The Most Important Buttons on your Camera

In Beginner Tips, Gear by Stefano CaioniLeave a Comment
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A DSLR or mirrorless camera has a wealth of buttons. While it’s nice to have a camera equipped with so many features, it’s also overwhelming figuring out how to use all of the buttons.

The following list covers the most important buttons on your camera to master before moving onto the remaining buttons.

Shutter Release

Not surprisingly, mastering the shutter button on your DSLR or mirrorless camera is extremely important for confident, stress-free shooting. Learn to hold your camera in such a way that you can keep your right index finger positioned comfortably on the shutter release for quick, accurate shooting. When you’re shooting with a lens on auto focus, when you press the shutter button halfway, the camera focuses. If you’re not happy with where the camera is focusing, make adjustments accordingly. Then when you push the shutter button all the way, the shutter releases, taking a picture.

AEL/AFL Button

The auto exposure lock (AEL) locks the camera’s exposure. Instead of having the camera re-evaluate the light every time you recompose a scene, AEL locks in the exposure you want, saving you time, and creating images with a more consistent aesthetic in a given scene. One of the most common uses of the AEL lock is for photography panoramas. Using the exact same exposure from one frame to the next while creating a panoramic allows the panoramic software to stitch the images together seamlessly. Another common use for the AEL lock is photographing a subject with a constantly changing background, such as a bride exiting a dark church onto a bright pathway. Exposure lock will keep the bride looking the same from shot to shot.

Similar to the AEL, the auto focus lock (AFL) stops the camera from refocusing every time you recompose a scene. For example, when the center focus point gives you the most accurate results in a given shooting environment, lock in that focus and prevent the camera from constantly refocusing. Note that most entry-level DSLR and mirrorless camera lock exposure and focus simultaneously while upper-level cameras allow you to lock exposure and focus separately.

Exposure Compensation Button

Typically, the exposure compensation button is the little button with a +/- on it. While holding down the exposure compensation button, turn the main dial of the camera (usually the one right next to the shutter release button) left or right to adjust the exposure compensation. Each click changes the exposure setting by 1/3 of a stop.

Depending on your current shooting conditions, your camera’s meter may get fooled into telling you that an image is overexposed or underexposed, even when it isn’t. For example, when you’re shooting at night, most likely you’ll want to have large sections of the image completely dark. The camera meter will keep telling you that your image is underexposed and that you should lighten it up, resulting in an unnaturally light, washed-out image. Underexposing the image will portray the nighttime scene more accurately.

Mode Dial

The mode dial allows you to switch between camera modes. The vast majority of the time, you want to shoot in aperture priority (A or Av), shutter priority (S), and manual (M) mode. When you pick up your camera, make sure the mode dial is positioned to the setting you want. Even when you’re comfortable shooting in manual mode, there may be times that it makes sense to shoot in aperture priority or shutter priority, so you don’t have to adjust every single setting manually. Familiarizing yourself with these settings on the mode dial will enable you to lock them in quickly and accurately.

Live View

Many DSLR and mirrorless cameras feature a live view, which can be switched on with a button on the back of the camera near the viewfinder. On most (but not all) DSLR and mirrorless cameras, when you adjust the camera settings, the live view updates accordingly, giving you an accurate idea of the final results the camera will produce. Live view is also helpful for locking in the proper focus on a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a touch screen. While you can lock in the focus while looking through the viewfinder, the process sometimes proves tedious. The live view offers quicker, often more accurate results.

Depth of Field Preview

The depth of field preview button is housed on the side of the lens mount on DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Depth of field (DOF) refers to the range between areas in an image that look sharp. With a shallow depth of field, large areas of the image are out of focus. With a wide depth of field, the majority or all of the image is in sharp focus. The DOF preview button helps you decide what the photo will look like before you take it. When you press the DOF button, the lens stops down to the set aperture, giving you a preview of the final image through the viewfinder.


Final Thoughts

Mastering every button on your camera takes time and practice. Once you feel comfortable with the shutter release, pick one or two buttons that are of most importance to you. For example, if you shoot in aperture priority mode frequently, familiarizing yourself with the mode dial and depth of field preview will prove beneficial immediately. From there, work your way through the remaining important buttons on your camera.

What camera buttons do you use the most often?

Are there any buttons or other key features you would add to this list?

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