It’s the very last holiday season of the decade, December 2019. It’s been a hell of a ride for film photographers. We’ve experienced an astonishing renaissance in our favorite medium. But this resurrection isn’t the result of some kind of miracle. It’s the result of the passion and ingenuity of photographers, bloggers, film producers, camera shops, and a new curious generation of photographers willing to throw their hearts and souls into sustaining and innovating the crazy art of film photography. To celebrate, we’d like to put a spin on our annual holiday gift guide.
This year we’re spotlighting products and companies whose work this decade has enriched film photography and helped to ensure its survival for years to come. Here are a whole lot of amazing gifts for the film photographer presented in ascending order, with the least expensive gifts up front and the most expensive gifts at the end. We’ll also include plenty of links to the best places to find these gifts at the best prices. Enjoy!
Stocking Stuffers ($5-$30)
Film, (but get creative)!
One of the best and most obvious stocking stuffers in film photography happens to be its most essential piece – film itself. Truthfully, you can’t go wrong with film of any kind. Be it a pack of consumer film like Fuji Superia 400 or a roll or two of ultra-specialty professional grade film like the revamped Kodak Ektachrome, film will always be a welcome gift. But to make a big splash with film this holiday, why not get a film that’s a little unusual, like Cinestill 50D or the Japan-only Fuji Industrial 100? (you can buy Fuji Superia and Kodak Ektachrome from B&H Photo here).
Importantly, this year has seen brand new releases from two of the largest film manufacturers, Ilford and Fujifilm. From Ilford comes the much-hyped Ilford Ortho Plus film, an ISO 80 orthographic film. Ortho film hangs its hat on its its signature high-contrast, old-school look owing to its insensitivity to red light, making red tones deeper and darker than we see with panchromatic film. Ilford Ortho Plus was a longtime favorite of large-format shooters, and its new availability in 35mm and 120 formats is exciting. (Buy Ilford Ortho in 35mm and 120 format from B&H Photo).
Unlike Ilford, Fujifilm has had a rough go of it this decade with the disappearance of many of its greatest films like Fuji Superia 200 and Fuji Natura 1600. But the most loudly mourned of their canceled films was Fuji Neopan Acros 100, a film beloved for its clinical sharpness, controllability both in camera and in post-processing, and its stellar reciprocity failure characteristics. Thankfully, Fujifilm had a change of heart and decided to bring the emulsion back as Acros II, which will certainly be a welcome gift to any hardcore black-and-white shooter, and a welcome sign to any fan of Fujifilm. (Fuji Acros II is only available in Japan at the moment, however it’s possible to buy rolls from importers via this eBay link, making Acros II an even more interesting gift this year!)
If you just can’t decide what film to gift, no worries – we might be able to help. A subscription to the Casual Photophile FIlm of the Month Club gives your lucky recipient a different film delivered to their door each month of the year. Films shipped in 2019 have included Kodak Ultramax 400, JCH Street Pan 400, Kodak TMAX P3200 and many more.
Accessories (pins, straps, stickers)
The gear-saturated world of film photography is one given to endless accessories, most of which happen to make great holiday gifts. Shoot Film Co., run by friend of the site Mike Padua, easily comes to mind. Mike’s spent the past few years celebrating film photography and its community by making some of the best (and funniest) film themed enamel pins, patches, and t-shirts. Standouts include the Black Flag-based “Black and White” pins, an incredibly specific JCII quality approval sticker pin, and a heartwarming Agfa Vista tribute pin.
In a similar vein, Official Exclusive NYC offers enamel pins showcasing film photography gear itself. Almost every cult classic camera, lens, and film manufacturer is represented here, with enamel pins of old school Ektachrome film canisters, Nikon F cross sections, and hype train luxury point and shoots. If you have a gearhead in mind but can’t splash the cash on a brand new Contax, you might as well give them the next best thing.
But perhaps the most evergreen accessory in film photography is one that (hopefully) all of us use – the camera strap. CP staff writer Charlotte already rounded up her favorite (and leather-free) entries in this arena in this article, but one that stands out in particular are made by Hyperion Camera Straps. Hyperion’s acrylic straps are 100% leather free, handmade in Greece, and available at a very affordable price, which makes them perfect as stocking stuffers for any shooter.
Also notable in this category are Couch straps, a Los Angeles-based company that specializes in leather-free guitar and camera straps made of recycled seatbelts and vintage car upholstery. As they’re first and foremost a guitar strap company, their straps are built to withstand an almost unlimited amount of abuse. I’ve used my Couch guitar and camera straps on hundreds of gigs and photoshoots and they’ve never failed me, despite my best efforts. If that’s not enough to convince you, check out this strap made from the interior of an ‘87 Golf GTI. Pretty sweet.
Small Gifts ($30-100)
If you’ve got a little more cash to spend, there are a bevy of options within the boutique accessory range. We’ll start with a couple of products from Tap and Dye, a well-known and well-loved leather camera strap maker. They offer a basic, fixed length strap for a little less than $80 that is no less spectacularly made than their more premium offerings. They also offer a waxed canvas film pouch that, while on the more opulent side of the practicality matrix, would make any film geek squirm with joy.
Continuing with the theme of Fine Leather Goods we come to nearly famous eBay seller Mr. Zhou. Mr. Zhou has managed to make the dreaded ever-ready case cool by making them actually work. Zhou’s minimalist leather half cases with integrated finger grips are both stunning and functional, and are ready to be wrapped around the most popular classic cameras, like the Leica M-Series, Nikon F-series, and Rolleiflex TLR’s.
If we’re talking boutique accessories, we have to mention the fine metalwork of Jay Tsujimura, who specializes in making finely made metal soft shutter releases. It’s interesting that Jay decided to focus specifically on shutter releases to showcase his art, and we as photo geeks are grateful for it. We ran a product spotlight on him about five years ago, and it’s encouraging to see him and his work still going strong all these years later.
Consumer Level 35mm Cameras
The rise in the popularity of film cameras unfortunately means a rise in price. Many of the cameras that would’ve once occupied this price range at the beginning of the decade have moved onto greener pastures. But it does not mean that we can’t give high quality and affordable cameras as gifts – we just have to know what to look for.
For example, one would think that a simple 35mm point-and-shoot is out of the question considering the bonkers prices Olympus mju-II’s and Nikon L35AF’s go for. Luckily, the Pentax IQ-series of cameras is here to prove us wrong. These cameras still go for about $50 in pristine condition, have excellent glass and capable metering systems to boot, and do the flash-heavy point-and-shoot look that the kids go crazy for. They are also, statistically, the most reliable point-and-shoot cameras to ever come through the F Stop Cameras. We’ve literally never had to bin a Pentax IQ Zoom. Unbelievable.
If you’re brave enough to look for an entry level 35mm SLR at this price point, there are a few options still out there. As of December 2019, the Nikon EM still remains firmly under the $90 mark, complete with the cult classic Nikon Series E 50mm f/1.8 lens. Older mechanical cameras are also available with lenses at this price point too, chief among them being the Minolta SRT-101, and my favorite, the Pentax SV.
Big Budget Gifts ($100 – $500)
Bulk Film and Film Processing Kits
The only thing better than gifting a film photographer film is gifting them more film. And I mean an obscene, vulgar amount of film. Indulging our gluttony here are the fine folks at the Film Photography Project who, in addition to making a stellar podcast, run an online store with an impressively extensive selection of film. My favorite FPP offerings are their bulk loading kit and 100 foot rolls of film, perfect for the devotees of one or two emulsions. There’s not much else that says “Merry Christmas” to a film photographer like a 100 foot roll of Eastman XX lovingly hand-rolled into 36 exposure canisters.
That much film requires a lot of processing. Thankfully the folks at Ars Imago made that easier for all of us with their new Lab Box, an all-in-one processing tank. The Lab-Box makes the cumbersome process of developing film easy enough for even the most darkroom-shy, essential for bringing new film shooters into the fold. Cinestill (who happen to be one of the Lab-Box’s North American distributors) makes this easier still by packaging the Lab-Box with their black-and-white monobath which makes developing incredibly simple.
Camera bags can be a little ho-hum as far as gifts go, but there’s one company whose camera bags have become coveted in the film photography community over the last decade – ONA. Handcrafted in the Big Apple and designed with input from the film photography community, ONA bags are just about the finest made and best looking camera bags available. A large part of film photography today is about style and design, and these bags are a perfect expression of that philosophy. (Shop for ONA bags via B&H Photo)
Film geeks of a certain age will no doubt remember the feeling of getting an instant camera for the holidays. This decade’s revival of Polaroid, first as the Impossible Project and then as Polaroid Originals, gives us a chance to keep that feeling going for the next generation. The most immediately accessible Polaroid instant camera is the Polaroid Originals One Step 2, a loving throwback to the Polaroid One Step cameras of old. Buy one with a bunch of Polaroid i-Type film and you’re guaranteed to make at least one more instant film fanatic this holiday.
But if you want to really knock some socks off, there’s not much better than a fully-serviced Polaroid SX-70 from Brooklyn Film Camera. The SX-70 is a classic of classics, and one of our favorite camera designs (and favorite articles) on this site, and Brooklyn Film Camera has made a point to keep these foldable marvels alive. Over the past decade they’ve amassed a reputation as the premier classic Polaroid dealer in the US, steadily churning out fine examples of Polaroid’s glory days. Just look at that black SX-70. It’s the stuff of dreams.
Pro-spec Film Cameras and The Fanciest Tripod Known To Man
At this price point, many great film cameras and lenses become available, and our reviews which we’ve linked to below can help you decide which is the best fit for your photographer. Pro-spec 35mm SLR cameras like the Nikon F2, Canon F-1, and Minolta XK are within budget, as is site founder James’ favorite rangefinder, the Minolta CLE. Medium format monsters like the Pentax 67 and the Fuji GW690 are ripe for the picking as well, along with classic compact 6×6 TLR’s like the Rolleicord and Minolta Autocord. Whichever you happen to go with, you can rest assured you’ll be giving a gift that’ll last a lifetime.
A fitting companion to any of these cameras is the much-hyped Peak Design Travel Tripod. It’s a complete redesign of the travel tripod, designed specifically with weight and portability in mind while still offering the stability of a full-size tripod. This might all sound like marketing jargon because, after all, it’s just a dang tripod. But after watching the demo video, the Peak Design Travel Tripod is the real deal, and perhaps one of the best tripods money can buy.
Big Spender Gifts ($500+)
A Print From a Legendary Photographer
After all the gear and accessories, there’s really only one thing left – actual photos. For those willing to drop a huge amount of cash, you could actually own a genuine print from a legendary photographer. The Magnum Photos website in particular sells signed prints from some of the biggest names in photography, like Robert Capa or Elliott Erwitt. Alternatively, Artnet compiles information on how to get prints from all over the globe from nearly every major photographer of the 20th century. It’s a lot of money, sure, but we’re talking about works that have shaped how we see the world. That’s a hell of a gift to give.
That One Special Camera
This price range naturally opens up a lot of doors, and gives us the opportunity to get the one special camera that the film photographer in your life has always wanted. Cameras we’d love to get? The Hasselblad X-pan or 500CM, the medium format icons of the Mamiya 7 and Plaubel Makina 67, or a Schneider-equipped Rolleiflex 2.8, a Linhof Master Technika 4×5 so we can drive to Yosemite like Ansel Adams himself, or finally, that Leica M-camera we’ve been eyeing for the last ten years.
Or just buy one of those for yourself. What the hell. You only live once, and you deserve it. It’s been an incredible decade for film photography, and that demands a little celebration this holiday season!
One last note from all of us here at Casual Photophile – have a happy holiday and enjoy this time with the people (and cameras) you love. Cheers!
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