Most serious cameras offer features like complete manual control and interchangeable lenses. Four features we feel set a few camera bodies apart from the crowd are an easy to read meter, depth of field preview, mirror lock-up, a 100% viewfinder, and a cable release. These are critical tools for our photography.
- The most useful tool in a camera is the meter, the gauge which measures the amount of light to be captured on film. The technology for meters is amazing with its delicate and controllable sensitivity. Even with all the sophistication and technology, the “gauges” are still antiquated. Some give you a green light when the exposure is “right on” and red when it is off. Some show a plus or minus, while others list comprehensive information but only on the LCD on top of the camera. The key to a good meter is knowing how far off you are from the “right” exposure. Look for a camera that allows for reading the meter while looking through the viewfinder, with registers of 1/3 or 1/2 stop increments. These will allow you to adjust your exposure to what you want. An easy to read meter helps create the image faster and allows for precise control of exposure.
- Depth of Field Preview
- Most cameras today allow through-the-lens (TTL) viewing with the aperture at the widest setting. This gives a bright viewfinder image and a narrow depth of field that makes focusing easier. At the instant of exposure, the lens closes to the selected aperture and the resulting increased depth of field. If you want to see what will be sharp in the final image, you need a depth of field preview control. Only the more expensive cameras seem to have this once common control. It allows you to see and remove distracting elements before you make the final image. We find it invaluable for macro photography.
- Mirror lock-up
- Camera vibration is the enemy of sharp pictures. Using a tripod will make an enormous difference in the quality of your photographs, but it still won’t prevent the interval vibrations caused by the movement of the mirror at the moment of exposure. These vibrations are the worst with lenses longer than 300mm and shutter speeds between 1/30th and 1/4th of a second. The solution is to manually lock the mirror out of the way before firing the shutter with a cable release. Vibrations are minimized and sharper images will result.
- 100% viewfinder
- Most SLR cameras on the market only show the photographer “most” of the image, not all. There is a small border around the edge of the viewfinder that is not visible, but appears on the film. Because 100% viewfinders are expensive, heavy, and technically difficult to manufacture, most cameras don’t offer them. Without the 100% coverage, we find tree limbs, small pieces of grass, or dark corners in the final photographs, even if we carefully avoided these. The 100% viewfinder is a compositional tool essential for precise control over the final image.
- Shutter Release Cable
- Check the camera body for a connection to a remote control shutter release. Some new cameras don’t allow for them and others use infrared wireless controls. These infrared devices require line-of-sight use, so you have to hold them in front of the camera to signal it to take the photograph. What kind of cable does it take? Is it easy to use? Long enough for you to stand back from the camera a bit? To maximize your potential for sharp photographs using a tripod with a cable release is critical.
We can never say this too many times: WHERE IS YOUR MANUAL?
Time and again we consult the manuals for our cameras. We never leave home without them. With the new-fangled auto/computer everything cameras, it is a requirement. We are often out in the field with a new creative concept and can’t remember how to do it. Having the manual with us, keeps us on track. When you are sitting and waiting for a ferry or the plane, or even for the moose to come strolling by, take it out and read it. You will learn all kinds of things you forgot you knew about your camera’s capabilities.