How an SLR Camera Works

Few things are as integral to a photographer’s identity as their camera. A camera is a constant companion and faithful recorder. Legendary street photographer Bill Cunningham once stated that the relationship an image maker has with a camera is equivalent to the connection a writer has with their pen.

Although so many of us hold these tools dear, most of us can’t explain exactly how they function. Fortunately, this short produced by Ilford Photo explains the science behind an SLR in the simplest terms possible:

Everything you can see reflects light, directly or indirectly. Any subject that a photographer chooses to capture is no exception to this rule. When a photographer breaks out their camera, the light a subject reflects enters through the lens. Within the innards of the lens is an aperture, which can be adjusted to control just how much light makes its way through the length of the lens. Past the lens and within the camera body is an angled mirror, which bounces the light upward toward a prism. The prism redirects the light outward, through the camera’s eyepiece.

diagram showing workings inside camera

When the camera’s shutter button is pressed, the mirror inside of the body immediately flips upward. Without the light bouncing off of the mirror, the light travels straight through the lens and body to a digital sensor or frame of film. The gradient of light is then recorded for the duration of the exposure. Once the exposure is made, the mirror flips back into its angled position.

diagram showing workings inside camera

Despite the fact that equipment can come at a high cost to photographers, it turns out that the science and optics behind a photograph is actually quite simple. So don’t be intimidated your SLR. Taking the time to understand the ways in which your camera functions isn’t nearly as complicated as it may seem.

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