Five Highly Underrated Camera Features

Five Highly Underrated Camera Features

Most of us gravitate toward a few key features in cameras: things like ISO range, continuous burst rate, etc. Here are five camera features I think do not get enough credit.

1. Highlight Alert

I have never been one to use the histogram while shooting much; it just does not mesh well with what I shoot and my workflow. However, I still worry about blowing highlights as much as anyone else. Most cameras have a highlight alert function. This will flash any blown-out areas in your images when you review them. When I am dialing in an exposure in often quickly changing stage lighting, I normally just take a quick test exposure and check that I am not blowing any highlights via this function. This is particularly easy with mirrorless cameras, as I can do it without ever taking my eye from the viewfinder or even in real-time without having to take an exposure. 

2. Adjustable Autofocus Parameters

Photographers spend a lot of time worrying about the tracking abilities of their autofocus, the number of autofocus points, whether a camera has features like eye autofocus, and more. But for me, the one thing that has made the biggest difference has been having customization options for autofocus performance. This is something that I have noticed a lot of my photography friends do not dive into enough with their own bodies. 

For example, when I am shooting baseball, my autofocus needs are vastly different than if I were shooting a wedding or a portrait. In addition to a variety of specific algorithm path adjustments and settings, my 1D X Mark II allows me to control three global parameters of the autofocus system: tracking sensitivity, acceleration and deceleration characteristics, and autofocus point auto-switching. The first, tracking sensitivity, controls how "sticky" the system is. In other words, turning this setting down tells the autofocus system to stick on the subject it is tracking and ignore things that temporarily cross in front of it. Turning the setting up makes the system more likely to grab onto anything new that appears in the frame. I frequently turn this setting up when shooting baseball, where action quickly evolves and the player I want to be the subject can change in a split second. A wedding photographer might find turning the setting down useful when shooting the dance floor and wanting to keep focus on the bride and groom without a random couple passing through the frame and messing up the autofocus.

Tweaking my autofocus parameters makes a huge difference.

The second setting, acceleration and deceleration characteristics, tells the subject how to deal with subjects who rapidly change speed. Turning up this setting makes the autofocus more jittery, but better able to handle extreme and sudden changes in speed. Think of a long jumper coming to a sudden stop as they land in the pit. The last setting, AF point auto switching, controls how much the camera stays with a single autofocus point before switching to another. Turning this setting up tells the camera to switch autofocus points more readily. This made the biggest difference in my keeper rate for things like baseball, as the combination of fast action and shooting through a long lens makes it hard to keep the same AF point on your subject all the time. Telling the camera to go ahead and switch AF points more readily made it far easier to track a subject across the frame as needed. If you haven't explored the nuances of your camera's autofocus system, I highly recommend doing so; you might be surprised by just how much your keeper rate improves.

3. Auto ISO

Holy cow, do I love auto ISO. The semiautomatic mode we most often point beginners toward is aperture priority mode, as it teaches them the creative effects of aperture. There is nothing wrong with that, and a lot of pros continue to shoot with it. I love auto ISO, though, as I think it better matches the way most of us shoot in the majority of situations: we use shutter speed and aperture to control both technical and creative aspects of our images, and ISO is then set to achieve the proper exposure after shutter speed and aperture are chosen. So, if there is one exposure parameter I want to give control of to the camera, it's ISO. For example, if I am shooting a baseball game, where the action is to fast to adjust for areas of light and shadow, I am always going to be shooting at maximum aperture with a set shutter speed of about 1/2,000 s, a perfect situation for auto ISO to handle balancing the exposure. I normally use it in tandem with a little exposure compensation (usually -1/3) to protect the highlights. It is an even more useful function in cameras that allow you to link spot metering with the active autofocus point. 

4. Autofocus Point Spread

AF point spread is just as important to me.

Photographers frequently obsess over the number of autofocus points on a camera, which is absolutely an important aspect, but for me, the spread of those points is just as important, sometimes more so. Mirrorless cameras generally have better spread, which has been huge for me. This enables both easier and more powerful tracking across the frame and allows for more compositional freedom without worrying about things like focusing and recomposing. It is one of those things that can make your shooting workflow significantly less frustrating. 

5. Card Slot Speeds

For some reason unbeknownst to me, a lot of cameras often have two card slots, but one will have a slower specification than the other, such as UHS-II SD versus UHS-I SD. I understand that the faster standard is more expensive, but I will happily pay a bit extra for two fast slots. This is particularly important given that the majority of photographers shoot by recording simultaneously to both cards for file redundancy. This means that if you shoot a fast burst and you are waiting for the buffer to clear, you will be limited by the speed of the slower slot. If you frequently shoot large bursts, having two fast slots can make a huge difference.

How About You?

Are there any features that are crucial to your workflow that you think are underrated? Tell me about them in the comments. 

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18 Comments

Marius Pettersen's picture

I love being able to zoom in 100% to check focus, or details, by the click of a button. It's also convenient to have a rating button to speed up workflow.

John Stone's picture

I'm with the auto ISO, and of course auto white balance. The Canon camera does a very good job with these settings. Don't know about other models...

Scoops Fantastic's picture

I agree. I shot Nikon for years before I picked my first canon camera. I got a 60D as a beater camera that I could take places set to auto and shoot. The auto iso and auto WB worked quite a bit better than my nikon cameras especially when it came to dealing with tungsten lights and red lights. Over all I was more happy with the SOOC images from my 60D than I was with my Nikon cameras. I did notice that I had much more editing latitude with my Nikons though. I also still believe the 60D is an EXCELLENT low light performer for it's age when paired with an f1.8 lens. I still have that 60D and love it. I bought some pancake lenses for it and it gets some great photos. I wanna pick up a 5 d mark ii or even a 7D sometime. I liked the images i saw coming out of those cameras too.

Arnthor Ævarsson's picture

I like to have the autofocus function programmed to one of the buttons at the back of the camera and separate the exposure and focus adjustment functions that by default are both in the shutter button pressed halfway

Nick Rains's picture

Most cameras allow this. Certainly the Canons. Rear button AF, the only way to go.

Willy Williams's picture

I definitely appreciate the ability to have five complete custom setups available at the turn of a dial. In my case, I have a unique setup for landscape, real estate, wildlife, astrolandscapes and monochrome. Like the author, I fail to comprehend the wisdom (or lack thereof) in having two storage slots of different speed categories. And similarly, I fail to comprehend the logic in having one SDXC slot and one XQD slot. To the manufacturers - make the slots identical in both speed and storage media type.

Nitin Chandra's picture

Like the ability to make calls and be on social media on my camera...Phone :P

Gary Pardy's picture

Closed-shutter when changing lenses would be nice to have on more mirrorless models. Pretty jealous of the EOS R and A9 II crew.

Troy Straub's picture

I'm no expert, but I don't like the idea of a closed shutter. I would be more worried about damaging the delicate shutter than a little dust on the sensor. Besides and dust that makes it to the shutter is already inside the camera body and will eventually make it to the sensor anyway. I change lenses in the field all the time and have only had to clean the sensor a couple times in the few years I've had it.

Gary Pardy's picture

I've heard the "delicate shutter" rationale before, though there must be "tougher shutters" out there if Canon and Sony are willing to make the feature available. Makes sense that dust in the body would eventually make its way to the sensor, though I wonder why video centric DSLRs don't seem as plagued by sensor dust as mirrorless cameras? You are incredibly lucky to have avoided occasional dust spots - that, or I'm an especially sloppy, dusty, lens swapper.

Troy Straub's picture

I try to change quick and with the camera pointed down, but not too worried about it. I think an extra door that covers both may be a better idea. Or maybe an option that you cloud choose whether its opens or closes.

Monica Love's picture

auto ISO : It is an even more useful function in cameras that allow you to link spot metering with the active autofocus point. Why?

Dillan K's picture

Auto focus point spread isn't under-rated in my book. It's certainly the feature that I like the most about my EOS R.

Marek Stefech's picture

the best things on r5 is ergonomy

Les Sucettes's picture

Dials.

Especially clear ability to manage Aperture, Shutter and Iso and an Exposure Compensation dial that allows me to control any one of the three as long as the other two are on Auto.

Everyone says they have it... no body does them perfectly. Fuji comes closest with the X-Pro range because of their large smooth Ev dial but their Iso/Shutter dial is not as good as the xt-3. The xt3 is good in shutter iso but the exposure dial is not as good as the xoro. The ev is more important and so xpro wins.

Forget Canon, Nikon and Sony and Fuji GFX. Those are toys. Out of those Fuji wins again because of the better sensor. Unless you go Phase One but they’re ridiculously expensive.

Stuart Carver's picture

I wouldnt change my X-T2 and 16-55 for the world now, I got a Fuji when i was still a relative beginner and even with the kit lens the physical dials/aperture ring were a game changer for learning how to take shots, after starting on an APS-C Nikon with only one command dial, using manual mode was a complete ballache and i can see why so many beginners become disillusioned with using any form of manual mode with those cameras.

Les Sucettes's picture

200% ... Beginner or not though, I appreciate the visual clearness. I guess I’m a visual person perhaps not surprising as a photographer.

On the XT series I just wish the Ev dial was actually usable with my eye in the finder without tying a knot in my thumb. I ended up changing the back command dial to ev which rendered the ev dial useless.

It makes me want to sell the XT if it wasn’t for video. And since video on XPro is usable ... I may just do it

Stuart Carver's picture

i must admit most of my shots are with the back screen these days so its not as bad of an issue with that dial, it would be almost better if it was vertical down the side so you could just roll your thumb up and down though.