Are you looking to give the gift of photography? Know that special someone who's always taking great pictures with their phones that you feel could take their next step? Wondering what you could do maybe push them on their way to a budding photography career? No doubt it is the most common question any photographer will get. What camera should I buy? The truth is the answer is very complicated; it would be easy to say “the best on you can afford”. The question I always start with "what do you plan to do with the camera?", or in this case, what is your hope for the person you're giving a camera to?
If the answer is “to take better photos of friends or trips”, then I have an unpopular answer. I believe you should stick with whatever smart phone camera that you're most likely already using. The truth is the modern smart phone has caught up to or passed most entry-level cameras. Outside of the ability to switch lenses, which only really matters if you've invested in lenses. You'll find the focusing systems clunky and the fact that you're not getting an accurate exposure through the viewfinder bewildering. Plus, carrying a camera around is a commitment. Some may even say a job. They're heavy and after an entire day of walking around, trust me when I say you don't want six extra pounds hanging off your neck. The phone is just too convenient. It's in your pocket, it pops out when you need it to, it exposes mostly correct, and most of the most difficult things about operating the camera are baked into the software.
If you're looking for a gift for that person, here are some suggestions:
Lightroom - being able to edit your photos beyond what is available to you natively on your phone is a game changer. I find this process to be as, if not more creative than the process of taking photos themselves. I think this is where most photographer's styles come from. You will start to learn a little bit more about your style and what you like in photos. That translates to the photos you take, creating a positive feedback system. A yearly subscription is less expensive than most entry-level DSLR kits you can find.
A Printer - most likely the gift I'm gonna get myself in 2022. Every photographer should be printing their work and creating the physical representation of their photo. Too much of our work goes online and not on our walls. Remember that part of the reason for taking the photo in the first place is to remember the moment and the feeling of that place in time. Plus, printing your work really is the gateway to whether or not you want to spend more money on professional gear. The differences between cell phone quality photos and higher megapixel count cameras really start to show themselves.
If the answer is "sports, wildlife, or better pictures of my products to sell online", then the answer gets more interesting. At that point, I would say something full frame, mirrorless, and made by one of the big three camera makers: Sony, Canon, Nikon. If it's sports or wildlife, make sure you're getting a good telephoto lens and a camera body that prioritizes frames per second over megapixels. If the answer is "better product photos", make sure you're getting a good macro lens and a camera with higher megapixels. If this is a gift, my suggestion is to get a gift card from your local camera store or the biggest camera store in your area (and by camera store I do not mean Best Buy or Target) I mean places like Perfect Image or Allen’s Camera. These places are owned by people who care about photographers and who want to make sure you get what you were looking for. They also have a wide range of used gear.
A final thought, if you're looking for a gift for a professional photographer and you want to be supportive. This would be an overindulgent gift, but it's a good example of the type of gift that person may really enjoy. If you could, get them tickets to a photo conference or other educational-based events. Photography as a career tends to be a little bit of a solo operation. Yes, on wedding days there's a whole crew, but most the time we're behind our computers editing, blogging, or generally working on the business. We don't often get opportunities to just go out and shoot for the fun of it anymore. The gift I gave my self for next year is a trip to to Focal’s Not-a-conference in Maui, HW. More on that in a future blog post!