Digital Photography Terminology & Definitions

Glossary of Digital Camera Terms
This digital camera guide is designed to help you understand some of the most common photography terminology and definitions associated with digital cameras and camcorders.

The resolution of a digital camera refers to the sharpness of its pictures.

Resolution range
  • 640 x 480 Pixels = Minimum Computer Resolution
  • 1280 x 960 Pixels = Film Resolution of 4"x6" print
  • 1600 x 1200 Pixels = Film Resolution of 8"x10" print
  • 1920 x 1600 Pixels = Very High Resolution
Maximum CCD Resolution
The CCD (charge-coupled device) is the light-sensing device inside a digital camera and is composed of an array of individual sensors, or pixels, that "see" the image coming in through the camera's lens. The maximum CCD resolution is the total number of pixels in a camera's sensor, so the higher the resolution the greater the detail in a picture.

Image Capacity (at hi-res)
This refers to the camera's memory capacity for images shot at high resolution, using the amount of memory which comes shipped with the camera (some cameras allow you to add memory, which in turn will increase the number of images which can be stored).

On-board Memory
Some digital cameras have built-in memory in lieu of (or in addition to) removable media to store their images. On-board memory is less expensive (and less flexible) than removable memory, and it's usually seen only in entry-level cameras.

Optical Zoom
Sometimes known as "telephoto" or "true zoom," optical zoom works like the zoom on a traditional film camera. Elements within the lens move, reducing the field of view and making the object appear closer.

ISO Film Speed Equivalency
A measurement, borrowed from traditional film cameras, of light sensitivity. The higher the ISO rating, the better the camera will perform in low-light conditions. Most digital cameras have ISO ratings of around 100.

Compatible Memory Type(s)
This refers to the type of storage medium a camera uses to store images. Most cameras accept only one type, and none of the types are interchangeable. Each format has its pros and cons, and the fact that none has yet become dominant suggests that there's no "best" format yet.

Digital Zoom
Also known as simulated zoom. With digital zoom, the camera takes a small portion of an image and uses interpolation to artificially restore the file to its original size. Unlike optical zoom, digital zoom does not require any moving parts, so it's much cheaper to manufacture. Unfortunately, digital zoom also reduces the resolution of an image. Anyone can "digitally zoom" images at home by cropping and enlarging a picture with photo-editing software, so this feature is virtually worthless.

Macro Focus Range
A separate setting for extreme close-up (or macro) shots. Without a macro setting, cameras may not be able to focus on objects that are close to the lens.

Serial Output
An outgoing connector compatible with virtually all PCs and beige (pre-iMac) Macintoshes, making serial connections the most universal of transfer formats. However, it's much slower than USB.

USB (universal serial bus) Output
An outgoing connector compatible with virtually all PCs made since 1998 and all "colorful" Macs. A USB port is much quicker and more user-friendly than a serial port, but it is also a more recent innovation not found on older computers.

Video Output
Allows you to view your digital pictures on your TV or record them on a video cassette.

Flash Type
The flash makes a burst of light for shooting pictures inside or in low-light conditions.

Flash Options
  • Off/On/Auto: This refers to the basic flash functions, where the flash is always off, always on (i.e. for fill-ins), or set to fire automatically when needed.
  • Red-Eye Reduction: This refers to a mode of flash that helps prevent the appearance of people with red eyes in the picture.
  • Flash sync: allows you to use more powerful flashes, and/or place the flash strategically, by attaching an external flash unit to the camera. Typically, a camera with flash sync will also offer the more traditional forms of flash as well, such as auto flash.
  • Hot Shoe: This is a structure found on some digital cameras, to which an external flash unit is attached. Some cameras offering hot shoe capability also offer the more traditional forms of flash, such as automatic.
Rapid-Fire Shots
This feature allows you to take multiple rapid-fire shots with one touch of the exposure button. This can be a very useful feature when shooting subjects in motion, such as during a sporting event. You want to get a camera that takes pictures anywhere between 1.2 and 1.6 seconds from the time you hit the button and preferably a model that has a burst capability of taking multiple pictures in sequence. There are a number of cameras in the $300-400 range that will take 4 to 6 pictures in a "burst".

Audio Recording
allows you to record a short sound bite with each image, allowing you to makes notes for future reference.

Digital Print Order Format, is a feature that allows you to send images directly to the printer while controlling the quantity and order of the images being printed.
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