While you're out shopping for school supplies this year, you may want to think about outfitting the backpack with a kid-friendly digital camera. Whether your child is bound for preschool or for college, you can find an age- and budget-appropriate option on the market today. Here is a shortlist to help you get started, arranged by grade, all selling for under $110:
For more details, see the accompanying story: Back to School 2011: Top digital cameras for kids under $110.
Preschool: Gummy Bears Digital Camera
The Gummy Bears Digital Camera, isn't exactly high-end in build quality, but the rubbery gummy bear-ish material that encases the camera seems like it can take more of a licking (no pun intended) than the typical cheapy cameras. It sells at Kmart for just $25, so you shouldn't expect much more than a bare-bones camera, but given its low cost, I was happy to see both an optical viewfinder and a color LCD (albeit a tiny 1.1-inch one) as well as video-recording capabilities.
If you have a slightly bigger budget, my favorite preschooler's camera is still the Vtech Kidizoom Plus, which costs just over twice what the Gummy Bears camera does. But if you're looking for a lower-cost option, the Gummy Bears camera is a basic but solid choice.
Though it costs a bit more than your average kids camera, my favorite option for grade schoolers is actually the LeapPad Explorer, a new kids tablet device from LeapFrog. Of course, the LeapPad Explorer is so much more -- it's a gaming device, e-book reader, and educational tool too -- but for a list price of $99, it's also the best kids (ages 4 to 9) camera and camcorder for the money.
The LeapPad includes a built-in, rear-facing camera that lets you snap both stills and videos and takes advantage of the tablet's 5-inch touchscreen to frame and view photos. Though the actual camera viewing area is closer to 3.5-inches (after you take into account the onscreen shutter, self-timer, and back buttons, and memory usage gauge), that still blows away viewfinders on any other kids camera selling for under $100.
My pick for high-school kids is another inexpensive but fun camera, the DXG-018 3D Camera. Unlike most cameras offering 3D shooting these days (which take two shots in burst mode and the use in-camera image processing to create a 3D image),the DXG 3D camera actually includes two lenses and two sensors. Of course for $70, don't expect something on the level of the Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W3.
The DXG-018 3D camera comes bundled with three cardboard 3D viewers, and you can print images out on standard 4x6 photo paper and they'll be properly formatted for viewing, with dotted lines for you to cut along to trim the photo to fit the viewer.
Unless your student is studying photography and needs a digital SLR, a compact point-and-shoot is a great option for the social beings that incoming freshmen inevitably become. The Canon PowerShot A1200 is a solid budget offering that will only set you back $109, but delivers surprisingly good image quality and as well as an impressive range of features for such a low price.