Digital photography basics – know the most important digital glossary

Some digital photography basics are essential to understand if you want to improve your skills and learn digital photography. This knowledge also comes into use when you are going to buy a new digital camera

What do all these words mean? Is it only for marketers or does it have a meaning for you as a photographer.

Samos, Greece
Kokkari harbor Samos, Greece

When I bought my first digital camera I had been using a film SLR camera for many years already. Therefore I already knew how important exposure, shutter and aperture are when you want to take control of your photography.

For me at that point the terms related to digital cameras was new and unknown. The last years the word megapixels have been focused a lot. Without knowing the most important digital photography basics like what megapixels actually are, you might easily end up buying expensive “megapixels” sold by too eager camera salesmen.

Important terms in Digital photography

Some of the words used are must know words if you want to buy a digital camera or you want to get more out of your existing camera. Other words are more technical for those with special interest. Below you can learn more about the most important digital photography glossary.

A digital photo is built from a number of pixels (pixel is the short name for picture element). Pixels are small colored squares which together forms a grid pattern resulting in the final picture. The more pixels the more details will be saved. But very important, the quality of the final picture is dependent on the sensors way of processing the pixels. This differs very much from camera to camera. Read more here

The resolution of a digital photo is dependent on how many pixels it contains. My camera (Nikon D300) has 12.2 Million pixels (or 12.2 MP) which is 4288 pixels (wide) x 2848 pixels (high).

CCD (Charge-Coupled Device) and CMOS These are the two most common used sensors in digital cameras. The sensors collect and stores the data like the traditional film do. The better the sensor is the less noise will be introduced. Sensors in compact digital cameras are smaller and have more noise than the bigger DSLR sensors, even if the cameras have the same megapixels.


Digital noise

When pixels in a picture have wrong color tones it is called digital noise. This is actually one of the most important things covered on this page about digital photography basics, and something you really must consider when choosing your digital camera. Noise is specially seen in photos shot in low light conditions, at high ISO or long exposure time. Smaller compacts are more likely to have noise due to the small sensor in these cameras.

Shutter lag
Is the time from you push the shutter button and till the photo is exposed. In earlier digital cameras the shutter lag was quite long. This could make it difficult to shoot an object in motion. You might have experienced this delay. Before the camera have been able to focus and expose, the motive has moved out of the view, and you only get a part of the child, animal or whatever you are shooting, in the frame. Annoying – isn’t it? Today’s cameras have made great improvements, but still some compact have this problem. I recommend you test this if possible before you buy your camera.

Optic and digital zoom
Two important terms used in digital cameras, and you should know the difference. Don’t be fooled by the advertisers claiming a lot of zoom on their cameras. Real zoom is only the digital one. Read more here

Exif (Exchangeable Image File)
This is a way of storing information about a photo inside the file. This information contains data from the camera such as shutter speed, aperture, ISO and much more. This data is also called meta-data. If you later want to know which settings were used for a particular photo, you can read the Exif data. You can analyze and learn from this data later when the file is opened on the computer. Exif data in digital photos also stores the date and time the photo was shot.

Storing the image in RAW format means the data from the sensor is stored without any processing from the camera. You need special software to post process the data. Read more here

Other image file types. Read more here

Summary - Digital photography basics

Most of today’s digital cameras have plenty of megapixels and more than most of us will ever need. After reading the digital photography basics pages you will have the minimum knowledge to get you going. You will also know what to look for when you are going to buy your first digital camera.