With Christmas just around the corner, many parents (and grandparents) are wondering what to give their loved ones this year. If you’re a photo enthusiast, a camera is often top-of-mind. Most children enjoy digital cameras because they provide instant feedback and heaps of fun for both the photographer and his or her subject.


With Christmas just around the corner, many parents (and grandparents) are wondering what to give their loved ones this year. If you’re a photo enthusiast, a camera is often top-of-mind. Most children enjoy digital cameras because they provide instant feedback and heaps of fun for both the photographer and his or her subject.


Some pre-schoolers can learn to use a simple digital camera after a short instruction session from an adult.
It’s reasonably easy to find a camera to suit your kids – and your wallet – provided you see the camera as an investment in the child’s future exploration of the wonderful world of photography. Avoid toy cameras that were ‘made for kids’ and buy a real camera instead. Kids’ cameras are usually clunky with few or no adjustable controls and very low resolution and terrible picture quality. Even a young child will soon find them frustrating to use once the initial novelty has worn off.

Your money will be better invested if you buy a ‘real’ camera because it will last longer, provide far better pictures and enable the recipient to actually learn about picture-taking. This holds true whatever the age of the child, although with younger children you will need to choose a camera that can withstand a bit of rough treatment – or buy a waterproof housing to protect it from grubby fingers and occasional knocks and bumps.

What’s the Minimum Age?
How old should a child be when he or she is given a camera? It depends on the child’s level of interest and their general approach to equipment. Very few pre-schoolers are camera-ready, although many kids can operate and care for a camera by the age of seven or eight (usually with some degree of parental supervision). Others may not be ready (or interested) until they reach their teens.

Younger children can be introduced to the fun of photography by being allowed to use Mum or Dad’s camera. We started our granddaughters out when they were toddlers – but under strict supervision. The eight-year-old now has her own camera but the five-year-old still uses the family camera (in a waterproof housing). Be guided by your child’s level of interest; when they keep pestering you to let them take pictures with your point-and-shooter, they’re probably ready for their own camera.


By the age of eight, most children can learn how to hold a compact digicam and operate its controls.

What to Look For
When shopping for a digital camera, key factors that should be taken into account initially include the child’s age, technological competence and gender. Gender is relevant for two reasons: pre-teen girls are usually a year or two ahead of boys in their ability to care for devices like cameras, and girls and boys tend to have different colour preferences. (Yes, colour is an important criterion where choice is available.)

Older children will get more out of a camera with adjustable controls, whereas six- to ten-year-olds will be satisfied with point-and-shooters. Here are some other criteria to focus upon:

1. Match the camera to the size of the child. Small children have small hands and feel happier with smaller models, while teenagers’ hands are closer to adult size and require cameras with larger buttons;

2. Look for a straightforward user interface. Menus should be logical and easy to read. Icons should be large enough and easily understood;

3. The LCD screen must be bright and clear and usable in outdoor conditions. Images should display with a full contrast range and vibrant colours. Be wary of cheap cameras with washed-out-looking screens;

4. An adequate zoom range. This depends on the child and their interests. For general picture-taking, a 2x optical zoom lens is acceptable. Older children who are interested in sport and/or wildlife will require a longer zoom – particularly if they are able to use their pictures in school projects or related activities;

5. The ability to use affordable memory cards; in essence, SD/SDHC compatibility;

6. Adequate video capability. Kids love shooting video. If the home TV set is an HD/widescreen model, everybody in the family will benefit from a digicam that can record HD quality video in widescreen format. (If you have a standard 4:3 TV screen, HD capabilities are largely irrelevant but make sure the camera can capture VGA quality at 30 frames/second.);

7. A nice-looking camera that’s not intimidating. Camera manufacturers have produced some excellent colour options in their entry-level models. In addition to the standard silver and black options, you can get pink or mulberry-coloured cameras for girls, blue or brown cameras for boys – or even gold cameras for somebody who’s really special;

8. The camera should come as a package that is ready to use as soon as it’s unpacked – or shortly afterwards. The box should contain the necessary batteries, charger, cables and a printed instruction manual that is easy to read and understand. You should be able to upload pictures to a computer and display them on a TV set without the need to load special software or buy extra cables;

9. Regardless of which camera you buy, make sure you also get an extra memory card – and also a soft carrying case that fits the camera and has an adjustable shoulder strap;

10. Consider buying a waterproof housing (see “Kid-Proofing Digital Cameras below).

How Much Instruction?
Once you’ve given the camera to the child, how much instruction should you provide? Again, this depends on the child. Older children usually like to explore new equipment themselves and may resent adult interference. Younger children often appreciate a little help, especially in the initial stages.

It’s a good idea to briefly outline the basics:

1. how to hold the camera so fingers don’t cover the lens or flash;

2. how to switch the camera on and off;

3. using the zoom control;

4. where the battery/batteries and memory card go;

5. how to switch the flash on and off.

You will probably need to explain how to set image size and quality and make sure the highest settings are engaged. It may also be necessary to explain the scene modes and how to switch between stills and video. But, after that, it’s usually best to let the child do his/her own thing. If they encounter something they don’t understand, they’ll come to you for advice.

Essentially, the message is to get them started and then back off. Most kids are smart enough to discover what does and doesn’t work. And the sense of accomplishment they get when they discover new features or different ways of taking pictures is something no amount of money can buy.


Sharing photos plays an important role in the picture-taking process.

Kid-Proofing Digital Cameras
One of the best investments for families with small children is a waterproof housing for the family camera. Housings are available for most digicams and, although they may cost a couple of hundred dollars, they are the best insurance you can have. Once the camera is in the housing it’s protected from sticky fingers, accidental bumps and drops and temper tantrums – as well as the dust- and water-proofing the housing is actually designed for.

You can give a camera in a housing to a two-year-old and allow them to take pictures. This is the best way to share the fun of photography with ‘littlies’. Waterproof housings come into their own when the family goes to the beach. They’re also great for boating, fishing and other water-based activities.

The only thing you must remember is to put the camera into the housing at the start of the activity and taken it out again when you’re home in a clean environment.

What to Do With Kids’ Photos
What do you do with the photos your kids take? The first step it to upload them to a computer into special folders labelled with each child’s name (if several children are using the camera). Then work through them with the child and decide which ones are ‘keepers’ and which ones to ‘bin’.

Most kids will be happy to cull shots that are out-of-focus and/or incorrectly exposed. However, some of these shots may present interesting creative patterns that may be worth keeping. Older kids with their own computers will often sort these issues out for themselves, but younger kids who rely on the family computer usually need guidance.

Be cautious about allowing kids to upload photos to social websites. Until they are old enough to understand the issues associated with file sharing, it’s best to keep kids’ photos strictly in the family.