I wanted to ask for your advice on purchasing a digital camera for my grandpa.

My requirements are simple:

1) The guy is BARELY comfortable with technology. He knows how to turn his computer on and off, and can reasonably browse the web. That's it.

2) I'd like the SIMPLEST POSSIBLE digital camera there is, no features, nothing, just a camera with a good "fully automatic" mode, where he can press 1 button and see the picture that he just took. That's it.

3) Ideally, I'd love it if I could pre-configure the camera to have it auto-upload the pictures that he takes to some website. I don't even know if this functionality is possible, just a thought.

Any ideas? Thanks in advance.


Marco Arment (Co-founder of Tumblr, Creator of Instapaper), did a great write up on this exact topic. He settled on the Canon PowerShot SX120 IS.

His Criteria:

  • It must be large enough to be held and operated comfortably.
  • It must have a very large screen.
  • It should have as few controls and on-screen indicators as possible.
  • It should use AA batteries.
  • It should be fast.

The whole post is essential reading, and characteristic of Marco's logical approach to design.

  • This is the very first answer that came to mind when I saw the question. Jan 26 '11 at 8:52
  • As a newly minted grandfather I feel qualified to comment!! At 'a certain age' eyesight becomes a big problem. It is difficult to focus on the rear screen so one must pull out reading glasses, a big hassle. Bifocals are just as bad as one breaks ones neck by leaning the head back. An even bigger problem is the loss in visual acuity and glare resistance makes the rear screen very difficult to view in bright light. All in all, this grandfather finds that an optical viewfinder is essential to cope with his slowly declining eyesight. Otherwise I think this is a very good answer.
    – labnut
    Jan 27 '11 at 10:43

I'd take a look at the Kodak Easy Share. I got one of those for my wife, and it passed her test. With a bit of setting it up, you can have it easily upload.

Also, take a look at Eye-fi memory cards, they will see a wi-fi connection and automatically upload the contents of the card.

  • 2
    I can't endorse any recommendation for a Kodak Easy Share. As easy as it may be to use, its just behind everybody else (especially the Canon's I've used) by SO MUCH. There are cameras that are easy to use AND good, otherwise.
    – rfusca
    Jan 25 '11 at 19:31
  • In my experience the Easy Share cameras are mediocre, but I did just purchase an Eye-Fi card for my D90 and I love it. I will say this about it: The setup is somewhat complicated, but when you have everything set where you want it, it works wonders. :)
    – qJake
    Jan 25 '11 at 19:39
  • 2
    The Eye-fi is a good idea though.
    – rfusca
    Jan 25 '11 at 19:39
  • 5
    This down vote is one reason I am uncomfortable with equipment recommendations. I would only criticise another person's endorsement if it was plainly and obviously bad. Failing that it is better to reply with one's own reasoned endorsement.
    – labnut
    Jan 25 '11 at 21:27
  • If an answer isn't open to criticism - then I'm not sure the question has a right answer.
    – rfusca
    Jan 25 '11 at 22:36

We got the Canon SD1300 for my Grandmother and she finds it plenty easy to use, despite having trouble with operating the microwave.

  • 1
    I know the feeling, microwaves confuse me as well.
    – labnut
    Jan 25 '11 at 21:20

Think of it not from a technophobe's perspective, but from an accessibility perspective.

An optical viewfinder, reflex viewfinder or EVF will be far preferable to a bare LCD on the camera back. Not only is it easier to hold the camera steadily when it's in tight (and probably getting some extra support from the cheek), the image presented in an up-to-the-eye viewfinder will be at a virtual distance that means you're not going to need reading glasses (or bi/trifocal head gymnastics) to look at the finder.

Make sure the camera is big enough to be easy to handle -- even if the camera only has one button, that one button is useless if the user can't easily hold the camera and press the button. (I don't know about your grandfather, but many men of that generation actually worked for a living, and have hands roughly the size of Rhode Island with, um... let's say limited dexterity, shall we?)

A whole lot of buttons and dials and doodads really isn't a problem if you can say, "just put it on 'P' and fire away."

I like the EyeFi idea, but most in-the-box software will pop up an import utility the moment the camera is plugged into the computer (Canon's utilities for its P&S cameras are pretty much idiot-proof, and I assume most included software these days is similar).

And yes, batteries can be an issue. I have no idea who thought it would be a good idea to force rechargeables (we always had that option with AAs), particularly non-replaceable lithiums, but they're the next best thing to useless for somebody who hauls the camera out every few months when it's time to take a picture since the batteries will be flat until after the moment has passed.

  • 2
    I just added a few line breaks - I think it will make people more likely to read everything you've written, rather than just thinking it's too much text to read.
    – AJ Finch
    Jan 26 '11 at 12:01
  • For a completely non-technical person I'd be careful advising them to use P mode. It's far too easy for them to mess up some setting in the on-screen interface without realising what it does, and P mode ensures all settings are remembered for prosperity. With the green Auto mode it's always going to go back to defaults when it turns on (except for image size - make sure that's set to Large and tell him not to mess with it). Jan 27 '11 at 14:13
  • Good point about the batteries. There certainly is a market for those use-once-and-throwaway Lithium AA batteries: people who use their camera twice a year. Jan 27 '11 at 14:14
  • Camera

    If you/he can afford it, just get a Canon Powershot S95 or Panasonic Lumix LX5 and be done with it. You'll have no regrets. Put it on full auto mode and tell him to be careful not to put his fingers on the lens. If that's too expensive, get any of the Canon Powershot range; you won't be too disappointed.

  • Software

    I predict that he's going to have a lot more trouble with the computer side of things than in taking the photos. Cameras work decently well these days no matter what you point them at, and nothing could be much simpler than turning it on, pressing the big button and keeping your fingers away from the lens. By comparison, getting the files on the computer and then organising them, emailing them or printing them is going to be the hard part for a technically illiterate person.

    In my experience, using the Windows/Mac/Linux built in functionality for getting pictures onto the computer and browsing through them is much easier and more user-friendly than any of the software supplied by the camera manufacturer. If you have to use any software not built into the OS, Picasa is quite good on the usability front, but it's still not great and I like the well-integrated and thought out way that the OS itself usually does it. Maybe not so much if you're stuck with WinXP, but more recent systems are decent.

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