you paid for it. When a memory card is full of photos or videos from an important gig, it's worth more than your soul. Keep them all in the same place, in a virtually indestructible case. Seriously, this is a super important piece of gear. If you've ever lost or damaged a memory card with important shit on it, you probably don't need to buy this because you already have it. This is the SD card version.
35mm Color Film
35mm is the film everybody is used to. The stuff most of your old family photos were shot with. The stuff that comes in the CVS disposable cameras. There's a very good chance someone in your household has a 35mm film camera that you could try this with. This particular film is Fuji Pro 400H. This is the good stuff. This, and Kodak Portra are the two "mainstream" professional films. For the camera nerds, I know there are plenty of other options. But this post is meant for people who don't know what they're looking for.
Medium Format Color Film
Medium format film is just bigger than what you're used to. You get a bigger negative, which means you get more detail. There's no difference in how you shoot it. You just need to make sure they have a medium format camera (See last section for medium format cameras).
Having extra memory cards creates peace of mind. There are so many different types of memory cards out there and a lot of them are good. The SanDisk Extreme is very good. Just find out if they use a CF or SD card.
4k is the word on the street for filmmakers. Actually, they're already at 8k and working on 12k, but the geek squad at Best Buy is still working out their pitch for 4k TVs. Either way, if your person of interest does a lot of video work, get them this one. Certain cameras require better cards to use them to their fullest potential. We don't have to get all technical here. Just know that this is the right one. This also works for lower end camera models too. It just might be overkill.
CF Card (Compact Flash)
You can get any size you want. The red number (32 GB) is the actual size of the card. The smaller black number (120 MB/s) is the processing speed of the card. The higher that number, the better.
For reference, when I shoot a wedding, I have two cameras strapped to my belt. I have one 64GB memory card in each camera. I also have a backup card in each camera. So in total that's four 64GB cards. That's also a LOT of photos.
Light Stand Mount
I wish I had 20 of these. Something always needs to be mounted to a light stand. DO NOT cheap out on a crappier version of this. I've seen lights fall off a stand and it's not pretty. I hang some pretty serious lights from the ceiling in my studio with these bad boys. They are super strong. You could drive over this with your car and it would be fine (Don't do this. I am not responsible for flat tires).
Carrying Your Gear
I try to bring at least one camera with me everywhere I go. I also tend to beat the crap out of my gear. I always throw a camera on the passenger seat, or in a bag that isn't meant to carry camera gear. Real deal camera bags are great. BUT...remember picking out your LL Bean backpack that was going to get you through three years of middle school? I'll be damned if someone was going to pick that color for me, and in which order my initials read. Point is, I already have my established camera bags, and when I upgrade, I'm going to spend six hours on Amazon looking for one that is exactly perfect for what I need. Don't try and do that for me.
Spider Belt Holster (Black Widow)
I just got this little guy last weekend and I love it. There's a pro version too which I use for weddings. This version isn't meant for heavy cameras. But I had a 5D Mark iii on it with a 50mm lens and it was totally fine. I suggest getting the separate holster plate with the actual holster. I didn't feel confident with just the pin that comes with the holster alone. That's below.
You don't HAVE to get this for the above item to work, but it's much sturdier than what it comes with. Basically, that silver pin slides into the belt holster and lets it hang there.
I know I literally just said don't pick out my camera bag for me. But this isn't what I'm referring to. I meant my actual serious camera bag. This thing is perfect for just grabbing some random accessories or a small camera. I keep business cards in one pocket, a light meter in the other, and a memory card case in the zipper part. I can just barely squeeze my laptop into it. I love it. Might not be your taste. There are plenty of options for something like this on Amazon. If you just click this one, it will show you a bunch of similar things.
Obviously you can decide on the price point. I know gift cards aren't very fun to give as gifts, but they are great when you're on the receiving end. This blog post is supposed to help with gifts a photographer would actually use. A gift card to one of these stores/sites would be a killer gift to any photographer.
I know this looks like a toy. It's great for getting accurate color (which is a HUGE deal).
Portable Light Stand
These things are AWESOME. I used to bring my big bulky light stands to wedding/event gigs. Then I had a gig in NYC and I knew I was going to be carrying a bunch of gear through the city. These things saved my life. They're so light. If you buy more than one, they actually clip together to make travel super easy. Because they're light, just be careful that people aren't tripping over them.
A light that won't break the bank. Video lights of this size can be very expensive. I have a similarly sized one that cost me around $500. This thing actually puts out about the same amount of light. There are reasons my expensive light is worth $500, but they are reasons you probably don't care about. This light has dimming capabilities, and color panels that let you change the color. Make sure to get the battery Amazon suggests. It's not included.
A Pelican Case
I am absolutely confident my gear is safe in a pelican case. Like, you could probably throw it out of a moving car and it would be fine (Don't do that). They literally market this thing by driving over it with a humvee. I know a backpack can be more convenient, but if you beat the crap out of your gear like myself, you're better off with a pelican case. They come in a ton of sizes. I keep 3 flashes and a video light in this one. You could use it for a camera body, lens, and flash if you wanted to. The pick-n-pluck foam is great if you're always going to carry the same thing.
*Fun Trick- I replaced the foam with a cut up memory foam pad. It forms to whatever you put inside so you're not stuck carrying the same thing.
The Awkward Softbox Umbrella
...Not what it's actually called. This thing is like a sock condom for your flash or strobe light. I hope you're not scared off yet. It gives you such a soft, beautiful light, and you don't need a bunch of adapter rings for it to work with your lights. This is actually one of the things Annie Leibovitz uses, and she has plenty of money to buy the $1000 versions if she really wanted to.
External Hard Drive
Remember when I mentioned all of those 64 GB memory cards. Well, when those are full, all of those photos need to be stored somewhere. Enter external hard drives. I probably have 30 TB (as in Terabytes) worth of hard drives. Video takes up a lot of room. Photos do too, but nothing compared to video. Either way, I'll always welcome more storage space.
This is not your typical scanner that comes already built into your printer. It can scan photos AND film at crazy high resolution. There's a lot of talk of film in this posting, and chances are most people don't have access to a darkroom. With this scanner, that doesn't really matter. You can scan your negatives and get really high quality results from your negatives. "Why wouldn't you just shoot digital then?"...lets not get into that argument. That's for a different post. Even if you don't shoot film, you can scan regular photos in this thing too.
A Tintype by 179 Pictures
This is my one business plug for this whole thing. I didn't even put it first in this section! You know those old Civil War style photos? The ones they shot on metal plates where everyone looks really pissed...those are tintypes. I shoot those in my studio. If you're anywhere near CT, come by my studio and have your tintype taken with your photographer friend/lover/mom/dad/sibling. If CT is too far, and you happen to be in the Texas area, check out Lumiere Tintype. Adrian is awesome too.
Mamiya RB67 - Medium Format Film Camera
$390 - will vary with what they have available
Go ahead, take a bow, pat yourself on the back, and buy yourself something nice, because you're a fucking professional gift giver. This thing is a beast, AND, it comes with a lens. The good thing about film camera equipment is that most people don't want it anymore. The demand is for digital, so you can get badass film cameras for dirt cheap. I bought my Hasselblad (pictured at the top of this post) for $500. If you were to buy the digital version of what Hasselblad makes now, you're looking at like $30,000, and that's on the low side. Yes, I know there are some differences. But in general, if you're willing to give film a shot, you can get really high end results for cheap.
*You can find other deals on craigslist and ebay if you know what you're looking for. I'm just making everything easy with Amazon.
$300 ish (used)
Just another badass version of the camera above.
If you're willing to spend $300-$400 on a lens, it opens you up to way more possibilities. There is so much to think about when buying a lens, but generally, the wider the aperture, the better. The f/number is what you're looking at. Once you get into the f/1.4 range, you're looking at some really quality lenses. Yes fellow photographers, I'm fully aware this is not always true. But it's typically a good starting point.
I hope this helps! The amount of camera equipment on the market can be pretty overwhelming. Fortunately, I'm fascinated by how it all works, so I'm happy to do the research. Let me know if you have any questions.