Digital Cameras Features

Batteries Memory Card Zoom
Automatic Mode Scene Modes Flash
Macro/Close Up Movies Self Timer
LCD Screen Red Eye Reduction Resolution
Auto Focus / Auto Exposure Lock Shutter Button DPOF Digital Print Order Format
Pict Bridge Menu Systems Uploading to a Computer
TV Playback Exposure Compensation White Balance
Manual Focus ISO Sensitivity Picture Effects
Metering Manual Mode Shutter Speed Control
Aperture Control Shutter Priority Aperture Priority
Best Shot Selector Saturation Control Continuous Shooting
Time Lapse Movies Playback Zoom Small Picture
Speedlight Auto Bracketing Protect Image
Panoramic Mode File Formats Voice Memo

Batteries - Level: All

Digital cameras use batteries to power them. The most common batteries used are standard AA batteries and proprietary Lithium Ion batteries. One of the biggest problems with digital cameras is the fact that they run down batteries very quickly indeed. This is true of cameras at all levels. To keep down the running costs we recommend using rechargeable batteries. Click here to learn more about digital camera batteries, including the rating you will need and where you can buy them at a reasonable price.

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Memory Card - Level: All

Digital cameras store images on memory cards. Memory cards can therefore be compared with film in a traditional camera. The good news is that inserting a memory card into a digital camera is a lot more straightforward than loading a roll of film.

Some digital cameras come with built in cards, although the capacity of built in cards is usually limited. There are many different memory cards available, including compact flash, SD cards, xD cards and Memory Stick. Unfortunately individual cameras normally only use one type of card, therefore you need to make sure that if you buy an additional card it is compatible with your camera.

When a memory card becomes full you can use your camera to delete images that you no longer require. You can also save the images on a card to your computer or onto a CD. Be aware that cheap CDs can become corrupt and you can lose your photographs. We always recommend buying good quality CDs and making more than one copy.

Click here for more information on memory cards.

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Zoom - Level: All

Just about every digital camera comes with zoom. The important thing to know is that there are two types of zoom, optical and digital. Optical zoom is controlled by a zoom lens in the same way that a traditional camera does. Digital zoom is controlled by software within the camera. It is acknowledged that using optical zoom gives a sharper final image than digital zoom does. Therefore if you are looking to use zoom on a regular basis make sure you buy a camera offering optical zoom. Zoom is normally measured as times on a digital camera. For example a camera is said to have a 6x zoom lens. 3x optical zoom is about standard on a consumer model, although you will find consumer models offering up to a high power 12x optical zoom.

The majority of digital cameras are recognised as compact cameras. That means that they will have a built in zoom lens. There are an increasing number of SLR digital cameras. An SLR camera allows you to buy and use additional lenses.

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Automatic Mode -Level: All

All digital cameras have an automatic mode. This allows you to take the camera out of the box, load the batteries and memory card and start shooting. The camera makes all the key decisions relating to focusing and exposure.

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Scene Modes -Level: All

More and more digital cameras are offering scene modes. A scene mode is a pre programmed setting for the camera that optimises the exposure for given lighting conditions. For example a camera may have a Landscape Scene Mode. This means that if you set the camera to this mode and take a picture the final image should be better then it would have been if you used standard Automatic Mode.

Changing between scene modes is commonly controlled through a dial on the top or back of the camera or through the cameras menu system.

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Flash - Level: All

All but the most basic cameras have a built in flash. Don't get carried away by this as one of the most common misconceptions is that the flash will light up large, dark rooms. As a rule of thumb the distance of a standard built in flash is around three metres. This is reduced if you are using a zoom lens.

Many cameras offer a red eye reduction setting for the flash.

More advanced digital cameras have hot shoes that let you fit an external speedlight.

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Macro/Close Up - Level: All

The majority of digital cameras have a macro or close up mode. This makes sure the camera focuses sharply when you take close up pictures. Most digital cameras have a designated macro button on the back. Press the button and the camera is ready to take a close up. Press the button again and the camera is returned ready for normal focusing.

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Movies - Level: Beginners to Intermediate

The majority of consumer and high level digital cameras have a movie mode. Exactly what the movie mode does varies from camera to camera. Some cameras allow you to take short movies of three minutes or less. Others allow you to shoot your movie until the memory card is full or the batteries have run down.

The majority of cameras shoot movies in colour. Almost all allow you to record sound with your movie. Be aware that this isn't always the case.

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Self Timer - Level: All

A common feature of digital cameras at all levels is a self timer. Controlled either by a dedicated button on the camera or through the menu system. Set the self timer on, take up your position and you can be in the picture too. The self timer can also be used to avoid camera shake if you have placed the camera on a tripod or perhaps a wall.

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LCD Screen - Level: All

All but the tiniest digital cameras come with an LCD screen. A standard size is 1.6 inches. Some LCD screens swivel and later models may also offer improved display in bright sunlight. You can use the LCD screen to compose your pictures, use the camera's menu and to display pictures that you have already taken.

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Red Eye Reduction - Level: All

One of the most common photography problems is red eye. This occurs when using flash in dark conditions and it turns people's eyes red. The majority of digital cameras come with a flash setting that you can use when taking portraits using the flash that reduces the red eye effect.

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Resolution - Level: All

The ability to change the resolution of the pictures you are taking can come in handy. For example if you have a five or six megapixel camera then the memory card will start will soon start to fill up. If the pictures you are taking are for use on a computer or for making small prints the pictures taken at a lower resolution will take up less room on the memory card. You could also set the resolution to a low level that produces images that are ready to be emailed or used on a web site.

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By default a camera automatically focuses on whatever is in the middle of the picture. It works out the best exposure settings in the same way. Sometimes you may wish to have the main subject of the picture off centre. To focus and set the exposure for an off centre subjects the majority of digital cameras allow you to lock the focus and exposure. This is achieved placing your subject in the centre of the picture and pressing the shutter button half way down. This locks the exposure and focus. Keeping the shutter button press half way down recompose your picture so that the subject is where you want it to be. Press the shutter button down to take the picture.

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Shutter Button - Level: All

The shutter button is the button you press to take the picture.

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This gives the ability to select images and quantities for printing. To use this facility put the camera in playback mode. Then use the camera's menu system to select the images that you want print and the number of each image that you would like. The images are then tagged with this information. When the images are sent to the processing lab the information is retrieved and they know what to print and how many copies are to be made.

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Pict Bridge - Level: All

Pict Bridge is a relatively new feature quickly becoming available across a wide range of digital cameras. This feature allows a digital camera to be connected directly to a printer via a cable. This means that you can print pictures without the need for a computer. Software onside the camera lets you select the images you want to be printed and sends them to the printer. For this to work the printer also needs to be Pict Bridge compatible.

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Menu Systems - Level: All

A camera's menu system allows you to change the camera's settings. It depends on the number of features that the camera has as two just how many things are controlled through the menus. Don't be put off by learning that you use menus. They are displayed on the camera's LCD screen and you commonly use up and down and left and right arrow keys to make your selections. You normally access the menu system by pressing a clearly defined Menu button. All kinds of settings are changed through the menu. This starts with simple items such as the date, time and language to high powered features like placing the camera in manual mode.

If using a menu system worries you, remember it is possible to use most digital cameras without ever seeing the menus.

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There is more than one way to upload your pictures to a computer. Your camera should come with a cable to connect it to the computer plus some software to load on to your computer. This software helps you to manage the upload process. When your camera is connected to the computer you should be able to 'see' it displayed as an additional drive on your computer.

A second way to upload your images is by using a memory card reader. The memory card reader is attached to your computer. When you want to upload images you remove the memory card from the camera and insert it into the memory card reader. The reader will appear as an extra drive on your PC.

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TV Playback - Level: All

More and more digital cameras are offering the facility to review images on a TV screen. You need to connect the camera to the television via a cable plugged into the camera's Audio Visual (A/V) output socket. Be aware that not all television have the capability to connect to the camera, especially older models.

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Exposure compensation lets you make the picture brighter or darker. Consider using it when the subject is much darker or lighter than the background.

Use positive compensation when:

Use negative compensation when:

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White Balance - Level: All

A camera's white balance setting help you to take the best possible shot in different lighting conditions. For example on cameras that have this facility can offer white balance settings for outdoor shots in fine weather, shooting in shade, shooting under "daylight" fluorescent lighting, shooting under "warm white" fluorescent lighting, shooting under "cool white" fluorescent lighting and shooting in incandescent light.

More advanced cameras may allow you to fine tune the white balance as well.

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Manual Focus - Level: Advanced

More advanced digital cameras offer manual focusing. Sometimes a camera's auto focusing system may have difficulty on focusing on the particular subject that you are interested in. By selecting manual focus you gain control over the focusing distance.

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ISO Sensitivity - Level: All

ISO sensitivity on a digital camera relates to film speed on a traditional camera. As a rule of thumb lower ISO values (ISO 50 - 100) produce greater detail and are ideal for use when the light is good. When the light is poor or you are taking an action shot higher ISO values are required (ISO 400 - 800). The majority of digital cameras produce higher quality shots at ISO 200 and below.

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Picture Effects - Level: All

Picture effects mainly let you change the colouring of the picture. It could be that you wish to take the picture in black and white, sepia or to use particularly vivid colour. The picture effects available vary from camera to camera.

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Metering - Level: All

Metering is the method used to ensure the camera takes a correctly exposed shot. In other words the final picture comes out neither too light or too dark. Advanced digital cameras offer more than one method of metering. It can help to use different metering methods in different photographic situations. The most common type of metering is matrix metering. This is the method likely to be used if you are using the camera in automatic mode. Matrix metering involves the camera taking measurements from 256 areas of the frame.

Other types of metering are spot, centre weighted and spot AF area, For spot metering the camera meters an area in the centre of the viewfinder. Only a very small area of the frame is metered. Centre weighted metering involves metering the entire frame, but then concentrating most heavily on whatever is in the centre portion of the frame. Spot AF area metering is similar to ordinary spot metering, but rather than concentrating on the centre of the screen it concentrates on the area placed in focus by manual focusing.

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Manual Mode - Level: Advanced

Placing the camera in manual mode allows you to control the key variables of shutter speed and aperture.

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Shutter Speed Control - Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Increasing the length of time that the shutter stays open lets more light into the camera. Shutter speeds work closely in tandem with aperture size to determine if the photograph is correctly exposed and has the desired depth of field. Fast shutter speeds can 'freeze' movement, whilst slow shutter speeds are commonly used in low light situations.

Cameras with a bulb setting are capable of very slow shutter speeds.

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Aperture Control - Level: Intermediate to Advanced

The size of the aperture used in a shot helps to determine how much light is let in to the camera. It is used in conjunction with shutter speed. A small aperture and a fast shutter speed result in very dark photographs. Long shutter speeds and large apertures result in over exposure.

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Shutter Priority - Level: Advanced

Shutter priority is available in a camera's manual mode. This is where you select the shutter speed and the camera will set the aperture to what it believes to be the appropriate size.

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Aperture Priority - Level: Advanced

Aperture priority is available in a camera's manual mode. This is where you select the aperture size and the camera will set the shutter speed to what it believes to be the optimum time.

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Best Shot Selector - Level: Advanced

Here the camera will take a set of consecutive shots whilst the shutter is pressed down. It will then use its own judgement to determine which the best one is. It will then store only the best shot to the memory card.

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Saturation Control - Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Saturation control gives you extra control over the vividness of the colours recorded.

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Continuous Shooting - Level: Intermediate to Advanced

When set to continuous shooting, sometimes known as Burst Mode, the camera takes a short series of photographs whilst the shutter button is press down. For example a camera could take 12 consecutive pictures at a rate of 1.2 frames per second (fps).

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Time Lapse Movies - Level: Advanced

A time lapse movie is where the camera takes a single still image at a set interval. For example the camera could take a picture every minute. The way this normally happens is for the camera to be mounted on a tripod. Typical examples of time lapse movies include flowers opening and clouds moving across the sky.

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Playback Zoom - Level: All

Playback zoom 'blows up' a section of an image that you have taken on the LCD screen. It gives you a better idea if sections of the image show the level of detail that you are looking for.

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Small Picture- Level: Intermediate to Advanced

A relatively new feature that isn't widely available. This allows you to make a copy of a picture you have taken at a lower resolution. The copy is then written as a new image to the camera's memory card. The small picture is suitable for sending in an email or posting to a web site.

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Speedlight - Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Digital cameras almost always come with built in flash. This type of flash is not always powerful enough for serious photography work. Therefore some digital cameras have a hot shoe. An external, more powerful, flash unit can be attached to the camera via the hot shoe.

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Auto Bracketing - Level: Advanced

It's not always easy to judge the lighting conditions with 100% accuracy. If your camera doesn't have auto bracketing what you might do is take a shot, change the exposure compensation value, take another shot, change the exposure compensation value again and so on. You would then trust that one of your shots came out perfectly exposed. With auto bracketing the camera handles the changes to exposure compensation automatically. Therefore you turn auto bracketing on and take a shot, before you take your next shot the camera will change the exposure compensation for you. Auto bracketing for white balance is also available on some of the more advanced cameras.

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Protect Image - Level: All

Protect Image lets you select an image and protect it from accidental deletion from the memory card.

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Panoramic Mode - Level: All

This mode is used to take a series of photographs that you can then join together on a computer to create a panoramic view. This is sometimes referred to as Stitch Assist.

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File Formats - Level: All

The standard file format for a picture taken with a digital camera is JPEG. These are fine for emailing and loading to web sites. You can also order prints of pictures stored as JPEGs. Other formats that are normally found on more advanced cameras are RAW and TIFF. RAW and TIFF files store the images in a non compressed format. These are therefore larger in size than JPEGs and can be edited by most image manipulation software packages.

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Voice Memo - Level: All

After you have taken a picture you can add some comments to the picture. These will be played back to you when you view the image. This is a relatively new feature and isn't as yet widely available.

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