Understanding the Controls of your DSLR

written by aext on January 12, 2012 in Articles and Freelance & Business with one Comment

Let’s see what is meant by DSLR, before entering into the concept of understanding the controls of DSLR. What is DSLR? DSLR is a digital single-lens reflex camera, which comes within the foremost priority for any serious photographer.

Be it shooting film or digital, a photographer is satisfied with no less than a DSLR. It is not so that other lens cameras are not used but among the so called serious photography, if we compare between the usage of DSLR and the other lens camera used, the percentage of former usage is much ahead than the latter. Other than DSLR, there are cameras having SLR-like lens which are popularly used as well after real SLR cameras. Few advantages of DSLR cameras that has a great step in making it popular among its users:

  • High sensitivity and reduced noise: DSLR cameras generates low noise such as at ISO 800, and produce acceptable images such as at ISO 1600, ISO 3200, and beyond.

  • Depth-of-field Control: While the larger sensors require lenses with longer focal lengths, so the DSLR use regains the control over depth-of-field and this becomes an important creative tool.

  • Digital SLRs work like a camera, not a VCR: DSLR works like a camera and not a VCR. While shooting or using the controls in any non SLR to zoom in or out, one needs to go through the manuals or press a number of buttons to get the particular adjustment. On the other hand with DSLR, a scroll a zoom ring in the lens and you are done with the adjustments. There are different buttons for different adjustments and the control requirement is very small and simple.

  • Faster in operation: A DSLR is much faster in operation than the rest. The gap between taking two pictures won’t be more than seconds. While the rest takes a lot time in auto adjustment and such things, DSLR allows you to shoot pictures much faster.


These were the advantages of DSLR which are beyond its featuring the single-lens reflex. Below are few important advantages of DSLR those are unique to DSLR related to its single-lens reflex design:

  • Better lenses: DSLR’s zoom lens provides better and sharper pictures than a non DSLR lens.

  • Easy upgrading: One can enhance the capabilities of a DSLR by purchasing the add-on needed and also can avoid the features that are not required. Thus, one can customize the feature one needs with a DSLR.

  • Better usage of Power: DSLR has a better usage of power than the non- DSLR s. As DSLR has larger batteries, you can take more than 1,500 shots within a single charge. On the other hand DSLR saves power as it switch off automatically if it is not used for some time.

  • Better view-finders: DSLR gives you better viewfinders than the rest. With DSLR, what you see is what you get.

Few disadvantages of DSLR:

  • Super wide lenses: DSLR lacks super wide lenses and therefore to get better and true wide angle coverage, one should own a full frame DSLR having super wide lenses.

  • No LCD preview or composing: The LCD on DSLR can be used only for previewing and working on the menu.

  • Dirt and Dust: One need to make sure to clean the dirt and dust that accumulates in your lens once you change your digital SLR.

  • DSLR doesn’t allow shooting movies:  As per the way a DSLR operates, one can’t shoot movies using it.

After going through the features of DSLR, its advantages and its disadvantages, let’s understand the controls of DSLR and how to master these controls in detail. Here are the basic controls common to almost all DSLRs:

  • Autofocus lock: This feature allows to lock the focus zone at its current setting so that one doesn’t switch to another focus zone while shooting.

  • Cursor movement pad: There is a four-way cursor control can be used to navigate menus and move indicators for different usages.

  • Delete Photo: An option to delete photos directly from your DSLR.

  • Information: This control is used to change the status information display.

  • Jump: This control allows one to go to a next group og photos while reviewing some other group.

  • LCD screen: The LCD screen on your DSLR allows you to review your photos and view the menu options of the camera.

  • Main command dial: The main command dial control is used to command features such as exposure value (EV) or shutter speed.

  • Memory card access lamp: This lamp illuminates when the camera is writing to the memory card.

  • Memory card door: This is the cover over the SD or Compact Flash slot.

  • Menu: The Menu allows one to press and navigate to other features such as settings for different options.

  • On/Off switch: The on/off switch is used to switch on and off your DSLR. However, most DSLR switch off automatically if it remains unused for some time.

  • Playback: The playback menu is used to activate a picture review.

  • Print/share: This control allows one to display photos for print or for sharing photos.

  • Zoom in/zoom out: The zoom in and out control is used to magnify a photo or area before and after shoot and vice versa.

Let’s now look into the details of the controls of your DSLR which you use for everyday shooting:

  1. Exposure controls: The most important fact about photography is to have the correct exposure and having the proper focus of the image. Correct exposure is a necessary learning of DSLR because no lens can capture each detail in every possible light level. Therefore, either the number of photons available should be increased to register details in dark areas or decrease the number of photon in the reverse case. Digital camera auto exposure systems are optimized to attempt to preserve highlight detail at the expense of shadow detail. The changes in the exposure are done to improve the quality of image captured y your camera.

  2. Tonal Range: The tonal range means the range of dark to light tones of a camera, it includes from the complete absence of brightness level to the brightest possible tonal level. While we distinguish photos as black and white or grayscale, they are not so in the truest sense, because the blackest black in a photo is not the true black because some source of light is reflected there; on the other hand the whitest white is not the true white because the lightest area too absorbs some light. However, one can adjust the tonal range of DSLR very easily. One can get the effect of tonal range change both before and after capturing the images.

  3. Histogram Basics: Digital SLR cameras include histogram displays which are charts on the LCD that show the number of tones being captured at each brightness level of the camera. Histograms in DSLR should be viewed after capturing an image.  A histogram is a simplified display showing the number of pixels used in each brightness level while capturing an image. With the help of histograms one can understand the pixels and contrast of an image and using the contrast settings, one can change the view as per their requirement.

  4. Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual Exposure:  Although DSLR includes fully programmed exposure to control the shutter and aperture priority, yet the users of DSLR prefer using manual exposure for these features as they identify better what kind of subject matter is being framed. As for example: while shooting sports, one needs a higher shutter speed as normal. A user needs to decide what amount of speed is required for what kind of situation. Manual exposure is used for many reasons and few are stated below:

  1. When a specific exposure for a special effect is required.

  2. While using an external light meter in tricky lighting situations or for total control.

  3. While using an external flash that is not compatible with cameras TTL flash metering system.

The DSLRs usually have different shutter and aperture controls that can be easily adjusted unless the camera is put in fully automated exposure mode.

Here are few other programmed modes available in a DSLR:

Portrait: This allows capturing the portrait image with clarity leaving the background out of focus.

Night: This allows filling in ambient light in the background when flash is used.

Night portrait: It allows backgrounds to not sink into inky blackness.

Beach/Snow: It allows to over exposing a scene to over compensate in very bright settings.

Sports: It allows capturing fast moving subjects in the center of frame.

Landscape: It allows capturing the landscape more vivid.

Macro: It allows capturing close up scene modes.

  1. Focusing: One of the important controls of DSLR and photography is focusing. DSLR provides you both auto and manual focusing which allows you to adjust the focusing of an image according to your requirements.

These were the controls of DSLR, an understanding of which allows you to understand photography in depth and thus allowing you to avail your DSLR controls at its best.