As a result of an earlier article that I wrote on which camera to buy, I got a lot of feedback. I kept hearing things like – “OK Paul, we have bought a DSLR like you suggested but we have no clue what all the buttons do”. If you were one of those people, this article is for you

There are many makes and models of Digital SLR cameras on the market but fundamentally, they all do the same thing. In this section I will explain the key features of most cameras.  I suggest you get your camera out and locate each of these features. As boring as it is to read your camera’s user manual, this is the best way to get to grips with the functions and features of your specific camera.  However, you may want to go through this article first so that you understand a lot of the terminology that will be used in the user manual.

Unfortunately, none of the camera manufacturers use all the same names for each function. Therefore, if I have listed a function below and you can’t find it on your camera, it is worth Googling it to seem what it is called by your camera. For example, some manufacturers call ISO Sensitivity.

Camera Body: The main part of the camera that contains the camera controls.

Power Switch: This is how you turn the camera on and off.

Shutter Release Button: This is the button you press to take the photograph.

Battery Compartment: This is where the battery goes in the camera.

Memory Card Slot: This is where the memory card goes in the camera.

Flash Connector/Hot Shoe: This is where you attach an external flash. It is normally on the top of the camera.

Tripod Socket: This is where you attach a tripod. It is normally on the bottom of the camera.

Terminals: Often under a little cover, this is where you can attach wired connectors, microphones, wired remote switches etc.

Mode Dial: This is used to select different camera modes such as Manual, Shutter Priority and Aperture Priority.

Dial (Canon call this ‘Main Dial’, Nikon call this ‘Sub Control Dial’): This is used to adjust settings such as Aperture and Shutter Speed.

Lens Cover: A removable cover on the end of your lens.

Lens: The optical lens attached to the camera body. Different lenses can be attached to the camera body.

Lens Release: The button that is used to release the lens from the camera body.

Lens Hood: Commonly used with wide angled lens to block light from causing flare on a photograph.

Lens Stabilisation: Used to reduce camera shake when hand holding a camera at slow shutter speeds.  Useful for still and slow moving subjects.  Switch it off when mounting the camera on a tripod or photographing fast moving subject.

Zoom Ring: The ring on the lens nearest the camera body used to control the zoom on a zoom lens.

Focus Ring: The ring on the lens furthest from the camera body used to control the manual focus when the lens is in manual focus mode.

Sensor: This is the digital equivalent of film. The sensor is made up of millions of light sensitive pixels that capture light and convert them into the photograph. The more pixels on your sensor the better the quality of the image. A pixel is a single unit of light that when put together with all of the other units of light make up a photograph.

Display: The screen where settings and photographs can be viewed.

Live View: The button to press to see the scene the camera is pointing at on the display rather than through the viewfinder.

Magnifying Buttons: Buttons used to zoom in and out when the camera is in Live View mode.

Direction Buttons: Used to control the selection of the magnified area when the camera is in Live View mode.

Manual / Auto Focus: A switch on the lens to set either manual or auto focus.

Auto Focus: The camera focuses the lens automatically.

Manual Focus: You have to focus the camera lens yourself when taking a photograph.

Auto Focus (AF) Modes: This tells the camera how to focus when you half press the shutter release button.  ‘One shot’ is for still subjects and will focus only once. ‘Al Servo’ is for moving subjects, the camera will continue to refocus all the time you half press the shutter release. ‘Al Focus’ combines ‘one shot’ and ‘al servo’.  It will sense when a still subject starts to move and automatically switch between modes.

Auto Focus Points: Seen in the viewfinder to tell the camera where to focus (focal point).

Info: A button to view information about camera settings or a picture.  This is the button used to find a photographs histogram.

Histogram: This is a chart of the luminosity (brightness) of each pixel in an individual photograph.  It is measured on a range of 0 to 256 with the darkest being on the left (0) and the brightest being on the right (256). The chart measures the number of pixels at each point in the range from 0 to 256. If there is a concentration of pixels on the far left or right of the histogram this may suggest that detail has been clipped (lost) and you may wish to adjust the exposure. However, some pictures will have clipping, for example where shot against a bright white background. There is no perfect shape of a histogram and at this stage in your photography journey, I recommend that you do not get too hung up on histograms.   Just be aware what they are and it may be something to revisit later in your photography journey.

Menu: A button to view the main menu of camera settings.

Drive Modes: With drive modes you can set the camera to take single shots, continuous shots, remote controlled or self-timer shots. More on this later.

Playback: This is where you can view the photographs that you have captured.

Trash: Use this button to delete photographs. Be careful, with some cameras you can delete all photographs on the card with this button.

Further Help

If this article has provided more questions than answers for you. Please take a look at my property photography training at

Or if you would rather leave it to a pro, book me at:

Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Consent to display content from Youtube
Consent to display content from Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from Google
Consent to display content from Spotify
Sound Cloud
Consent to display content from Sound
Cart Overview