5 Essential Features

5 Digital camera features you shouldn’t be without!            (sourced by Henrique Fino)

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…


 01 Highlight warning & histogram view

HF2-01What’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.
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.


02 Live View mode

HF2-02What’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.
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.


03 Manual AF point selection

HF2-03What’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.)
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.


04 Back-button focusing

HF2-04What’s the feature?
You would normally focus your camera by half-pressing the shutter release button to lock the focus on a particular point, and then pressing down fully to take the shot.
This is a good system for basic shooting, but there is a feature known as back-button focusing that can work better for fast-moving subjects.
To use this feature you simply have to set up your camera so that you use a button on the back of the camera to activate autofocus, leaving the shutter release free to simply take images.
This is useful because it means you can simply keep your thumb pressed down to maintain focus on your subject, without having to worry about half-pressing the shutter release, or the fractional delay that sometimes occurs between half-pressing and fully pressing when you come to take a shot.
With the focus in hand, you just press the shutter release at the peak of the action.
How does it work?
On many high-end models there’s a button marked AF-on on the back of the camera, which is specifically designed for back-button focusing.
To use this successfully you may also have to de-activate the shutter release button’s autofocus functionality by going into the custom settings menu.
On most other models of camera you will have to use the AE-L/AF-L button to activate the focusing.
This is usually done by going into the custom settings or set-up menu, looking for the AE-L/AF-L button option, and then selecting AF-on from the available options (see your camera manual for details).
For shooting moving subjects you should also select AI Servo (Canon) or AF-C Continuous Servo Nikon) focusing mode, also known as focus tracking.
In this mode the camera will continually re-focus the whole time that you hold down the back button, effectively ‘locking onto’ your subject like a missile- guidance system – as long as you keep the selected focus point over your subject, focus tracking will ensure it stays in focus even it moves towards or away from you at speed.
If you’ve never tried it before, you’ll be amazed at how well it works.
When should I use it?
Once you’ve started using back-button focusing you may find that you want to use it all the time, but as already mentioned, it really comes into its own when shooting moving subjects.
Being able to keep the ‘back’ button pressed down so that the camera stays focused on your subject, and only fully pressing the shutter release to take shots at specific moments, will give you a much higher hit-rate.
Anything else I need to know?
Even the best autofocus systems need a little help to get the best results, so as suggested above, it’s important to keep the subject in the same position in the frame, so your camera can track it successfully.
Generally speaking, your camera’s central AF point will be faster and more accurate than peripheral AF points, but in good light you can use any AF point with confidence.
Lastly, it’s usually a good idea to give the AF system a second or two to lock onto your subject before pressing the shutter release, to give it a chance to acquire focus; and to shoot in continuous drive mode, as this will improve your chances that at least one frame is pin-sharp.


05 Continuous shooting for static subjects

HF2-05What’s the feature?
Your camera will have two main drive modes, called single and continuous. The continuous mode allows you to take several shots if you hold down the shutter release.
This mode is normally reserved for shooting moving subjects, but it can also be used to help you get sharper results for more static subjects.
How does it work?
First you need to select the continuous drive mode option, either in the menu or using the drive mode button.
Then you can shoot in short bursts (three or four shots is usually enough) to capture a series of images, increasing your chances that at least one of them will be pin-sharp.
If, for example, you’re shooting handheld close-ups where the focusing is critical, you can frame your shot and focus on the subject.
Once you see the subject come into focus you fire a short burst to make sure that you get one that is sharp.
When should I use it?
There are many subjects and situations where you may want to be sure of sharp results or the best expression.
Shooting on continuous mode comes into its own when shooting close-up or macro subjects without a tripod, or a subject such as a flower or plant that is being moved by the wind – if you fire off a short burst, one or two might be a bit blurred, but you only need one to be sharp to get the shot.
Similarly, when shooting portraits, shooting in bursts can help you capture fleeting expressions, get the eyes sharp and also ensure that you get a shot with the subject’s eyes fully open.
Anything else I need to know?
If you’re using flash, be aware that it won’t be able to keep up with most cameras’ continuous shooting rates, so remember to allow enough time between shots for the flash to recharge.


Extracted from “Digital Camera World” website for information purposes and distributed to members of Conwy Camera Club only.