The Manual

After owning my camera, a Canon 600D, for a year I have finally got around to reading the manual all the way through.  There were not too many surprises in there but there were lots of useful little things I found out which will help greatly with some projects.

The first interesting point I found was near to the front of the manual and it was how to adjust the viewfinder clarity.  I knew how to do it using the dial on the side but not correctly.  In the past I have always adjusted until objects look focussed through it but I need to make sure the AF points look sharp against a plain background.  Hopefully this small change will improve my pictures somewhat!

I like the small tips in grey boxes on many of the pages.  They are a good way of cross referencing points through the manual as they usually link the page they are on to another with a fuller explanation using the page numbers.

I was interested to read about the CA (Creative Auto) mode, in this you can quickly change the depth of field, drive mode and flash firing as well as the ambience of the picture.

You can also change the ambience of the photograph in the basic modes of the camera, this means you can give the picture a different feeling ie vivid/soft/warm/cool etc.  In Portrait, Landscape, Close Up and Sports modes you can shoot by lighting or scene type and I was very pleased to see there is a sunset mode as I love to take photographs of the setting sun.  I already knew how to change the white balance to compensate for different kinds of light through the Q menu but it doesn’t have a sunset mode.  This was the only thing I missed from my last camera, a Panasonic Lumix G1, it had the option and would really capture the reds, oranges and golds in a sunset well.

I discovered that a good way to take a night time scene is by using Landscape mode, previously I would have used Night Portrait mode as I just assumed this was for all night time photography.

The focal plane mark on the camera was interesting too, I found out that the minimum focal distance of a lens is measured from this point.

I had looked at the picture style menu before and the camera displays a little about each choice but the options are explained more fully in the manual.  I did particularly like the little grey tip which said “If the desired colour tone is not obtained, use another Picture Style”!

I found out what the little button on the front of my camera does, it is a depth of field preview button.  When I press it I can see the actual depth of field before I shoot.  I’m looking forward to testing this out when I next go outside with my camera.

Manual mode is not one I tend to use at all as the thought of being totally in control of the settings scares me but it seems that there is some help within the camera.  The most useful thing I found was the exposure level mark.  After setting the shutter speed and aperture you focus the subject and the exposure level mark indicates how far the current exposure level is from the standard exposure level.  For me this feels like a little bit of a safety net and may encourage me to spend more time in this mode.  I also learned about bulb exposures.  A bulb exposure will keep the shutter open for as long as I hold down the shutter button, this can be used to photograph fireworks and moving light and I think it could create some really interesting images.

A-DEP looks like an interesting mode as it automatically sets the depth of field.  I’m not sure this is a mode I would shoot in though as I find I can achieve nice depth of field in Av (Aperture Priority) mode.

I did not previously realise my camera had an Auto Exposure Bracketing option, it varies the exposure automatically with 3 shots so you can then choose the best one without having to adjust the settings and retake the photograph.  I also found the exposure lock interesting, as the name suggests it allows you to lock the exposure then the area of focus is different from the exposure metering area.  This would be particularly useful for taking photographs of backlit subjects allowing them not to be silhouetted but can also be useful if you want to take several photographs at the same exposure setting.

I read through the section on customising image characteristics, you can change the sharpness, contrast, saturation and colour tone and save these in your own custom setting.  You can also set filter effects under Monochrome which will make clouds or trees stand out more depending in their colour and the colour filter you use.  For example, if you use a yellow filter then a blue sky will look more natural and white clouds will look crisper, a green filter will make leaves look crisper and brighter without affecting skin tones and lips.  I’m not sure I would use this setting as I tend to adjust these things in post production so I can play around with them and still keep the original image as a base.

There is a page regarding custom white balance.  This function is for adjusting the colour tone so that white items look white.  Generally I will use the Auto WB function and only change it if I do not get the result I am looking for.  You can change it to compensate for sunshine, shade, tungsten or fluorescent lighting.  The last option is custom and this allows you to set the WB manually for more accuracy.  The manual explains that you should photograph a plain white object whilst focussing manually and setting the standard exposure.  You can then set any white balance.  I think this could be very useful when I am shooting studio style photography as I often have to correct the white background afterwards on the computer.  This function, mastered properly, could eliminate this need.

I did not read through the section on using the Live View mode as I don’t like to use it.  I find the camera is slower to use when taking photographs using the live view and I find it much easier to compose a picture through the viewfinder.  Perhaps this is because looking through the viewfinder excludes everything except what is inside the frame allowing me to concentrate just on what I am trying to capture.

Other things I found out were why I could not take a video on the camera last time I tried (I had my older memory card in and it did not have a fast enough write speed to record), that I can take still photos whilst in video mode and also how to create my own folders inside the camera for storing images.  I also now know how and when to use the eyepiece cover which is on the strap.  This should be used when taking a photograph using a remote trigger, self timer or bulb option to prevent stray light entering the viewfinder and making the image too dark.  I am pleased I have read about this before testing my remote trigger!

I was not expecting to find out so many new things about my camera whilst reading through the manual but I’m very glad I did as I feel they’ll help improve my photography.

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