We take photos like it's in our DNA. In fact, more photos are taken every two minutes now than had ever existed 150 years ago. But like much of the technology we use every day, you might not know how it all works. Learning the different parts of a camera can help you better your understanding of photography, and therefore the quality of your photos.

The different parts of a camera and the settings they control can seem overwhelming at first, but good photography depends on crucial factors like exposure that can make or break a photo with the smallest tweak. So let's discuss how a camera works, the different parts of a camera, and learn how to use this new information effectively during your next outing.

How Do Cameras Work?

Very simply put, cameras work by capturing light onto film, or these days, onto an image sensor. The light reacts with chemicals to create a stamp of shadow and light. The technology behind photography as we understand it was first introduced about 200 years ago, but the exploration of light that allowed its invention began over 2000 years ago.

Camera Obscura

The camera obscura, a natural optical phenomenon, was described by different cultures as early as 500 BC. It was discovered that by poking a tiny pinhole into the side of a light-proof box, one could project the image from outside onto the opposite wall. This fundamental understanding of light allowed for the eventual invention of photography.

The Advent of the Camera

Around 1800, Thomas Wedgewood began combining the camera obscura effect with silver nitrate, which allowed the shadows to be captured and preserved. The first photos were too faint, however, prompting innovation in both capturing and processing photographs. Steady improvements over the next two centuries, allowed for clearer photographs to be taken in less time. Now, we can take a photo, examine it, and share it with the world within seconds.

Modern Cameras

Modern cameras, whether they're digital or use film, still employ the same techniques. The lens at the front of the camera focuses light into the body of the camera, where the light is exposed onto film or a sensor which provides the foundation for your final photo.

In digital photography, the incoming light is interpreted by the sensor, while in a film camera, the raw balance of light and shadows create the image. This allows digital photographers more room to manipulate the image in-camera and when editing. However, many photographers might choose to shoot on film, as it provides a more authentic representation of the subject being photographed.

Why Is Understanding Your Camera So Important?

Camera capturing a bouquet of flower

Image Source: Pixabay

It should come as no surprise that understanding the different parts of a camera opens the door to a myriad of possibilities. The sum of the different pieces in a camera extend past each individual function, and understanding how they work in harmony will increase the quality of your photography.

Knowing the different parts of a camera and its limits will also come in handy when deciding on a new camera. Functionality can differ based on the brand of the camera, the model, and the intended use. For example, two cameras can provide both still photo and video functionality, but only one might offer 4K and slow motion, while the other allows for more lens flexibility for still photos.

SLR/DSLR

When shopping for a camera, you will no doubt come across the acronym SLR or DSLR, which stands for Single-Lens Reflex, or Digital Single-Lens Reflex, respectively. DSLR cameras make up a large majority of current cameras sold to the average consumer.

The name refers to the mirror (hence reflex) inside the body of the camera that reflects the intended image into the viewfinder, allowing the photographer to examine the frame before taking the actual photo.

This technology stands in direct comparison to the twin-lens reflex, which features a separate lens that leads to the viewfinder. The twin-lens can often lead to differences between what the photographer sees and the captured photo.

So let's go through the different parts of a camera and how they can affect your image.

Understanding the Main Parts of a Camera

We begin with the two major pieces of the camera: the body and the lens.

While higher end (professional) cameras may include interchangeable parts, most cameras will include most, if not all, necessary pieces within the body and the lens. For versatility and convenience, most point-and-shoot cameras tend to also feature a fixed lens on the camera, effectively including all necessary parts of a camera into one item.

The Lens

The lens is arguably the single most important part of a camera. The light that will make up your final photo begins its journey through the lens which will focus the light into the body of the camera.

The lens can differ in two major ways. Zoom lenses provide a focal range, allowing you to zoom in and out within that range. Prime lenses, on the other hand, have a fixed focal length. A lens with the focal range of 28-300mm will allow you to zoom in more than an 18-75mm lens.

A photographer would likely tell you that in an ideal world, they would own a series of prime lenses at different focal lengths, as prime lenses in general offer better quality. In reality, this would require the photographer to change lenses at an unreasonably higher rate and could limit the ability of the photographer to capture images more frequently and spontaneously.

Sport and nature photographers, in particular, use long zoom lenses that allow them to capture crisp photos from afar in a typically kinetic environment.
Shopping for lenses can be as involved an activity as shopping for a camera since the quality and ability of a lens differs greatly from one to the next. Further illustrating its importance, high-end lenses can regularly cost more than the camera itself.

hand holding parts of camera

Image Source: Pixabay

Focus and Zoom Rings

On most lenses, you'll find anywhere from 1 to 3 rings that affect your image in different ways.

A focus ring, when adjusted, will physically move the lens closer or farther from the film or sensor, allowing the photographer to control where the light converges, thus manipulating the location in your frame that will be in focus.

When using a zoom lens, the zoom ring will allow you to manipulate the amount of zoom. Turning it one way will crop your frame and make your subject appear larger/closer in the frame while turning it the other way will widen the image out.

Finally, your lens might feature an aperture ring. This directly manipulates the aperture diaphragm, which by opening or closing allows different amounts of light to be captured.

Aperture

Aperture is a vital concept in photography. Like the pupil in your eye, it adjusts the amount of light that is gathered into the camera which can affect multiple things in your frame.

Aperture is denoted using F-numbers, or F-stops. The lower the F-number, the larger the opening in your aperture diaphragm and vice versa. This means that a lens with a maximum aperture of F1.4 can allow much more light into the camera than a lens with a maximum of F5.6. When shooting in low light it helps to have a fast lens (or a lens with lower F-numbers).

Aperture also affects the depth of field of your photo. You'll find that at F1.4, the elements in your frame that are not directly in focus will be much blurrier, while at a higher number, a majority of your frame will be in focus.

Viewfinder/LCD Screen

LCD viewing ready to capture an image

?Image Source: Unsplash

As we move back from the lens into the body, you'll notice your camera will have a viewfinder, an LCD screen, or both.

The viewfinder is a small window at the back of your camera you can look through to examine your frame before taking a photo. Digital photography now allows you to do the same thing from an LCD screen. An LCD screen might be easier since you can preview a larger version of your photo beforehand, but the viewfinder blocks external light, allowing you to see a more accurate version of what you will be shooting.

Shutter Release Button

Chances are, your camera comes with a whole host of buttons on the top and back of the camera. While these buttons are all useful and helpful in manipulating your image, the single most important button is the shutter release button.

This button controls the mechanism that exposes your film or sensor to light. In a DSLR, the button momentarily flips the mirror out of the sensor's way, capturing the photo. You can even manipulate the speed of your shutter, which will change the amount of time, and therefore the amount of light, that comes into your camera.

Sensor

In a DSLR, the sensor is the single most important element of the camera. No matter how good the other parts work, without a working sensor, you can't take a photo. Like we mentioned briefly before, the sensor converts light into a digital representation of your photo and essentially works as your artificial film. Different sensors might mean differences in the quality or size of your photo.

Flash

Most mid-range cameras come with a built-in or pop-up flash. This function augments your photo by providing additional light that will bounce off your subject and into your camera. High-end cameras might require the additional purchase of an external flash.

Tripod Socket

At the bottom of your camera, you'll likely notice a hole with seams. This will allow you to attach your camera to the top of a tripod which will greatly decrease the possibility of shaking caused by your hand.

Conclusion

Photographer taking a photo with his black sony camera

Image Source: Pixabay

You should consider all the factors mentioned above when shopping for a camera. You won't, however, know what qualities you prefer until you physically go out and test different settings to match your personal preference.

So, first things first, grab a camera and get familiar with the different parts of a camera, and you'll be taking sharp photos in no time.


Featured Image Source: Pixabay

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