traditional camera, digital camera, and smartphone camera

Before smartphones and digital cameras, there were … well …cameras! Traditional cameras became near-obsolete around first half of the past decade, but today these mechanical wonders are found at collectors’ rooms and museums. And of course, some might even be at your basement if you’ve been too lazy to properly sort them out. So, for the love of mechanical cameras, this section is dedicated to the proper understanding of the precious devices that ruled the past generation.

1. What is the difference between a smartphone (or digital) camera and a traditional camera?

Traditional cameras made use of films to take photographs, while digital cameras use removable media storage devices as substitutes for film. They are also called film-less cameras. In a digital camera, the light reflected from the photographed subject is converted into a digital image, which can be downloaded directly to the computer.

2. How does a digital camera work?

Digital cameras make use of a sensor, which converts light into electrical charges. These sensors (diodes) are called photosites as they convert photons (light) into electrons (electrical charge). Each photosite is sensitive to light. The brighter the light that hits a single photosite, the greater the electrical charge that will accumulate at that site. An analog-to-digital converter converts the accumulated charge into a digital value.

3. What are the different types of digital cameras?

Depending on the type of image sensors used, digital cameras can be divided into two types: Charge Coupled Device (CCD) and Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS). CMOS based cameras are less expensive than CCD based cameras, which make up the higher end of the digicam spectrum.

4. What are the different image formats supported by digital cameras?

The image formats supported are generally TIFF and JPEG. Since TIFF is an uncompressed image format, most cameras (including smartphone cameras) these days use the JPEG format. The cameras offer various image quality settings, which allow you to store a greater number of images at a lower resolution or vice versa depending on the image quality you select.

5. What is the difference between number of pixels and maximum resolution?

Number of pixels is the total number of photosites used in the camera. However, not all of these are used to capture images. For example, a 2.1-Megapixel camera that can capture images at a maximum resolution of 1600x1200 uses only 1,920,000 pixels, which is less than the claimed 2,100,000 pixels. The unused photosites are for providing circuitry. These are dyed black to avoid absorption of light, otherwise it could lead to distorted images.

6. What kinds of removable storage are used in digital cameras?

Digital cameras (or those built into smartphones) usually support removable storage devices such as CompactFlash, SmartMedia, Memory Sticks, etc, which are small, removable, solid-state flash memory devices that have no moving parts. They are fast in operation and are not very expensive. Early digital cameras (such as Sony’s Mavica) made use of standard floppy disks for storage.

7. What is optical zoom and digital zoom?

Optical zoom is similar to what you’ll find in a regular DSLR camera: when you move the lens to zoom in or out, the focal length of the lens changes and the image is magnified by the lens. Digital zoom, on the other hand, has no moving parts. Instead, the camera uses the ‘electronic brain’ within to ‘see’ what it is ‘looking at’, and digitally zooms in a number of times closer. The problem with digital zoom is that you lose quality when you do this - your images will tend to be more pixelated than the same image taken with an optical zoom camera. You can get a magnified image by shooting the photo without a zoom and blowing up the picture while editing.


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