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The Inner Workings of Digital Cameras

Jun 5, 2008
If you use a digital camera, it can help to have a little deeper understanding how these modern wonders work. Briefly, digital cameras have a series of lenses that focus light onto a sensor instead of film. The sensor electronically records the image, and transfers it to the "brains" of the camera. Here it is organized and then converted into binary data, so it can be stored in memory or on removable memory units for later reading by a computer or printer.

When it comes to the sensor, most digital cameras use a charge-coupled device (CCD), while other cameras use a complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) instead. Both sensors convert light into electrical charges, which are then read by the electronics in the camera and transferred to the relevant storage media.

As we all learned in grade school, there are three primary colors. Digital cameras use filters to divide the light into those three colors during the conversion process. Good quality cameras have three separate sensors for filtering, with each sensor matching one strand of light.

Aperture and shutter speed are the mechanisms used to control the amount of light that reaches the sensor. In most digital cameras the aperture setting is automatic, but some cameras also allow manual control. Professional photographers and enthusiasts prefer this option. The shutter, on the other hand, is set electronically.

There are four kinds of lenses used by digital cameras: optical-zoom lenses with automatic focus; fixed-focus, fixed-zoom lenses; digital-zoom lenses; and replaceable lens systems. Optical zoom lenses have both telephoto and wide options, while the fixed focus and fixed zoom lenses are used in the ordinary, inexpensive cameras that infrequent users own. The digital zoom lens creates the illusion of a zoom effect by culling pixels from the central part of the image and enlarging them to fill the frame. This, however, often results in a grainy or fuzzy image at the extreme limits of the camera's capabilities.

An LCD screen is standard on most digital cameras today, and they help in previewing images and also checking them out after taking a shot. Many screens are rather small, because there is only so much space on a camera for them. It is always best to transfer the images to a computer for viewing. In terms of image quality in general, the higher resolution the camera, the better the image quality.

The potential size of the printed photographs is also decided by the camera's resolution. Because their resolution is relatively low, a 1-megapixel digital camera will produce images that are good for e-mailing or posting on the Web, and little else. The images taken by a 2-megapixel camera are suitable for 4x5 inch prints while good-looking 16x20 inch prints can be produced by a 4-megapixel camera. Better to get a 6 megapixel or higher model if you love working with photos.

Several years ago, digital cameras stored images onto fixed memory locations inside the camera. Users needed a cable to hook up to a computer in order to transfer images. Today's cameras all use removable, reusable memory media, and are therefore much more flexible and convenient. Larger amounts of storage are easy to purchase, so one can also take higher resolution pictures without fear of running out of memory. Various systems for storage include SmartMedia cards, memory sticks, and CompactFlash cards. Other cameras use microdrives, like little hard drives, or DVDs. Whichever method your camera uses, the convenience and freedom that digital photography allows will turn you into a shutterbug in short order!
About the Author
Wilfred Ursley is a writer for a variety of respected Internet sites, with tips and resources on new products and health education themes.
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