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It’s a difficult time to be a photographer. Getting creative feels impossible when every day is the same and the most exotic locale you visit is the living room. Travel is out this year, vacations are pushed back and everybody is cooped up inside trying not to lose it.
Everything is hard in like 12 different ways right now, but encouraging your friends and fam to immerse themselves in new hobbies and plan future adventures is a great distraction. For photographers at a loss for what to shoot this year, it’s the perfect time to mix things up, switch up your gear entirely and try to see the world with fresh eyes.
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Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 Instant Film Camera
It might not seem like it, but it’s actually the perfect time to get into instant photography. As a photographer myself, I haven’t picked up my main camera in months. Nothing feels inspiring. But I started carrying a cheap instant camera on walks around my neighborhood, rain permitting, and it’s been a meditative way to appreciate the beauty of small things that otherwise just blend into my routine. This Fujifilm Instax shoots larger, square photos and they look great popping up in an Instagram feed too if you’re in it for the ‘gram.
Another good option: The Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 Camera creates smaller, rectangular photos and it’s playful design makes it perfect for anyone.
Price: Fujifilm Instax, $80 from Adorama | Fujifilm Instax Mini, $70 from Target
GoPro Hero8 Black
In a year when we can’t do a lot of the things we’d normally enjoy, many of the safest, most enjoyable things are outdoors. If your giftee is an adrenaline junkie (climbing, snowboarding, surfing, etc.) the latest GoPro is a no-brainer for in-the-moment action stills or video that you could never capture otherwise. But like an instant camera, a GoPro can also be a really fun way to switch things up for nonadventure photography. I brought one along on my honeymoon and ended up shooting stills with it half the time even when I wasn’t in the water — having a teeny indestructible pocket camera just feels really fun and different.
Price: $280 from REI
SanDisk 64GB Extreme PRO SDXC
If you’ve met a photographer who has enough memory cards, I’d like to know their secret. These SD cards are fast, reliable and widely compatible. Much like socks, SD cards have a way of vanishing and you never have enough of them even though it feels like you buy them all the time. Good stocking material!
Price: $20 and up from Amazon, depending on capacity
Sony RX100 VII
Know someone who (a) wants a super compact travel camera, (b) wants to get into photography but doesn’t care about interchangeable lenses or (c) needs a small camera for anything, really? Sony’s been killing it in compact photography for years now and the RX100 series is a testament to everything it does right. The RX100 VII is an incredible camera in a really small package, capable of taking everything from beginner night sky photos and professional-looking portraits to casual photos and everything in between. Since it’s got full manual settings, new photographers can go as deep as they’d like and anyone who wants to keep it simple can stay in full auto and snap away.
Pro tip: Since Sony is in the 6th generation of the RX100, you can find old versions for screaming good deals and you won’t even know what you’re missing. Just stick with the RX100 III on up for the included viewfinder.
Price: $1,298 from B&H
B&H Gift Card
Know a photographer who always needs stuff, but you’re not totally sure what that stuff is? Or someone who wants to start shooting but likes the process of researching and picking things out themselves? A gift card to New York-based photography supercenter B&H is a solid choice. They’ve got a robust online shop where you can buy anything and everything.
Bushnell Core DS 30MP Low-Glow Trail Camera
This is a weird year and we’ve all learned weird new stuff about ourselves. In my case, I have learned the weird new fact that coyotes are frequently roaming around my fairly urban backyard eating people’s pets. (Sad but also interesting!) With entertainment options slim and monotony all but guaranteed, a lot of people are paying more attention to backyard and neighborhood wildlife lately. Even if you live in a major city, there are tons of wild creatures around. Go full Nat Geo with a trail cam and finally find out what happens when animals stop being polite and start getting real.
Also cool: We haven’t tried this one out, but the Canon PowerShot Zoom ($299) looks like a handy present for anyone who’s started bird or wildlife watching lately and is interested in nabbing quick super-zoomed-in shots.
Price: $199 from Bushnell
Sony a7 III Mirrorless Digital Camera
A lot of photographers, myself included, have switched over from DSLRs to full-frame mirrorless cameras in recent years, and for good reason. Mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter, but that used to mean compromising on image quality in the name of portability. Those days are long over. New mirrorless cameras have image quality on par with their larger, more traditional counterparts and their light weight and smaller size makes them easier to cart around for stuff like travel, street or outdoor photography. You really can’t go very wrong with most of the full-frame mirrorless options out there, but Sony’s a7 III is perfect for anyone getting serious about photography. The brand new Sony a7C is another mirrorless full-frame also worth a look if you want an even more compact option on the cutting edge of what small cameras can do.
Price: $1,698 from Amazon
Is your loved one one of those pretentious film photography people who talks about how digital ruined the art and nothing feels as good as a film camera? Well for one they’re kind of right. But you might be able to delight them nonetheless with the latest from Fujifilm’s’s extremely well-loved X100 series. It’s about as close as you can get to the je ne sais quoi of shooting with film, offering lots of little touches (classic design! an ISO dial!) that capture some of the magic of film photography. This is another option where you can save significant $$$ by finding a new last-generation version on the cheap.
Price: $1,399 from Adorama
Nikon D3500 and Canon EOS Rebel T7
Image Credits: Nikon
Compact mirrorless cameras are having an extended moment right now, but sometimes a regular DSLR is a better choice. For anyone learning the basics of photography for the first time, a “cropped sensor” DSLR (versus a pro-level full-frame DSLR) is really a better starting place in some ways. These camera bodies and their lenses are larger, but they’re generally more tactile in a way that will help new photographers build up a good foundation of knowledge. These bodies usually come with a “kit lens” (18-55mm) that’s not terribly impressive, but if you also pick up a cheap 50mm f/1.8 your budding photog will have plenty to play around with. Whether you go Nikon or Canon, it really doesn’t matter — just pick a horse and ride it. Did we mention these are great, affordable choices for a teen who’s just getting into photography? They are!
Price: Nikon D3500, $499 from Amazon | Canon EOS Rebel T7, $449 from Canon
Peak Design Field Pouch and Tech Pouch
Peak Design is best known for their camera bags and those are cool too and very worth a look. Bag preferences can be a pretty personal thing but even the most well-geared photographer can appreciate one of these handy little pouches for stashing SD cards (so they don’t vanish!) and all the random little odds and ends you need to cart around in a camera bag. You can’t go wrong with any of Peak Design’s organizational stuff — it’s all thoughtful and handsomely designed.
Price: Field Pouch, $40 from Peak Design | Tech Pouch, $60 from Peak Design