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Introductory camera guide and beginners guide on film camera and digital camera for still photography

STsite's Guide to Still Photography Camera

Camera Body

Antique Oak Wood Dectective camera 1890

We have now covered most of the essential components that made up the basic camera. To put all these components together we need to provide a housing -- that is the camera body. Basically the camera body is a light tight box that contains all the mechanism and components of the camera; light can only enter through the lens to expose the film or the image sensor through the shutter. The early days cameras have the shape of a rectangular wooden box and hence called the Box Camera. Today, cameras can be of any colour, shape and size; some are even designed as ladies' fashion accessory.

Cross section of a SLR
Cross section of a SLR camera

There are two major types of camera body today - the compact camera and the SLR or Single Lens Reflex camera.

The SLR camera body is basically a housing for the CCD or film unit, the lens mount, exposure unit, the electronic unit or cpu, shutter and film mechanism. The rest of the components such as lenses, motor winder, battery unit, changeable film unit, focusing screen are designed as external interchangeable parts of the camera. The advantage of this interchangeable design is versatility and allows the photographer to adapt his camera to any photography applications; it provides unlimited growth opportunity. The disadvantages are they are expensive, bulky, heavy, and for the SLR film camera it also has a noisy shutter and film-winder mechanism.

Most compact cameras have all the camera mechanisms and components built into a single unit camera body. The compact cameras are usually of the view-finder type design. The advantages of the compact cameras are small, light, easy to carry around on a holiday, most have a beautiful camera body. The disadvantages are what you view on the viewfinder may not match the image captured on film and most of the time you are stuck with the built-in lens. The compact cameras are designed for "average" scene photography and can't match the versatility offered by SLR.

Hasselblad + interchaneble film back
Hasselblad medium format SLR camera system shown here with interchangeable film back

A versatile camera will provide the user with more photography opportunities, however it is no guarantee for better pictures. Other important techniques of photography such as composition, the ability to see photographically, artistic aspect, etc. have nothing to do with versatility of the camera. On a holiday trip my better half with an Olympus Mjµ zoom compact camera has taken better pictures than many others on the same trip using SLR cameras.

Nite scence Hanzhou, China
With the right technique a Mjµ-zoom compact camera took this photo

However to get on an even playing field and increase the versatility of your compact camera choose one with a wide angle to telephoto zoom lens such as 28mm to 100mm or 28mm to 200mm, otherwise a 35mm to 105mm zoom is a better choice than the 38mm to 115mm. Check out the exposure mode. It should offer user selectable aperture mode or shutter mode that can provide you with some level of creative control. If this is not available among the cameras of your choice then the pre programmed picture taking mode is better than nothing. Manual exposure control will provide many more picture taking opportunities over the auto only cameras provided you are willing to master it.

Cameras that include a Spot Metering mode will increase the versatility of your compact camera but this also need some effort from the photographer. To increase your versatility further look for a camera with a wide aperture, a f2.8 for a non zoom compact film camera and a minimum of f4 for a zoom compact film camera. You will have a better choice of aperture with a digital camera. The zoom lens for digital cameras usually have an aperture of f3.5 and better, a f2 is quite common with many 4 to 5 Megapixels digital zoom cameras.

Modern camera body is usually made of plastic while older cameras are made of die-cast metal alloy. Plastic cameras are easier and more economical to manufacture than metal body cameras. Camera makers love plastic camera body as they can be moulded into any shape. Camera designs are no longer restricted by the traditional squarish box-like look. Plastic cameras also look less hard edged, feel warmer, softer and lighter.

Compared with plastic camera body, metal die-cast camera body is expensive to manufacture but camera repair technicians love it because it is easier to work on and repair. Metal die-cast camera body absorbs shock and knock better than plastic camera body thus provides better protection for internal component and the delicate mechanism inside the camera body. Metal body cameras look more machinelike, heavy, feel hard and cold. Cameras with metal die-cast body are still in production for the high-end professional market for photographers who demand absolute reliability and dependability of their machines.

The Titanium body SLR camera is a precision instrument and a finely crafted machine
Olympus OM-4T body

Few chic looking digital cameras have an outer metal casing but the internal camera body is still plastic, just like some designer cameras have leather outer casing but plastic body inside. Metal casing digital cameras have a classic look but some can get very warm after a few shots because the metal conducts heat faster.

Generally plastic is not as strong as metal but modern architectural engineering combined with composite plastic, fiberglass-reinforced engineering resin, carbon fiber material combined with stainless steel chassis have made them strong enough even for professional market. If your need is a camera for everyday use it does not matter which type of camera body material you choose. However, if you collect camera as a hobby and have some extra disposable cash then cameras with metal die-cast body is a better investment than plastic cameras.

Olympus Digital SLR System replacing the OM series SLR system
Olympus E-series Digital SLR System the first Four Thirds system replacing the OM Series SLR

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