5 Unusual Camera Types and What They Can Do

You can never have too many cameras / photo by Megan Bucknall

As we all know, cameras are the key to making a cherished moment last a lifetime. While the love of photography hasn’t changed through the centuries, the technology we use to capture these moments certainly has. Cameras have never been more ubiquitous as they are today, nor have they ever been found in such a wild variety of shapes and sizes.

There are now special cameras available for all kinds of purposes, from the tiniest microscopic spy cameras to huge satellite telescopes. What’s more, some of these devices are so specialized you may be hard pressed to even recognize them as cameras. Today, we’ll look at five of the most unusual camera types out there and see what they can do.

Insta 360 ONE X2 camera / photo by Maik Kleinert

1. 360-degree Cameras

It’s no secret that 360-degree cameras have recently shot up in popularity, in no small part due to the turbulent developments in the fields of augmented reality and the metaverse. These cameras feature the ability to capture still images and video footage in 360 degrees. If this sounds new to you, the image basically looks like you are standing inside a very large sphere. Wirecutter notes that very wide angle lenses are used to achieve this effect, with several lenses strategically placed to cover the complete 360 degrees around the device. 

Notable examples of such cameras are the GoPro 360 and the Ricoh Theta. One cool feature is that once a 360-degree image or video is captured, viewers can later interact with the end result by scrolling up and down, or left and right, to see the full spherical shot. This complete coverage of a scene also makes these cameras a favourite tool of film VFX (visual effects) professionals, who use them to capture reference footage on film sets. 

Trail camera installed in a tree / photo by furkanvari

2. Trail Cameras

The second specialized camera type we’ll discuss today is trail cameras. As we covered in our article on Spypoint cameras, trail cameras or game cameras are a special type of image capturing device that are motion or heat activated. Just as the name implies, they are typically set up on a trail out in the wild and are used to capture still or moving images of wildlife, nature, and more.

Since these cameras are for outdoor use, they are designed to be tough, water-resistant and weatherproof. What’s more, since these cameras use motion or heat detection, they can be very energy efficient, only turning on when there’s something to photograph. Some advanced models even come complete with their own solar panel power supplies for use over extended periods of time.

Apart from their intended applications in hunting and nature preservation, trail cameras are often employed as artistic tools. For example, their ability to be left unattended for long periods makes them particularly useful for long-term timelapse projects.

Ricoh WG-50 rugged camera / photo by Hans Ripa

3. Rugged Cameras

To continue with our outdoor theme, rugged cameras are designed to be all-weather, all-terrain, waterproof, freezeproof and shockproof. These are ideal for taking on trekking, mountain exploring or wildlife excursions as they can survive the great outdoors, including underwater ocean adventures. We’ve covered more of this gear in our Off the Grid Photography guide.

These cameras come in two main flavors – rugged point-and-shoot cameras and action cameras. While both are designed to handle tough love, they are geared towards slightly different applications. Rugged point-and-shoot cameras basically try to offer all the bells and whistles of regular photographic cameras, such as fast autofocus, optical zoom and image stabilization, while being able to take a beating and a splash. Action cameras, on the other hand, are small devices predominantly geared towards video capture. Small and light, they are made to be mounted on helmets, bike handlebars and anywhere else you might imagine. 

Specialized as they are, there is quite a range of different price points and features for rugged point-and-shoot cameras. The Olympus Tough series is one of the most popular choices, but most major manufacturers have rugged cameras in their arsenals. The forefather and still the most popular action camera example is the GoPro camera series.

PCB cameras on the back of a Samsung phone / photo by Shri

4. Board Cameras

Board cameras, also known as printed circuit board (PCB) cameras, are small image capturing digital devices that are used for general photo and video recording purposes. Found in many consumer electronics, printed circuit board camera modules are the most common and cost effective method to add a camera to a device. 

You most likely already have at least one of these, as they are basically a camera mounted on a PCB layout. From smartphones to Ring doorbells, PCB cameras are by far the most widely manufactured camera type today. What’s more, with recent advances in miniaturization, these camera modules can be made incredibly small, which makes them ideal for use in surveillance systems and hidden cameras.

As cameras are the key selling point for many smartphones, manufacturers throw huge amounts of money into PCB camera research and development. As a result, apart from the traditional camera elements like lens, aperture, and image sensor, PCB cameras often sport advanced features like optical image stabilization (OIS) or even optical zoom. 

Phantom Flex 4K high speed camera with a Leica Summilux lens / photo by ShareGrid

5. High Speed Cameras

When action is too fast for the eye to see, your only choice is a high-speed camera. You’ve all seen the famous videos of a bullet piercing an apple, this was shot with another unusual camera – the high speed camera. First developed for scientific and military use, high-speed imaging technology gradually trickled down to consumer cameras over the last few years.

Today, even smartphones feature high speed capture, with the flagship models going as fast as 960 frames per second. On the other end of the spectrum we’ve got specialized ultra high-speed cameras like the Phantom TMX that can shoot a blistering 1 750 000 frames in a single second. 

A Camera for Every Occasion

Whether it is taking a 360-degree shot, going out on an adventure, or trying to perform covert surveillance – there’s a camera designed for your every activity. And as tech only continues to improve and diversify, we will surely be seeing more and more exciting and unusual cameras in the future. 

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