[Updated July 2021]
So what’s the best entry-level camera for your budding young street photographer? (Short answer: there are lots of great cameras and a handful that can lead to frustrating experiences.) Well, we’ve spent four summers with more than 100 kids, ages 9 to 13 through in our Riveted Kids Street Photography Day Camps and we’ve learned which cameras allowed the kids to “best” (i.e., without frustration) learn fundamental photography concepts, take great pictures through games, and have fun.
First, just know that:
- I’m only evaluating cameras and camper experiences that I observed.
- We don’t get anything for sharing these links with you. We know how hard it is to sort through the options – this is just our take on how to help you select a camera if you are looking.
- I’m only listing cameras up to $500.
- Remember, campers aged from the 4th grade to the 8th grade (ages 9 to 13).
What to look for – Important Controls
In short, if the camera has a dial on top with an “S” or “Tv” setting (to control shutter speed) AND an “A” or “Av” setting (to control aperture), your camper will have enough control to practice key concepts.
Great Cameras ($200 – $500)
In no particular order, kids had fun without frustration in which they were:
- able to experiment with different camera settings (e.g., being able to set shutter speed and aperture)
- able to sometimes get an amazing photo (i.e., reasonably sharp focus with good colors)
- not struggling significantly (e.g., poor battery life or complicated controls).
All of these cameras can be found used under $500, typically paired with a practical “kit” lens:
- Canon EOS Rebel series such as the T6, T2i, and T1i. Lots of fun pictures up close and far away.
- Nikon D3000 series such as the D3100, D3200, D3300, D3400, or D3500 paired with the kit lens. I remember that one camper wowed her companions with her images, showing them on camera LCD screen.
- Nikon D7000. While this camera is discontinued, you can find the body for less than $300 and then could pair it with a used 18-55 lens.
- Nikon D90. Used on Amazon. Another discontinued model, but still worked great. You can find it for $250 used and then could pair with a new or used Nikkor 18-55mm lens.
- Nikon D50.
Here are some example images taken with these cameras:
Decent Cameras (under $200)
These cameras worked just fine for activities and learning, and campers were able to produce some comparable images to more expensive cameras. For some of these cameras, the lens is built into the body, so you won’t be upgrading to different lenses later. Still, it’s a good way to stay under budget and see if your kiddo sticks with photography before spending more money.
Importantly, the benefits of these cameras are that they have a feature to set the shutter speed and aperture, have some form of zoom, take fairly hi-resolution images, and typically include image stabilization for sharper images:
- Canon EOS Rebel XSI / 450D (has a removable lens).
- Nikon Coolpix P510 (Note: Some Coolpix models are less useful because they lack manual controls.)
- Canon PowerShot SX10IS
- Canon PowerShot S95
- Canon PowerShot SX740 HS (surprisingly versatile with manual settings).
- Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX400V
Wait, what about cameras that did not lead to great experiences?
Kids with these cameras struggled for one reason or another. In general, I recommend staying clear of cameras that:
- Take an alkaline battery (e.g., two AA batteries). Battery life is lower on these cameras and a sign that there aren’t a lot of features.
- Only have “Scene” modes without shutter or aperture priority modes (i.e., there’s no way to specify shutter speed or aperture). For example, we have fun capturing motion, both frozen and blurry – it’s not easy with scene-mode only cameras.
While that’s not to say that another kid wouldn’t love these cameras or get different results, I’m listing them here since I can speak to the frustrating experiences I witnessed:
- Kodak EASYSHARE C1550. Frustrating battery life and no clear way to adjust aperture or shutter speed settings.
- Kodak PIXPRO AZ252 Astro Zoom. No clear way to adjust the aperture or shutter speed. Less sharp images.
- Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H300. Though it has scene modes and a “Manual” mode on top, it was so clunky and limited that our camper needed to borrow a different camera for the week.
- Canon PowerShot Elph series. Kids can have fun (and I saw a few good images), but on longer outings, battery life was an issue and there’s no obvious way to manipulate shutter speed and aperture.
- Fujifilm FinePix XP120. This had a frustrating battery life and no obvious way to modify aperture or shutter speed settings.
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX85. Though arguably an expensive and great featured camera, its complicated controls made this camera hard to navigate for our young photographer. And the touch screen also made it easy to bump into unwanted modes.
What do all the camera terms really mean?
If anything above seems confusing, here’s a reputable online reference for all the terms you may come across on a potential camera:
B&H Photo Glossary of Digital Photography Terms
But hey, what’s most important…
Regardless of the specific camera, motivation and enthusiasm will take your budding young street or travel photographer to the next level. As the old saying goes, “The BEST camera is the one that’s in your hand when you need it.” So if the above recommendations are helpful to selecting your kid’s first camera – great! And if all you have is a hand-me-down or point and shoot or even sharing the camera you already own – that’s better than no camera at all.
Does your teen want to learn Street Photography in Seattle or Mexico?
Here are some camps we offered in the past – stay tuned for similar experiences to be available again in 2022.
Oaxaca Street Photography Camp
8-day teen travel camp. Learn street photography alongside Oaxacan teens and a local Mexican photographer. Immerse yourself in amazing food, Spanish language, and new Mexican friends in one of the most culturally rich cities in Mexico.
Street Photography with Riveted Kids through Meridian Summer Quest
Day camp for kids 10-13 years old in Seattle partnering with Meridian Summer Quest in Wallingford, Seattle. A great way to learn and have fun, becoming skilled with your camera through outdoor photography games and challenges.
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