Glossary of Camera Terms

Electronic Image Stabilizer, aperture, li-ion—shopping for a camera can seem pretty daunting with all the different terms out there (and don't forget the acronyms like CCD, CMOS and ISO). Here's a reference for what all those terms mean when it comes to picking out a new digital camera. Unfamiliar with a term that's not listed? Post it to our comments section.
By , Last updated on: 5/18/2014

A

AF-S: A type of Nikon lens where the autofocus motor is built in to the lens. These guys are compatible with any Nikon DSLR.

Aperture: The opening in the camera that the light passes through; adjusting the aperture allows varying levels of light into your shots.

Aperture Priority Mode: On this camera setting, the photographer chooses the right aperture and the camera automatically adjusts all the other settings, like the shutter speed. This is useful for shooting in low light.

Aperture Ring: Basically, the moveable ring on the end of a DSLR lens that adjusts the aperture.

Aspect Ratio: What was it your childhood math teacher said about ratios? Well, this one shows the relationship between the height and width of an image. A 16:9 aspect ratio means if you print out the image at 16 inches wide, then, you guessed it, it'll be 9 inches tall.

Auto Exposure: A setting where the exposure is, well, automatic; the camera sensor helps choose the exposure for you. Check out the definition for exposure below.

Auto Exposure Bracketing: When you use this setting, the camera takes three images at different exposures, quite useful if your not sure exactly what exposure to use but can guess pretty closely.

Auto Exposure (AE) Lock: A useful camera button for achieving the same exposure and white balance between shots.

Autofocus: A setting (or the default on most point and shoots) that means the camera chooses what to focus on, usually based on how the photographer composes the shot. Kind of like magic.

Autofocus (AF) modes: Settings that changes the way a camera automatically focuses. Cameras with this feature can alternate between Single Focus Area, where a single subject is selected and the focus locks on to that point, Continuous Focus or Al Servo to stay focused on moving subjects, or AF-Auto, where the camera automatically chooses between single and continuous focus.

B

Barrel Distortion: Ever use a wide angle lens (or just a bad lens) and notice the things in your picture appear curved towards the center? This is just a fancy term for that effect.

Back-Side Illuminated (BSI): This term refers to a type of sensor design that puts the necessary hardware behind the sensor. These sensors perform better in low light than those with the traditional design.

Bulb Setting: On cameras with adjustable shutter speeds, bulb mode means the shutter is as fast or as slow as your finger on the button. A DCHQ favorite for shooting fireworks (shooting pictures of fireworks, not actually shooting off fireworks…)

C

CCD: The "film" of modern digital cameras, this is a type of sensor that collects the light to translate into digital pixels. These sensors typically have more megapixels and are better at adjusting to light then its relative, CMOS sensors (see below).

CMOS: CMOS (or complementary metal-oxide semiconductor, if you want to get technical) sensors are cheaper to produce but generally results in more noise in the final image then CCD type sensors (see above). They are also friendlier to battery life.

CMYK: The color composition used by printers, which combines different levels of Cyan Magenta Yellow and blacK for the final image--but be aware that digital cameras (and basically anything digital like your computer) use RGB (Red Green Black).

Continuous shooting: A must have for sports and action, continuous shooting mode takes images as long as the shutter release button is pressed, meaning you can pick out the shot from that perfect moment.

D

Depth of Field: The portion of the image that appears in focus. Higher f-stop numbers mean more of the image will be in focus and vice versa.

Digital Zoom: A type of zoom that basically crops the image in closer, resulting in a lower resolution. Optical zoom (see below) is the more effective type of zoom.

D-lighting: A feature on some Nikon cameras that enhances a photo's shadows and highlights for a more dramatic coloring.

DSLR: SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex, or the most common type of camera with interchangeable lenses. The D? Well that just means it's digital.

Dynamic Range: A ratio between the amount of light a digital camera can handle. When shopping, just remember a bigger ratio is better.

E

Electronic Image Stabilizer: A feature that helps minimize how camera or camcorder shakes impact the final image or video. Compared to Optical Image Stabilization, EIS is generally just as effective except in low-lighting conditions, where the OIS outperforms. EIS is also generally cheaper and doesn't impact the size of the camera as much.

Exposure: Basically, how much light is coming into the photo. A washed out photo is over exposed, a dark image is under exposed.

Eye-Fi: So you've heard of Wi-Fi, but what in the world is Eye-Fi? Its actually a name brand for a type of SD card that automatically uploads the images (via wi-fi) to a computer or smartphone.

Eyepiece: Another word for viewfinder. (Don't worry, under "viewfinder" we won't just say "Another word for eyepiece," and send you in circles, so you can find more details there.)

F

Flash: A boost of extra light for low light shooting. Flashes are built in to most cameras, but most dSLRs can also add accessory flashes, also called shoe flashes.

Flash Sync Speed: When the camera's flash is turned on, this is the fastest shutter speed you can use. Flashes slow down the shutter speed because they take a little longer to prep for the next shot then the camera.

FPS: Frames per second, or how many images the camera can take in one second at optimal settings.

F-stop: A number that that tells you what aperture the camera is at. To keep it simple, smaller f-stops mean more light is allowed through the aperture.

G

GPS: Okay, so you have a GPS in your car that tells you where to go, but what does it mean when a camera comes equipped with GPS? It's just a handy little feature that records the location of every photo, allowing you to have all your images organized by location.

H

Highlight Peaking: This feature is used with manual focus and highlights the portions of the image that are in focus in red so it's easier to tell if you've got it right. This feature is only available with electronic viewfinders and screens, not optical viewfinders.

I

ISO: A term that has survived from film cameras, ISO (International Standards Organization) indicated the speed of the film. In a digital camera, a higher ISO will allow you to shoot better in low light, but beware, higher ISOs tend to make the image look a bit grainy, though some camera models handle higher ISOs better then others.

J

JPEG: The most common file format for digital images.

L

LCD screen: The most widely used type of screen for viewing photos on a digital camera. Some models also feature a vari-angle or tilt LCD which means that the screen can be rotated so that, for example, you can hold the camera up over your head and still see what you are taking a photo of by moving the LCD.

Li-Ion Battery: A type of rechargeable battery that tends to last longer between charges over comparable NiMh or NiCd batteries; they can also be recharged before the battery is fully drained without affecting the life of the battery.

M

Macro: Basically, macro photography is close-up photography. Some cameras have macro settings and dSLRs users can pick up macro lenses for better close-ups.

Manual Mode: A setting on a camera that allows the photographer to completely control the different elements, like aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

Meter: In photography, meters measure the amount of light. Digital cameras have them built in to automatically select an exposure setting, but they are also available separately to use for manually setting the exposure.

Megapixel: One million pixels. The number of megapixels indicates the resolution of the final images, but beware, bigger isn't always better. A camera with a large number of megapixels, say 24, has to have a high quality sensor and lens or those extra megapixels aren't really worth the extra cash.

Mount: This term simply describes the type of attachment for DSLR cameras. Lenses need to have the same type of mount as the camera body in order to be compatible (although there are other issues to consider for compatibility as well).

N

NiCd Battery: These rechargeable batteries can still function in low temperatures, but if you recharge them before the battery is fully drained, they will have a shorter lifespan.

NiMh Battery: These batteries last longer between charges compared to the NiCd batteries, but don't perform as well in cold temperatures.

Noise: Another word for a grainy texture seen in photographs, typically resulting from a high ISO setting.

O

Optical Image Stabilization: This feature helps reduce the impact of unsteady hands for both photos and video. OIS is slightly different then Electronic Image Stabilization because it functions better in low light, but usually raises the price and size of the camera or camcorder model.

Optical Zoom: A type of zoom that uses the camera's lens to get in a little closer. This type of zoom is much more effective then digital zoom.

Optical Low Pass Filter: A filter inside digital cameras that helps prevent distortion in fine patterns. Recent advances in technology have allowed some manufacturers to remove the optical low pass filter, which enhances the resolution and level of detail.

P

Panorama: A wide, but short picture, generally used to capture a landscape.

Pixel: Tiny pieces that make up a whole picture.

Programed Auto Mode: A ca mera setting that automatically sets shutter speed and aperture, but the photographer can adjust other elements, such as ISO.

R

RAW: A different format for digital images with more photo editing capabilities then the typical JPEG. But be cautious, RAW files need different software then JPEGs, take up more space on the memory card and need to be edited before they are finished.

Resolution: The size of an image or screen in pixels. Larger resolutions are better for seeing the smaller details and for enlarging a photograph.

RGB: The color composition for digital images, measured in varying levels of red, green and blue. Images that are printed use CMYK, which can sometimes result in a slight difference in the colors between a digital image and a printed one.

S

Scene Modes: Different camera settings to choose from based on different scenarios where the camera adjusts the settings, but does so according to the type of scene, such as beach, snow or portrait.

SD Card: The most common type of memory card in a digital camera. The size of the SD card determines how many images you can take in between uploads.

Self Timer: Turning on this camera setting delays the time the picture is taken by a few seconds, allowing the photographer to hit the button, then move to be part of the photograph.

Shoe (Accessory or Hot Shoe): The slot to add on a flash unit on a DSLR.

Shutter: Simply put, it's the part of the digital camera that opens and closes to actually take the image. When the shutter is open, the image is being recorded.

Shutter Priority Mode: A camera setting where the camera can choose the best aperture and the photographer chooses the shutter speed. This setting is ideal for taking action shots with fast shutter speeds, or time lapse images with slow shutter speeds.

Shutter Release: The button that releases the camera's shutter. Or, put even simpler, the button that takes the picture.

Shutter Speed: How quickly (or slowly) the image is being taken. When the shutter is open for long periods of time, more light is let in and motion becomes blurred, while faster shutter speeds freeze the action better.

Shutter Lag: The pause between hitting the shutter button and when the photo is taken.

T

Telephoto: A lens or camera with a long zoom.

Time Exposure: A type of photograph taken with the shutter open for an extended period of time. A common type of time exposure is a cityscape at night, with the traffic showing as a blurred line of light.

U

USB Cord: A cord that allows you to plug your camera into your computer to download images directly.

V

Viewfinder: The opening in a camera a photographer uses to see what will be included in the image. Many smaller cameras eliminate the viewfinder and the user instead looks at the screen to compose the shot.

W

White Balance: When an image has a proper white balance, the objects that are white in actuality are also white in the image. White balance is often thrown off by different types of lighting, but many cameras have settings to adjust to different light sources.

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