The camera is the image-forming device, and photographic film or a silicon electronic image sensor is the sensing medium. The respective recording medium can be the film itself, or a digital electronic or magnetic memory.
Photographers control the camera and lens to "expose" the light recording material (such as film) to the required amount of light to form a "latent image" (on film) or "raw file" (in digital cameras) which, after appropriate processing, is converted to a usable image. Digital cameras use an electronic image sensor based on light-sensitive electronics such as charge-coupled device (CCD) or complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology. The resulting digital image is stored electronically, but can be reproduced on paper or film.
The basic principle of a camera or camera obscura is that it is a dark room, or chamber from which, as far as possible, all light is excluded except the light that forms the image. On the other hand, the subject being photographed must be illuminated. Cameras can be small, or very large the dark chamber consisting of a whole room that is kept dark, while the object to be photographed is in another room where the subject is illuminated. This was common for reproduction photography of flat copy when large film negatives were used. A general principle known from the birth of photography is that the smaller the camera, the brighter the image. This meant that as soon as photographic materials became sensitive enough (fast enough) to take candid or what were called genre pictures, small detective cameras were used, some of them disguised as a tie pin that was really a lens, as a piece of luggage or even a pocket watch (the Ticka camera).
The invention, or rather the discovery of the camera or camera obscura that provides an image of a scene, still life or portrait is very old, the oldest mentioned discovery being in ancient China. Leonardo da Vinci mentions natural camera obscuras that are formed by dark caves on the edge of a sunlit valley. A hole in the cave wall will act as a pinhole camera and project a laterally reversed, upside down image on a piece of paper. So the invention of photography was really concerned with finding a means to fix and retain the image in the camera obscura. This in fact occurred first using the reproduction of images without a camera when Josiah Wedgewood, from the famous family of potters, obtained copies of paintings on leather using silver salts. As he had no way of fixing them, that is to say to stabilize the image by washing out the non exposed silver salts, they turned completely black in the light and had to be kept in a dark room for viewing.
Renaissance painters used the camera obscura which, in fact, gives the optical rendering in color that dominates Western Art.
The movie camera is a type of photographic camera which takes a rapid sequence of photographs on strips of film. In contrast to a still camera, which captures a single snapshot at a time, the movie camera takes a series of images, each called a "frame". This is accomplished through an intermittent mechanism. The frames are later played back in a movie projector at a specific speed, called the "frame rate" (number of frames per second). While viewing, a person's eyes and brain merge the separate pictures together to create the illusion of motion.
In all but certain specialized cameras, the process of obtaining a usable exposure must involve the use, manually or automatically, of a few controls to ensure the photograph is clear, sharp and well illuminated. The controls usually include but are not limited to the following:
|Focus||The adjustment to place the sharpest focus where it is desired on the subject.|
|Aperture||Adjustment of the lens opening, measured as f-number, which controls the amount of light passing through the lens. Aperture also has an effect on depth of field and diffraction – the higher the f-number, the smaller the opening, the less light, the greater the depth of field, and the more the diffraction blur. The focal length divided by the f-number gives the effective aperture diameter.|
|Shutter speed||Adjustment of the speed (often expressed either as fractions of seconds or as an angle, with mechanical shutters) of the shutter to control the amount of time during which the imaging medium is exposed to light for each exposure. Shutter speed may be used to control the amount of light striking the image plane; 'faster' shutter speeds (that is, those of shorter duration) decrease both the amount of light and the amount of image blurring from motion of the subject and/or camera.|
|White balance||On digital cameras, electronic compensation for the color temperature associated with a given set of lighting conditions, ensuring that white light is registered as such on the imaging chip and therefore that the colors in the frame will appear natural. On mechanical, film-based cameras, this function is served by the operator's choice of film stock or with color correction filters. In addition to using white balance to register natural coloration of the image, photographers may employ white balance to aesthetic end, for example white balancing to a blue object in order to obtain a warm color temperature.|
|Metering||Measurement of exposure so that highlights and shadows are exposed according to the photographer's wishes. Many modern cameras meter and set exposure automatically. Before automatic exposure, correct exposure was accomplished with the use of a separate light metering device or by the photographer's knowledge and experience of gauging correct settings. To translate the amount of light into a usable aperture and shutter speed, the meter needs to adjust for the sensitivity of the film or sensor to light. This is done by setting the "film speed" or ISO sensitivity into the meter.|
|ISO speed||Traditionally used to "tell the camera" the film speed of the selected film on film cameras, ISO speeds are employed on modern digital cameras as an indication of the system's gain from light to numerical output and to control the automatic exposure system. The higher the ISO number the greater the film sensitivity to light, whereas with a lower ISO number, the film is less sensitive to light. A correct combination of ISO speed, aperture, and shutter speed leads to an image that is neither too dark nor too light, hence it is 'correctly exposed,' indicated by a centered meter.|
|Autofocus point||On some cameras, the selection of a point in the imaging frame upon which the auto-focus system will attempt to focus. Many Single-lens reflex cameras (SLR) feature multiple auto-focus points in the viewfinder.|
Many other elements of the imaging device itself may have a pronounced effect on the quality and/or aesthetic effect of a given photograph; among them are: