Buying a camera for children is just as complicated as choosing one when you're an adult! So much depends on the child's age, whether you want them to have a toy or an educational device they can learn from, and how much you want to invest in a camera that might get dropped in the sea, squashed into an unfinished dinner or spend its life at the bottom of a school bag.

This is why we've split our best cameras for children into age-based sections, because each age range has very different needs. Tots and toddlers just want to have a bit of fun with a brightly-colored plaything, school-age kids will enjoy the fun factor of instant cameras, while older kids and teens will be a bit more serious about taking pictures and having a camera that isn't a style disaster. Older students are another case entirely, as here a camera is a learning tool that could be a springboard to a creative career.

Most of the cameras on our list are mainstream cameras that we think are particularly suitable for children. Some of the best instant cameras have the fun factor to keep kids occupied, the best point and shoot cameras are affordable to buy, but have a splash of style to suit teenage tastes, while the best underwater and waterproof cameras are tough enough to survive even a family day out at the beach. Some of the best cameras for beginners, meanwhile, will suit older students studying photography as part of their course.

And although we haven't included them in this list, you might want to consider an action cam. The best action cams combine compactness, simplicity and ruggedness, and could be the ideal companion on a school trip or adventure activity.

You're not likely to find a camera that ticks all four boxes, but it's good to know the key features to look for. With these in mind, here's our suggestions for the best cameras for kids:

We've included just one camera in this section because although there are a lot of cameras for very young children on the market, they are not very sophisticated and could be outgrown very quickly.

Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3in | Megapixels: 0.3MP | Lens: Not specified | LCD: 1.8in | Max video resolution: 160x120 pixels | User level: Age 3+

VTech makes a range of brightly coloured, big-buttoned, entry-level tech gadgets for kids, and this is its current digital camera offering. Build quality is great, with its oversized rubbery build absorbing the shock of occasional drops, with big meaty grips on either side of the recessed lens for small hands to get enough purchase. While the camera and its controls may be relatively big for the average intended user, the specs aren't anything to get a photo enthusiast hot under the collar, with 640x480 (VGA)-quality stills and 160x120 video. On the back is a 1.8in LCD for composing and reviewing shots, through which you can also play five built-in games, so you've got a backup if the novelty of taking pictures wears off.

Instant cameras have made a comeback! They're perfect for kids, even young ones,  because they're big, chunky and simple to use. And for that endless succession of kids' parties that seems to last for about a decade, they offer some instant picture swapping fun to keep the party vibe going. They also mean you don't have to spend half a day printing photos on your inkjet printer – the camera does all the work.

Type: Instant camera | Sensor: 1/4in | Megapixels: 3.7MP | Lens: Fixed 28mm f/2.4 | LCD: 3in, 460,000 dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Flash: Built in | User level: From kids to adults

Aside from the new square-format film pack, the most notable feature of the Fujifilm Instax Square SQ10 is the ability to review and edit your shots via a small LCD display on the camera’s back. Previously Instax owners would have to point, shoot and hope that the lighting was right and the subject framed accordingly – now, your children can store up to 50 images in the camera’s internal memory or add a microSD card to extend storage space. You get to adjust and edit images in-camera and choose which ones to print, which could save you a bundle on film packs. If your family simply wants instant prints, however, Fujifilm’s cheaper Instax Wide, Mini and Mini 90 Neo Classic may do just as good a job.

Type: Instant camera | Lens: 60mm f/12.7 | Viewfinder: Optical | Focus modes: Macro, Normal and Landscape | Flash: Built in | Self timer: Yes | User level: From kids to adults

Another firm favourite, and a cost-effective way to get the family into instant photography via this strictly analogue device, which is a little more advanced than Fujifilm’s Instax Mini 9, but not quite as sophisticated as the same manufacturer’s Instax Square SQ10 (above). Aside from the fact that little ones will need to be supervised so that their fingers don’t obscure the built-in flash when taking shots vertically, it's an ideal option for kids because just about everything is fully automatic, including the essentials of focusing, exposure and flash. There's even a mirror on the front to help your kids get their selfie face on. For kids parties and more, this could prove a winner – as long as the little ones don’t go too mad with the packs of instant film, that is.

Type: Instant camera | Lens: 106mm | Viewfinder: Optical | Focus modes: Macro, Normal and Landscape | Flash: Built in | Self timer: Yes | User level: From kids to adults

Most of us adults can recall the ubiquity of the Polaroid brand in our own childhoods. So, for those former kids, who are now big kids, the OneStep 2 should be an easy sell. With the famous brand now under the ownership of the group of instant film enthusiasts who stepped in to continue producing Polaroid film once the brand collapsed (aka The Impossible Project), the OneStep 2 embraces a retro design inspired by the original OneStep from the 1970s, and it's just as easy to use too. Younger kids won't get it, but older teens will appreciated the retro vibe. Producing large, square-format instant prints (using Polaroid I-Type film), it does mean you’ll be paying quite a bit more per print compared to its Instax rivals, but if you’re happy to pay for that luxury and keep a tight set of reins on more trigger-happy children, then both you and they will love the OneStep 2.

Whether you're looking for a gift for a hard-to-please teen or a camera simple enough for the whole family to use, a low-cost point and shoot camera fits the bill perfectly. Or, if you think you need something tougher, many underwater compact cameras are also shockproof and freezeproof, which covers three household hazards at least.

Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3in | Megapixels: 20MP | Lens: 28-224mm f/2.43.2-6.9 | LCD: 2.7in, 230,000 dots | Video: 1280x720 | User level: Beginner

If you're after a starter camera for your kids that won't cost a fortune, Canon's long-established IXUS range is a sensible place to look. The IXUS 185 is a beginner's model that delivers 20MP via its 1/2.3in sensor. But the 8x optical zoom should offer enough for young photographers who want to shoot a range a subjects. Light sensitivity is limited to ISO 100-ISO 1600 (with auto mode delivering max of ISO 800), but at this price, it's hard to pick faults and it'll likely prove sufficient as a first 'proper' camera for many young snappers. For more ambitious youngsters, the menu options yield some digital filters they'll enjoy experimenting with. And while there's no full HD video recording, the 720p capture is perfectly reasonable for the price.  It's available in black, red or silver, and - like any of these cameras for kids - retailers that offer a long guarantee and accidental damage options are to be recommended.

Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3in | Megapixels: 18.2 | Lens: 25-250mm f/3.3-5.9 | LCD: 2.7in, 460k dots | Max video resolution: 1920x1080 | User level: From kids to adults

If Canon's IXUS 185 doesn't quite do it in the specs department, then Sony's Cybershot WX220 is a slightly better appointed choice - albeit at around double the price. The main advantage Sony's camera offers in comparison to Canon's is the improved zoom (10x optical), with a focal range spanning 25-250mm and WiFi. Picture quality is impressive though, with good detail and bright, dynamic images, and youngsters will enjoy the 1080p video capture. It's fairly no frills, but a good-looking, small and light choice for budding photographers. 

Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3in | Megapixels: 16.4MP | Lens: 28-140mm f/3.9-4.9 | LCD: 3in, 920,000 dots | Max video resolution: 1920x1080 | User level: From kids to adults

It may not have the broad set of specs offered by several of its rugged rivals, but younger members of the family are hardly going to care as long as it is simple to use (it is) and does the job (it does). There are a range of fun filters included to keep the family happy and Wi-Fi connectivity for the transfer of images too, the latter an important, but perhaps overlooked, feature when most kids can't wait to share their adventures with their friends. You don't get some of the more advanced features to be found on competitors’ models, such as on-board GPS, although this Fujifilm camera is more reasonably priced than most. Incidentally those considering this model may also want to take a look at the newly announced Fujifilm XP140.

Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3in | Megapixels: 12MP | Lens: 25-100mm f/2.0-4.9 | LCD: 3in, 460,000 dots | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: From kids to adults

In its bright red finish, the TG-5 looks brilliant even when it's just sat on your beach towel, and its high-tech look is sure to be a hit with the kids. You don’t need to fret about them wrecking it either, as build quality is exceptional enough to inspire confidence. The camera has a fairly chunky construction, but still manages to be ergonomically designed, which, together with the well-placed controls, makes it simple to use in a variety of shooting scenarios and weather conditions. This little pocket-sized marvel can be dropped from a height of 2.1m and still work perfectly, and the latest-generation TruePic VIII processor and the ability to shoot 4K video clips at 30fps the icing on the cake for the next generation of vloggers. 

If your kids have reached the age where photography has become part of their coursework, you need a more serious camera. Even here, though, you won't want to spend a fortune on a camera that might get forgotten about in a year, or crushed under a pile of rucksacks in the back of the school bus. For this section, we've picked two DSLRs, a mirrorless camera and wildcard!

Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens: via Canon EF mount | LCD: 3in touchscreen, vari-angle 1.04m dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1920x1080 | User level: Teenager to adult

OK, so you may not initially think of a DSLR when considering a camera for the kids, but this option from Canon certainly ticks three key boxes in being small, light and easy to use for school age children and students. There is a newer EOS Rebel SL3/EOS 250D with better autofocus and 4K video, but this has brought down the price of the Rebel SL2/EOS 200D and made it even more of a bargain student camera. It also features some grown-up specs, namely 24.2MP sensor and a 3in vari-angle touch screen. Canon sees this as a way to tempt smartphone photographers to step up to their first proper camera. Its proportions make it perfect for smaller hands while the menus are nice and clear. The picture quality is very good too, with accurate white balance and well-saturated colours. It's not the cheapest Canon DSLR but it's our favourite for size, features and long-term usefulness.

Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon F (DX) | Screen: 3in, 921,000 dots | Max burst speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Beginner

The Nikon D3500 has a brilliant ‘Guide’ shooting mode that acts as a fully interactive tutorial on photography, delivered via the rear LCD screen. It explains how, when and why to use different camera settings for best effect, simply and efficiently. But D3500 can also be used in fully manual mode, so it's ideal for photography students learning how camera settings work and why. It's not as sophisticated as the Canon EOS Rebel SL2 / EOS 200D, but it's not as expensive, either, and there is a huge range of Nikon lenses you can use with it. The overall image quality and performance is very good, and the 5fps burst rate is sporty for an entry-level DSLR. If you like the look of it, we advise getting this camera bundled with the Nikon AF-P DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens – other kit lenses are available which might bring down the price, but this is the best one to go for

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16.1MP | Screen: 3.0-inch 1,040k tilting touchscreen | Viewfinder: None | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Continuous shooting speed: 8.6fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner/intermediate

This is Olympus's latest PEN 'fashion' camera, and comes with a 180-degree selfie/vlogging screen and 4K video. It doesn't have all the features and traditional styling of a DSLR – it doesn't even have a viewfinder – but not every student needs to learn old-school photography techniques. Instead, the Olympus E-PL9 is aimed at students of culture and fashion, bloggers and vloggers. The diminutive build is ideally suited to carrying in a bag or jacket pocket, especially when the body is paired with the remarkably small Olympus 14-42mm EZ ‘pancake’ kit lens. Its touch-control is ideal for anyone upgrading from a smartphone and its chic looks and excellent in-built Art Filters make it stand out from regular cameras.

Type: 35mm SLR | Lens: 50mm f/10 | Viewfinder: Twin-lens reflex viewfinder | Focus modes: Zone focusing | Flash: Optional (sold separately) | Self timer: No | User level: Teenagers and up

For those who are looking for a little more of a project, it’s worth looking at the Lomography Konstruktor F, a fun build-it-yourself kit that gives you all the parts you need to assemble a fully functional 35mm SLR film camera in a matter of hours. There’s no need for glue or anything else – like an Ikea table, everything’s in the box, and there are a few extra screws for the inevitable moment one disappears through a gap in the floorboards. Be aware, though – this is not a Meccano kit. It’s pretty complicated and will take a good long time, and we wouldn’t recommend it as a project for kids younger than mid-teens. The Konstruktor F also comes with stickers, allowing it to be customised as the user pleases, and once it’s ready it functions by and large pretty well – though the controls are a little fiddly and the top-placed viewfinder might give you a crick in the neck. The finished SLR is plasticky, crude and basic by any standards, but it's an excellent grounding in how film cameras actually work.

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