Glossary of Camera Terms

Photography has a jargon. Here are some essentials.

Nikon P510 red
Nikon P510 courtesy Nikon USA
AC adapter charges a camera and its accessories from a standard AC outlet. Adaptors also are known as plug packs, plug-in adapters, adapter blocks, domestic mains adapters, line power adapters, power adapters, and wall-warts.

Aperture range describes a camera's lens opening from its largest setting to its smallest. The greater the aperture range, the more control available to the photographer over light and focus. It is expressed in f-stop numbers. Examples are f/3.3 or f/5.9.

Audio is sound that is recorded with videos and reproduced.

Autoexposure is a system in which a camera automatically sets the lens aperture and shutter speed to allow the correct amount of light to strike the sensor.

Autofocus is a camera's ability to focus automatically.

Backlight strikes the subject from behind. The subject is backlit and likely to appear without detail as a dark silhouette. Batteries for digital cameras typically are rechargeable. They are made from chemicals such as lead-acid, nickel cadmium (NiCd), nickel metal hydride (NiMH), lithium ion (Li-ion), and lithium ion polymer (Li-ion polymer). They ome in many different shapes and sizes.

Burst mode is a means of continuously shooting. When the shutter release button is depressed and held, the camera captures multiple shots in rapid succession. It's used when shooting subjects in motion.

Camera dock is a fitted connection device that holds the camera, transfers images from camera to computer, and charges the camera's battery.

Candid is an unposed, spontaneous photograph of a subject or subjects.

Catchlights are those small bright-spot highlights in a subject's eyes, that are reflections of the light source.

CCD is a charge-coupled device, a small electronic integrated circuit that is a digital camera's equivalent of film. A CCD has rows of sensors that measure light energy and store it digitally.

Color is the human visual perception of wavelengths in the spectrum of light as it interacts in the eye light receptors and the brain. Colors include red, green, blue and others. White is the perception of all colors while black is the absence of any colors. See: light and white balance (below). Composition is the process of framing and positioning of a subject while setting up a visually appealing photograph.

Contrast is the difference between a subject's tones, shades, colors and light quality.

Correct exposure is the right amount of light that must strike a digital camera's sensor to produce the best picture quality.

Cropping reduces and shapes the proportions of an image.

Depth of field is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects that appear to be in focus in an image.

Diffused light is softened by cloud cover or some other translucent element.

Digital zoom is not a true zoom. Rather, it merely simulates zoom by enlarging the image's pixels by cropping. The actual length of the lens does not change. Digital zooming results in reduced image quality. For example, a lens' digital zoom range might be 2x or 5x. An optical zoom is preferred. See: zoom lens (below).

Exposure is the amount of light that strikes the sensor as you take a picture. Face detection is a camera feature that determines the locations and sizes of human faces in digital images. It detects facial features and ignores anything else in the image.

Flash is a light source built into a camera. It fires in a burst. Common flash modes include automatic, in which the camera decides when a flash is needed, red-eye reduction, which minimizes eye reflections, and fill flash, which reduces deep shadows in bright sunlight. Fluorescent light is generated by a gas-discharge tube that uses electricity to excite mercury vapor.

Focal length refers to how wide or narrow a section of a scene the lens includes in a picture and how big or small it makes the subject. Focusing adjusts the lens to make the subject sharp in the image. Frame is the rectangular image you see when you look at or through the viewfinder. It is used for composing the subject. Frame lines are light or dark lines or brackets inside the viewfinder frame indicating the area of the scene that will be recorded.

Frame counter displays how many images have been recorded.

Hard light creates strong contrast and casts heavy shadows on a subject. Focused light produces harder-edged shadows. Hard light occurs when the light source is small relative to the subject.

HD is the high-definition video mode, which many digital cameras are capable of recording. Minimal is 720 and best is 1080.

Image is a picture, a photograph, a visual representation of something as recorded by a camera. Images can be still or depict motion. Image file formats include JPEG, WAV, MOV, MPEG-4, MPO and others

Image resolution is a pair of numbers that reveal the clarity of a digital image. It is calculated by multiplying the number of pixels wide by the number of pixels high. For example, an image size might be 640 x 480 or 1280 x 960 pixels.

Image stabilization digitally compensates for camera shake so images appear steady.

Imaging sensor is an element in a camera that converts light to a digital image. The most common types of sensors are charge-coupled devices (CCD) and complementary metal-oxide semiconductors (CMOS). The size of the CCD or CMOS image sensor is measured in fractions of an inch. For example, 1/1.8 inch or 2/3 inch. The larger the sensor, the better the picture quality.

Infinity lock causes the camera to focus as far away as possible.

Interface is the connection used to transfer digital images from a camera to a computer. A common digital camera interface is USB 2.0, with a small USB port on the camera and a USB cable to the computer.

LCD is a liquid crystal display panel used on cameras as viewfinders and to display status and settings. A viewfinder LCD screen is a monitor on the back of a camera for composing photos before an image is recorded. The size of the LCD screen is measured in inches diagonally from corner to corner. For example, screen sizes might be 2.5 inches or 3 inches.

Lens is a cylinder of shaped pieces of glass or plastic at the front of a camera that projects a small image of a subject onto the digital sensor. Light in photography generally is electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the human eye and responsible for the sense of sight. Visible light has a wavelength between the invisible infrared and the invisible ultraviolet. In physics, light often refers to electromagnetic radiation of any wavelength, whether visible or not. Megapixels is a number representing the camera's image sensor resolution measured in millions of pixels, which are tiny dots. For example, a sensor might have 12 or 16 megapixels. Effective megapixels, the number of megapixels actually used to capture an image, is slightly slightly fewer than the number of total available megapixels.

Memory is the capacity a camera has for storing photos. Cameras usually have a small amount of built-in memory and a slot to accept large-capacity memory cards. The number of images that can be stored in a digital camera's built-in memory or on a removable memory cards varies depending on the resolution of each image. The higher the resolution of an image, the more storage space it takes up. Mode refers to settings that cause a camera to perform a specific function or operation in a preset manner.

Monopod is a stand with one leg used to support and steady a camera. A tripod is a stand with three legs.

Movie mode is a feature of a still-photography camera that captures motion video with sound.

Muddy prints lack detail, contrast, and color brilliance. They have gray or brown casts.

Optical zoom is a true zoom lens. The greater the optical zoom, the closer you seem to be to the subject you want to photograph. Optical zoom is recommended to ensure crisp, detailed photos. For example, a lens' optical zoom range might be 10x or 30x. Optical zoom is preferred over digital zoom, which is not a true zoom. See: zoom lens (below).

Panorama mode is a setting in which the camera produces an elongated very-wide-view image.

Pixels are picture elements, tiny points of color and tone that form a digital image.

Prefocusing is locking the focus before completing the shot. See: focus lock (above).

Resolution is the measurement of photographic sharpness. See: image resolution (above).

Scanning reads a photograph and translates it into a computer image file.

Self-timer is a mode in which the camera delays taking a picture by a specified time interval after the photographer presses the shutter release button. The self-timer delays release of the camera shutter for several seconds so the photographer has time to get into the picture. Typical delays are 2 seconds and 10 seconds.

Sensor is an element in a camera that converts light to a digital image. See: imaging sensor (above).

Shake is movement of the camera by involuntary hand motions. It causes pictures to be blurry and not sharp.

Sharpness is the degree to which distinguishable details of a subject are seen clearly in an image.

Shutter is a component in a camera that allows light to enter the camera by opening and closing an aperture. Smile mode is a setting in which a camera detects that people in the shot are smiling.

Soft light creates delicate tones and minimal, pale shadows on a subject. Soft light seems to wrap around objects, casting diffuse shadows with soft edges when the light source is large relative to the subject The closer the light source, the softer it becomes. The larger the source, the softer it becomes.

Telephoto lens magnifies a subject, making it appear bigger than normal in the image frame.

Thumbnails are small images of photos. They often are used to index images on a computer screen or Web page.

Toggling refers to pressing a button repeatedly to turn something on or off or to advance through a menu.

Touchscreen enables the user to interact with the camera by touching areas on the LCD viewfinder screen.

Tripod is a stand, either with one leg or three legs, used to support and steady a camera. A monopod is a tripod with only one leg. Tungsten light is artificial light from household lightbulbs.

Video mode is a feature of a still-photography camera that captures motion video with sound.

Video outputs are ports or jacks that allow a camera to be connected to a TV for viewing images. Examples of video output formats include NTSC, PAL, and HDMI.

Viewfinder is a rectangular window to a scene that shows the photographer what the lens is seeing and allows composing of the subject. Many cameras have optical viewfinders through which the photographer peers at the picture content before snapping the photo. Digital cameras usually have an electronic viewfinder, which is a color LCD panel that shows the picture before the photograph is made. White balance is a setting that compensates for the color of light in a scene to ensure true-to-life color. Most digital cameras have automatic white balance settings. They also can be changed manually for cloudy, daylight, flash, fluorescent, and incandescent lighting.

Wide-angle lens sees relatively large sections of a scene.

Zoom is the ability of the camera lens to reduce or enlarge the field of view.