A camera is a device used to take pictures (usually photographs), either singly or in sequence, with or without sound, such as with video cameras. The name is derived from camera obscura, Latin for "dark chamber", an early mechanism for projecting images in which an entire room functioned much as the internal workings of a modern photographic camera, except there was no way at this time to record the image short of manually tracing it. Cameras may work with the visual spectrum or other portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Every camera consists of some kind of enclosed chamber, with an opening or aperture at one end for light to enter, and a recording or viewing surface for capturing the light at the other end. This diameter of the aperture is often controlled by an iris mechanism, but some cameras have a fixed-size aperture.
While the size of the aperture and the brightness of the scene control the amount of light that enters the camera during photographing, the shutter controls the length of time that the light hits the recording surface. For example, in lower light situations, the shutter speed should be slower (longer time spent open) to allow the film to capture what little light is present.
There are various ways of focusing a camera accurately. The simplest cameras have fixed focus and use a small aperture and wide-angle lens to ensure that everything within a certain range of distance from the lens (usually around 3 metres to infinity) is in reasonable focus. This is usually the kind found on one-use cameras and other cheap cameras. The camera can also have a limited focusing range or scale-focus that is indicated on the camera body. The user will guess or calculate the distance to the subject and adjust the focus accordingly. On some cameras this is indicated by symbols (head-and-shoulders; two people standing upright; one tree; mountains).
Rangefinder cameras focus by means of a coupled parallax unit on top of the camera. Single-lens reflex cameras allow the photographer to determine the focus and composition visually using the objective lens and a moving mirror to project the image onto a ground glass or plastic micro-prism screen. Twin-lens reflex cameras use an objective lens and a focusing lens unit (usually identical to the objective lens) in a parallel body for composition and focusing. View cameras use a ground glass screen which is removed and replaced by the photographic plate before exposure.
Traditional cameras capture light onto photographic film or photographic plate. Video and digital cameras use electronics, usually a charge coupled device (CCD) or sometimes a CMOS sensor to capture images which can be transferred or stored in tape or computer memory inside the camera for later playback or processing.
Cameras that capture many images in sequence are known as movie cameras or as ciné cameras in Europe; those designed for single images are still cameras. However these categories overlap, as still cameras are often used to capture moving images in special effects work and modern digital cameras are often able to trivially switch between still and motion recording modes. A video camera is a category of movie camera which stores images onto magnetic tape (either using analogue or digital technology).
Cameras that take 3-D photographs are known as stereo cameras. Stereo cameras for making 3D prints or slides have two lenses side by side. Stereo cameras for making lenticular prints have 3, 4, 5, or even more lenses.
Some film cameras feature date imprinting devices that can print a date on the negative itself.
See also: digital camera.