Zooming into the Camera: the Shutter and Sensor

Zooming into the Camera: the Shutter and Sensor

Last time we talked about the first thing that you need to know in photography which is how cameras worked. The camera is your weapon of choice and in order to progress well in the craft of photography, you would need a good foundation of knowledge including knowing your equipment.

We discussed the differences of a film camera’ mechanisms from its digital counterpart and as you may have recalled, film cameras make use of crystal particles that would need to come in contact with light for it to get burned and create an imprint. On the other hand, digital cameras rely on sensors to read the light and convert the data into an image.

Now that you know these things, we can now dive into the camera more and learn more about two of the most important mechanisms you have in there – the shutter and the sensor. These two things may be familiar already as we tackled them a bit during the last lesson.

Much like knowing how the cameras works, dwelling into the shutter and the sensor is also necessary for you to know what’s happening inside and apply it accordingly.

Why the Focus?

You have a lot of things going on inside your camera and a lot of mechanism working so you may be asking why we are giving focus on the shutter and the sensor. Well, to put it simply, without the shutter and the sensor you wouldn’t really have anything.

If you recall the previous lesson, the shutter acts as the gateway of your camera that allows light to come in and penetrate your film or your sensors. Furthermore, the sensor is your modern-day film that reads light touching it instead of literally getting burned by it.

These two things are undeniably important which is why we will be focusing on them today and the first one up is the shutter.

The Shutter

Gate? Curtain? Door? Call it what you want; the camera shutter is the one that opens up and lets light inside your camera. It is responsible for controlling how long your sensor or film is exposed to the light.
If you recall, both the film and the digital camera have shutters and I guess that really says something about the importance of this mechanism, right?

Shutter Speed

We’ve been talking about this adjustable element since the last article and you may be wondering now what really the deal about this one is. Well, light is your main catalyst in every camera may it be a film, DSLR, on anything else. Light is the one that penetrates your camera to imprint an image into your sensor or film.

If you think about it, the lesser light you let in your camera, the darker the image will be, right? On the other hand, if you let in too much light, you will basically burn your image – or in technical terms “overexpose” it.

This is where your shutter speed enters the picture, no pun intended.
The speed of the shutter regulates the amount of light you let in with a faster shutter letting in lesser light whereas slower shutter speeds will let in a whole lot more. The shutter speed refers to the time your shutter is open where faster shutter speeds are often clocked at 1/1000 of a second or higher and the lower shutter speeds are those clocked in full seconds.

Faster shutter speeds can catch stills of a cheetah running at top speed while a slow shutter should render mesmerizing car streak lights at night but these things are for a whole new different story.

Now that we know the purpose of the shutter we can now zoom in deeper into the camera.

The Sensor

The shutter lets the light inside your camera for a reason and that is for it to reach the sensor.
Now unlike the digital camera, the film camera may not have any sensor within it since these traditional cameras rely on the manual imprinting of light onto the films. If you recall, the sensor is the one that receives the light that comes inside digital cameras and instead of getting burned, their parts get triggered thus creating data that is then used to create the image.

Understanding how specifically it reads them and how these pixels get converted can be quite complex so, for now, we’ll just focus on the important thing which is the variety of sensors out there. The sensor or film plane captures the image and different cameras have different sizes of sensors.

Full Frame

As the name may suggest, the full frame is as big as a sensor can get. This size mimics the traditional 35mm film size and its dimensions of 36 x 24mm allow it to have the potential to really just capture a whole lot more light as compared to the other sensors.
Full frame cameras are often seen in professional cameras such as high-end DSLRs and other cameras they use to shoot some of your favorite movies.


APS stands for Advanced Photo System and is the sensor that you might just be using right now as most manufacturers use the APS-C sensor for their entry-level cameras.

The size of the APS-C may vary from one manufacturer to another. Canon’s version of the APS-C is at 22.20 x 14.80mm while others are close in the range of 23.60 x 15.60 such as Nikon’s.

Think of your APS as the more amateur counterpart of the full frame sensor. APS sensors, at 16MP, are good for starters and should put you on the right track.

Other sensors include the Micro Four Thirds and the extreme sized ones such as the 1/3.2”.

Final Words

Focusing on these two mechanisms will propel you to the next concepts of photography. Learning the sensors will give you the knowledge of what equipment to buy whereas learning the shutter and what it does will give you a better grasp on the concept of shutter speed.

To cap it all off, just remember that your shutter is your camera’s supercharged window that lets light in to create the images while your sensors are the ones responsible for receiving, capturing, and reading the light, ultimately, to turn the data into images.

In the next lesson, we will be dwelling more on the different sizes of the sensor and their applications so be sure to share this with other photographers and spread the knowledge!

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