Whether you want to snap images of your family or venture to faraway places on a photo safari, this lineup of new technologically advanced cameras and gear will help you capture your best shots.

Of all the ways in which technology has enhanced our lives, perhaps none has made as dramatic an impact as the technology of photography. With amazing quality coming out of even cell-phone cameras, it’s rare that we are without the necessary gear to capture life in pictures. Now, even equipment once the province of professionals only is available to anyone with a desire to try their eye at photography. Here’s a look at some new tools of the trade.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 mirrorless camera

The most exciting new cameras these days aren’t the biggest or the tiniest. Photography right now is focused on a new format — mirrorless cameras (also called compact systems and Micro Four Thirds designs). They are smaller and less costly than conventional digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras and they take much better pictures than pocket cameras.

“You get the size advantage of a point-and-shoot camera and the quality advantage of a DSLR,” explains Jeff Curto, a photography professor at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Their most obvious difference with pocket cameras is that they accept different lenses, so you can zoom to capture a far-off antelope or, by changing lenses, focus close-up on a rare orchid.

Compared to full-fledged DSLRs, mirrorless models are smaller, lighter, and less expensive. While too large for a pocket, these compact designs without lenses typically weigh less than a pound and fit into most bags and briefcases. Yet they offer many DSLR-like features, such as manual exposure control and very high-quality high-definition video. You can even take panoramic shots by selecting a special mode and slowly panning the camera while it takes a second exposure.

One example is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1. The new Lumix has a 16-megapixel sensor and built-in flash and accepts a wide array of lenses including power and standard zoom, telephoto, wide-angle, fish-eye, macro, and 3-D. Its ultra-high-speed autofocus will bring an object info focus in less than one-tenth of a second, Panasonic says. The camera, with 14-42 mm standard zoom, retails for a suggested $800.

As convenient as compact models are, they remain overshadowed by their larger, costlier DSLR cousins. “To really get professional results, you are going to want to lug around 25 pounds of gear — a DSLR, a bunch of lenses, and a tripod,” says Harold Davis, a Berkeley, California-based prolific author on photography, whose latest book is Photographing Flowers (Focal Press, 2011). DSLRs, Davis says, feature no shutter lag, more lenses, and generally better sensors, including an increasing number with full-frame sensors the same size as a frame of 35-mm film.