What’s the best digital camera to buy a newbie?
One they will actually use.
There’s no point in giving or owning a camera that shoots awesome photos if the user is never going to pick it up because it’s too complicated. Even “simple” point-and-shoots these days generally feature a dozen or more buttons with tiny icons, a multilayered menu system and extra features like video capability.
On top of that, unlike film that is handed to someone else for processing, digital images require software and an uploading interface to turn their data into an actual print or sharable file.
But the gee-whiz thrill of seeing a photo instantly appear on a screen has its benefits – like being able to see right away that Johnny blinked, so let’s delete that image and try again.
For picture-takers ready to enter the digital photo realm, or for digital camera users who want to find one that’s more user-friendly, we have recommendations.
This list is far from exhaustive. But we did test each camera here for ease of use and acceptable (not necessarily impressive) photo quality. In all cases but one, these cameras take an SD card that can be popped out of a slot and taken to a drugstore or photo kiosk for near-instant prints.
This time of year, many can be found on sale. With that in mind, we recommend:
Canon PowerShot A1300
Retail price: $119
Pros: This point-and-shoot camera runs on regular AA batteries and has a regular (if small) viewfinder, a feature virtually extinct in this basic camera class and a great power-saving feature. It took the best photos of all the cameras we tried. It has a short, clean menu and buttons that are large and easy to read.
Cons: This has more buttons in back than others we recommend, though one button is a “?” that explains all the settings to the user in simple terms.
Nikon Coolpix S01
Retail price: $179.95
Pros: Impressively sleek, tiny and shiny, and doesn’t have any removable parts (no SD card or batteries) aside from a single, plug-in cable. Best of all, the back of this camera has only ONE button, which leads to a very readable touch-screen display. The camera can store 3,000 photos at its default setting of 10 megapixels. Also shoots video.
Cons: Cost. May be too tiny for some. Also, if you find scrolling through a touch-screen maddening compared with actual buttons, move on. Uploading photos for printing requires having both the camera and the cable with you.
Fujifilm Finepix AX550
Retail price: $79.95
Pros: This more affordable camera doesn’t junk up the back with underused or unwanted features. It sticks with the basic buttons, has a large display and runs on ordinary AA batteries. With video capability and blink detection, it’s an easy camera to grow with.
Cons: The default video display is cluttered, but it’s easy to change that setting and clear the screen.
Nikon Coolpix S30
Retail price: $119.95
Pros: Waterproof and shockproof (drop friendly), it has a chunkier size for easy handling, bright colors, and quirky photo decorating and sound options, making it a solid choice for kids and family adventurers. A complete hard-copy users guide is included. With AA battery power, few icons and an easy-to-understand pop-up menu system, it’s meant for fun.
Cons: We noticed some shutter lag. Its size, colors and kid-friendly features may be off-putting to some adults.
Vivitar ViviCam 5018
Retail price: $25 at Rite Aid
Pros: This lightweight, low-end camera has few buttons and menu settings. It’s suited to very casual picture takers and kids who would otherwise opt for one-time-use cameras or none at all. With 5 megapixels and AAA battery power, it shoots adequate pictures in still settings with bright light. Comes with decent photo software.
Cons: Users need to download the manual, turn on the anti-shake feature and boost the default megapixel setting. Shutter feedback is poor. Expect some fuzzy shots and muddy colors. Unsuited to action and low-light shots.
News Chief Photographer Derek Gee contributed to this story.