The Parts of A Camera

The first lesson is to learn what the different parts of the camera are. Let's get our vocabulary consistent! When I (or any article online) mentions a part of a camera, you should be able to know which part we are talking about.

Learning the parts isn't just going over this easy (and fairly obvious) stuff, but making sure we are all on the same page about what we are calling everything.

The Camera Body

Canon 70D
Canon 70D. I keep gaff tape over the logo's of my more expensive cameras and around the edges to make them look less valuble.

The camera body is... you know... the camera. It's the part you hold. It's got buttons and you usually look through it.

The camera body contains:

  • The image sensor
  • The lens
  • The Shutter
  • The shutter button
  • a 1/4" screw hole (for attatching to things like tripods)
  • Most Controls
  • Batteries (inside the battery compartment)
  • Storage
  • The viewfinder: The part you look through!

DSLR's contain

  • A mirror that flips up and down inside the camera.
  • An optical viewfinder. No screen to look at, and you can still look through the camera when it's off.

The lens locks into place. There's a button on the front of DSLR's that unlocks the lens, allow it to twist then come free. This is called a "bayonette" mount. Other mounts, like a screw-on method, were also widely used. Nowadays it's bayonette or bust. These risk damaging parts of the camera less, and ensure electrical contacts (for autofocus, and other reasons) are properly aligned and in contact.

Canon 70D, Cano AE-1, Olympus OM-1, Sony NEX5t
Clockwise from the top left: Canon 70D, Canon AE-1, Olympus OM-1, Sony NEX-5t. Note how the bottom left camera does not have a mirror inside of it, nor a little bump on top, and it has no viewfinder. This is a "mirrorless" camera.

DSLR stands for "Digital Single Lens Reflex" camera. "Single Lens Reflex" means the viewfinder - the part you look through, and what the image sensor looks through, is the same. This way you see exactly what the camera see's, so to speak. "Reflex" refers to the mirror bouncing light around up to the viewfinder. The two cameras on the right, above, are "SLR's" not "DSLR's". They shoot on film!

Canon 70D Viewfinder ... is dirty
You look through this viewfinder, the light is reflected through some optics and mirrors, and out the lens. Nifty! The rubber bit around the viewfinder is to make the camera more comfortable when you press it against your face. Please don't judge me for how dusty it is. It's been through a lot. It's now a backup camera and I play favorites when it comes to cleaning gear.

The Lens

Assorted Lenses
You can look through it! Generally these things are to be dealt with carefully


  • Glass (sometimes plastic?)
  • Focus Adjustment
  • Electrical Contacts
  • Manual or Autofocus switch
  • Sometimes aperture adjustment
  • Lots of markings and data
  • A screw mount for adding filters
  • Sometimes support for a lends hood to snap on
  • Optical Image Stabilization switch

The button on the front unlocks the lens. The other button (that may or may not be) on the front (on some cameras), the depth-of-field preview, isn't important right now.

The Lens Cap

Random Lenses I Caps I had lying around
A random pile of lens caps I had lying around my apartment.

The most easily lost part of the camera, and honestly, the least big deal if it's lost. Lens caps, I believe, should be kept in our camera bag while we are out shooting, and used when the camera is in storage, or resting on a bright day.

The lens cap, and taking the lens cap off, should not get in the way of shooting! I take mine off when I start, and put it on when I'm done, and not once do I put it on while I am out and about.

It's useful to keep lens caps in the same compartment of a camera bag that the lens is stored, if possible. Different lenses in a camera bag can have different lens caps (of different diameters) so keeping them organized where the lenses go, and not together, saves a few moments of fumbling for the right cap.

There is one saving grace of the lens cap - super bright days, when the camera is outside. You know how the camera reflects light into your eye? (In other words... you can see through it?) If you point it at the sun, it's reflecting that light into your eye, like an any under a magnifying glass. Not great for eyes, the internals of the camera (if the mirror is up), or such and such. The lens cap blocks this light as much as it prevents dust, debris, and scratches. Many film camera's I picked up at thrift stores have very small holes burnt into the shutter! Wow! [[Ed: move this to next section]]

The Camera Body Cap & The Lens Body Cap

More Camera Caps

These are important caps! The camera body cap especially, you don't want to lose. If you do, you're stuck leaving a lens on your camera at all times. This may not sound like that big of a deal, but the convenience of storing a camera or keeping it to the side while dealing with lenses is not to be underestimated.

Super cool thing, they snap into each other! Sometimes I keep an extra SD card inside of this little contraption, when I don't want to carry as much with me.

Layout of Caps

The Strap

Straps come in all shapes and sizes and types. Lets just remember to keep ours properly attached to the camera, and use them! Use them!

The Battery

Camera Batteries

Batteries! Just one battery? Charge it after you shoot, not before. Keeping your charger either in your bag or at your 'base station'. If there's room in your bag, then that's preferred for being able to charge on the go.

My biggest piece of advice is to get an extra battery. Being able to shoot with one battery until it dies, and shoot while another battery is charging is invalueble. One battery and one is constantly worried about shooting or not, or deciding not to take a picture in favor of another down the road. Just one extra battery and these concerns fall out the window.

I usually shoot my batteries until they are exhausted, then charge them. I, of course, charge up before a trip or important day of shooting. I also charge up my batteries occasionally when I inventory/organize my gear.

In my travel kit, I keep 2 extras and the one in the camera. During the winter, I keep 3 extras, as cold temperatures impact lithium ion performance.

I keep dead batteries in a different compartment in my bag then charged ones. The same compartment as my charger, so I don't forget to charge them.


Not edible
One of these is just a microSD Adapter. Until I looked later at this photo, I believed I had a microSD card in there...

Film, CF, SD, microSD, on-board, or whatever. Most cameras have removable SD cards that store all the images captures. Most cameras don't have much memory outside of the SD card, so don't lose yours! Keep it in the camera.

When using an SD card, always format (a format deletes everything and gets the card's file system ready to be used by the camera) it with the camera itself, not your computer or a different camera model/brand. Make sure to do this before using new SD cards, or SD cards that were used by other devices. Start fresh! It will lessen the chance of data going corrupt on you.

I never format my cards until I have backed up all of my images in at least 3 other locations (computer, backup hard drive, online... other backup hard drive). Because of that, I always carry lots of extra SD cards in case one fills up while on a trip.

To keep track of it all, I have a little SD card pouch. Logo up means it's ready to be used, face-down means it's full of data and that I shouldn't touch it. I also label all my SD cards with names (various greek letters), so it's easy to remember who is borrowing/using what, or refer to what images are where, when shooting in a group.

Seriously, not edible
Many of the cards I own are not pictured, stuffed away in various cameras, bags, pouches, wallets, nooks, cranneys, and at least two forever trapped in a car's backseat seatbelt hole.

As a rule of thumb, you want to buy the fastest SD cards you can afford. Size is secondary. Look for the cards rated read/write speeds, and get the best ones. This will allow your camera to perform better, and there will be less of a wait after taking a photo, before you take the next on. It also makes transfers backups easier.

Using more, faster, smaller SD cards also is like putting your eggs in many baskets. If something goes wrong - like you drop your camera in a river - there are still some SD cards with some data on them. Hopefully.

Face Downe
You want to keep these shiny contacts clean!

Lens Filters

Basically just glass

Lens filters are bits of glass, plastic, acrylic, or anything somewhat transparent. The most common are Haze, UV, and sunlight filters, which are all designed to be able to be left on the camera.

UV filters block out ultraviolet (UV) light, which can affect an image negatively despite being outside of the visible spectrum of light. We will deal with what filters are used for and when to use them later.

For now, all you need to know is that UV filters act as a lens cap that you don't have to take off. I recommend you keep a UV filter on your lens as a form of protection. A transparent lens cap! Brilliant! It's cheaper and easier to replace these filters than a broken lens element. If they get too dirty, you can just take them off (and clean them and put them back on).

If you look at my photo of lenses above, you can tell which lenses I actually use because they have lens filters on them.

Next Up: What Cameras Do

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