Essential D-SLR Feature Knowledge

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Technology is a force that has changed the face of the world over the past few decades; a fact this is no less apparent in the world of Photography. For better or for worse, many of the tedious tasks and calculations that a photographer was expected to do on his own have long since been calculated automatically through on-board computers within your camera body. This is true even for film cameras. While this has the potential to make the photographer’s life easier, using these features sometimes requires a bit of a steep learning curve. Most cameras these days contain features that you would never begin to utilize. And treading through them can be daunting for new camera owners. To help point you in the right direction, I have compiled this list of camera features – features that are common with most cameras. This is a list of features you should absolutely know and understand in order to build up comfort with your camera.

  • ISO – You should know how to quickly change ISO to take full advantage of the digital format. With film, you won’t be able to change ISO on the fly. But in the digital world, you can and you will want to often. Whether it’s in a menu or on-camera, you should be able to change the ISO without hunting for the right setting.
  • (Auto) Focus Lock – The premise is simple: Focus on the subject using auto-focus, press the focus lock button and recompose the shot. This is especially important for those of you with only a small amount of focus areas (Nikon D60, for example). Master focus lock and you may never need to change the focus area ever again.
  • Exposure Compensation – (EV+/-) Even with the best cameras, the in-camera meter shouldn’t always be trusted. There are many times where you’ll want to push the exposure darker or lighter depending on circumstance. If you’re shooting in a semi-automatic mode, exposure compensation is a quick and easy way to adjust the exposure. It takes some practice to get used to this feature, so practice using it as soon and as often as possible.
  • Metering Mode – Most cameras have at least three metering modes: Spot, Center Weighted and Average (Average metering has many names depending on the brand of your camera). Learn when to use each mode and learn how to change between them quickly.
  • Depth of Field Preview – (DOF Preview) Not all cameras have this wonderful feature, but if yours does, you should learn to use it effectively. Pressing the DOF Preview stops down the aperture to the set stop so that you can clearly evaluate your depth of field and bokeh. The stumbling block that most people find is that stopping down to a small aperture means less light getting through the lens and it is difficult for many to compare views of varying light levels. If you can learn to ignore the light difference, you will truly get a great idea of what will or will not be in focus. Be persistent and practice the use of the feature and it will become an essential part of your routine.
  • Autofocus Mode – At the very least, you should know the difference between the autofocus modes available with your camera. You should also learn to switch between them quickly. Most of the time, Auto-Select is appropriate. But when shooting moving objects, you’ll want a continuous mode (Continuous-Servo). You should also learn how to turn off autofocus and focus manually.
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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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