Holigay Gift Guide: Take a Picture, It’ll Last Longer

HOLIGAYS 2017 / Autostraddle

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We live in an age where everything is documented thoroughly and I have a fear that all we as a people are going to have in 20 years are lost phone photos and a terrifying facebook/tumblr archive SO here are some things to help you and yours document whatever is important to you right now.

This is mostly a guide for people looking to take fun photos of their fun life and not get too serious about the technical side of photography (or for photographers looking to have some fun cameras to carry around). Last year I did a guide that went more in depth on DSLRs and it still largely holds true so I’m not going to go into depth again but am happy to chat in the comments.

Easy Digital Documentation

Autostraddle Gift Guide: Cameras and Photography, Digital Photography

[1] Sony a5100 ($448). [2] Canon PowerShot ($179). [3] GoPro ($359).

Sony a5100: For the price, this camera blows most things out of the water. If you are looking to take great pictures of your day to day life, trips, new kitten, etc. but don’t want to think about it too much (or even if you do), this is the camera to buy.

Canon PowerShot ELPH 360 HS: iPhone 2.0 – better than your phone, good enough for day to day documentation – super small, affordable, might inspire you to take more than just selfies

GoPro: I have a love/hate relationship with them because they are the best at what they do and, fun fact, you can freeze any of the video frames and make it a photo so just hit record go for a swim with the dolphins and worry about catching the frame later. Just like, make sure it’s on and secure because I have lost a few out of helicopters don’t ask.

Why Buy a Camera When I Have a Phone

If you’re not into carrying a camera around but would consider carrying camera lenses, check out these phone lenses to step up your game. I personally have had a hard time remembering to bring things like this with me (I also usually carry a camera), so keep in mind that they are small and might run off but if you carry a bag, hike light, or think you would get good use out of them great!

I would start with this affordable one and if you use it then look into stepping up to the Olioclip. If you are all about phone only photography and are out at lakes taking sweeping landscapes and want the best, get the Moment New Wide Lens (or Tele if you prefer a longer lens).

You know how when you take a pic in a photobooth at a bar you and your squad look great? It’s because it’s lit so nicely – if you’re a selfie artist, make sure to pick up this light and you will not be disappointed.

Easy Analog Documentation

Autostraddle Gift Guide: Cameras and Photography, Analog Photography

[1] Fujifilm Instax Mini ($99.99). [2] Canon af35ML ($20-$100 depending on your eBay bidding skills). [3] Kodak Portra 400 ($42.95/5 rolls) [4] Epson V600 Scanner ($209.99)

Taking not-digital photos is a super fun way to document things because it’s cool but also (in my experience) it encourages you to take different photos than you would with a digital camera.

Instant cameras are super fun and also easy to instagram. I own at least seven vintage polaroids but I prefer the Instax (or the mini depending on your preference). It has better color, the film is cheaper, and it isn’t temperamental so you can enjoy taking fun photos and not be stressed about the cost, development time, and color longevity of the impossible project.

And now about 35mm. Disposable cameras are always a blast but OKAY I’m going to tell you a secret don’t blow it up but my absolute favorite 35mm camera is the Canon af35ML — it’s still cheap because it isn’t trendy like the Contax t2 (a point and shoot film camera made popular my Japanese street style bloggers which should cost ~$100 but currently costs around $800 because of cool factor plz don’t buy this literally buy any other point and shoot). But back to the Canon! It basically takes disposable style shots with a glass lens. Pop in some Fujifilm for more of a disposable aesthetic or some Portra for nice soft colors.

There’s also always the Pentax K1000, the gold standard for 35mm cameras when you want to get more into photography and have full manual operation.

And now that you are shooting on tangible media, you might want to invest in a scanner. I use the Epson 600 — scans of negatives cost at least $10/roll at the store (for low res) so if you’re scanning even semi-regularly, it’ll pay for itself. Also most photo places will give them to you on a CD and do you even have a disc drive anymore?


I don’t care how but please print your photos. Your hard drives mean nothing in the apocalypse. Also I have no idea if these drives will work in a year Apple may get rid of all plugs ever WHO KNOWS. I really don’t recommend printing your own photos – ink and paper is expensive and it is very hard to get the color correct and honestly more work and money than it is worth. I get photos printed at a few local places (depending on the print I need so if you’re in LA or the bay let’s talk) but the best online service is Nations Photo Lab. Be careful, they will email you a lot so maybe don’t sign up for that mailing list.

Bonus super cute thing you can do with photo prints: put a stamp on them and mail them as a postcard yay!

ARTY BONUS (this works from phones to your 35mm to your DSLR): Have you ever wondered how people take those fun trippy photos with rainbows or double images? Check out a prism or the independently owned Future Eyes wild creations and hold them up to your lens and add new dimensions to your photos!

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Molly Adams is an LA-based photographer. You can find documenting life from Afghanistan to Standing Rock to the LA queer nightlife. You can also find her on Instagram.

Molly has written 59 articles for us.


  1. “I don’t care how but please print your photos. Your hard drives mean nothing in the apocalypse.”

    On the other hand, unless you’re an amateur archivist, your paper photos mean nothing in the pre-apocalypse world. I’ve just digitised the first 22 years of my life because my photo albums were deteriorating. The 1980s photos a few photos had strange colour casts where lines or parts of photos had changed, but they were mostly okay. However, I could see from my albums the exact year that large scale photo processing suddenly became affordable, because that’s the first album where the faces of photos had completely melted together.

    Unless you’re serious about taking care of your photos, those paper copies aren’t going to last. A couple of moves, a few months in a box in the basement while you get around to putting up your new IKEA shelves… bye bye cheap photos.

    It’s sad, but there’s no entirely “safe” way to store your precious memories. I personally go for multiple digital copies, one of which is online in high resolution and accessible to my family with a password, so that they can easily browse the family albums that up until recently were just available to me.

    • I go for multiple competing online storage methods, Currently Microsoft and Google, one of them will survive long enough for me to choose new hosts if it comes to it.

    • Another thing I’ve discovered is that even if the photo’s still in good shape, many of the ways people store/display them is not. I recently did a huge family photo digitization and discovered my grandfather had LAMINATED some of our photos in an effort to preserve them! *screams internally*

      Also like… a lot of photo albums were crap, but my family didn’t know any better about how to preserve them. Remember those albums where you peeled back a contact sheet to reveal glue? Also a nightmare 30 years later.

    • This is interesting about seeing the exact year when photo processing changed. I haven’t looked through old albums in a while, and I wonder what I’ll find when I do.

  2. Get a scanner, go to your grandma’s and save all your baby pictures and the old family pictures

  3. My dad has in the last few years been digitizing family photos from when my sister and I were kids. He’s still keeping the original printed copies in albums, of course, but he’s been worried about the deterioration of those photographs. At some point he wants to get around to digitizing the old camcorder videos he took back in the 90s as well. I think having just printed photos or just digital photos is gonna screw you either way – best to hedge your bets and make sure you have the ones you really want to save in both versions.

    • I’m in the midst of digitising my father’s camcorder videos from the 1990s and I’m really happy with the results so far. I definitely recommend it!

      My method is that I make new videos. 60-90 minutes of holiday footage, for example, turns into 2-5 minutes of tightly edited highlights reel. My father thinks it’s sacrilege that I’m not saving all the shaky “waiting to see if something happens, oh, a stranger walked into the shot and just stood there for five minutes” and the “forgot to turn the camcorder off before putting it in the bag” bits, but my way someone might actually watch these home videos, and they might actually enjoy it. No one is going to watch hundreds of hours of shaky footage of me playing football as a child, but we might watch 2-3 minutes of my biggest fails and wins.


    Paper is not a good way to keep your valuable photos. Digitize them, back them up. put them on your computer, put them on competing online backup systems. Have copies

    Printing is not a backup.

    • Backing up: yes, yes, yes! If anyone has photos they’d really be upset to lose, backing up can’t be over-emphasised.

      If the total number isn’t huge, just a few good thumb drives or SD Cards would be fine – a few identical copies, with at least one somewhere else than your home. And there are plenty of backup vendors that’ll offer a few GB for free, and much more if you don’t mind paying.

      For anyone really active in digital photography, I’d have to add a pair of hard drives to the suggestions list: made into a RAID1 volume (how, of course, varies on what OS is used – I can offer advice on the macOS process), you’ve then got space for at least a year or so’s RAWs, and in a form that’ll survive one of the drives turning into a pumpkin. (Both, though, and the data’s still toast – another copy is definitely a good idea, preferably not in the same location – theft or fire doesn’t have to mean the end of one’s photos, at least)

  5. If you live in the DC area, our public libraries are actually offering free DIY digitizing services to anyone with a library card!(Full disclosure: I work for the library, but I genuinely love that we’re making the ability to digitize photos and various other old media free, it can be an expensive pain in the ass otherwise.) We give short classes on how to do it, and then all you need to do is reserve a time and go to town. Check it out here: https://www.dclibrary.org/labs/memorylab

  6. Print photos make good gifts. People rarely have them anymore, and I think it really helps signify the importance of the photo, to take the time and effort to have it printed in someway. The documentation of my life doesn’t need museum style archiving, so I like having prints in albums and frames. Much more fun to look through than a facebook album.

  7. I was at Samy’s camera the other week and noticed a guy was getting a Contax K1000 with what looked to be a 35mm lens(didn’t see the aperture) for $500 in good shape. Not sure what the lens cost alone, but I do know the used prices for cameras and lenses are usually fair. I know some Contax lenses can go up to $1000 in the used market. A good place to check for used stuff is KEH.com as they are well liked and their rating system is a bit thorough vs others; like an average from them is usually in better shape than average from other places.

    The Instax Mini 90 comes in a Leica version, which obviously cost more(camera as paper is uses is the same) called the Sofort. I am a big fan of Leica despite their general high prices(a $3000 film camera, $8000 digital, and $1400 lenses) because the company was saving Jews(employees and family as best as they could) in WWII with the Leica Freedom Train. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leica_Freedom_Train

    Also if one wants a good digital camera that has that film aesthetic to it and can be had for good prices off KEH or ebay. The Fuji X100 or X100s(T and F models will cost you much more) are great camera & can be had for as low as $300 in fair shape.s. If I remember correctly Molly shoots with that series of cameras. I shoot with a X-E1, which is like now $200 in the used market body only and $300+ with a lens. It can be really good at night, and the colors are a delight.

  8. Hey Molly, I’m so happy you mentioned the Sony a5100! I was researching for a new travel-friendly camera a few weeks ago and decided to bite the bullet on this one over an advanced point-and-shoot at a similar price point. I’m very happy with it. It actually made me understand manual photography better, and this translated well when I picked up my dad’s Canon DSLR. Definitely recommended for people who can be slowly convinced into moving out of Auto mode.

    • How do you like the touch interface? It was the one thing I wish the Sony I was using had. To be honest the Canon DSLR isn’t going to be much better, and depending on the model maybe worse in terms of raw picture specs and video too(something Sony is good at and generous with vs Canon who sometimes makes you move a model just to get more video features). The only advantage Canon DSLR’s really have is how cheap one can get certain lens(like a nifty 50) vs Sony.

      • Which Sony are you using? The a5100’s touch interface can just be set either for focusing or for activating the shutter, and not really for much else, but it works and it can be helpful especially without a viewfinder.

        My dad has a 70D and I don’t really use it for myself, but when I do pick it up I do like that I understand it a lot better now. I’m not looking to get a DSLR for myself though. I’m thinking of getting a couple of Sony lenses first – and yes, it is so much easier to get Canon lenses than Sony lenses – and then upgrade my body a few years down the road.

        • I was using the A57 SLT(which was from their old camera line up they bought from Minolta), which I sold because I just could not get use to the menu or lack of touch screen(odd since my current main camera lacks a touch screen too).

          The 70D is pretty much the same in terms of raw image quality to an A5100. Really only advantage it has would be in sports, and fast action shots were tracking is key. If you are looking for something affordable the Sigma 30mm f2.8 is pretty good, and rented on for the weekend to try out on my Panasonic(same lens, different mount and AF contacts). Seen them go as low as $125 new.

          • I have tentatively pencilled in a plan to save up for the Sony 35mm f/1.8, but I’m tempted to ditch that plan for the Sigma 30mm f/2.8. I just have two concerns: 1) the lack of image stabilisation, since the a5100 doesn’t have in-body stabilisation, and 2) after my experiences with the Canon nifty fifty, I’m wondering if I’ll miss being able to shoot at f/1.8. I have a pretty steady hand from years of using cheap point-and-shoots so image stabilisation may not even matter, but everyone makes such a big deal out of it… And I’m not a bokeh freak either, but I’m always thinking, what if I need to open at 1.8?

          • I’ve been shooting without IS with an f2.5 on my Panasonic cameras, and f2.8 on my Fuji 27mm for years now. I miss it once in a while, as it’s nice to have IS at night; but, a steady hands can go along way. There is also the third option of the Sigma 30mm f1.4, which I see is going for about $90 less than the Sony 35mm f1.8. Or those no name new manual 35mm f1.7 lenses going for under $100.

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