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Understanding your camera will make you a better photographer. Indeed our cameras are marvels of modern technology. They capture incredible images, seemingly nailing the exposure, colour and focus nearly every time.
Interestingly though, if you compare virtually identical pictures from two different brands or even models of cameras, you will find striking differences.
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Like in many walks of life, there is no right or wrong image, just differences in the way that camera has interpreted the scene in front of it.
Different sensors react to light in different ways. Autofocus systems may be tuned to recognise different elements within a scene.
Today we are going to look at why it’s important to understand your camera and how it interprets a scene.
1. Colour Science
This phrase is bandied around a lot these days, particularly in relation to how different brands capture skin tones. Even if shooting RAW, you will get subtle yet important differences between cameras. While shooting RAW allows us to change the white balance in post-production, it does not change the way our sensors captures colour.
With time and experience with your camera, you will learn to understand your camera and the way it reacts to certain colours. Red, is perhaps the most diversely captured colour, and this can be particularly noticeable in skin tones and golden hour shots.
By understanding the limitations of the way your camera captures colour, you can try to eliminate any negative issues by modifying exposure or using lens or light filters.
Cameras also interpret EV or Exposure Value differently. These will be subtle yet noticeable differences in the way two different cameras expose the same scene.
Cameras use an inbuilt exposure curve, much like the ones you see in post-production software. Some cameras might underexpose very slightly to preserve highlights. Some might flatten the curve for lower contrast.
Learning how your camera reads the “correct” exposure comes with time. By understanding your camera you might find that you need to dial in a 1/3rd stop plus or minus compensation to find a sweet spot with your normal exposures.
Autofocus on modern cameras is highly complex and has many different modes. It can detect faces, low contrast, track motion and determine the subject matter.
You will become much more efficient as a photographer if you understand which mode to use under which circumstances.
In single-shot mode, practice with different subjects to see how quickly your autofocus deals with contrast. In tracking modes, try shooting subjects in different planes of movement. This will show you how effectively your camera deals with that particular type of motion. Understanding your camera and its autofocus system will greatly increase the number of sharp images you get.
When shooting in manual mode, another thing to think about is the way your lens’ focus ring works. Some have a long throw allowing for very finite adjustment. Others short throws, giving you the ability to quickly snap into focus. Don’t rely on infinity markings or maximum focal distance for a faraway subject. Many lenses actually focus best, just before the maximum focus distance.
The importance of our camera’s ergonomics is often underestimated. Becoming “as one” with our camera allows us to take images much more instinctively. This means knowing where all the relevant controls lie under your fingers, which way to turn dials, focus and zoom rings, aperture rings and where important buttons are. All of these controls should be accessible while we have the camera to our eye, without the need to look where they are.
We will often be shooting with our cameras for hours on end, so it’s also important to find the most comfortable way to grip the camera. You may find that the addition of a third party grip will make the camera feel better in the hand. You may find that just a slight repositioning of your fingers and thumbs leads to a more comfortable grip.
Part of the learning process in photography is without a doubt understanding your camera. Like any tool, the more time you spend exploring its capabilities and limitations, the more comfortable you will become with it. This is partly the reason why often we are disappointed with our images when we move to a new camera.
We form a kind of relationship with our cameras, a bond. We learn to trust how it will capture the scene in front of us, but we also need to know where it might go wrong and where we can help it along by stepping in.
The more time we spend using all of the capabilities our cameras give us, the quicker we can become “as one” with it.