Sharp Shooters

These clever and extremely totable cameras go beyond the point-and-shoot realm.

From Instagram to Snapchat, the cameras on smartphones are easily today’s hardest working pieces of photography equipment. While users of “real cameras” from Nikon and Canon may sniff dismissively at the cameraphone, the best camera is always the one you have with you when you need it.

But sometimes, just sometimes, there’s a shot you just can’t get with your iPhone 6 or your HTC One. You can’t zoom in without making things blurry, and no photo filter app can fix every dimly-lit indoor picture.

Sure, you could grab a point-and-shoot camera. But if you’re willing to think different, there’s some interesting technology you can enlist to capture unique, memorable images.

Straddling the lines between amateur and professional (as well as photography and videography) is GoPro (

Their popular, boxy cameras aren’t much to look at, but they’re rugged, powerful, and make you want to live a much more interesting and active life.

Photos courtesy brands

Photos courtesy brands

GoPro released its HERO4 camera last fall, available in a Silver edition for $399 or Black for $499. The Silver can capture high-definition 1080p video at 30 frames per second and 5 megapixel photos, while the Black ramps video up to 30fps and has double the photo resolution. And they’re getting even better, with an update in February that added a native time-lapse video mode, rapid burst photo mode, and auto-rotate adjustments.

When it comes to innovation in the photography space, few technologies are as interesting as the “light-field camera” developed by Lytro ( Taking a picture that’s in focus can be tricky for almost any camera, and sometimes, even when you get a sharp shot, you realize later that you wanted the flower in the foreground to be the focus, rather than the waterfall in the background.

Lytro’s solution was to develop a lens system that keeps everything in focus, at the same time. By capturing the entire light field of a scene with its microlens array, Lytro takes “living pictures” that let you adjust the focus after the fact, and even post interactive images that allows anyone to change the focal point of a picture.

The first-generation Lytro was a little box about the size of a large tube of lipstick, and you can still get it for $199 to $249, depending on how much memory you need. But if you fall in love with the technology, there’s the new Lytro Illum. It’s a full camera, with an 8x optical zoom, close-focus macro capability, and wireless connectivity, for $1,499. Innovation doesn’t come cheap.

If your smartphone comes first, but you still wish you could have some of the power of a DSLR system and real lenses, Sony’s line of “smartphone partner” cameras are perfect for you.

The Sony QX ( line of smartphone-attachable lens-style cameras quite literally convert your Apple or Android phone into something resembling a “real” camera, adding the features you just can’t fit into a thin slab of plastic. And while you can attach them to the back of your smartphone, they’re just as easy to use while held in your hand, even held over your head. Let’s see your Canon do that!

The latest model is the $349 Sony QX30, which gives you the power of a 30x optical zoom, a range usually reserved for professional camera lenses. The QX30 captures impressive 18 megapixel images, which it stores on board but can also send directly to your smartphone for easy sharing online. Low-light performance is better than almost any smartphone camera, and the video looks good, too.

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