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.
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
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.