I believe that there are many readers who would benefit from a review of the main controls on their point-and-shoot digital camera. In this section we will discuss the basic camera functions as presented in a typical camera manual. We can work together to gain better results from your camera.
I have recently purchased a point-and-shoot camera and the manual starts out with, “Thank you for purchasing our brand of digital camera. Before you start to use your new camera, please read these instructions carefully to enjoy optimum performance and a longer service life.” So this makes sense. Even if you jumped ahead and charged the battery and turned your new camera on ‘just to make sure it works’ you will be back to the manual at some point. The true manual is usually a PDF file provided on the CD or camera manuals can often be downloaded from the manufacturer’s web site. The printed manual may be limited to an explanation of how to install the battery and the memory card plus a lot of safety warnings in 5 languages.
I found this helpful advice at the beginning of my manual. “We recommend that you take test shots to get accustomed to your camera before taking important photographs. “Before you go out to take pictures take care of the ‘housekeeping’ tasks such as setting your language, time zone, time/date and all those first-time chores. I suggest that you also have a 32 GB or 64 GB memory card installed.
Some Buttons and Levers
Be aware of battery usage. When you are out on a planned ‘shoot’ you will want to start with a fully charged battery and you’ll want the battery charge to last as long as possible. Keep the camera off when you aren’t using it for extended periods of time such as when traveling between shots.
The zoom function of your camera may be controlled by a lever located near or on the shutter release button. Typically the lever moves left for a wider angle view and right to zoom in.
Shooting Modes – The Mode Dial
Your camera will likely have more modes available than we discuss here. Manufacturers tend to ‘dumb down’ these descriptions in the manual to the point that nobody can be sure what they are trying to say. So I’ll try to bring the language back to a level where the descriptions are more useful.
Auto Mode – Full Auto Mode claims to automatically optimize all settings for the current scene. “The camera does all the work.” As the manufacturer says, this is a good choice for beginners but it also comes in handy when you’re distracted or in a crowd of people and just want to be able to walk away with some acceptable pictures. While in Auto Mode you still have to compose your shots and decide when it’s time to push the shutter. The flash will also work automatically.
A or Aperture Priority Mode – As my manual says, “You control the aperture. You can sharpen or soften background details.” What they mean is that through control of the aperture you can throw foreground and/or background picture elements out of focus while your main subject remains in sharp focus. We discuss aperture control in more detail elsewhere in this book. While you are selecting the aperture the camera is selecting the shutter speed. Try to notice what speeds your camera is selecting. Use the aperture priority mode to help your subject stand out against a busy background. To accomplish this be careful with your focus and use a higher shutter speed while setting a larger aperture that the automatic mode would select.
S or Shutter-Priority Mode – You choose the shutter speed and let the camera automatically adjust the aperture for optimal exposure. Typical shutter speed selections that may be available on your camera include 2 seconds, 1 second, 15th second, 60th second, 100th second, 400th second and 1000th second.A fast shutter speed can freeze a fast action scene without any blur. A slow shutter speed will blur a fast action scene. This blurring will give the impression of motion and you may want to try this slow speed effect on waterfalls and other flowing or moving objects.
M or Manual Mode – You choose both the aperture and the shutter speed. You are on your own in the selection of the optimal shutter speed / aperture combination required to achieve your desired result. However, you are not without the tools needed to measure variables such as light intensity and the distance to subject. There are ways to improve your results while using Manual Mode. To make Manual Mode work for you try taking note of what settings your camera would choose in Auto Mode for that scene and then manually make your changes from that reference point. You could also purchase a photographic light meter and even an electronic flash that includes a light sensor so that it can make its own light settings for the scene for fill-flash.
While shooting at slow shutter speeds, noise may appear on-screen. To reduce this noise, the camera activates the noise reduction function.
Choosing an Auto focus Target (AF target) – Read the camera manual to determine which button will cause the various auto focus targets to be displayed on your camera’s display screen. Choose which of the auto focus targets will be used as the auto focus target. I expect that your camera’s default or original setting will be for the center square to be the auto focus target. You can leave that setting while you learn other parts of your camera’s operation.
Flash Photography – Press the button that displays options. Choose a flash mode and make the selection. When the flash is lowered and closed by hand your camera will likely select Flash off.
Auto Flash Mode – The flash fires automatically in low light or for back light conditions.
Red-eye Reduction Flash Mode -This function allows you to reduce the redeye that sometimes occurs when taking face pictures of people.
Fill-in Flash Mode – The flash fires regardless of the light conditions.
Flash Off Mode – The flash does not fire.
Wireless Flash Mode – Your camera may have the ability to use a second flash unit which will usually be placed off the camera. This second unit can function alone or in conjunction with your camera’s flash to fill in light from a second direction to improve the evenness or coverage of light.
Another Consideration When using a Flash
Minimum Flash Range – The distance that must be maintained as a minimum separation between the camera and the subject in flash photography. Otherwise, the lens may cast shadows over objects close to the camera, causing distortion or the flash may be too bright even at minimum output.