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No matter what type of digital camera you have, there are some things that are common to all of them. For most digital cameras, the only things they share with film cameras are the lens and flash. What they have in common with each other is an image sensor that replaces the film and converts the light into signals that are sent to a central processor. This converts the signals into numbers and creates digital image files that are sent to a storage device (usually a memory card) in the camera.

So, a digital camera is as much a small computer as anything else and they are usually easier to understand if you think of them this way. Firstly, they can do nothing without power. Secondly, they are largely "operated" by navigating and selecting items from a menu. Thirdly, They can do more than one thing. As well as taking pictures, they also display them and in some cases, edit them.

Another feature of the digital nature of the camera is that the images they produce cannot be seen directly but can only be read by another digital device with the right software. That does not mean that you need a computer in order to use a digital camera. You could take your camera full of pictures to a high street shop and have prints made and copies placed on disk. However, if you do have a computer, you can do all this at home, and a lot more besides.


All computers were designed to be labour saving devices and the digital camera is no exception. They are made to take the tedium out of photography. Most people know that you have to get the exposure, colour and focusing right for a good picture but it's quite time consuming to do this manually. In a digital camera, all this is done for you automatically, leaving you to compose, frame and take the shot.


This is great for most people, but for serious photographers it can actually be a problem. They want to set everything themselves and have control over the photographic process. This is why there are different types of camera. It turns out that the more you spend on a digital camera, the more manual control you get over it.


For anyone using a digital camera for the very first time, it could hardly be simpler. All you have to know is how to switch it on, how to get it in "picture taking" mode and where the shutter button is. The picture you take should be correctly exposed, balanced for colour and in focus. And if you still don't like it, you can always delete it and try again.


If the pictures are not coming out the way you might expect, it could be that some setting is wrong. To fix it you will need to delve into the menus. If you are very new to the camera, a useful setting to look for first is "reset" (sometimes called "factory" or "default"). Selecting this will undo any setting changes made to the camera since it left the factory and should return you to fully automatic mode.


Probably the next most useful control to find is "exposure compensation". This will adjust the exposure up or down from the reading that the automatic system gives you. Normally, this should be at zero but, if you take a picture that's a bit dark, you can adjust this upwards and try again.


If you want to make sure that your camera is doing everything for you, you should check the menu settings for ISO, exposure, colour (or white) balance and focusing; just make sure they are all set to "auto". If you don't have a option for any of these then it means that they will already be automatic.


Those of you that know and understand what the above terms mean might want to use different settings. But for everyone else, you will be taking photographs with the comfortable knowledge that a powerful computer is helping you every step of the way.

Operating a digital camera