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I'm looking for a starter camera for a 10-year-old that is interested in photography as a future career. I don't think she knows what kind of pictures she wants to take. She watches a YouTube channel of a guy that takes pictures of gymnastics.

I’m guessing portrait photos and probably some still life stuff.

I'm not sure how serious she might be, so I'm looking in the $100 range. I’m not too worried about it being rugged or something simple (she already got one of those fujifilm instax).

Any suggestions on what I should look for?

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    Does she have a smart phone?
    – Eric S
    May 18 at 13:50
  • "She watches a YouTube channel of a guy that takes pictures of gymnastics" - Is that Jordan Matters? May 18 at 14:35
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    Jordan uses a high end Nikon with some very expensive glass. I don't want to discourage you, but you won't get shots like he gets in Starbucks without spending $$$. He also does a lot of post-processing May 18 at 17:53
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    A used interchangeable lens mirrorless almost meets your price spec. I am mainly Sony aware but there will be others. This NEX-5 for $US90 needs a lens but the 18-50mm kit lens can be low cost. This $US57 NEX-C3 has less MP but still can take excellent photos. (Example ony - in UK). || You can buy a cheap adapter and use almost any 35mm lens ever made with these cameras - manual control - still very useful. Add AF lens when a bargain is available. May 19 at 23:59

11 Answers 11

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Any suggestions on what I should look for?

10 year old. So the answer is easy.

A camera that is fun to use.

Of course, every person is different. But at 10 it is probably more important to explore the themes than the technical aspects. So simply find one that has a decent image quality out of the box.

I’m not too worried about it being rugged

I would. It removes the fear of dropping the camera. That fear can limit the exploring stage. Put the camera above her head, on a side while standing on a chair.

If it is waterproof will let her explore shooting reflections in the park, lowering the camera to floor level on a water puddle.

We forget the main aspect of learning photography is not technical but learning how to see, and how to see from different perspectives.

If it has a manual mode, the better. You can use it for still life on the kitchen table in the morning, etc.

If the camera survives one year or so, then a DSLR for indoor usage will be interesting.

Some main factors in this controlled environment.

  • A chance to upgrade lenses.
  • Use external light.
  • Manual mode.

I also agree that a phone is a good option. You can simply remove the SIM card and you have a camera with wifi.

(Just be aware that people can heavily rely on automatic post-processing and automatic features on a phone)


Regarding an old DSLR. I have an old Canon Xs Camera. The max usable ISO is just like Iso 400 and only has 10Mpx. But you can easily use it, for example, to make some professional product shots for a big Ecomerce store and make money.

I agree that an old DSLR is not synonymous with bad or new is for good. Photography is much more than Mpx or ISO noise.

But it limits you. I would not use it these days for an event, because the focus is a bit imprecise compared fo a newer camera. The usable ISO is higher in newer models and some people want a bigger print, so, some extra Mpx help. But is totally usable, not only to learn but also to actually use it. Knowing its limitations, as every, every gear you have. Even the James Webb telescope has limitations.

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  • Unfortunately she’s not allowed a phone. She can borrow a phone but mostly does TikTok’s on there. Haven’t seen her be interested in taking that many pictures with it.
    – mac_33
    May 19 at 13:27
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    Without the sim card, and with a password on the local wifi, you can probably solve that.
    – Rafael
    May 19 at 14:21
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    I have been thinking about a point and shoot. Just to see if she’s actually interested. After all some have iso settings and what not…so it might be a good introduction. I don’t know anything about photography but I feel like saying an old dslr doesn’t take “great”pictures might be an unfair statement…
    – mac_33
    May 19 at 21:40
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    I added some paragraphs regarding an old camera. :)
    – Rafael
    May 19 at 22:05
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    @Cullub Not arguing against most of it, but you can buy a Nikon D70 or Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT for $50, and both of them have a wide variety of glass available for them.
    – prosfilaes
    May 20 at 16:52
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If the 10 year old has a smart phone, she already has a camera. The commonly paraphrased expression goes: "The best camera is the one you have with you". Really, $100 isn't enough to get anything serious. Most recent smart phones take pretty nice pictures and have the advantage of making it easy to share pictures with friends. My suggestion (assuming she has a phone) is to just encourage her to take pictures and perhaps review the one she likes best discussing things like composition. Maybe spend a bit of your money on a good photography book or two.

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    And if she doesn't have a smart phone, you can probably find a used one with a decent camera for cheap (really, the cameras on smart phones have been surprisingly good for a while). A quick Google search tells me you could get an old iPhone 6 for under $100. You shouldn't even need to pay for a phone plan to use the camera. If she sticks with it and doesn't lose interest (as 10 year olds are wont to do), you can upgrade to a more serious camera when she gets older.
    – Seth R
    May 18 at 20:36
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    I would also say for a 10-year-old girl with a phone who shoots Instax camera, something like an Instax Mini Link would be a really cool $100 present.
    – inkista
    May 18 at 21:16
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    I'm not sure about this. While technically this might be correct, I believe having a "real" camera (even if not an expensive one) can be more exciting/motivating for a child than using a phone. Everyone has a smartphone nowadays but there are not so many people running around with cameras. There are also less distractions when you have a device that can only do photos and not also browse the internet, play games, etc.
    – luator
    May 19 at 8:50
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    @luator that’s exactly what I’m thinking. Right now, she probably likes the “idea” of being a photographer. Which means having a “real” camera…
    – mac_33
    May 19 at 13:30
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    @mac_33 this might be a good opportunity to teach the lesson that the skills are more important than the tools. People like Jordan Matters put in a lot of work with lesser equipment before they got to the point they are now with his $11k setup. There are books specifically on doing "real" photography with a smartphone. Might she be interested in that? I'd just hate for you to blow a lot of money before you even know how serious she is. Kids at that age are fickle, and this isn't a cheap hobby (or career).
    – Seth R
    May 19 at 14:30
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To me, the only three things a camera needs to have if you want to seriously pursue photography are:

  1. Full Manual mode.
  2. RAW capability.
  3. A flash hotshoe.

You don't have to go dSLR/mirrorless to get these three functions; but they do tend to weed out the casual snapshot-cameras from the enthusiast models.

You want the PSAM modes and full Manual in particular, so that you can take explicit control over iso, aperture, and shutter speed for exposure.

You want RAW capability so that you can have the most latitude for post-processing vs. JPEG files that have lost data in the compression.

The flash hotshoe is more optional, but it makes learning to light with flash and off-camera flash much much easier and if someone wants to shoot portrait or product/still-life/food, can become key to image making.

For someone interested in shooting indoor sports, like gymnastics, they may require a fast telephoto lens, which might cost more than $1000 on the lens alone; and is most likely to be fulfilled with an interchangeable-lens camera system.

To reach your price point, you're liable to have to go used market and older, discontinued gear. And we're talking gear that's at least a decade old, if not older if you have to purchase a body+a lens.

Arguably, she might actually do better with serious application to phone photography, where your $100 could subsidize getting a tripod adapter/tripod, more advanced camera apps, or books/classes on photography. If she's not allowed a phone then a used iPodTouch or small tablet might make more sense than a dedicated camera.

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  • Definitely thinking decade old gear. I’ll do some research into telephoto lens options then. I understand the iPod route but do wonder if that’ll somehow stunt her interest. Simply because she can use it for other apps and it’s not her “idea” of what a photographer uses…
    – mac_33
    May 18 at 3:30
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    The big downside to any phone, even the £1000+ iPhone Pro, is that the longest lens is still pretty short. They have all the pseudo-intelligent processing options to make an amateur's photos look better than they could get with a real camera… but to learn & explore, they take away any education value & replace it with instant gratification. & to get down to £100, you really are going to be looking at decade-old gear, possibly even 3rd party manual lenses.
    – Tetsujin
    May 18 at 7:07
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    @mac_33 something like an Olympus Evolt E500 with a couple of kit lenses would be a great ~ 10-year-old starter camera that meets the criteria inkista lists, which you could probably pick up from eBay for somewhere near your budget. May 18 at 14:38
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    I don't agree about RAW. This is great IF you want to edit images - but if you don't raw is irrelevant. May 19 at 7:03
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    mac - I bet she will. Once she starts taking photos, the very next thing will be "How do I get this instagram filter look". The answer will either be "Use Instagram" or she'll be off into photo editing, where again the journey is harder, but the rewards [emotionally] are greater. :)
    – Tetsujin
    May 19 at 16:38
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There are two ways to go here. My experience at that age was with film, of course (it was 1970). I had a Brownie Hawkeye Flash -- still available on eBay for around $20, slightly hampered by needing 620 film, but you can get that again, for a price -- no adjustments, just frame and push the button, then wind on. In focus from about six feet to infinity, correct exposure for ISO 100 in bright daylight, no distractions, and nice big negatives. There are LOTS of simple cameras around, for 135, 127, 120 or 620, typically running from $5 to $50 (the latter will get you a brand new one with Kodak or Ilford or Lomography nameplate).

Just a couple years later (and I could have operated it at ten, following a summer camp photography course, just had to convince my parents to get it for me) was a Kodak Pony 135, also still available on eBay for a few dollars more than a Brownie Hawkeye Flash. Takes any 135 film, adjustable shutter, aperture, and scale focus. Light meter app on a smart phone or a Sunny 16 chart, a short course in how to operate the manual cock shutter and avoid double exposures. It's got a good lens, isn't prone to light leaks if not actually broken, easy to load and unload. The Smena 8M that came in my mail last week is functionally the same, and there are many scale focus 35 mm cameras very similar to these.

One advantage of film is its cost -- it makes you think rather than just bang away. And of course one disadvantage is its cost. I had to get my parents to pay for my film and processing when I was ten, which tends to limit creativity a little.

BTW, I also learned to process my own film at nine, which makes a big difference in the cost of film photography...

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I'd look at what you can get second hand in your budget, compared to what she's likely to shoot. A kid doesn't need the latest, greatest equipment, but something that will allow them to fiddle - and something they can hold easily.

My daughter is a little younger and has an old Canon Ixus zoom compact (though mainly uses a phone camera). It's the right size for her hand, and light - I always found it small and fiddly.

But if yours want to shoot sports (or wildlife), I strongly suggest something with a viewfinder (allows holding more steadily than at arm's length to see a screen) and quick reactions. Compacts have got better but digital shutter lag is often still an issue. If mine gets keen, she can have my oldest, lightest, DSLR and the kit lens. If I didn't still have that, I'd look at buying something similar. Now that mirrorless has been around a few years that's another option, though personally I'm not keen on electronic viewfinders. Entry-level mirrorless systems should be smaller and lighter than entry-level SLRs. Lenses can be added if they start to show a particular interest; macro can be done on the cheap with extension tubes and can be fascinating.

SLR or mirrorless, it should have aperture- and time- priority modes for different subjects and experimenting; some compacts have these as well.

Of course I could be recommending the camera after the one you're currently thinking of.

I was 2 or 3 years older when I had my first SLR (35mm with only a 50mm lens, and normally B&W film that I processed myself)

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  • I also worry about the weight and level of interest. I was thinking a D40 but I hesitate on the weight…and how much she’ll actually use it.
    – mac_33
    May 19 at 13:23
  • That's another reason to look at 2nd hand - buy a new camera (or almost anything), and sell it a year later, you'll have lost most of what you paid. Buy one 3 or more years old and you won't lose much if you have to resell. She (and you) may even get the chance to try it out first
    – Chris H
    May 19 at 13:33
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Try getting her a disposable camera.

They're cheap, and will be a little more camera-y than the Instax that she already has. It'll get her thinking about composition etc and get used to looking through a viewfinder, and it's not a huge initial cost sink if she decides she doesn't like it. If she does like it, then perhaps she can learn how to develop her own film before taking the step into digital.

With the money you save from getting a disposable camera, perhaps you can get her a lesson or two from a professional photographer to teach her some basics :)

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There are two ways to answer this:

The first option: nearly every smartphone today has a camera, or actually at least two. For someone who wants to just "take pictures", this might be enough. I'd say the main challenge with smartphone cameras is that you don't have a flash (just a LED light that for some strange reason is called "flash") and light levels indoors are surprisingly low. This, combined with the poor hand-holdability of a camera with only a virtual shutter button at an awkward place, creates shaken photos if the camera is used indoors. I'd say for indoor photography, unless the smarphone has an image stabilizer, 90% of photos are shaken and 10% are good. With image stabilizer, all turn out to be good. So a smartphone with image stabilized camera could be okay for someone who mainly doesn't want to become a professional photographer but rather wants to just take pictures. Today smartphones are better than any compact camera of the past in every single aspect except for flash.

However, smartphones don't teach you the basics of photography. With small sensor, you don't learn to focus if nearly everything in the picture is in focus. Although some camera apps may offer manual modes, they really don't have much flexibility because you have only few settings for ISO and the aperture cannot be adjusted at all. So you don't really learn photography on a smartphone. Therefore, my main advice would be to try to find if you can find a used old DSLR with a kit lens for $100. You won't find new one for that, because new ones start at about $400 (with kit lens). However, in my area there are plenty of sub-$100 used cameras with lens and sub-$50 used cameras plus sub-$50 used kit lenses. Such an option would actually allow to learn about real photography: how to operate a camera with manual controls, how to hold a real camera in your hand, how to focus, how to set exposure, how to expose both the background and the subject when using a flash (although only a built-in flash), etc. About the only thing you won't achieve with a kit lens is wildlife photography, fast action photography in low light and lots of background blur in portrait shots (although you can experiment with background blur if you just photograph something smaller than a person and having the camera close to the subject).

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A smartphone solves the immediate problem, as already stated. It does not convey the "handworking" basics of photography, though, which motivates the other suggestions.

A lot of ideas on older cameras have been proposed already. I'd like to highlight why they were proposed and what are the key features without pinpointing particular brands or models.

  • PSAM, or basically ability to control aperture, shutter speed, or both, on a whim. All the things like high key, low key, and an understanding for exposure start here.

  • Speaking of which, I always found extremely enlightening the dials the way they are on modern Fujis (outside the price range) / they were on old, really old SLR and rangefinders. Basically, a dial for shutter speed. There is a ring for aperture on your lens. So, you are forced to set them, need to find out what they mean, and not immediately blast away in P mode. It might be too hard, though.

  • Manual focusing. While seemingly blatantly unsuitable for fast-paced documentary (basically, "sports", and ballet / gymnastics falls into this category), a) manual focus cameras might be a lot cheaper. b) I recently discovered that a slow-paced manual lens lets you shoot more calmly and think more of your present shoot than an AF one. It might help for a better photo "upbringing". (See below for film, basically, everything said there on a balance between a great lesson and archaic kludge applied here too.)

  • Moderate zoom to learn how zooms work, because they are standard anyway, and because it might be too cruel to force a prime lens on 10 years old. (And if not, an ability to zoom with your feet is a great thing to learn.)

  • Film is a great compromise, as it would teach a bit of a shutter discipline – probably a whole film goes does down for a single selfie at first, as no digital native is used to counting remaining frames. It might be a great lesson though. On the other hand, you don't immediately see the result, and you'd need to remember how you got to it after the film is developed. It's a great chance for a lesson, it's also a probability for feeling stupid and discarding the whole thing.

    So, film is a compromise on a price range, but brings some trouble (which might be worth it – I was of similar age as I was allowed into a dark room to watch how the film is developed and how prints are created). Film also brings some steady continuous costs: the girl would probably need to spend her allowance on new film and developing fees (at least initially), and on film anyway. It's a thing you might want to consider (or not).

  • I am not quite sold on the necessity to change lenses.

  • Equally, I am not quite sold on the necessity of the camera being an SLR. A "mirrorless" / rangefinder would work similarly. I remember a whole class of cameras "for the beginners" from 60s to 90s, it might be just the thing you need. Those typically include a prime, moderately wide-angle lens, though. The quality and the availability might be not nicest.

  • Photography is not always about image quality and technical superiority, so used or new solutions in the lo-fi range (think, "lomography") might work out as well. I mean-- come on, it's about an art! If the girl in question would want a quick burst of impressively post-processed photos, she already has access to a smartphone. So, a camera would need to fall into a different niche.

So, now to give some ideas on brands and products – they are probably outside of the price range, but similar / cheaper products exist, I list them as a summary of features, not as a recommendation:

  • Cheap, somewhat modern mirrorless (like m4/3 Olympus cameras) probably have horrible resolution / image quality / ISO sensitivity by modern standards and are too expensive. They would have AF, auto metering, PSAM, and probably a kitted zoom lens.
  • Cheap, somewhat modern DSLR – same as above.
  • Film SLR before they died – like Nikon F90 – PSAM, AF, kitted zoom lenses from 90s (i.e., not so bad), check the price.
  • Film SLR / rangefinders from the golden era – something like Nikon FM2 or Olympus OM4 – is probably too expensive because of hipsters, have rather prime (but cool) lenses on them, feels like a gun in the hand, wonderful controls, unsure if fit to be the first camera.
  • Cheap Leica knock-offs (some kind of a rip-off of M3, if you find it cheap enough) – film, manual focusing, potentially great lenses, similarly wonderful controls, similarly unsure if a ten year old would not dump it into closet and forget about it after two days of trying to use it.
  • Everything before 35 mm film – is it really practical and really cheap? I don't think so.
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A used interchangeable lens mirrorless almost meets your price spec.

All the cameras mentioned below are capable of superb results, and have removable lenses. All allow the use of low cost adaptors that allow use of almost any lens ever made for a 35mm camera. (Very low cost - manual lens control only. Higher cost but often OK - allow manual focus and camera exposure control). With a kit lens they can be used in beginner full-auto, manual and aperature or speed controlled modes. Sony's focus peaking makes manual focusing very very easy.

I am mainly Sony aware but there will be others. This NEX-5 for $US90 - it needs a lens but the 18-50mm kit lens can be low cost.

This $US57 NEX-C3 (also sold wothout lens) has less MP but still can take excellent photos. (Example ony - in UK).
You can buy a cheap adapter and use almost any 35mm lens ever made with these cameras - manual control - still very useful. Add AF lens when a bargain is available.

I went SLR --> DSLR (still use A77) --> mirrorless.
My first mirrorless were NEX 5 - 3 different versions. None had viewfinders. I consider this a significant loss BUT in regards performance per $ it is bearable. You can buy low cost add on LCD to eyepiece magnifiers. The cheapest ones work OK but have no diopter adjustment. You can play with spacing or lenses if desired or wear spectacles if you need them for reading. I have such and it is reasonably usable.

An excellent camera is the NEX7 which is seldom seen. It fills the gap between the NEX5 and A6000 family. It has the shocking older menu system BUT it has a viewfinder (EVF) AND the best controls of any lower cost mirrorless that I have seen. (You set it up so the meny is seldome needed). I use an A6300, A6000 and NEX7 often all at once. The general controls on the NEX7 are superb - in many way better than themore modern A6xxx series cameras.
The A6300 has some extra features but the NEX7 is just as useful in many situations.

You can buy add on EVFs for the NEX5 etc - but they are probably not cheasp and probably fiddly. I've never seen one. You can make your own LCD based viewfinder for a NEX5 using any suitable magnifying lens and DIY hackers - plastic or cardboard or 3D printed etc. The lens needs to be high diopter to get close focus. Clone Google glass lenses work OK.

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Many things had been said already. I just add a very condensed answer. You can get pretty decent pictures with modern smartphones. They have their physical limitations, but it is more a matter of skill.

Most important part is a manual mode. Second most important is explaining, what iso, aperture, exposure and color temperature does and how it changes the picture. Teach the kid to use no filter (Instagram and things like that).

Once, your kid is proficient in using these parameters, the next step is handling the raw format and developing photos on the computer.

The learning steps are

  • Choice of motif and capturing it
  • Use of camera parameters
  • Developing photos and alter them on the computer
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I think a good modern camera has way too many features for a 10-year-old. What about getting one of those instant cameras (like in https://www.digitalcameraworld.com/buying-guides/the-best-instant-cameras) where you can set almost nothing and thus have to concentrate on the subject and light mostly?

I had built my first camera myself: A single plastic lens in a cardboard case, with classic film behind. The shutter was manual (a "moving hole") that you had to move at the right speed for proper exposure.

With modern smartphones that make "nice pictures" automatically there is little to learn IMHO.

Alternative

Instead of adding another answer, there's an alternative proposal: Consider the Olympus OM-D E10 entry-level MFT (Micro Four Thirds) camera:

It's rather small and light (as the lenses are, too), and it makes good quality shots (despite of having many features).

As I have the higher-end Panasonic MFT models, I had a recent discussion with a young lady recently when showing her my new DC-9 that has a metal case and my Leica lens that is metal. She said it would be much too heavy for her. Compared to that the Olympus feel like a plastic toy (small and light). But still it's a real modern digital camera.

Still open is the question of which lens to have: A "Super Zoom", or some restricted zoom range, or fixed focal-length lens. It depends a lot: Beginners tend towards telephoto lenses, but when taking buildings one might actually prefer a wide-angle lens. Changing lenses is probably way too much for a 10-year old.

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  • She has the fujifilm instax. The little prints it has are fun but having to buy the film is a pain honestly. I guess it does make her think twice about what she takes pics of but it’s not great. I did think of the box camera as a cool project for to have a go at though, thx!
    – mac_33
    May 20 at 19:35
  • But that's the thing: Quality is more important than quantity. I have a 6x6 camera that has 12 shots on a roll of film, so you really have to plan the shots that you don't have to change film rolls at the wrong moment. Using that I took about 60 shots per week on holiday, but with a recent digital camera I shoot more than 500 per week, because it's so fast and easy. Still taking many shots does not mean you take better shots.
    – U. Windl
    May 23 at 6:07

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