Modern consumer cameras can manage almost anything you throw at them, but sometimes even the swankest DSLR just won't do. In photography, when the conditions get crazy, the cameras get crazier.
Here are ten cameras designed to capture the kinds of images that humans by all means shouldn't be able to see, and that you and I will probably never have the opportunity — or need — to shoot.
Lot of pressure on this blocky guy: NASA excitedly sent modified Hasselblad 500ELs to the moon along with the Apollo 11 astronauts, only to find out, through those bulky custom Carl Zeiss lenses, that nobody was home. BOOOORRIIINNNGG.
So surely, all these years later, NASA's got some slick little super-cams that make their 1960's relics look like, well, 1960s relic, right? This 1920-chic shooter is called the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI), and it flew with the Mars Phoenix in 2007 and 2008. Sadly, it was never called upon, though it did have a hell of a ride.
This stocky beast, however, was. This is the Phoenix's Surface Stereo Imager, built by the University of Arizona, which captured almost all of the most iconic images the Phoenix sent back from the Red Planet.
If you really want to sneak some glamour shots of horrible alien-like creatures, your best bet probably isn't sending a camera out to space—think closer, and wetter. The ORCA Eye in the Sea camera system is designed to shoot bio-luminescent creatures at depths approaching three quarters of a mile.
Intended specifically for crash test recordings, the Ultima APX series of cameras, some of which can record in excess of 10,000fps, can be used for slightly more spectacular and/or terrifying purposes.
Shooting the world's largest non-digital, non-enlarged photograph will naturally call for a fairly gigantic camera. The Great Picture pinhole camera is as large as an aircraft hangar. Actually, it is an aircraft hangar.
A few years ago, Google was shopping around for hardware for a very specific, very demanding photography project: it involved taking pictures of pretty much everything, ever. We now know it as Street View, and spend quite a bit of time laughing at it. This little bulb, seen here inexplicably mounted on a human instead of a VW Beetle, from Immersive Media, is how a good portion of the 360-degree imagery was captured. [PopSci]
Ever wondered how the inside of a 2343C metal furnace looks when it's on? Me neither. The Lenox Firesight Pultz watercooled digital cameras will show you exactly</em what "hot" looks like, anyway, just because it can.
Also hot: Stars. But you can't really just stick a camera in one of those, so we're stuck with equipment like the Pan-STARRS PS1, which shoots 1.6-gigapixel images of pretty much anything that isn't earth, through even more massive telescopes.
On the other end of the size spectrum you've got the Sayaka Endoscope camera, which can be deployed into all manner of living meatsacks, humans included, to take gross pictures at a rate of 25-30fps, at a resolution on par with your iPhone 3G.