Every single year, the one item that never leaves my (and every other film photographer’s) Christmas/birthday wish list is more film. But most non-photographers have a hard time knowing what to pick for a film photographer because it’s all so complicated.
This article is actually intended to help my mom out, but I know she’s not the only mom, or partner out there having a hard time finding the right gifts for the film photographers in their lives.
So here is the LearnFilm.Photography guide to the top 11 gifts that I would be ecstatic to receive on birthdays or during the holidays. For simplicity, I’ve organized this list of gifts into three distinct price points to make your Christmas, birthday, or holiday shopping easier!
Film photography gifts under $25
1. Find the perfect camera strap to match their style
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 or uncomfortable.
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.
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 options that’ll fit your photographer’s personality.
2. Film travel cases that make life easier
These cases make traveling with film a breeze. They hold a number of rolls in a single accessible case that also makes it easy to bring them through airports and security checkpoints.
Film can be damaged by high-powered x-ray machines, so most photographers will need to ask for their film to be hand-checked.
But the last thing any inpatient TSA agent wants to do is individually look at and swab a bunch of rolls in a plastic ziplock bag. But even the busiest airports will have a much easier time hand checking film if it’s in one of these hard cases, where they can easily swab all the rolls at once. The film should be unwrapped, otherwise, the TSA agents will likely have to unwrap the film there — which they won’t be very happy about.
After traveling through a bunch of airports with film, this case has been one of the most useful purchases I’ve made because it’s made the process so easy.
Here’s a vintage-looking film case by Kodak on Amazon that can hold either 10 rolls of 35mm or 8 rolls of medium format roll film. It’s also made of tin, which will keep the film safe from moisture when unwrapped.
3. The Photography Book, published by Phaidon
A pocket-sized book filled to the brim with over 500 photos by famous film photographers from around the world, complete with biographies and history of the most famous images ever created.
This book, while a little old, is perfect for introducing photographers to new works that they may have never seen before. This is one of my favorite books to lend out to my friends getting into film photography, because it shows some of the most creative and inspirational photos ever taken. I’ve learned so much just by looking through this one book.
Gift ideas for film photographers between $25-$75
4. The staple, professional film stocks film photographers love using
Even though I ask every year, my mom still has yet to buy me film. Luckily, there are some film stocks that every photographer will find useful. No matter what, these are the go-to film stocks that work in a variety of situations and create the best-looking images.
The safest film stocks to give a film photographer are Kodak Tri-X, or Kodak Portra 400. These are the film stocks I go through the fastest because they are reliable and functional in almost every situation.
But the vast majority of film photographers will also love to have more Kodak Gold, which is a cheaper film stock that produces a lovely natural warm glow. Get some Kodak Gold on Amazon here, or on Adorama.
Just a note, if you’re buying color film early to get a head start on your Christmas shopping, film will last the longest if it’s stored in the fridge or freezer.
Here is my list of the best film stocks that every film photographer will love! And Mom, if you’re reading this: I could always use more Kodak Portra 400 (the best price is on Adorama).
5. Fun and experimental film stocks they will enjoy
Film photography is all about having fun and being less serious than digital photographers. So there are many photographers that will love experimenting with different film stocks.
If the photographer in your life is all about creating kitschy and fun photos, then there are no better film stocks to get them than the films created by Lomography, like Lomo Purple and Lomo Turquoise. These two films are false color films, meaning they alter the color of landscapes.
For instance, Lomo Purple transforms all the greens to into a lush purple while maintaining the color of skin tones. Lomp Turquoise, on the other hand, will turn the skies orange, while everything else becomes it’s own shade of blue.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. The Film Developing Cookbook
The Film Developers’ Cookbook by Bill Troop and Steve Anchell is one of the most informative and up-to-date books on film photography. The latest edition was published in 2018, meaning it has information on most 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 a lot from this book.
$100+ big gift ideas for film photographers
9. Paterson and Ilford B&W Home Film Developing Kit
If you have a photographer in your life who is really getting into film, but hasn’t yet jumped into developing at home, this is the perfect gift for them. This kit has everything they will need to get started, including a pre-measured single-use set of black and white film-developing chemicals.
Paterson and Ilford are the standard, high-quality manufacturers that most photographers use. Paterson was one of the few suppliers who continued making high-quality equipment for film photographers throughout the digital era, while Ilford is the leading manufacturer of black and white film and film processing chemicals.
There are other kits out there, but they don’t include the same trusted, high-quality equipment that you will find in this kit. Find a film developing kit on Amazon here.
10. Reveni Labs light meter *stocking stuffer
One of the coolest devices I’ve bought this year is a tiny, 3D-printed light meter 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 light meter, this is a godsend. It means I don’t have to pull out my phone, or a janky light meter, 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.
11. Sous vide — a perfect gift for photographers developing their own film
This device been one of the most useful pieces of equipment I’ve bought over the last couple of years.
A sous vide (or immersion circulator, as the French would call it) is a device usually used for cooking. It heats the water to a specific temperature and keeps it circulating to slowly 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 film, this is an excellent gift that’ll help them achieve the results they’re looking for. Here’s the one that I’ve been using over the last year and a half.
12. The Peak Design Tripod
Over my 10 years in photography, I’ve owned many tripods and hated them all. But then I decided to take a chance and pick up the Peak Design Tripod, and I have to say this is by far the best-designed tripod I’ve ever used.
This tiny tripod has everything. It folds down small enough to fit inside a backpack, it has its own mobile phone mount, can be turned upside down (great for scanning film), and has a detachable bottom section so that the tripod can get low to the ground. The tripod also uses the Peak Design quick release plate, which adapts to the camera mounting systems most photographers are already using.
This is the first tripod that I can bring with me everywhere and not even notice it’s on my back. You can read my full review of this unique tripod here.
So if you have a film photographer in your life who lugs around a big, bulky tripod — one who loves to travel, hike, and climb mountains, the Peak Design Travel Tripod can make a perfect gift.
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, if the film photographer in your life is someone like me, who is a serial gear buyer, the absolute safest gift to give is a box of the most popular color film, Kodak Portra 400 or the most popular black and white film Kodak Tri-X.
These are by far the most sold film stocks in the world and are ones that photographers are running out of all the time. If I had to choose one, these rolls would be them. And the prices are going up in 2022, so many photographers are going to be very happy to receive another box or two before the prices rise.
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 Instagram! I’ve already answered a few users questions, and I am open to helping people in any way I can, as quickly as possible.
Film photography is a major passion of mine, and I love to help people enjoy this medium in any way I can.
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.