Memorialize moments of majesty with state-of-the-art photographic gizmos strong enough to withstand the elements.
By Steve Casimiro
Point-and-shoots are facing competition from phone cameras at one end and from compact enthusiast models (like the Olympus Pen E-P3, below) at the other. The best way these old classics can stay ahead is by emulating the Canon PowerShot S100, which packs quality, shooting speed, video capability, and noise reduction into a pocket-size device.
Carry it during trail runs in case you see an elusive lynx. No matter how fast the feline, you can capture it with the 1080-pixel video mode, at 24 frames per second, or with the still-burst mode, which fires off 10 shots per second. There's super-slow-motion video too. $430
Small cameras may be closing in on the quality of their bigger brethren, but in the end, size does matter. The Sony SLT-A55 has a larger sensor to capture more data, a bigger lens to let in more light, and more real estate for controls and grip. Sony used that space to incorporate one of the industry's most sophisticated autofocusing systems (it's as good as those in $7,000 professional models).
With stills or video, light passes through a translucent mirror, allowing the camera to focus and shoot at blazing-fast speeds and making it almost impossible to miss a shot. $700 (body only)
The most exciting new machines defy easy labeling, but you can think of them as miniaturized single-lens reflex cameras, in that they are high-quality, interchangeable-lens gadgets. Barely bigger than a point-and-shoot, the Olympus Pen E-P3 uses a format called Micro Four Thirds to squeeze incredible resolution out of a tiny box, resulting in magazine-quality images.
On a backpacking trip, pair it with the optional electronic viewfinder ($180). Add the 45mm f/1.8 lens ($480) as a medium-distance telephoto for a package that can shoot anything in almost any light. $900 (includes a 14-42mm lens)
It's hard to beat the golden light of dawn and dusk, but midday's hard shadows should be no reason to stop shooting. The circular POLARIZING FILTER from B+W reduces reflections, deepens the sky, and makes every image look better. Price varies depending on size (from $108 for the 28mm), schneideroptics.com
If you're still wrapping your camera in a jacket and stuffing it in your pack, stop. Clik Elite's PROBODY SPORT BACKPACK is the solution for protecting your gear without committing to a ginormous professional pack.
The bottom compartment is a padded, customizable module for carrying a camera and accessories; the top section is big enough for lunch, a guidebook, and a shell. Unlike many camera packs, this one lets you stash your tripod on the side. $175
The single best way to improve your photography is to use a tripod, which encourages you to slow down, compose your shot, and snap from a stable base. Oben's CT-3400 has strong, light carbon-fiber legs, and it weighs just 2.9 pounds and collapses to 15 inches. You'll barely notice it on your pack, though it's sturdy enough to support up to 12.4 pounds. $350
Jimmy Chin, who recently accomplished a first ascent of northern India's dramatic Shark's Fin, carries a LENSPEN, whose carbon-infused swab wipes fingerprints and water marks off lenses. (See "High Art," page 37.) "On a big wall, on any sort of climb, I always have a LensPen," he says. "When I ditch everything else, it's always the last thing in my bag. I carried it on Everest, Denali, Meru, and it's saved me many times." $15
Ace Kvale, who shoots rock climbs, ski mountaineering, and other intense expeditions, picks Nikon's 60mm f/2.8 MACRO LENS. "I never leave home without a macro lens, which lets you shoot extreme close-ups," he says. "Eyes, bugs, rocks, flowers . . . Whenever I give a slide show, people love to see the details." $520
Mikey Schaefer--a talented photographer who's an equally talented climber with many first ascents under his belt--relies on the waterproof, dustproof Gepe CARD SAFE to protect his memory cards. "I was recently nearing the end of a three-day shoot in Yosemite when the skies unleashed on us. We were so close to the top of El Cap, we had to keep going up regardless of the rain. Everything was soaked to the bone, including my camera and bags. But not my memory cards. They were safe and dry." $29
Filter, Lenspen, and Gepe card photos by Lori Eanes