Point-and-shoot cameras seem like a relic of the past now that most of us carry smart phones, don't they? I imagined my kids would learn photography using my phone, then move on to a basic DSLR in a few years if they really caught the photo bug. But they had other ideas.
After a few months of sharing my phone to take photos as they slowly started to work their way through my intro photography course for kids, they wanted more independence and asked for their own cameras.
I heard them. And I'll do just about anything to encourage them to live creatively and independently. The point-and-shoot camera still serves a purpose after all!
The girls had proven their genuine interest in photography, so we decided to get them each a basic point-and-shoot for Christmas. They're only 6 and 8, so we didn't want to buy something expensive they'd drop in a mud puddle or leave behind at the museum.
You can spend as little as $40 or more than $300 on a point-and-shoot camera. I bought two different cameras in the $40-50 range and promptly returned them. They were terrible. And by that, I mean it was impossible to take a photo in focus on these cameras. I thought maybe the blurry photos were a result of the girls' unsteady hands until I tried the cameras myself. Despite 30 years as a photographer, I couldn't take a focused photo on either of these cameras to save my life.
On my third purchase attempt, I finally found a decent camera for $80: the Nikon COOLPIX A10. (If you buy this basic camera package, you'll also need this type of memory card, AA batteries, and a cable to connect it to the computer. Or you can purchase it in a bundle like this, though you still may need to buy the cable separately.)
The shutter release of the A10 allows you to press halfway down to focus before continuing to press all the way down to take a shot, which is essential in taking a sharp photo.
Here are some pros and cons of the camera:
Pros: It's 16.1 megapixels and takes beautiful, sharply focused photos; it's inexpensive, small, and light.
Cons: The zoom is not great—avoid using it; the basic camera package did not come with batteries, cable cord, or memory card; it uses batteries quickly (bring extra AA batteries in your camera bag).
Despite the zoom, I've been really impressed with the overall quality of photos the girls have taking using the A10.
Below is a photo (with light edits) by Cricket, age 8.
Below is a photo (with light edits) by Nora, age 6.
There are plenty of other mid-range point-and-shoot cameras to choose from, but here are three tips to help you find a functional one:
1) You need to be able to press the shutter release button halfway down to focus, then all the way down to take a photo. On the first two super cheap cameras I purchased, there was no halfway-to-focus situation. There was just no way to control the focus at all. If you buy a camera for your kids that doesn't allow them to control the focus, you're guaranteeing failure and disappointment. Read about the focus in the camera's description and/or the reviews before purchasing. Test out the shutter release when it arrives and return it if it doesn't allow you to focus by pressing halfway down.
2) Most cameras these days are 10-20+ megapixels. Anywhere in that range is just fine, especially for a beginner. My first DSLR was maybe 10 megapixels, and I was able to enlarge photos beautifully.
3) Make sure to purchase all the necessary pieces either individually or as a package: camera, memory card, batteries (and charger if needed), and cable to connect to the computer.
Once you've bought a point-and-shoot camera, here are two tips for using it:
1) Regardless of which camera you buy, TURN OFF THE FLASH. A built-in flash is the worst! Turn it off and leave it off. Forever.
2) On lower- and mid-level point-and-shoot cameras (and mobile phone cameras), DON'T USE THE ZOOM. The zooms are often poor quality. It's generally better to crop an image tightly on the computer afterward than zoom in with a cheap lens.
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I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.