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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 D4S 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 $5000—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, of course, an issue, 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 iTwist S124 and F124 cameras feature a flip-up LCD screen for easy selfies. Two features to keep in mind when considering these cameras 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 much greater capacity than internal memory.
Sony, Nikon, and Canon offer several point-and-shoot models under $100 that are very solid performers, a step up from the Vivitars. 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-W800 has a 5x optical zoon lens, which provides 26-130mm focal length equivalence, optical image stabilization, and auto smile capture, as well as other user-friendly features. Basic control buttons and one-touch video button make it easy for all. An updated version, the DSC-W830 Digital Camera, is very similar in all regards but has an 8x optical zoom lens that reaches to 200mm equivalence. 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 is has a glossy red finish. The Canon PowerShot ELPH 160 Digital Camera is available in four colors and, like the above, has a CCD sensor—but its lens extends to 224mm equivalence. It is also quite compact, has an ECO mode to increase battery life, auto and scene modes, and a Help Button to explain the camera settings and functions.
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 often include built-in Wi-Fi. These cameras retain a very pocket-able form and simple control and menu navigation, 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 Samsung WB350F Smart Digital Camera also comes in a range of colors—white, black, brown, red, and blue. A 16MP BSI CMOS sensor is efficient in image capture and its versatile zoom lens runs from a 23-483mm focal length equivalent with a wide f/2.8 maximum aperture, which is effective in low light at the wide-angle end. A sophisticated built-in Wi-Fi system with NFC enables instant image back up, remote control, group share and a baby monitor feature with alarm.
The Nikon COOLPIX S6900 Digital Camera is a great camera for kids, for anyone actually. It has a 12x zoom lens (25-300mm) and 16MP CMOS sensor with Full HD 1080p video and built-in Wi-Fi. It is very compact and features a built-in kickstand for hands-free directional shooting. It also provides a secondary front shutter button and gesture control, so that a wave of your hand will trigger the shutter. It is available in black or pink.
A full-featured point-and-shoot with a design that will appeal to kids is the Canon PowerShot N100 Digital Camera, available in black or white models. It’s compact, but with a rounded form and large flip-up touchscreen LCD. It also has a second rear facing “Dual Capture” camera, built-in Wi-Fi, Full HD video, and Intelligent Image Stabilization for shooting normal, panorama, or macro shots. Its basic specs include a 12.1MP High Sensitivity CMOS sensor, a 5x optical zoom lens and the DIGIC 6 image processor. This is a serious point-and-shoot camera in a comfortable, almost playful form. It affords all the auto modes needed for easy shooting but, via the touchscreen, you can also set it to shoot manually to learn as you go. Needless to say, kids will love the touchscreen control.
Tough Point-and-Shoot Cameras
Now for 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 lbf. 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 unusual and colorful, 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 reasonable. 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 XP70 Digital Camera, which is available in yellow or orange. It has a 16.4MP CMOS sensor, 5x optical zoom lens, Wi-Fi, 1080p video, Action Cam mode, and is waterproof to 33', sand proof, dust proof, and shockproof from drops of 5'. Also, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS30 Digital Camera in blue, black, or red, offers similar specs as the XP70 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. And while mirrorless are generally considered a more compact option compared to DSLRs, they are going to be larger than the point-and-shoots mentioned above.
While some mirrorless cameras are designed for professional and advanced shooters (with prices to match) a few manufacturers have created cameras that should fit well into a budget built on allowances or birthday money. The Pentax Q7 series is a line of easy-to-use, retro-looking cameras with high ISO capability and HD 1080p video. Black and yellow models are available. Several dedicated lenses are available, including a 27.5-83mm equivalent zoom, and an adapter to use Pentax K-mount lenses on Q-mount cameras expands the line’s functionality. The Pentax QS-1 Mirrorless Digital Camera is the most recent mirrorless offering from Pentax and offers an upgraded feature set. It is available as a body only purchase but also in kits with one or two lenses included. Most unique, and possibly enticing for kids, is that it is available in a very wide range of cool colors including favorites like Royal Blue/Silver and Gunmetal/Burgundy.
The Olympus E-PL6 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-PL6 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 Samsung NX Mini Mirrorless Digital Camera. This is a very stylish and compact interchangeable-lens camera with a high-resolution sensor, built-in Wi-Fi, touchscreen LCD, and user-friendly features like “Wink-shot,” which will automatically release the shutter when the camera detects a wink. The NX Mini is its own distinct mount, so it is compatible only with NX Mini mount lenses, not with the broader NX mount, but is ideal for easy carry and simplified use. It is also available in fun colors like Mint Green and Pink.
Instant Film Cameras
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 they offer 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.