5 digital camera features no photographer should be without

5 digital camera features no photographer should be without

If you only ever get to grips with five digital camera features, make sure it’s these…

5 digital camera features no photographer should be without

Every camera has a plethora of different features and functions, but it can be bewildering to know which ones to use and when, so we’ve come-up with the five essential digital camera features you need to master to help you get perfect results every time.

Some of these, such as back-button focusing, take a little time to master, but it’s well worth taking the time to get to grips with them, as once you do, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without them.

No matter what subject you’re shooting, we guarantee they will change the way you shoot forever, and will result not just in better images, but images that you previously thought were impossible. Don’t believe us? Read on to learn more…

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Best digital camera features: 01 Highlight warning & histogram view

100 Secrets of Canon EOS Cameras: Highlight warning

What’s the feature?
These two image-review modes are essential for assessing the exposure of your images. The highlight-warning mode will show you overexposed areas as flashing pixels, while the histogram is a graph showing the distribution of the tones within the image.

How does it work?
In the playback menu you will have to select the option to display these two review modes.

Then, when you review your image, either automatically after you have taken a shot or by pressing the playback button, you can select the review mode by either pressing the info button or the top and bottom parts of the multi-controller.

If the highlight warning flashes, you will need to reduce the exposure (ie darken the whole image, so that the highlights are no longer blown).

The easiest and most intuitive way to do this is to find your camera’s Exposure Compensation button or menu, and dial in a compensation value of say, -1 (negative values make the image darker, positive values brighter).

A quick test shot will confirm whether you need to dial in more or less compensation.

While the highlight warning can be useful, however, using the histogram will give you much more information about the overall exposure – if the graph is bunched up at the right, with a gap to the left, the image is over-exposed, so again, you will need to dial in some negative Exposure Compensation.

If it’s bunched to the left, with a gap to the right, the image is under-exposed, so you will need to set the Exposure Compensation to a positive value.

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5 digital camera features no photographer should be without

All images by Chris Rutter

When should I use it?
Both of these review options can – and should – be used by default, but the highlight warning is best if you need to quickly check the exposure, while the histogram is ideal for checking under- and over-exposure, and for fine-tuning things when the exposure is critical – such as when shooting landscapes, or architecture.

Anything else I need to know?
Both the histogram and highlight-warning displays use information from a JPEG image (even if you are shooting in raw), so if you are shooting in raw, leave any Picture Styles or Controls set to neutral to get the best indication of the exposure of the raw file.

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Best digital camera features: 02 Live View mode

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What’s the feature?
The viewfinder in most cameras doesn’t show you the entire image area, so your final image will include more of the scene than you can see through the viewfinder – including any distracting details near the very edges of the frame that you thought you’d cropped out!

The Live View image, on the other hand, is taken from the image sensor, so it is often much more accurate for critical framing.

How does it work?
On most models, Live View is activated by pressing a button on the back of the camera, which brings up the scene on the rear LCD. You can then use this view to accurately compose your images.

There are also a range of display options available in Live View: these will vary depending on your camera, but include a virtual horizon or grid to help you to keep the camera level, along with a histogram and shooting information displays.

You can also use the zoom buttons on the camera to zoom in on the Live View image and assess sharpness more accurately.

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5 digital camera features no photographer should be without

When should I use it?
Live View is better suited to static or slow-moving subjects rather than fast-moving subjects, as there’s usually a slight lag with the Live View image, and autofocus is slower (see below).

If your camera has a tilting/articulated screen it’s also much easier to use Live View when using high or low viewpoints than the normal viewfinder.

Anything else I need to know?
On most cameras, autofocus in Live View mode is far less responsive than traditional autofocus, and there’s also a longer delay between pressing the shutter release and the camera taking a shot, so it’s often better to use the viewfinder when you need to time the shot perfectly, such as with moving subjects.

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Best digital camera features: 03 Manual AF point selection

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What’s the feature?
As we all know, placing a subject off-centre will often produce a better composition than having it in the centre of the frame. Your camera has several focus points positioned around the frame to allow you to focus on these off-centre subjects.

But the default setting on most models is for the camera to automatically select one of these focus points, based on what it thinks is the subject, which doesn’t guarantee that it will select the right one.

How does it work?
To select individual focus points you will need to select the single AF point option in the shooting menu of your camera.

On Canon cameras, you then have to press a focus point button (or select it from the rear screen) and use the input dial or buttons to move the focus point, while on Nikon models you can simply use the four-way selector. (For other makes, see your manual.)

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When should I use it?
Taking control of the focus point is most useful if you’re shooting a series of images with the subject off-centre, and you don’t want to have to keep half-pressing the shutter release to lock the focus using the central focus point, and then recomposing so the subject is off-centre.

It’s also vital for moving subjects, when it’s all but impossible to lock the focus and recompose fast enough to keep up with the movement of the subject (see Feature 2).

Anything else I need to know?
The outer focus points on most cameras are less sensitive than the central ones.

This means that if you are shooting in low light, or with a lens with a maximum aperture smaller than f/5.6, they can struggle to focus.

In these cases, it’s often better to use the central focus point, and either re-frame your image or crop in later-on.

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