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Photography Gifts from $500 You’ll Be Loved For Giving Or Love To Receive

By Kishore Sawh on November 22nd 2015

It’s become tradition or even fashionable these years for writers and anyone with a voice to complain about everything to do with the holidays, hitting all the predictable points of possible contention you needn’t have me go over. Sure, there are some irritations; I don’t particularly like dealing with holiday parking, nor holiday parties where the eggnog isn’t a bit…medicinal.

But overall the season finds me cheery. My fridge is always stocked; my twinkling lights work right out of the box; Bing Crosby is always welcome on my TV, and holiday house parties are always good fun. I also love sending and receiving letters and cards to people I care about that I haven’t seen in a year; I get great satisfaction from choosing and wrapping presents; I love the sense of bonhomie; I am grateful for my hideous Christmas sweater.

Thinking of what to get, though, can be a bit much, and I like guidance from trusted sources. In that vein, I figure regardless of what you celebrate, whether it’s rooted in religion or just the general feel-good do-good atmos, there stands a good chance that there’s some gift giving and receiving in your near future, and if you’re reading this, you are someone or know someone who is photography savvy and could do with some suggestions. Here’s what I’d want/give from $500. We will also be releasing a few more posts to suit every budget in the next few weeks.


So, felicitous compliments of the gorging season to you all, peace on Earth, and fat tums to all men, etcetera…

Sigma 50mm ART f/1.4


So it’s not new, and it’s no longer making headlines and hogging column inches the way it once did, but you know why that is? It changed the market and became the standard. Sigma came into the world a third party and a bit of a third wheel, and then with the release of their ART line of lenses, it blossomed. Almost like the awkward person who vied for your attention in school but couldn’t really hold a candle to your other options for prom, then ten years later after getting their sh*t together is better than you ever care to admit, but find irresistible nonetheless.

sigma art lenses

Whether you’re shooting Nikon, Canon, or Sony, you’ll struggle to find a finer 50 than this, and you’re certainly not going to find a finer one at this price point. I’ve seen it over and over again where someone gets this, and the preconceptions about Sigma and interest in other lenses simply falls away. It’s brilliant in any scenario from location to studio, and will get nods of approval from anyone who knows. Get it here



If you’ve been keeping up with us, and me specifically, you may have noticed, I have a penchant for color theory and management and believe everyone can make their work significantly more poignant with a better understanding of it. The thing is, once you understand it, you’ll want to know that your images will reflect this, and you’re only going to get that with calibration. But there’s so much to calibrate because you need to take into consideration calibration at the point of capture, through processing, and printing. This is where the Spyder5Studio is the answer.

spyder-spyder5-datacolor-pro-calibration-screen-print-photography-slrlounge-8 spyder-spyder5-datacolor-pro-calibration-screen-print-photography-slrlounge-7

This is one of those products/suites of tools that anyone at any level can use immediately and grow with. What’s inside will ensure your photos are captured accurately, your monitor displays true colors, and your prints reflect precisely what you want, being perfect regardless of paper selection and ink. It’s for the full workflow that lets you soft proof, calibrate monitors and laptops, iPads and even iPhones and projectors; create printing profiles with ease, and you’ll find the SpyderCube an incredible little tool you’ll want to keep with you on every shoot. Buy here.

Right now, we are also having a contest to give the SpyderPRO5 away. Enter here.

Samsung T1 1TB & 500GB


This next one is a bit of a cheat because neither costs $500, but together they do. However, I actually find great purpose for having two of these and working with them together, and I absolutely love using the T1. As far as recent gear purchases, it’s my most used and favorite one this year. I know many photographers out there aren’t running the highest level computer systems and aren’t using a proper RAID set-up or have implemented proper back-up storage. I understand because it not only gets expensive, but also it’s a lot to think about and understand especially if you want to futureproof as much as you can. Using two of these can really help you speed up your workflow and give you a starting point on managing your storage.


I’ve done a full review on it here, but suffice to say, these things are tiny, sturdy, and very fast. The way I would use these if you’re beginning, is to use the larger to hold the bulk of your work, and the smaller to run the most recent and current. For example, keep all the primary larger files on the 1TB either in folders of just images or include your LR .LRCAT files, and on the smaller one, keep the most recent and current images and .LRCAT files you’re working on. Keeping them on the T1 and off your computer. If it’s not running an SSD, you’re going to see LR (notoriously slow) load up and process your images much quicker than from the traditional drive of the computer. You can, of course, use them in any manner you like, and even just moving around large files and folders, it’s brilliant. Find both here.

Elinchrom Rotalux Octa Softbox 69”


Buying lighting equipment, for many, is more pain than pleasure, because you have high hopes, probably a lower budget, and it requires a lot of research to see what suits your needs. If you’re into studio beauty, fashion, or portraits, having a nice large light source is going to be a requirement. And if you have a good one that’s big enough and powered by a strong enough strobe, you can even get away with having only one, and using a DIY V-flat or something to bounce some fill. If you search to see what pros are using, you’ll see octas are largely where it’s at, and you don’t need to go with Broncolor’s variants that, while amazing, are amazingly pricey. I’ve seen shots from the Elinchrom Octa here, and they are outstanding, and coupled with great words about them by studio shooters.


It breaks down to fit in its own carrying case that makes transport of this thing easy, and that’s nice given it’s almost 6 feet wide. And even for a box this size and price, it apparently gives really even illumination across its width to within 1/3 a stop, and that suggests it’s also quite efficient, making it suitable for less powerful strobes. Get yours here.

Nikon FM10


Yes, Nikon is still making and selling film SLR cameras. I cannot stress enough how important I think it is to learn how to do everything with your camera manually. Doing it that way requires an understanding and foundation that will see you through your life as a photographer. There’s something to be said for failing at manual shooting, because it will happen, but you’ll learn oh-so-fast. Using film, you’ll begin to take more time with your shots, and actually THINK about everything before you depress that shutter button.

Taking a camera like the FM10 with its manual exposure control, non-TTL control of flash, manual film advance, and lack of AF motor, means that you are really in control of it all, and thus what comes out the other end, the printed end, is entirely your doing. It’s really a brilliant gift, and one of the few things in photography that won’t be outdated (again) anytime soon, and would be appreciated more and more with time. Purchase here

Wishing you all the best during the holiday season, and nothing but the best for the year ahead.

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ralph Hightower

    A Nikon FM with a 50mm f1.8 in 1982 costs $284.95. There is no mention of a Nikon FM10 in my 1982 Calumet catalog.

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  2. Stephen Glass

    OH if only Santa would bring me a Rotolux!

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  3. Kishore Sawh

    There is a case to be made for buying a new film camera, if you will. Yes, I agree there is a myriad of choice available on the pre-owned market for film SLRs, and lots less than $500. You would, however, have to do some research to see which is what, and maybe research the seller. Maybe. It would also be beneficial to see what maintenance costs are for these used cameras of age, because if something breaks, the availability of people or parts to fix it may not be there. Sure, you may end up with something in pristine cosmetic and even mechanical condition. But you also may end up with a dog, and those can be costly. At least the FM10 is still currently supported, and as a new build will generally have less wrong.

    It’s almost like buying a new vs vintage car. You can buy a Jaguar F-Type Coupe for $90-115k, or you could think, as I do, of getting an older but more beautiful E-Type, and get a decent one for $50k. Believe me, I’ve looked into it, that E-Type is going to have issues, and it’s going to require you to mortgage your liver and rent your wife to pay for them.

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    • Ralph Hightower

      KEH is a reputable reseller of used camera. For items not graded as “As Is”, there is a six month replacement warranty. I bought a used Canon F-1N and the match needle failed to respond to any of the exposure controls. They replaced the camera with no hassles.
      I bought a used F-1N in excellent condition with the AE Finder FN (for aperture priority), AE Motor Drive (for shutter priority) and two metering screens: spot and partial, for $400.

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  4. Colin Woods

    and at $500 its hard to get a better learning machine than the FM10. Unless of course you go onto eBay and get any one of the thousands of all manual cameras that are available at silly money. As Kishore said, the best way to really understand photography is to do with a camera that gives you zero feedback or help. Just a shutter dial and aperture ring and a little needle that you line up with a mark for exposure. I learnt on a Zenit E. In fact I learnt too much as it took me years of badly exposed slides before I understood that matrix metering was very smart and you could trust it almost all of the time.

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    • John Cavan

      I’d pick the K1000 if you can find it as it’s probably the best learning camera ever made, but I agree that old film cameras can be a great way to go, assuming you can afford the film and developing costs.

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    • Dave Haynie

      I’m not sure I could ever recommend paying ~$500 for a new Nikon FM10, given that you can pick up a used Nikon F4 or EOS-1 for $100-$150 these days, or your choice of just about any other really nice lower end film SLR for under $50. I have my Dad’s Nikon N90 and N8008 because even ten years ago, he couldn’t see selling them for practically nothing on eBay.

      You definitely can learn to shoot film from such cameras. I kind of disagree about learning to shoot on manual. Ok, sure, digital doesn’t force you to take your time, but it doesn’t prevent that, either. But the thing about digital is immediate feedback… I can spend a day shooting and review the results in detail later that day. Feedback is how learning occurs, and the immediacy of it means you can learn faster on digital, if you choose to. My 17-year-old niece has been doing that… she’s got a couple of my Dad’s old Nikons, my Olympus OM-1, but also a Canon DSLR system. And she’s shooting on manual all the time, to develop that sense that our old meterless or match-needle film cameras forced us to learn. But so much faster.

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    • Colin Woods

      Interesting points Dave. I wouldn’t pay $500 for a new film camera either. I just picked up an F100 for $150, that’s a lot of camera for that money. I’d have loved an F4 but it won’t work with G lenses.
      I think that manual is better in that you have to wait. You do get feedback, just a bit later and at some expense. Everything we learn in life comes with some pain, be it financial, physical or emotional, and I think that waiting a few days and spending good money to get back a packet of 24 crap pictures is a good kick up the learning curve. That said, when I was learning there was no such thing even as AF let alone pixels so I can’t know how it is to learn the basics of photography in a digital era.

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    • Dave Haynie

      I do understand that film comes with some pain… been there, got the T-Shirt and the coffee mug. My Dad and I set up a home darkroom when I was 16… I shot and developed various B&W films and E-4 Ektachrome printed to Cibachrome (later Ilfochrome) paper. But the cost of it all severely limited what I could do on a regular basis. I think the experience is good, and glad that my niece is getting it (she borrowed the OM-1 because that’s the film camera they’re using in her class…. she’s got the OM-4, too, forgot about that).

      Certainly you have to do your homework buying used. But I can’t imagine anyone getting into film casually these days… you’re either going to learn about the film era or find someone who knows it to help out.

      As for buying film cameras… while I was browsing eBay, I saw a Canon 7 with f/1.4 lens for about $400… my favorite rangefinder. A little tempting. My problem is, the one film camera I really want is the Olympus OM-3Ti. It’s just the all-manual version of the OM-4Ti, but if you can find one in mint shape… it’s by far the most expensive Olympus camera available (well, at least this side of their endoscopes), way more than any new OM-D, and nearly the price of a Canon 5Ds.

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    • Paul Nguyen

      I don’t see the appeal of 35mm film cameras, to be honest. They basically do exactly the same thing as digital and you still have to pay for film. The argument that somehow they help you learn is pretty silly to me. If you want to learn to shoot manual exposure, you can do that on digital, so it’s not like it’s something unique to film.

      On top of that, I’m with Dave on this one, when you’re learning, the best thing to do is to shoot lots and spend lots of time reviewing. If you’re learning to shoot manual, that means shoot, check, shoot again, check again and keep doing that until you get it right and then go and repeat the same process lots and lots of times. Film is just too slow to be able to do that with.

      Also, I highly doubt this mentality that somehow shooting less gives you better pictures. That’s just not quite true. Whilst slowing down does encourage you to think more, who says you can’t think when you’re shooting more quickly and at a higher pace.

      If I were to buy into film today, I’d look at getting something unique such as a large format camera or ‘view’ camera, these are much more unique and interesting and actually give you great quality images.

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  5. Andy & Amii Kauth

    At $849 it’s so tough to beat that Sigma …

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    • penelope peralta

      I definitely want Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 and the price here in France is actually lower….I hope Santa comes my way this Christmas. I’ve been really good. :P

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    • Matt Owen

      The price drop was the final straw, I just ordered one. I probably should have used the savings to upgrade to overnight shipping as I am now stalking the UPS tracking site obsessively.

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