In anticipation of the holiday season, we recently asked more than a dozen photographers to tell us about the most valuable items in their camera bags—and the gifts they’d love to get in 2023. From a splurge-worthy studio flash that’s small enough to take on location to an ultra-wide tilt-shift lens to uplevel your game, they recommended gear to suit every type of shutterbug, from the fine art portrait enthusiast to the urban architecture aficionado.
For those with a budget in mind, they also offered up some unique gems, including a gorgeous diffusion filter (on sale for $19.99!) or an adjustable camera hand strap. Browse old film cameras on eBay, or DIY your own studio backdrop. Dig in below for more ideas on how to please the creatives in your life, and be sure to let us know if you buy (or receive) any of the photography gifts on our list.
When it comes to zoom lenses, you can’t beat the versatility of a much-loved 24-70mm lens, which will work for everything from landscapes to portraits. “In my work, I tend not to get obsessed over gear,” the Brazilian-Canadian fashion photographer Gustavo Chams admits.
“My 24-70mm is my workhorse lens. I photograph mostly with high apertures, so I don’t find the need for a prime lens. The versatility of going from wide-angle to mid-tele without having to swap lenses gives me a great sense of fluidity and speed on photoshoots.”
For Nikon users, the landscape photographer Patryk Bieganski recommends the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8. “This was my first FX lens, and I got used to working with it over the years,” he tells us. “Each time I need to take only one of my lenses on a trip, I’m taking this one. The majority of my pictures were taken with the 24-70mm, and I find it extremely useful.”
The Chicago-based photographer Garrett Roth loves his Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens, a longtime favorite, and this year, he’s hoping to add a longer lens to his kit. “My number one item on my wishlist this year would definitely be the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens,” he says.
“This lens has been on my bucket list for a while, and even though it’s a heavier lens that’s not super ideal for travel, it has the ability to capture some incredibly sharp images from extremely far distances. Being able to shoot up to 400mm widens the range of creative capabilities and would be a great addition to my collection.”
If you’re looking for something to suit a specific genre, consider a prime lens. For portraits, the artist Jovana Rikalo loves the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 and Canon 135mm f/2.0 lenses for sharp subjects and dreamy background blur.
If you’re willing to splurge, a tilt-shift makes a great companion for architecture and cityscape photographers. “This is one item I still don’t have in my bag, so I’ll gift myself the Laowa 20mm f/4 Zero-D Shift,” the French photographer Yanis Ourabah tells us. “I know it’s not a lens I’m going to use every day, but I’m looking forward to playing with it!”
Finally, for a more budget-friendly gift, consider a lens for mobile photography. The Moment macro lens and 14mm fisheye are always popular.
The Canon R6, a full-frame mirrorless camera body, tops Jovana Rikalo’s wishlist this year. Mirrorless cameras are evolving quickly and constantly improving, and they’re more portable and convenient than a traditional DSLR. Before splurging, it’s worth making sure your gift recipient is in the market for a new body—and that the one you get works with the system/lenses they’re already using.
For a mid-priced option, consider a compact camera. The Fujifilm X100V, for instance, made it onto the wishlists of several photographers we interviewed. “I’ve been trying to get hold of one of these to take on my travels, but they have just announced the X-T5, so I think I will pre-order that instead,” the London-based photographer Avel Shah tells us.
Finally, consider a classic film camera. “I’ve started bringing a 35mm film camera with me everywhere, both in my camera bag and also in my everyday bag,” Oscar Nilsson, a photographer, studio lead, and creative producer based in San Francisco, tells us. “Digital cameras are great; they’re the standard camera for any hobby or professional photographer and offer a lot more versatility, resolution, and richer color profiles.
“However, the charm of also keeping an analog 35mm with you for some behind-the-scenes images, capturing everyday memories, and forcing yourself into thinking deeper about the image before hitting the shutter, is a beautiful thing. I have a Contax T3, but you can find a much more affordable, and great, film camera for as low as $30. Can’t go wrong with this.”
For those with bigger budgets, a high-quality, off-camera flash for professional photography is sure to impress. Julia Wimmerlin, a commercial and travel photographer based in Switzerland, has her eye on the Profoto B10, a portable flash head made for photographers on the go (it’s the size of a camera lens but packs the power of ten speedlights).
“I love using creative lighting, and I love to travel and shoot on location, but currently, I need to carry a bigger flash (or, I should say, a bigger battery) to achieve what I want,” Julia says. “It would be a totally different experience with the very small but powerful B10.”
Another option would be to invest in a modifier for the studio lights your gift recipient already has, such as a softbox, to expand their kit and nurture their creativity. The fine art and fashion photographer Bella Kotak uses a Profoto brand softbox to diffuse her A10 on-camera flash.
Tijana Moraca, an artist based in Novi Sad, is craving the selective lighting effect of the Westcott Optical Spot by Lindsey Adler: “It seems that it gives great control of the light focus and some interesting creative options as well.”
For a more budget-friendly lighting option, you could also look into LED lights, like a Lume Cube panel, to offer continuous light for photoshoots.
“A good travel tripod is invaluable for any photographer,” Oscar Nilsson explains. “Look for one that is sturdy, reliable, and compact enough to bring along. My personal preference would be either one of the 3 Legged Thing products or Peak Design’s tripod. This is at the top of my wishlist.” Carbon fiber tripods generally offer a perfect mix of portability and stability.
Patryk Bieganski is also hoping for a tripod. “While working outdoors, it’s very important to keep a good balance when it comes to the weight of the backpack, especially during a few days of mountain hiking,” he says. “High on my holiday wishlist, you can find a tripod that is stable and light at the same time.”
Julian Grönberg, a Helsinki-based artist known for his intimate portraiture, is looking forward to adding a gimbal (a kind of tripod head) to his kit so he can shoot more video work. “I’m currently very keen to capture my work through short clips or even minimalistic music videos,” he says. “My way of working is quite natural, and I prefer to keep my equipment minimal (my favorite lens is my 50mm, which I’ve had for a long time), but adding movement could open up a new world in my work.”
Bags are a go-to gift for photographers. The bag you choose will depend on the photographer you’re shopping for, but in general, you can’t go wrong with the Peak Design Everyday Messenger, an all-rounder bag for everyday use. “I’d love to have a good quality backpack that I can bring with me on location photoshoots and travels, and this one is on my list,” Bella Kotak shares.
For wildlife or adventure photographers, you might consider something like the Lowepro Whistler Backpack 350 AW II or the f-stop TILOPA 50L DuraDiamond, two super resilient bags for all types of weather.
Straps and clips
“My favorite items at the moment are all of my Peak Design gear,” Yanis Ourabah tells us. “I use two bodies, and it’s really easy to change the straps. I have the Capture Clip to carry my camera with my bag or my belt, but I use the hand strap the most frequently. Can’t work without it!”
“My favorite item currently in my camera bag is my DJI Air 2S drone,” Paul Boomsma, an English outdoor photographer who also goes by the moniker expaulore, says. “I originally put off buying a drone for a while, as I didn’t really think I’d use it and I was scared of investing a lot of money into something I’d crash or lose.
“Since buying it, though, I find I’m using it almost constantly. It’s always in my bag, wherever I go, and sometimes I use it even more than my camera. It really helps me to get some unique and interesting perspectives.”
If you don’t have $999 to spend on a new drone, get some batteries for your favorite aerial/adventure photographer. “The #1 item on my holiday wishlist this year is extra drone batteries,” Paul tells us.
“I spend a lot of time traveling, hiking, and sleeping outdoors while on photography trips. I’m able to charge most of my gear through USB power banks, but drone batteries require an AC outlet or a big AC power bank that’s difficult to carry. The more batteries I can charge and take with me, the longer I can spend outside focusing on photography.”
“My favorite item right now is Moment’s Cinebloom filter,” the New Jersey-based portrait and fashion photographer Edward Grant tells us. “I use the 82mm. It has cut down my editing and retouching process, and it also gives my work a filmlike aesthetic.” He wasn’t the only photographer to mention this specific filter, which softens edges and smooths skin for beautiful portraits.
For outdoor photographers, you can consider an ND filter for long exposures or a polarizing filter to reduce reflections/glare. Urth makes affordable, high-quality filters, and they plant trees for every filter sold. If you have a larger budget, you can browse NiSi for some of the best filters out there; they also offer kits if you’re looking to bundle.
A simple but useful gift is the gift of storage, so consider a reliable SSD or external hard drive. For photographers with a studio practice, look into desktop options like the SanDisk G-DRIVE PRO; for outdoor adventurers, the G-DRIVE ArmorATD provides durability and protection from rain and dust.
A DIY backdrop
“This year, I’m actually hoping for a very wide white canvas roll, so I can start painting studio backgrounds by hand,” Gustavo Chams tells us. This brings us to our last gift idea: if you’d rather opt for something homemade (and perhaps a little more personal), you can always create a photography backdrop. Visit our DIY guide for tips on what materials to use.
Looking for more Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Christmas gift ideas? Check out our guide for gifts you can get for $50 or less.
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