What Camera Should You Buy Your Teen as a Gift for the Holidays?

If you have a teenager who is interested in photography, a camera would definitely make for a great gift this holiday season. But due to the diverse range of features and specifications of the typical prosumer camera, finding the best workhorse for your budding photographer can get a bit confusing. The market is saturated with a wide selection of options designed for photographers of every skill level, and if you don’t know which one to get, you can end up with a camera that is either too complex or possibly lacking in features.

There are many variables to consider when choosing a camera for your teen, but the first and most important is their skill level. Is your teen a beginner shutterbug who wants to learn photography? Or is he or she already a semi-pro who simply wants to upgrade to a more professional camera to help them advance their skills?

Below is a list of the different types of cameras according to use, as well as some features you should consider when purchasing one as a gift for your teen.

Types of Cameras:

Point-and-Shoot Cameras

Point-and-shoot or compact digital cameras are considered to be the most basic type of camera. If your teen knows next to nothing about photography, this can be a good place to start. Aside from being relatively inexpensive, point-and-shoot cameras are usually smaller, more lightweight, and extremely user-friendly. They are meant for simple operation and cannot be used with interchangeable lenses or other accessories often used with large sensor cameras. What you see is simply what you get. It also lacks the flexibility of allowing the user to adjust their manual settings, which means you won’t need to know anything about shutter speed, ISO and aperture to get a well-exposed image.

The benefit of using a point-and-shoot (and yes there are quite a few) is that it will allow your teen to practice their composition skills without having to worry about exposure, white balance, and all of the technical stuff. It also allows your teen to exercise their creativity because when you have limited shooting options, you have to learn to come up with other ways to create a nice, artistic image.

For budget shoppers, the Canon PowerShot G9X offers impressive image quality (for a 1-inch sensor camera) at under $500. However, if you want a more high-end, near-professional option for your teen, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX10 is the way to go. It has a 20MP high-sensitivity sensor that gives it amazing low light capabilities, a wide-angle to telephoto 24-72mm f/1.4-2.8 Leica lens with 3x zoom, 4K UHD video recording, and burst shooting at up to 50fps. It does have a higher price tag of around $600 (depending on where you shop), but its features make it more than worth it.

Digital SLR Cameras

DSLR cameras offer advanced manual settings and interchangeable lens capabilities for vastly improved image quality. This type of camera has a bigger sensor than its compact counterpart, which enables it to deliver ultra-sharp photos with larger pixels and a higher resolution. If your teenager is a bit more knowledgeable when it comes to manual photography, then he or she needs a camera that can take those fledgling photography skills to the next level. Thanks to the manual mode and interchangeable lenses, your teen will be able to create better images with their desired exposure, depth of field, and more.

With this type of camera, your teen can really hone their skills and go from amateur to semi-professional. They’ll learn more about how light affects a photo, how to manipulate the subject and its environment, and how to play around with different settings to create the perfect shot.

If you’re looking to buy a DSLR for your teen without breaking the bank, the Nikon D3400 gives you great value for your money, priced at under $500 with a kit lens and around $600 for a bundle with two lenses. It has an ultra-sharp 24MP APS-C sensor, 1080p video recording, simple controls, and a lightweight body. A mid-range option with near-similar specs would be the Canon EOS Rebel T7i, which costs about $750 for the basic camera body. It has a 24.2MP sensor, fast and accurate autofocus with 45 focus points, excellent low light capability, and a variety of connectivity options.

Finally, if you’re willing to spend around $1,000 and above, the Canon EOS 7D Mark II is a crop sensor with a dual-pixel hybrid AF system, 20.2-megapixel image resolution, 1080p video recording, a durable body, and extremely fast performance for shooting fast-paced action.

Mirrorless Cameras

Mirrorless cameras is sort of a combination of a compact camera and a DSLR. Its functions and controls are similar to the latter, but its body is more similar to the lightweight, highly portable build of the point-and-shoot. This is made possible by the fact that it does not have a mirror mechanism like the DSLR. It can capture high-resolution image quality and record HD videos with in-camera image stabilization, and can be used with interchangeable lenses if needed.

In most cases, a mirrorless camera can sometimes offer you more value for your money. If you were to compare a mirrorless model with a similarly priced DSLR, you’ll find that the mirrorless camera usually has better, more advanced features and specifications.

If you want a somewhat affordable mirrorless camera that still offers impressive features and specs, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II gives you a 16.1MP sensor, a 2.36m-Dot OLED electronic viewfinder, 1080p video resolution, and 5-axis image stabilization—all in a beautiful vintage camera body priced at around $550 (or $650 if you get it with a lens). If you want something a bit more advanced, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G85 (up to $1,000 with a lens) has similar specs as the previously mentioned Olympus, except that it is capable of recording 4K UHD video, features a 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization system, offers ultra-fast autofocus performance, and comes with 4K PHOTO modes for shooting stills while utilizing its 4K recording capabilities.

Action Cameras

Teenagers who want to start documenting their thrill-seeking adventure trips can go for the lightweight and rugged action camera. This type of camera is built for harsher environments, making it perfect for the more adventurous photographer. These cameras can be mounted on a helmet, on the chest, on the handlebars of a mountain bike, and even on a surfboard. If your teen owns a drone that does not have an integrated camera, they can attach the action camera (as long as it’s compatible with the drone) for stunning aerial shots.

Action cameras may not seem like the typical tool for someone who wants to get into photography, but keep in mind that a good photographer can create beautiful photos with any type of camera.

Nonetheless, it helps to choose an action camera that excels in still photography. Most of the available models on the market offer superior video resolution, but can fall a bit short in the still image department. When in doubt, check out some of GoPro’s latest models for an action cam that offers high image resolution and RAW format.

Film Cameras

Is your teen more of an old soul? If so, a film camera may be more fitting. Analog cameras have surprisingly made a comeback in recent years. The 35mm is the most common size of film, and can be purchased in either colored or black and white. The cameras themselves can still be purchased in a variety of places, including vintage shops and certain online retailers. Most will be second-hand since many camera brands have long stopped making these analog models, but there are still quite a few film cameras that you can buy brand new.

Some cameras for you to consider: Lomography Diana F+ (under $50) and Nikon FM-10 SLR (under $600).

Obviously, film cameras lack many of the technological advancements we’ve come to know and love in digital cameras, such as LCD displays, touchscreens, WiFi connectivity, and most importantly, the ability to take hundreds of pictures without having to worry about running out of film. However, it is this limitation that actually makes the film camera a great photographic tool for beginners to start with. It offers a unique learning opportunity that you simply can’t get from digital cameras. Shooting film gives you a limited number of shots, so you’re forced to really take the time to perfect your composition and settings prior to taking the shot.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Camera for Your Teen:

1. Features & Specifications

The most important things to consider when buying electronics of any kind would of course be features and specifications. You don’t always have to go for the best specs, so keep your teen’s needs in mind when doing your research. For instance, you may be tempted to purchase a full-frame mirrorless camera with hundreds of AF points, but if your teen’s usage won’t require such high-end specs, then he or she won’t be able to fully utilize the aspects of the camera that make it so expensive.

2. Controls

As a beginner, your teenager may want to start with a user-friendly compact camera to begin learning composition and shooting style. On the other hand, even if your teen has little to no knowledge of how to work a more complicated camera such as a DSLR or a mirrorless, that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to learn it along the way.

3. Size and Design

Size and design can be a major camera consideration for teenagers. Some will opt for small mirrorless cameras, while some will won’t mind the heavier, bulkier DSLRs. However, compact and lightweight will always be more preferable for a teen, especially those who live active lifestyles. As for the design, you want to make sure that the camera is both ergonomically and stylishly designed. Consider your teen’s personal style and pick out the camera that best meets his or her aesthetic. This won’t be important for everyone, but if you can choose a camera that fits your teen’s style and personality, then why not?

4. Photo Sharing and Transfer

Teenagers today have largely grown up with devices that have WiFi, bluetooth, and other wireless connectivity options. It’s practically a requirement. Of course most camera models have built-in WiFi and NFC connectivity, allowing for quick and hassle-free photo and video sharing or transfer. Most teens are very social, which is why they would likely want to post their amazing shots straight from their camera to their social media accounts.

5. Other Cool Features

Time-lapse recording, built-in photo editing, and other interesting (although not necessarily essential) features are always worth looking into, especially since teens are more inclined to play around and experiment.

When choosing a camera for your teen, it’s best to do your own research. They may have already mentioned a specific model that they like, but since you’re going to be the one spending the money, make sure that it’s actually worth it. Go online and look for reviews on tech blogs, watch hands-on reviews or camera tests on YouTube to see how it actually performs, and most importantly, check the reviews left by customers on the product you’re researching to see what the popular opinion is among regular consumers.

Happy shopping!

One Comment on “What Camera Should You Buy Your Teen as a Gift for the Holidays?

  1. Linda Marauder

    This is a timely article.

    I’m thinking of a gift for my daughter. Probably she can start with a point and shoot camera then (crossing fingers) hopefully she likes it and make her own way to becoming a pro.

    Kudos!

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