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Digital Photography Nuts and Bolts: Get to Know Your Digital Camera Going Digital? A Buyer's Guide Dos and Don'ts Virtual Photo Fun
Nuts and Bolts: Get to Know Your Digital Camera
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Nuts and Bolts: Get to Know Your Digital Camera

There are specific features that are universal to all digital cameras. Knowing what these features are will help you when it comes time to buy your first digital camera or when you want to upgrade from a beginner's model to something more advanced.

  • Instant preview. Common to all digital cameras is the LCD screen, which lets you see pictures immediately after shooting them. While it's probably a good idea to wait until you get home to your computer to make critical decisions about which shots to trash, this feature will allow you to delete the obvious dogs immediately and reclaim that memory card space. You can also use the screen to compose your pictures—a real blessing if eyeglasses have always made the traditional "peep hole" viewfinder hard to use.

  • Digital cameras enable you to adjust the camera's sensitivity to the existing light. In the old days, you had to buy film whose sensitivity to light (also called "film speed" or "ISO speed") matched the amount of light you were expecting to encounter, which meant you had to carry different types of film for different conditions. If you were going to be shooting in bright sun, you needed a "slow" film to get maximum image quality. Night shooting meant you needed "faster" film that was sensitive enough to record images in low light levels. Digital cameras have an adjustable light sensitivity, or ISO-speed setting, that lets you match the sensitivity of the camera's sensor (the computer chip that records the image) to the existing light conditions. With a simple change of the sensitivity setting, you can make an easy transition from shooting in bright outdoor light to a dim interior setting. Or you can set the camera to the "auto" mode and the sensitivity changes automatically based on lighting conditions.

  • All digital cameras have an adjustable white balance setting that lets you match the color sensitivity to the color balance of the existing light. Again, when shooting with film, outdoor shooting required a daylight film, and if you wanted to move indoors and shoot with tungsten lamps, you either had to filter the lens or switch to a tungsten-balanced film. Digital cameras are capable of switching light sources mid-stream: just tell the camera the light source you're shooting in (tungsten, flash, daylight, cloudy day, fluorescent lights) and it will provide the right color balance. Or again, put the camera in the auto mode and the camera will set itself to the prevailing light.

Next: "Going Digital? A Buyer's Guide"