The Best Digital SLR for Child Portraits

Page updated: June 2009

While the best digital SLR for child portraits need not be the fastest camera in the world, it still needs some zip.

Any parent with small children is well aware of the fact that kids rarely sit still to have their picture taken.

When they do sit still, they all assume cheesy smiles, because they know that you're about to snap their picture.

If you really want natural pictures of your kids, you have to be somewhat sneaky: take their picture when they're engaged in a favorite activity and aren't paying that much attention to you.

While this approach will help you catch more natural-looking expressions, it's not an easy task with a camera that's SLOW.

No need to worry about any more missed photo opportunities - the best digital SLR for child portraits will change all that.

What to Look For

A good camera for child portraits has rather unique feature requirements:

  • Fast, but not too fast - you don't need the a camera for action photographers, but you do need something responsive
  • Good in low light - with kids, you might often find yourself taking pictures indoors without a flash
  • Live view mode - when you can compose photos using the LCD, your face isn't blocked by the camera which lets you make funny faces
  • Small size and low weight - if you want a camera that can travel with you and your kids, you don't want something huge and heavy

So which digital SLR camera meets all of these child portrait needs?

The Best Choice

My current pick is the Nikon D5000.

Here's how the D5000 meets all of the needs that I outlined in the previous section:

Fast, but not too fastThe D5000 has an 11-point autofocus system that is able to lock onto fast-moving subjects. The continuous speed of 4 photos per second helps to capture brief moments in time.
Good in low lightTo take decent photos in low light without flash, you need to increase the ISO setting - this also increases visible speckling in the image (also called noise). Nikon does a superb job of minimizing noise even at high ISO settings.
Live view modeThe 2.7 inch LCD on the D5000 not only has a live view mode, it also flips out from the camera body and rotates a full 180° - this lets you take photos of your kids from their eye level without having to get down on the ground yourself.
Small size and low weightThe D5000 is one of the smallest and lightest Nikon digital SLRs available, measuring 5.0 x 4.1 x 3.1 inches (127 x 104 x 80 mm) and weighing in at a mere 19 oz (611 g). It's easy to hold in one hand and won't tire you out when you carry it around all day.

Then there's a bit of icing on the cake: in addition to capturing still images, the Nikon D5000 can also capture High Definition video. You can either transfer this video to your computer, or you can watch the videos on an HDTV using a special HDMI cable.

The ability to capture video in addition to stills is a real benefit for parents trying to capture special moments in their children's lives.

  • If the moment calls for a photo you can grab a few still frames
  • If only a moving image with sound will preserve a memory then you can quickly switch into video mode

Cost Analysis

More good news is for parents on a budget is that the D5000 is affordably priced - at least for a digital SLR with this many features.

You can either get the camera body on its own and purchase a lens separately, get it with an 18-55mm image stabilized lens or you can get the total package with a two-lens kit.

D5000 body only (no lens)$730 USD Amazon | Adorama | B&H Photo
D5000 with 18-55mm VR (vibration reduction) lens$850 USD Amazon | Adorama | B&H Photo
D5000 with 18-55mm VR lens and 55-200mm VR lens$1,100 USD Amazon | Adorama | B&H Photo

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