7 Camera Features It's Easy To Forget

By Geoff Harris

Seven Great Camera Power Features

Modern digital cameras are complex beasts, with so many powerful features packed in that it's easy to forget some really important ones – you end up not being able to see the wood for the trees.

This is particularly true with SLRs and higher-end compact system cameras, which tend to be rather over-engineered. Here's a quick run down of six really useful features you should always bear in mind when setting up your camera for a shoot...

1) Exposure compensation

The +/- button or menu function may not be immediately obvious on your camera, so if you don't know where it is, check it out today.

Put very simply, exposure compensation enables you to lighten or darken your image – you dial in positive compensation (by increasing the + values) to lighten the image, or negative compensation (by increasing the – values) to darken it. Easy.

While there are many ways to do this on a camera (adjusting aperture or shutter speed or ISO for instance) the +/- button is very quick and intuitive. As well as using it to correct under or over-exposure, you can use the button for creative effect, e.g. dialling in negative values to create a silhouette.

2) Single point AF and Continuous (AI Servo) AF

Again, if you don't know what these functions are, you are missing out on a crucial camera feature. As I have said many times, you need to take control of autofocus, which sounds counterintuitive, but bear with me.

You need to tell the autofocus where to focus for the best results, and you do this via these functions.

So, use single point AF (AF-S) for a static subject, such as a portrait, manually moving the AF point over the eyes. Use Continuous, or tracking, AF to track a moving subject. It takes some getting used, but makes a huge difference.

Otherwise, your camera is deciding where to focus all the time, and it doesn't always get it right.

3) Upper ISO limit

Many cameras enable you to set the upper limit of ISO (light sensitivity) when using Auto ISO, so your camera can never take an image with an ISO higher than, say, ISO 1600.

This can be a very useful way of ensuring you can get good results in low light (or higher shutter speeds) without spoiling your image with lots of noise.

It depends on the camera; a modern full-frame SLR is better at controlling noise at higher ISO settings than an SLR or compact system camera with a smaller sensor.

Even with my full-frame Nikon D800, however, I am loath to go over ISO 3200, so caution often pays.

4) Check the Flash Sync Speed

While flash traditionally operates at 1/60sec, you can usually set higher flash synchronisation speeds of around 1/200 sec or 1/250 sec on modern cameras.

Each camera is different so you need to check (Google your particular camera make to find out), as it's well worth manually setting the shutter speed at or below the sync speed for your camera.

If not, part of the image could be obscured by the shutter curtain coming down. Most cameras take care of this for you, but it's well worth checking, particularly if you often shoot in Manual exposure modes.

5) Depth of Field preview

Depth of Field preview

Several factors affect depth of field but it's usually controlled by your choice of aperture and lens – a wide aperture (e.g. f/2.8) will give you a much shallower depth of field, where more of the background is blurred, as will taking a portrait with a long telephoto lens.

Easy enough, but there are lot of aperture settings in between very wide and very narrow where the depth of field might not be obvious, so this button gives you a handy preview through the viewfinder. It's often located on the front of the camera, near the lens.

6) Focus peaking

Focus Peaking enables you to check which parts of an image are sharp when you are focussing manually, and is very common on newer compact system cameras.

While you can zoom into a scene via Live View to check manual focus, it can be hard to see in poor light or when it's windy and your eyes are watering – so make sure you activate Focus Peaking if you regularly use manual focus for shooting landscapes or plants and flowers.

7) Playback functions

While 'chimping' – compulsively checking images you have just taken – can be a bit pointless, it's well worth turning on the histogram or focus point information when reviewing images.

This gives you a much better idea of how well exposed the image is, allowing you to lighten or darken areas on the next shot as required; the focus point information also reveals exactly where the camera has focussed.

If it's bang over the eyes in a portrait, you can be reasonably sure they are sharp, though this will also depend on other parameters. Check what image playback functions are available on your camera as it can give a lot of information about how you are shooting.

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Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) - http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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