If your child or teen has taken up an interest in photography, you might be considering a camera purchase.
While a smartphone can take great photos, to really learn photography in terms of exposure, aperture, shutter speed and the like, you need a camera. There are many benefits to purchasing a dedicated camera. For one thing, smartphones are easy to break if dropped, whereas many camera manufacturers make at least one model meant for tough conditions and some are even waterproof. You can also pick up used, older model cameras for much less expense than a smartphone. Additionally, a good, dedicated camera will produce superior results and have more features, such as the ability to change the aperture on the lens. These features provide a way for your child or teen to grow their photography knowledge over time and a good camera and lens can last for many years. If your child already has a smartphone and you want to make sure they plan to stick with the interest or hobby before buying a camera, you could try downloading some special apps like Halide, Darkroom, Photo Splash or others (some are free and some are one-time cost).
If you are still reading, we are now assuming that you plan to buy a dedicated camera for your child or teen. How do you select the right one?
There 5 different types of cameras to consider:
First, consider the child’s age.
While you want a camera you child can grow into and improve their photography, many cameras, even beginner models, are too complex for very young children. When a child is under the age of five, they may view the camera as a toy and their actions are often unpredictable, so you want a camera designed for very young children. Unfortunately, most of these extremely durable toddler cameras have very low image quality. There are dozens of them available on Amazon. We outline some of our specific recommendations below.
If the child is between the ages of five and ten, then a waterproof and rugged point-and-shoot is a great choice. For children over age ten, a bridge camera, DSLR, or mirrorless camera might be a better option because an older child or teen will be able to master more photography skills and understand the more complex skill level needed to use it.
All ages seem to love the “fun” style cameras such as the instant print (Instamax, Polaroid) and action/video cameras (GoPro). I consider these more of a specialty type camera. Your child can still learn a lot about photography with these types of cameras, but some of their features may be limited and therefore not as beneficial for a more advanced or older learner.
Next, consider the level of interest your child has for photography. Is this a keen interest or a passing fancy?
If your child already has some experience and knows some basic fundamentals of photography, it might be time to upgrade to a DSLR or mirrorless. If you child seems to have more of a passing infatuation, or has no prior experience, then a point-and-shoot is a better option.
Last, consider how your child or teen might want to use the camera.
There may be certain features that will be very important, especially if there is a particular subject your child hopes to photograph. If your child wants to take the camera hiking and kayaking, then a waterproof point-and-shoot is a clear choice. If your child or teen wants to take photos of sports, or racecars, or wildlife, then a camera with a long zoom built-in (point-and-shoot, bridge cameras) or a telephoto lens (DSLR, mirrorless) will help them capture those shots. If your child has a wide range of interests, then a DSLR or mirrorless with interchangeable lenses is a good choice. If your child or teen wants to take pictures of him or herself, or vlog, then a camera with video and a rotating LCD screen will be most helpful.
So which cameras would we recommend?
We are going recommend several cameras, but keep in mind that each camera has probably been through several versions and upgrades over the years and they will continue to offer newer versions going forward. Therefore we are recommending a model type that as long as you get one from the last few years, even if it is the older model, will still be an excellent choice. You can even go back ten years in models and as long as the camera is 12MP or higher, your child or teen will be able to make some great images using it (once they get some practice, of course!).
Ages 3 – 5
No cameras are recommended for under age three.
1. Pellor Digital Camera
This camera comes in bright colors and a waterproof, dust-proof, and shockproof rubber shell. It is a great size for small hands, but the buttons will require guidance until kids learn how to use it. It is a 5MP camera.
This 5MP camera comes in bright colors and a small compact design with waterproof exterior. As with the Pellor, a very young child will need guidance with the menus and buttons. With the tripod and accessories, kids can mount the camera to bicycles or scooters.
Ages 5 - 10
1. Nikon Coolpix Point-and Shoots
These cameras are small/compact and durable. If you purchase a model like the W150 they are also waterproof. The newest models are 13MP or more and most feature built-in optical zoom functions.
2. Fujifilm Instax Max
A specialty camera that is super easy to use because it is basically a point-and-shoot. The bulky, easy to grip shape makes it good for kids as young as age 5. Kids get excited when their images come out after a few seconds, but that paper can get expensive.
3. Canon PowerShot ELPH Point-and-Shoots
While it is child friendly (started around age 7 or 8), it might be a bit more complicated and less durable for younger kids. It fits easily in a purse or pocket or book bag. Most of the newest models are 20MP or more with 8x zoom. Some newer models also offer image stabilization.
4. GoPro Hero (like the Hero 8)
A specialty action camera, great for those who take part in outdoor sports and want to capture hands free video footage. While the newer models have more cutting edge technology like advanced audio voice commands and image stabilization, the price is still very cost effective. There is a huge selection of accessories like chest or helmet mounts. These cameras are good for the over age 10 crowd too.
Over Age 10
1. Fujifilm Finepix Point-and-Shoots
Like the cameras above, these models are small and fit easily into a pocket. If you purchase an XP model it will have more rugged features such as shockproof and/or waterproof.
2. Olympus Tough TG (like the TG-6) Point-and-Shoots
Small and compact like most point-and-shoots so you can take it anywhere. The TG is especially rugged and advertised as engineered for the world’s toughest places. It is waterproof (to 50 feet!), dustproof, shockproof, crushproof, and freezeproof. These cameras are tough enough for under age ten, but the settings can get complex for younger kids. Plus the overall toughness of these models lends itself to very active kids – who go mountain biking, camping, scuba diving, and snowboarding – and thus likely a bit older or mature.
3. Fujifilm Finepix Bridge Cameras
This is the first model that starts to look like a DSLR or mirrorless. The difference is that the lens is still built-in. If you have a child in that in-between-zone where s/he is not quite ready for the complexities of interchangeable lenses, but they want the “look” of a “grown up” camera, then these are good options.
4. Nikon D3500 (or other D3000 range) DSLR
This camera line is a great beginner DSLR for a teen. The controls are too complex for the younger crowd. Automatic settings are available, but the ability to control aperture, shutter speed, and full manual controls will allow your teen to learn more of the fundamentals of photography. The cameras are often sold in a kit with a small zoom lens. Lenses are interchangeable, so additional lenses can be purchased for other uses as your child’s skill grows.
5. Canon Rebel (any recent version) DSLR
This is the Canon equivalent of the Nikon listed above. It is great for teens. It also is sold in a kit version with a small zoom lens, usually an 18-55mm. The lenses are interchangeable as well.
6. Nikon Z50 or Canon M50 Mirrorless
Since these are newer, they don’t have a lot of versions of these mirrorless cameras. They are the mirrorless equivalents of #3 and #4 above and are great for teens, but too complex for younger learners. Mirrorless cameras are more compact camera bodies, but the lenses are often just as bulky. Since these camera types and lenses are the newest technologies they will also be the most costly of the options.
What about Film Cameras (SLRs)? Why are SLRs not included on the list of recommendations?
These days a film camera is almost a specialty camera. Film cameras or SLRs were the precursors to DSLRs and they require a few additional special skills, such as loading and winding the film. Additionally, the film requires a reliable printing or digitizing service. For most kids and teens, an old-school film camera will be much more difficult to learn than the digital options available. We would not recommend a film camera until your child has learned some other fundamentals first, including how to shoot in manual mode on their digital camera and with manual focus on their lens. Many older film cameras use manual controls. If your child really wants to shoot with film, then there are more “automatic” point-and-shoot versions of film cameras available from used camera sellers like KEH Camera or on platforms like eBay.
So there you have our recommendations for an assortment of cameras that should provide a great starting point for your budding photographer. When choosing a camera, you want a camera that will be safe and reliable for their current age, but with enough options for them to grow into the camera as they improve their skills. You know your child best – how well they care for their belongings, how dedicated they are to a new task, and their overall maturity are aspects to consider that only you will know. All of the cameras on our list are durable, but no camera will survive abuse. The cameras we have recommended are all available in new models as well as older models that you can pick up used, making each of them generally affordable. When purchasing a camera beware of scams and read our past blog on safe buying.
In our next blog post we will cover the first steps for teaching and guiding your fledgling photographer, and above all, having fun!