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I have a seven year old daughter who is keen on getting a camera for Christmas. She is able to look after possessions (is very safe with her violin from school) although this is a recent development. I use Olympus 4/3rds and Micro 4/3rds camera. She has borrowed my EP-1 a number of times and enjoyed using it.

I learnt photography using a completely manual Praktica PLC3. This was challenging to use as you had to do the light metering and set the focus yourself. I wouldn't want to get a completely manual camera as I think that might put her off, but I would like one with enough flexibility to allow manual setting of aperture, shutter speed and focus so she can really learn how to be creative with it once she's got bored with point and shoot.

What cameras would you recommend we look at? Should we get one with a viewfinder?

Budget: under 200 GBP / 300 dollars. Preferably less!

Is this a sensible approach, or should we go for a cheap / rugged point and shoot until she is ready for the next level?

I am aware of the "What non-toy camera would be good for a child?" question, but it doesn't quite answer the same issues I am seeking to solve.

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I wish the Pentax Q weren't $800 — it seems ideal in every other respect. –  mattdm Oct 29 '11 at 17:19
    
@Flimzy: Now that I look it up, I think it's acceptable British English, and the general course we've taken is to leave that in the form used by the original questioner. (Although usually we regularize the tags to US English.) –  mattdm Oct 29 '11 at 21:30
1  
Being that I am British, learned is most definitely incorrect and learnt is most definitely correct and not archaic in British. American may be otherwise, but the edit was trivial and unnecessary. I understood that trivial edits were discouraged. –  Sam Meldrum Oct 29 '11 at 21:35
    
Fair enough. When I saw the rollback, I figured that's what was going on. I just wanted to point out that my "correction" was not to change a verb to an adjective. –  Flimzy Oct 30 '11 at 1:47

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

When there are many choices and no single "right answer" I like to let my children be involved in the decision making. Therefore I recommend this approach.

  1. Find a camera store with a good selection in your price range AND a sales person you feel can work well with your daughter to help her make her selection. Discuss your goals with the sales person and find out your options. Make an appointment to come back with your daughter.

  2. Talk with your daughter about her Christmas gift and help her develop her list.

    A. She may want to get more than one camera. Seriously! Last week I saw young girls in a swimming pool having a wonderful time taking each others' pictures underwater. Underwater digital cameras start at U.S. $20 according to a google search.

    B. Does she want to make stop-action movies of toys moving, clouds moving or a plant growing? A tripod is needed so the camera doesn't move between shots.

    My nephew has had his own camera for a year and a half. He enjoys making "Lego Men" movies from stills. His last upload to YouTube was impressive: Title, credits, background music and narration of the Lego Men as they moved around. He uses the free Windows Live Movie Maker to make movies from .jpg photos.

    C. Does she want to take pictures of fireworks, lightning bugs or the funny blur of someone swinging? A tripod and a bulb-capable camera are needed.

    D. Does she want to do funny things like "Hall of Mirrors" effects of her friends or put the cat's head on the dog's body? If so software is needed. If it doesn't come with the camera(s) and can't be downloaded free it has to be part of the Christmas gift budget.

    E. Etc.

  3. Take her to the camera store to select her Christmas gift. Take your camera to record her decision process. :)

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For this exact use I suggest a compact camera with easily accessible manual controls.

All those have point-and-shoot modes too and fun features for kids like selective color, color swap, etc (which my daughter played a lot with when she got a camera at 6).

Today this would be a Canon Powershot SX150 or other SX-series cameras like the SX220. The SX150 is well within your budget and I even prefer it. It uses conveniently available AA batteries. Kids are less careful about keeping their batteries constantly charged, so you can easy give her some disposable ones when needed.

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In my opinion, let the first camera be a point and shoot.

Just let the child enjoy the beauty of the equipment. Children should find it amazing first to get intrigued into it. A point and shoot with many predefined modes can be a good choice. Your child can definitely set the mode according to the event or the surroundings with your help.

Many point and shoots give good results on pre-defined modes and if the picture looks pretty the child will be happy and will take more interest. Just let the child enjoy holding a camera, clicking pictures and capturing the real world on the tiny screen.

If you are sure that your daughter is gonna get bored with a point and shoot very soon, then you may go for a prosumer or semi-SLRs(as they are sometimes called) that offer manual control as well. (e.g. the canon Powershot series)

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You could consider using a no-service cell phone if you want something super-simple.

Look over thrift stores and donation centers. These kinds of things show up as people clean out for tax write offs.

If you do decide to go with an older point and shoot, be sure that you can get memory cards for it at a reasonable price. Some devices' memory cards can be hard to find at the big box stores.

There's some opinion that says if a child recognizes the cost of a device then they'll take care of it better. To this end, many consider making it a purchase made with work performed, etc. Not so much as a reward, but as a choice the child can make. This might reduce the inevitable abuse by providing a special value to the camera.

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