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Customize your camera in less than 10 minutes
Your camera's factory settings are not necessarily in your best interest. Here are seven that you should change.
Your digital camera's default settings stink. OK, some of them stink; the rest are OK. The good news is that in most cases you can easily eliminate the cause of your camera's stinkiness, and transform your camera into a lean, mean, picture-taking machine.
First, grab your camera and your camera manual. You will probably need the manual as a reference to help you find the features I discuss below, since they are probably buried in the menus. Lost the manual? You can easily find a PDF online. Just go to Google and plug in your camera make and model number and the phrase "user manual pdf" and it should show up. Download it now. I'll wait.
1. Make A Sound Decision
Typical digital cameras have beeps and clicks that can be annoying or give away your presence when you're trying to shoot candids. Depending on your camera you can either turn this noise pollution down or turn it off completely. You can find system volume control in the setup menu.
2. Save Power
By default, your camera will probably display the image you just shot for a second or two. This can reduce battery life. Find the "auto off" or "image preview duration" mode, most likely in the setup menu, where you will be given several choices as to how long your image stays on screen after you shoot. If you must chimp, choose the shortest duration (usually half a second). Even better: Turn it off altogether. Also, consider dialing down monitor brightness; this, too, will save battery power.
3. Rearrange Your Buttons
Most cameras have a function (Fn, Funct, etc) button. It usually has some pre-set operation that it can do for you, but in the setup menu you will probably find other camera operations that can be reassigned to it. If you shoot a lot of black-and-white, for instance, you may be able to assign monochrome mode to the function button. Other possibilities include flash or exposure bracketing, or quick access to white balance, for example. The choices vary depending on the camera you're using. The fun doesn't stop there, though: Some cameras offer multiple options for many or all buttons that are different from the factory default. Most interestingly, the Ricoh GR lets you reassing the shutter release to any button besides the shutter release.
4. AF Assist? No, Thanks!
A camera's infrared AF assist light (or fast-blinking flash) works in all light by default. While this may help your camera find focus more efficiently in low light or when shooting low-contrast subjects, it also annoys the heck out of the people you're photographing and if you're shooting on the sly, it'll give you away. Turn it off; most likely, you won't need it. (You can also switch from single to servo to continuous AF for more active subjects.)
5. Fix the Flash
If you're shooting with the flash on, this probably drives your subjects crazy: That strobing pre-flash that's meant to reduce iris size and prevent red-eye. The thing is, there's plenty of easy-to-use software that can fix red-eye after the fact (some cameras offer this as an in-camera edit). Do your friends, family and total strangers a favor: Turn it off! It's one of many flash control options you'll find in a typical DSLR with a built-in flash.
6. Watch Your Speed
If you are a sports or street photographer, you may prefer shooting mostly at higher ISOs; landscape and portrait photographers, on the other hand, might want to limit the camera's ISO range to the lower end. Look for an ISO Limiter option which will allow you to shoot in auto mode where the camera chooses the ISO but you can tell it to only choose within a specific range. While not available on all cameras, this is a great way to work the Exposure Triangle to your advantage.
7. Decompress Your JPEGs
You might be surprised to learn that some digital cameras come out of the factory set to apply some compression to JPEG images. Check your Image Quality setting, and change it to uncompressed JPEGs only. Otherwise you will end up with subtle (or not so subtle) JPEG compression artifacts.
Bonus: Eat it RAW
Not all cameras have RAW capture so this is a bonus tip: If your camera has RAW image capture, use it. Set your camera to capture RAW+JPEG at full resolution. This way, you have options. If you need a quick print straight out of the camera, the JPEG option is fine. But if you have an image that has deep shadows with hidden details the you can pull that kind of information out of the RAW file. Most modern digital cameras not only shoot RAW, but will transfer the files fast enough for most uses. Think RAW files are too big? Memory cards are cheap; buy the largest capacity cards you can afford.
Not all cameras offer customization options for all of the above, but most will offer options for some of these. Delve into the alternative settings and you may find that you get the kinds of pictures you want without draining your camera's battery too soon, distracting your subjects with flashes and beeps, and getting optimal image quality.