Should I get a DSLR or a point-and-shoot? How many megapixels do I need, anyway? What do all these settings do? If you've got questions about common camera terms, this glossary should be able to help.
Meant to capture motion, action cameras are often designed to be mounted to vehicles, helmets, or other moving devices. Rather than leisurely still shots or videos of fairly static occasions, action cams like the GoPro are meant to capture extreme events like surfing, snowboarding, skydiving, mountain biking, and other adrenaline-racing feats.
An opening through which light travels; in photography, it's measured by the diameter of the aperture stop rather than the opening itself. The specifications for a given lens typically include the maximum and minimum aperture sizes, such as f/1.4–f/22; in this example, f/1.4 is the maximum aperture, or widest opening, while f/22 is the minimum.
A video camera capable of recording motion video, as opposed to just still shots. With more and more digital cameras having video modes with high resolutions built in, camcorders are becoming less necessary on a consumer level, though there is still a market for professional use models and action cameras.
Also known as burst mode, continuous shooting allows the user to take several shots over a period of a few seconds (exact numbers vary by camera). Available on many DSLR and point-and-shoot cameras, continuous shooting is useful for capturing still images while the subject is moving, which then allows you to choose the best one from the bunch without having to retake a single shot over and over to get it right.
A method of zooming that is accomplished by cropping an image down to a centered area. Unlike optical zoom, digital zooming is done electronically, which could result in a loss of quality in the cropped images. While digitally zoomed images are usually lower in quality than ones using optical zoom, some cameras offer digital zooms that go much deeper than optical zoom, giving the photographer the best of both worlds.
Sometimes written as digital SLR, a DSLR camera is one that uses a digital image sensor (as opposed to physical film) and a single-lens reflex, which is a mirror and prism system that permits the photographer to view through the lens and see exactly what will be captured. DSLRs allow the use of interchangeable lenses, which makes them advantageous for photographers who want to use their cameras in a variety of shooting situations.
Dual view digital cameras have front and back cameras, similar to what you're probably used to with your smartphone or tablet. Dual view cameras, however, theoretically allow for higher-resolution selfies and perfectly framed self-pointed shots than a camera phone would, with more settings for optimal photo quality.
The amount of light per unit area reaching a photographic film or sensor; more simply, it means how much light is available in any given shot. The exposure is determined by the shutter speed, lens aperture, and scene luminance; longer exposure times generally provide a lighter image.
Provides a soft landing place for the eye when looking through the viewfinder. Since many cameras now have LCD displays, these aren't always necessary, but some photographers prefer to use the viewfinder, especially on higher-end cameras.
This feature is exactly what it sounds like: it automatically identifies faces in each shot and focuses on them, so your human subjects are clear in the final image.
In photography, this expression refers to what is visible through the camera lens at any particular point in time. The objects within the field of view will appear in the photograph, while those outside the FOV will not.
Either as an external accessory or built-in feature, filters allow for better shots in specific environments and lighting situations. Professional and serious photographers will often use various filters for things like color correction, contrast enhancement, and special effects.
Many digital cameras now have built-in filters (sometimes called Smart Filters, Magic Filters, or other names varying by manufacturer) that achieve similar effects without the need for extra equipment. This is an easier, less expensive choice ideal for amateur and casual photographers.
A device used in photography to produce artificial light to illuminate a scene. Many digital cameras have built-in flashes and use automatic features to deduce when additional lighting is needed.
In photography, a focus is the subject or subjects of the intended photograph. Something is in focus if it is crisp and clear, and out of focus if it looks blurry and hard to see. Most digital cameras have autofocus (AF) features, in which the camera is able to automatically focus on an area within the shot, whether determined by the camera sensor or selected by the photographer.
Also known as frames per second (FPS), frame rate is the frequency at which an imaging device, such as a camera, produces unique consecutive images called frames. This usually applies to motion video, but can also refer to certain still photography features, such as continuous shooting.
Digital cameras use image processors to convert the raw photos into a standard image format, generally improving the quality along the way, which is one advantage digital cameras have over film cameras. Image processor names vary by manufacturer; for example, Canon uses the DIGIC series, while Sony cameras tout the BIONZ image processor. The image processor is especially important on point-and-shoot cameras, as it can fix lighting issues and adjust various other settings to make photos look better without any additional effort from the photographer.
A device within a digital camera that converts an optical image into an electronic signal. The two most commonly used sensors are CCD (charge-coupled device) and CMOS (complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor) sensors. There's no clear advantage in photo quality to using either, as they both have advantages and disadvantages. CCD sensors are more susceptible to vertical smear from bright light sources, while CMOS sensors might suffer a wavy or other undesirable motion effect as the result of a rolling shutter. However, CMOS sensors may also use less power, and are generally less expensive to manufacture.
Used to reduce blurring associated with the motion of a camera during exposure, resulting in crisper photos. In addition to making it easier for inexperienced photographers to take clear shots, built-in image stabilization can reduce or eliminate the need for an additional tripod, making it a worthwhile feature for those who want to take great photos without a lot of extra hassle or accessories.
A type of digital zoom that allows for further zooming without as much loss of quality as digital zoom typically does; though Intelligent Zoom still crops images (as opposed to optical zoom), they're a bit sharper with this feature.
File storage that's built into the camera. Most digital cameras have little to no internal memory, so an external memory card may be necessary for saving several gigs' worth of photos and videos.
The ISO sensitivity of a digital camera refers to how sensitive the image sensor is to light; the lower the number, the lower the sensitivity. An ISO setting of 100 is considered "normal," with higher settings generally used to get better results in darker situations. The ISO number is sometimes set automatically, depending on your camera's ability to recognize your surroundings.
The interface that allows a lens to connect to a camera body. This only applies to cameras with interchangeable lenses; for basic point-and-shoots, lens mounts aren't necessary.
A now-commonplace function that allows you to use a digital camera's display as a larger viewfinder. While displays may have only been for settings and viewing photos in earlier digital cameras, most now utilize Live View as another way to frame your shot.
A lens with a focal length longer than the diagonal measure of the film or sensor that receives its image; in simpler terms, a lens used to make distant objects appear magnified. This allows photographers to make it look as though they're closer to their subjects without changing their perspective; it also makes it easier to blur the background of a photo, which some photographers do to make the subject stand out and for artistic effect.
In photography, megapixels refer to the resolution of still photographs; one megapixel equals one million pixels, generally thought of as the smallest single component of an image. While more megapixels are generally better for good-looking, high-resolution photographs and better printing quality, this is only one thing that affects how your photos will look.
A storage device on which photos (and videos, if applicable) from your camera are saved. Most cameras have little to no internal memory, so an external memory card is necessary for saving lots of pictures. Be sure to check what kind of memory card slot you camera has to see what cards it's compatible with!
The way a camera determines the exposure for any particular shot. Many cameras allow the user to choose the most appropriate metering mode for a variety of lighting conditions.
A type of digital camera that does not use a mirror reflex optical viewfinder, unlike the more popular DSLR models. Though not as widely used as DSLRs, mirrorless cameras do offer some advantages: interchangeable lenses provide versatility; smaller size and lighter weight make for easier portability; and there's less shutter noise because there's no mirror movement. Of course, there are also drawbacks that aspiring photographers must consider, among them the lack of through-the-lens optical viewfinder, a slower contrast-based autofocus, and incompatibility with existing lenses due to a newer lens mount.
A feature on some Samsung cameras that allows you to send photos directly from the camera to an NFC-enabled smartphone or tablet without the need for a Wi-Fi hotspot. See NFC for more information about this technology.
A small screen embedded into the back of digital cameras, allowing you to view what you're shooting, as well as menu options. Most camera monitors are LCD (liquid crystal display) screens, though they vary in size and resolution by model and manufacturer. Newer cameras are starting to incorporate touchscreens as well.
A camera with this ability lets you take motion videos along with still photos, basically eliminating the need for a separate camera. Though it may be considered a secondary quality, many DSLRs have movie modes that allow for 1080p Full HD video recording.
An electromagnetic wireless technology that enables communication between two devices. A camera with NFC technology can instantly connect with an NFC-enabled mobile device simply by tapping the device against the camera. NFC has a much shorter range than Bluetooth, but may be quicker and more convenient in some cases. Some manufacturers have brand-specific names for NFC camera features; for example, Samsung calls it Photo Beam.
Allows you to get a closer view of the subject by changing the magnification of images with the actual optical glass before the images reach the imaging sensor; to put it more simply, it means zooming in using actual camera parts instead of just cropping the area, as is the case with digital zoom. This allows for better image quality on zoomed-in shots than digital zoom.
A photograph with a much wider viewing angle, resulting in what looks like an extra-long image that captures things that would have been cut off at either side in a normal shot.
The industry standard for direct printing from cameras; in simpler terms, it's what allows you to send images directly from your camera to your printer without having to connect to a computer and transfer the files first.
This term is often used to describe simple cameras with built-in lenses and many automatic features. They may have fewer options than DSLRs, but are perfect for those who just want basic camera features for parties and social situations, rather than complicated mechanisms.
Red eye is exactly what it sounds like: your subjects' eyes appearing red in photos due to the camera flash bouncing off their retinas. Red-eye reduction (or a similarly named feature that may vary by manufacturer) reduces the appearance of demonic glaring eyes.
Though the name varies by manufacturer, these features essentially do the same thing: automatically recognize shooting conditions and apply settings for optimal results. This is especially handy if your camera has multiple scene modes and you're not sure which to use—just let the automatic features do the guesswork for you.
Scene modes, or settings, are optimized for specific photographic conditions (for example, an indoor shot would require different settings than one taken outdoors). The number and type of scene modes varies camera to camera and manufacturer to manufacturer, but these preprogrammed modes are meant to automatically provide the best exposure and settings for each "scene," meaning wherever you are at that particular time.
Before smartphones made selfies a snap, self-timers were the best way to get the photographer in the shot, and they're still preferable for group shots or photos in which the photographer wants to stand further than arm's length away. Self-timer limits vary from camera to camera, but are usually just a few seconds long.
Built to survive a fall. Keep in mind that shockproof cameras can generally only survive falls of a few feet, so you can't exactly drop them off a cliff and expect them to continue working.
A type of long-focus lens in which the physical length of the lens is shorter than the focal length. Lens types aren't something one generally has to worry about with point-and-shoots, but many DSLRs allow for switchable lenses for different scenarios. Telephoto lenses are best used to make faraway subjects seem closer and fill the frame. However, long lenses are often susceptible to camera vibrations, so a tripod may be necessary to best utilize telephoto capabilities.
A tiny window through which the photographer looks to compose (and often focus) the picture. Viewfinders exist on most still and movie cameras, though digital cameras typically also use LCD displays to frame a shot.
Exactly what it sounds like: a camera that's designed to work in water. While most cameras (and electronics in general) would be completely damaged by exposure to water, waterproof models can take shots underwater, so you don't have to limit your photography to dry land. Waterproof camera depths can range from just a few feet to several dozen feet, however, so make sure to check before diving into the deep end.
The process of removing unrealistic color casts from photos, so objects that appear white in person are also white in photographs. Many digital cameras have multiple white balance modes for a variety of lighting environments to help avoid blue, orange, or green hues in photos.
A lens with a substantially smaller focal length than that of a normal lens, allowing for more of the scene to be included in the photograph. This is especially useful for architectural, interior, and landscape photography, where the photographer may be unable to move further back from the scene to photograph it.
Simply put, it's wireless Internet. Cameras with built-in Wi-Fi are usually referred to as Smart Cameras, and generally have the ability to post photos to social networks, email files, and upload them to cloud storage straight from the camera, rather than having to upload them to a computer first.
Any lens with a variable focal length and angle of view. Types of zoom lenses include telephoto lenses, wide-angle lenses, and long-focus lenses.