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Digital Camera Beginner: Jargon Buster

Don’t know your ISO from your Aperture?  Confused by all the jargon that accompanies buying a digital camera?  Fear not, the Digital Camera Beginner handy jargon buster is here to help!

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1080p

1080p is the highest standard of High Definition Television, also known as "Full HD", and is the equivalent of about a 2Mp still image. The other main HDTV standard in use is the lower resolution 720p.

Many cameras these days have "High Definition Movie Recording" as a feature, with 1080p recording providing the highest resolution and highest potential quality of the two standards. However, the same is true for video as for still photography in that resolution is only one part of the equation in recording good qulaity video (see our megapixel myths article for more detail). Digital SLRs are generally capable of recording very good quality video (Canon tend to lead the way in this field with the EOS 7D and EOS 5D MkII DSLRs), and have been used for high budget broadcast productions, including House.

Read more about 1080p at Wikipedia

35mm Film

35mm film is the standard size of consumer film that was popular among both consumer and professional camera equipment before the take off of digital photography in both sectors.

Many Digital SLRs have a sensor that is smaller than 35mm film, especially entry-level and mid-range DSLRs. The smaller sensor means that lenses do not behave in exactly the same way, providing a longer than expected focal length when used with these cameras. This makes objects appear closer than they really are, which may or may not be desirable. High-end DSLRs (such as the Canon EOS 1D) tend to offer full frame sensors.

Before the almost complete demise of film from all but specialist and disposable cameras, many consumer models used the smaller and more advanced APS film format. The smaller size of APS film is replicated now on most consumer and prosumer digital SLRs, the exception being Olympus who use the (smaller still) Four Thirds system.

720p

720p is the lower of the High Definition Television standards, and is the equivalent of about a 1Mp still image. The other main HDTV standard in use is the higher resolution 1080p.

Many cameras these days have "High Definition Movie Recording" as a feature, with 720p recording providing a high resolution and good potential quality. However, the same is true for video as for still photography in that resolution is only one part of the equation in recording good quality video (see our megapixel myths article for more detail). Many modern compact cameras and consumer Digital SLRs are able to record 720p video, with relatively few offering 1080p.

DSLRs are generally capable of recording very good quality video (Canon tend to lead the way in this field with the EOS 7D and EOS 5D MkII DSLRs), and have been used for high budget broadcast productions, including House.

A

Anti-Shake

Anti-Shake, or Image Stabilisation as it is sometimes called, is a method of trying to reduce blurring in photos caused by camera movement. With a fast shutter speed and a short focal length (zoomed out) camera shake is generally not an issue, but it can be hard to keep the camera still enough when taking photos using a large zoom or with a long shutter speed (for example, when taking photos at night) without a tripod.

Anti-Shake allows you to take photos with a shutter speed four to sixteen times longer than you normally would whilst retaining a sharp image, although it will not prevent motion blur. In fact, if you’re using a tripod or if you’re attempting to capture motion blur, it is advisable to turn any Anti-Shake function off. This is because when you know the camera will be still or if there is lots of external movement, the Anti Shake mechanism may get confused and actually introduce some undesired blurring!

Anti-Shake systems can work in one of two way, either by a mechanism to stabilise the image in the lens or by stabilising the sensor. Many systems now (including those by Canon and Nikon) are lens based, meaning if you own one of these DSLRs you will need to buy lenses with the manufacturers Anti-Shake feature built it to take advantage.

The specifics of Anti-Shake and how it works can get complicated, there’s plenty more on this at Wikipedia.

Aperture

Aperture is a measurement of how big the opening of the lens is, and therefore how much light can be let into the lens. The aperture value will change depending on the shutter speed (or vice-versa), with both needing to match up in order for the photo to be properly exposed. Picture 1 below shows a lens with the aperture opened wide, so more light can get in, whilst picture 2 shows a much smaller opening.

Apertures The aperture of a lens is measured in F-stops, and rather confusingly the larger the "F number" the smaller the opening. The use of aperture in photography is two-fold, firstly a large aperture (a small F-number) allows more light into the camera, and so from this perspective it is useful in low light situations where you can’t afford a slow shutter speed. Secondly, the larger the aperture the shallower the depth of field will be.

People often use a large aperture value to achieve the artistic effect of a shallow depth of field, especially for portrait shots. However, there are times when you want all of your shot to be in focus (for example landscape photography), and for this a smaller aperture (large F-number) is desirable. As the amount of light let into the sensor is dependent on the shutter speed as well as the aperture, DSLRs and higher-end compact cameras will have both shutter priority and aperture priority modes, letting the photographer set one or the other to create a specific creative effect (such as a shallow depth of field) whilst the camera calculates the other to ensure a good exposure.

Aperture Priority

Aperture Priority DialAperture priority mode is a mode found on DSLR and some compact cameras that lets you set the aperture you desire, with the camera then calculating the shutter speed based on this value. If you need clarification see the on what aperture is, see the article above.

On a DSLR with a mode dial, the aperture priority mode is usually signified by an A (as shown here), or on Canon models Av.

Autofocus (AF)

Autofocus is simply a method by which the camera uses a sensor (which can work in several ways) to determine which part of the photo should be in focus, and is standard on nearly every digital camera from cheap compacts to top-end DSLRs. More sophisticated autofocus systems have multiple points so the photographer can manually choose which area of the shot should be in focus, whilst simpler systems will generally automatically choose the focus point.

Some old pre-digital SLRs did not always have autofocus, and as such relyed on the photographer manually focusing every shot. Some photographers still choose to manually focus all their shots, whilst others will use manual focus selectively for creative shots.

With DSLR cameras there is usually a comprimise on the autofocus method when using Live View, with many cameras using a contrast based autofocus system when the image is being displayed as a live image on the cameras LCD display. In normal use contrast based autofocus can provide perfectly good results, though they tend to struggle when there is a lack of contrast.

It’s also worth noting that when lenses are fitted using lens adaptors (usually for attaching lenses that are a different fitting) you will usually lose autofocus.

B

Buffer

The internal buffer of a camera is the temporary space available for storing photos in the short gap between the picture being taken and the photo being saved to the memory card. A larger buffer means the camera will be able to store more information (and therefore more photos) at any time, meaning you can take more photos consecutively.

Some cameras will allow you to use continuous mode for longer or shorter periods of time depending on the resolution and format you’ve chosen in the picture quality settings.

Burst Mode

Burst mode is another term for continuous shooting mode, used by some camera manufacturers.

Bridge Camera

Fuji FinePix HS10

Fuji FinePix HS10 Bridge Camera


A bridge camera is one that attempts to "bridge" the gap between digital compact cameras and digital SLRs. They tend to feature a large zoom lens (not interchangeable) and a larger image sensor than a compact – both of which contribute to an increased image quality.

They went through a phase of being extremely popular a few years ago, as they tend to offer much greater image quality and manual control than compacts, but are cheaper and more user friendly than a DSLR.

Fuji tend to lead the bridge camera market, and whilst they market their bridge cameras as true DSLR competitors, the fixed lens means in some respects they can’t be. However, a bridge camera can still give fantastic results.

In recent times compact system cameras (such as the Panasonic Lumix G2) have taken a significant proportion of the market from bridge cameras, as they offer much of the same benefits but with the added functionality of interchangeable lenses.

C

CCD

CCD (or Charged-Coupled Device) is a type of sensor, the part of the camera that translates light coming through the lens into a digital photo. The other main type of sensor is a CMOS sensor, detailed below.

Both CCD and CMOS sensors are used commonly in both digital compact and DSLR cameras, although CMOS sensors are much more common in most current models. CCD sensors are known for their low noise, though they are typically very power hungry, consuming up to 100 times more power than a CMOS equivalent.

CMOS

CMOS (or Complimentary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) is a type of sensor, the part of the camera that translates light coming through the lens into a digital photo. The other main type of sensor is a CCD sensor, detailed above. Both CMOS and CCD sensors are used commonly in both digital compact and DSLR cameras, although CMOS sensors are much more common in most current models.

In the past CMOS sensors had been associated with poorer quality cameras, as their performance was generally inferior to CCD sensors whilst they were cheaper to produce. However, their much greater power efficiency (a CMOS sensor can be up to 100 times more power-efficient than a CCD sensor) has prompted significant development and investment by camera manufacturers and they are now found on very high-end cameras.

Improvements in technology have largely seen problems of CMOS sensors producing very noisy images eradicated on higher-end cameras, though poor quality sensors do still exist and low light performance can still be weak on cheap compacts.

Compact

Canon PowerShot SX210 Camera PURPLE

Canon PowerShot SX210

A compact camera is what you might call a "normal" digital camera, i.e. not a DSLR or bridge camera. They range from the very cheap with a relatively small megapixel count and fixed lens, to high-end cameras that offer many of the features normally associated with DSLRs (such as the Canon PowerShot SX210 pictured here).

The physically smaller size of the lens and image sensor in compact cameras makes it harder for them to perform in exactly the same way as a DSLR or bridge camera in some circumstances, especially when trying to capture images in low-light or achieve a depth of field effect. This can be exaggerated by the tendancy for some manufacturers to pack as many megapixels as possible onto as small sensor as possible, meaning each pixel has to be smaller and can therefore absorb less light. There is more about this in our Megapixel Myths article, which is well worth a read if you’re thinking of buying a compact digital camera.

Check out our First Things First buyers guide for more information about compact digital cameras.

Compact Flash

Compact Flash was a popular memory card format for early digital cameras, and maintained popularity as a format for much longer in higher-end models, especially DSLRs. Whilst still used today in some DSLRs, the newer SD, SDHC and SDXC family of cards have largely replaced Compact Flash in most models.

Whilst the Compact Flash specification supports cards up to 128Gb, it is most usual to find cards between around 1Gb and 16Gb.

Continuous Mode

Continuous mode (or burst mode on some models) is a mode on many digital cameras that takes photos as quickly as possible for as long as possible, usually until the buffer is full. There are two important factors to continuous shooting, the number of frames per second (fps) and the number of shots that can be stored before the buffer becomes full. These factors may change based on the image quality settings on the camera, and whether the camera is set to save files as RAW images or JPEGs.

Typically on a compact model you may only see continuous shooting rates of around 1 frame per second and a maximum number of around 5 shots, though some models will offer better results. DSLRs tend to offer a larger buffer and quicker shoot rate, varying from something like 3fps for an unlimted time for the Canon EOS 1000d, to 10fps for the flagship Canon EOS 1D Mark IV.

Continuous shooting mode is particularly useful when trying to capture fast moving and/or unpredictable action, where taking a single shot poses a high risk of missing the golden moment. As a word of warning, many cameras (especially compacts), will lock the autofocus when the first shot is taken, meaning if there is a lot of movement during the continuous shooting the latter pictures may suffer.

Canon

Canon, alongside Nikon, are one of the two largest and most respected camera manufacturers in the world. Their range starts with compact cameras at around £100 and goes up to some very high-end DSLRs costing thousands.

Read more about the Canon digital camera range here.

D

Depth of Field

The depth of field of a photo is the portion of it that is sharp and in focus. Every picture has a depth of field, but if focused ‘to infinity’ most cameras will provide shots that are perceptually entirely in focus, especially in Auto mode.

Depth of Field Diagram

The depth of field is the part of the photo in focus. Image from Wikipedia

Depth of Field Effect - Insect

Depth of Field Effect

The depth of field effect is a term used to describe a photo that features elements that are both sharp and in focus, and elements that are blurry and out of focus. This photo of an insect demonstrates the effect well, with the insect being sharp and the background soft and blurred. This effect is very popular among photographers, especially for portrait photos and macro (close-up) shots.

The depth of field is determined by the aperture of the lens, or how wide the lens opens to let light into the camera. To fully understand how the depth of field of a shot works, you should be familiar with what the aperture of a lens in – see our aperture definition.

Typically it is much harder to create a shallow depth of field on a compact camera than it is on a DSLR. This is a physical limitation due to the smaller size of the lens and sensor in a compact camera, although some models with a larger sensor will be able to create a reasonably pronounced effect, as will most bridge cameras. Many cameras have a macro mode for taking close-up shots which will lean towards a reduced depth of field. In order to attempt to create a shallow depth of field effect for portraits or other non-close-up shots you will need to have a camera that lets you manually set the aperture (aperture priority mode), normally designated by an A on the mode dial, or Av on Canon models.

When trying to achieve a shallow depth of field using a compact camera, results will be improved by:

  • Maximising the physical distance between the subject you want in focus and the foreground or background that you want blurred.
  • Taking a step back and zooming in – the depth of field will be reduced when your lens is at a longer focal length
  • If needs be, you can usually lock the focus on your camera by half-pressing the shutter. This may be useful if you need to recompose the shot because the autofocus won’t focus on your subject properly.

There is lots more about depth of field at Wikipedia.

Diffuser

In the context of photography, a diffuser spreads the light from the cameras flash. The idea is to make a softer light that doesn’t come as directly from one source as a normal non-diffused flash.

A spread out diffused light will help to reduce harsh highlights and shadows, which is a common problem in portrait photography. Normally when photographing people a soft light from a diffused flash will give more pleasing results than a direct flash.

Digital Zoom

Digital Zoom was a popular headline feature a few years ago, used by some manufacturers to try and make a more impressive sounding feature set. Customers would be forgiven for assuming that digital zoom would be superior to traditional optical zooms because it sounds more modern. In truth, digital zoom is next to useless, and generally any figures for a digital zoom magnification can be safely ignored.

Unlike optical zoom, a genuinely very useful feature that moves the lens to magnify the image coming into the camera, digital zoom is a software process applied after the image has reached the sensor.

The result? Digital zoom cannot add any more detail to a photo, as it is only working with the image that is already in the camera. It’s essentially the same as cropping the picture, and in fact there is almost never a case when using the digital zoom is preferable to cropping the image yourself afterwards.

Digital Zoom

Digital Zoom does not increase detail, and can result in very pixelated images

By cropping the photo afterwards not only do you have the choice of how much "zooming" you do, but you can also see the effect of any artefacts in detail (rather than on a small LCD screen) caused by the cropping. It is also possible that the algorithm for enlarging used by programs such as Photoshop will be far superior to that built in to your camera.

Dock

Some cameras will come with a dock instead of or as well as the usual USB cable. A dock will plug into the USB port on your computer, then to connect your camera to the computer you insert the camera into the dock.

If you always use your camera with the same computer then a dock can be a more convenient and elegant solution than connecting a cable every time.

Digital SLR (DSLR)

Nikon D7000

Nikon D7000 DSLR


A DSLR, or Digital Single Lens Reflex camera is a high-end type of interchangeable lens camera used by photography enthusiasts and professionals.

The name comes from the technology these cameras use to take photos, by using a mirror to direct light either to the viewfinder or the image sensor. Modern DSLRs now allow you to use the rear screen for "live view" so that taking photos is much the same as when using a compact model, though many people prefer to use the traditional viewfinder.

DSLRs have larger image sensors than most compact and bridge cameras, which combined with a physically larger lens means they tend to produce higher quality images, especially in low light. They also allow full manual control over the aperture, shutter speed and ISO, and well as fast continuous shooting modes. Another feature of DSLRs is the ability to create a depth of field effect much more easily than on compact models.

Recently DSLRs have gained a reputation for their very cinematic video capabilities with shows including House, 24 and some film studios using them routinely. The Canon EOS 5D MkII is currently the preferred choice of many professionals, although the EOS 7D is also popular. The impressive capabilities of the Canon EOS 550D/Rebel T2i have made this model very popular amongst those looking for something more affordable.

Whilst most mid-range models now offer at least some video capabilities, the standard can vary quite a lot. Common weak areas for using lower end DSLRs for video are a poor frame rate at 1080p resolution, slow autofocus, and a lack of manual controls.

Dust Reduction

DSLR Sensor Dust

Dust appears as dark marks - Photo: Wilder Kaiser

The nature of interchangeable lens cameras, especially DSLRs, means that when you take the lens off the camera the image sensor is susceptible to dust particles. Dust particles on the sensor can appear in several ways, usually as dark blotches.

Whilst dust could always enter the lens on SLR cameras, with film cameras the dust would be moved along when the film was wound on. As the sensor in a DSLR is static, any dust which adheres to the image sensor can be a real problem. All major DSLR manufacturers have now developed technology to try and either remove dust from the image sensor or at least minimise the effect of it through processing.

Dust reduction is a valuable feature to look out for on any DSLR or interchangeable lens camera.

E

Exposure

The exposure is the amount of light allowed to fall onto the image sensor in a digital camera, which is determined by the length of time the shutter is open and how wide the lens is allowed to open (aperture). People may refer to a long or short exposure, by which they would be referring to a long shutter speed.

Photos can be either over-exposed or under-exposed (or correctly exposed!), if a photo is under-exposed then it will be too dark any will lack detail in the shadows, whereas if it is overexposed it will be too bright. Over-exposed photos are the hardest to fix, and often feature the brightest areas being ‘clipped’, for example a bright sky may appear completely white in a badly over-exposed photo.

Most digital cameras will allow you to dial in some exposure compensation if you think that your photos are coming out either under or over-exposed. Exposure compensation is generally measured in EV units, and your camera will probably give you the ability to move around three ‘steps’ in either direction.

A word of warning – if you have to make a decision about over or under exposing a photo (maybe with a shot that has both very bright and very dark areas), then you are usually better off under-exposing it if you plan on trying to fix the problem in Photoshop or some other software afterwards. Over-exposed photos often have large portions of pure ‘clipped’ white where all the detail has been lost, and recovering this may not be possible. If you can, taking several photos with varying exposure compensation is advisable to give you the flexibility to decide which you like best when you take the photos off your camera – it can be hard to make informed decisions when viewing your pictures on the cameras small LCD screen!

One increasingly popular technique used to capture difficult scenes is HDR (or High Dynamic Range) photography. The idea of this is to take several photos at different exposures, and then combine them using software afterwards to create one ‘best of’ photo that captures all the detail in the highlights and shadows. Whilst there are some software packages available to help with this (see our article on HDR Efex Pro), it can be a time consuming process and requires your subject is still. Some modern cameras (such as the Fujufilm Finepix F70EXR) have a built in HDR mode that automatically takes several photos at differing exposures and combines the images.

Extension Tubes

Extension tubes are an accessory for DSLR and other interchangeable lens cameras that move the camera lens further away from the body (and therefore the image sensor) in order to help with macro (close-up) photography. By moving the lens further from the sensor the focal point becomes closer, making it possible to get very close to the subject.

There are two types of extension tubes, ones with electrical contacts and those without. Those with electrical contacts allow the lens to integrate with the camera, therefore making it possible to use autofocus and control the aperture (opening) of the lens. Non-electrical extension tubes will not allow this, so photographers will have to focus manually and usually shoot with the aperture fully open. On the plus side, non-electrical models are generally very cheap, and for close macro shots many photographers don’t feel the need to pay substantially more for autofocus and aperture control.

Eye-Fi

Eye-Fi is a brand of SD card that manufacture a range of cards that contain built in WiFi. This enables you to use a standard digital camera (that takes SD card memory) and add WiFi functionality, allowing you to transfer your photos wirelessly without the need to plug in the USB cable. Eye-Fi cards can also upload your photos to sites such as Flickr when in range of a wireless internet connection.

Some digital camera manufacturers, including Canon, have started to add support to some of their recent models to control Eye-Fi card settings from the camera, making the setup and user experience much smoother.

Visit the Eye-Fi website for more information.

F

Film

In the days before digital, cameras used physical rolls of film to capture images. This is a chemical process whereby when the shutter is opened and light is let through the lens, chemicals on the film react. In order to view the photos and get them printed, they need to be developed. The exception to this was the "instant" film developed by Polaroid.

Whilst there is still a niche for film photography, it is small and usually reserved for professionals and those with specialist cameras. The disadvantage of using film, aside from the fact that film is now expensive and becoming hard to get hold of, is that you have to wait until you have used the whole film before you can get the pictures developed and review your shots.

One hangover from the days of film commonly found on nearly every digital camera is an ISO setting. ISO is a measure of film speed, or the films sensitivity to light, and the same numbering system is used on digital cameras to adjust the sensitivity of the image sensor. Another advantage of using a digital camera over a film camera is that using a digital camera you can change the sensitivity, or ISO, for every shot, whereas a film (normally of 24 or 36 exposures) will have the same sensitivity across the whole roll.

Filter

A filter is a small transparent or translucent disc that screws over the end of DSLR lenses, and many other lenses on other interchangeable lens and high-end compact and bridge cameras. Filters can be used for a variety of purposes, the simplest of which being clear protection filters designed purely to protect the lens from damage. Other filters and are usually designed to add a specific effect, be it a creative flare or correcting a situation.

Some common types of filter are

Fixed Lens

A fixed lens is one which does’t offer any zoom (or telephoto) capabilities, and is restricted to a single focal length. On a compact camera this is usually undesirable as you will have limited control over your compositions, so if you plan on using your camera in a variety of scenarios you will soon feel restrcited. Some specialist compact cameras, usually designed for wide angle photography, may have a fixed lens designed specifically for that purpose.

On an interchangeable lens camera though, fixed lenses have a number of advantages. Firstly, a fixed lens will nearly always provide superior quality over a telephoto lens at a given price point. One of the most popular first additions to any DSLR kit is a 50mm fixed focal length lens, as it will usually provide much better quality than the supplied kit lens (typically a 18-55mm telephoto lens) for a reasonably small amount of money (under £100). A fixed focal length lens like this will also likely be capable of a wider aperture than a telephoto equivalent, and therefore allow for quicker shutter speeds and a reduced depth of field. Due to the fact the shutter speed can be faster, lenses with a large potential maximum aperture may also be referred to as "fast" lenses.

A fixed lens on a DSLR may commonly be referred to as a "prime" lens.

Flash

Panasonic Lumix G2 DSLR

Panasonic Lumix G2 with pop-up flash

Virtually every camera on the market (and even a good deal of camera phones) comes with some sort of flash. On DSLR and bridge cameras these tend to be "pop-up" so that they extend vertically above the camera body when in use. On compact cameras the flash may either be built in to the body, or in some cases may pop-up when required.

The idea of a flash (which may be referred to as a strobe in America) is quite simple; when it is too dark to take a properly exposed photo the flash can provide a short burst of light to illuminate the subject.

There are some disadvantages to using a standard flash though, the first being that it is very easy to end up with a well lit foreground subject against a very underexposed backdrop – asking a small flash on your camera to light up a whole landscape is a bit of a tall order! Secondly the light from a standard camera flash can be very harsh. Harsh lighting will create harsh highlights and shadows, the results of which tend to be unflattering especially when photographing people. There is also of course the problem of red-eye when using a harsh flash.

There are a number of ways to try and combat the negative effects of using a flash, the most commonly found being red-eye reduction. Some models also combat the underexposed backdrop problem by offering a night portrait mode, which works by using a longer exposure (to capture natural light from the background that the flash cannot affect) but also firing the flash to freeze the subject in the foreground.

An external flash gun can provide much more control if your camera supports one (few compacts do, but nearly every bridge and DSLR will). Professional photographers also regularly use a diffuser to soften the light from a flash gun, resulting in a much smoother and more flattering look for portraits.

Focal Length

Canon L-Series Zoom Lens EOS 10D

Canon L-Series Telephoto Lens

The focal length of a lens refers to the distance at which objects appear from the camera in a photo, essentially equivalent to the zoom level. Cameras may have a fixed lens with a certain fixed focal length, or more commonly (especially on compact and bridge cameras) the lens will have a range of focal lengths.

Focal length is generally expressed in millimetres, with a small focal length (below 50mm) being classed as wide angle, with larger values (over 50mm) being classed as telephoto. The very longest focal lengths available go up to about 1200mm for specialist super-telephoto lenses.

Focus

Focus refers to whether an area of a photo is either sharp (in focus) or blurred (out of focus). In the most simple scenario, a photographer will want the entirety of the shot to be sharp and in focus.

Practically every available digital camera now is equipped with autofocus (AF), so unless they choose otherwise the user can simply let the camera focus on the subject of the photo.

Focus is often used creatively, either to create a depth of field effect by isolating the subject from the background or foreground, or in some other artistic way.

FPS – Frames Per Second

FPS, or frames per second, is used two refer to two distinct features of modern digital cameras.

  • In terms of still photography, the cameras rate of continuous shooting will be given in frames per second. This is the maximum rate at which it will take photos, and will probably be a number between 0.5fps and 10fps. Obviously, a higher number means you can take more photos in a given time and are therefore less likely to miss the action you’re hoping to capture.
  • In movie mode, a camera may quote both the maximum resolution it can record and the frames per second. The greater the number of frames per second the smoother the video will be – generally speaking either 24fps or 30fps are standard for good quality smooth video. Some cameras may not be able to record at their maximum number of frames per second when using the highest resolution.

Fuji

Fuji is an abbreviated version of Fujifilm, a major digital camera manufacturer. See below.

Fujifilm

Fujifilm (sometimes abbreviated to Fuji) is a major digital camera manufacturer with a reputation for compact cameras that perform particularly well in low-light situations, and feature-rich bridge cameras. They also manufacture some specialist cameras, including the XP10 waterproof compact and the Real 3D W1, which takes genuine 3D images in a compact form factor.

Read more about the Fujifilm digital camera range here.

G

GIF

Animated Film Roll

Animated GIF

GIF, or Graphics Interchange Format in full, is a dated image format that was popular on websites in the 1990′s. The images are limited to a mere 256 distinct colours, making the format unsuitable for reproducing photos or any graphic with complex colour gradients. GIFs do however work well for solid areas of colour (something JPEGs struggle to reproduce without artefacts) and situations where transparency is needed. The much newer and more advanced PNG format has almost entirely replaced GIF use in this field these days.

Another major selling point of GIFs historically been the formats’ support for animations, although the primitive nature of them and floods of poor quality examples available on the internet (see our example here!) have made animated GIFs unpopular in recent years. Where animated content is required, Adobe Flash has replaced GIFs as the tool of choice by most developers.

Gorillapod

Joby Gorillapod SLR ZoomA Gorillapod is a type of tripod, with unique flexible legs that allow the camera to be held steady in a wide range of positions. If you carry one thing with you as well as your camera you could do a lot worse than make it a Gorillapod!

Gorillapods come in a variety of sizes, suited to different cameras. The original Gorillapod is suitable for most compact cameras, whilst there are more heavy duty SLR and SLR Zoom models for bulkier cameras. There are also mini ones suitable for mobile phones or small cameras, as well as a dedicated iPhone 4 model.

For general use, the Gorillapod Zoom (available on Amazon) is probably the best all round solution.

H

H.264

H.264 is a video codec used by many digital cameras to record videos in movie mode. It is a compressed format, so the files created will be significantly smaller than uncompressed video. As a guide, a 30s video in H.264 format will be around 90Mb at 720p resolution.

As H.264 is an efficient codec, taking up less space for the quality of video it delivers than most alternatives, it is the codec of choice for an increasing number of digital cameras that offer HD Video recording. H.264 videos are readily uploaded to YouTube or Facebook, and the quality of footage gained from high-end DSLRs such as the Canon EOS 5D MkII and EOS 7D has been deemed good enough for broadcast by high-budget productions, including House and 24

Most modern editing software will import and work with H.264 files, including Final Cut Pro, iMovie and Adobe Premiere. However, you may notice (especially with large HD files) that editing can be slow, and rendering even slower. This is because H.264 is what is known as an interframe codec, which means it uses a few keyframes (frames that store all the information for that still within the frame) spaced out throughout the video, and the frames in-between are worked out relative to them.  This means that when you scrub through a video in your editing software your computer has to work out what should be on that frame, which can be processor intensive. If you are going to be doing lots of editing with the files then you are probably best converting your H.264 videos to an intraframe codec, which is one that stores the full still image on every frame. This will take up a lot more space, but will make scrubbing through files during editing much faster.

With the realisation that many professionals and semi-professionals are using their cameras to create polished videos (rather than just capturing clips for YouTube), Canon now offer software for converting H.264 footage shot on a Canon digital SLRs to the Apple ProRes422 format – a format designed especially for editing in Final Cut Pro.

HD Video

HD (High Definition) Video is a term generally used to refer to either 720p or 1080p video files. However, technically anything that is recorded at a resolution greater than standard definition (SD) video can be called HD. Full HD (1080p) video has a resolution roughly equivalent to 2 megapixels, whereas 720p is equivalent to about 1 megapixel.

When looking at digital cameras, if movie recording is a valuable feature you should also be looking at the following specifications/features:

  • The frames per second (fps) will affect how smooth the video recorded is. 24-30fps is normal for high quality video
  • The resolution will determine the detail recorded. For most purposes 720p video will be ample, but some cameras still offer much lower resolutions so check carefully.
  • The codec used will affect how easy it is to edit and upload your videos as well as the quality. H.264 is the preferred codec at the moment for high quality movie recording on both digital compacts and DSLRs.
  • Can the zoom be used whilst recording? On most compact cameras it can’t be, though on DSLRs it can.

HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface)

HDMI, or High-Definition Multimedia Interface, is an interface commonly used to link up devices such as Blu-Ray players, HD satellite boxes, games consoles and some digital cameras to HD-ready TVs. If you want to easily view your photos on an HD TV then an HDMI out socket is a valuable feature, though be careful to check whether your chosen camera comes with the appropriate mini-HDMI to full size lead.

HDMI links are high quality and ensure that the resolution of the source (i.e. your camera) matches that of your TV properly, so when you use this method to view pictures on a TV screen they should be crisp and sharp, and not suffer from being stretched or squashed (as can happen when using an analogue method).

HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photography

HDR, or High Dynamic Range, photography is a process whereby several pictures taken at different exposures are combined to make one picture. The idea of this is to combine parts of several photos to create one ‘best of’ picture that captures much more detail in the highlights and shadows than could be achieved in any single shot.

HDR Sunset

HDR was used to create this composite sunset. Photo - Igor Iric on Wikipedia

Whilst there are some software packages available to help with this (see our article on HDR Efex Pro), it can be a time consuming process and requires your subject is still. Some modern cameras (such as the Fujufilm Finepix F70EXR) have a built in HDR mode that automatically takes several photos at differing exposures and combines the images. Traditionally, digital HDR images would be combined by hand in software such as Adobe Photoshop, though the rapid rise in popularity of HDR has meant there are many other options now available.

Recently HDR capabilities have been added to the iPhone 4, although the results from this aren’t directly comparable to using HDR techniques with a conventional DSLR or even digital compact camera.

I

Image Sensor

The image sensor is the part of the camera that translates light coming through the lens into a digital photo. They come in two main types, CMOS and CCD. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type, but the functionality is essentially the same in that they react to light in a similar way to film to create a digital image.

Both CCD and CMOS sensors are used commonly in both digital compact and DSLR cameras, although CMOS sensors are much more common in most current models. CCD sensors are known for their low noise, though they are typically very power hungry, consuming up to 100 times more power than a CMOS equivalent.

In the past CMOS sensors had been associated with poorer quality cameras, though this is no longer the case and CMOS sensors are now used in many very high end professional cameras.

Image Stabilisation

Image Stabilisation, or Anti-Shake as it is sometimes called, is a method of trying to reduce blurring in photos caused by camera movement. With a fast shutter speed and a short focal length (zoomed out) camera shake is generally not an issue, but it can be hard to keep the camera still enough when taking photos using a large zoom or with a long shutter speed (for example, when taking photos at night) without a tripod.

Image Stabilisation allows you to take photos with a shutter speed four to sixteen times longer than you normally would whilst retaining a sharp image, although it will not prevent motion blur. In fact, if you’re using a tripod or if you’re attempting to capture motion blur, it is advisable to turn any Image Stabilisation function off. This is because when you know the camera will be still or if there is lots of external movement, the Anti Shake mechanism may get confused and actually introduce some undesired blurring!

Image Stabilsation systems can work in one of two way, either by a mechanism to stabilise the image in the lens or by stabilising the sensor. Many systems now (including those by Canon and Nikon) are lens based, meaning if you own one of these DSLRs you will need to buy lenses with the manufacturers Image Stabilsation feature built in to take advantage.

The specifics of Anti-Shake and how it works can get complicated, there’s plenty more on this at Wikipedia.

Internal Memory

Internal memory is onboard memory within the camera that is non-removable. In the past camera manufacturers would often add internal memory to their compact cameras as a token nod towards making them function straight out of the box without having to include an SD or Compact Flash memory card.

These days, nearly every camera uses some form of SD card to store photos, and internal memory is rarely included. It’s assumed most users will now know to buy a suitable SD card when they purchase a new camera, and in cases where internal memory is still included generally there is barely enough capacity to store more than a handful of pictures.

As such, internal memory is not really a factor to consider when buying a new digital camera.

ISO

In terms of photography, ISO is a measure of film speed, or how sensitive a film is to light. This is a hangover from the days of film, but the same measuring system is used in digital cameras to refer to changing the sensitivity of the image sensor.

ISO sensitivity is referred to as a number, with a higher sensitivity being expressed as a higher number. Most cameras will start with a low sensitivity value of around ISO 100, and may go up to ISO 3200 (or even higher on some models, particularly DSLRs).

Along with a wide aperture and longer shutter speed, increasing the ISO on your camera can help you take photos in low light, although there is a very noticable trade off in all digital cameras between a high ISO and an increase in noise. On most cameras, particularly compacts, an ISO value of more than around ISO 800 can lead to very noisy pictures that look quite poor even at a small size.

ISO 100

ISO100 - Low Noise

ISO 200

ISO 200 - Noise still low

ISO 400

ISO 400 - Noise now visible, but passable

ISO 800

ISO 800 - Noise very noticeable, detail is lacking

ISO 1600

ISO 1600 - Photos here aren't very usable

 

As you can see, the amount of noise increases with the ISO rating on these images (click on each to enlarge). We shot these images indoors, in relatively poor light, on a Fuji F50fd compact digital camera so as to demonstrate how high ISOs can affect image quality on a real life mid-range compact.

ISO adjustment is a useful tool to have when you can’t use a long shutter speed, for example taking photos of people without a flash at night, but you need to be careful not to go too high or you risk an unusably noisy image. You should also bear in mind that noisy images taken in low light can look much better on your cameras small LCD screen than they will when you look at them on a bigger screen, so some trial and error may be required.

Some cameras perform much better at higher ISOs than others, with Fuji compact models having a good reputation for their relatively strong performance in this field. DSLRs (and to some extent bridge cameras) will always perform better in low-light due to their physically larger image sensors – our Megapixel Myths article explains this further.

J

JPEG

JPEG (occasionally seen as just JPG) is a compressed image format used by almost every digital camera. JPEGs use lossy compression in order to make pictures smaller and more manageable, but being lossy some of the image data is lost and the quality reduced over the original file. The amount of compression (and therefore the quality of the image) is not fixed, and many digital cameras will have settings such as Fine, Normal and Low to allow the photographer to choose what balance of file size and image quality they want (this may be or may not be linked to changing the resolution).

Generally our advice is to always shoot using your cameras highest possible quality settings, so using the highest resolution and the cameras Fine JPEG mode. Remember, you can always resize and shrink your images for posting on the internet or emailing, but if you shoot in a lower quality then decide you would like to have a photo printed in a large size you can’t get back that quality. With memory cards being relatively cheap now even for high capacity models, it’s not usually necessary to reduce the quality of photos to ensure you have enough capacity for a trip.

It’s also worth knowing that when you’re editing photos everytime you save a JPEG file some information will be lost, so it is best to minimise the number of times you open and save JPEGs to preserve their quality. If you can, it’s best to only save to JPEG when you’ve completed your editing, and work in a lossless format (such as Photoshop PSD files) while you edit.

All DSLRs, and some high-end compact and bridge cameras, have the ability to save images as RAW files instead of or as well as JPEGs. RAW files are uncompressed and contain much more information than a JPEG file, meaning they offer more flexibility in the editing stage. However, they are much larger than their JPEG equivalents and usually require some software processing to make a pleasing photo.

K

Konica-Minolta

Konica-Minolta formed out of a merger in 2003 between Konica and Minolta, who before this date were seperately operating camera and camera accessory manufacturers. Konica-Minolta sold their DSLR technology in 2006 to Sony, who continue to make cameras using the technology to this date. Konica-Minolta may still be mentioned when referring to Sony or other cameras that use their standard of lens fitting.

L

Leica

Leica are a high-end camera and lens manufacturer based in Germany, and have made numerous well-regarded cameras over the years. These days Leica are perhaps best known amongst consumers for their lenses on Panasonic Lumix digital cameras, though these lenses are manufactured by Panasonic under license to the specifications set out by Leica, rather than being made in a Leica factory.

Leica also make a wide range of lenses with fittings for various manufacturers, and their own range of digital and film cameras. Of particular note, the Leica D-Lux 4 (widely used as a very high-end compact by photographers who usually use a DSLR) is a slightly modified and re-branded Panasonic LX3, which sells for considerably less money.

Lens

The lens is the piece of glass that a camera uses to "see" the photo that it takes. Every camera has one, though they vary wildly from very large detachable zoom lenses to small fixed lenses used on disposable cameras and cheap digital compacts.

Lens Adaptor

DSLRs or compact system cameras with interchangeable lenses will be designed for use with lenses with a specific mounting. So Nikon lenses will only work with Nikon cameras, Canon lenses with Canon cameras etc.

Whilst some manufacturers have more than one co-existing standard, if you only buy lenses made by the same manufacturer as your camera you shouldn’t run into difficulties. Third party lens manufacturers usually produce the same lens with multiple mounting options, so be sure to check you know what standard your lens uses before buying.

Lens adaptors are useful when you need to use a specific lens that has the wrong kind of mount for your camera, for example using a Nikon lens on a Canon camera, or using old lenses on a modern camera. There are disadvantages to using lens adaptors though, notably that with many you may lose autofocus.

Read about Marks experiences of using a lens adaptor on his Olympus camera here.

Lens Cap

A lens cap (or lens cover) is the small plastic disc that’s used to protect the lens of a camera. On a DSLR this is a seperate disc that is manually taken on and off, whereas on a digital compact it normally automatically covers the lens when the camera is turned off.

It’s important to use a lens cap when your camera isn’t in use to prevent the lens from becoming scratched and dirty.

Lens Hood

A lens hood is a lens attachment that helps avoid lens flare by stopping light (usually from the sun) entering the lens from the side. Lens hoods are generally plastic attachments that fit onto DSLR lenses, and most can be reversed so that they can be stored on the lens without affecting the image.

Lens Hood - Image from Wikipedia

Read more about how a lens hood works at Wikipedia.

Light Diffuser

A light diffuser is an attachment for a flash gun (strobe) that reduces the harshness of the flash light by diffusing it more evenly across your subject.

Direct flashes from compact and DSLR cameras (even using an external flash gun) can often produce exaggerated highlights and strong shadows that are not very flattering, so many photographers will use some kind of diffuser to try and produce a more even look.

Live View

Live View is a feature found on nearly every current DSLR camera which lets you compose and take photos using the cameras LCD screen, much as you would on a digital compact camera.

However in live view mode you will suffer a significant reduction in battery life, and will be limited in how the camera can achieve autofocus. Many serious and professional photographers rarely use live view, choosing instead to compose their shots through the optical viewfinder.

That said, live view does have the advantage of being more ergonomic in many situations, and if you have time to properly set-up a shot you can usually zoom right in to make sure everything is focused exactly as you require.

M

Macro

Macro Butterfly
Macro photography is just a name for close-up photography, with macro lenses being those designed for close up work.

There are several ways you can achieve good close-up results, both with digital compact and DSLR cameras.

Macro Photography Tips

  • On a digital compact, make sure your subject is well lit
  • Enable the cameras macro mode – this often looks like a picture of a flower.
  • Use a tripod if you have one, if you dont try and rest your camera on something rather than shooting handheld.
  • Get the image as sharp as possible and experiment with how close you can get. Half press the shutter to make the camera autofocus.
  • If you can’t get close enough without losing focus then move back, re-focus, and take the picture at your cameras highest quality setting. You can crop your photo afterwards on your computer.

Macro Photography with DSLRs

  • DSLRs offer more flexibility and options over compacts for macro work – your first step will be to choose the best lens you own.
  • You can buy specialised macro lenses if you plan on doing lots of macro work
  • Extension tubes are the cheapest and most effective way of turning a normal lens into one capable of sharp close-ups. A set can a set can usually be picked up for under £10, and will make even a standard kit lens perform much better.

Magnifier Loupe

An actual magnifier loupe is a small handhelp magnifying glass used for seeing details more clearly, but more commonly now it’s used in software packages to offer a virtual magnifying glass that you can use to check the detail of your images easily.

Medium Format

Medium format is a term used to describe film and film cameras that use large size film. Generally, the term applies to cameras that take photos on film larger than 24×36 mm (the size used for 135 film), but smaller than 4×5inches (this is large format). Whilst the term is very much based on physical film sizes, medium format is now just as likely to refer to an equivalent digital image sensor size.

Medium format cameras are usually very high-end specialist equipment, and can cost many thousands of pounds.

Megapixel

A megapixel value on a camera is a measure of how many pixels, or ‘dots’ a picture taken by it is made of. Think of the picture you take being projected onto a grid, where each square changes colour based on the light that lands on it. Smaller boxes makes for a more detailed picture, and the smaller the boxes the more you need to make up the picture. So, more megapixels means more dots, and in theory more detailed pictures.

A megapixel = one million pixels – roughly the number on a 720p HD television.

See our Megapixel Myths article for more information on why more isn’t always best though.

Memory Card

A memory card is what your camera uses to store your photos. These days it’s uncommon for a memory card to be included with a new camera, so you’ll need to check what type(s) it’s compaitible with and buy an appropriate one before you can start using your camera properly. Whilst some cameras do include some internal memory, usually it’s very small and only capable of storing a few photos.

SD, SDHC and SDXC cards are by far the most popular memory cards these days, though only high-end cameras support the newest SDXC format. Compact Flash was a popular memory card format for early digital cameras, and maintained popularity as a format for much longer in higher-end models, especially DSLRs. Whilst still used today in some DSLRs, most models use SD cards.

When buying a memory cards there are two things to consider; the capacity and the speed of the card. Basic cards are quite cheap now, and even relatively large 8Gb and 16Gb cards can be bought reasonably cheaply. However, if you are wanting to record HD video or capture multiple images continuously, then you need to look for a fast card too.

For the best results, especially if you plan on recording video, you should use at least a Class 6 SD card.

Memory Stick

Memory Stick is a type of memory card developed by Sony. It has been used in Sony digital cameras and camcorders since 1998, although there have been several variations on the brand, including Memory Stick PRO, Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick Micro, Memory Stick PRO-HG, and Memory Stick XC.

Only Sony use the Memory Stick format, and as off 2010 all new Sony digital cameras also support SD and SDHC cards. Whilst Sony have claimed the format is not dead and that they will continue to develop it, we would reccomend sticking to SD cards if possible.

Memory Cards

Minolta

Minolta is a now defunct brand of digital cameras, photocopiers, and printers. The company merged with Konica in 2003 to form Konica-Minolta, then in 2006 Konica-Minolta sold there DSLR technology to Sony, who continue to produce cameras based on this technology.

Monopod

A monopod is very similar to a tripod, but with a single leg. This makes it more portable than a tripod, both in terms of being less bulky and in having a smaller footprint, making it easier to move when you want to take supported shots from a variety of positions.

Whilst they can’t be used for unattended photography, a monopod will offer a significant increase in stability over operating a camera hand-help and will allow for much longer shutter speeds to be used. For this reason monopods are popular with photographers at gigs and concerts, where low light conditions demand a longer shutter speed, yet the photographer wants to be free to move and compose shots from various angles.

Motion JPEG

Motion JPEG is a compressed video format used by some compact and DSLR cameras when used in Movie Mode. The resulting file sizes are much smaller than uncompressed video.

Motion JPEG works by individually compressing each frame of the video as a JPEG, with these files being played back in sequence to make a smooth video. Motion JPEG used to be popular as a video format on many devices (including desktop computers), but is now a relatively outdated format. It is however still used for HD video by some Nikon DSLRs to great effect, although the most recent models in the range also support the superior H.264 format.

Motion JPEG videos are readily uploaded to YouTube or Facebook, and the quality of footage gained from high-end DSLRs such as the Nikon D90 has won high praise.

Motion JPEG is an intraframe codec, i.e. one that stores the full still image on every frame. H.264 and other interframe codecs use a few keyframes (frames that store all the information for that still within the frame) spaced throughout the video, with the frames in-between being worked out relative to them. Interframe codecs like H.264 are more efficient and produce higher quality video for a given filesize, but are cumbersome to edit as the software has to work out what each frame should look like.

In modern cameras, especially DSLRs, H.264 is considered a better codec option than Motion JPEG.

Movie Mode

Movie Mode is simply a mode found on many digital compact cameras and an increasing number of digital SLR cameras that enables you to shoot videos.

Nearly all compact models will feature some kind of Movie Mode – some will merely offer basic low resolution capture, but others (like the excellent Canon PowerShot SX210) offer High Definition video capture and dedicated quick access buttons for recording video easily.

If a good quality of video is important to you, then you should check both the resolution (normally quoted as 1080p or 720p high definition, or standard definition) of the recordings, and also the framerate. The resolution is important to ensure a good level of detail (in exactly the same way as a higher megapixel count for stills), whereas a higher framerate is important for smooth videos that don’t jump. You should really be looking for at least 24fps (frames per second) for good quality smooth video.

N

Neutral Density (ND) Filter

Waterfall ND Filter Slow Shutter

Flowing Waterfall

A Neutral Density, or ND, filter is used to evenly reduce the amount of light going into the camera and hitting the image sensor.

Neutral Density filters are often used to reduce the light coming into the camera in order that a slow shutter speed can be used without the photo becoming overexposed. This is useful if you want to create a deliberately blurred image in bright sunlight, for example when photographing a waterfall or river, to create the sense of movement.

Neutral Density filters can also be used as an alternative to changing the aperture of a lens or the shutter speed, for example using a ND filter for a portrait in bright sunlight would allow you to use a larger aperture, and therefore create a shallower depth of field.

Generally filters will be screw on and attach to the end of the lens – something possible on practically every digital SLR lens, but only a small number of advanced compact cameras (such as the Canon PowerShot G12 and Nikon P7000) support screw on filters.

Nikkor

Nikkor is the brand used by Nikon for their camera lenses. In the past Nikon reserved the Nikkor brand for it’s highest quality lenses, although in recent times all their lenses have carried the Nikkor mark.

Whilst Nikkor have produced lenses in a variety of formats over the years, they are most widely known for their Nikon F-Mount range of digital SLR lenses.

Nikon

Nikon alongside Canon, is one of the two largest and most respected camera manufacturers in the world. Their range starts with compact cameras at around £100 and goes up to some very high-end DSLRs costing thousands.

Read more about the Nikon digital camera range here.

Noise

The ‘salt and pepper’ type of digital artefacts that can occur on digital photos are often referred to as noise.  There will be some element of noise on every digital photo, although on a good shot it will be invisible or nearly invisible to the naked eye.

The primary cause of noticeable or excessive noise on digital photos is the use of a high ISO in a low light situation.  The ISO value refers to the sensitivity of the image sensor, and photographers may need to boost the ISO (or, in automatic mode, the camera will adjust the ISO) in order to get a properly exposed photo in low light.

ISO 100

ISO100 - Low Noise

ISO 1600

ISO 1600 - This photo shows very visible noise

The physical size of the image sensor and the density of the pixels on it play a major part in how much noise a camera will produce – the larger the image sensor and the less dense the pixels are packed in, the less noise the camera should produce.  The reasons behind this are covered in more depth in our Megapixel Myths article, but in general as digital SLRs have the largest image sensors they perform best and produce the least noise, whereas compact cameras (especially those with very high megapixel ratings) produce the most noise.

O

Olympus

Olympus are an established digital camera manufacturer, and produce a full range of compact, bridge, digital SLR and the PEN line of compact system cameras.

Read more about the Olympus digital camera range here.

Optical Zoom

Zooms that work by extending and contracting the lens to zoom in and zoom out are optical zooms, and are the only type of zoom that matters on a digital camera. Whilst the term digital zoom may sound more modern, it’s always inferior to an optical zoom.

Optical zooms work by physically moving the glass inside the lens in order to change the magnification seen by the cameras image sensor.  Most digital compacts will come with some kind of zoom lens these days, often expressed in terms of the number of ‘times’ magnification it can offer.  The higher the number the more powerful the zoom – a basic zoom lens may have 3x magnification whereas a superzoom compact may feature something like 14x magnification.

Digital SLRs sold with a ‘kit lens’ tend to include a basic optical zoom lens as standard. These are generally measured in terms of focal length in millimetres – a normal kit lens on a digital SLR will probably be 18-55mm or similar, though some manufacturers offer more powerful zooms on some models.

Whereas optical zoom is mechanical, inferior digital zoom technology magnifies the image using software. This means digital zoom is essentially just cropping the image, resulting in no increase in detail, whereas an optical zoom will increase detail when you zoom in.

P

Panasonic

Panasonic make a variety of general electronic goods, including the highly regarded LUMIX digital camera range. The LUMIX brand covers all of Panasonics very popular digital compacts, as well at the LUMIX G Micro System range of compact interchangeable lens cameras.

Read more about the Panasonic LUMIX digital camera range here.

PictBridge

PictBridge is a technology that allows you to print directly from a digital camera to a printer without using a computer.

Usually this is achieved by plugging a USB cable from a PictBridge capable digital camera into a compatible printer, and then choosing which images to print from the cameras PictBridge interface.

Whilst PictBridge is reasonably common, there are other ways in which a similar result can be achieved. For example, many modern printers (especially those designed for printing photos) have a memory card slot, allowing you to print from the memory card even if the camera you used to take the photos is not PictBridge compatible.

For PictBridge to work both the camera and printer need to be PictBridge compatible.

Pinhole Camera

Pinhole Landscape

Pinhole Landscape: M J M on Flickr

A Pinhole Camera is a very simple type of camera, which instead of a traditional lens uses a very small hole to shine light directly onto film or a digital image sensor.

The smaller the hole the sharper the image will be, though obviously the less light it will let in. This means exposure times are usually very long, anything from several seconds to several hours, and as such rather than a traditional shutter most pinhole cameras are operated by covering and uncovering the pinhole manually.

Pinhole photographs tend to exhibit certain common characteristics, including strong vignetting and soft arty colours.

Many compact digital cameras, especially smartphone cameras, have a pinhole effect or filter built in to mimic the style of pinhole images. Digital SLR users can experiment with pinhole techniques by making or buying an adapted lens cap with a small pinhole in it and using that instead of a lens.

Pixel

A pixel is a single block of colour in an image, representing a tiny part of a the overall photo. The resolution of a digital camera is measured in megapixels, with a one megapixel image being made up of one million individual pixels.

Most digital cameras now will have a resolution of at least eight megapixels (so eight million pixels), though a good quality print up to and above A4 size can be achieved with a much lower resolution. To put it in perspective, even a large high resolution computer monitor will only have a resolution of about 2 Mp.

Whilst a higher number of pixels (or megapixels) theoretically makes a sharper and more detailed image, there are trade-offs to having too many pixels on an image sensor of any given size. See our Megapixel Myths article for more on why this is.

Digital Zoom

More Megapixels gives greater potential detail

PNG

PNG, or Portable Network Graphics, is a file format used predominantly for web graphics rather than photos, but which can be used for photos with good results if necessary.

PNG was invented as a replacement to the old GIF file format, offering vastly improved quality and improving support for transparency. Whilst PNG files are generally larger than JPEGs, they are far superior for non-photographic images such as graphics, text, and areas of solid colour, all areas where JPEGs tend to show artefacts.

PNG files use lossless compression, so whilst they maybe inefficient when compared to JPEGs in terms of file size, there will be no further loss of quality after the initial encoding if the file is saved over and over again.

Point and Shoot

Point and Shoot is a slang term used to describe compact digital cameras being used in an automatic mode.

This means the photographer worries about nothing other than composing the shot, letting the camera choose factors such as the shutter speed, aperture and whether to fire the flash.

Polarising Filter

A Polarising Filter is used to reduce glare, haze, or reflections in photos.  Some shots, particularly landscape photos, can suffer from a haze and lack impact that’s greatly reduced if a polarising filter is used.

A polarising filter will also allow you to shoot through glass or water directly without showing reflections on the resulting photo.

Polarising filters come in two types; linear and circular.  Circular filters are designed to work with modern cameras and it’s this type you should buy for your digital SLR, bridge or compact system camera. Linear filters will likely confuse the autofocus and metering on your camera, and so shouldn’t be used.

Generally filters will be screw on and attach to the end of the lens – something possible on practically every digital SLR lens, but only a small number of advanced compact cameras (such as the Canon PowerShot G12 and Nikon P7000) support screw on filters.

Polaroid

Polaroid-examplePolaroid is a manufacturer of various photographic equipment, although they are best know for their instant film cameras.

Traditional Polaroid instant cameras have a distinctive design and produce distinctive pictures, easily identified by their unconventional size and large, white borders. Polaroid photos tend to exhibit a unique feel, with strong vignetting, soft colours, and soft focus.

Many pieces of software exist to emulate the look of Polaroid images digitally for people looking to get a retro feel to their images.

Prime Lens

Prime Lenses are lenses with a fixed focal length, i.e. they cannot zoom. The advantage of a prime lens over a zoom lens is generally an increase in sharpness and quality, as well as a wider maximum aperture, for a given price point.

When using a prime lens the photographer must physically move forwards or backwards to ‘zoom’ in and out and compose their shots.

Prime lenses can offer a variable amount of (fixed) magnification – so whilst a 50mm lens usually equates to a small magnification over real life on a digital SLR, you could also use a 400mm prime lens to offer a large amount of magnification.

50mm or 80mm prime lenses are a very common digital SLR accessory, and work especially well as a lens for portrait work. However, a lack of any zoom can be restrictive and so most photographers use something like an 18-55mm zoom lens as their general purpose lens.

Processor

Just like your computer, your digital camera has a processor that interprets the data captured by the image sensor and translates it into a photo.

Each manufacturer has it’s own image processing technologies, and the processor used may vary across different cameras in each manufacturers range.

In general, newer image processors will be quicker and better at interpreting the information from the sensor and creating the best possible photo, though of course some manufacturers will be better than others. It’s common for manufacturers to introduce new processors first on a high-end model, and then for this to filter down through the range.

R

RAW

RAW files are minimally processed files, containing data taken from a digital cameras image sensor. Unlike JPEGs, RAW files are just that, raw, and as such need to be processed before they can be printed, displayed or edited.

Usually RAW files are processed by software that comes with your digital camera, where adjustments can be made that go beyond what you can do with a flat JPEG or TIFF file. There are third-party RAW editors available, but as every manufacturer has a different proprietary standard it is not always straight-forward to use such software.

Some high-end compact digital cameras support taking RAW images, as do all digital SLRs.

The benefit of shooting RAW images are:

  • RAW files are uncompressed (unlike JPEGs) and so are potentially better quality
  • Ability to adjust exposure, white balance etc in software without losing quality

However, RAW files are typically much larger than the JPEG equivalents, and for a high resolution modern digital SLR camera the files can be 20-30mb each. They also require some processing to get good results, so for quick snaps you may find it more convenient to either shoot JPEGs or, if your camera supports it, RAW+JPEG, which will save two versions of each photo.

As there is no set standard for RAW files, the file extension used for them varies between manufacturers, and even between different models between the same manufacturer. The most common file extensions are:

  • Canon – .crw and .cr2
  • Nikon – .nef and .nrw
  • Sony – .arw .srf and .sr2
  • Olympus – .orf
  • Fuji – .raf
  • Panasonic – .raw and .rw2
  • Pentax – .ptx and .pef

Red-Eye (and Red-Eye Reduction)

Red Eye ExampleRed Eye can happen in photographs when a flash is used in low light situations, and is particularly apparent when the flash is very close to the camera lens – an unavoidable situation for most compact cameras.

Red eye happens because a typical flash is so fast that the human eye cannot react to the bright light and close the iris quick enough, and so the flash reflects back off the eyeball.

As red eye is undesirable, there are a number of ways it can be reduced, masked or eliminated:

  • Using an off-camera flash not pointing directly at the subject should eliminate the effect, and also give a softer overall light.
  • Using the red eye reduction feature on most modern cameras – this will fire a constant bright light or series of lower powered flashes to make the iris’ of your subjects contract, and therefore reduce or eliminate the effect.
  • Take photos from an angle so that your subject is not looking directly into the flash.
  • Increase the ISO of your camera so that you can avoid using the flash altogether.
  • Adobe Photoshop, Apple iPhoto or other digital editing packages offer post-production red eye reduction. This isn’t as good as eliminating the problem but is often the only feasible solution, especially if you’re using a compact camera in dark conditions.

Reflector

A Reflector is a device, usually a flat board or umbrella shape, used to redirect light towards a subject. One might be used in a studio setup to create a specific even lighting over a subject, for example when shooting portraits, or one could be used outdoors to reflect sunlight onto a subject to reduce any harsh shadows.

Due to their physical size and the time needed to set them up correctly, reflectors tend only to be used by professionals on studio photo shoots or well planned location work.

Remote Trigger

A Remote Trigger is a device that plugs into a camera (usually a digital SLR, though some high end compact and bridge cameras support remote triggers) and allows you to take a photo without physically touching the camera.

This is a very useful (and usually inexpensive) add-on for when you’re using a tripod and really need to avoid camera shake, for example when using a long shutter speed or shooting distant objects with a long focal length lens. Even with a tripod, if you don’t use a remote trigger you run the risk of inducing shake when you press the shutter button.

If you are shooting static objects and either don’t have a remote trigger or your camera doesn’t support one, then try using the self-timer function as an alternative.

Roll Film

In the days before digital, cameras used physical rolls of film to capture images. This is a chemical process whereby when the shutter is opened and light is let through the lens, chemicals on the film react. In order to view the photos and get them printed, they need to be developed. Roll film is a specialist type of film used only now by some high-end medium format cameras, and is only available from specialist photography shops.

Roll film can come is a variety of sizes, but all tend to be larger than the standard 35mm film that was common in pre-digital consumer cameras.

S

SD (Secure Digital) Card

Secure Digital (SD) Cards are a type of memory card used in most compact and an increasing number of digital SLR cameras. The technology was initially developed jointly by SanDisk, Toshiba and Panasonic, although it is supported by nearly every digital camera manufacturer now.

SD Cards are now widely used in many other devices, including digital camcorders, games consoles, sat navs, netbooks and other devices that utilize solid state storage.

Standard SD Cards have an official maximum capacity of 2Gb, although some have been made up to 4Gb. There are several newer and spin-off variants of the original SD Card:

  • SDHC – increased capacities between 4Gb and 32Gb
  • SDXC – increased capacities between 3Gb and 2Tb
  • microSD – smaller format cards used in devices such as mobile phones. Can be used in SD Card slots using an adaptor (usually supplied).
  • MultiMediaCard (MMC) – the forerunner to SD Cards and physically similar, MMC cards are rare now but will still work in SD card slots.

As well as capacity, modern SD Cards will also have a speed, or class, rating. The speed rating is important as it will determine how quickly you can read and write to the card – the higher the class rating the faster the card will be. The following is the minimum requirements to be compliant in each class:

  • Class 0 – No performance guarantee – this includes old cards manufactured before the class standard was introduced.
  • Class 2 – 2 MB/s (Lowest class for SDHC cards)
  • Class 4 – 4 MB/s
  • Class 6 – 6 MB/s
  • Class 10 – 10 MB/s

If you want to shoot continuously on a regular basis, or use your compact or digital SLR to capture HD video, then you should aim to get at least a Class 6 SD Card.

In the past higher-end cameras have tended to favour Compact Flash over SD Cards, mainly due to the fact that it was traditionally faster. However, newer SD Cards are now on a par with Compact Flash in terms of speed, and the much smaller physical size and wide availability of SD Cards has made them popular even in modern high-end digital SLRs.

Memory Cards

SDHC Card

SDHC, or Secure Digital High Capacity, is a sub-format of the SD card standard that increases the range of supported capacities up to 32Gb. Although they will physically fit, SDHC cards cannot be used in devices that only support standard SD cards. Most modern cameras will support SDHC, but it’s best to check especially if you have an older model.

All SDHC cards must have a Class 2 rating or higher, although most users would benefit from choosing a faster Class 4 or Class 6 card.

There’s more about SD Cards and the associated class ratings in the standard SD card description above.

SDXC Card

SDXC, or Secure Digital Extended Capacity, is the newest sub-format of the SD card family, going beyond the SDHC standard to provide capacities between 32Gb and 2Tb.

SDXC support is becoming more widely available, with many digital SLRs and high-end compacts now offering it.

There’s more about SD Cards and the associated class ratings in the standard SD card description above.

Sensitivity

When photographers talk about sensitivity, they are generally talking about the ISO of their digital camera.

There is a trade off when increasing the sensitivity or ISO of the image sensor in a digital camera, with more noise being visible as the ISO increases.

See the main ISO description for more.

ISO 100

ISO100 - Low Noise

ISO 1600

ISO 1600 - This photo shows very visible noise

Sensor

In photography terms, when people talk about a sensor they are referring to the cameras image sensor, the equivalent of a digital roll of film.

Shutter

The Shutter on a digital camera is the device that determines for how long light is let through the lens and allowed to fall on the image sensor. Traditionally, a shutter is a mechanical device that physically covers and uncovers the image sensor, but some digital cameras now use an entirely software-based or electrical shutter. Generally, a mechanical shutter is faster and more accurate than an electronic one.

The length of time the shutter is opened for (the shutter speed) will determine how much light is let into the camera, and will also determine whether action is frozen or blurred.

Shutter Priority

Aperture Priority DialShutter Priority mode is a mode found on DSLR and some compact cameras that lets you set the shutter speed you desire, with the camera then calculating the aperture based on this value. If you need clarification on what shutter speed is, see the article below.

On a DSLR with a mode dial, the shutter priority mode is usually signified by an S (as shown here), or on Canon models Tv.

Shutter Speed

Waterfall ND Filter Slow Shutter

Slow shutter speeds can show movement

The shutter on a digital camera is the device that determines for how long light is let through the lens and allowed to fall on the image sensor.

The shutter speed, measured in seconds or fractions of a second, is very important in getting a properly exposed photo. For any given shot, the shutter speed must match a suitable aperture (lens opening), else either too much light (resulting in an overexposed photo) or too little light (resulting in an underexposed photo) will enter the lens.

If you know you will need either a very fast shutter speed (to freeze action for example), or a longer shutter speed (perhaps to capture blurred motion) then all digital SLRs and some compact digital cameras have a Shutter Priority mode, whereby the photographer sets the desired shutter speed and the camera adjust the aperture to match it.

Slides (and Slide Film)

In pre-digital days Slide Film was a reasonably popular alternative to standard 35mm film, and when developed produces transparencies that are usually viewed using a projector.

With the widespread use of digital photography slide film is much less popular than it was, although some photographers do still use it.

In order to get prints from photos taken on slide film you will need to either contact a specialist photography shop, or scan them into your computer using an appropriate scanner and process the scans using software such as Adobe Photoshop.

SLR

Nikon D7000

Nikon D7000 DSLR

An SLR, or Single Lens Reflex camera, is a high-end type of interchangeable lens camera used by photography enthusiasts and professionals.
The name comes from the technology these cameras use to take photos, by using a mirror to direct light either to the viewfinder or the film/image sensor.

Nearly all modern SLRs are digital SLRs, with an electronic image sensor rather than taking analogue film, though a small number of photographers continue to use film cameras.

For more information see our digital SLRs description.

Soft Box

A Softbox is a type of diffuser used to create a more natural and even light that a traditional flash gun. Softboxes tend to be quite large, containing a bulb surrounded by a “box” of reflective material that diffuses the light.

A spread out diffused light will help to reduce harsh highlights and shadows, which is a common problem in portrait photography. Normally when photographing people a soft light from a diffused flash will give more pleasing results than a direct flash.

Softbox Example from Flickr

With and without a softbox. Photo: MorrowLess on Flickr

Sony

Sony make a variety of general electronic goods, including a wide range of digital compact cameras and the Alpha line of digital SLRs.

Sports Mode

Aperture Priority DialSports Mode is a mode found on digital SLRs and many compact digital cameras that adjusts a number of settings to optimize the camera for taking photos of fast moving action.
Typically, Sports Mode will:

  • Decrease the shutter speed – this will help to freeze the action and reduce motion blur
  • Increase the ISO sensitivity – usually Sports Mode will use something like ISO 400. This reduces the amount of light the camera needs to properly expose the photo, allowing for a quicker shutter speed.
  • Increase the aperture (lens opening) – by increasing the aperture (lowering the F stop), a greater depth of field effect will be achieved (isolating the subject from the background). Also, a wider aperture means more light can enter the lens, again allowing for a quicker shutter speed.

On some models, Sports Mode may also:

Step Ring

A Step Ring is a device used to attach a filter to a lens when the threads on the two don’t match.

There are a variety of standards when it comes to lens filter threads (this is the diameter of the end of the lens, as opposed to its’ focal length), and if you have invested in filters that can’t be used with all your lenses then a step ring may be a solution.

There are two types of step ring; step up rings are used to attach larger filters to narrower lenses, and step down rings for attaching small filters to larger diameter lenses. Both have trade-offs over using a filter with the correct thread, but generally step up rings are preferable.

Step down rings can cause bad vignetting, as the process of using a filter too small for the lens means some of the outside of the lens will be covered.

Strobe

In terms of photography, you may see or hear articles referring to a flash or flash gun as a strobe.

The term is usually used by Americans, but flash and strobe mean the same thing and are interchangable.

T

Telephoto

A telephoto lens is one with a long focal length, i.e. it offers a magnified view. Often these are zoom lenses, though they don’t have to be – many professional photographers use fixed focal length telephoto lenses.

A ‘normal’ lens is usually considered to be one with a focal length of 50mm, with lenses longer than this being classed as telephoto, and those shorter being classed as wide angle.

A telephoto lens gives a zoom effect similar to that of being closer to a subject, though it’s not quite the same.

TIFF

TIFF, or Tagged Image File Format, is a file format for storing images that was once very popular amongst graphic designers and professional photographers.

Whilst it is less common now, some digital SLRs and high end compacts (particularly older models) have the option of saving images as a TIFF rather than a JPEG for the highest quality settings.
TIFF files have the potential to be better quality than JPEGs as they support lossless compression (JPEGs use lossy compression), but the file sizes tend to be much larger.

Photographers seeking a higher-than-JPEG quality now tend to favour shooting in a RAW format, as this gives greater flexibility in the editing stage.

Tripod

Joby Gorillapod SLR ZoomVirtually every digital camera on the market has a standard screw thread for a tripod, a three-legged stand that holds your camera still.

Tripods come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny table-top models to large floorstanding ones. Recently the innovative Gorrilapod has brightened up this otherwise dull sector of the market with a flexible yet sturdy design.

For the light traveller who wants a sturdy surface to rest on but without the bulk of a full tripod, or a photographer who wants to be able to move their setup reasonably freely, a monopod might be a sensible option.

U

USB

USBUSB, or Universal Serial Bus, is a type of connector used for connecting a computer to nearly all types of digital cameras, scanners, iPods and MP3 players, printers, keyboards and mice.

Most digital cameras, both compacts and digital SLRs, will have a mini USB port on them that allows them to be connected directly to a computer. In the most basic way, this is used to retrieve images from the memory card inside the camera, but on some models connection to a computer can allow for the cameras firmware (the software built into the camera) to be updated, or for you to use software to control the camera.

UV (Ultraviolet) Filter

A UV Filter blocks ultraviolet light from entering your camera. As we cannot see UV light, generally the effect of using a UV filter is quite subtle, and most modern digital cameras are insensitive to UV light rays anyway.

With film cameras they were used routinely to reduce haze in landscape shots, especially when taking photos at altitude. UV filters are still reasonably popular as they have very little effect on exposure (unlike some other filters, which can reduce light coming into the lens) and are often used purely as protection to prevent an expensive lens getting scratched or damaged.

Generally filters will be screw on and attach to the end of the lens – something possible on practically every digital SLR lens, but only a small number of advanced compact cameras (such as the Canon PowerShot G12 and Nikon P7000) support screw on filters.

V

Viewfinder

A Viewfinder is what photographers have traditionally looked through in order to compose a shot. Early digital compact cameras tended to include an optical viewfinder as well as the ability to use the cameras LCD screen to compose shots, partially because the LCD screens on older digital cameras tended to be very hard to see in bright sunlight.

Advances in LCD screen technology means modern cameras have screens very usable even in bright light, and users of digital compact cameras in particular have become accustomed to using only the rear screen for composition. This, coupled with a trend for camera manufacturers to fit the largest screens possible to increasingly small cameras, has seen optical viewfinders disappear from nearly all compact models. Even enthusiast and prosumer compact system cameras, such as some Olympus PEN models, don’t always come with optical viewfinders.

Digital SLRs do always have optical viewfinders however, and many photographers prefer to use this rather than using Live View (for some digital SLRs without Live View the use of the optical viewfinder is mandatory). The advantage of using the optical viewfinder on a digital SLR is generally quicker and more accurate autofocus (AF), as well as a significant improvement in battery life.

W

White Balance

Not all lighting conditions are the same, so when taking a photo it is necessary to make sure the camera is able to compensate for any colour casts by adjusting the White Balance.

Most digital cameras will try to adjust the white balance automatically, though the success of this depends on the sophistication of the auto white balance system and the nature of the shot. In some cases this will work well, but in others a noticeable colour cast will be present on the image.

If you are shooting in a particular situation, it can help to set the white balance manually. Most digital cameras will offer several of the following options; Sunny/Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Flash. The exact labelling and number of options will vary model to model – check your manual to see which modes your camera supports and how to change them.

One of the advantages of shooting in RAW format on a digital SLR or high-end compact or bridge camera is that the white balance setting can be changed in the RAW conversion software afterwards without a loss in quality.

Wide-Angle

Wide Angle

Photo: Eliya on Flickr

A wide angle lens is one with a short focal length, i.e. it offers a wider than real-life field of view. Often zoom lenses are slightly wide-angle when they are fully zoomed out, though wide angle lenses don’t have to be zoom lenses. In fact most dedicated wide angle lenses have a fixed focal length.

A ‘normal’ lens is usually considered to be one with a focal length of 50mm, with lenses shorter than this being classed as wide-angle, and those longer being classed as telephoto.

Some wide angle lenses, particularly very wide ones, have a tendency to produce noticeably distorted images. This may or may not be desirable, depending on whether you were after an effect or just to capture more in your images. For some types of wide angle lens, such as fisheye lenses, the resulting distortion on the pictures are a selling point.

WiFi

Wi-Fi LogoWi-Fi is actually a trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance, rather than being a generic term, but is widely used to describe all wireless networks. Often when people refer to Wi-Fi they assume the connection will also offer Internet access.

Some cameras now are Wi-Fi compatible, which means that they can use a wireless network connection to connect to your network at home or work to transfer photos from your camera to your computer wirelessly. If an Internet connection is present, some models may also be able upload photos and videos to popular media-sharing websites like Flickr, YouTube and Facebook.

If your camera doesn’t natively support Wi-Fi, then you can add Wi-Fi functionality to most models that take SD Card media (or Compact Flash media with the use of an adaptor) by using an Eye-Fi card.

Z

Zeiss, Carl

Carl Zeiss (sometimes referred to as just Zeiss) are a well respected manufacturer of lenses and optical equipement, named after the founder. As well as making their own lenses in a variety of fittings for DSLRs, Zeiss lenses are manufactured under license by Sony for use on a number of cameras and video cameras in their range.

If a digital camera states a Zeiss lens as a feature then they are referring to the Zeiss brand rather than any additional functionality.