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Features of a digital camera

Not all cameras have the same features, by any means.


3/4 frontal view of a Nikon Coolpix 4800 digital camera.
3/4 frontal view of a Nikon Coolpix 4800 digital camera.

Some digital cameras, particularly high-end professional models, have more features than many amateur photographers will put to use. Conversely, some "point-and-shoot" models are very simple and have minimal features.

But there are some standard features that all digital cameras share. These include:

  • a light-tight body,
  • a shutter that opens and closes to allow light to enter the camera for a specific duration,
  • a shutter release button,
  • a power on/off switch,
  • some manner of viewfinder,
  • a battery or batteries,
  • an AC adapter,
  • an exposure meter,
  • a lens to focus & direct light into the camera,
  • a diaphragm for controlling depth of field and the amount of light that strikes the image sensor,
  • a photosensitive image sensor,
  • circuitry to process the captured light data to create an image file,
  • image memory storage (built-in or via a memory card in a slot),and
  • a means of deleting images.

Other common features:

  • an electronic flash,
  • a connector for an external flash unit,
  • a sensor that controls the intensity and duration of the flash,
  • a slot or slots for memory cards,
  • a self-timer switch and self-timer lamp,
  • a menu button and/or a mode selector switch that lets you choose the appropriate camera settings for the subject or shooting conditions,
  • a USB socket to connect the camera to a computer so its images can be downloaded to the computer's memory,
  • video capabilities and
  • a power input socket.


Additional features on some digital cameras:

Lens variations

  • If the camera is equipped with a zoom lens like the model shown above, then it will have a zoom control switch and sometimes manually-controlled zoom control. Most inexpensive cameras have lenses with a modest zoom range while more costly models may have an extensive zoom range,
  • A higher quality or faster lens;
  • Some cameras permit you to set the lens for macro photography.
  • Interchangeable lens capability.
  • Optical image stabilization to minimize camera shake.

Shutter-related variations

  • Shutter speed choice - manual or shutter priority selection,
  • Self-timer to trip the shutter after a specific interval,
  • Connector for a shutter release cable,
  • Auto-bracketing,
  • Time lapse shutter release - camera takes pictures automatically at timed intervals.

Memory

  • Almost all digital cameras can save pictures in JPEG format, but not all of them can save pictures in the higher resolution TIFF and RAW formats. (See Choosing a file format.)
  • Direct save to CD - some of the Sony Mavica cameras (a line that is now discontinued) saved images straight to a CD, preventing deletion or image alteration.

Body variations

  • A variety of body colors and finishes is available on many cameras,
  • Sturdiness - some cameras are designed to withstand severe weather conditions, harsh shooting environments and rough handling,
  • Underwater photography capability.

Video capability

  • Most digital cameras can take short videos,
  • Some models are capable of shooting longer, full-frame videos.

Rear view of a Nikon Coolpix 4800 digital camera.
Rear view of a Nikon Coolpix 4800 digital camera.

The features and controls of the Nikon D3 are extensive and provide the photographer with enormous control in the taking of pictures. Note the three data screens - one on top, two on the back.
The features and controls of the Nikon D3 are extensive and provide the photographer with enormous control in the taking of pictures. Note the three data screens - one on top, two on the back.

Playback

  • All digital cameras permit you to view the image you have just taken or to replay individual shots from the bank of images stored in memory, sometimes with such features as rapid scrolling. Images can be deleted when viewing them in playback mode.
  • Many let you play the images as a slideshow, some with fades, dissolves and added effects.
  • Some play back an image and also display analytical data relevant to it.
  • Various high-end cameras have a detailed playback menu, affording the photographer several image viewing options, such as image-rotatation; as many as eight pages of information such as highlights, shooting date, histogram, etc. about the picture, superimposed on the image; viewing multiple images at once; and more.
  • Several models let you zoom in on images during playback.
  • Ability to protect selected images from deletion during playback.

Automatic power conservation

  • Many cameras have a power down feature that is activated after the camera has not been used in a while. There are two common modes - Sleep and Shutoff.
  • If equipped with a "sleep" power-down feature, the camera uses very little power but "awakens" quickly when the shutter button is depressed,
  • "Shutoff" mode switches the camera off completely, requiring you to turn it on again when you wish to use it.

Controls and shooting information

  • The variety of different settings, data and control systems available on the range of digital camera models on the market makes it impractical to try to list them all. Depending on the camera, settings are selected from menus available on the viewfinder (eye-level viewfinder or display screen), separate mini-screens on the tops or backs of some high-end cameras, and via buttons, wheels, switches and control panels just about anywhere on the camera body.

The above lists show many of the more common features of digital cameras. They are not intended to cover all the features on all cameras available to consumers. New features seem to be introduced regularly, making it an ongoing challenge to keep up with all the changes.

THINKING OF A NEW CAMERA?

If you are considering buying a new camera and feel overwhelmed by the variety of features available, you are not alone. They may make selecting the camera that is right for you intimidating, but that need not be the case. In fact, your knowing that so many features are out there should encourage you, since it means you are likely to find just the right camera with the right combination of features for your photography purposes. When looking for a new camera, you shouldn't begin your search by trying to compare features on a camera-by-camera basis, but rather by first deciding what kinds of pictures you wish to take, under what conditions and what your price range is. This information helps to identify your needs for certain features, and helps to eliminate features you won't need. Then, your task of searching for a camera with features that satisfy your needs becomes much less complicated.

You are better off knowing in advance what features you need in a camera when you shop for a new camera. You will not only save time, but will know that you are not wasting money on features you won't often or ever use.
You are better off knowing in advance what features you need in a camera when you shop for a new camera. You will not only save time, but will know that you are not wasting money on features you won't often or ever use.

Get to know your camera's features by consciously using them often. You will find that your photography noticeably improves.
Get to know your camera's features by consciously using them often. You will find that your photography noticeably improves.

If you have a camera that is full of features or has features you don't employ, do yourself a favor and get to know your camera and its capabilities better. After all, its features are there to help you to make better pictures. Having features on your camera that you aren't familiar with and don't make an effort to put to work is a waste. Take the time to become familiar with your camera's menus, and with every one of its buttons, switches and devices - what they do and how to make them do it. Refer to the camera's manual often, and look for opportunities to apply those features whenever you can.

Make it a personal rule to always bring your camera with you so it will be available when you come across a scene that is suitable for applying a feature you don't often use. Use your camera's features whenever possible, so that you become comfortable with them and confident when using them, and their use becomes as natural as pressing your shutter button. Here are examples of features you should become totally familiar with:

  • Learn to change the ISO sensitivity setting quickly to suit changing lighting conditions.
  • Set the white balance before every shooting session.
  • Shoot several shots of the same subject at different shutter speeds and different aperture settings.
  • Use fill flash regularly.
If you religiously employ such features as these, you will not only learn their effect on your pictures, but will soon begin treating your camera like a pro photographer who knows instinctively when to use a feature and can effortlessly enable the camera to take the shot under the best conditions.

You will find that your photography improves, that you will enjoy using your camera more, and depending on the particular features it has, you will end up taking terrific pictures you might never have thought you could take.


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