Essential Camera Functions


In our previous post I wrote about Katja’s and my decision to agree on a common camera system and to stick to a single body. While this saves us money, our primary motivation was to concentrate on a single camera in order to master its operation completely.

But how do you do this: do you experiment, read the manual, or buy a book with hundreds of pages? All of those are valid ways and each one will be preferred by some of you. However we suggest a different way: simply list the functions that you need most of the time, then make a cheat-sheet with the answers. This is a great way, especially if you use multiple cameras from different manufacturers or of different types (SLR, mirrorless, compact). In that case make a separate cheat-sheet for each body you use. You might be surprised by how short the list of essential functions is and by how differently each manufacturer implements them.

Here is our list of essential camera functions that each serious photographer should be able to control even in their sleep:

  • Camera set-up
    • Display the histogram and blinking highlights in the viewfinder while composing (compact and mirrorless only)
    • Display the histogram and blinking highlights automatically after shooting an image (SLR only)
    • Display the ISO value in the viewfinder
    • Switch to single-point AF
    • Move AF activation from the release button to a button on the back of the camera
    • Customize Auto ISO to take focal-length into account and limit the highest ISO value it can select
    • Turn auto-flash off
    • Switch to coarser steps for exposure compensation (1/2 EV) and ISO changes (1 EV)
  • Composing and Photographing
    • Change the exposure compensation (your most important exposure control)
    • Select the active AF point
    • Switch between Auto ISO on (general shooting) and off (tripod), change the ISO value
    • Switch between Av (general shooting) and M (tripod)
    • Adjust shutter speed and aperture in M (not always obvious on cameras with a single control dial)
    • Switch the self-timer between 10s (self-portrait) and 2s (tripod and no remote release)
    • Set custom white balance
    • Adjust flash compensation
  • Reviewing images
    • Switch between image only, image with basic info and histogram with blinking highlights
    • Magnify an image then switch to full-frame and back with a single button
    • Magnify an image then switch to the next or previous image without losing the magnification
    • Power up in review mode without extending the lens (compacts only)

In a future post I will show the cheat-sheet for the Olympus E-M5, my currently preferred camera body.