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Part 2 : Introducing the DSLR camera

*Disclaimer: Notes written by Alistair Keddie.


Introducing the DSLR Camera, photography notes



Part 2 : The DSLR camera

In a digital single lens reflex camera (DSLR), the light from our scene enters through the lens where an angled mirror inside the camera reflects the light up into our viewfinder. A prism then directs the light out to our eye giving a direct view of our scene. When taking a photograph, the mirror pops up, blocking the viewfinder, but letting the light enter the camera as the shutter opens and the scene is recorded onto the digital sensor. The shutter closes, the mirror drops back into place and we are ready to take another shot.

The direct view offered by the SLR is ideal for composing our shots as we can see exactly what the camera is seeing. Many camera’s now also offer a ‘live’ view where the scene is shown directly on the display screen. Its a matter of choice, but some prefer to use the viewfinder unless the camera has an exceptionally high res screen. Often the viewfinder will offer a brighter and clearer view and has the added advantage of sometimes giving an extra steadying point when shooting hand held in low light.

Camera screen example for DSLR photography notes

Each DSLR will have certain features in common. All will have a shutter button where a half press will make a light meter reading and operate the autofocus system (a full press taking the photograph). There will be some sort of selector dial or wheel, perhaps two controlling things like shutter speed, aperture etc. A mode selector dial giving us access to the auto and scene modes, as well as the ‘creative’ modes P(Program Priority), S (Shutter Priority - usually, Tv for Time Value on Canon cameras), A (Aperture Priority - usually Av on Canon for Aperture Value) and M (Manual). There may be another couple of settings such as B for Bulb, A-DEP for Auto Depth of Field and C for Custom and I’ll mention these in a note towards the end. Other generic features on our DSLR’s will include, a viewfinder, a display screen and various other buttons which we’ll be taking a look at later.

The Viewfinder

The viewfinder allows us to frame our scene, giving us a view directly through the camera’s lens. It also provides additional information such as displaying the autofocus points, the shutter and aperture settings, the exposure meter and sometimes, the camera’s ‘buffer’.


Autofocus Points

These are normally etched onto the glass and spread out from the centre of the frame. They indicate the points where the camera’s autofocus system measures and also where the light meter is looking for its values. Generally, the autofocus and metering system is weighted towards the centre where we expect to find the subject. By default, all of these will be on, though we can over ride this and select from any one of the points.


Shutter and aperture

Shutter and aperture values are normally displayed along the bottom of the viewfinder.


Exposure Meter

The Exposure Meter is displayed in the viewfinder in some makes of camera. It will not appear in any of the auto modes.



The ‘buffer’ is also sometime displayed on some makes of camera. This number refers to the camera’s internal memory which handles the shots before passing to the memory card. In some situations, particularly in continuos shooting mode, the buffer can fill and the camera will slow down until this memory clears.


The Display Screen

The display screen generally echoes some of the information we see in the viewfinder as well as giving access to specific menus and controls for our camera. The screen will also allow us to display our photographs and on some models is capable of showing a live view through the lens, particularly if the camera is capable of recording video.


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