A couple friends have mentioned to me that their preteen/teen children have asked for a camera for Christmas and have asked for my advice. I am thrilled that kids want to explore photography even beyond what they can do on their phones. But as a parent, I understand how overwhelming this purchase can seem. There are SO many choices, and some are SO expensive. Personally, as a parent I was always hesitant to spend a fortune when my child expressed an interest in a new hobby, especially when I didn't know if they would continue the fascination and see it grow into a passion.
So I went through my research for this post first as a parent, and second as a photographer. I've also created a one page recommendation summary that you can download to use when shopping. Feel free to forward this blog post or download the sheet and send to other family members.
Needs to fit within the family budget - all the cameras in my recommendations are between $200-$500
Cameras have significant functionality over and above a camera phone. They have various auto modes, but can also shoot in the traditional Av, Tv and Manual modes.
All have integrated flash.
All can be used "out of box" so you're not having to buy a lot of accessories right up front.
All of these cameras "look real", even if they're not DSLR's. I avoided the small form factor cameras that actually look more like phones.
All have advanced camera functionality.
Every selection has WiFi functionality so the child can upload images to their phone, or use the memory card to upload to their computer (note - you may need a memory card reader, check the computer they'll use)
As I reviewed this post with people, I was asked why I didn't include mirrorless cameras. They are likely the direction we're headed in, but they are relatively expensive. There are none currently available in this price range. I really don't think of them as beginner cameras.
The first thing to decide is whether you want to go with a DSLR (these have interchangeable lenses) or a good point and shoot.
Do you have treasure trove of lenses available to you? Do you want to buy a camera that will grow with your child for years? In either of these cases, you may want to go with a DSLR camera. What you will get is a long term camera. You'll also get an optical viewfinder (where you stick your eye up to the camera and look through) and better battery life when that view finder is used instead of the screen. But the downside is that these are typically heavier systems. And changing the lenses is just another opportunity to lose a part or drop the lens or camera. They may not be the best choice for a younger teen.
A good point and shoot camera will do everything you need out of the box. The cameras I've recommended have tremendous zoom functionality, so your child will be able to take all sorts of pics right away. And they're significantly lighter than a fully outfitted DSLR, with a lot less to misplace. The two downsides are that they won't expand in the future (with new lenses - though you really don't need to do this) and because they only have the onscreen viewing, their battery life is shorter - maybe a couple hundred pics before you need to recharge.
For those of you who decide to go with a DSLR, I'd recommend one of the two following cameras. These are the price ranges when I pulled the info and are always subject to change. You don't pay any more, but I get a small payment if you buy using these links, which helps me offset some of my costs. And of course, if you have a local photography store, check out and buy a camera there!
Canon EOS Rebel T7 - typically comes with a 18-55mm lens kit (see this blog post to learn more about lens focal ranges). $449-$459.
If you're a Costco member, there's a great bundle with 2 lenses available.
I found this bundle on Amazon. It's $549 (above my stated budget line), but it includes 2 lenses (including a telephoto zoom), memory cards, an extra battery, a tripod, an external flash, filters and a case. WOW.
Nikon D5300 - typically comes with an 18-55mm lens kit. $399-$439
There's also a 2 lens kit at Costco.
And here's a really fantastic bundle at Amazon for $499. It comes with an extra long zoom lens, some off brand wide angle lenses, filters, memory cards, case and more.
And if you decide to go with a good point and shoot, here are my recommendations. I narrowed down the options by selecting those that look real.
Canon Powershot SX540HS (50x zoom) - $259
Love this $299 bundle on Amazon with an extra battery, small tripod, memory cards and more.
Nikon Coolpix B500 (40x zoom) $247
Great $279 Amazon bundle with extra battery, memory card and more
Nikon Coolpix B600 (60x zoom) $297
Useful $319 Amazon bundle with tons of accessories - extra battery, memory card and a lot more
Nikon Coolpix P900 (83x zoom) $499
One $484 bundle on Amazon has limited availability, but looks like a great deal.
If that's out, try this $499 bundle
Sony Cybershot DSC-H300 (35x zoom) $200-$220
There's a $220 bundle available with all the cool accessories.
I've linked to bundles where they're available, but if you don't go that direction here's what you'll need.
DSLR's - get an inexpensive UV filter for the front of the lens.
Point & Shoot - I'd recommend an extra battery
Both - make sure you get at least one memory card, and a card reader if you need one for your computer
Please feel free to reach out if you need more help. If it's a quick answer, I'll give it by email. If you have more in depth questions, or are considering a higher end camera system, I'm happy to consult on an hourly basis.