The saying goes, the best time to learn something is when you’re a kid. Whether it’s memorizing a new language, a ride on a bicycle, or a swim in the pool, children are able to pick up on things faster than most adults can.
The same could be said about artistic endeavors. While kids’ creative levels vary, one fun hobby they can all easily appreciate is photography. Thanks to digital cameras, it’s also much cheaper and easier to grasp.
But before you hand over your expensive interchangeable lens camera to their wee hands, start them off right by giving them a digital camera of their own. We’ve rounded up five inexpensive starter cameras that are ideal for young kids. Once they get older and their photography skills grow, then you can let them use that DSLR.
Knowing how to use a digital camera is easy – just point and shoot. But understanding the fundamentals of digital photography – how a digital camera actually works – isn’t as straightforward to a child. The Bigshot ($89), a deconstructed camera that comes in a kit, lets a kid actually put the thing together, not unlike a hobby kit or a Lego set.
Once built, the 3-megapixel camera has a wheel with different lenses that rotates, letting the user choose between regular, panoramic, and 3D images. There’s a hand crank to recharge the battery when a power outlet isn’t readily available. Internal flash storage allows for up to 120 JPEG images.
Invented by a Columbia University computer science professor, the Bigshot is designed to get kids interested in tech-related subjects like science and engineering, but the “toy” could help kids appreciate photography as an art form, too, giving them an extra satisfaction in knowing that their images were taken with something they built.
So if you’re afraid of your kids breaking apart an expensive camera to see how it works, start from the other end instead. (If you want your kids to know how film photography works, check out Lomography’s Konstruktor.)
Nikon Coolpix S01
Kids’ hands are small, so, if you’re giving a young child a digital camera, make sure it’s something that isn’t too bulky or big to hold, like a DSLR or even a megazoom. Even teenagers want something that’s easy to pocket. Enter Nikon’s Coolpix S01, a simple point-and-shoot that’s small but big on features.
The tiny camera has a 10-megapixel sensor with a 3x optical zoom lens. A 2.5-inch touchscreen covers the entire back. While the older generation might be intimidated by touch-capable displays, kids won’t have this issue (we know a two-year-old who could barely string a sentence together, but knows all the motions of swiping through a touchscreen). The “fun” part is that the camera comes in several colors. Colors might not be so important for many adults, but it’s essential for kids.
The S01 won’t break the bank, costing less than $200. Plus, a new model, the S02, was just introduced, which has a 13.2-megapixel low-light sensor, larger touchscreen, and new colors. That means you can probably get the S01 for even less money.
Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W3
Remember how thrilling it was to watch Michael Jackson perform in 3D in Captain EO at Disneyland when you were younger? The “magic” still holds true for kids today, as evidenced by the many 3D kids’ flicks that are played at cinemas. Instead of watching 3D, why not let your kids make them, too, with Fujifilm’s FinePix Real 3D W3.
This 10-megapixel camera is an easy-to-use point-and-shoot that has two lenses for taking stereoscopic 3D images (yes, it’ll also shoot regular 2D photos, too), which can be viewed on the 3.5-inch LCD without glasses. If you have one of the newer 3D-capable HDTVs in your household, you can also hook up the camera to the TV via HDMI and view your kids’ creation on the big screen. Plus, you can also shoot 3D movies in 720p resolution – imagine having to sit through hours of your kids’ homemade movies, in 3D! (We jest, we’re sure your kids are very creative.)
When the Real 3D W3 went on sale more than two years ago, we thought it was too expensive and niche to recommend for all but early adopters. Now that the price has come down tremendously (you can pick one up from Amazon for around $150, but hurry as we’re sure Fujifilm will phase this camera out soon), it’s far more affordable camera that gives your kids the fun of making art in 3D.
Canon PowerShot D20
Kids will go into places many adults wouldn’t, and they also don’t always handle stuff with care. For these kids, get them a rugged camera, like Canon’s PowerShot D20 ($300).
Possibly the oddest-looking camera in Canon’s lineup, the D20 is actually a very capable 12.1-megapixel shooter that is waterproof (down to 33 feet), shockproof (from 5 feet), and freezeproof (down to 14-degrees Farenheit). It has a blue and black rubberized body suit that just begs to be taken into the water. There’s a 5x optical zoom and remarkable lens for getting up close to wildlife while underwater, without actually coming into danger with something.
The D20 is a great all-around rugged camera that’s earned our Recommended product award, but if you’re looking for an even tougher cam with a fast f/2 lens, Olympus is standing right by with its Tough TG-1 – an equally potent performer. While more expensive, the TG-1 has dropped in price thanks to the release of a newer model. If price is a big concern, check out Nikon’s Coolpix S31, a rugged camera that isn’t as tough as the D20 or TG-1, but it’s a capable model that costs only $119.
Samsung DV150F Dual-View Smart Camera
If you haven’t heard, kids love taking selfies – slang for self-portraits. But unless your camera has a 180-degree tilting screen or you have a smartphones with a front-facing camera, selfies are a bit of a hit-or-miss to take. Samsung has one creative solution: Put a display on the front. That’s right, the 16-megapixel DV150F Dual-View Smart Camera has a small 1.5-inch display to the side of the 5x optical zoom, f/2.5 lens barrel, letting you easily see what you’re taking without guessing.
What makes this camera “smart?” It has built-in Wi-Fi for uploading images to social media or storing them in the cloud. We think Samsung currently has the best Wi-Fi-in-camera implementation out of all the manufacturers, and at $100 this camera is a steal.