Which cameras should I buy?

That kind of a tough question to answer. I hate to recommend something that doesn't end up working out for you. Everyone's needs are different, kind of like recommending which car to buy.

For the beginning class any digital camera will work (except a phone camera). I designed the beginning course with the expectation that most students will have the most basic point and shoot camera. I assume most of the students will just be casual shooters for the rest of their lives, so I try to give the art info and technical info. that will be of useful in creating good photos with whatever camera they have.
On the other hand, if they end up taking the intermediate or advanced photo classes, we go over how to use a digital SLR camera. I have about 8 of them that they can use during class time, but they can't take them home. They are coming down in price every year, you could get on for around 600.00. About 1/5 of the advanced student have their own digital SLR.

If your child is just getting into photo, and not really sure where he or she will go with it, I would get a point and shoot camera. If he or she gets really interested later on and wants a digital SLR, the point and shoot camera can be passed down to a family member.

Some things to consider when purchasing a point and shoot camera:

Everybody seems to want the camera with the highest megapixels. 8, 9, 10, 12 are becoming common. More isn't always better. What creates better image quality isn't just more megapixels but larger sensors (none of the camera makers give you that option). To get a bigger sensor you need to buy a digital removable lens SLR. The companies are just chopping up the same size sensors into smaller and smaller pieces because the buying public wants more and more resolution. When they do that they need to amplify the signal each photosite collects which generates noise (little dots) in the picture. To compensate, the camera has noise reduction software that reduces the noise and slightly softens the image. To compensate for that, the camera needs to over sharpen the image a little. All of those things slightly degrade the image.

If they just left the cameras at lower resolutions, everything would be fine. The only way to get good noise free high resolution is with a larger sensor, which is what the digital slr cameras have. So don't feel like you have to buy the highest resolution camera. The newer lower resolution cameras would be fine. I'd say anything 4 megapixels or more would be more than enough. But, newer more advanced cameras tend to have the higher resolution, and the lower resolution cameras have fewer features. You can't get the same camera with lower resolution only. I'd try to get a camera you can easily return. Costco used to have a good return policy (90 days), not sure if they still do.

Camera Care:

I see a lot of cameras break down in class. A case is really important. A lot of cameras are breaking because grit and dirt get in though the opening around the lens, probably a couple every class every semester. Just throwing a camera in a book bag or purse without a case isn't a good idea. Also a neck or wrist strap is important. I see a lot of cameras get dropped. The smaller cameras are harder to hold, but everyone seems to want them so that is what they mostly make.

Sorry for the long ramble, the cliff notes version is to get a point and shoot that has a case and a strap and don't worry about the megapixels. If you really want a good camera that your child won't grow out of for years, get any digital SLR. I wouldn't go the digital SLR route unless the family would really use it now, the longer you wait the cheaper and better they get.

Bob Potasky