If they're young enough, your kids have always known a world in which smartphones are the most popular devices for taking photos. That’s too bad. To ensure that the next wave of young photographers understand the performance and ergonomic advantages of using a real camera, you’ll need to get one into their hands as soon as possible.

But wait! Before you sneak a Nikon D800E into your baby’s basket of toys, you’ll need to consider choking hazards and the fact that some children are a lot more careful (read: girls) than others (read: boys) when it comes to handling expensive electronics. If you want to buy a camera specifically for your child - or a camera that your entire family can share without worrying too much - durability and ease of use are just as important, if not more, as image quality and features.

And, of course, much of that depends on the age and maturity level of your child. We wouldn’t trust any toddler or the vast majority of 10-year-old boys with a DSLR, but for a teenager or pre-teen that's wise beyond their years and genuinely interested in photography, an entry-level DSLR or mirrorless camera may be a great entry point into the world of photography.

So here's a selection of some of what we think are the best camera options for your kids, sorted by age range. Most of these models aren't specifically for kids, and all of the obvious caveats apply. Batteries aren't edible, memory cards are choke hazards, cameras can hurt when they're thrown at people, etc. All prices are approximate street prices, correct at time of publication, 'buy now' links go to amazon.com and if you think we've missed a model that deserves consideration, let us know in the comments!

Ages 5-8

If you're shopping for an under-10, you probably don't want to spend a lot of money, and durability is likely to be important. You want something lightweight that won't break the first time it gets dropped, and the simpler the operation the better. 

VTech KidiZoom | www.vtechkids.com | buy now

Baby's first piece of kit should be tough and inexpensive, and the VTech KidiZoom fits the bill. This durable 1.2-megapixel camera/toy comes with 128MB of internal memory, has a 4x digital zoom and can also shoot video. The more expensive 'Plus' model features a 2MP camera, 256MB internal memory and an SD card slot, for kids that have grown out of putting memory cards in their mouths.

Key Features

  • 1.2MP CCD sensor
  • 4X digital zoom
  • 128MB built-in memory 
  • AA batteries

Nikon Coolpix S31 | www.nikon.com | buy now

The KidiZoom is a toy, but this waterproof Nikon model is a real entry-level camera built specifically for kid/family usage. Its wide-angle, 3X optical zoom lens (29-87mm equivalent) only offers digital image stabilization, but this 10 megapixel camera’s key selling points are its durability and ease-of-use. It’s rated to withstand drops of up to 3.9 ft., and you can also bring it underwater to depths down to 16.4 ft (or of course into the bath or shower).

There’s an underwater scene mode for capturing photos in the pool, as well as a tilt-shift simulator (Diorama mode) and a single-color-isolation feature (Highlight Color mode) that allows your kid to get a bit more creative. The S31 shoots 720p video, and its ISO range of 80-1600 means your kid will be able to keep on shooting even when the light gets low. 

Key Features

  • 10MP CCD sensor
  • 3X optical zoom (29-87mm equivalent)
  • 720p HD video
  • Waterproof, shockproof and dustproof 
  • Rechargeable lithium-ion battery (included)
  • Available in multiple colors including pink, yellow and blue

Ages 8-10

Durability is still a concern at this age, and there are a few rugged cameras that may be a good fit for middle- to late-elementary school students. All the following models also come in a range of colors, which younger kids might appreciate, but also offer a degree of manual control which will be useful for older children as they get more curious about photography. 

Pentax WG-10 | www.pentax.com

Most 8- to 10-year-old boys will probably love the WG-10’s race-car-like styling, and the ring of LED lights that surround its 5X zoom lens (28mm to 140mm equivalent) will also augment its cool factor. This 14 megapixel camera’s rugged/waterproof features are the icing on the cake: It’s submergible to depths down to 33 ft., droppable to heights of 5 ft., crushproof to weights of 220 lbs., and it’s freezeproof and dustproof, as well.

The WG-10 shoots 720p video but while it only offers digital image stabilization, its ISO range is a generous 80-6400. The five LED lamps that surround its lens are employed in 'Digital Microscope' mode, which is essentially an illuminated macro setting. the WG-10 doesn’t have manual controls, but it’s not short on scene selections, with 25 options that include program auto, panorama, underwater, and underwater movie.

Key Features

  • 14MP CCD sensor
  • 5X optical zoom (28-140mm equivalent)
  • ISO 80-6400
  • 2.7in, 230k-dot rear LCD
  • 720p HD video
  • Waterproof, shockproof, dustproof and 'freezeproof'
  • Rechargeable lithium-ion battery (included)
  • Available in red and gray
*Note that in the US, the Pentax WG-10 is available exclusively at Target stores

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TF1 | www.sony.com | buy now

Still tough, but a little more stylish, the Cyber-shot TF1 has a lot to offer. Sony's in-camera automation features are some of the best in the business, and the ruggedized TF1 should be fun to use for young photographers. It offers an optically stabilized 4X zoom lens (25mm to 100mm equivalent) in front of a 16 megapixel CCD sensor, and it’s also waterproof (submersible down to 33 ft.), shockproof (5 ft.), freezeproof, and dustproof.

Kids will enjoy the camera’s Sweep Panorama mode - which also has an underwater setting - and its selection of Instagram-like retouching options (Toy Camera, Partial Color, and Beauty Effects). The camera’s ISO range spans 100-3200, and it shoots 720p video. One important thing to note is that the TF1 records to MicroSD/MicroSDHC cards instead of normal-sized SD/SDHC cards. You may be less likely to have one of those smaller-sized cards laying around, and they're also small enough to be choking hazards for younger kids, so beware.

Key Features

  • 16MP CCD sensor
  • 4X optical zoom (27-108mm equivalent)
  • ISO 100-3200
  • 2.7in, 460k-dot rear LCD
  • 720p HD video
  • Waterproof, shockproof, dustproof and 'coldproof'
  • Rechargeable lithium-ion battery (included)
  • Available in multiple colors including black, red and blue

Fujifilm Finepix XP60 | www.fujifilm.com | buy now

The ruggedized, waterproof XP60 is a bit pricier than the two models above, but it’s the first camera in this roundup to offer a CMOS sensor (16 megapixels), sensor-shift stabilization, and 1080p video recording, making it a little bit more capable all-round. The XP60 has a 5X-optical-zoom lens (28mm to 140mm equivalent), an ISO range of 100-6400, and it accepts full-sized SD/SDHC/SDXC cards.

This colorful camera is waterproof down to 20 ft. underwater, shockproof up to 5 ft., dustproof, and freezeproof. Action-minded kids will love the maximum framerate of 10fps at full resolution (or 60fps at a reduced 2MP resolution) and a high-speed movie mode is also available, allowing you to capture slow-motion 240fps video at 320x240px resolution.

Key Features

  • 16MP CMOS sensor
  • 5X optical zoom (28-140mm equivalent)
  • ISO 100-6400
  • 2.7in, 230k-dot rear LCD
  • 1080p HD video
  • Waterproof, shockproof and dustproof
  • Rechargeable lithium-ion battery (included)
  • Available in multiple colors including yellow, green, red and blue

Pre-teens

Durability may be less important in a camera for this age group, but it really depends on the child. In our selection we're assuming that you're buying for a kid that's learned not to throw precious things around, and all of the models we've chosen offer a little room for your child to grow away from the strictly auto-everything snapshooting if they get more confident. 

Canon PowerShot A1400 | www.canon.com | buy now

Canon's A series point-and-shoot cameras may not be the most exciting in the company's lineup, but they consistently offer simple operation and solid image quality for their price. The PowerShot A1400 has a 16-megapixel CCD sensor tucked behind a 5X-optical-zoom lens (28mm to 140mm equivalent), and it runs on a pair of AA batteries. This is arguably a plus for younger photographers - they won't need to worry about charging or recharging an internal battery, and the relatively large bay that houses the batteries makes for a big, comfortable hand grip.

While you don't get manual exposure controls with the A1400, you will find a wide selection of scene modes that add to its versatility: A dedicated low light mode, a long-shutter mode, and a program auto mode are among them. The camera also has a few Instagram-like features, such as a Miniature Effect setting, a fisheye lens simulator, and a Toy Camera mode. The camera records 720p video, and ISO ranges from 100-6400.

Key Features

  • 16MP CCD sensor
  • 5X optical zoom (28-140mm equivalent)
  • ISO 100-1600
  • 2.7in, 230k-dot rear LCD
  • 720p HD video
  • Built-in optical 'tunnel-type' viewfinder
  • AA batteries

Nikon Coolpix S01 | www.nikon.com | buy now

While other cameras have small pieces and components that might be considered a choking hazard, this entire camera is small enough to be a choking hazard in itself. Kids who want an ultra-pocketable, ridiculously cute point-and-shoot will likely love the Coolpix S-01, which is both of those things. It sports a 10 megapixel CCD (albeit a smartphone-seized one) with a 2.5-inch touchscreen, a 3X optical-zoom lens (29mm to 87mm equivalent) with digital stabilization, and 7.3GB of internal memory.

ISO sensitivity ranges from 80-1600, and the camera shoots 720p video, but all those basic specs are secondary to the fact that it’s barely larger than a DSLR’s lens cap. At 0.7 inches deep, 3.1 inches wide, and 2.1 inches tall, it should fit in the smallest pockets and purses, and at 96 grams, including battery and memory card, it's light enough to take anywhere.

Key Features

  • 10MP CCD sensor
  • 3X optical zoom (29-87mm equivalent)
  • ISO 80-1600
  • 2.5in, 230k-dot rear LCD
  • 720p HD video 
  • Rechargeable lithium-ion battery (included)
  • Available in multiple colors including white, silver, pink and red

Olympus SZ-15 | www.olympus.com | buy now

None of the cameras listed thus far have offered much telephoto reach, but the Olympus SZ-15 is a good option for a child that loves to take wildlife, sports, and landscape photos. The SZ-15 offers the widest-angle lens of any of the aforementioned cameras, and its 24X optical-zoom (25-600mm equivalent) reach gives it plenty of power on the telephoto end. Luckily, it has dual sensor-shift/digital image stabilization to keep those long-zoom shots reasonably steady. 

The SZ-15 is also a highly capable camera for close-up shots, with a minimum focus distance of about an inch. This 16-megapixel camera has a CCD sensor, and it’s able to capture 15fps at a reduced 3-megapixel resolution. Video capture tops out at 720p, and it includes Olympus’s 'Magic Art Filters' offerings to add anything from line-art effects to tilt-shift simulators to a warped fisheye look to your kid's pictures. The very similar SZ-16 features a 16MP CMOS sensor, and offers 1080p video for a little more cash.

Key Features

  • 16MP CCD sensor
  • 24X optical zoom (25-600mm equivalent)
  • ISO 100-1600
  • 3in, 460k-dot rear LCD
  • 1080p HD video
  • Rechargeable lithium-ion battery (included)
  • Available in black, silver and red

Canon Powershot SX160 IS | www.canon.com | buy now

This is the first camera in this roundup to offer manual exposure controls, making it a nice first foray into more advanced photography. Another long-zoom model that offers AA-battery power, the SX160 IS has a 16X- optical-zoom lens (28mm-448mm equivalent) with optical stabilization. Full-manual, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority modes are accessible via a top-mounted mode dial, and you can manually adjust focus, shutter speed, aperture, ISO (80-1600), and white balance.

A nice selection of imaging effects are available in the Creative Filters menu, including Miniature Effect, Fisheye, and Toy Camera, and the SX160 IS can also record 720p video.

Key Features

  • 16MP CCD sensor
  • 16X optical zoom (28-448mm equivalent)
  • ISO 80-1600
  • 3in, 230k-dot rear LCD
  • 720p HD video 
  • AA batteries
  • Available in black and red


Teenagers

If they're getting serious about photography, young teenagers may be ready for an interchangeable-lens mirrorless camera or an entry-level DSLR. The models we've selected here stand out for their relatively compact physical size, ease-of-use, and range of both automatic and manual features. They're all small and easy to use, but they also offer enough advanced functionality to allow a keen young photographer to learn the basics of photography and take their hobby further if they want to.

Nikon 1 S1 (inc 11-27mm zoom) | www.nikon.com | buy now

It’s not that much bigger than a point-and-shoot camera, but the Nikon 1 S1 offers the benefits of a 1-inch-type CMOS sensor (the same size as the one found in Sony’s RX100) and interchangeable lenses in a small form factor. It eschews a traditional mode dial and other buttons and knobs for on-screen controls, but that may not bother your kid as much as it might bother you.

Some significant step-up features are in included, including full manual exposure, aperture- and shutter-priority  modes, an ISO range of 100-6400, 12-bit NEF RAW capture, and a fast hybrid phase-detection/contrast-detection autofocus system that’s employed in the camera’s 15fps continuous-shooting mode.

There are even faster burst shooting speeds available in the camera - 30fps and 60fps - but both require focus to be locked on the first frame of the sequence. The Nikon 1 S1 records 1080 video at 60i and 30p, and there are two slow-motion movie modes that capture footage at 400fps (640x240) and 1,200fps (320x120).

Key Features

  • 10MP CMOS sensor
  • Nikon 1 lens mount
  • ISO 100-6400
  • 3in, 460k-dot rear LCD
  • Maximum 60fps continuous shooting (15fps with autofocus)
  • 1080p HD video 
  • Rechargeable lithium-ion battery (included)
  • Available in multiple colors including white, black, red and khaki

Olympus E-PM2 (inc 14-42mm zoom) | www.olympus.com | buy now

Another diminutive mirrorless camera, the Olympus PEN E-PM2 (also known as the 'Pen Mini') offers a FourThirds sensor, sensor-shift image stabilization, and a 3-inch touchscreen LCD. Like the Nikon 1 S1, it doesn’t have a mode dial. Its 16-megapixel Four-Thirds CMOS sensor is the same one found in the high-end Olympus OM-D E-M5, but the E-PM2 has a form factor and an interface that’s designed with novices in mind.

Dubbed the 'PEN Mini', the E-PM2's Live Guide feature lets you adjust in-camera settings (aperture, exposure compensation, shutter speed, white balance, color saturation, etc.) using simple terms such as 'Blur Background' and 'Express Motion' instead of diving into aperture and shutter adjustments. Of course, you can adjust those settings the traditional way in the camera’s manual, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority modes.

Its touchscreen supports touch-to-focus and touch-shutter operations, and autofocus speeds are a major strong suit. ISO settings also reach into the stratosphere compared with most compact cameras, with a range of 200-25,600. Continuous-shooting speeds max out at 8fps for full-resolution shots (with fixed focus), and the camera also records 1080p/30fps video. And as is the case with many Olympus cameras, the creative filters included in the E-PM2 are extensive and very effective. We reviewed the E-PM2 recently and were very impressed.

Key Features

  • 16MP CMOS sensor
  • Micro Four Thirds lens mount 
  • ISO 200-25600
  • 3in, 460k-dot rear LCD (touch-sensitive)
  • 1080p HD video 
  • Available in silver, black and red

Canon EOS Rebel SL1 (inc 18-55mm zoom) | www.canon.com | buy now

A lot of people think there’s no substitute for a proper through-the-lens optical viewfinder, and the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 offers that DSLR-only feature in a body that isn’t much bigger than a mirrorless camera. Canon proudly bills the SL1 as the 'world’s smallest and lightest DSLR,' and it has the same 18 megapixel APS-C sensor and DIGIC 5 image processor as the bigger EOS Rebel T5i.

Its small size is definitely a key selling point of the SL1, which despite its slimmed-down body remains comfortable to use. Core specs include an ISO range of 100-12800 (expandable up to to 25,600), aperture- and shutter-priority modes, 4fps continuous shooting, RAW capture, and a fixed 3-inch touchscreen that supports touch-focus and menus. There’s also a traditional mode dial and control wheel on the top of the camera, so you’re not stuck with the touchscreen as the only way to dial everything in.

The EOS Rebel SL1 is also the best fit in this roundup for any aspiring young filmmakers, as its 1080p video mode (which records at both 30fps and 24fps) supports manual exposure adjustments while shooting movies. You can read more about what we think of it here

Key Features

  • 18MP CMOS sensor
  • Canon EF/EF-S lens mount 
  • ISO 100-25600
  • 3in, 1.4 million-dot touchscreen LCD
  • 1080p HD video 
  • Rechargeable iithium-ion battery (included)
Check out the Canon Rebel SL1 / EOS 100D in our Product Database

Tim Moynihan is a freelance technology writer based in New York. After two years as Home Page and Features Editor at CNET, Tim joined PC world in 2007, and worked for six years as a senior editor for camera, camcorder and HDTV content.