How Do Cameras Work?

In general, cameras work by using a lens to focus light onto a sensor, which captures information about what kind and how much light hits it.

The color of light is recorded by the amount of energy, or wavelength, of the light. Red is lower energy and has a larger wavelength than the opposite end of the spectrum, where violet contains the most energy and the shortest wavelength. This is why non visible light with less energy than red is called “infrared”, and non visible light with more energy than violet is called “ultraviolet”.

Modern devices have millions of tiny sensors measuring the different colors of your photo. Each sensor produces a dot of color, or a pixel. The millions of dots, or megapixels, then get put together by the camera software to form an image.

Normally this image is then processed by software on board the camera or other device to process the RAW sensor data into a viewable image, in a process called debayering, or demosaicing. If you were to view the RAW data, it would not look correct to your eyes, as the colors from the sensors need to be processed in order to appear as they do in real life to your eyes. This is a complex process and there’s no one way to do it, which is why there is an advantage to shooting in RAW. This will allow you to apply your own debayering algorithm if you so choose, for a different look.

After this debayering process, the device further processes images to generally make them look better. Each manufacturer and sometimes even each device has it’s own set of software corrections, which are generally not documented. Between the differing technologies used to make the sensors, differing debayering algorithms, and the proprietary software “magic” used to process the final image, the same shot with different devices can look drastically different.

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