Buying a Digital Camera: Remember the Cat and the Fox

Aesop’s fable, “the Fox and the Cat”, the fox boasts to the cat of its clever devices for escaping its enemies.

No matter how technologically advanced a camera is, it still needs a photographer setting its dials, pressing its buttons, and pointing it at something interesting. Photo above is Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“I have a whole bag of tricks,” he boasts, “which contains a hundred ways of escaping my enemies.”

“I have only one,” said the cat. “But I can generally manage with that.”

Just at that moment they heard the cry of a pack of hounds coming towards them, and the cat immediately scampered up a tree and hid herself in the boughs.

“This is my plan,” said the cat. “What are you going to do?”

The fox thought first of one way, then of another, and while he was debating, the hounds came nearer and nearer, and at last the fox in his confusion was caught up by the hounds and soon killed by the huntsmen.

Miss Puss, who had been looking on, said, “Better one safe way than a hundred on which you cannot reckon.”

Why am I telling you this tale?

The temptation for many photographers is to think like the fox, but you’re better off thinking like the cat.

Fujifilm’s X100 became an instant hit upon its release in 2011, thanks to a 12.3-megapixel APS-C sensor, a high-quality fixed 23mm ƒ/2 lens and a beautiful industrial design. It was followed by the X10, which had a smaller sensor, but also a built-in zoom. Now Fujifilm has introduced the X-Pro1, with a new 16.3-megapixel APS-C sensor and interchangeable lenses. For travel photographers, in particular, this new camera looks like a real winner. (Source:

You’ll take better photos with a selection of equipment that you thoroughly understand and that’s well suited to your style of photography than with an overflowing bag of tricks that you’ve never quite mastered.

The key to choosing the best camera for YOU is picking the camera with which you’re comfortable and which serves your photo needs.

That’s easier said than done.

With an expanding variety of camera types, from multi-megapixel compact cameras to the most sophisticated pro D-SLRs, plus new options like mirrorless cameras and hybrid still and video models.

The best advice I can give you is to go to a store and shop for cameras in person. Comparing specs and features online is not a substitute for handling equipment, exploring a camera’s menus, and testing its responsiveness. That said it’s good to know the general type of camera that’s right for you beforehand to help narrow the field and focus your comparisons.

Interchangeable-lens cameras

There has been considerable innovation in digital camera technology during the past several years, including the emergence of “mirrorless” interchangeable-lens cameras.

What started with a few Micro Four Thirds cameras from Olympus and Panasonic has grown into a wide selection of mirrorless models with options from an ever-expanding array of manufacturers.

The mirrorless design competes with the traditional D-SLR by making smaller camera bodies and lenses possible, which for many photographers is highly desirable. It also enables these cameras to do things D-SLRs can’t, like offer full-time Live View and electronic eye-level viewfinders.

If you have smaller hands, you may be more comfortable with the smaller and lighter mirrorless models than with a traditional SLR body.

One drawback of typical mirrorless cameras is that they rely on contrast-detection autofocus, which is inherently slower than the phase-detection systems in D-SLRs.

Compact cameras

Though the expandability of interchangeable-lens systems is an advantage for most photographers, there’s a lot to be said for cameras small enough to slip into your pocket. After all, the “right” camera is the one you actually take with you.

The 16 megapixel Nikon Coolpix P510 is a compact camera in the superzoom class, that sports a 42X optical zoom, covering a currently unmatched focal range of 24-1000mm (equivalent), and a new 16MP CMOS sensor. (Source:

If you don’t see yourself carrying a D-SLR—and maybe an extra lens or two—you’re better off with a camera you find more comfortable.

There are also “advanced” compacts which, though often larger than your pocket, typically offer a big-range zoom lens and improved performance compared to smaller models. These cameras try to bridge the gap between portability and performance. They’re larger than pocket cameras, though still smaller than most D-SLRs, and eliminate the need to carry multiple lenses.

Remember the cat and the fox.

Don’t forget that the goal is taking great photos, and that your camera equipment, whatever you choose, should make this easier. Ultimately, the best selections are those you’re inspired to master.

Please Note: This is the third in a series of stories on Digital Photography and RVing

Worth Pondering…

…amateurs worry about equipment,
professionals worry about money,
masters worry about light,
I just take pictures.

—Vernon Trent

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