3 Misunderstood But Important Buttons on Your Camera Explained

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Today’s modern DSLR cameras have so many functions, buttons, and menus that it can be confusing and overwhelming to learn how to use properly. In this article, you’ll learn about three commonly misunderstood, but extremely important buttons on your camera. See what they each do, and when to use them.

#1 – The Depth of Field Preview Button

This is one that is not often used but it really handy once you know what it’s for, the depth of field preview button. Let’s have a look.

#2 – The Exposure Compensation Button

Next up is the Exposure Compensation button or dial. I use this one a lot with my Fuji X-T1 and X100F cameras when I’m shooting in Aperture Priority mode, which is most of the time. See where to find on your camera and how to apply it here.

#3 – Auto Exposure Lock (AEL)

Finally, the last button you should learn about is the AEL or Auto Exposure Lock button. It’s very handy when you want to lock your exposure, or your focus, or both and take multiple images of the same scene, with different compositions.

Can you confidently say you are familiar with and comfortable using all these buttons on your camera? If not, make it a habit to learn one new thing about your camera every day. Get to know all the buttons and dials. If you can’t figure it out, consult your camera user manual. Or search for your camera and model number on YouTube to find some good tutorials specific to your setup.

Know your camera inside and out. Then, and only then can you decide if it’s time to upgrade or not. But that’s another topic for another day!

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Darlene Hildebrandt is an educator who teaches aspiring amateurs and hobbyists how to improve their skills through articles on her site Digital Photo Mentor, online photography classes, and travel tours to exotic places like Morocco and India. To help you at whatever level you're at she has two email mini-courses. Sign up for her free beginner OR portrait photography email mini-course here. Or get both, no charge!

  • Debbie Langer Borato

    Did I see the P mode when using the exposure buttun?

  • Mike Robinson

    I generally shoot in Manual mode with auto-ISO, and Canon’s (or at least mine) won’t let you use exposure compensation in Manual. So annoying…

  • Eno

    Do you need AEL if you use back button focus?

  • Rizal Pratama N.

    Then what is the point of using manual mode if you need the camera to adjust the exposure compensation? Manual mode is automatically made us to adjust the exposure by setting the apperture and shutter speed ourself

  • PDL

    On my cameras, I have a dedicated AF button, labeled AF. I also have a separate button labeled AE-L which stands for Automatic Exposure Lock. They are not the same function on my brand. I have been using back button focusing ever since I started shooting with DSLR’s in 2005. The first camera did not have a dedicated AF button so I had to use the OK button for focusing.

    But to answer your question up front. Yes, you occasionally need to lock the exposure settings by using the AE-L button regardless of using back button focus.

  • Michael Clark

    One such scenario is if you wish to preserve exposure settings over several images taken with different compositional positions that would alter metering for each shot.

  • Michael Clark

    Because manual mode with Auto ISO isn’t really full manual mode. It’s more of a TvAv (or SA in Nikonland) mode. But for most cameras that offer such a mode it is accessed using the “M” position on the mode dial

  • Michael Clark

    Assuming you are referring to the 0:55 mark in the “Exposure Compensation button” video, rather than some point in the “Exposure Lock button” video: No

    The indexing mark you see below the “P” on the mode dial is for the ‘On-Off’ switch. The indexing mark for the mode dial is out of the frame on the other side of the mode dial.

  • Michael Clark

    Some Canon models do allow EC with Auto ISO in **M** mode. Mostly upper tier models released since about 2014.

  • Debbie Langer Borato

    Actually, I was referring to the exposure mode “P” on your dial. Are you in Program mode?

  • Debbie Langer Borato

    I use AF lock on the AE/AF button.

  • Michael Clark

    At what point in which video? The P is always there on the mode dial of a camera with P mode, whether it is set to P mode or any other mode. The camera is only in P mode when the P is lined up with the indexing mark for the mode dial.

    I see no point in any of the two videos that indicate the camera was ever set to P mode.

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