September 4, 2012

Why Your Camera Messed Up

You made a photo and it didn’t “come out” the way you expected. So you say the camera messed up. Most of the time it isn’t the camera, it’s the operator. The camera probably did what IT was supposed to do, but you didn’t do what YOU were supposed to do.

I’ve said it here dozens of times – read your manual. This is the best way to avoid this problem.

Perhaps you’ve been disappointed with the results from your camera’s face detection. Have you read the pages in the manual that cover this? For instance, on the new Canon 5D MK III and the 1DX, Canon offers face detection (yes even pro cameras are starting to get this feature and as someone with older eyes, I can use all the help I can get when it comes to focus.) But this isn’t magic. To get the best out of the Face Detection AF, the face needs to be reasonably large in the frame. If the subject is too distant – and hence the face is small – Face Detection will not work. Equally, the subject should not be placed on the extreme edge of the frame. If this happens, the camera will default to the centre focusing point.

How do I know this last bit of information? It’s in the manual.

How about autofocus via the Live View function? Most cameras have this now. But it uses an older, less sophisticated autofocus system. Not all lenses will perform well with this feature. On Canon cameras, I found out that setting the camera to Quick Mode focus improves the AF performance of many slower lenses. How? I read the manual.

By reading the manual I also found that my Canon cameras allowed for easy switching between Quick Mode, Live Mode and Face Detection AF. It’s cumbersome to switch between these using the nested menus on the camera but on my 1D X I can just press the AF-DRIVE button when in Live View mode. This will bring up the AF selection options on the rear LCD screen so I can switch immediately from Live View.

Before reading the manual I knew none of these things. If I just took the camera into the field and started playing with it, I would figure out about 80% of the options. But the 20% I’d miss would be critical.

So the next time you say the camera messed up. Go read your manual. I bet you’ll find out it was YOU who messed up.

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