We adapted the tests we perform on regular cameras to evaluate the kid cams for image quality, how much of a delay you experience when you press the shutter, and battery life.
Except for the VTech Kidizoom, all the kid cameras produced poor pictures overall compared with the Kodak C123 (both are available to subscribers), the adult camera (12-megapixel point-and-shoot) we used as our reference, which produced good quality images overall. The VTech Kidizoom produced fair images overall—making it the best kid camera for image quality.
But the images from kid cameras are best suited to viewing on a computer or printing no larger than 4x6s. When we printed 8x10s from each camera, only the Crayola 2.1 MP Digital Camera With Preview Screen produced prints with good details. Images from the Disney Pix Jr. and Lego Digital Camera models had fair detail and those from the Fisher-Price Kid-Tough Digital Camera (all are available to subscribers) and both VTech models were judged poor for detail.
The Disney, Fisher-Price, and VTech models all had short shutter-delay times when shooting a picture. The Crayola and Lego models had slightly longer delays, but not remarkably so. And all of the models we tested had fine battery life, on a par with the compact and subcompact digital cameras in our Ratings (available to subscribers). One note: Even older kids may need help with battery changes because the battery compartment on all the kid cameras is secured by screws.
The kids' informal evaluations were recorded on questionnaires they completed after trying out each camera at our Yonkers, N.Y., test center on Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. In general, the kids found all the cameras relatively easy to use, though they found the LEGO and Fisher-Price cameras somewhat easier to use than the others. Also, the kids evaluated the Disney and Fisher-Price cameras in blue and pink versions. The boys tended to like the blue version more, and have higher opinions of its appearance, while the girls mostly had similar opinions for both versions.
None of the tested kid cameras produced images that, in our lab tests, compared in quality to that of a regular (adult) digital camera or even to what we see in other test programs from the newest cell-phone cameras. The kid cameras performed similarly to each other in image quality; overall, they were comparable to the first-generation, low-megapixel-count cell-phone cameras of years ago. So while you might be able to make a passable 4x6 from some shots, pass on making poster-sized images of junior's best shots.
But for a 3-to-7-year-old child who wants to play at taking pictures and at seeing shots on a small LCD screen or computer, image quality isn't a big priority. We think you can safely buy a first camera for your kid by starting with our standout model for younger users, and then consider the others we tested as needed, depending on how well they meet your kid's needs and preferences.
For older children, we also recommend starting with our standout kid-camera selection for 7-year olds and older. But depending on your kid's age and inclinations, you might also consider a low-priced regular camera.
We've made the Kodak we tested an additional standout selection for such shutterbugs, because it's a competent camera with some useful kid-friendly extras such as waterproofing (and some, but not all kids found it fairly easy to use). But you could also consider other competent cameras in our Ratings (available to subscribers) that are widely available for no more than about $80, including the Kodak EasyShare C142.
A "real" camera is most likely to be a good choice, we think, if the recipient is at least 9 years old, interested in and careful with gadgets, and intrigued enough with photography to spend some time learning to use the camera. Older, tech-savvy kids should even be able, with some initial coaching, to get images off the camera.
Because we haven't formally assigned an overall score to these cameras, we don't have formal Recommendations. But we have identified several standout choices and offered details on all the cameras tested, including specs and age recommendations from their manufacturers.