Do You Know How Cameras Work?

Maria Trimarchi

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

The photograph of an American sailor kissing a woman in Times Square in celebration of the end of WWII has become an iconic image. And Marilyn Monroe posing over a New York City subway grate. Did Americans' love of photography start when the original Kodak debuted in 1888. Or was it with the camera-for-the-people, the Brownie? Or is it that the best photos are taken now that the most prolific digital camera is the one built into our iPhones?

The first camera to capture and store digital images wouldn't be developed until 1975 -- and you'll never guess the available megapixels it had. Ready for it? The first digital camera had only 0.01 megapixels to capture images, which were black and white, and saved onto cassette tape (which would later be replaced by a more user-friendly flash memory). And just a little more than a decade later, Nikon introduced the Nikon SVC, which was the world's first digital single-lens-reflex (DSLR) camera. Where do smartphones fit in? Well, in 2000, Sharp introduced the J-SH04J phone, the first cellphone designed with a built-in camera.

Yet, when it comes to the camera, things haven't really changed that much -- at all. At least not the basics. The fundamentals of how a camera functions remain the same now as they did in the 19th century and earlier. And no matter what subject matter you prefer, photography is simply the study of light and shadow, and the camera you use is your tool for capturing it. But there's a little more going on than the click of a button when you take a photo. See how much you know about how cameras work, from point-and-shoots to manual SLRs, and more. Say cheese!

No camera can function without what?

Photography is more than point and shoot. The camera is essentially a lightproof box with a hole that allows in bursts of light -- and that light is refracted, bent and captured by either film or by photosensors (in a digital camera). Not even a camera that has night vision capabilities can function without light -- although they typically rely on artificial infrared light.

What does light pass through to form an image?

Images are formed when light passes through the aperture, which is the opening inside the lens (and like the pinhole of a pinhole camera). Using the aperture setting, you can control the amount of light that enters the camera.

The camera's lens lets you focus, as well as what?

In addition to how you focus, the camera's lens allows you to zoom in for a closer look, too. The lens is also how you control the aperture setting, with the aperture ring.

When light enters a manual SLR camera, it causes a chemical reaction on what to make an image?

When light enters a single-lens reflex film camera, it causes a chemical reaction on the film inside. Film is coated in a gelatin that contains silver halide crystals (it's a light-sensitive celluloid coated with silver halide) -- it's the crystals that react to the light, and that reaction is what turns the crystals into silver ions and creates the image.

What happens inside an SLR film camera when you press the button to take a photo?

There is a mirror inside most cameras, and when you press the button to take a photo -- called the shutter release button, that mirror flips out of the way, allowing the light to hit the film.

If you have an external flash or microphone to use with your SLR camera, where on the camera do you attach it?

The hot shoe is the metal bracket found on the top of the camera. It's the mounting point for accessories such as an external flash or microphone.

Which component of a photo can aperture affect?

How your aperture is set can alter the exposure of your photos -- which means how wide or narrow you make the opening (aperture) in the lens affects how bright or dark an image will be.

What do you call the size of the aperture opening for a specific photo?

An f-stop, or f-number, such as f/2.8 or f/16, is how you describe as a number exactly how open or closed the aperture blades were for a specific photo.

Which setting lets more light in for the shot, f/1.4 or f/10?

The way this works is the opposite of what most people expect: The smaller the f-stop, such as f/1.4, the larger the hole made by the aperture blades is. An f-stop of f/1.4 would allow huge amounts of light in -- just the opposite of f/10.

What is shutter speed?

The shutter controls the length of time the image sensor inside the camera is exposed to light -- which just means that the shutter speed controls how long your camera's shutter stays open when you're taking a photo. Some cameras can handle speeds as fast as fractions of a second, and many allow for a long shutter speed of up to about 30 seconds.

The "W" on a camera stands for "wide angle." What does the "T" stand for?

"W," which stands for "wide angle," offers a large depth of field, and is typically used for landscape, architecture and general interior photography. "T," which stands for "telephoto," is used for shooting subjects that are far away -- and because telephoto has a narrow field of vision, it can make subjects in your shot appear to be closer together than they really are.

What kind of lens would you use for close-up photography?

If you're looking for a lens to take close-up or extreme close-up photos, macro is the one. Most have focal lengths somewhere between 40-200 mm.

What is a camera's optical lens made of?

Whether you're using an SLR or a camera with a built-in lens, it's a glass lens, and it's used to let light into the body of the camera.

Where does a tripod attach to a camera?

A tripod socket, or tripod mount, fitted with 1/4-20 UNC threads is pretty standard for consumer cameras. You'll find it on the bottom of the camera body.

What is used to protect the lens during storage?

To protect a camera lens when the camera is not in use, it's best to use a lens cap. They're detachable, and also help keep the lens dust-free.

Many cameras allow you to select one of three metering modes to determine exposure, such as "spot metering." Which is not one of the two others?

Many cameras allow you to choose one of three metering modes, which include spot, center-weighted average or multi-zone metering.

What item can be used to prevent condensation buildup or moisture from developing on the camera lens during night shooting?

When the glass of your camera's lens is colder than the air around it, and there's some humidity in the air, it's the perfect condition for lens condensation, also called dewing or fogging up. Dew warmers, or dew shield, counteract this problem when wrapped around the lens or lens hood. No dew warmers? It's also helpful to use a lens hood, hand warmers or even a fan.

What kind of lens feature do most compact -- aka, "point-and-shoot" -- cameras have built in?

Most point-and-shoot models try to keep things simple, and that includes with the camera lens. Like the automated exposure settings and built-in flash, compact cameras rely on focus-free, or autofocus, lens options.

What is a light meter used to determine?

A light meter measures the amount of light. And in photography, that helps you determine what shutter speed and f-stop will give you the exposure for the photo you're taking.

How can you get your photos off your digital camera?

When you're using a digital camera, your photos aren't captured on film. But getting them off the camera is still pretty easy -- for many cameras, it's simply a matter of removing the memory card and transferring the files to your computer or another device. Many digital cameras are also set up to share via Bluetooth, connect to Wi-Fi, as well as send an MMS message or email.

What kind of camera uses a very small hole instead of a lens?

In pinhole photography, the pinhole acts as the lens, and lets light in -- and the smaller the hole, the sharper (and darker) the image. In fact, everything in the frame that isn't moving will be in focus with a pinhole camera.

What type of image does a fisheye lens produce?

The ultra wide-angle view the fisheye lens provides is perfect for panoramic images. Remember, because this lens produces images with an extreme view, those images are distorted -- it's called a convex non-rectilinear appearance, which is the hallmark of fisheye.

Where do you attach the lens on an SLR camera body, which uses interchangeable lenses?

Typically, compatible lenses will attach by sliding along the surface of the lens mount on the front of the camera body. You know the lens is locked into place when you hear "click."

How do you remove the lens from an SLR camera body that uses interchangeable lenses?

To remove a lens from the camera body, press the lens release button. That will retract the lens lock pin, which is what keeps you from turning the lens at any time.

What's designed for the end of a camera's lens to prevent glare or to block the sunlight?

The main reason for using a lens hood is to block or deflect strong sunlight (or artificial light) that is hitting directly toward the camera lens. Without the hood acting as a visor, you'll end up with flaring, ghosting and overall lower image quality.

In a digital camera, what captures the light needed to make an image?

Unlike in cameras where an image is captured on film, there is no film in a digital camera. Instead, there's what's called an electronic light-detector chip -- a sensor that's either a Charge Coupled Device (CCD) or a Complimentary Metal Oxide Semi-conductor (CMOS) located directly behind the lens.

The body of a camera is basically a what?

The body of a camera, whether it's manual or digital, is basically a light-tight box -- if it's manual, that box contains film, and if it's digital, a sensor.

What is responsible for the color in the creation of color images in our digital cameras?

A color filter array called the Bayer filter mosaic is responsible for the arrangement of the RGB color filters used by the image sensor to create color images -- and it's an integral part of the way a digital camera's image sensor works.

What kind of camera has two lenses, one as the main lens and one used as the viewfinder?

Twin reflex cameras are those that have two lenses. One, used for the photograph and the other for the viewfinder.

When you're using a manual camera, what is it that allows the film to advance from one from to the next, on a roll?

The film advance lever is what allows the roll of film to advance, frame by frame, in a manual camera. Similarly, before removing the film, you'll need to rewind it back into its canister, usually by turning a small knob. Automatic cameras do this for you.

Where on a DSLR would you find the menu, for adjusting settings?

In addition to viewing (and depending on the camera, editing) the image you've captured, the LCD monitor is where you scroll through the menu and adjust settings.

What is "through-the-lens" metering?

Through-the-lens, or TTL, metering describes light metering measured through the lens of the camera, instead of relying on a separate, external light meter or metering window. Some cameras allow you to select from more than one TTL metering mode.

What determines the resolution of a digital camera?

Because it determines the camera's pixel count, the image sensor can hold back the resolution of a digital camera. The way it usually works is by numbers of rows and numbers of columns, so if your camera has a 1,000 by 1,000 sensor, that's 1,000,000 pixels -- which is one megapixel.

What keeps your digital camera working properly?

Firmware is software that's installed during manufacturing -- and can be updated through the Internet. It's what is responsible for making the camera work, by providing basic control of the functions for that camera's specific hardware.

In the popular single-lens reflex camera (SLR), what allows you to see the image as right side up instead of inverted when looking through the viewfinder?

The pentaprism, a five-sided reflecting prism, as well as the pentamirror, are part of the viewfinder system found in SLR and DSLR cameras. Both reflect light in such a way that the imagines we through our camera's viewfinder are always right -- up and down as well as left to right.

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!

Explore More Quizzes