The best value in photography today?

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Fighting words. When your three year old decides she wants to be like daddy and bugs you pretty much every day for a couple of months for a ‘real camera, not a toy one’ – what do you do? It seems a little painful to sacrifice a new camera to what will almost certainly be death by something that makes perfect sense only in the mind of a toddler, but at the same time I’d really rather she not start helping herself to the Hasselblads. Cue every photographer’s favourite activity: gear shopping*. Initially, I considered something shockproof, waterproof and submersible; but the good ones weren’t cheap, the cheap ones were really quite painful to use, and the controls were oddly not very small-finger friendly – requiring a lot of force to press and cryptic icons to decipher. She recognises ‘on’ and ‘play’ icons thanks to iPads and youtube, and that’s about it. Perhaps the big silver button too, since that makes a noise to take a picture. By now you’ve probably seen the header image and figured out my solution…

*To be read with extra sarcasm.

I recall the heady early days of accessible ‘serious’ digital back in 2003/4: the budding enthusiast’s (which I certainly was at the time, just having seriously started shooting) choice was really just the Nikon D70 or the Canon 300D: the latter was cheaper, much plastickier and had a notoriously bad kit lens (even on a 6MP sensor). The former was more expensive, but had a better kit lens, better ergonomics and a more complete feature set. My neighbour and good friend had Nikon lenses, which seemed as good a reason as any to go with the D70 – and I’ve never really gotten out of Nikon since. I admit to always having some curiosity about the 300D at the time, but could never afford both. Fast forward fifteen years and half a world away to a little camera shop in Japan, and there was a pristine one sitting on the shelf. I turned away from the bargain bin filled with cameras of non-functioning or barely functioning or functioning but for no longer available strange batteries or film sizes, realising I probably couldn’t fool Sophie for very long with one of those things since there’d be no picture on the back.

But lo and behold, I’d nearly missed it since it was in a display case and not the bargain bin with the other digital point and shoots – the 300D. (There was also a D2x next to it for surprisingly little money, but that’s another story for another time). It worked and even came with a new battery; as far as I can tell, the camera had lived a pampered life and probably was disposed of either in an estate sale or because there’s so little space in Japanese homes that anything unused is usually sent to a new home (though who would buy a fifteen year old digital camera boggles the mind slightly, especially in a country that is built on a culture of chasing technology). I was told the batteries were still available though would cost more than the camera – all of a whopping JPY 4,800, or about $45. Including the all-plastic (reputedly including elements) kit lens. I’ve bought lens caps that cost more than that. Hell, you can’t even get meaningful accessories for that kind of money – a nice strap is probably more. And here we have a whole complete functioning digital SLR – if that’s not a commentary on the state of consumerism, I’m not sure what is – I’d hate to think what the previous owner got in trade in value.

The nice man at the shop looked at me a bit strangely when I asked to see it (I was carrying something…shall we say, much newer and more serious at the time) – but obligingly did so anyway. He apologised that there was no box, but everything else was included – including an unused strap, manual, and the original USB cable. For less than the price of a small serving of wagyu steak later, I (or rather my daughter) had a small piece of modern camera history.

Make no mistake: coming from the 100MP medium format beast I shoot in 2018, or the modern DSLR with everything, the 300D is so basic it isn’t funny – but oddly, charming for it. The screen is the size of a postage stamp and only useful for confirming a picture has been taken. Startup and shutdown, and write speeds, are all leisurely. The smallest CF card I could find spare was a 32GB Extreme Pro out of my CFV – probably itself worth more than the camera. It didn’t make a whit of difference to write speeds or buffer clearing, but the toddler wouldn’t care anyway. There are only a small handful of AF points, only the centre one of which is somewhat useful; the zoom is a 35-80 (not so useful 50-120 in APS-C land) – though again, I don’t think she cares. It doesn’t have auto ISO, and f5.6 is rather restrictive (let’s not even talk about the lack of IS) – but when you haven’t been told blurriness is bad, why does it matter?

Personally, I’m curious to see what she produces, and to see how a three year old sees (if the translation works at all). But before we even begin to talk about light, subject isolation, ideas, framing, balance…I’m still trying to figure out the best way for her tiny hands to hold without dropping it and hit the shutter at the same time. She is trying to figure out how to consistently ‘see mummy through the hole’…perhaps I should have sprung for something with live view, but then again – where’s the fun in that? MT


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  1. Enjoyed this tender story. I love the idea of using older equipment to learn on. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Love that picture!

  3. Krishna says:

    Such a cute little girl is she ❤️🙌🏻

  4. Love love love this. This is where I want to take my photography.

  5. A Journey Called Life says:

    Hope to see more people could appreciate photography and that photos can convey meaning.

  6. It’s a great opportunity for her to see the surroundings through camera!

  7. ElementalPhotographer says:

    I love the idea of children with a camera – in a vaguely related note, I was watching a documentary some time ago, alas I forget what it was called, but a group of westerners arrived at a remote tribe, and a child perhaps two or three years older than your daughter took one of the expedition member’s cameras and took some images which showed remarkable artistry by any measure

  8. David Bateman says:

    I always let my kids borrow my Olympus E3. Even not too long after I got it. That camera has live view and you can hammer in nails with it. What I learned is my kids like 360 flip screens, like on the E3 and tight macro. So for them a very close focusing lens like the cheap 35mm Macro, I put on it. The only thing missing is video. Now that my son is older, video seems to be needed.

  9. Interesting article Ming. This was my first digital SLR (bought in December 2003), after having owned a couple of Olympus compact cameras. Sold it a few months later and owned Nikon or Fuji S5 since then. Just looked at the pics taken with the Digital Rebel / 300D – they are actually pretty decent 🙂

  10. Michiel953 says:

    That’s just great! Reminds me instantly of my two almost five year old girls manhandling my FM2n… or their Kidizooms. One of them keeps taking pics, an dI keep forgetting to do something with them…

    • Me too – I keep meaning to look at the CF card, but I’m afraid I might be horrified. 😛

      • Michiel953 says:

        Haha! When my girls show me what photos they’ve taken with the Kidizooms (they just keep clicking away) I always find them very artistic. Grainy, blurry, unclear composition…. They make me envious!

  11. Our granddaughters (9, 9, 7, 7, and 4) mostly take pictures with their downstreamed phones and tablets. A couple of them did get compact P&S cameras at some point, but the phones have bigger and better screens to see the results on, and can easily share them with others via WiFi. Occasionally, I’ll get “can I use your camera Grandpa”, which is of course irresistible and never refused. Most of the recent pictures of me have been taken by photographers under 10. Some of them are quite good.

    • “Most of the recent pictures of me have been taken by photographers under 10. Some of them are quite good.”
      Same here. I have a theory about this: we relax a little bit more in these situations, and it shows…

  12. I find myself cringing and holding my breath whenever my 6 year old boy decides he wants to take a photo. He’s careful, but 6 year-old-boy-careful isn’t something I trust. Still, I let him do it, because I want to see him enjoy, and maybe even succeed at my favourite hobby. If he shows strong interest, I might have to revisit this article.

  13. My kids, 5 and 3 years old, use a Pentax K100d with a older film era 35-80 kit lens. I’ve tied a knot around the strap to make it short enough for them and told them to always put the strap around the neck before using it. Oddly they seem to listen. When small the weight of the camera means they sort of lean back to lift the lens having some trouble shooting anything above their heads. Every now and then I pull the photos of it. Lots of surprises on that sd card!

    Other than some very nice photographs of family members there has been a number of surprisingly good toy still life photos. Flicking through the closeups of plants, views of table legs and strange flash experiments suddenly a near perfect scene of a bunch of toys “eating” or a toy car parked on a pillow shot from a low angle. For me it’s amazing to see through their eyes, the thing is that they are *really* looking at things the way trained eyes do later in life.

    • “…the thing is that they are *really* looking at things the way trained eyes do later in life.”
      I wonder how much of this is external media influence – they are after all bombarded with images from the moment they can see…as are all of us.

  14. When my three year old granddaughter asked for a camera, got her a small Canon PowerShot SD880 IS Digital ELPH which has live view with a nice display and seemed easier for her to hold than a DSLR. ($24 used at Amazon, plus a $35 backup copy from KEH in case the first one got broken) Sometimes she asks to use her parents’ Nikon D7000 DSLR which is permitted with supervision.

  15. Martin Jones says:

    Being like Daddy is what it is all about. To her you are her hero. From now, and for the next few years, she will create deep memories. She will get older & mum/dad will be un-cool. She will ‘divorce’ you & it will be hard. When much older she will look back at these years & treasure the memories, but you will be old or dead by then. Feed her memories to treasure. This is life.

  16. Sean Tomlinson says:

    That’s lovely Ming, how fun. Our kids (my son) are almost the same age and he’s had great fun with my old Canon point and shoot, and he can even take photos with it, when his finger manages to find the button. I find his attempts to look at the viewfinder endlessly adorable – he merely closes one eye and looks really closely at the back screen as there is no viewfinder.

    However, he’s been having fun with a tiny toy GoPro sized camera, so my most recent camera purchase was – a GoPro clone with a waterproof housing and two buttons – one to turn on/off and one to take a photo or video or whatever. He’s so excited! It’s fun to see our little ones following us.

    • Actually, it’s precisely because they want to follow us “Daddy, I want a real camera, a big one like yours” that I even entertained this at all…mine says she looks through the finder, and her eye is in about the right place – but who knows what she’s really seeing?

  17. Ming, Enjoy her, they are only like this for a little while.She is very lucky to have you for a Papa…

    • The terrible threes surely can’t be the highlight of parenting…?

      • Toerag says:

        It’s the ‘terrible twos’ – the ‘terrible threes’ don’t exist because there’s a better/worse expression – your daughter is possibly now a ‘threenager’ like mine! 🙂 😦 Mine’s currently in the ‘extra contradicting herself’ stage – “Papa go away*” 20 seconds later “Papa help me*” 20 seconds later “no I want to do it myself*”……
        *Insert tears at this point

  18. I have three kids (now 8, 7 and 5 years old) and had similar thoghts. I went with the Pentax/Ricoh 5 GPS. All my children got it at an age of 4 and did astonishingly well. Allthough they did delve into the menues occassionally and got lost (Daddy, can you help me, the camera doesn’t work any more) on the most part they got allong. I first introduced picture taking, later video which was much prefered (even today when I show pictures of our holidays I frequently get asked: “Daddy, please, can you make the picture move?” The advantages of the GW 5 are it’s ruggedness and that they can take it into public swimming pool / to the sea shore and submerse it to any reasonable depth. I never have to keep an eye on the kids on outings, worrying that they might drop the camera.Weight is also a clear advantage: much more suitable for small children (and small hands). I clearly refuse to carry their camera: if they want to take it along, they must carry it (maybe more relevant if you have three kids).

    • I think that’s a sensible choice for an older kid – but then again I’m also sure if she’s unhappy, I’ll hear about it very soon (especially if she treats photography as she treats other things…)

  19. I think it’s a great choice, I had a 300D just 6 or 7 years back, I still have photos from it I’m happy with. At the time I knew I wanted a “better” camera than a P&S but was overwhelmed by the options, and a friend offered it to me as he’d just upgraded.
    I have since recommended to several people to take the same route – buy the cheapest possible DSLR you can find, and use it for a few months. Then either you’ll be happy with it, (in which case stop looking), or you’ll be unhappy but YOU’LL HAVE A SPECIFIC PAIN POINT TO ADDRESS – e.g. it’s too heavy, too big, no good in low light, too short a zoom, or whatever. Basically you then know where to go next, rather than pointless browsing endless gear reviews by people with different needs. (That last is probably not a problem for your daughter, admitedly, dpreview addiction doesn’t normally set in that early 🙂 )
    Anyway – hope she likes using the camera and you have some great family photos to treasure!

    • Agreed: a much cheaper learning curve than shooting for the abstract goal of ‘better’! Not to mention it’s a good creative exercise to see if you can work around the weaknesses…

  20. Frank Petronio says:

    Wouldn’t a medium quality pocket point and shoot Canon – Nikon – Sony from about 2012 be easier for her to handle, offer a larger screen, and probably more reliable focusing, etc.?

    • And a hugely confusing menu/ buttons…remember the user in this case has zero photographic background, let alone tech savvy: it has to be as basic as possible.

  21. abetancort says:

    Forget about tech, and make her a cookie box pinhole “camera”. You’ll do her a favor and that’s how you make a kid fall in love with the magic of photography.

    • Perhaps when she’s older. Until she wants to see the pictures, and realizes that it’s not so simple for a 3 year old to do a precise sequence of operations consistently and then have any patience to see the results…

  22. She’s gorgeous! Give her whatever she wants!

  23. Jonathan Hodder says:

    Next year’s upgrade: 5D Mark IV. Sorted.

  24. “…realising I probably couldn’t fool Sophie for very long…” Haha! 🙂 Yet another brilliant accomplished sophisticated father undone by a toddler! 🙂 She’s adorable, enjoy every minute of it! 🙂

  25. My wife upgraded her DSLR a couple years ago and her old Nikon D50 went to her teenage son, who makes lovely photographs with it. I’m not much of a DSLR shooter but there are times when one is the right tool for the job. I have a bunch of Pentax film gear that I adore, so I bought an old Pentax K10D DSLR body and a cheap zoom lens — and then just use my manual-focus K-mount lenses on it anyway. That old K10D has limitations that my wife’s new Nikon DSLR doesn’t have, but for 80% of the shooting I do it matters not at all, and for most of the rest of that remaining 20% I can work around it well enough.

  26. Having a daughter the same age this post hits home. There is something so tender and sweet about watching your kids grow and emulate your behavior. From being a baby that can not communicate (other than crying) to speaking and showing interest in your activities is a remarkable transformation. I hope you are enjoying this period as much as I am, and from the photo it appears you certainly are!

    • She’s not fully out of the crying / sudden outburst stage yet, and that’s certainly not fun. But I suppose it’s no worse than some adults I’ve worked with…

  27. ..she is lucky to have you as a father!

  28. Hi!
    Interesting. The 300D was my first real camera. I still have it. And my first baby should be here by the end of july! 😀 I’ll keep the 300D for the next 3 years.
    Seeing the evolution of perception of a little human being should be interesting too 🙂

  29. Bill Walter says:

    That’s a wonderful photo of your daughter with her new camera. At some point in the future it would be fun to see some of her more interesting shots. I hope she really gets into the fun of snapping photos. Who knows, maybe by the end of the year she’ll be complaining about the lack of dynamic range!

    • I think it wouldn’t be right of me to publish them without her consent – respect for intellectual property and artwork must start young, but it may be some time before she understands what that is exactly herself…

  30. I bought a Nikon AW1 for my little girl when she was also 3, now, 3 years later, the camera is still alive ! 🙂

  31. scott devitte says:


  32. Tim Shoebridge says:

    Lovely story and a beautiful portrait. I got my very first camera at the age of 12, a Zenit-E by mail-order from Russia. It was the cheapest SLR I could find and it was the size+weight of a brick but it was my most treasured possession and went with me everywhere. I am eternally grateful to my parents for helping me to buy it and for encouraging my early photographic interests 🙂

  33. Hmmm, maybe I should give the 30D to my kid…

  34. “Daddy, can I use the Hasselblad?” “No, the Hasselblad weighs more than you do” 🙂

    As an amusing thought experiment : fast forward to 15 or so years from now and the young lady announces that she wants to be a photographer like papa. Assuming this is not a “phase” and you think she means it, what do you say?

    • She didn’t ask again after I let her try to lift it!

      I say do it if she’s confident. Who knows what the industry will look like then? Even in the last five years changes have been significant…

  35. Harris U. says:

    Wow! She’s grown so much! Brilliant that you’re supporting her creative side. Seen as a toy or not, it’s a start. You never know what it turns into. 🙂 Nice one!

  36. This is something I’ll have to think about in a couple of years for my (currently only 6 months old) daughter. I’d considered the ‘tough’-style cameras too, but you saying the buttons are not very good for toddler fingers is not something I’d even considered! Perhaps, as Terry said above, an old smartphone might be a good choice at first, at least until her hands are big enough to hold a real camera.

    Also perhaps some of the slightly later Canon models might be worth looking at – I was working in a camera store at the time and I remember they had very small grips. The 300D’s successor the 350D is apparently quite a bit smaller, for example.

    • The problem with phones is they have internet access, as if your daughter is anything like mine…she has no discipline. It won’t be used as intended. As for later models: also think about fragility because kids aren’t exactly careful nor do they have any concept of value…

  37. Your daughter is a little doll, Ming!
    Did you consider something like a Fuji Instax for her? Kids seem to love the experience

  38. I gave my granddaughter my old iPhone 5s. Small and easy for her to hold and use. She rocks it.

  39. Kristian Wannebo says:


    And she looks like she does seem to know what she is doing, or what she wants to do!
    ( It *would* be nice to see – later – what she does with it – provided the haptics don’t put her off.)

    I hope she also tries to see daddy through the whole…

  40. Did you think about a used GR for her? My kids were 5 when I got them the Olympus e-m10 with pancake zoom.

  41. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I am tempted to tease you Ming, but I shan’t – instead I will congratulate you on your choice – it seems perfect, to me.

    Here’s an extract from a contemorary (2003) review of it – released all over as the “Digital Rebel”:
    “This camera is probably the most fundamentally important step for digital SLR’s since the introduction of the Nikon D1. It will place digital SLR’s into the hands of consumers (with a moderate budget)”.

    I presume your three-year old’s budget is “moderate”?

    My wife shoots with an aging Olympus “miu”720, and under most conditions it takes remarkably good shots. My only complaint (as the mug who does all the post processing) is that sensors from that era don’t capture the same colour gamut as more modern ones, so more work is necessary before the final image is suitable for viewing.

    Your choice seems much more suitable, because unlike the “miu”, it actuall looks like a camera.

    I was ony thinking yesterday that camera manufacturers probably have to face the fact that the vast bulk of their former market for compact cameras is now repalced by smartphones. People have their phones with them – and they ARE fitted out for snap shooters – so they’re going to take the photo, and not bother about going home for the compact camera, or taking it with them in addition to the smart phone. And both rely on the digital screen as a viewfinder, so complete amateurs won’t even think there are any real differences between the two.

    • Oddly we still managed to make decent images with those things back then…can’t help but wonder if we are getting lazy and spoiled! 🙂


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