There’s a lot to be said for a simple, uncluttered control system but, for immediate access to wide-ranging shooting parameters there’s never been a substitute for banks of buttons, or at least not until recently. The Quick Control screen on your Canon DSLR isn’t a brand-new development – cameras like the EOS 50D sported this feature – but it comes into its own on new Canon cameras, beginning with not-too-distant offerings like the EOS 550D, delivering a raft of essential adjustments behind the camera’s refreshingly consolidated button layout.
Compared with the older 450D, the new Q (Quick Control) button takes the place of the White Balance button on the back of the camera. Even so, you still get dedicated buttons for accessing white balance as well as ISO, exposure compensation, drive mode, and autofocus options, and for selecting various picture styles like Standard, Portrait and Landscape (see Canon Picture Styles: how to use the in-camera effects on your Canon DSLR).
Press the 550D’s Q button and the LCD display changes to give you control of many shooting parameters in one convenient screen. These include all of the options listed in the previous paragraph, doubling up on dedicated button controls, as well as adding flash exposure compensation, auto lighting optimisation settings, image quality options and metering mode.
In Av or Tv modes, you can also adjust the aperture or shutter speed in the Quick Control screen, and in Manual mode you get quick access to both settings.
So how quick is the Quick Control screen? After pressing the Q button, you can navigate quickly to any of the parameters using the Cross Keys. Generally, you can then adjust the chosen parameter simply by rotating the Main Dial. In some cases, you can go further still.
For example, the exposure compensation setting gives quick access to applying plus or minus exposure compensation via the Main Dial, but you can also press the Set button to access exposure bracketing as well as exposure compensation, doubling up on usefulness.
All in all, the Quick Control system more than lives up to its name, offering an excellent compromise between speedy access and simplicity of use, while reducing the need for a massive array of buttons and dials. Here’s a quick tutorial for getting started…
Using the Canon Quick Control Screen
The Quick Control screen gives you instant access to all of the settings shown here, with just a couple of exceptions. Changes to shutter speed and aperture (or both) are only available in Tv, Av or M drive modes, and shooting modes like P, Tv, Av and M are switched via the Mode Dial (see more: Dial M for… Your exposure modes exposed).
Getting the right balance between flash and ambient light can be tricky, so flash exposure compensation is a welcome addition. Don’t be put off by the warning about its use with external flashguns – the Quick Control setting is only overridden if you actively apply flash compensation on the flashgun itself.
The Quick Control’s exposure compensation and bracketing feature is especially flexible. Press the Set button and you can apply up to +/-5 stops of exposure compensation as well as opting to combine this with exposure bracketing of up to +/-2 stops. It’s simple to use and highly effective.
The Auto Lighting Optimizer is a godsend for high-contrast scenes and is even more useful because you can adjust the strength of the effect. After highlighting the Auto Lighting Optimizer icon, you can switch between off, low, standard and strong, tailoring the feature to give you exactly the results you want.