IF YOU’RE NOT FAMILIAR with Aesop’s fable, “The Fox and the Cat,” here’s how it goes: A Fox was boasting to a Cat of its clever devices for escaping its enemies. “I have a whole bag of tricks,” he said, “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 toward 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 and 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.
The Cat, who had been looking on, said, “Better one safe way than a hundred on which you cannot reckon.”
Why am I telling you this cautionary tale? Though the temptation for many photographers is to think like the Fox, you’re better off thinking like the Cat. Ultimately, you’ll make better photographs 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.
That’s the key to choosing the best camera for you: picking gear with which you’re comfortable and which serves your needs. That’s easier said than done—this year perhaps more than ever before—with an expanding variety of camera types, from multi-megapixel compact cameras to the most sophisticated pro SLRs, plus new options like mirrorless cameras and hybrid still and video models.
I worked in camera sales during college, and the best advice I can give you is to go to a store and shop for cameras in person. Comparing specs and features isn’t 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.
There has been a lot of innovation in digital camera technology since last year’s Buyer’s Guide, most notably 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 Samsung and Sony, too.
The mirrorless design competes with the traditional SLR by making smaller camera bodies and lenses possible, which for some photographers is highly desirable. It also enables these cameras to do things SLRs can’t, like offer full-time Live View and electronic eye-level viewfinders.
Is a mirrorless camera right for you? Maybe. One drawback of typical mirrorless cameras is that they rely on contrast-detection autofocus, which is inherently slower than the phase-detection systems in SLRs. Sensor size also may be an issue: If you have legacy lenses and want a “full-frame” 35mm-sized sensor, you won’t find one in a mirrorless design—not yet anyway. Also, if you have larger hands, you may not be as comfortable with the smaller mirrorless models as you are with a traditional SLR body.