After having my own baby daughter, one question that my friends frequently asks me is what digital single-lens-reflex (DSLR) camera package they could get to improve their kids' photo. The biggest complaint I hear about are 1) kids move around too much; 2) blurry faces and blurry hands; 3) camera takes too long to respond. Good news is that a DSLR can help you eliminate two of these three common problems. Bad news is that you still have to press the shutter release; meaning you still have to horne in your photography and people skills. In this article, we will tackle the easier part: picking out the right DSLR camera.
After doing some thinking, I realized that shooting kids is similar to shooting fast action sports in a portraiture setting with lighting found in a dark theatre. So really to be able to get that one in a million shot, you'd have to get equipment that excels in all three areas. For shooting sports, you need a camera with low shutter lag, fast auto-focus (AF), and high frame burst. For portraiture, you need a pleasing lens, soft filters, reflectors, a bounce flash, and studio lights. For dark theatre performances, you need extremely fast lenses, low-light AF capability. To shorten and summarize all these details conceptually for photographing your kids, your camera package must meet these criteria: 1) low shutter lag; 2) fast low-light AF; and 3) fast lenses.
1) Low shutter lag. Fortunately, all DSLR have much lower shutter lags than point-and-shoot cameras. So you can't go wrong with any DSLR. The only question is how low you want to go? And that is dictated by how much you want to spend.
2) Fast low-light AF. How fast your gear can auto-focus depends on how much light can pass through the lens elements, the sensitivity of the camera's AF sensor, and the physical speed of the AF motor. The Canon's Ultrasonic Motor (USM) is the fastest and quietest motor, so you'll want to look for lens with USM.
3) Fast lenses. Fast lenses are large aperature lenses that can pass through lots of light. To achieve high AF speed, you will need fast lenses. But more importantly, extreme fast lenses are necessary for low-light environment. You should look at f/2.8 or larger apertures (smaller f-number).
Now that we know what is the criteria for the camera package, let's look at some DSLR camera packages, sorted by budget, and how each one meets our criteria. These packages are all based on 2008 Canon EOS equipment because that is the system I enjoy using. If you have other brands to suggest, feel free to do so in the discussion, or update this article.
The Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi and its Canon EF-S 18-55mm kit lens satisfies only one criteria: low shutter lag. For a kit lens the AF speed isn't too bad. Overall it is just barely passable for photographing kids. But if you only have a $500 budget, this package is your only choice.