Cameras at Camp: What to send?

Sending a camera with your camper can be a great way for them to capture camp memories.

As you are hopefully aware of by now, camp has a strict “No electronics” policy, with the one exception being stand-alone digital cameras. (This means that any device that can run applications, or has any functionality past that of a camera is not allowed).
In past years, I have seen parents send their campers with disposable film cameras, and while I love a good analog format as much as the next guy, the excitement of camp usually means that all 24 (or 36) shots are taken within the first few hours of arriving at camp, and if I had to guess, 90% of those shots are out of focus and / or too dark.

Now, I completely understand that you aren’t going to want to send your DSLR to camp, or even your nice point-and-shoot, but there is another option!
If you go to the Goodwill on any given day, I guarantee you will find a digital camera for about $5-10, that uses AA batteries, and an SD card to store photos on. They may not have 18 gigapixel resolution, or HDR functionality, but they are going to be more than adequate for capturing memories of camp. Additionally, if they get lost or broken, you aren’t going to be out much money.

When looking for a used camera at Goodwill (or any other thrift shop), I recommend the following:

  1. Bring some AA batteries, and an SD card with you when you shop. That way, you will be able to test the cameras out in-store. Most of the time, the storage media has been removed from the camera by the time it hits the shelf, and any batteries are likely dead so bringing your own SD card will ensure you can fully test the camera.
  2. Sunday mornings, around opening time seem to be a sweet-spot for finding the best electronics. Many folks are in church, or still sleeping, and the stores restock overnight so you’ll have a better chance at getting something good.
  3. Stay away from Sony. Most Sony cameras you will find at Goodwill (or other thrift stores) use memory-stick flash memory, and / or proprietary batteries. If the proprietary battery is even still with the camera, odds are it won’t charge, and the memory-stick format is pretty defunct now. Compact Flash is still somewhat common due to their use in a lot of industrial equipment, so a CF camera might still be a good choice. (CF Readers are also easy to come by). The only real downside to CF is that there are TONS of tiny pins on the camera side, and if your camper is a fidgeter, they might pop the card in and out a bunch, damaging the pins.
  4. Keep it simple! You may be swayed by a camera with a nice optical zoom, but these tend to drain batteries faster, and depending on the design, can easily get jammed up with sand and dirt; both of which we have in great quantity at camp.
  5. Make sure the camera has external media support, and / or uses a standard data transfer cable. Some digital cameras I have seen are super basic VGA affairs that only use internal memory. This might be ideal for some of our younger campers, since the camera is going to be much MUCH simpler to use, but make sure that you’ll be able to plug it in to get the photos off of the camera!
  6. Before sending your camper and camera to camp, organize a photography treasure hunt! Hand your future camper a list of items to take photos of, and let them go for it! First off, it’s a fun activity, and second, it will allow them the chance to get familiar with the camera’s operation, so the chances of getting usable photos back from camp is greatly improved.
  7. Pack extra batteries for them! We won’t have the ability to give out or charge batteries, and power outlets for chargers are an extremely rare commodity. Cameras are pretty high-drain devices, so if you can convince your camper to bring the spent batteries home, they will still serve you for months (or years) in wall clocks or remote controls. Amazon brand batteries are a great value, Costco brand batteries are good as well, and even dollar-store alkaline batteries stand up really well. (Don’t buy “heavy duty” batteries though, those use carbon-zinc chemistry, and are very low capacity compared to “alkaline” batteries.)

If you have any thoughts about the ideal camera to bring, or you have any other hints, tips, or tricks for camp, please comment below, and share them with the other parents!

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