24 essential Canon DSLR tips and tricks you need to know

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We’ve put together 24 essential Canon DSLR photography tips and tricks specifically to help you get to the grips with your camera and all the great technology therein.

Many Canon owners never do much more than scratch the surface of their camera’s capabilities. However, like an iceberg, seven-eighths of the DSLR’s features remain unseen and unused!

Some of this is down to the user’s inexperience or unfamiliarity with the camera, but a lot of it also boils down to how the camera’s been designed.

Canon has squeezed in so many features, it’s not always obvious how to access them (and the manual isn’t always much clearer).

From basic stuff, like how to shoot in raw format, through to advanced shortcuts aimed at pros, you’ll find everything you need to take better shots faster.

Here’s what you need to know about using your Canon DSLR…

1. Select the raw image setting

Your EOS DSLR gives a wide range of image quality options, but to get the best results you should always go for uncompressed ‘raw’ files. Raw images reveal the best range of tones – and give greater flexibility when editing with software. It’s almost always worth the extra space raw files take up on your card, while you can shoot JPEGs as well if you’re not sure.

2. Go large

Although you should use raw most of the time, there are occasions when it can pay to compromise with the JPEG options in the Quality menu. Choose the ‘Large’ high-quality JPEG option when shooting a series of continuous shots and your camera will keep firing for longer.

3. Space-saving

The high-quality Large JPEG setting is also a handy option if you’re running out of space on your memory card because you forgot to carry a spare card.

4. Firmware updates

Canon continues to improve the reliability and performance of its cameras, even after they have left the factory. That’s why you should regularly check the latest ‘firmware’ available for your EOS DSLR. See which version you’re using in your camera’s menu. Then log on to Canon’s website and search firmware updates to see if your camera models needs updating.

5. Make the most of Live View

Live View, where you see what the camera ‘sees’ on the rear LCD screen, is found on all recent Canon EOS models, but is switched off by default, but there’s now a dedicated switch to activate this on the camera body.

The feature is useful for a wide range of subjects and lets you use the LCD to frame shots – it’s particularly useful when using your Canon on a tripod.

6. Try sRaw

As well as being able to shoot JPEG and raw files, many modern EOS DSLR also allow you to shoot in sRaw, which offers many raw benefits while taking up less card space. But, sRaw means that the camera is using fewer pixels, so you won’t get the same resolution or quality as raw proper.

7. Adjust your Dioptre

See things more clearly as you shoot by adjusting the viewfinder to your eyesight. The Dioptre, a mini thumbwheel at the top-right corner of the viewfinder, enables you to adjust the optics inside. Turn it while looking at the clarity of the numbers you see in the viewfinder, not at the image itself.

8. Shine a light

In low light, you can have difficulty seeing all your camera settings clearly. Use the full size of the rear LCD to help guide the way – the settings will be shown on the screen if you press the Disp or Info button as you set up the shot (the button you use depends on the model of EOS you own).

9. Top light

If you have an EOS with an LCD on the top (such as the Canon EOS 80D), this can be lit separately if you press the lightbulb button top left of the screen.

10. Adobe RGB

Buried in your menu is an option called Color Space. This comes preset to sRGB, but you will record a wider range of colours if you set it to the alternative Adobe RGB setting. This gives better printing results.

11. Format/erase

Before you go out shooting for the day, delete any pictures on the card you’ve already downloaded to your computer. It’s easier to erase them all in one go, rather than one at a time. Use the Delete All command, or the Format menu option. Delete All simply removes all the pictures (except those locked using the Protect facility). Format has the advantage of deleting all data on the card – including all pictures – whether protected or not.

12. Keep quiet

Sick of the focusing confirmation sound? The Beep option in the Menu is on by default; turn it off to avoid scaring wildlife!

13. Back to default

If you get carried away with these tweaks and want to go back to your DSLR’s ‘factory fresh’ settings, use the Clear All Camera Settings option in the menu. The camera will be set back to the way it left the factory. You can then start to customise it all over again!

14. Make sure you’re saving your shots

Set the ‘Shoot W/O Card’ option to Off. The On option is good for demonstrating the EOS in the shop, but is a liability once you’ve bought the camera, because it allows you to take pictures without a memory card.

15. Why Canon Picture Styles are worth a look

If you shoot raw as we recommend, Canon’s sophisticated Picture Style options have little obvious benefit. Picture Styles enable you to adjust the saturation, sharpness and contrast of your JPEGs. These settings are easily altered using an image-editing program. However, they still have their uses….

16. Accurate preview

Picture Styles are useful as they provide you with a better preview of the pictures you have just taken, enabling you to visualise how the picture will look once you’ve processed the shot on your computer. The Landscape option is one of our favourite Styles, as it gives you punchy-looking pictures in most situations.

17. Get in the right mode

Note that you need to shoot in your camera’s P, Tv, Av, M or A-DEP mode in order to use Picture Styles.

18. Experiment with Picture Styles

Picture Styles give lots of choices. Use the Monochrome Picture Style to work out what subjects are best for black and white conversion (although shoot in raw and the images will still be recorded in colour).

Paradoxically, keeping the colours will give better-looking results when you convert to black and white using photo-editing software.

19. Customise your own Picture Styles

There are a range of Picture Styles, but you don’t always have to use the presets – you can customise them to suit. Saturation and contrast can be tweaked, while in Monochrome you can add traditional filter effects or toning.

You may need to pick the Style from the main Menu, rather than using the Style key, then press the Disp. or Info button to access the various sliders.

20. Program shift

The P (or Program) mode is more useful than most people give it credit for. It sets the aperture and shutter speed for you, setting the values depending on the light level and your lens.

However, P isn’t about just pointing and clicking – you can change the shutter speed or aperture as you use it (just rotate the thumbwheel behind the shutter button). This is handy when you want to fine-tune what your EOS is doing automatically.

  • Learn more: The A to Z of Photography: Program AE

21. Av appeal

Av is a great all-round mode for taking creative photos. You set the aperture using the Main Dial and the camera sets the shutter speed, taking into account the Metering mode and Exposure Compensation you have set.

22. Av for speed

Av mode is just as useful for setting a specific shutter speed as it is for dictating the aperture. It’s simple: if you want a top shutter speed, you simply turn the Main Dial until you see the number you want appear in the viewfinder (achieved by you widening the aperture). It’s a much more flexible mode to use than the similar Tv option – where you set the shutter speed, and the camera sets the aperture.

23. Easy ways to adjust exposure

There are lots of exposure modes and metering options on your EOS, but the simple way to check exposure is to take a picture and then look at the result on the LCD, whatever settings you have used.

You can then use Exposure Compensation to make the next picture you take lighter or darker to suit. With popular EOS models you press the Av+/- button then rotate the Main Dial behind the shutter. A negative setting makes the picture darker, a positive one makes it lighter.

24. How much Exposure Compensation?

If the subject is predominantly black, the camera will tend to overexpose the shot, so use a negative setting. With a predominantly white or light scene, set Exposure Compensation to +1 or +2 for a good balance.

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