Editors' Choice: Most Intriguing Gear of 2013

Unique among cameras, the Sony Cyber-shot RX1 merges two key trends: the rise of the big-sensor compact and the downscaling of full-frame (35mm) digital bodies. No compact captures higher-quality images. The RX1R, shown here with an optional electronic view­finder, has its anti-aliasing filter removed to capture even finer detail (though at the risk of moiré). Its 24.3MP full-frame CMOS sensor takes advantage of the fixed 35mm f/2 Carl Zeiss lens, affording beautifully defocused backgrounds and clean pictures in low light. Manual controls, including aperture and focusing rings on the lens, make this truly special compact a delight to use. $2,800; sonydigitalimaging.com.
Quality is the watchword for camera makers battling the smartphone horde. This year brought a slew of new fixed-lens compacts boasting APS-C-format sensors, the same size as in most DSLRs. The best of these in imaging, build, and sheer usability: Nikon's Coolpix A, whose tough body, sharp 28mm (equivalent) f/2.8 lens, and 16.2-megapixel CMOS sensor add up to a powerful camera small enough to fit in a jacket pocket. $1,100; nikonusa.com.
When interchangeable-lens compacts first appeared seven years ago, they were aimed chiefly at consumers. But sophisticated photographers also flocked to ILCs, and many camera and lens makers now cater to their more exacting standards. Still, Carl Zeiss surprised the photography world with its launch of the Touit line of prime lenses—its first with autofocus and its first made for the APS-C sensor format—and for ILCs to boot. Designed for the Fujifilm X and Sony Alpha NEX systems, the 12mm f/2.8 Distagon T* (shown here in the Sony E-mount) and 32mm f/1.8 Planar T* (shown in the Fujifilm X-mount) scale up to the equivalent of 18mm and 48mm, respectively. These small, elegant, well-built lenses capture images with optimum sharpness, contrast, and clarity; the X-mount versions have aperture rings in addition to their smooth but grippy focus rings. $1,250 (12mm) and $900 (32mm); lenses.zeiss.com.
The lens: The first wide-to-standard zoom lens to achieve a fast maximum aperture of f/1.8, this recent entry in Sigma's Art line breaks ground in optical quality too. Its sharpness and clarity, as measured in extensive lab testing by our sister publication, Popular Photography, proved extraordinary; distortion control also turned in superb test results. But the biggest benefit of this handsomely designed lens is its big aperture, which allows photographers to capture sharp images in dimmer light and to limit depth of field more dramatically than they could with any other zoom in this focal range. Made for DSLRs with APS-C-sized sensors, it covers a very useful equivalent of 27–52.5mm on Nikon, Pentax, Sigma, and Sony bodies; 28.8–56mm on Canons. $800; sigmaphoto.com. The Dock: A lens isn't just about the optics anymore—its performance also depends on the software that controls it. This little accessory allows certain Sigma lenses to connect directly to a computer for firmware updates and for customizing and fine-tuning focus and controls. The cord plugs into any USB 3.0 port, and on the other side of the pucklike device is a standard lens mount. For now the docking station's capabilities are rather limited—it works only with the very latest Sigma lenses—but it augurs a future of increasingly customizable optics, especially for critical applications. $60; sigmaphoto.com.
Studio photographers have made full use of the massive resolution afforded by 80MP medium-format digital backs before. But Phase One's IQ version brings some new capabilities to the field. Chief among them: built-in wireless connectivity that lets the photographer control the camera—and allows clients and other collaborators to preview high-res files—in real time on an Apple iPhone or iPad. True 16-bit image capture means smoother, more accurate color. The back comes in versions to fit most medium-format systems and, with an adaptor, most 4x5 cameras, too. $44,000 (Classic version); phaseone.com.
Imagine a photography set, whether in the studio or on location, with plenty of strobes but without the bulky power packs, snaking cables, or even wall outlets. The internal, removable battery drawers built into Priolite's MBX500 and MBX1000 monolights make these the first fully wireless studio strobes. They're powerful too: 500 and 1000 watt-seconds, respectively, at full output and five flashes per second at top speed. $1,500 (MBX500) and $1,700 (MBX1000); priolite.com.
Most lights operate at a certain color temperture, measured in degrees on the Kelvin scale and described with such terms as "warm" and "cool," "tungsten" or "daylight." To change the temperature, photographers either add gels to the light source or use a different film stock or digital white-balance setting in capture or postprocessing. What makes Rotolight's Anova LED floodlight (shown here with an accessory ring of barn doors) unique? It lets the photographer choose the color temp right at the source. Plus, this flicker-free light can be controlled through Wi-Fi from an Apple iOS device. And the lights can be joined into one big, soft ring to give studio subjects the full beauty treatment. $2,400; rotolight.com.
It may just be the ultimate mobile camera. With the Android 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system, Wi-Fi, and complete 3G/4G cellular connectivity built in (a first for this type of camera), Samsung's NX Galaxy is the best-connected ILC there is. Its 20.3-megapixel APS-C-format CMOS sensor is the same chip as that in Samsung's flagship ILC, the excellent NX 300. The built-in electronic finder provides a more stable way to frame your shots than using the 4.8-inch touch-screen LCD. Sure, that screen doesn't leave any room for old-school hard buttons, but the wealth of apps available to use on it will let you edit your images immediately after you capture them. $1,700 (with 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6 OIS kit lens, shown); samsung.com.
This serious, robust interchangeable-lens compact looks and feels like a mini DSLR, and its 16MP Four Thirds–format Live MOS sensor captures stills and video beautifully. Indeed, Panasonic's Lumix GH3 shows that the Micro Four Thirds system can appeal to pros, especially those who want strong imaging and video capabilities in a weather-sealed little tank. Shown here with Panasonic's 25mm f/1.4 Leica DG Summilux lens (a 50mm equivalent), the GH3 benefits from a large catalog of lenses made for Micro Four Thirds. $1,300 (body only); panasonic.com.
Its size, form, and Micro Four Thirds lens mount puts this little tool firmly in interchangeable-lens compact camera territory. But Blackmagic's soon-to-be-released Pocket Cinema Camera, as its name implies, shoots video only. And what video! Blackmagic uses a Super 16 1080HD sensor, the size of the film beloved of low-budget auteurs, to capture 12-bit lossless compressed CinemaDNG RAW or 10-bit ProRes 422 (HQ) files. This means footage with a higher dynamic range and easier editing. And it puts true guerilla filmmaking into anyone's hands; used without a video rig or tripod, it looks like an ordinary consumer camera. But it can be fully tricked out with electronic viewfinders, remote monitors and controllers, disk recorders, follow focus, and the like. $995; blackmagicdesign.com.
It may be small beer to traditional SLR photographers who use the optical viewfinder to frame still images. But anyone shooting stills or video with Canon's new EOS 70D in live view will almost certainly reap the benefits of this camera's innovative approach to sensor design. Instead of placing one photodiode in each pixel on this 20.2MP CMOS sensor, Canon doubled down, pairing two photodiodes in each. This permits phase-detection autofocus directly on the imager rather than only on the dedicated AF sensor, as most DSLRs are limited to. The result? Smoother, more accurate focusing action in video. $1,200; usa.canon.com.
The company that sparked the whole action-camera category continues to lead the pack. In the GoPro Hero3, sports and adventure shooters find a point-of-view camera that can capture the gamut of video footage, from slow-motion (240 frames per second at WVGA resolution) to every flavor of HD to ultra-high-def 4K (at 15fps). It shoots time-lapse sequences and even 12MP still images at a rate of 30fps. The rugged housing shown here (included) protects the camera in water as deep as 60 meters; a Wi-Fi remote control (also included) syncs up with smartphones and tablets—and works underwater, too. $330; gopro.com.
These look like lenses, but behind the zooms you'll find compact cameras, complete with imaging sensors (a 20MP 1-incher on the QX100, at left, and an 18MP 1/2.3 on the QX10, at right), MicroSD memory cards, and even removable, rechargeable batteries. They clip to a smartphone with spring-loaded clamps (shown extended) but can also be fired remotely; an Android or iOS phone or tablet serves as the viewfinder and control interface. Astonishing! $500 and $250; sony.com.
This wearable computer may be the most talked-about prototype ever. And prototype it is. Limited numbers were given to Google employees and outside app developers, as well as sold to so-called Explorers, who were chosen based on their descriptions of what they'd do with one. These early adopters test the product and offer ideas that Google will consider as it develops the actual consumer version, due out this spring. The Explorer edition, shown here, sports a 5MP camera with an ultrawide-angle lens and 12GB of usable memory. Is nonstop image capture the future of photography? We'll see. $1,500 (not currently available); google.com/glass.