Get the facts before you buy: 10 secrets of digital SLRs that you absolutely,
positively have to know now.
7) Fussing With Controls Does Not Count as Self-Expression.
We're partly to blame for this: The more picture adjustments a DSLR has -- not to mention knobs, switches, and dials -- the happier our camera reviewers are. (Quick access to extensive adjustments makes testing easier, for one thing.) But do you really need a camera that stores five custom white-balance settings?
You could never put every DSLR control on an external switch or dial, so many must be relegated to menus. Which settings are important enough to have a fingertip control, and which should be set-it-and-forget-it? After testing several dozen DSLRs, we say:
• Two command dials are better than one. With a finger dial on the front and a thumb dial on the back, you can adjust shutter and aperture, for instance, without having to press any secondary buttons.
• Things like AF point selection, ISO setting, and definitely exposure compensation work better as external controls.
• In general, single-button controls are far preferable to two-button (or three-button) controls. And press-and-release controls are much easier to use than press-and-hold controls.
DSLRs are moving toward more image control settings. Where once there were just settings for "vivid" and "natural" color, models may now have a half dozen or more color profiles, plus an array of individual tweaks -- saturation, hue, etc. -- within the profiles.
This is getting to the point of diminishing returns. A photographer who wants that kind of fine-tuning would do better to shoot in RAW (see next page), then tweak at leisure later, not in the field.
Pop Photo TIP: Familiarize yourself completely with the essential camera controls (shutter and aperture, exposure comp, ISO). Know the menu location of settings you access frequently. Use auto white balance for general shooting -- it works well (often better than the presets) and spares you color-balance goofs. Keep your camera set for Adobe RGB color space -- it's better for printing or image editing afterwards. And, most important, settle on a camera setup that works for the kind of shooting you do, then stick with it.
8) Built-in Flash Is Great -- But It's Never Enough.
There are people who argue that built-in flash is an "amateur" feature that doesn't belong on highfalutin' DSLRs. Not us! It's a wonderful convenience for indoor snapshots and fill light in outdoor portraits. But it has two big strikes against it: It's just not very powerful, and it's usually stuck in that one position, facing forever forward.
That's where an accessory TTL flash comes in. The add-on flash has more light-generating power, which is important in two ways: It allows you to take flash pictures at greater distances and, with the help of diffuser lenses, provides a wider beam angle to cover the field of view of superwide-angle lenses. (A built-in unit typically covers a 28mm lens in 35mm film terms, or about 18mm for DSLRs.)
You can tilt and sometimes swivel an add-on unit and, with an off-camera cord or wireless triggering, aim it any way you want. Because a TTL flash adjusts its output by reading the exposure through your camera's lens, you can bounce the flash light off the ceiling, or a wall, or an umbrella, with automatic operation. A further bonus: With the appropriate cords or wireless triggers, you can use multiple flash units with TTL auto.
DSLR makers all offer a top-tier flash (e.g., Canon Speedlite 580EX, Nikon Speedlight SB-800) for around $300 to $400, plus a midlevel model (Canon 430EX, Nikon SB-600) with most of the capability of the "big flash" for around $150 to $250.
Pop Photo Tip: A TTL flash is the most important accessory you can buy -- even before a second lens. Get at least a midlevel flash, and the top model if you can. And be sure to get an off-camera TTL cord if your DSLR cannot trigger the accessory unit wirelessly.