11 gifts a film photographer will actually use

Every single year, the one item that never leaves my Christmas/birthday wish list is more film. But many people in my life seem to have a hard time choosing what film photography related gifts. And I get it — film photography is complicated. 

This article is mostly intended to help out my mom, but I know she’s not the only mom out there who has a hard time finding the right gifts for the film photographer in their lives. 

Here’s my guide to the top 11 gifts that I, and nearly every film photographer, would be ecstatic to receive on birthdays or during the holidays. For simplicity, I’ve organized it to three different price points. As well, for this list I’ve mostly chosen options that a photographer is unlikely to already have, but that are versatile and exceptionally useful.

As well, if you have questions about certain items in this list or not, feel free to leave it in the comment section below. I usually answer everything within 24 hours, and would love to help out any way I can! 

Film photography gifts under $25

Find them the perfect camera strap to match their style — a great stocking stuffer

Camera straps are one of the most overlooked items in photography. Most people stick with the camera strap that came with the camera even if they’re thin, uncomfortable, and even not user friendly. These are one of those items that photographers don’t usually purchase themselves, because they’d rather spend their money on an extra roll of film.

But having a good strap can make a huge difference in the way they take photographs — especially if they’re the type that like to hang it around their neck or shoulder, where the weight on a thin strap can become uncomfortable. And there are plenty of really cool camera strap options that fit every personality on Amazon. 

Camera straps come in a variety of different shapes and styles, and usually cost less than $25. But there are a large variety of options, including boutique styles that may cost more.

There are more expensive options out there designed for working professional photographers, like the Peak Design or Black Rapid straps. But the more expensive options are tailored to a specific need, like carrying multiple cameras, securing the camera in a specific way, or for speed. Usually a photographer will shell out the money themselves if they knew they had this specific need.

Take a look at all of these thousands of options that’ll fit your photographer’s personality.

This case makes travelling with film way more convenient.

Film travel case

These cases make travelling with film a breeze. They hold a number of rolls in a single accessible case so that your film doesn’t just fall anywhere in your bag. 

They’re also very useful for traveling through airports and security checkpoints. Because film can be damaged by high-powered x-ray machines, most photographers will attempt to have their film hand checked. 

But the last thing any impatient TSA agent wants to do is individually look at every roll of film loosely packed in a ziplock bag. But even the busiest airports will safely hand check film if it’s in one of these hard cases, where they can easily swab all the rolls. 

After travelling through a bunch or airports with film, this case has been one of the most useful purchases I’ve made. Here’s a good one on Amazon that can hold either 10 rolls of 35mm or 8 rolls medium format roll film.

The Photography Book, published by Phaidon

A pocket-sized book filled to the brim with over 500 photos by famous photographers from around the world. Every page shows a different photo by a different photographer with a short biography. 

This book, while a little old, is perfect for introducing photographers to new works that they may have never seen before. Plus, since it was published in 2000, it’s guaranteed that they all shot these images on film! 

This is one of my favorite books to lend out to my friends getting into film photography, because it really shows the potential of film photography. 

Find the paperback version on Amazon here.

Scrapbooking is back in vogue

Remember scrapbooking? Remember thinking that now that we have digital, who would go to the trouble of building a scrapbook? Well, it’s coming back! Especially if you have a film photographer in your life, there’s no better way to help them celebrate their art than by giving them a book to fill with their images. 

Chances are they have thousands of little prints that they don’t know what to do with. But giving them a scrapbook not only helps them show off their images, but it gives them a safe place to store them long term. 

Personally, I still go back and look at my mom’s scrapbooks. So heck yeah I want to make a couple of my own. Blogging and Instagramming about photos isn’t nearly as cool as having a scrapbook. 

Check out this cool linen scrapbook that comes with changeable cover image here

Gift ideas for film photographers between $25-$50

A pyramid of film stocks. Kodak Portra 400 and Tri-X are the most purchased film stocks.

How to choose the right film *stocking stuffer

Even though I ask every year, my mom still has yet to buy me film, and I totally get why. The names are complicated, and everyone has a different opinion about film. Truthfully, there are some films that if I received them as a gift, they’d probably end up sitting on my shelf for good. 

The safest films to buy a photographer are Ilford HP5, Kodak Tri-X, or Kodak Portra 400. Even if these aren’t a photographer’s favorite films, they will always have a place and a purpose

These are the film stocks I go through the fastest because they are reliable and functional in almost every situation. Just a note, if you’re buying color film early to get a head start on your christmas shopping, it will last the longest if it’s stored in the fridge or freezer. 

Other fun stocks that photographers will love experimenting with are Japan Camera Hunter StreetPan 400, or Lomography Purple. 

For the full review, including a useful table of safe and unsafe films to purchase for a film photographer, take a look at this guide on how to gift film that I wrote for my mom

A Day Sleeper photographed and published in the book Day Sleeper, by Dorothea Lange and Sam Contis
One of the many Day Sleepers in the book.

Day Sleeper by Dorothea Lange and Sam Contis

Cover of the book Day Sleeper
Day Sleeper by Dorothea Lange and Sam Contis.

Day Sleeper by Dorothea Lange and Sam Contis is one of the most interesting photo books out to date. This book is a retrospective of Dorothea Lange’s work, who is best known for her image of “The Migrant Mother.” 

Sam Contis brilliantly strung together a book of Lange’s photos, cataloging people living along the west coast, and particularly around San Francisco. One of the many motifs present throughout the work are images of people sleeping during the daylight hours. But it also takes a hard look at the working class struggles of the day.

Day Sleeper is a brilliant, limited run, work that showcases many never-before-seen images from one of the most famous American photographers. Find it on Amazon here

Or, take a look at this article containing my five favorite photobooks that I’ve found this year.

A thousand uses for a mini tripod *stocking stuffer

Every photographer needs a tripod, but nobody truly enjoys using them, or carrying them around. So one of the best gifts you can give is one of these mini tripods by Manfrotto. The reason that I love using these is that they are small enough to fit in any bag, and come in handy in many situations where you wouldn’t expect. 

Need to put the camera down on the road for a quick shot? This is the quickest and easiest tripod to set up. Hiking up a mountain, but don’t want to carry a heavy, full-size tripod? This tiny little thing will do the job at a fraction of the weight. Want to get a group shot around the table this Christmas? Set your camera on this mini tripod to get a steady, motion-blur-free shot!

Any photography will find a thousand uses for this one, tiny piece of equipment. Find it on Amazon here

The ilford Sprite 35-II is the camera for summer 2021
The Ilford Sprite 35-II camera thrives in the summer sun.

Ilford Sprite 35-II

The Ilford Sprite 35-II is one of my favorite camera purchases this year. I’ve used this camera for the last year now, and have continued to love it. It’s certainly not a sharp camera, but it’s so fun that it comes with me everywhere I go, getting constant use. 

This camera takes ISO 200-400 35mm film, and only has a single shutter speed and aperture, and has a AAA battery-powered flash for low light. So all the photographer has to do is point the camera and click the shutter button like they used to with disposable cameras. 

And that’s what makes them such a fun companion. Even though I have a number of cameras that are way better, I’m always going to bring this one around with me because of how well it captures emotion. Plus, my girlfriend loves the photos I take of her with this camera more than any other because it softens the skin and gives it that film glow everyone is talking about. 

See my full review of the Ilford Sprite 35-II camera here, or find one on Amazon here

The Film developers Cookbook

The Film Developers’ Cookbook by Stevel Anchell and Bill Troop is one of th most informative and up to date books on film photography. The latest edition was published in 2018, meaning it has information on all of the latest changes in film photography. 

The book is full of hard-to-find film developer recipes, and tips on how to get the best results when developing film. 

This has been the most impactful book on my film photography, and has inspired a number of the posts on this blog. Even the most devout film photographers will be able to learn something from this book.

$50-$100

The Reveni Labs light meter on top of my Zorki rangefinder camera.

Reveni Labs lightmeter *stocking stuffer

One of the coolest devices I’ve bought this year is a tiny, 3D printed lightmeter made by Reveni Labs out of Ontario, Canada. This unique device sits on a hot or cold shoe on the camera, and meters the scene in front of it. 

For my cameras that don’t have a built in lightmeter, this is a godsend. It means I don’t have to pull out my phone, or a janky lightmeter, and take time to get a reading. Instead, I just point the meter in the general direction, and it gives me a good overall reading of the scene in seconds. 

I’ve loved using this on both my Pentax and my Zorki cameras because of how small and versatile it is. That said, I always overexpose the image by a half stop to account for some amount of exposure bias since I can’t just take a peek at the image, like I would with a digital camera. 

Find out more about these light meters, or order one from the Reveni Labs website

Sous vide — a perfect gift for photographers developing their own film

A Sous Vide used to keep colour developer the right temperature in a water bath
A photo of my Sous Vide being used to maintain the right temperature for developing color film in my water bath.

This is one of the most niche suggestions on the list, but it’s been one of the most useful pieces of equipment I’ve bought over the last couple of years. 

A sous vide is a device usually used for cooking. It heats the water to a specific temperature and keeps it circulating to slow cook foods over time. But that means it also serves a niche purpose with developing color film at home. 

Color film requires strict temperature control to create good results at home. Many developers when they’re first starting out will just use the occasional spray of hot water from the tap. And that can work, but it’s imprecise and stressful on the best of days. So the sous vide is a simple and elegant solution that makes temperature control easy. 

If you have a film developer in your life who wants to try developing color, this is an excellent gift that’ll help them achieve fantastic results. Here’s the one that I’ve been using over the last year and a half

Final thoughts

I hope you found everything you need in this article. These are all of the gifts that I’d have loved to receive myself, and every single one of them is something that I use often. But the absolute safest gift to give is a box of Kodak Portra 400 or Kodak Tri-X. These are by far the most sold film stocks in the world, and are ones that no photographer can ever get enough of. If I had to choose one, these rolls would be them.

As always, if you have any questions about other items that you’ve found and are wondering if they’re a good option, feel free to leave a comment below, or send me a message on my contact form! I’m always happy to answer any questions, and can give personal recommendations if necessary. Film photography is a major passion of mine, and I love to help people enjoy this medium in any way I can.

By Daren

Daren is a journalist and wedding photographer based in Vancouver, B.C. He’s been taking personal and professional photos on film since 2017 and began developing and printing his own photos after wanting more control than what local labs could offer.

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