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 D810 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 than others 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 an advanced point-and-shoot, but for a teenager or pre-teen that's wise beyond their years and genuinely interested in photography, a compact with a lot of zoom and manual controls to grow into might be a great fit.

So here's a selection of some of what we think are the best camera options for your kids. 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, and if you think we've missed a model that deserves consideration, let us know in the comments!

Younger Kids

If you're shopping for kids 6 and under, 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 Connect ($48)

1.3MP sensor | 4X digital zoom | 1.8" LCD | 320 x 240 video | 128MB built-in memory | uses AA batteries

Baby's first piece of kit should be tough and inexpensive, and the VTech KidiZoom fits the bill. This durable 1.3-megapixel camera/toy comes has a fixed lens with 4X digital zoom, 128MB of internal memory (with an option for MicroSD memory card expansion), a 1.8" LCD and 320 x 240 video. There are even three photo-related games to keep your kids entertained.

Nikon Coolpix S33 ($99)

13.2MP CMOS sensor | 30-90mm equiv. lens | Waterproof to 32ft | Shockproof from 5ft | Full HD video

Cameras do get bumped and dropped (or worse), making Nikon’s inexpensive waterproof, shockproof and freezeproof Coolpix S33 worth a look. It features an easy-to-use interface and dedicated one-touch buttons for simple shooting. Although it's 13.2 megapixel CMOS sensor is roughly the size of what's in your smartphone, it can capture decent quality images. Its lens has a focal range of of 30-90mm - adequate for most purposes. A dedicated movie record button allows users to quickly shoot Full HD video clips. The S33 offers sixteen creative styles and effects options (including Underwater Face Detection) and an option to shoot videos with a miniature effect.

Fujifilm instax mini 8 ($80)

Makes card-sized instant prints | 60mm equiv. fixed lens | Uses AA batteries | Comes in several colors

Now your kids can relive the days of instant prints with the Fujifilm instax mini 8, one of several models available from the company. It's definitely not rugged, but the thrill of getting a 2.4 x 1.8 inch print in about 2-3 minutes will excite both kids and adults alike. The mini 8 is a very basic camera, with a small optical viewfinder (and no LCD), dial-in exposure, and a flash that always fires. One important thing to know is that instax cameras are a bit of a money pit, with a ten pack of film priced at around $8.50, so your little photographers will need to be pretty selective before pressing that shutter release button.  

Viddy Pinhole Camera kit ($57)

DIY pinhole camera | Accepts 35mm or medium-format film | Available in four colors

For the creative kid with a do-it-yourself attitude, the VIDDY is a pinhole camera kit made from tough, durable recycled cardboard in four colors: green, black, blue or red. It accepts both medium format and 35mm film. Bonus: it’s a perfect project between parent and child. Pop out VIDDY’s screen printed parts and assemble in 30 minutes.

Polaroid Cube ($99)

6MP sensor | 35mm lens w/124° angle-of-view | Weatherproof | Full HD video | Numerous mounts available

The latest HD action camera from Polaroid combines a 6MP sensor with a lens with an impressive 124° field-of-view and puts it into a weatherproof body measuring just 35mm on each side. The camera has can record Full HD video onto an optional microSD card, and a 90 minute battery allows extended recording for every bike ride and beach adventure. Just like more expensive GoPros, there are numerous mounts available for the Cube, plus an underwater housing. And a magnet in the camera's base opens up even more potentially interesting vantage points.

For those seeking Wi-Fi capabilities, the Cube+ offers that for $149.

Older Kids

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 who's learned not to throw precious things around, and most of the models we've chosen offer a little room for your child to grow away from the strictly auto-everything snap-shooting if they get more confident.

Olympus Tough TG-4 ($349)

16MP BSI CMOS sensor | 25-100mm equiv. lens | Waterproof to 50ft | Full HD video | Wi-Fi + GPS

For kids that are on the go - or have the tendency to drop expensive pieces of electronics, the Olympus TG-4 is a good choice. It's well built, responsive, full-featured and produces excellent quality images for a small-sensor camera. It offers automatic shooting modes but opens up the world of manual exposure for older children ready to get their feet wet (no pun intended) in more serious photography. Other features include numerous 'art filters', Full HD video recording, and support for fisheye and telephoto conversion lenses. It has very good battery life as well, so it can make it through the day with ease.

The TG-4 is waterproof to 50ft, shockproof from 7ft, crushproof to 220lbf and freeze proof to +14F, so it can take a beating. Wi-Fi is built-in for easy photo sharing, and the GPS receiver will let young photographers check a map to see where a photo was taken.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50 ($250)

12MP BSI CMOS sensor | 24-720mm equiv. lens | Electronic viewfinder | Full HD video | Wi-Fi

For the child you trust with more fragile cameras, might we suggest the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50. It's a great camera to take on vacation, thanks to its long 24-720mm (30X) zoom lens and ultra-compact body. It offers speedy focusing and continuous shooting, and photos can be composed on either a 3" LCD or a small (but still useful) electronic viewfinder. The camera can record Full HD video with 'hybrid' image stabilization to reduce severe camera shake. 

The ZS50 offers more advanced manual controls than the TG-4 above, so if you want to teach your budding photographer about aperture and shutter speed or how to manual focus, the ZS50 is a camera which can do it.

Apple iPod Touch ($199 and up)

Full-featured smart device | 8MP BSI CMOS sensor | F2.4, 29mm equiv. lens | 4" Retina display | Full HD video

While it may be too early in their lives to buy your kids an iPhone, you might as well prepare for the inevitable by picking up an iPod Touch (2015). It's essentially an iPhone without the phone, meaning that you get access to hundreds of thousands of apps, many photo-related, easy photo sharing over Wi-Fi, and all of the other things that have made iPhones a smash hit.

On the photo side, the iPod Touch sports a 8MP BSI CMOS sensor and an F2.4, 29mm equivalent lens, plus a lower resolution front-facing camera for selfies. It has the usual features you'd expect to see on a 'regular' camera, plus impressive Auto HDR and panorama features. The iPod Touch can also record Full HD video, with slo-mo and time-lapse options. You couldn't ask for a better screen on which to compose photos, either, as the 4" Retina display truly shines. You can even add extra lenses from companies like Olloclip for more flexibility.