A Short Course Book
Curtin's Guide to Digital Cameras
And Other Photographic Equipment

Other Features

The almost universal illuminator icon.
Here a melting ice cube was photographed every 4 minutes.
Slipping the eyepiece cover over a viewfinder blocks light from entering and affecting the exposure when using a self-timer or remote control.
Many digital cameras have a built in microphone that records sounds in movies or let's you attach sounds to images, perhaps to annotate them.
In addition to the digital camera features we've discussed, there are a number of other features that might be nice to have or at least be aware of.

Look and Feel

One of the most important things about a camera and the most subjective is its look and feel. The only way you can evaluate this aspect is to pick it up, work the controls, and see how you like it. The camera should feel conformable and natural in your hands, and the controls should be easy and quick to operate. Commands you expect to change frequently should be readily available on buttons or dials. If you have to go through three levels of menu choices to change a setting, you won't be changing it often.

Size and Weight

The size and weight of a camera can have a pronounced effect on how much you like it. You're much less likely to take a bulky camera with you or walk far with a heavy camera hanging from your neck. If it fits in your shirt pocket, it might become your constant companion. The dilemma is that adding features adds bulk and weight while making the camera too small and light makes it hard to take pictures free of camera shake. There's no such thing as a perfect choice.

Control Panel Illumination

On cameras with a control panel, it can be hard to check your settings in dim light. Check to see that the camera has a button you press to illuminate this panel.
One of the newest trends in digital SLR's is the introduction of anti-dust technology. When you change lenses, dust can enter the camera and be attracted to the surface of the image sensor where it then creates dark spots on your images. Most technologies so far seem to involve add a nonstick coating to the sensor and shaking it like mad to dislodge dust when you turn the camera on or off.

Mirror Lockup

Mirror lockup on an SLR lets you raise and lock the mirror before taking a picture so it's swinging up when you take a photo doesn't add any imagesoftening vibrations. This is especially useful when taking macro close-ups, or using very long lenses. After enabling mirror lockup, pressing the shutter button all the way down raises the mirror, and pressing it again fires the shutter and lowers the mirror. When using the self-timer, pressing the shutter button all the way down raises the mirror and then fires the shutter after a short delay.

Custom Functions

Some high-end cameras have custom functions or settings you change to control camera operations such as turning noise reduction on and off, changing the function of buttons, or changing exposure increments.

Time-Lapse (Intervalometer Mode) Photography

If you have ever seen a video of a flower blossom suddenly opening, or a building going up over the course of a few seconds, you've seen time-lapse photography in action. Time lapse photography using intervalometer mode takes a series of pictures at specified intervals—an extreme example of the slow-motion effect seen in movies. If you set up the camera facing a bird feeder or other active spot, and set it to take a photo every few minutes, you can leave it there and capture a number of photos automatically. Then you can go through the photos to see if you caught anything interesting. Other scenes to try include night scenes with traffic and clouds passing overhead.

Multiple Exposure

Most cameras automatically advance to the next picture when you take a photo. However, a multiple exposure mode allows you to superimpose two or more images before you advance. You can also do this with any two images using a photo-editing program. You just put one image on top of the other and adjust the transparency of the two (or more) layers.
A two-image multiple exposure combining flowers and a wooden fence.


A few cameras will combine a series of photos into an animation so pictures are displayed one after another like frames in a movie. The animation can be played in the camera or on a computer or even posted on a Web site for others to see. You can also create animations like this using continuous mode and software on your computer that creates and saves animated gifs.

Tripod Mount

In low light situations, when using long lenses, or when you want to enlarge an image as much as possible, you need to mount the camera on a tripod. This eliminates all camera movement that would otherwise appear in the enlarged image as softness or blur. If you want to use a tripod, check that the camera has the necessary threaded tripod mount.

Water and Shock Proofing

Some pocket cameras are waterproof so you can use them underwater. The most expensive digital SLRs are not waterproof but have rubber seals that make the camera water resistant so you can use it in inclement weather.

Self-Timer/Remote Control

Self-timers allow you to get in the picture. You just start the timer and run like hell. Wireless remote controls allow you to retain your dignity. You just get in the picture area and then click a button on the remote to take your picture. The problem is keeping the remote from being obvious in the image. Remote control cables can also be used with some cameras if they have made provisions for the connection.
A timer or remote control is also great in low-light situations. You can rest the camera on a table or use a tripod and then trigger the shutter without touching the camera. This eliminates the camera shake that causes soft or blurred images.

Date/Time Indicators

Date and time indicators give you a permanent record of when a shot was taken. Some display this information in the image area so they detract somewhat from the image. Others hide it in the image file so you can only see it when displaying information about images in the camera, or when using software on the computer.

Written Annotation

LCD monitors are usually used to preview images and display menus. In this respect they act as output devices. One feature that has been introduced and may spread is having them also act as touch-sensitive input devices so you can point to menu choices, or even use a stylus to write on the images.

Sound Recording

Some cameras have built-in microphones so you can record your voice or other sounds in stand-alone files like a dictating machine or attach the sounds to a specific photo as an annotation. This is a nice feature when you want to preserve comments about an image or sounds associated with it—perhaps the roar of the falling water attached to a photo of Niagara Falls. These recordings are saved in sound files that can later be played back and edited on the computer. When played back on the camera it will usually have a volume control.

Power Management

Many cameras will reduce power consumption by entering sleep mode if you don't use any controls for a specified period of time. Many cameras also turn off completely if the delay is longer. Many cameras let you specify how much time must elapse before these things happen. To wake up a sleeping camera you just press the shutter button halfway down. If the camera has powered down, you have to turn it back on.

Special Effects

In addition to color, some cameras let you also shoot images in black and white or in an antique sepia tone. Some even have modes that mimic the colors captured by color film. The possibilities are almost endless and camera companies include those they think their users will like.


Camera companies have been slow to integrate GPS into their cameras but it's available for a few high-end cameras and this feature is sure to spread as it already is in camera phones. GPS is a great way to record the location of photos or be able to link them to on-line maps in what's called a mashup. JPEG images already have room for latitude and longitude to be embedded in their EXIF information and there are a number of mapping sites ready for the linking. To find sites just google mashup.

MP3 Player

Although hardly a camera feature, many companies are creating combination devices. The ultimate such device also includes a phone, a music player and perhaps a GPS unit.


Some cameras let you create your own folders on the flash card. This lets you store related photos together or give slide shows of just the images in a specified folder.


Almost all cameras come with software included. Many of the tasks performed by this software are done as well or better by third-party software such as Adobe's Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. Although free, many photographers prefer not to get locked into camera company software because it usually isn't as good nor updated as frequently as the third-party software that dominates the market. However, the major reason is that many photographers have more than one camera, often from different manufacturers, or like the freedom to change cameras. If you do this while depending on camera company software you may find that you have to learn an entirely different program (and some of them are quite complex) when you change cameras or even find that your camera is not supported either because it is too old or too new. Finally, this software is often written without following the accepted conventions of the Mac or PC platforms so things rarely work as one expects.
The software provided with a camera often includes the following:
  • Image management software used to transfer images from your camera to your computer or other device, view the images, and keep them organized.
  • Photo-editing software used to edit your images. In a few cases, this software is a limited version of the full-featured program available through normal computer outlets.
  • Panoramic stitching software used to assemble a series of images into a seamless panorama.

Firmware Update

A digital camera is controlled by software—called firmware because it is embedded in a piece of hardware. Some cameras let you update the firmware if the manufacturer fixes bugs or comes up with new features.

Image Verification

People in the criminal justice field are concerned about the integrity of digital photos used as evidence because of the ease with which they can be manipulated. One company at least (Canon) has responded to this problem with their Data Verification Kit DVK-E2. When turned on the camera appends data to the image file that lets you verify if an image is original or not. When played back a padlock icon will be displayed.

Exif Information

When you take a photo, the digital camera records the date and time and many of the camera settings used to capture it. This information, called EXIF information, is stored in the image file and goes wherever it goes. Many cameras let you display this information on the monitor during playback. The information can also be displayed by photo-editing programs.

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