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Understanding Digital Cameras and Digital Photography

To improve your digital photography it can help if you increase your understanding of digital cameras so let’s explore some of the digital photography terms you are likely to encounter.

Digital Camera Sensor

This is the semi conductor that receives the light through the aperture. The sensor is made up of millions of pixels and these capture the light as photons. Once the digital camera shutter closes the processing begins. The quantity of photons is assessed and intensity levels measured and computations done to compensate for the colour filters built into the camera. This all happens seemingly instantaneously.

The size and quality of the sensor and the colour filters determines the quality of the final images taken by the digital camera. Because of their larger overall size, DSLR cameras usually have a larger sensor which is why this type of camera tends to take better quality photographs.


Exposure is simply the amount of light that is allowed to make contact with the camera sensor. There are three factors that combine to control exposure:

- The aperture is the area through which light can enter the camera

- The shutter speed controls how long the aperture is open

- The ISO speed controls the sensitivity of the sensor.

Each factor can be tweaked independently to produce many different permutations.

Camera Metering

This tends to be built into digital cameras (those who remember taking photographs with the more traditional film cameras may well recall carrying light meters with them and having to make manual adjustments to their camera set up to compensate for light quality) and it is the metering function that sets the aperture, shutter speed and ISO speed on a digital camera.

Camera Lenses

Point and shoot cameras have one lens although it may have some flexibility with a built in zoom function. DSLR cameras allow the removal and replacement of camera lenses which provides the photographer with a huge number of creative options when taking digital photographs. The difference between buying a digital camera from an electronics company as opposed to a camera manufacturer can be most distinguished in the quality of the lens. If you want the very best quality photographs select a camera manufactured by a camera company. It is that simple.

Camera Lens Filters

Used with DSLR cameras and used to reduce glare, add light filters and add options that are difficult to create through editing alone. Many filter options are built into the more expensive DSLR cameras. Filters can create some interesting effects and improve the quality of images.

Depth of Field

This is the term used to describe the distance range within the photograph which remains in focus. Complex calculations can be done to determine the depth of field but for most amateur photographers this is more information than they need.


Auto-focus is the system built into a digital camera that will automatically adjust the lens of the camera to focus on the subject of the photograph and produce a clearly defined or sharp image. It takes the guesswork out of focusing on the subject of your photographs.

There is so much more to understanding digital cameras and digital photography - but this basic overview will demystify some of the most frequently encountered terms.