Buyer's Guide: Digital Cameras For Kids

Here's a guide to help you find a kid-proof camera for the budding photographer in your family. By Emily Raymond
By , Last updated on: 5/18/2014

Most children mimic their parents’ habits and interests beginning as toddlers, so if you take pictures frequently, you can expect they’ll be interested in your camera. It’s likely that you don’t want your kid’s fingerprints on the lens or your camera getting lost or otherwise damaged. You have three options: toy cameras, rugged digital cameras, and cheap digital cameras. Which camera is best for your kid?

Toy Cameras

If your kid is prone to unraveling the toilet paper roll or dipping your cell phone in applesauce, a toy camera or rugged camera is your best bet. Toy cameras are cheaper, selling at $50-60 while rugged cameras go for $300. Toddlers will like the chunky grips and beeping buttons of the toy cameras, but rugged cameras will keep kids and adults happier for longer.

Don’t expect stellar, print-quality pictures from toy cameras; the image quality is awful, but most kids don’t care. Most kids just want a camera that beeps and shows images on the LCD, so as long as it’s durable enough to keep taking pictures your kid will be happy. The Fisher-Price Kid-Tough Camera is one of the most durable, showing a picture of the camera bouncing down stairs on its packaging. It is also waterproof enough to survive an encounter with the garden hose. Other toy cameras, such as the Vtech Kidizoom Camera, aren’t waterproof but are durable enough to survive a few falls. The Npower Rugged Digital Camera comes in several versions with different Nickelodeon cartoon characters plastered onto them. The Vtech Kidizoom Camera was my son’s favorite to play with because of a stamp mode that adds pig noses and bunny ears to subjects, and a game mode with three simple games to play. This toy came in handy while waiting for food at a restaurant and on a long drive. That, right there, makes it worth the money.

Rugged Digital Cameras

These digital cameras are the grown-up version of the toys. They are pocket-sized, but come with big features like double-digit resolution, zoom lenses, more internal memory, bigger LCDs, and tougher specifications. Not only are they officially shockproof and waterproof, but freezeproof and dustproof too

The rugged cameras are much more expensive, but they will last longer. Kids as young as 3 years old can figure out how to use these cameras; they all come with an auto mode. Kids might drop the cameras, but that won’t matter since they’re shockproof. The rugged cameras come in funky bold colors and are trendy enough for teenagers to carry around too.

The Olympus Stylus Tough-6020 is one of the toughest of the rugged cameras. The manufacturer’s web site shows a documentary-style video of preschoolers in hard hats pouring water over the cameras in containers, freezing them into ice blocks, and then chucking the ice blocks onto the sidewalk to break the cameras out. The end of the video shows them taking pictures with their cameras, ice chunks still dangling from the wrist straps. It doesn’t get much tougher than that. The Canon PowerShot D10 has a simpler interface and takes better pictures, although pretty much every rugged camera takes better pictures than any of the toys or cheap cameras.

Cheap Digital Cameras

If your child steps around ants on the sidewalk rather than smashing them, a basic $30 camera may be all you need. You won’t invest much, so if the camera does happen to get lost or dropped, you’re only out $30. You can find a camera for that cheap, but you have to think beyond Canon and Nikon and you can’t be too picky with features. Don’t expect zoom or big LCD screens; these cameras are minimalists. Options include the 3.2-megapixel Argus DC-3185 with its 1.1-inch LCD screen and the 2.1-megapixel Vivitar VS28 with its 1.4-inch screen. The pictures are a step up from the toy cameras, but the big drawback is the lack of durability.

You might be able to find some great deals on a cheap, name-brand camera from a previous model year. The Nikon L19, for example, can be had for about $50 these days. The image quality on these cameras will be grainy, but it's comparable to that of rugged cameras, for a fraction of the price.

Conclusion

If you have a rough-and-tumble toddler, go for a toy camera with bright colors and a chunky grip. If you have preschoolers or older kids and can afford it, your best option is a rugged camera: it’s more durable, produces better pictures, and provides more features that your kids will be discovering for years to come. If you have older kids that can take care of a fragile camera, and you’re on a tight budget, a cheap camera may work for you.

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