Why a Terrible Camera Can Be the Best Gift for Your Child
My four-year-old boy broke his new Nikon COOLPIX S30 family camera last month after dropping it on our driveway. He was running with great enthusiasm and holding it with one hand to take a picture of the full moon. But he stumbled and his prize possession fell…
Though this ‘tough’ camera is built to handle a reasonable fall and even survive comfortably underwater, its glass lens housing shattered on impact. Yes, the interior lens was still intact, but there were shards of glass everywhere.
As ‘Junior’ and I stood over his fallen tech, I declared it a goner.
(No, I hadn’t bought insurance on the camera, and the cost to repair it would likely be more than buying another one.)
A horrible moan befitting a small Klingon clan permeated our neighborhood, and then he shuffled upstairs.
It was a terrible loss. My son cried himself to sleep that night…
He hadn’t had his Nikon for six months but had quickly become quite a budding junior photographer with it. I bought him this particular camera for his birthday, because even though it was an older model at the time,
(The S32 was already out.)
…The S30 was priced on Amazon to move…$70!
Plus, this Nikon was the real deal.
(not some crummy toy camera)
I figured for twenty bucks more, it was worth getting him a decent piece of adult tech…
The Many Downsides to the Nikon COOLPIX S30
As good a decision as I thought I was making, I’ve got to say that the S30 is quite simply the worst camera I’ve ever purchased:
- The pictures were barely average.
- There was a dead pixel in the middle of the sensor.
(So you always see a little speck in the same location of most of the pictures.)
- The audio from its recorded videos sounds like an empty Campbell’s Soup can and string was used instead of an onboard microphone.
- And the camera’s functionality assumed you had the smarts of a four year old. (It was really clunky.)
But my son figured out how to use it in about 10 minutes.
And he was taking pretty cool pictures up until the unfortunate ‘moon incident.’
(He actually started taking snapshots when he was two years old using my old iPhone…)
You might be asking right about now what I was expecting out of a $70 camera when the other point and shoot cameras I own cost at least twice as much.
The irony is even though it was a terrible camera… it was perfect for my son.
He just loved it.
(And its capabilities were light years ahead of any toy camera out there.)
A Life-Changing Moment
First of all, it wasn’t an obvious decision to simply reload and hand over another adult camera for my son to use. You’ve got to wonder how long a life span any camera will have in an eager child’s little hands…
But I thought back to one of my own childhood stories, when I was a few years older than my son. I desperately wanted an audio cassette recorder, and my parents didn’t think I would remain interested in this adult tech beyond a few days. I pleaded for weeks, and eventually my mother softened.
In hindsight, it was the most important gift I ever received as a child. If, for some reason, you wanted to change the path of my entire life, all you’d have to do is jump into your time machine, go to February 1970, and make sure I never received that Sound Design cassette recorder.
My career would be very different today…
(I might be the dentist my mother always wanted.)
So I decided to get my little guy another camera for the holidays.
Where’s the Choice?
Today’s market for a cheap, durable camera is well… almost non-existent.
In the sub $100 range, I think Nikon still is it with the COOLPIX S32.
(The S30 has fallen out of the ‘new camera’ sales cycle, and the S31 is only ten bucks less on Nikon’s website.)
Panasonic also has its Lumix DMC TS25,
which you can get on Amazon for $125.
Even though it looks to be a better camera than the S32, spec wise, it’s got really small buttons and a different interface, which might not be as child-friendly.
It wasn’t a slam-dunk as the better choice, and it also broke my $100 rule.
So ultimately, I sided with the devil I knew vs. the devil I didn’t.
And the S32 is two generations better than the S30. That should count for something.
But the bottom line is there’s really nothing else I’ve found that’s supposed to take a licking and keep on ticking that breaks the $100 price point…
Grandson of the COOLPIX S30… the S32!
So I bought the Nikon COOLPIX S32 at Target on Black Friday for $99.99.
(on sale from $129.95)
It should work well enough; my son will know how to use the S32, and it’s even the same color as his first one.
He will be exceptionally happy.
The S32 might even prove itself to be a big improvement over its not-so-distant ancestor. The jury is still out for me, though according to Snapsort.com, the S32 has clear improvements.
Competition for the future COOLPIX S33?
But even if the S32 performs at a higher level, there shouldn’t be only one sub-$100 camera out there in this market segment for kids and families to use…
Where are the rest of the choices?
What ever happened to good old fashioned capitalistic competition?!
(Maybe the profit margin in this camera category is too small….)
And no, I’m not going to follow the rest of the herd and buy my lad a toy camera. I don’t think anybody who’s bought one has ever been a happy customer.
(I’ve done the research.)
So if you’re a camera manufacturer in this already over-saturated consumer market, here’s a product pitch for you in this unexplored niche:
Junior will be turning five in half a year. So will 3,999,385 other four year olds. Please come up with a decent, tough camera at the right price that they all can use.
Because I’ll probably be needing to secure another one for my son’s next birthday!
Please hurry it up…
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