The leopard had just killed a wildebeest when my safari vehicle happened upon the scene. She draped herself over the carcass, tearing at the throat flesh for the first tasty bites. It was hard to see the details through the wheat-colored grass that would have been about hip high if I had the stupidity to stand in it. The guide parked the open jeep about 25 yards from the kill—out of respect for the leopard—and under the meager shade of a sparsely leafed tree—out of respect for us tourists.
The leopard paid us no mind, but after about 5 minutes, her head went up and she sniffed the air. The tracker scanned the horizon and saw a pack of hyenas approaching about a half mile away. The leopard began dragging the wildebeest toward our vehicle. The guide softly told us to remain still and quiet. I could see her eyelashes and hear her small guttural sounds as she got to the bottom of our tree and, like a house cat going up a scratching post, effortlessly climbed the tree—with the wildebeest in her mouth the entire time.
She settled in the crook of the tree, after draping the carcass so it wouldn’t fall out, and began munching again. I watched in awe as she ate her lunch just above my head. When the hyenas arrived, they circled the tree, seemingly oblivious to the vehicle, and settled themselves a short distance away to watch for any droppings from the leopard’s bounty, until they eventually got bored and wandered off to find food elsewhere. It was maybe thirty minutes since we had arrived and the leopard closed her eyes for a nap in the tree. I finally pulled out my camera.
I remember this scene as if it was yesterday. I remember the sounds and the smells and the details and even how my heart was beating with excitement and a touch of fear. I’ll never need a photograph to remind me of it, and I believe that if I had been taking photographs, I wouldn’t have had the same experience. Others in the vehicle were snapping away from the start, including the man who changed lenses about every five minutes. I’m sure they have some incredible photos, but did they have a truly incredible experience?
I’ve always been a hand-held point-and-shoot kind of gal. Whether it is skiing or traveling or taking shots at a birthday party. I even got some pretty good photos of that leopard as her meal stretched into three days and I watched the slow process of a wildebeest being devoured and the belly of a leopard growing large. I like the freedom of having a camera that I can put in my pocket. I like being able to take photos of people and scenes when I am traveling and not have the subjects know they are being photographed. I like the automatic settings with simple options like “flowers,” “food,” “beach” or “snow.”
But when my little Sony point-and-shoot met with too much water in a rapid earlier this summer and was ruined, I needed to decide how to replace it. I’ve been using my iPhone while I research the best options. For my own viewing on my computer, the quality of photos from either the point-and-shoot or the iPhone are fine. With some judicious editing on iPhoto, I can even enhance the photos to some extent. But when I post them here on the blog, I want a better quality. And when I sell travel articles to publications, they sometimes require things I can’t give them with my more meager equipment. I know I need a new point-and-shoot–that’s a given. But the question is whether to also invest in the real deal.
Many of you may not know that I am also a birder, but I have very few photos of birds. They are hard enough to see, let alone try to photograph! But perhaps with a good camera I could have a better record of what I saw than just my written life list. This one of an African Spotted Eagle Owl was taken with the point-and-shoot as the guide trained a spotlight on the bird. Or, what about the incredible photos of the Northern Lights that I am lucky to have because my friend had an SLR and a tripod. The point-and-shoot camera was useless since the exposure couldn’t be set for long enough. Although I will never forget that experience either, I do love having the photos.
But I worry about the tyranny of the camera. If I have an expensive SLR with interchangeable lenses, will I be like my safari companions and feel obligated to use it to get those fantastic photos instead of looking at the glint of a leopard’s eye through my own eye lens? Will I be willing to carry the bigger camera when I travel? Will I have the patience to learn how to use it to get the value of my investment? Or, conversely, will I love having the sharper images, the truer colors, and the details my naked eye might not have seen, but the camera does? As I grow older and my memories get more crowded in my head, will I be happier with better photos? Will I be a more successful travel writer or perhaps even do an illustrated travel book if I have the camera?
So the bottom line is, I’ve traveled the world with my point-and-shoot and been perfectly happy. But should I enter a new decade of my life (with substantially more travel) using a new tool to capture it? I’m still in the research phase. What do you think?