Suggestions for Reasonably-Priced Teaching Cameras Needed
April 4, 2021 4:32 PM   Subscribe

I am excited to teach some teens how to make beautiful photographs, but I need the gear to get them started. I'm looking for point-and-shoot cameras that offer "real" controls and quality images, at a price that allows the purchase of multiple units.

I have an opportunity to design and lead a workshop/dedicated session at a summer camp, teaching some teens photography. We would be exploring the artistry of the medium, of course, but a fundamental first step toward that is grasping the mechanics. To do this, I believe I need cameras that:

- Allow "manual" control of foundational systems (shutter speed, ISO, aperture, and so forth)
- Have sensors large enough to make serious (RAW) images
- Without additional complications, operating expenses, or potential failure points (i.e. interchangeable lens systems are out)
- Can be purchased new or used in fairly large amounts, without too much outlay (<$300)

I know that many recent phones have options to emulate manual controls. But I don't want to simply tell the kids to bring their random phones. They'll all function differently, and I'm worried that some kids may be disadvantaged (or embarrassed) by what they are able to bring. I basically want roughly 6 identical point-and-shoot cameras that I can familiarize myself with in advance, and help them navigate as they share them as a group.

Ideally, I would just get a bunch of used first-version Sony rx100s -- I already know them and they take fantastic photos -- but I'm curious if anyone has other recommendations?
posted by credible hulk to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Buy six iPhone SEs and run Halide. Or six Pixel 4as. That's weird and a little over your budget, but hear me out.

The RX100 is probably your best bet as far as cameras go. The original Canon G1X might be an option that keeps you under budget with a 1 inch sensor; the G7X might stretch it; the S120 is cheaper but with a smaller sensor. Maybe a Lumix. But if you're buying used cameras from in the early 2010s you'll need spares because you don't know what they've been through over the past decade. If there's a dud -- especially a dud that has sporadic problems you can't easily test out -- then it's going to turn their photography workshop into a camera troubleshooting and repair class for you.

If you get a bunch of new phones then you have consistency and a warranty and you can trade them in very easily afterwards.

(If you wanted to be really weird, you could potentially get six new-in-box Lumia 950s for $100ish each. Great pictures, can generate 16MP DNGs, and the base camera app gives you manual focus, ISO and shutter speed. But that's way too weird.)

It's your class and your money, but given the challenges of hitting that budget and meeting your criteria while guaranteeing consistency, I just wonder whether you'd be better off leaning on the fundamentals of light and composition, so your students can go home and don't feel like they're constrained by hardware. I learned photography with a fixed-focus Instamatic and the Kodak guide to taking good pictures, which was written to help people make the most out of cheap cameras. (Here's the modern version, saying the same things it has said for decades.) Upgrading to a lump o'metal Zenit SLR was a revelation, but the Instamatic taught me the fundamental fundamentals.
posted by holgate at 9:27 PM on April 4

I mean, maybe bring in an old EOS Rebel with a 50mm as a treat. Maybe some of your students can go home and get an old entry-level DSLR from Craigslist or eBay and it'll be in good condition and they'll adore it and it'll make them photographers for life. But there isn't a digital equivalent of a Pentax K-1000 (US) or a Praktica MTL (UK), the affordable workhorses of school photography / darkroom classes with fully manual shutter speed / aperture and metering and a decent 50mm lens. I wish there were.
posted by holgate at 10:44 PM on April 4

You may be able to find used Pentax K50 kits for right about 300 (body only 200) on eBay. I'm just not sure if you can find 6 of them. Two or three, probably.
posted by kschang at 1:14 AM on April 5 [1 favorite]

My recommendation would be to check out the Panasonic's high-end LX series of point and shoot cameras, anything from the Panasonic DMC LX-3 (2008) and newer. They check all of the boxes, have plenty of manual controls and the ability to shoot fully manual and are surprisingly fun to shoot with, and they are pretty affordable on eBay.

Additionally many of them have an awesome ability to change aspect ratio on the fly (physical controls for 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9 ratios), without simply cropping the image. Their larger than average sensor combined with fast built in lens allows for pretty decent exploration of bokeh and shallow depth of field and they shoot surprisingly good raw - I was shocked the other day when I revisited some old raw and jpeg photos I'd taken with my LX-3, how well they stand up today to my newer full-frame cameras.

Additional affordable and newer models include the LX-5 and the LX-7. They eventually switched to using a Micro Four-Thirds sensor, and that series is even better (but probably getting close to or above your budget limitations). Check out the LX-100 which has since been re-iterated a few times as well...
posted by rambling wanderlust at 5:53 AM on April 5 [1 favorite]

Actually good point about the LX-3 to LX-7 range - I've owned both - and they produced shockingly good images for their size and cost at the time.

This astrophotography shot I took on the LX7 for example is beyond ridiculous for what a tiny compact could produce way back in 2012. Yes I needed the full manual controls for this (RAW, manual focus to infinity, timer shot to avoid vibration from the trigger, fixed exposure time of 15 seconds).
posted by xdvesper at 9:26 PM on April 5 [1 favorite]

Those LXes are great and I love them a lot, but could you guarantee that six of them -- probably from six different sellers -- would perform more or less the same in specific situations after X years? Would you be willing to test them out to confirm it? I'd comfortably buy one for myself, but not for a class.
posted by holgate at 9:27 PM on April 6

Holgate, that is true of any used camera... If it were me I’d try to get them from KEH, Adorama or B&H, or other reputable used stores first.

I’m sure that credible hulk will have to vet each camera no matter the brand or style, whether new or used. Only a fool would buy equipment and not be bothered to make sure it works before handing it out for a class.

The good thing is they can be cheap enough to have a spare or two in case of an accident or sudden failure.
posted by rambling wanderlust at 4:36 AM on April 7

Response by poster: Some great advice here so far, folks. Much appreciated! I will now be considering the reliability of whichever devices we go with more keenly. I'll also be weighing a shift toward the expressiveness side of the concepts equation; I do still want to provide the mechanics toolset, at least in brief, but it's definitely less important to me than the kids making pictures that make them happy.

As for actual hardware recommendations, I'll be checking out the LX line for sure. They even look "like cameras"!

(Also, a general note to please not underestimate my capacity for foolishness. I am, after all, willingly signing up to lead an immersive class for a bunch of 14-18 year-olds.)
posted by credible hulk at 6:24 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]

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