Getting the most from your Canon dSLR

At this point you may be asking yourself, “What settings should I use with my camera?” In addition to your settings for exposure and composition, your Canon dSLR image will look best when you take full advantage of your camera’s color, image size/resolution, Picture Style, and custom function settings. These can make all the difference in producing great images more easily, but you need to spend some time understanding what they do and why they’re important.


Which color space setting to use is a frequently asked question, and for good reason. The manual usually contains little or no guidance or tutorial covering this topic, only the name of the color spaces and how to set them. Think of color space as all the colors that can be represented in a given image, or all the shades of red, green, and blue that your camera can capture and reproduce. Color space options on Canon’s dSLRs enable you to maintain a consistent color workflow from capture through printing. Color management is important because the choice of color space, or gamut, defines the range of colors that can be reproduced in your images. And, as you might suspect, having more colors is preferable to having fewer colors, especially when it comes to printing images.

Canon dSLRs offer two color space options:

  • sRGB. Used extensively on the Web and designed especially for image display on personal computers, the sRGB color space appears brighter and more saturated. As Web browsers and e-mail programs are optimized to display images in the sRGB colorspace, it is a better choice for images displayed on the Internet or delivered via e-mail.
  • Adobe RGB. The Adobe RGB color space supports a wider range of colors, but the colors often appear a bit more subdued and less saturated. This color space is optimized for inkjet and commercial printing.


The resolution you choose is directly related to your intended use of the images you take. If destined for print, I always shoot in RAW or use the highest JPEG resolution my camera offers. To my way of thinking, I can always reduce the size of a high-resolution image, but if I am shooting low res and happen to get a great shot, I’m limited in what I can print. If, however, you are shooting a series of product shots for eBay, or real estate for the MLS (multiple listing service) Web site, it is definitely overkill to capture and deal with large files that will have to be significantly downsized anyway.


What’s so great about RAW? Why shouldn’t I shoot everything in JPEG — isn’t it easier to work with? These are the most common questions asked about the two primary options you have for file recording in your camera. Of course, there are more decisions to make, such as JPEG file sizes, what application you should use to process your files, and whether or not the image you’re taking is destined as a large, super-high-quality gallery enlargement. First, you need to understand the difference between JPEG and RAW.

  • JPEG. A JPEG image is processed, or edited, inside the camera; images are converted to 8bit images, and then are compressed to save space on the memory card. During the internal camera processing, critical image parameters are set, including the black and white points in the image, overall contrast, white balance, color saturation, and sharpening. If you are using Picture Styles in your images, these are applied in the camera. While you can edit JPEG images in an editing program, the latitude to modify contrast, saturation, and color is significantly less than with a RAW image file.
  • RAW. RAW files can produce better high resolution images with wider tonal range than a JPEG; however, for many applications the differences are not so significant that a client, or even a professional photographer, can tell the difference. RAW files end up as 16-bit files, while JPEG files are 8-bit files. An 8-bit file contains 256 shades of red, green, and blue, while a 16-bit file contains more than 32,000 shades of each color.

This means that while a JPEG file can support more than 16 million colors per pixel (red X green X blue, or 256 X 256 X 256), a 16-bit file supports exponentially more (65,536 X 65,536 X 65,536, or more than 280 trillion colors per pixel!).

So you can readily see that the 16-bit file will have much better color gradation and finer detail, particularly in the shadow and highlight areas. Further, the conversion from 16 bits to 8 bits discards image data in an effort to pack more images on a memory card while the compression introduces artifacts that degrade the overall image quality.

The best thing about RAW images is that the data they contain from the sensor have a minimum of internal camera processing and no loss of data or introduction of artifacts from file compression. As a result, RAW conversion offers unprecedented control over image data, including corrections to image brightness, white balance, contrast, and saturation — all of which can be modified after the image is captured. In addition, you can often recover over- or underexposed images with the control RAW processing affords. RAW capture is really the single best way to preserve all the information inherent in the image while maximizing the way in which this information is interpreted.

The most difficult factors about RAW files are that they are physically large, they require camera-specific support in any application you use with them, and they require more processing than a JPEG file.

This isn’t to say there is no place for the JPEG file; it definitely has its own set of advantages. The smaller file size means less storage, a faster write time, and a faster frame rate. This is an obvious advantage to those interested in a needed combination of speed and a large number of images — essential at a championship soccer game, for example. The last thing you need is to have the camera stall while your daughter is scoring the winning goal! Because of the smaller file size, JPEGs cut way down on post-processing time (time spent editing at your computer). As I mentioned earlier, if your images are destined for Web use, or if outside agencies request that format, then JPEG is the way to go. Consult Table 2-2 for print sizes you can obtain from each file format; this is a general guideline based on the EOS-1D Mark III; pixel dimensions for files will vary from camera to camera, so they are not listed. Now, also, the 1D Mark III, 1Ds Mark III, and Canon EOS 40D support sRAW, which is a smaller RAW-format file size. Some cameras, such as the Canon EOS 5D and the Rebel series, also support Large/Normal and Small/ Normal as well as Large/Fine and Small/Fine sizes.

Table 2-2. Image-Recording Quality Settings
Image-Recording Quality Image Type Print Size (at 300dpi)
(Large/Fine) JPEG (.JPG) 11 x 17 or larger
(Medium/Fine) 11 x 17 or smaller
(Small/Fine) 8 x 10 or smaller
(Raw) RAW (.CR2) 11 x 17 or larger
(sRAW) sRAW (.CR2) 5 x 7 or smaller


With the Custom Function feature you can customize your camera for a personalized style of shooting, or for a particular type of shooting situation. Not every Custom Function is covered here, but rather those the camera models have in common and which might prove most useful to you. Consult your camera’s manual for the specific functions and how to use and apply them.

  • Long-exposure noise reduction. This definitely reduces digital noise in time exposures (anything 10 seconds or longer). The tradeoff is that processing time is slowed, but most of the time this type of photography doesn’t demand the faster frame rate.
  • Shutter button/AE Lock button. This allows you to interchange the camera’s method of exposure and focusing. It can be quite helpful to have autofocus and the camera’s metering system working as separate units. For example, you may want to meter for a sunset and then recompose focusing on infinity without the desired exposure values changing. Or you may want to stop the AF from functioning so some object passing between the subject and camera has no effect, which is why a majority of sports and action photographers, myself included, use this function. It is also known as back-focusing or thumb-focusing (because you use your thumb to focus).
  • Exposure-level increments. This allows you to choose either 1/3 or 1/2 stop increments for shutter speed, aperture setting, or exposure compensation.
  • ISO expansion. This allows you to expand the ISO range from as low as ISO 50 to as high as ISO 6400 depending on the camera model.
  • Auto-Bracketing Sequence. Here you can change the bracketing sequence used with shutter speed, aperture, and even White Balance.
  • Mirror lockup. This is useful for macro photography, long exposures, slow shutter speeds, or when using larger, heavier lenses. The mirror is “locked” into position with the first press of the shutter release and then the shutter is fired with the second release. This minimizes movement and the vibration from the mirror movement inherent in all dSLRs.


Parameters and Picture Styles allow you to set certain guidelines for how your images are processed by the camera. You can select from numerous styles or looks, depending on the effect you are after. For example, on the EOS Digital Rebel XT, Parameters are available in automatic shooting modes, and they include two preset parameters for either standard color and sharpness or more subdued color, a Black and White (B/W) parameter, and three user-definable sets of parameters. On newer cameras, Picture Styles replace Parameters. Picture Styles include:

  • Standard. This is the default Picture Style. Images are rendered with vivid color and good sharpness with higher contrast and saturation.
  • Portrait. This setting produces enhanced skin tones for babies, children, and women; a soft texture; and lower sharpness. You can adjust the red-to-yellow color range using the Color Tone parameter under the Detail settings for this Picture Style to tweak skin color.
  • Landscape. This setting renders images with vivid blues and greens, higher sharpness, contrast, and saturation.
  • Neutral. This setting creates images with natural but subdued color with low saturation, contrast, and sharpness. This style allows photographers ample latitude to set their preferred levels of saturation and contrast during image editing.
  • Faithful. This setting creates images that are colorimetrically adjusted to match standard daylight. Like the Neutral style, Faithful renders images with low contrast and saturation and allows good latitude for editing to the photographer’s preferences.
  • Monochrome. This setting creates images that are black and white or toned with slightly high sharpness, higher contrast, and low saturation. To control rendering of specific colors in black-and-white images, you can apply a yellow, orange, red, and green filter for pictures taken using the Monochrome style.

An advantage of Parameters and Picture Styles is you can standardize image looks across multiple cameras, or when you purchase a new camera, you can replicate the look that you got on your previous camera.

If you capture RAW images, you can apply a Picture Style during the image conversion in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional program. And you can apply Picture Style to RAW images shot with earlier dSLRs such as the EOS 10D, D60, D30; the EOS 20D, 30D; and the original EOS Digital Rebel.

You can download additional Picture Styles from Canon’s Web site, and then install them on the EOS-1D Mark III, EOS-1Ds Mark II, EOS 5D, EOS 40D, EOS 30D, and the EOS Digital Rebel XTi cameras that support Picture Style. With the style installed on the camera, you can then also install and use the supplementary styles in Digital Photo Professional version 2.2 or later. At the time of this writing, additional Picture Style files are offered the Canon Web site: Nostalgia for muted color, Clear for dramatic night skies, Twilight to transform normal blue skies to purple hues, Emerald to render clear blue water in vivid emerald colors, Studio Portrait for applying more delicate tonality and translucent skin tones, Snapshot Portrait for achieving good portrait/skin and contrast results both outdoors and indoors, Reference Portrait for radiant and translucent skin tones especially outdoors, and Autumn Hues for natural but vibrant earth tones and colors.


You can visit the Canon Web site for instructions on downloading the supplementary Picture Style files at

Category: Photography System

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