What do the controls on my DSLR camera do?

Question: I bought a DSLR but it’s more complicated than I expected. Could you explain what the buttons and dials around it do?

Answer: Moving up from a basic compact camera or smartphone to a DSLR opens up a whole new range of photographic possibilities. Not only will a more advanced camera give you increased control over the settings you use, but with a little know-how you’ll be able to achieve creative effects such as long exposures and blurry backgrounds. Of course, this added functionality means extra buttons and dials that may seem pretty alien to you when you first pick up the camera...

Start in auto mode
Our advice is to start in full auto mode. Here, your camera will behave like a point-and-shoot compact and you won’t have to worry about settings. Next, move on to P mode, which is similar except you’ll be able to change the balance between shutter speed and aperture and turn off the flash. When you’re more familiar with the camera, you can move on to semi-automatic and manual. Let’s take a look at what some of the key buttons  and dials dotted around your camera actually do.

1. Mode Dial: Here you can set your shooting mode, from fully automatic to manual.

2. Pop Up Flash: This injects light into the scene to help you get a sharp shot.

3. AF Assist Lamp: This light illuminates your subject in dark situations to assist AF.

4. Lens Release Lock: Hold this button down to release the lens before twisting it off your camera’s mount.

5. Command Dial: Flick this to adjust your shutter speed, aperture or ISO value.

6. Hotshoe: A camera’s hotshoe can hold a plethora of accessories, including flashguns, remote triggers and microphones.

7. Dioptre Setting: For short- and long-sighted photographers, dioptric adjustment gives a sharp viewfinder image without the need for glasses. When you first buy a camera, look through the viewfinder and fine-tune the dioptre for your eyes.

8. Video Button: Most DSLRs now shoot up to 30 minutes of continuous Full HD (1080p) video footage with a fast enough card. Video settings are accessed through the menu, and recording is started and stopped with this button.

9. Exposure Compensation: If your image is too bright or too dark, you can tweak exposure with this button – simply hold it in while turning the finger dial. A plus figure (+) will brighten the image and a minus figure (-) will darken it. Not available in auto modes.

10. Display Setting: Some beginner photographers prefer to have their settings permanently visible on the screen during shooting. The display button also brings up vital image information, such as a histogram, if pressed when reviewing images

11. ISO Speed Setting: The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the camera’s sensor. On the plus side this gives you fast shutter speeds, which eliminates blur, but it introduces digital noise. Always use the lowest ISO setting you can.

12. Drove Mode: If you’re shooting sports or wildlife, you may wish to take several shots in quick succession. With this button you can switch to burst mode, which is usually between 4fps and 8fps. You can also set self-timer here.

13. AF Operation Selection: If you want your DSLR to focus once when you halfpress the shutter, use single shot. If you want constant focusing to keep a moving subject sharp, select continuous. Some models also have AF tracking.

14. White Balance: This is how you tell your camera what it should consider pure white in order to remove colour casts. There is an auto white balance setting, but you may need manual settings in tricky lighting conditions.

15. Menu and Quick Menu: To save you trawling through the camera’s main menu system, the Quick menu only displays the most frequently changed settings, including exposure comp, ISO, white balance and metering mode. This gives you fast access to core camera settings.

16. LCD Screen: Digital cameras have an LCD screen that allows you to compose in Live View and also review your shots instantly. Use it to zoom in on them to make sure they’re pin-sharp.