19 Sep 2008

Compact cameras - how to take control

Gordon Stockley, who bought my DVD some while ago, emailed me the other day…
“I have been meaning to write for some time to say thank you for sharing your skills and knowledge via the blog. I have been reading it avidly since you drew my attention to it in an email and I have learned an awful lot from it (as I also did from your DVD). Thanks once again.”

Gordon went on to say he thought it might be useful if I gave some tips on using compact cameras like the Ixus 960IS. I think this is a good idea and will post one or two ideas over the coming weeks.

The biggest problem with compacts – no matter how many megapixels they boasts, or how good their lens – is the limitations of exposure control. However, while you cannot choose your exact shutter speed or the precise aperture you want, there are ways of manipulating things to get somewhere near the results you want to achieve.

Frankly, the first thing I do with any of these compacts is to disable most of the unnecessary automatic function such as Face Recognition, and Auto ISO. Above all disable the AiAF and set the focus area to Centre. Then you will always know exactly where to focus by half-pressing the shutter. If someone could explain to me why I would want a camera to focus on what it wants to focus on and not what I want it to focus on, I will try to understand. I also set the exposure area to Centre Weighted.

The M (Manual) setting on the Ixus is not really manual at all, but is does give you a greater degree of control than the fully Auto or the Scene settings. In M you can, for instance use the AEL (Auto Exposure Lock) function. In other words, you can select an area of the scene from which to take your light reading – lock the exposure setting, then reframe and apply that exposure setting to your chosen composition. On the Ixus this is simple – just half-press the shutter and at the same time press the top of the multi-function ring on the back of the camera. AEL appears on the right hand side of the screen. The exposure is locked. To return to normal, just press the top of the multi-function ring again. AEL disappears.

The picture above is a good example of taking control of exposure and focus with a tricky subject.

The flower heads are in bright sunlight. The camera was set on M at ISO80. The background is very dark and a long way away. I first locked the exposure on a bright patch of light on the ground in front of the flowers. I then pointed the camera at an area at the base of the stems, half-pressed the shutter button and held it down to lock the focusing. I now had the exposure set and the focus locked.

Had I not done this, the camera’s auto focusing may have locked onto the distant background and the flower heads would have been out of focus. If I had not locked the exposure on a bright area, the camera’s auto exposure would have taken a light reading that included a lot of dark background – the flower heads would have been over exposed.

1 comment:

AnthonyRalph said...

I am finding the information regarding the better use of an Ixus very helpful.

(Declaration of interest: I have an Ixus 900 Ti)

Whilst it is easy to read the manual and fiddle with the controls, the demonstration of the practical application of various elements of control make so much more sense.

Thanks Philip.