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Buying a digital camera for a child There are good, modestly priced cameras out there
If it's time to buy a digital camera for the child in your life, what type should you buy and how much should you spend? While you can find digital cameras for as little as $20 to $60, those are often built more like toys than serious cameras. Fortunately, there are a number of good, modestly priced cameras out there. Here are some tips for buying one for a child between the ages of 8 and 12:

  • Choose a compact. This is the best type for a beginner, because the controls are usually large enough for a child to operate. All the compacts in our digital camera Ratings (available to subscribers) can shoot in Auto mode—which is important for a child—and have a built-in flash. Nearly all have face detection and image stabilization, both of which can help improve your child's photos. The best compacts had excellent or very good image quality; the rest had good quality. I suggest a price range between $100 and $150. For example, the Canon PowerShot A470, which had good image quality, is a good choice at $110.

  • Consider last year's models or refurbs. Although we include only new models in our Ratings of digital cameras, you should be able to find some great deals on discontinued ones. Try searching eBay or other auction sites. For example, I recently found a 7-megapixel Canon PowerShot A620 compact, which we top rated in 2006 at $220, on sale for $90 to $100. Or look for a refurbished model, which has been returned to a retailer or manufacturer and supposedly restored to good-as-new condition, and re-sold at bargain prices. For more on refurbished goods, see our previous blog entry, "Refurbished electronics: A bargain shopper's guide."
  • AAs are OK. I'd buy a point-and-shoot that takes AA batteries instead of a rechargeable lithium-ion because it avoids the need to recharge and keeps children away from electrical outlets. AAs are also convenient because you can easily buy them in a pinch.

  • Consider zoom. Most compacts have a 3x optical zoom. If you can, find one with wide-angle capability, which will give your child another compositional tool. But disregard digital zoom, which usually degrades image quality.

  • Try them out. To find a model that's easy to use and carry, have your child try out various models in a store. Notice which models they're comfortable holding and whether he or she understands the user interface or menus. Many cameras come in different colors and shapes; some may better suit your child than others.

  • LCDs...don't go for broke. Most new cameras have at least a 2 1/2-inch LCD, which is pretty big. So, avoid paying extra for very large LCDs or touchscreen LCDs. Larger displays can be easier to scratch or even break than smaller ones.

  • Toughen up. If you can afford it, consider a rugged camera. Olympus's SW series of cameras are waterproof and sturdy.

  • Get a Grip. Some larger cameras are designed so you can more easily grip the camera. This feature can help a child stabilize the camera and avoid blurry shots.

After you buy a camera, here are some ways to help your child further pursue their interest in photography:

  • Find out what he or she wants to photograph. Then, research ideas and projects online. For example, Adobe and HP have compiled some great ideas for projects. More thoughts can be found from other online parents, such as these Getting Your Kids to Click with Photography ideas from a pro photographer (and mother) on the PBS Parents website.

  • Once you get the camera, read through the manual. Familiarize yourself with the camera's capabilities and features. Be sure you know how to operate the camera, so you can answer your child's questions. A number of point-and-shoots include panorama scene modes to capture landscapes or large groups; it's a good idea to familiarize yourself in the store with how this feature works. Most brands let you download PDF-file versions of manuals (plus many other useful tips and tutorials) from their websites. Bookmark the product website of the camera you buy, so you can easily get help in the future.

  • Sign up your child (and yourself) for a camera class or workshop.

  • Have fun!

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