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Learning Digital Photography-Beginners' Guide

Updated on January 17, 2010

Learning Digital Photography - Terms

A beginner's guide to digital photography? Holy Megapixel, Batman, that could be a whole book.

Yes, it could, but let's take care of a few basics here. Let's start with a little vocabulary. As you read more about digital photography, you will come across certain terms time and time again. Understanding the various terms and aspects that surround digital photography is very
important! It will become like second nature in time, but for now it helps to read what
you can and connect the terms with your digital camera experiences. Focal length,
framing, contrast, sharpness, metering, shutter lag, ISO, and pixel are all very

Point and Shoot Camera: (aka compact digital camera) this is a camera that is ready to go right out of the box. It does not need any added lens or setting changes by the photographer. Just point.. and... shoot. Bingo, you have a digital picture. It is great for the casual snapshot shooter. The more money you invest in your compact digital camera, the more the camera will do. You may have to read the manual to understand all the different ways to set up your camera. But it will always be available to just point and shoot if you don't care to read the instructions.

Digital SLR Camera: (aka DSLR) the DSLR comes in several degrees of quality or complexity. It is the choice of dedicated hobbyists and professionals. With a DSLR camera the user can change lenses in order to get a different type of shot. There are also many more camera settings that can be changed. Photographers have much more control over the camera settings compared to a compact digital camera.

Learning Digital Photography - DSLR settings
Learning Digital Photography - DSLR settings
Point and shoot cameras
Point and shoot cameras

Pixel: In digital photography, this is what actually makes up your picture. Each digital picture is made of little tiny dots known as pixels. You no doubt have heard the term "megapixel" thrown around. A megapixel is a million of these dots or pixels. So, if you own a 10-megapixel camera, you have a camera that can take a picture that is made of 10,000,000 (ten million) pixels when set at its highest image quality setting.

Shutter Lag: the shutter is the "door" that opens when you push the button to take the picture. In any camera, there is a short pause between the time you press the button and the time the shutter actually opens to let the picture in. Shutter lag is more obvious on point and shoot cameras than it is on DSLR cameras.

ISO: This is a setting that controls how much light is available for your camera. Remember buying film for your old camera? Mostly you purchased film with the number "100" on the box, but sometimes you would buy "400" film. This number controlled how fast the photo could be taken. This is what ISO does. It is a setting that can be increased in size so that the shutter can open and close at a different speed. ISO 400 will be a faster picture than ISO 100.

White Balance: the type of light affects the color of the final image. For instance, when you take a picture outside, you get a different color cast than if you take a picture inside using incandescent lights. The white balance setting on your camera will compensate for the lighting differences. Most newer compact digital cameras automatically set the white balance when you select a scene mode such as "nighttime" or "shade".

Learning Digital Photography - Learn What Type of Camera You Need

Happy Photographer
Happy Photographer

Dealing with a tough question here. In today's camera market, there are so many different cameras. Each one has its own set of specifications, making it right for certain applications. For instance, some cameras are perfect for travel while others are better for family outings and group shots.

You must decide what you will be doing with your digital camera most of the time. Unless you are planning to buy a DSLR with several lenses to accommodate many different photo opportunities, you will need to decide upon a single camera to take care of the majority of your photography needs.

Several things to consider:

Image Quality: what will you be doing with your photos. If you merely want to print shapshots from your local 1-hour lab or post your pictures on Facebook, just about any camera will suit your needs. However, if you have higher aspirations for your photos, image quality will be much more important. Image quality is generally a function of the lens type, image sensor, and resolution. The number of megapixels combined with the quality of the image sensor (and how the sensor processes the pictures) and the quality of the lens will give you the answer to how good the image quality is. Your best bet before buying is to check with a reliable source such as or consumer reports if you are concerned about getting the best image quality.

Focal Length: digital cameras come in a wide variety of zoom ranges. You can get a 3x zoom camera all the way up to 20x zoom. If you are looking for a camera that will take great nature pictures or sports shots, make sure you get enough "zoom power" to take care of your needs. However, if family group shots or landscapes are your passion, 20x is not as important as a good wide angle lens.

Price: you know the old saying, "You get what you pay for." Well, it isn't always black and white with price (not black and white photos). Some more expensive cameras will not meet your needs just because they are more money. Keep in mind that you want to get the very best camera possible for the amount of money are ready to plunk down at the camera counter (or online). Suggestion - don't buy a camera for $239 because it fits into your budget. You may be able to get a better camera for $189 that has just what you need, or maybe you will have to save a bit longer and buy a $329 camera. Just don't settle for something that is less than what you desire. You won't be happy if you do.


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