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   Camera 'Basic' Manual Controls!


 Last Updated  - 10th May 2017


This article pertains to compact or compact system cameras with an electronic viewfinder or LCD monitor although you can use the same methodology for DSLR cameras which only have an optical viewfinder.


Setting the Picture Style - Camera Menu

A digital camera usually has a menu switch which allows the photographer to set-up the type of image file he prefers - an straight 'out of the camera' Jpeg file and/or usually a RAW file (like a film negative) which can be later modified using computer software - called post processing. Also, the menu set-up offers a choice of picture styles, like variants of colour and monochrome. The picture style (usually) can also be modified for sharpness, saturation and contrast to suit the photographer's taste.

Aperture Priority Mode
Many 'old school' photographers
prefer to set their camera Main Control Dial to A for aperture priority.

Using Aperture Priority there are 3 x basic manual control settings to consider -


Lens Aperture ISO Shutter

The camera's exposure meter checks your manual Aperture setting against your manual ISO setting and automatically sets the shutter speed.

Your Aperture setting is the amount of light that you choose to let enter the lens to the camera and to land on the digital sensor.


Sunny Day Table Examples (these shutter speeds are estimations - the camera meter actually sets the correct shutter speed) -


Lens Aperture ISO Shutter
f1.8 (Shallow Focus Area) 100 1/8000secs
f2.8 100 1/4000secs
f4 100 1/2000secs
f5.6 100 1/1000secs
f8 100 1/500secs
f16 100 1/250secs
f22 (Deep Focus Area) 100 1/125secs
f8 100 1/500secs
f8 200 1/1000secs
f8 400 1/2000secs
f8 800 1/4000secs
f8 1600 1/8000secs


Aperture Priority Mode means (very simply) that I will select my lens aperture of choice to suit the style of image (wide open e.g. f1.8 for a very shallow focus area in the scene or stopped down e.g. f8 for a deeper focus area).


Select my ISO setting (e.g. ISO:100 for a slower shutter speed or e.g. ISO:1600 for a faster shutter speed) and the camera will automatically select the shutter speed pertaining to the Aperture and ISO settings. Always attempt to use the lowest ISO setting possible.


I can increase my shutter speed by raising the ISO rating (e.g. 100 to 200) or lower the shutter speed by decreasing the ISO rating (e.g. 200 to 100) but the higher the ISO rating (e.g. 3200) the more noise (speckle) will start to appear in the final captured image print, especially an enlargement.

Moving Subjects
A rule of thumb dictates that for slow moving subjects the shutter speed should be around 1/125seconds or above and for images of flighty birds, such as finches, the shutter speed should be around 1/1250 seconds at least to capture feather detail. However the lens used must be taken into account - see Lenses below.


Most digital cameras will warn you with a shaking hand icon in the electronic viewfinder or LCD monitor if your shutter speed is too slow. The type of lens will dictate an acceptable shutter speed to avoid camera shake and a blurred final image. A 24mm lens will require far less shutter speed than a 300mm lens. The basic rule of thumb is to double the shutter speed (e.g. 24mm = 1/48sec). Of course steady hands can probably get away with a lower shutter speed and many digital cameras and/or lenses have image stabilisation which allows a lower shutter speed to be used. In any case any movement in the scene has to be taken into account and may require a faster shutter speed than a lens dictates.

WB - White Balance - Most photographers set their WB (white balance setting) to automatic, so check it is set to this when you use your camera for the first time on the day. Alternatively, if indoors, you could manually set it to another setting (e.g. fluorescent lighting) but always watch you are not taking a shot with WB set to the wrong light conditions.

Exposure Adjustment Wheel
  (Mirrorless Camera)

Most modern digital 'mirrorless' cameras and even some DSLR cameras have an exposure adjustment lever; usually this is a wheel with a marked -/+ exposure stop grid. It is used to adjust the scene's exposure settings before the shot is taken. However, when making that adjustment, it is important to remember that it will alter the shutter speed in Aperture Priority Mode. Once adjusted, you can use the AEL button to lock the exposure. See the AE or AEL section below. Remember to zero the exposure adjustment wheel after you have taken the shot.

With older DSLR cameras that do not have 'Live View' in the rear LCD screen, an image will have to be reviewed in the LCD screen after the shot and if necessary, the settings adjusted and the shot (if possible) taken again.

AE or AEL - Expose Lock Dial  (Mirrorless Camera)

In the camera menu this should be set to toggle (press button for on and a star appears in the electronic viewfinder or 'Live View' LCD screen) press button again for off. This is mainly used when you have a difficult lit scene (e.g. dark foreground against bright sky). You should use the AEL button to lock the scene's exposure to your liking in the electronic viewfinder or in the LCD monitor and then (if required to isolate a subject) use the half press/hold of the shutter button to lock the focus (autofocus lenses) on a subject in the scene, realign the camera to the scene and then press the shutter button fully home - ideal for subjects in uneven lit scenes. A manual focus lens is manually focused on the subject and then the camera re-aligned to the scene.

The AEL button is a quick way to change a scene's uneven lighting. Lift the front of the camera to make the sky more blue, make sure the foreground is still visible then press the AEL button to lock the exposure - now you can recompose the scene at leisure, focus and then shoot. Alternatively, lower the front of the camera to make the foreground brighter. Remember to toggle the AEL button off after you have taken the shot.


With older DSLR cameras that do not have 'Live View' in the rear LCD screen, an image will have to be reviewed in the LCD screen after the shot and if necessary, the settings adjusted and the shot (if possible) taken again.

Other Camera Controls - There are other controls pertaining to your camera, in particular how it meters the exposure, how it is set to focus and whether the shutter is set to single shot, burst mode or timer amongst other menu settings. Please read your camera manual to better understand the camera menu settings.

The Learning Curve - It takes time and practice to better understand how your camera works. The more you use it in manual mode the more control you will have over the type of image you want to create. Whilst you are learning, you can always revert to the Intelligent Auto Mode (usually a green setting on the main control dial) to ensure you have captured an image.



If this article has assisted you in any way - please donate to my Charity of Choice   -   

The Sick Kids



Richard Lawrence
United Kingdom


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