Shopping for someone whose love of taking pictures is bumping up against the creative constraints of their iPhone’s camera roll? There’s a whole world of photography gifts and gear out there, but you don’t need to spring for an expensive new camera body to get a gift that counts. If you’d like to stay well, well below the $1,000 threshold you’d spend on a new mirrorless digital camera, these fun options prioritize play and can expand anyone’s photography horizons.
As far as hobbies go, photography is extremely personal — everyone has their own style, preferences and gear setup. Personally, I started shooting around two decades ago with an old 35mm camera passed down from my grandfather (a now-ancient Canon AE-1 — these used to be everywhere!) and still prefer the simplicitly of relatively rustic equipment.
As a hobbyist who mostly shoots adventure and nightsky photos (outside of work-related photojournalism) and occasionally sells my prints, I’ve tested all kinds of camera equipment, including DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, action cameras and many, many lenses. These days I mostly shoot digital, but film and physical prints are making a comeback, a trend our gift guide makes ample note of.
For anyone experimenting with photography and looking to get out of the smartphone shooting mindset, film and instant photography offer an exciting, tactile starting place.
Price: $79 at Amazon
In recent years, social media’s prevailing aesthetic has shifted from perfect and polished to something a lot more casual that hearkens back to the heyday of the Polaroid. After dying an untimely death, Polaroid is back, thankfully, but Fujifilm seems to be having the most fun in instant photography at the moment.
The Fujifilm Instax Mini 12 is the perfect embodiment of that. The camera isn’t very expensive and doesn’t take itself too seriously, with a toy-like design that would be at home in the back of a Twitch streamer’s pastel dreamscape. The format is a little smaller than a classic Polaroid, but the film is readily available and still captures the fun and serendipity of printing photos on the fly.
Price: $33 at Amazon
If you’ve got an aspiring content creator on your gift list — or anyone who just wants better vacation shots — Joby’s line of tripods will instantly up their game. This GorillaPod, designed for smartphones, lets you safely mount your phone just about anywhere so you can take advantage of its higher-resolution front-facing camera. The flexibility can be useful at home too, say for shooting content for that close-up magic YouTube channel or funky fungi crochet craft TikTok.
Price: $295 at Amazon
GoPro is synonymous with action photography for a reason. These cameras are tough, tiny, designed from scratch for extreme environments and fast-paced adventure. If you want to record a surfing session or an epic snowboard line, GoPro is the industry standard for a reason. They take great stills and video considering the circumstances and the little boxy cameras can be bought with a slew of accessories that make them even more indispensable, from mounts and grips to flotation devices. If you’d like to save some cash buying a GoPro, check out a model from a year or two ago (the GoPro Hero 12 Black is the current model) — the best deals in photography are often on cameras from a few years ago that manufacturers keep in stock. This same logic applies to pretty much all cameras and camera bodies, so keep that in mind if you’re after a good deal.
Photography gear is personal, but so are bags (as every TechCrunch bag week makes abundantly clear). Everyone has different preferences for what they want out of a backpack, messenger or sling. On the other hand, no one is ever mad about having too many bags for strategically lugging different combinations of stuff to various far-flung places. Peak Design is well-known in the photography community for painstakingly designed camera bags and accessories, but also check out Wandrd for what we think are cooler-looking packs with plenty of nooks and crannies for gear. Both brands have an array of options across price points, from small hip belt packs for a single extra lens to backpacks that fit a whole suite of gear on the go.
Price: $234 at Amazon
Okay, we already talked about another of Fujifilm’s instant cameras but this one is in a class of its own. The Instax Mini Evo takes a different approach to instant photography, adding in a ton of filters and relatively sophisticated options without undermining the point and click ease that makes instant photos so fun. The Instax Mini Evo works as a traditional instant camera like its siblings, but it offers one big twist. Instead of shooting and printing immediately, you can shoot and then select which photo you’d like to print out — a huge boon considering how many poorly framed instant photos we’ve printed while trying to get the right shot. You also can use the Mini Evo like a standalone instant photo printer, sending smartphone photos to the device wirelessly to print out your best shots. Sure it’s cheating, but it’s also really flexible and fun — and that’s what photography is all about.
Vintage camera (variable)
If you take the dreamy, grainy photography trend to its logical conclusion, why not just rewind back to film? Like instant photos, film photography is making a comeback — and for good reason. Shooting with film feels nothing like taking a million snaps on an iPhone. The process slows you down, forces you to be deliberate and the shots wind up feeling that much more special. For a really special camera gift for the retro aesthetic appreciator, head to your local vintage camera store and pick up a 35mm camera and some good film. You could shop online, but browsing in person if you’ve got an old-school store nearby parallels the tactile charm of film photography. Either way, you’ll help keep film photography shops in business and wind up with a thoughtful, one of a kind gift.
Check out some of our other 2023 gift guides: