Looking for a teaching (digital) camera
January 15, 2014 10:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm getting ready to teach a photography class for "at-risk" high schoolers. We have 8-10 students, and a budget of $1000 for supplies. So I'm trying to decide what cameras to buy for this class (and future classes), and seeking a camera that's cheap enough that we can buy 8-10 of them, but has enough manual control that it's interesting to play with.

I plan to teach composition, lighting, and other things that apply as much to a phone camera as a DSLR. But I'd also like to teach them about f-stop, shutter speed, ISO, and manual focus. So I'd like a camera that can let them play with all that, and still be cheap enough that each student could have one. And before you ask: We don't have a darkroom, so 35mm cameras are out; it's gotta be digital.

So I'm looking for a digital camera that:
• Has a manual mode with control over aperture, shutter speed, and maybe ISO
• Offers manual focus
• Has a zoom
• Costs $100 or less

It would be super-awesome if it was a camera with swappable lenses, but I know that may be hoping for too much.

Does anyone have any recommendations? Or does such a camera just not exist yet?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard to Technology (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Are you open to older cameras, and how far backward are you willing to go? Your criteria don't specify any of the things that drive price up nowadays: large sensor, low-light ISO, any number of megapixels. And you don't need those features to teach what you're talking about. So if you're willing to go waaaay back in technology, there are candidates. For instance, I think the Canon Powershot A60 and A70 released in 2003 had manual controls. Those sell for about five bucks. I remember hearing good things about the A570 IS, which look to be selling for between $20 and $40.
posted by cribcage at 12:16 AM on January 16, 2014

Pardon the Canon bias in advance. KEH is your friend. Enter an upper price limit on the left and at that price range, you could pick up the Canon 10D's and Rebel Silvers at around $60-70 a pop. You'll somehow need to set aside some money for battery chargers and slow cards for these cameras.

I honestly don't recommend teaching kids how to use a camera with a zoom lens. Give them a fixed lens and teach them how to frame with their feet. I'll assume you have your reasons, but regardless I believe the cheapest lens Canon makes (and coincidentally the best lens to learn on) is the 50mm/1.8, which brand new is $125. So you may be able to find it used, or an older iteration of it, on eBay for like $40-50 a pop.

I assume these cameras have a cropped sensor, so a 35mm is actually a 50mm. Unfortunately I don't think Canon makes an affordable 35mm lens. You may have better luck with Nikon equivalents.

I would also urge you to please think outside the box and approach a local camera store for sponsorship. I'm sure if you asked, they would love to help you out. Here in Los Angeles the major stores have rental departments. Depending on your class schedule and assignments, they may have old cameras gathering dust that they could loan to you. The $1,000 could act as a deposit should anything get damaged.
posted by phaedon at 1:18 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't put as much concern on manual controls with a point and shoot. Unless its a dslr, skip teaching aperture entirely, and even focus may be tricky to explain except for something so blatant as macro-type distance vs infinity.

I've sat through digital camera classes meant for DSLR's and watched people with point and shoots struggle to see any difference with aperture, even though desiring to get the effect of having the background blurred. The small sensor + slow lenses just make them incapable for the most part. Even on a crop dslr+f/3.5-5.6, its a little tricky to demonstrate.

Used DSLR's would be a good choice, but while they get cheaper quickly, used lenses retain their value forever, unless they were the kit lens pack in.

Focus on the lighting, composition, etc, that is universally applicable. I'd probably start with this, instead of the traditional manual controls, which aren't as available or useful outside of a dslr.

ps. even though im a canon fan, they won't have anything dslr wise in your budget, even used. 50mm lenses would blow your budget before you even got to bodies. I don't know about other brands.
posted by TheAdamist at 3:25 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Used Canon G-series of the 6-7-8-9 vintage. Difficulty would be getting 10 identical ones, plus all the spares, cards. chargers. S90s or S95s, if you can find 'em at that price.

Manual control is overrated. TLOP first.
posted by scruss at 4:26 AM on January 16, 2014

Samsung WB150F may fill the bill - It's a generation behind, but it's only $115 new with warranty on Amazon, has decent specs and manual controls, and wi-fi, which will make getting images off the camera and onto a PC easier.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:11 AM on January 16, 2014

I would try and find a supply of older cannon's and teach them how to install (or just how to run) the Cannon Hackers Developer Kit or CHDK. I've installed it on mine and it allows for neat things like exposure bracketing for tweaking your own HDR images and complete control over aperature and all other ISO and I think the f settings as well. I am not that good with a camera and I've also barely scratched the surface of what is available in the CHDK. My camera (a Cannon simple point and shoot) works well on my tripod with exposure bracketing to take some really nice landscape HDR images without much fuss and as an added benefit it doesn't even change the camera at all. You have to turn it on in a special manner and essentially run the CHDK but once you have there are a lot more menus and options and it reverts back to a stock camera once you turn it off and back on again.
posted by koolkat at 5:48 AM on January 16, 2014

seconding CHDK. I think all the cameras I mentioned can use it.

someone asked: TLOP = take lots of pictures. With instant gratification and tiny per-picture costs, it's the quickest way to learn composition.
posted by scruss at 4:44 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

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