Highlight Tone Priority on Canon EOS Rebel T3 Series Cameras

When a scene contains both very dark and very bright areas, achieving a good exposure can be difficult. If you choose exposure settings on your Canon Rebel T3 or T3i that render the shadows properly, the highlights are often overexposed. Although the dark lamppost in the foreground of this photo looks fine, the white building behind it has become so bright that all detail has been lost. The same thing occurred in the highlight areas of the green church steeple.

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Your T3 or T3i offers an option that can help produce a better image in this situation, Highlight Tone Priority. The difference is subtle, but if you look at that white building and steeple, you can see that the effect does make a difference. Now the windows in the building are at least visible, the steeple has regained some of its color, and the sky, too, has a bit more blue.

This feature is turned off by default, which may seem like an odd choice after looking at the improvement it can make. What gives? The answer is that in order to do its thing, Highlight Tone Priority needs to play with a few other camera settings, as follows:

  • The ISO range is reduced to ISO 200-6400. The camera needs the more limited range in order to favor the image highlights.

  • Auto Lighting Optimizer is disabled. This feature, which attempts to improve image contrast, is incompatible with Highlight Tone Priority.

Additionally, you can wind up with slightly more noise in the shadows of your photo when you use Highlight Tone Priority. If none of those drawbacks are a concern and you want to enable the feature, follow these steps:

  1. Set the camera Mode dial to one of the advanced exposure modes.

    You can take advantage of the Highlight Tone Priority feature only in the P, Tv, Av, M, and A-DEP modes.

  2. Display Setup Menu 3.

  3. Highlight Custom Functions and press Set.

    You’re taken to command central for accessing custom functions.

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  4. Press the right or left cross key as needed to display Custom Function 6.

    Look for the Custom Function number in the upper-right corner of the screen.

  5. Press Set and then press the up or down cross key to highlight the Enable option.

  6. Press Set.

    Highlight Tone Priority is now enabled and remains on until you visit the Custom Functions playground again to turn it off.

As a reminder that Highlight Tone Priority is enabled, a D+ symbol appears near the ISO value in the Shooting Settings display. The same symbol appears with the ISO setting in the viewfinder and in the shooting data that appears onscreen in Live View mode and Playback mode. Notice that the symbol that represents Auto Lighting Optimizer is dimmed because that feature is now disabled.

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