Essentially a camera is just a light tight box with a small hole in it. In fact it is relatively simple to build a camera using a cardboard box, some black tape and some tinfoil or a small piece of aluminiun from a drinks can. Unfortunately, pinhole cameras, that is what they are called, are not particularly sophisticated and your mates won't be to happy when you ask them to keep perfectly still for 20 minutes while you capture that party atmosphere with the box your shoes came in.

The sort of camera we are going to look at is the more 'modern' 35mm SLR (Single lens reflex). By 'modern' anything built in the last twenty years will fit the bill, including APS which really is modern but isn't actually 35mm but the idea is the same.
Click for a diagram.
All modern SLRs share some basic features:
  • A body
  • A lens which is interchangeable. That means you can take it off and put on a different one.
  • An adjustable aperture which is inside the lens.
  • An adjustable shutter which is inside the body
  • A built in TTL lightmeter.(Probably !).Measures light coming Through The Lens
They also share similar controls.
  • The aperture ring. This is a narrow rotating ring on the barrel of the lens. It is generally located close to the body of the camera.
  • The focusing ring. This will be a wider ring located near the front of the lens.
  • The shutter control. This is usually a small dial on the top of the camera next to the winder lever. If your camera is an electronic model with a load of 'modes' then the shutter may be altered by using a thumbwheel or presssing a button. Whichever it is the actual control will be located on the top right area of your camera.
  • The shutter release. Again this will be top right, either on the front of the top-plate or near the top on the front. Light pressure on the shutter release usually activates the built in TTL meter.
  • Film speed dial. On the top plate usually to the left. Newer electronic cameras set the film speed from the DX code on the film cassette itself. You may be allowed to over ride this or maybe you won't.

These are the controls that you will have to get to grips with to get the most from your camera. Additionally there may be other knobs and buttons on your camera which could prove useful.

  • Depth of field preview control. Not very common but very useful. On the front near the lens.
  • Self timer. Has its uses.
  • Exposure lock . Has its uses as well.
  • Multiple exposure switch. Probably near the wind on lever, if you have one. Allows you to make multiple exposures on to one frame.
  • Exposure compensation dial. Allows you to over ride automatic exposure settings. Probably easier and quicker to switch to manual if you can.
  • Mirror lock up. You would be so lucky !
  • On/Off switch. Move to On to make your camera work . Move to Off to make it stop. Leave it on and you will have to buy a lot of batteries.

Since this was written the digital SLR has become more common. Although still essentially the same many of the controls are altered using thumbwheels and menus which vary more than could be covered here.

Now that we have had a wee look at some of the controls we will go on to look at the different levels of automation that may be available to you. Your camera may sport a huge range of features but you will get by just as well without most of them.

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