You know you have a good product on your hands when the next morning, my kids jump out of bed and ask to play with it before they even get dressed. Well, that is exactly what I saw with the Crayola Digital Camera from Sakar.
My boys (6 and 3) love to imitate what they see me doing. And one thing I do a lot around our house is take digital pictures. As a result, they are always begging to let them see my camera. Which is no big deal when you have a cheap $100 camera, but I am talking about a $500+ Canon here…and kids who are prone to dropping expensive electronics. So, when I saw the Crayola camera, I knew we would be giving it a good run for its money.
As soon as it arrived, the boys were fighting over it (always a good sign for the product) and the next morning, both of them were asking to use it before they were even out of bed. So, what was so special about this one? What did my boys see in this one that was so attractive? Well, that is the million dollar question that all toy manufacturers have been trying to answer for decades, isn’t it? Hit the jump and we will see if we can figure it out.
Let’s take a look at the camera itself before we go any further. Obviously, this is not a traditional camera. It is intended to be used by children as an introduction to photography. As such, it is made from hard plastic and rubber (all the better for dropping).
Rather than the traditional square or rectangular shape, this one is shaped more like an oval, with large handgrips on either said. I loved these handgrips. The textured rubber on the outside make it comfortable and easy for small hands to grab the camera without dropping it. I have often wished my camera had such a feature. This makes it easy for children to grab and hold, and allows them to naturally assume a position which is suitable for aiming the lens.
The lens is nothing special. Just a 2.1 megapixel lens. Not great for serious photography, but not bad for learning. I found as long as you remembered that the intended purpose of the camera is to introduce young children to digital photography, that the lens was more than adequate.
All of the controls are located on the back of the camera. I really liked the large, colorful buttons. Again, this was perfect for small, untrained fingers. My boys (6 and 3) were easily able to figure out that the orange button was power (the cool noise it made did not hurt either); the blue arrows would scroll through the pictures, and the purple “X” was delete.
On top, of course, is the shutter button. A large, silver button, right where you would expect to find it.
I was a bit disappointed by the screen on the back of the camera. Everything on this camera is bigger than life, which is perfect for smaller than normal hands. Yet, the screen was tiny, and somewhat grainy. This made it extremely difficult to frame a shot, especially for my kids who had no experience with photography. It also made reviewing pictures a real chore. I thought this camera was a great learning tool, but the screen really detracted from this benefit by making it almost impossible for children to see what they were doing.
Another problem we found with this camera was the neck strap. I think Sakar was onto a good idea here, with a clip in the middle of the strap. Kids are prone to getting tangled in just about anything you give them, and a loop of cord wrapped around their necks can lead to trouble. So, Sakar wisely placed a clip in the middle of the strap, which would allow the strap to open quickly and easily should it become tangled. Great. The only problem was that the clip never stayed shut. It was constantly slipping open at the most inopportune times. I though this clip was a fantastic idea for a product designed for young children, however, in order for it to be effective, it has to be able to stay clipped together while in use. This clip was not able to do so.
Any photos you take will be stored on an Secure Digital (SD) card (the camera will take up to a 2 GB card). A memory card is not included, which I found a bit surprising. A 2 GB card is extremely inexpensive these days, and even a 1GB card is more than sufficient for this camera. Sakar would have done well to include a small memory card with the camera. Nonetheless, unlike traditional cameras which have a panel that swings open to reveal the battery and memory card, this camera has a rubberized panel on the bottom, which screws into place. Although this makes it more difficult to replace the batteries (3 “AA” batteries) and memory if necessary, it is consistent with common practices among manufacturers of products for children. I really did not mind the screw panel, but then again, I am constantly unscrewing these panels to replace the batteries in something. Which is probably better than my kids having access to the batteries and trying to eat one (or some other horrible scenario).
Here are a few of the pictures we took with it. There is no zoom and nothing to hold the lens steady, which makes it difficult to compose. We also found that lighting can be problem with this one. Otherwise, it was extremely easy for the boys to point and click to shoot their own pictures, which is really all they wanted.
But parents, the camera, while nice, is not the lone attraction here. Sure, that gets your children interested in photography and ready to start making digital compositions of their own in a fun and safe environment (safe for the camera that is), but you also will not want to forget to check out the included software, which makes it fun for kids to create projects and photo stories, edit photos, and utilize several tools of the digital darkroom, such as photo libraries, slideshows, and editing tables. Once your kids start playing with it, they will find themselves (unbeknownst to them) fully engrossed learning creative writing, dramatic play, expressive art, and, of course, digital photography.
I tested these claims with the most discriminating audience, my two boys. And they had a blast with it. There are 30 included pictures, consisting of fun little cartoons, each in a different Crayola color. You can get started with these, or just tap the Add Photos button on top to load your own pictures into the program. By default, the screen will show 12 pictures at a time, but you can change this to show four or 24.
The layout of the program is very nice, and oriented around fun cartoon images which are attractive to children (at least they were to mine). When you begin, the display you are seeing is the Photo Center, where your children can organize all of their photos. Underneath the picture grid is a pulldown menu showing the locations of any photos which have been loaded. This can get a little bit confusing because the pictures are organized by their origination folder. Once you select the folder, however, the contents of that folder will be displayed in the grid. I do think there could have been a better, more graphical way to switch from one folder to the next. As it was, my kids were not able to do this without some help or supervision.
Once you have loaded all of your photos into the program, it is time to make them perfect. Just select the Edit Center to get to work (you can always add more photos while you are here.) This editing pane was a little advanced for my six year old, but I could certainly see him enjoying it when he is a bit older. Like the rest of the program, everything is displayed in bright “Crayola” colors. This screen includes all of your basic photo editing tools, including:
- rotating and flipping
- redeye fix
- numerous color enhancements
- text entry
Like I said, this is a fantastic introduction to today’s modern day, digital darkroom. It is a fun screen for kids to look at, with its bright colors and cartoon illustrations, but this is only a slightly deceptive overlay for what is a highly functional photo editor underneath. Your kids will be learning in no time…just don’t tell them that. It might spoil their fun.
Once you have selected your photos, and cleaned them all up in the editor, it is time to have some fun. There are four fun (and educational) different projects which you and your children can do together.
Storymaker allows you to create a book using your pictures and a story you write about them. Once you have finished writing, be sure to add layout elements to your pages and then hit the print button. Or, you can go ahead and share your creation instantly with friends, family, and grandparents by emailing it straight from within the Color Genie software. Basically, this is like scrapbooking for the really young. Get that next generation started early.
Not only is the Puppet Center a lot of fun, but it is also easy for the younger aged children to access and use. Here, you can select from five different stages and backgrounds. Each stage contains three characters to utilize. Just add you picture, zoom in/out, and center your picture in the space until they become the character. Once your children have created their puppets, print the whole thing, color it (I assume you would use Crayola crayons) and put on a show. I was a little disappointed by this one. My kids love to color on the computer. It was a shame that you had to print the pictures in order to color on the paper, rather than having the option of coloring directly on the screen.
Frame Center was probably our least favorite application in the package. Here, just add your picture to one of the predesigned frames, print, and color. Not much too it, and my boys lasted only a few seconds before losing interest in the predesigned frames and moving on to another center.
The favorite part of the package, by far, in our family was the Jigsaw Puzzle. Simply select any photo and then choose your difficulty (there are several preset levels which will divide the puzzle into between 9 (easy) and 100 (hard) pieces). My boys could have played with this for hours, screaming, “turn me into a puzzle,” over and over again.
Overall, I thought the software package included with this camera did a good job of introducing my children to digital photography and gave them a taste of the powerful photo manipulation tools which could lay ahead. While we enjoyed the Project Center modules, most of them were too stationary to hold the interest of my boys. The puppet show, for example, could have been a lot of fun if they could have created their own puppets, colored on the computer, or even held a puppet show on the screen. Instead, all they were able to do was add a photo and print. Nonetheless, when I asked them what they thought of the camera itself, Ben said, “It’s great. I love it.” Max just asked if he could take some more pictures. This one was a definite winner in our house, and I am sure they will be requesting to use it again soon…a request I am happy to oblige.
What We Liked: Great camera for beginners. Easy for kids to use with rubberized grip and large buttons. Large buttons. Software was enjoyable.
What Needs Improvement: Neck strap did not stay connected, no zoom, not a great lens for composition, small screen. Some of the software could have been better.
Where To Buy: Sakar