Our Retro Tech Gift Guide

This holiday season, it's all about new-fangled gadgets with an old-timey vibe.

It’s a foregone conclusion that humanity will eventually develop into a race of cyborgs, as Google Glass, drones, and self-driving cars become increasingly interwoven with our day-to-day lives. Indeed, the future will be written not in lines of prose, but in lines of code. Despite the obvious allure of minimalist labor-saving devices with gently glowing screens, some people still pine for the knobs and levers of a simpler time, when photos were made on film and music was recorded on vinyl. If you’ve got someone on your gift-exchange list who loves the comforting scent and inconvenient weight of a good, thick book, but wants wireless connectivity at the same time, there are plenty of anachronistic-looking devices whose retrograde stylings bely their connection with Skynet.

Nikon Df DSLR
With 50mm f/1.8 lens: $2,999

One of the most prominent (and popular) genres of cutting-edge devices with retro charm is the digital camera. While some manufacturers, most notably Leica, have maintained a signature aesthetic for decades, others have more recently reintroduced classic styling to their lineups. Fuji and Olympus are two fine examples; not only are their flagship models inspired by the look and feel of earlier film cameras, but both brands have made significant investments in the quality of their offerings. The newcomer to the field is Nikon, which announced its Df model with a series of enigmatic web videos featuring a clean-cut young man in flannel hiking through the woods, never saying a word. This camera borrows heavily from Nikon’s final professional film line, the F Series, and that heritage is a large part of its appeal, according to Cha Levias of Looking Glass Photo. “It’s all about that click,” she said, referring to the satisfying mechanical feel of the Df’s knobs. The camera also features the ability to use every original series of Nikon’s lenses as well as their newest glass, something that no other Nikon camera can boast — for many older photographers, this feature alone makes the camera a worthy investment. Because of its manual controls, the Df also appeals to shooters who learned photography on older film cameras, for whom the digital revolution was a big leap. Add to that Nikon’s top-of-the-line imaging sensor, and you’ve got the ultimate in cutting edge retro tech. Surprisingly, Nikon decided to produce the Df without video capability, which makes it the only DSLR in their current line lacking that feature. But the application of digital innovation in the Df is selective on purpose: It’s meant to match the image quality of film in a camera body that closely mimics the ergonomics of older models.

LookingGlassPhoto.com NikonUSA.com

Paco Collars Camera Straps
From $75

While camera straps stand on unsteady ground as “retro” equipment, because they’ve never been phased out, the fit and finish of standard-issue models has certainly changed. The current style of wide nylon webbing, while sturdy and practical, lacks a certain romance. If you’re shopping for a photographer with flair, one of the more stylish and visible accessories is a retro strap. These are available through several manufacturers, but perhaps the most unique offerings in the field come from Berkeley’s very own Paco Collars. They’re only available through a special arrangement with Looking Glass Photo, after owner Jennifer Waicukauski approached Paco Collars with a proposal that Paco betray its droll assertion, “Yes, a store just for dog collars.” It’s good that she did, because the line of leather straps they’ve come out with are beautiful, sturdy, and can be made to order with a variety of colors, accessories, and finishes. And yes, they also do dog collars: See our pet gift guide on 60 for more.


ONA Camera Bags
From $129.99

Cha Levias of Looking Glass Photo said that ONA camera bags, whose chunky leather straps, waxed canvas and subdued colors evoke Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, are a go-to accessory for customers who are investing in a retro-style camera. While it’s certainly true that a classic-looking rig such as the Nikon Df, would be out of place in a black nylon, wheeled carry-on bag, the ONA line is not so limited: It looks great with every type of camera. And the appeal is more than fabric-deep, as these bags are carefully handmade (and priced accordingly). The thick stitching, robust materials, and rugged finishes do more than imitate old-fashioned quality — they recreate it. If you can swing it, this is a gift that your photographer friend will carry with them for a long time to come.

LookingGlassPhoto.com, OnaBags.com

Tablet “Book” CoversMusic
From $29.99

A huge variety of electronics covers is available online, sized to fit almost any mobile device you can think of. I like the handcrafted elegance of the Tech Book line, which offers models to fit Kindles, smart phones, and tablets with classic leather or linen finishes. If you’re looking for something with more spunk than panache, there’s a wide field of Etsy users with engaging designs made from actual books; RookCase is notably prolific, with designs including classic lit and graphic novels. It’s up to you to decide whether or not it’s missing the point to “upcycle” those old-fashioned paper clunkers. Perhaps the cheekiest cover is one that uses a hollowed-out copy of Dracula to disguise your Kindle as you peruse a near-endless selection of books via Wi-Fi. You may want to buy a few with different covers to rotate through, so that coworkers don’t suspect you’re the world’s slowest reader. For bonus DIY points, you can make your own, and if you get good enough, you can even create an Etsy profile and get some market share!

CaseTechDirect.com, Etsy.com/shop/RooKCasE

Hall USB-1 Turntable

Do you know someone who loves the warm sound and cultural cachet of vinyl, but wants the accessibility of digital files? With a USB-equipped turntable like the Music Hall USB-1, available at Econojam Records, your giftee can listen to his or her records through a standard stereo receiver and also rip vintage jams to mp3. As Tom O’Shaughnessy, Econojam’s owner wryly observed, “It’s pretty hard to run around Lake Merritt with a turntable.” That’s certainly true, and who would want to pay twice for the same album? As a bonus, most models of USB-enabled turntables come equipped with audio recording and mastering software, so you don’t have to track them down later. According to O’Shaughnessy, older music enthusiasts like the convenience of one-step plug-and-play accessibility for digitizing their collections, while the younger collectors are used to having all of their music available on a mobile device, even if they do have an appreciation for analog. With a digital turntable, both camps can have it all.


Marshall Stanmore Bluetooth Speaker

Once you’ve finished digitizing your library of original Captain Beefheart albums, you can play your favorite songs back wirelessly with Marshall’s Stanmore Bluetooth speaker. Styled like Marshall’s iconic line of amps, the Stanmore comes complete with metal knobs, a faux leather finish, and the classic shiny speaker screen we’ve all seen onstage at every concert, ever. Available through the Apple store, this all-in-one sound system is ideal for someone who loves the sweaty thrill of a live concert and the cool sophistication of cutting-edge digital technology. It also supports hard-wired connections through RCA cables and a 3.5mm mini jack, so if you want to be really retro you can skip the Bluetooth.



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