If you’ve just graduated from a point-and-shoot camera to your first digital SLR, you may be wondering what each button and control on the camera is used for. This information may also be useful if you’ve had your digital SLR for a while but have used only the automatic settings.
To master your camera, you have to know it like the back of your hand. You must know what each control does and know where each control is in order to master a specific picture-taking situation. The position of these controls varies from camera to camera. The following is a list of important camera controls and what they do:
Mode dial: On most cameras this is a round dial on top of the camera. This is the shooting mode dial. On Canon cameras, the dial is on the left side when you hold the viewfinder to your eye and take pictures. On Nikon cameras, it’s on the right side. You use the dial to choose the desired shooting mode.
Shutter button: You press this button to prefocus the camera and take a picture.
ISO setting: You use this feature to change the ISO setting of the camera. The ISO determines how sensitive the sensor is to light. You use higher ISO settings to take pictures in low light conditions. On many cameras, a dial is used to change the ISO. Some cameras use a menu command to change the ISO setting.
Aperture setting: The aperture determines how much light enters the camera. When you choose Aperture Priority as the shooting mode, you use a dial to change the aperture, and the camera automatically selects the shutter speed to properly expose the image.
Shutter speed setting: The shutter speed setting comes into play when you shoot in Shutter Priority mode. After choosing Shutter Priority for the shooting mode, you use a dial to change the shutter speed, and the camera automatically selects the correct f/stop to properly expose the image.
Exposure compensation setting: This is used to increase or decrease the exposure. You increase or decrease the exposure when the camera gets it wrong.
Histogram display: This option displays a graph that shows you the distribution of pixels from the lightest parts of the image to the darkest parts of the image. If you notice a spike on the right side of the histogram, your image is overexposed. If you see a spike on the left side of the histogram, part of the shadows are pure black, and no details are visible.
White balance: You use this setting to set the white balance. The human eye can compensate for different lighting scenarios to see white as white. If the camera gets confused due to multiple light sources, the whites have a color cast to them and may have a green, orange, or blue tint.
You can rectify this problem by choosing a preset white balance (such as Fluorescent, Tungsten, or Shade) or by manually setting the white balance.
Metering mode: This feature is a button on Canon cameras and a menu control on Nikon cameras. The metering mode determines which area of the viewfinder is used to meter the image. In most instances, your camera’s default metering mode does an excellent job. However, in some picture-taking scenarios, you may need to change the metering mode.
Flash control: If your camera has a built-in flash unit, you push this button to pop the flash unit up and enable it. You can use flash to light the scene or add additional light known as fill flash.
Hot shoe: You slide a flash unit that’s compatible with your camera into this slot. The contacts in the hot shoe communicate between the camera and flash unit.
LCD panel: This panel shows you all the current settings. When you change a setting such as the shutter speed or ISO setting, the panel updates to show you the new settings. If your camera doesn’t have an LCD panel, these settings are visible in most camera viewfinders.