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I'm playing with my old XTi with a new travel lens, Tamron 18-270mm and I'm reading the instruction sheet for the Tamron and read a section about Manual focusing and got to the small print.

Even in MF mode, when turning focusing ring while pressing the shutter button halfway, the focus aid function lamp lights up when the picture is in focus. Huh?

I grabbed my camera, set it to manual focus played around. Sure enough the little focus indicator turns on when I've focused properly. And now the whole Manual AF Point Selection button makes sense (the crosshair button nearest the shutter on the XTi).

Wow, that's really cool.

What's something you've discovered that gave you a similar feeling?

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I believe that's a function of the camera(at least my Nikon is like that). I have old manual focus Nikon lenses, and the focus indicator still lights up! –  prestomation Jul 15 '10 at 19:48
    
I thought the "focus indicator lights up even when manual focusing" was brilliant at first. But, wait -- I only use manual focus when the camera can't focus properly for whatever reason (pictures of black cat, pictures through window screen, etc). When is it useful to have the camera validate your manual focus? –  khedron Oct 7 '11 at 16:40
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When you're shooting a manual focus only lens? There's quite a few on the market. –  Nicholas Smith Oct 10 '11 at 12:11
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I think this idea is neat, but it doesn't really work for Stack Exchange. Our gear is too diverse. –  mattdm Nov 14 '11 at 5:01

27 Answers 27

Canon E-TTL Speedlites are fully automatic even if your camera is in the manual mode!

You can choose whatever aperture you want, a reasonable ISO (e.g. 100), a reasonable shutter speed (e.g. 1/100s), and just take a picture. E-TTL magic chooses the right flash power, and the shot is correctly exposed.

You can half-press the button in the M mode, and the camera tells how much the picture would be underexposed if you didn't have the flash. This way it is easy to make sure that you are using flash as your main light source, or you are mixing roughly 1:1 flash and ambient light, or whatever you want.

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The flash can be used in bright light.

I used to be one of those who believed everything written in camera manuals was absolute. So, it took me years to figure out that flash is more useful (at least it results in more natural-looking images) outdoors in bright light and indoors.

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Spot metering and manual mode. For long I used mainly matrix metering together with exposure compensation, but started feeling it sometimes causes more problems than it solves.

Say you're outside where the sky is usually the brightest area, and you know you want the sky be part of the picture and not become over exposed. Switch to spot metering and manual mode, set aperture to what you like, point the center of the frame to the sky (not to sun) and dial shutter speed such that the exposure meter in the viewfinder shows +2 or +3 so (optimum value depends on the camera but is easy to learn by experimenting).

Tada! Now you get consistent exposures and you don't have to fiddle with exposure compensation every time you recompose so that the amount of sky in the picture changes radically.

Another example where spot metering might help is when you're indoors and want to include a computer monitor in the photo. Use spot metering and point the center of the frame to the monitor and expose to it, then recompose and shoot.

Matrix metering of course does a fine job most of the time, but spot metering is a good tool in certain situations.

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1  
For the longest time, I didn't even realize the meter worked in manual mode. I had been half-pressing in Av or Tv mode, and trying to memorize the settings to use as a starting point in manual. –  Theran Jan 30 '13 at 17:31

Rear curtain sync.. it makes all those dance/action pics so much more awesome.

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On my Canon Rebel, when shooting in Av or Tv mode and using a flash, the camera meters for the ambient light rather than for the flash. It drove me crazy that I would be in Av, set my aperture, turn on the flash, and still had a shutter speed of 1/15! I expected it to work the same way as P mode, and I couldn't figure out why it didn't until I learned that little tidbit.

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I recently discovered the same thing. It was annoying at first, but it forced me to learn the value of using flash to augment the existing ambient lighting more than simply using flash as the primary light source. –  jrista Jul 29 '10 at 18:51
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Under the custom settings in the menu, on several of the models, you can change it from completely auto, partial auto, and 1/60-1/250 for Av mode. This will get it to meter including the flash. –  Benjamin Anderson Jan 24 '11 at 22:27
    
That's the point where I said, I'm using manual. Never missed a beat since! –  Nick Bedford Jan 25 '11 at 22:37
    
@Nick -- me too! –  Eddie Deyo Mar 4 '11 at 15:40
    
Interesting reader on this topic: photonotes.org/articles/eos-flash –  AndreKR Oct 10 '11 at 13:49

White and grey are the same color for the camera, grey is just darker.

This silly fact made me look too hard for a custom white-balance target since the manual of my first digital camera (circa 2002) said to aim the camera at a white-surface.

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In post-processing it's actually better to do WB with grey instead of white - white may be overexposed, thus containing no information that could improve the WB. –  eWolf Jan 29 '11 at 9:38

Don't drop it..

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:) this is funny, when I bought my new orbis ring flash, this was the first thing I did. –  Sergiu B Jan 30 '11 at 11:31

I discovered much too late that my D300 and my SB800 can be used without a cable via Nikon CLS and after I found out I bought an SB900 and yeah its just fun to shoot with flashes without any cables :D

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Indeed. This is how most external lighting is done with flashes. –  Nick Bedford Jan 25 '11 at 22:45

I discovered that there is a histogram mode in my Canon 20-D, and that it will blink if there is an area with blown highlights. All along I've been cursing this fact, and there it was, right in front of me the whole time... And the histogram is so useful too, I never realized just how badly I was exposing an image until I started to use the histogram... Sigh.

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Pop-up flash can be made useful indoors. Use a small mirror or cardboard with foil to bounce it to a nearby wall or low ceiling for a nice bounce effect. You do look like a tool, though.

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You may look like a tool, but it's better than spending $20 on a Gary Fong Puffer ;) –  AngerClown Jan 24 '11 at 20:19
    
Although with a flash with a GN of 12 or so, not much power to bounce even with a mirror. –  mattdm Jan 31 '11 at 20:10
    
I've used this technique to trigger a remote flash - just bouncing the pop-up flash away by hand so it only barely effects the scene by itself, but still manages to trigger the remote unit. –  Rene Saarsoo Mar 4 '12 at 20:59
    
I was trying to DIY bounce/diffuse the on-camera flash like this at a wedding once, and must have looked like such a tool that another photographer lent me his 580 EX II for an hour. So paid off in the end! –  drfrogsplat Mar 20 at 6:02

When I bought my Canon 30D, I couldn't figure out why the on-off switch had a third position. Coincidentally, I also couldn't figure out why the control wheel wouldn't change aperture or shutter speed in Manual mode. I still don't know why you'd go through the trouble of putting a great big wheel on the back of the camera, and then disable it unless you turn the on-off switch to "really on". Sigh.

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I guess features like this explain why these things come with a 200 page manual. :) –  smt Jan 24 '11 at 20:34
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It gets better - there are menu settings that you can use to change the way some of the buttons work, so it's actually possible for you to make your own camera harder for you to use. ;-) –  D. Lambert Jan 24 '11 at 20:37
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I have always thought that that's to prevent you from accidentally moving the wheel, which I've done so myself a couple of times. –  jon2512chua Jan 25 '11 at 9:18
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That sounds plausible. In my case, the number of times I've accidentally moved the wheel pales in comparison to the number of times I've fumbled with the camera to try to figure out why the *^%@#$$ wheel isn't working, but I can at least understand this explanation. Thanks. –  D. Lambert Jan 25 '11 at 16:09
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As a photography teacher, that is the #1 most frequent Canon-specific question I get asked! –  Itai Feb 3 '11 at 1:12

Every current Canon EOS camera supports back-button AF, even if it doesn’t have a dedicated button for it. On my XSi, you can change the AE lock button to trigger AF by enabling it in Custom Functions.

I enabled it on my XSi, and I’m extremely happy with the results — I rarely use AE lock, and the ability to prevent AF from locking on the wrong element during rapid shooting is invaluable.

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I'd use AE lock more often if it would stay longer or if I could carry the measurement over to manual mode. –  AndreKR Oct 10 '11 at 14:01

When I took a new 50 1.2 for a test drive on a 5D Mark II, I was having trouble keeping the shutter speed below 1/8000 with the lens wide open. I bought the 1.2 to shoot it wide open so this was going to be a problem in sunny conditions. I was happy to learn that turning on ISO Expansion in the custom functions menu also includes a low setting of ISO 50. I use this quite a bit now!

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Be aware that's probably implemented by overexposing at ISO 100 and then dividing by 2 in software, so you lose some IQ. –  Reid Jan 24 '11 at 23:38
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Specifically, all you lose is one stop of dynamic range at the top end (bright highlights). Not too much of a problem in most situations unless you're really depending on the highest dynamic range that low ISOs can bring. –  thomasrutter Jan 25 '11 at 0:26
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You might want to use an ND filter to cut down the light in that situation. I would rather shoot at 1/4000th after cutting light by a stop than lose that stop of dynamic range. –  Nick Bedford Jan 25 '11 at 22:28
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If you shoot in RAW and process the images afterwards, there is not really a point in using the ISO Expansion modes. It would be like shooting JPEG, you make the camera drop information instead of having control over how to do it in the processing step. –  w.m May 31 '11 at 13:48

Turning the dial on my XTi also lets you cycle through photos in preview mode. I was always pressing the left and right arrows until now.

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On the D3000, this trick lets you compare two pictures after zooming in. –  Evan Krall Jan 9 '11 at 20:00
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Same on my XSi. This is incredibly helpful if you zoom in when reviewing your photos. Without using the dial, you have to zoom back out to 1:1 for the arrow buttons to move between photos. –  ieure Jan 26 '11 at 0:55
    
I set my Canon 7D to cycle through single images with the wheel on the back and fast jump through "day taken" with the dial on the top. You can assign the wheels to different jump modes (10 pics forward, 100 pics forward, 1 day forward etc) –  haraldini Jan 27 '11 at 18:03

When using my Nikon 70-300m VR, I discovered that with the lens in auto mode, you can hold down the shutter button for autofocus, then adjust the focus ring for fine-tuning. I had assumed the focus ring was only useful when focusing manually.

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This applies to all Canon USM lenses too. –  Nick Bedford Jan 25 '11 at 22:42

I can effectively and easily get quick shift on every AF lens I own. Quick-shift (may be called something else for other brands) is a clutch mechanism that allows MF adjustments when the camera and lens is still in AF mode. Often there is resistance of the motor and it is just bad to rotate it.

On the K-x, I can use my right middle finger to push the lens release button in, which retracts the AF driving screw. Then, I can adjust the focus as I want and take a picture.

Note that I have decoupled the AF from my shutter half-press and moved it to the AF button completely, otherwise the motor would spin indefinitely (in AF-C) or not take a picture at all (AF-A or AF-S). I had done this for other reasons: more control over autofocus, and ability to prime SR independently from autofocusing. All SR/IS/VR/etc systems operate best if they have been primed for over a second or so.

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On Canon lenses it's called FT/M (full-time manual) and most lenses with USM motors are able to do it. –  che Jul 30 '10 at 10:39
    
The Pentax lenses that have the quick-shift mechanism don't have USM (or other in-lens) motors; it's a clever mechanical thing on some of their lenses. (The DA Limited series doesn't have room for a built-in motor.) –  mattdm Jan 26 '11 at 21:34
    
On Nikon lenses with this feature the Auto/Manual switch is labelled M and M/A to indicate you can manually adjust focus whilst in autofocus modes just by turning the focus ring. –  RedGrittyBrick Jan 29 '11 at 9:43

On my Canon 30D (and, I think, most crop-sensor DSLRs; described at Depth-of-field preview, optical viewfinder, Canon 500D, large aperture although none of the answers explain how to choose a camera that doesn't show this effect) there's no difference, through the viewfinder, between f/1.4 and f/2.2, and very little difference between f/1.4 and f/2.8. Until I learned this fact, I thought that the reason I just missed nailing the focus on many of my pictures at f/1.4 was due to my inexperience (not that I've entirely ruled that out yet); since shooting pictures with a very fast lens was about 25% of the reason I bought a DSLR, I was pretty unhappy when I learned about this.

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It's my understanding that this is a function of the design of the super-bright, no-focus-aid plastic focusing screens used in modern cameras, and that it's generally true of full-frame DSLRs as well. At least it only effects the viewfinder view, not the photo. –  Lyman Enders Knowles Jan 30 '11 at 15:11
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To complete this point, LiveView can give you the accurate DoF preview when pressing the DoF preview button. –  ysap Jan 31 '11 at 18:29
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30D doesn't have LiveView. But that will be a nice feature when I eventually get a new camera. If they're so incomplete, why do DSLRs bother with glass, instead of electronic, viewfinders? ;) –  drewbenn Jan 31 '11 at 18:56

That you really, really, must, must, always check the screw valve on your Pelican case before you take your gear canoeing.

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The custom settings (C1, C2, C3) on my Canon 40D mode dial (and also likely on other cameras) is really handy for preset situations.

For example C1 might be your Sunny 16 landscape settings, C2 with bracketing and large aperture for macro HDR, etc...

It makes it easy in the field to switch settings in bulk as the "style" of shot you're after changes

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I found what 2 sec delay timer + bracketing in Canon 5d mark II works not only in Av mode but also in M mode - a way to make panoramic HDR images. As far as I remember it didn't work this way in 5d mark I, and I didn't try on 5d mkII..

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I stumbled on this too. I was ecstatic. –  Nick Bedford Jan 25 '11 at 22:46

Shooting in RAW allows pushing the exposure equivalent to increasing the in-camera ISO above 1600 (or so) and near equivalent below that ISO. One is analog hardware amplification (usually up to 800 or 1600 ISO) amplification, the rest is all software (including in camera). E.g. In-between stops (640 ISO for example) is a software push above ISO 400.

JPEG tone curve drops out a lot of that information and much worse.

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As you alluded to, most cameras that can shoot above 1600ISO do the same in-camera. –  thomasrutter Jan 25 '11 at 0:28
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@thomasrutter, not quite: cameras that have "extended" ISO settings do this for the extended ISO levels. Many cameras these days really do have ISO greater than 1600. –  Reid Jan 25 '11 at 23:45

I can get trap-AF on all my MF lenses. It is a bit more annoying with M42, I need to tape foil to any two connectors since the lens doesn't go flush against it, but still doable.

This + expsure meter + SR makes MF lenses a pleasure to myself and my wallet :)

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My continuous buffer size of 17 is actually infinity or 50+ if I shoot ISO 1600 and below (and push in post if needed.)

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I suspect this is because ISO 1600 is a common point where in-sensor amplification stops and digital multiplication begins. ISO 1600 * 2 = 3200 for example. The reason this slows things down is because the whole image must be digitally amplified on top of all the other things it's doing. –  Nick Bedford Jan 25 '11 at 22:44

I can use my lens hood to funnel light into a certain area of my picture.

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I'm curious. What exactly do you mean by this? Can you post an example picture or two? –  drewbenn Jan 29 '11 at 8:38

I recently learnt that it's better to change your focus point with the buttons than to focus and recompose. I mainly shoot at 2.8 or lower and it was getting annoyed with how many photos were a fraction out, I then realised that the DOF on 2.8 was fine, but focus-recompose meant I was moving the camera out of the exact area I'd focussed on. Switching to manually moving the focus point this weekend meant where I'd normally bin off 60% from a fast paced event I only got rid of 20% for lighting issues. It's a nightmare to learn it but if you practise it you can get it down quick!

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This is especially true for wider lenses, where recomposing may mean quite a significant camera movement. Not such an issue for telephoto, where recomposing will be a very small shift of the camera. On the other hand, the central AF point is usually more sensitive/precise and will sometimes focus faster, so there's trade-offs to be had. –  drfrogsplat Mar 20 at 6:10

That my Cannon Powershot has a continuous-shooting mode. This made it much easier to shoot photos of fireworks.

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If you really want to shoot just continuous photos, use a tripod and take a look at the CHDK for endless shooting. –  Leonidas Jan 29 '11 at 16:07

I believed my Pentax 55-300 was very soft on the long end. I was already set on buying a manual focus prime. Luckily I missed the opportunity. Then I took a test photo with various apertures and found that actually it is quite sharp at f/11 to f/13; in daylight, f/11 can easily be used at 300 mm.

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