Cameras and Equipment

What We'll Learn

  1. How a camera works
  2. What to consider when buying a camera

How a Camera Works

In order to move beyond Automatic Mode on your camera, it's important to know a bit about the basic parts of a camera and how they work:

How a Camera Works - TED Ed

The main physical parts of the camera really haven't changed:
  • Lens - lets the camera focus the light and zoom in on a subject. Measured in focal length (millimeters).
    • < 21mm - Extreme Wide Angle
    • 21mm - 35mm - Wide Angle
    • 35mm - 70mm - Normal
    • 70mm - 135mm - Medium Telephoto
    • > 135mm - Telephoto
  • Aperture - Controls the size of the opening the light goes through, primarily affecting depth of field. Measured in f-stops
    • Low f-stop number = wide aperture setting - shallow depth of field
    • High f-stop number = small aperture setting - large depth of field
  • Shutter - A mechanism that opens for a brief period of time to let light into the camera to capture a picture. Measured in fractions of a second.
    • 1/50 to 1/100 second - typical shutter speed for normal photos
    • 1/250 or faster - used to freeze actions shots
    • 1/30 or slower - used to create motion blur, capture low light detail, or special effects.
  • ISO Speed - This sets the light sensitivity of the sensor.
    • High ISO Speed - low image noise - well lit environments
    • Low ISO Speed - high image noise - low light environments
In general, these parts control how light is handled to record a particular picture.
  • Exposure - setting how much light reaches the film or sensor.  Controlled by flash, aperture, shutter, and sensitivity (ISO)
  • Color of Light - adjusting or compensating for the color of light in a setting
  • Focus - adjusting the lens to get the desired magnification (zoom) and clearest picture (focus)
In depth - to explore these topics and concepts further, see the tutorials at Cambridge in Colour 


Your camera will have a variety of settings and buttons. Explore the time settings on your camera:  
  1. Take some time to figure out how to check the time and date on your camera.  
  2. Since every picture you take is stamped with the current time and date, make sure your camera has the correct time and date.
  3. If not correct, set the time and date.

    Using a Flash
    A flash is very helpful for introducing additional light into a low-light or poorly lit situation.  It's important to know a few things about your flash:
    • Built-in flash units have a very limited range, generally up to 6m or 20ft.  Using a flash in a stadium is completely ineffective.
    • Direct flash can create a very harsh image and red-eye effects.
    • Indirect flash and external flash units can provide a more effective lighting environment
    In depth - to explore this topic further, check out the flash tutorial at Cambridge in Colour 

    About Lenses

    The most important component of your camera is a quality lens.  Many cameras include zoom options, allowing you to adjust the lens to get closer to your subject.  Here's a couple of things to be aware of:
    • Optical zoom - this is the physical ability of the lens to adjust the zoom range.
    • Digital zoom - this simulates a zoom by cropping the picture on your camera sensor, reducing the number of pixels that are recorded.  In general, you should avoid using this feature.
    • A fingerprint or smudge on your lens can ruin your shooting experience. Consider having a quality lens cleaning kit handy. Lenses have special coatings that can be damaged if not cleaned properly.
      • Cover your lens when not in use to keep dirt and dust off in the first place.
      • Use a dust blow bulb to gently remove dust as needed.
      • If required, use the proper cleaning materials to remove more difficult spots.
      • In-depth - detailed information on how to clean your lens properly and a Nikon video showing a step by step process for cleaning your lens.

    Using a Tripod

    A tripod is an inexpensive and helpful addition to your photography equipment.  With a tripod you can improve:

    • Reduce blur in telephoto or high zoom shots.  Turn of IS (image stability) when using a tripod.
    • Take pictures with you in the photo.   Using a tripod and a timer, you can get into the picture without holding the camera.
    • Improve wide-angle or  landscape photos.  It's easier to move your camera across a multi-shot landscape picture that you wish to stitch together later on.
    • Take extended exposure pictures.   You can get special effects or take better low-light photos by reducing the amount of camera movement.

    Buying a Camera

    Here are the key things you should consider when buying a new camera:
    • Fit for Use. What will you be using the camera for?  Is the size and feel right? Does it have the options you are looking for?  A camera is only right for you if you actually use it.  If it's too bulky or too complex, it may not be the best fit.
    • Optical Zoom. Having some optical zoom capability is helpful.  Also, most modern cameras capture 8 Megapixels of data or more, plenty for most photo applications.
    • Review and Try. Found something you are interested in.  Check the reviews before you buy. If possible, try the camera out to make sure you are comfortable.
    A great source for reviews is CNET.   Check out their Digital Camera Buying Guide on-line.

    The major photography magazines each have a website that provides useful product reviews and photography tips.  Spend some exploring these resources on your own: