You don't have to be a grown-up to pursue photography or movie-making. Giving your child a camera can open their eyes to the world, and provide you with insight on what it looks like from their perspective.
But you don't want to spend a ton of money on a camera for a young kid who might break or lose it, nor do you want to give a teenager something that's oversimplified and doesn't give them room to learn and grow as an artist.
We've highlighted several good choices here, including tough cameras that can withstand drops, a DIY construction project, and analog options to teach kids what things were like before the world went digital.
1Nikon Coolpix W100
Nikon's waterproof, easy-to-use, and inexpensive Coolpix W100 is our top choice for younger kids. It sells for around $150 and is rated to survive drops from 5.9 feet and go as deep as 33 feet underwater. It's a perfect first camera thanks to big, easy-to-press buttons and a tough design. at
2Olympus Tough TG-5
When you outgrow the W100, the Olympus Tough TG-5 is a fine upgrade. It's tougher, rated to survive drops from 7 feet and go as deep as 50 feet underwater, and it's also a big step up in image quality. It has an f/2 lens, captures video at 4K, and also shoots in Raw format. A high magnification macro shooting mode encourages creativity, as does slow-motion video support. But you pay a high price, about $450, so this one is a better choice for a teen who can be trusted not to lose the camera. at
Looking for a project to do with your school-age child? The Lomo Konstruktor is a learning tool and a camera. It's an all-plastic 35mm SLR that comes to you in pieces. After removing all of its parts from plastic trees, it's up to you to build it. At just $35 it's not a big investment, and even if you never run a roll of film through it, it teaches budding engineers what makes a camera work. at
4GoPro Hero5 Session
If your kid is more into video than stills, the $200 GoPro Hero5 Session is a good way to go. This compact video camera is waterproof, mountable, and captures footage at up to 4K quality. It has a number of slow-motion options when you drop down to 1080p, and can also speed up time with an in-camera time-lapse mode. at
5Fujifilm Instax Mini 9
At just $70, the Fuji Instax Mini 9 is a perfect first instant camera. It's inexpensive (though you'll have to feed it film, at roughly $0.70 per image), and has big rounded edges so it's comfortable to hold. Kids will need to learn to set the exposure, but it's just a matter of lining up a notch on the lens control ring with a light. The only other control is the shutter button. at
6Canon PowerShot Elph 190 IS
The Elph 190 IS is a solid choice for elementary and middle school kids—it's not ruggedized, so keep it away from the young ones. It's very small, but packs big zoom power and Wi-Fi. Aside from the zoom, it doesn't offer an advantage over a flagship smartphone in terms of image quality, but at $120, it's a lot less expensive compared with an iPhone X or Galaxy S8. at
7Apple iPod touch
If your child isn't old enough for a smartphone, the iPod touch is worth a look. It has a capable 8MP rear camera, but more importantly it gives kids access to the app-based photo and video editing tools they'll use as they get older. The 32GB version sells for $199 and the 128GB edition is available for $299. at
8Canon EOS M100
If your budding photographer has outgrown a point-and-shoot, think about an interchangeable lens camera. The Canon EOS M100 sells for $550 with a starter zoom lens, and includes a tilting touch LCD and Wi-Fi. It's smaller than an SLR, but offers the same creative possibilities, especially since its mirrorless design means it can use any old manual focus lens if you can find the right type of adapter. You'll probably want to wait until junior high or high school for a camera of this level. at
If your teen wants to go with the more traditional SLR form factor, the Nikon D3300 is our pick for a first model. It offers strong image quality, an optical viewfinder, and has a mic input (for budding filmmakers). There's also a guided shooting mode, which explains aperture and shutter speeds in plain language, so your kid can learn the basics of exposure. at
The Pentax K1000 is the classic student camera. The 35mm SLR had its heyday, but if your teen goes to a school that teaches photography the old-fashioned way, the K1000 is the best example of an all manual, all analog 35mm camera. Track one down, load up a roll of Tri-X, and take in the aroma of those lovely darkroom chemicals. (Photo Credit: antalaron)
There are a few approaches you can take to teaching your young one to actually use a camera. Allowing them to experiment is a good start, but also consider a more structured environment, like a photo class. And make sure to check out our story on photo tips for beginners.