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When you search “Cameras for Kids” on the B&H website, you get a small selection of cute cameras with princesses or cartoon characters on them. While these cameras are certainly functional and affordable and may be appealing to some toddlers, I feel that most kids age 5 or older are ready for a “real” digital camera. Have you seen a 2-year-old pick up an iPhone? It’s like they were born knowing how to buy an app. To wit, the other day I was passing through the B&H SuperStore and noticed a dad with his son, about 12 years old, at the Nikon counter. As the dad was chatting with a sales staffer, the 12-year-old ambled over to the Nikon D5 model on display, picked it up, adjusted a few settings and started shooting like he had worked that beast for years!
My point is not to drop $5,000—or even $500—on a camera for your child, but to recognize that kids are very sophisticated within the context of digital gadgets and a plastic toy camera may be a waste of time and money. Money is an issue, of course, but if your child is into taking pictures or a vacation or summer camp is in the works, then a durable, moderately priced camera is a better investment than one that might break within a couple of weeks. Also, if your kids are like mine, they love to perform with their friends and record the antics. Most point-and-shoots have SD or HD video, so an affordable model will go a long way to keep kids busy and creative, making family movies without you even having to yell at them to smile.
Below is a brief sampling of cameras that I think will serve kids between ages 5-12 with performance and durability. After that, if your child is really interested in taking pictures, it’s worth considering a leap to a more advanced DSLR or mirrorless camera, or even a film camera, to foster a deeper understanding of the medium.
Basic point-and-shoot cameras are very easy to understand and operate; most are perfectly sized for smaller hands and their affordability makes them a reasonable present for children. Vivitar offers a range of simple pocket cameras that will serve a young child without cracking into the savings account. These cameras provide high-resolution sensors, some have fixed focal length lenses, and others zoom. Certain models even provide advanced features, such as image stabilization and face detection. The Vivitar ViviCam S131 has a 16.1MP sensor, fixed focal length lens with 4x digital zoom. It accepts SD and SDHC memory cards and is powered by three AAA batteries. The Vivitar F126 Digital Cameras come in pink and blue options and offer an image stabilization feature. Two features to keep in mind when considering cameras at this price point are memory and battery: some store photos with internal memory while others require an SD memory card, and some of the cameras operate on standard alkaline batteries while others use rechargeable batteries. The issues with memory cards are that you need to buy one; they are an extra step when downloading images and are also a potential item for your child to lose. Of course, a memory card will give you greater capacity than internal memory.
Sony, Nikon, and Canon offer several point-and-shoot models from $100-150 that are very solid performers, a step up from the Vivitar models. They all utilize a CCD sensor, which limits video recording to 720p standard definition, but that is more than sufficient for any little kids’ needs. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W830 has an 8x optical zoom lens, which provides 25-200mm focal-length equivalence, optical image stabilization, and auto smile capture, as well as other user-friendly features. Basic control buttons and a one-touch video button make it easy for all. The new Nikon COOLPIX L32 Digital Camera is a similarly outfitted camera, with a 5x zoom lens, 720p video, Vibration Reduction and a 3" LCD; it runs on two AA batteries and has a glossy red finish. The Canon PowerShot ELPH 190 IS Digital Camera is available in three colors and, like the above, has a CCD sensor—but its lens extends to 240mm equivalence. It is also quite compact, has image stabilization, auto and scene modes, and built-in Wi-Fi.
More sophisticated, but still within the realm of “standard” point-and-shoot cameras, we find models that utilize CMOS sensors, have longer zoom lenses, Full HD video, and include built-in Wi-Fi. These cameras retain a very pocketable form and simple control and menu navigation, and they offer auto exposure control and scene modes for simplified imaging. The new Canon PowerShot SX610 HS Digital Camera has a 20.2MP CMOS sensor with an 18x optical zoom lens that extends to a 450mm equivalent focal length. A large 3.0" LCD, built-in Wi-Fi, Full HD video, and image stabilization round out its features. It is available in black, white or red. The PowerShot SX620 is a similar camera but ups the feature set a bit, including a 25x optical zoom lens with 7.1 fps continuous shooting.
The Nikon COOLPIX S7000 Digital Camera is a great camera for kids—for anyone, in fact. It has a 20x zoom lens (25-500mm) and 16MP CMOS sensor with Full HD 1080p video and built-in Wi-Fi. It is very compact and features Target Finding Autofocus and 9.2 fps continuous shooting for capturing fast action.
A bit out of the ordinary, but something your kids might love, is the Ricoh Theta SC Spherical Digital Camera that creates spherical panorama images and videos with its twin-lens system. Available in four colors, easily operated and perfect for small hands, this camera will introduce your child to the world of VR and inspire creativity outside of the rectangular frame.
Now, to me, these are the ideal cameras for kids. They offer very respectable—in some cases advanced—camera specs, but do so in bodies that are designed to handle all the abuse an 8-year-old can dish out. They can go underwater, be dropped, land in sand or mud, and withstand temperatures well below freezing and pressure over 200 lb. And after all of that, you can wash them off under running water. They’re generally referred to as “tough” or “rugged” cameras, but should be called kid-proof cameras and, in general, they have colorful and ergonomic (a.k.a. kid-friendly) forms.
Most manufacturers offer two or three models of tough cameras, their flagship model and a more affordable option. The flagship offerings may surpass what is considered necessary for a child’s camera; however, given that they should last many years, perhaps it’s a reasonable choice to go to the upper tier. If you do decide, I would recommend the Olympus Stylus TOUGH TG-4 Digital Camera, which is a top performer in this class, even including RAW capture, or the feature-heavy Nikon COOLPIX AW130 Waterproof Digital Camera.
Of the tough cameras that are ideally designed and priced for kids, I would suggest the Fujifilm FinePix XP90 Digital Camera, which is available in blue, orange, yellow, and lime. It has a 16.4MP CMOS sensor, 5x optical zoom lens, Wi-Fi, 1080p video, Action Cam mode, is waterproof to 50', sand proof, dust proof, and shockproof from drops of 5.8'. Also, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS30 Digital Camera in blue, black, or red, offers similar specs as the XP90 but with 720p video, high-speed burst shooting, time-lapse mode, and specific features for underwater shooting. Finally, the budget-minded Nikon COOLPIX S33 Digital Camera has a design and button configuration that should appeal to kids, but specs to match the others, including HD 1080p video, in-camera slideshow function and, of course, a water-, freeze-, and shockproof body. It is available in blue or white.
If you are considering a mirrorless camera, this means your young one is ready for a bit of a challenge. Mirrorless cameras are interchangeable-lens cameras, so they require not only the obligation to care for a second piece of gear, but the willingness to embrace photography on a more advanced level. However, most mirrorless cameras, and certainly the ones I will recommend below, have fully automatic features, including autofocus and built-in flash. The option to control camera settings is there, but your child can also choose to shoot a mirrorless camera just like a point-and-shoot. Although mirrorless cameras are generally considered a more compact option, compared to DSLRs, they are going to be larger than the point-and-shoots mentioned above.
Some mirrorless cameras are designed for professional and advanced shooters, but a few manufacturers have created cameras that should fit well into a budget built on allowances or birthday money. The Pentax Q-S1 series is a line of easy-to-use, retro-looking cameras with high ISO capability and HD 1080p video. A range of Q-mount lenses, from pancake fixed-aperture normal lenses to telephoto zooms, is available.
The Olympus E-PL7 Micro Four Thirds Camera with 14-42mm lens is a very advanced camera, especially considering its size and affordability. The included zoom lens is just one of many that can be utilized with its Micro Four Thirds mount. The E-PL7 offers high ISO, 8 fps continuous shooting, a tilting touchscreen LCD, auto and manual exposure control, as well as specialty shooting modes. In the film era, affordable 35mm cameras from Pentax and Olympus were the tools with which many kids started to learn; perhaps their modern mirrorless descendants should play that same role.
Lastly, consider the Canon EOS M10 Mirrorless Camera with 15-45mm Lens. Again, this is an advanced camera in a compact form with a range of lenses available, in addition to the zoom lens with which it is sold. The18MP APS-C sensor is a strong performer, and the DIGIC 6 image processor is the same as in some of Canon’s best cameras. A tilting touchscreen LCD, Full HD 1080p video, 49-point AF system and built-in Wi-Fi complete its impressive feature set.
For parents, instant cameras may be a blast from the past, but for the kids, the novelty will be fresh—and they provide not only a creative outlet, but a chance to play with prints and a tactile appreciation of photography. They’re also fun for birthday parties and sleepovers! Fujifilm has become the main purveyor of instant cameras and film, but Polaroid is still in the mix, with its Polaroid 300 Instant Film Cameras, available in purple and red. The cameras are very simple to use, with four scene settings and built-in flash. They are total point-and-shoots that immediately spit out 2.1 x 3.4" prints.
The Fujifilm instax is the marquee name for instant cameras and film and the company offers several variations, including the instax mini 8 cameras in several kid-friendly colors. The cameras have a fixed Fujinon 60mm f/12.7 lens, a simple viewfinder, built-in flash, and five exposure settings. Like the Polaroid 300, the instax mini 8 creates credit-card-sized prints and works with specialized Instant Color Film that offers vibrant colors and fast development time; some have rainbow-colored borders, as opposed to the standard white. The Fujifilm instax 210 Instant Film Camera and the INSTAX Wide 300 are a bit more sophisticated and utilize a wider film format. Their form factor is styled more for adult tastes, but can be equally applicable for kids, and the wide format is great for group shots.
Finally, the Polaroid Snap Touch Instant Digital Camera bridges the gap between digital and instant print photography. A 13MP CMOS sensor with a 3.5" touchscreen LCD provides the digital features to which kids are accustomed, but it also holds ten sheets of paper and prints 2 x 3" photos in just 35 seconds. The Snap is available in blue, red, white, and black, and is small enough to fit in your pocket.