I’ve had my eye on the kids’ digital camera market for a while. My kids love to take photos, but I’m not yet ready to trust either one of them with my camera for more than a shot or two. Most cameras that I have looked at that are designed for children are either too expensive, or such low quality as to not be worth it. So when Leap Frog wanted to send me their new digital camera to test and review, I jumped at the chance. Everything we’ve used from Leap Frog has been of decent quality and lots of fun.
After putting in the required three AAA batteries, I just started playing around with the camera, seeing how intuitive it is to use without reading the manual. It’s fairly intuitive for the most part, but some of the menu options in playback mode are tricky. I took a few photos, but was surprised at the shutter lag. Especially when the flash is needed, there is a multi-second lag between pressing the shutter button and the photo actually being taken. This isn’t usually a problem for posed photos, or photos of things that don’t move, but this camera wouldn’t work well for action shots.
Eventually I turned to the manual to see what else the camera can do. There are three resolution modes: 1600×1280 (2.1 mp), 1280×1024 (1.3 mp) and 640×480 (VGA). In all of the resolutions, the photo turns out much better when taken in strong light. And when comparing photos taken of the same subject in different resolution modes, there wasn’t as much of a difference in the quality of the photo as I expected. Also, photos taken at the 2.1 mp resolution did not look quite as nice as ones I took with my first ever digital camera from 2001, which was 1.3 mp. There seems to be more at work here than just megapixels. Photo quality seemed to be the best at the lowest resolution, but of course the photo was small.
That being said, the photos are good enough for most younger kids, and the ease of use, simplicity of the camera and included software make it a good choice for young shutterbugs. The fact that this camera has a flash sets it apart from many of the for-kid digital cameras I have seen out there. Plus there aren’t licensed characters plastered all over the case.
This camera talks to you, too. When you take a picture, it says, “Great Shot!” It also says “Bye-bye” when you turn it off. While the flash helps in low light conditions, it doesn’t work magic. Make sure there is adequate light when taking photos worth keeping. The flash has two modes, Auto and Off.
The LCD screen on the back of the camera, another plus for this camera, is 1.5″. This is in addition to the viewfinder. The image on the LCD screen can be hard to see, especially in low light conditions, so the viewfinder really does come in handy. The screen also shows the number of remaining shots you have before you run out of memory. The camera also has an auto-shutoff feature, which is really handy for kids who might leave things on without thinking.
Note: One very important thing to be aware of is that this camera stores photos in its 8 megabytes of SD RAM memory, which means that once it loses power, the photos are gone. So download photos off of the camera regularly, and try to make sure there is nothing on there when the batteries die. Or better yet, change the batteries regularly, copying off photos before you do so. The LCD screen is supposed to flash at you when the batteries are low, and there is a battery level indicator on the screen.
Another thing to note is that it is relatively easy to delete photos by accident. Pressing the Menu (M) button while in preview mode leads to a screen where it asks you if you want to delete the current photo. Pressing the wrong button will delete it. It isn’t clear from the button labels which button confirms the action and which cancels it. So be sure to read up on this in the manual ahead of time and make sure your child knows how to use this feature properly. Having fewer buttons on the camera can be simpler for kids, however, once they understand how to use them. If they only want to take photos, and not view photos on the camera, then just the power button and shutter button can be used.
To go along with the simple design, there is nothing to protect the camera lens, so kids should be taught proper camera care. The camera should probably be stored in some kind of protective case when not in use. There is a handy included wrist strap, though, to help kids hold onto the camera. Also, the coating on the camera is a very nice rubbery grippy one, which might also help protect it if it is dropped (which I did not test!).
To download the photos off of the camera, just attach the included USB cable. The bundled software isn’t required to access the photos. The cable works the same way as for other digital cameras. One thing to note here is that once you delete the photos from the camera, the new photos you take will start numbering themselves at 1 again. Also, I wasn’t able to find a way to set the camera’s time and date, so all of the photos will have incorrect time and date stamps.
Installing the included Click ‘n Create Photo Editing Software was very easy. The software includes 30 photos to play around with, and it is very easy to add your own photos for use in the projects and games. It works on both Windows and Macintosh.
The included software contains some fun and easy things to do with your photos. There are projects, games and editing capabilities. The five options are Photo Workshop, Edit Center, My Photos, Add Photos and Projects & Games. Photo Workshop seems to be the main page, where you can view all your photos in their folders, and use the slide show option. Edit Center is just what it sounds like. You can crop, rotate, flip, add text, apply special effects, add a photo to a photo, print and export, paint, draw, erase, etc. It has an undo option, plus an undo all option, to go back to the original photo. My Photos is one place to go to select a photo to edit. Use Add Photos to bring photos into the software. They don’t necessarily have to be photos you’ve taken with this camera.
Projects & Games has access to the Edit Center, plus it has a Writing Center, Mini Books, Circle Game, Concentration and iSee. In the Writing Center, you can take your photos and create a book or photo essay with as many pages as you like. There are different page layouts and borders to choose from. Put in your text on each page, and print it out in the end, creating your own masterpiece. In Mini Books, you can create one of three books: “All About Me!”, “My Favorite Things!” and “Things I Think Are Silly!”, each one ten pages long. The idea is to add photos and text that follow the book topic. It has some odd things, though. In “All About Me!”, the options don’t allow you to be born before 2003 or be older than 10 years old. Why those don’t match up, or why the restrictions are there, I’m not sure. In Circle Game, it makes your photos into circular puzzles for you to solve. Concentration takes some of your photos and makes a memory matching game with them. This can be hard if you have a lot of similar photos! iSee is a game where you find matching photos to answer quiz questions. This can be tricky because the photos you’re matching are very small, and again if there are similar photos, it would be an added challenge.
MSRP for the camera is $49.99, available online at Toys R Us, and perhaps some other locations.
Wired: Great look and feel, easy to use, auto-shutoff, large enough memory for photos, really fun bundled software, included flash and multiple resolution levels.
Tired: Photo quality not as nice as a grown-up’s digital camera, photos stored in RAM memory can be lost when it loses power, LCD screen hard to see in low light, longish shutter lag.