Wait...So Many Buttons! Your DSLR Camera Explained

Understanding the Components of a DSLR Camera

So you went out and purchased a brand new, expensive DSLR camera, took it home, opened it up...and probably felt extremely overwhelmed. Does this sound familiar? Well don't worry, because you are not alone! In this article, I'll go over the basics of your new camera.

DSLR stands for Digital Single-Lens Reflex camera. Before we see how it works in later posts, let’s go through its basic parts and functions.

The graphic below is an overview of the components and buttons on a DSLR camera.

A lot of these buttons and features you will rarely, if ever, use. So let's discuss those parts that you will quickly become familiar with.


A camera lens is a major part of the DSLR camera. It’s an optical device that is detachable and fits in front of the camera body. You can think of it as the human eye. Its job is to allow the light to come inside the camera.

In a DSLR camera, you can attach and detach a lens from the body, enabling you to use different types of lenses as you’ll learn later on in our posts about the variety of lenses available.


The controls of the camera are what allows you to adjust the settings and manipulate the various actions of the camera. Some cameras will have individual knobs, dials, and buttons to control the setup, while others will have menus that have to be navigated using the LCD screen.


A mode dial is a circular dial that you see on top of the camera, as shown in the image to the right.

As the name suggests, a mode dial is used to select the mode that the camera operates in. You’ll see a lot of different types of modes, but most of them are not of much use.

There are two important ones, automatic and manual. When you are in the automatic mode, it’s easy to shoot as the camera does everything. But as the name suggests, it doesn’t give you full control over the camera. Manual mode gives you that control.


Most newer model cameras come equipped with an LCD screen on the back of the body. The LCD screen serves three primary purposes.

First, the screen allows you to adjust the settings and to see the current settings. It also shows you helpful information, such as histogram to give you additional information about what the camera is seeing.

Second, the screen acts as a viewfinder allowing you to see your subject and compose your image.

Third, the screen allows you to review your photo after you have taken the picture. Seeing the image as it was captured will enable you to make sure the image is the way you want it. It will also let you see if the photo is exposed correctly or if the camera settings need to be adjusted.


The flash is used to cast light on your subject when you take a picture. This can be for lighting the subject in darker environments or to freeze motion and allow for sharper images. There are two types of flash, built-in and external.

External flashes can be either camera mounted or stand mounted separately from the camera. Moving the flash allows you to manipulate the lighting more than a built-in flash.

Another advantage to the external flash is the extra power over most built-in flashes. You can adjust the power level of the flash, and you can use multiple flashes to improve lighting or create specific effects. For this reason, a lot of higher end cameras do not have a built in flash because professional photographers will always use external flashes.

The graphic below will give you a little further in depth look at DSLR Terminology. Make sure you check out our other photography tutorials to get a better understanding of how each button and feature is used.

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