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Photography Jargon Buster

Thursday, May 10th, 2007 by | Filed Under: Digital Photography

Photography Jargon Buster

If you’ve recently bought a new digital camera or if you’re planning on buying one in the near future, these technical terms will help keep you better equipped. The best buyer is one who is better informed and nothing is a better beginning than knowing what some of the terms mean when it comes to understanding the basic settings on your camera. Let’s begin!


The word “pixel” stands for picture element. What you see on the LCD viewfinder of your camera or on your PC monitor is a bunch of pixels. A general rule of thumb is that the greater the pixel count, the better and sharper the image. A greater pixel count means the image can be viewed at its native resolution. That is, the resolution it was captured at, with less loss in visual detail.


The megapixel (MP) rating of a camera represents the resolution (in millions of pixels) that the camera is capable of producing. A six megapixel camera’s CCD sensor would be capable of capturing an image containing up to approximately six million pixels.


The digital image on your digicam is produced by the camera’s sensor. The sensor is basically a unit that measures the brightness of each pixel. The sensor unit consists of millions of tiny pixels in an array like fashion. Each pixel is tasked with capturing photons and each pixel can capture a certain number of them. The photons collected by each pixel are converted into an electrical charge via a photodiode. After this, the electrical charge needs to be amplified and then converted to a digital charge to a digital value. That is done by the ADC (Analogues to Digital Converter).


There are two types of digital camera sensors. The most common are CCD (Charge Couples Device) sensors, used in nearly all cameras. CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) sensors are relatively faster and smaller than their CCD counterparts and they are found only on some select high-end cameras.

Optical and Digital Zoom

It’s simple. Optical = good. Digital = not so good. Optical zoom uses the camera optics. That is, the lens, to bring the subject in for a closer focus. This is the actual way a zoom should work and even film cameras use this sort of zoom. Digital zoom is a “simulated” zoom, which means the sensor crops the image and then enlarges the cropped portion to the size of the original. This is called interpolation and it results in image quality loss. Therefore, digital zooming has nothing to do with camera optics.


Noise is nothing but unwanted pixels. It’s like the presence of color speckles where there should be none. For example, instead of a blue sky, you notice faint pink, purple and other color speckles among the otherwise blue color. One of the major differences between a consumer digital camera and a digital Single Lens Reflex (dSLR) is that the former produces images with a lot of noise when using high ISOs and long exposure times and the latter is practically noise free.


This refers to the graininess you sometimes see in an image, which can be caused by either a weak pixel fill rate, improper geometry of the individual pixels or other factors, like color accuracy, noise and unnecessary storage of pixels. It’s an unwanted element in digital photography.

The ISO Rating

This value represents the sensitivity of the image sensor to the light present in a scene. The higher this figure is (64, 100, 200, 400, 800 and higher), the better equipped the camera will be to take good photos in low light conditions.

White Balance

White balance is a camera setting that can be tuned to adjust the tone of the color in the resultant output. Its objective is to make the scene as neutral as possible, as far as, white goes. This way, the white actually appears white without hues. A camera will display a white object with different hues under yellow, fluorescent or natural light. This is a naturally occurring phenomenon that can spoil photographs with even the best cameras. It all happens if the white balance is not set correctly. Cameras have settings, such as Auto, Incandescent, Fluorescent and more for the white balance.

Hope this helps you out!

~ Zahid H. Javali

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