Welcome to this collection of short answers to the questions that are often asked on the Canon Rebel (EOS 1100D-300D) Talk forum.

This is a user-created article, it is not endorsed by DPReview. The advice in this FAQ is given "as is". Use your own discretion and judgement in choosing to follow it, and evaluate it against advice you are able to find elsewhere. If you follow the advice given here you do so at your own risk. The author, the contributors, the forum, and DPReview accept no liability for the consequences of your actions.

If in doubt, RTFM for your camera! At least that will give you a familiarity with commonly understood terms. I also recommend –

When you post a question to the forum, use a specific subject so that we know what it's about, e.g. "How to stop Live View turning itself off?" is better than "600D problem", or "Help!". If you have a question about something to do with photos, always include some examples with all EXIF data intact, so that we can see what you're talking about with all the technical details.

Let me know if you'd like to add or revise something in this FAQ, for instance, a link to a great thread that goes into more depth on a question.

You can link to this FAQ (for instance, in your signature), via http://snipurl.com/RebelFAQ.

Hammy the Cat says, "IS beats wide aperture for static subjects, since you can gather more light with a longer shutter. Wide aperture beats IS for moving subjects, since you can freeze subject motion with a shorter shutter."

The Bottom Line

Let's say you don't know anything about DSLRs except that you want one, and you don't have much money to spend. You don't have time or can't be bothered to read and understand all the advice in this document and the forum, you just want someone to tell you what's the best thing to do. Here's one person's opinion of the absolute minimum you need to know –

  • You won't automatically get better photos with a DSLR, you have to work at it.
  • Buy the camera you like the most in your hands.
  • Buy a good one now, don't wait for a rumour to come true.
  • If you go with Canon for mainly stills, buy a kit with the EF-S 18-55mm IS and 55-250mm IS lenses (STM versions if you can), and get a 40mm f/2.8 STM.
  • For video, start with an EF-S 18-135mm IS STM kit.
  • Start in Av mode, with centre-weighted average metering, and use a single autofocus point.
  • Focus on the subject then put the subject where you want it in the frame.
  • Learn how to read a histogram and compensate the metering.
  • Shoot raw as soon as you feel ready.
  • Start editing your photos with Digital Photo Professional.
  • Get an external bounce and swivel flash before you replace those lenses – they will do a better job than you can so don't be in a hurry to replace them.
  • Use the lens cap and a hood to protect your lens in everyday use, not a filter.
  • QI always beats IQ (a quality image always beats image quality).
  • Upgrade the photographer before you upgrade the gear, master the gear you already have first.
  • A sharp noisy shot beats a clean blurry shot, so don't be afraid to pump up the ISO.
  • Don't wait for all else to fail, RTFM!

Glossary

This document uses some terms that deviate from traditional or common usage, so I'll explain them up front.

Rebel: the family of bodies listed in the Camera Bodies section are referred to collectively as the Rebels, and individually using the World name, in this document. There are film Rebels but we're talking only about digital cameras unless otherwise stated.

Shutter Speed/Duration: 1/x seconds is a period of time not a rate of some event per second, so it's a duration not a speed, and that's what matters. I use "shutter speed" only when I'm talking about the user interface controls labelled that way, which allow you to set the shutter duration (see What shutter speed should I use?).

Exposure/Metering Compensation: Digital cameras allow you to alter the image brightness for each shot via the ISO controls as well as the traditional exposure parameters (aperture and shutter duration), so the "exposure" in "exposure compensation" is inappropriately restrictive in the digital age (see Exposure vs. Brightening). I use "exposure compensation" only when I'm talking about the user interface controls labelled that way, which allow you to set the metering compensation (see What is exposure/metering compensation?).

Stop/Step: "stop" originally referred to a fixed size physical barrier to light, whose function is now performed by a variable-size iris. One stop equates to a whole number "step" in exposure value (EV). A step in image brightness (one EV) can be achieved via aperture, shutter duration, or ISO, so "stop" is just an aperture-specific step.

Acronyms

You'll come across these acronyms in the forum:

ACR Adobe Camera Raw
AF Autofocus
AF MA Autofocus Microadjustment
ALO Auto Lighting Optimizer
APS-C Advanced Photo System type-C image sensor format
Av Aperture-priority exposure mode
BBF Back Button Focussing
BF Back Focus (focus behind the subject)
BIF
BIFs
Bird In Flight
Birds In Flight
C&C Comments and Critique
CA Chromatic Aberration
CD
CDAF
Contrast-Detection autofocus
CP Circular Polarising filter
CS Adobe Creative Suite
DOF Depth Of Field
DPP Canon's Digital Photo Professional
DR Digital Rebel (as distinct from a film Rebel)
DR Dynamic Range
DSLR Digital Single Lens Reflex camera
EC Exposure Compensation
EF Canon's Electro-Focus lens mount
EFL 35mm Equivalent Focal Length
EF-M Canon's EF "Mirrorless" lens mount
EF-S Canon's EF "Small image circle" lens mount
EOS Canon's Electro-Optical System
EVF Electronic Viewfinder
EXIF Exchangeable Image File Format
FEC Flash Exposure Compensation
FF Front Focus (focus in front of the subject)
FF Full-frame
FFL Fixed Focal Length (not a zoom)
FL Focal Length
FOV Field Of View
FPS Frames Per Second
FTM Full-Time Manual focus
GND Graduated Neutral Density filter
HDR High Dynamic Range
HM Honourable Mention (in a mini-challenge)
HSS High-speed Sync. flash
HTP Highlight Tone Priority
IQ Image Quality
IS Image Stabilisation
ISO International Organisation for Standardisation film speed
JPEG
JPG
Joint Photographic Experts Group digital image format
L Canon "Luxury" lens
LR Adobe Lightroom
LV Live View
M Manual exposure mode
MC Mini-challenge
MF Manual Focus
MFA Micro Focus Adjustment (Autofocus Microadjustment)
MFD Minimum Focus Distance (closest possible focus)
MLU Mirror Lock Up
MP Megapixels
ND Neutral Density filter
OOF Out Of Focus
OP the Original Post or Poster in a thread
OVF Optical Viewfinder
P Program auto exposure mode
PF Purple Fringing

PD
PDAF

Phase-Detection autofocus
PP Post-processing (image editing)
PS Adobe Photoshop
PS Picture Style
PSE Adobe Photoshop Elements
SD Secure Digital memory card
SOOC Straight Out Of Camera (not edited)
STM Stepping Motor (type of focus motor)
SS Shutter Speed
TC Teleconverter
Tv Shutter-priority exposure mode
USM Ultrasonic Motor (type of focus motor)
VF Viewfinder
WB White Balance

Camera Bodies

Which camera is which?

Entry-level Canon bodies with APS-C sensors have various names around the world. Here's a complete list –

WorldNorth AmericaJapanAnnouncedMPClaim to Fame
300D Digital Rebel Kiss Digital August '03 6 first DSLR under $1,000
350D Rebel XT Kiss Digital N February '05 8 DIGIC 2, smaller, lighter, FEC
400D Rebel XTi Kiss Digital X August '06 10 9-point AF, Integrated Cleaning System
450D Rebel XSi Kiss X2 January '08 12 DIGIC 3, 3.0" monitor, Live View, SD memory, bigger brighter viewfinder, spot metering
1000D Rebel XS Kiss F June '08 10 400D with Live View and SD memory
500D Rebel T1i Kiss X3 March '09 15 DIGIC 4, high-res monitor, HD video
550D Rebel T2i Kiss X4 February '10 18 ISO 6400, improved metering
1100D Rebel T3 Kiss X5 February '11 12 low-res 2.7" fixed monitor, basic AF
600D Rebel T3i Kiss X50 February '11 18 articulated monitor, wireless flash control, digital zoom in movie mode
650D Rebel T4i Kiss X6i June '12 18 DIGIC 5, ISO 12800, Hybrid AF, cross-type AF sensors, touchscreen, 5 FPS
EOS M EOS M EOS M July '12 18 mirrorless 650D, EF-M lens mount
700D Rebel T5i Kiss X7i March '13 18 minor update replaced 650D
100D Rebel SL1 Kiss X7 March '13 18 smallest lightest APS-C DSLR, Hybrid AF II
1200D Rebel T5 Kiss X70 February '14 18 updated 1100D with 3.0" monitor

All other current Canon DSLR bodies use nnD or nD names in every market. See Canon EOS Digital SLR timeline.

The EOS M has its own forum and is not covered in detail here.

Which camera should I buy?

It's much more important to get one that feels good to use, rather than one that has the fanciest features or 2/3 of a step wider dynamic range. It's not what the camera can do, but what you do with it, that really matters – subject, lighting, timing, composition, post-processing, and lens quality all matter much much more than the technical performance of the image sensor and body. QI always beats IQ (a quality image always beats image quality, it's not about the technology it's about the content). Any DSLR available today is usually far more capable than the photographer holding it. See What I’ve Learned About Photo Gear Over the Past 40.

You can't make this choice by comparing specifications. Go to a camera shop, try the contenders, and find the one you like the most in your hands. Use your rational mind to narrow the field, then your heart to make the choice.

Also consider the second-hand and refurbished markets. There are plenty of good 18MP Rebels out there for reasonable prices, which leaves you more to spend on other gear.

Should I get a point-and-shoot camera or a DSLR?

If there is enough light to use base ISO (e.g. sunlight or strong flash), you won't be able to find significant image quality (IQ) differences between a shot from a good compact camera, like the Canon G series, and a shot of the same scene from a DSLR. But the further you go from standard snaps the more you can do with a DSLR... if you're willing to learn the shooting and post-processing techniques required to achieve it. It's not so much that a DSLR will give you better image quality, but that it will allow you to take shots you simply can't get with a compact camera.

Do you even need a dedicated camera? You can make great photos with a smartphone and an app that allows you some control over the metering factors. An expensive camera won't magically turn you into a great photographer.

Should I get an EOS M instead of a Rebel?

Think of the EOS M as a miniature, Live View-only, 650D, minus the swivelling monitor. The major functional difference is the lack of the high performance phase-detection (PD) autofocus (AF) system, which has been a characteristic of Canon SLRs since 1987.

If you need a compact camera and don't need the quickest autofocussing for moving subjects, it's worth a look, especially if you already have EF and EF-S lenses (which can be mounted via an adapter). See Canon EOS M vs T4i (650D): which camera is best for you? The EOS M now has its own forum. If you get one, make sure you have version 2.0 firmware for the upgrade in focus speed.

The EOS M2 has been announced, but it has the 100D's sensor rather than the hoped-for 70D sensor.

Should I get a 60D, 70D, or 7D instead of a Rebel?

The Rebels are designed for casual use with a bias towards shooting JPEGs, and the higher models are designed for enthusiast and professional use with a bias towards shooting raw. There are only minor differences between any of the 18MP models in image quality. The crucial differences are the "maximum burst" and the ergonomics, but those differences don't matter much for things like holiday and party snaps or landscapes.

If you're shooting raw only, a 60D can take up to 16 shots in three seconds, a 70D 15 in just over two seconds, a 7D 23 in three seconds, but a 600D will only take 6 in 1.6 seconds, a 650D or 700D 6 in one second, and a 100D 7 in two seconds. That matters a lot for shooting action, like sport or birds in flight. The sophisticated high-performance autofocus (AF) system of the 7D and 70D could also be a clincher. Current rumours predict a 7D replacement in 2014, but there have been rumours about that for several years.

The 70D introduces "revolutionary" Dual Pixel CMOS AF, which means it can autofocus like a camcorder, so if you're thinking of getting a DSLR for video, that could be a big thing. The 70D also has the 19 point phase-detection AF system from the 7D, which includes AF microadjustment but misses out on some advanced functions like spot AF.

If portability is a high priority you'll like the smaller grip and overall size of the Rebels, especially the compact 100D, whereas if you have large hands, or you want to make the most of your camera's performance and shooting features, you'll probably be more comfortable with a larger camera. Or you could add a grip to a Rebel.

The Rebels have pentamirror viewfinders and dedicated buttons for white balance and picture style, whereas the nnD and nD cameras give you a bigger, brighter, pentaprism viewfinder, a top LCD, and a multi-controller and quick control dial. That makes them better for demanding shooting conditions, particularly if you want to change things (like aperture and shutter duration, AF point, and metering compensation), by touch while looking through the viewfinder. You can't judge the merit of those features from their descriptions, you need to handle the cameras to get the difference they make.

It's fine to start with an entry-level model and in a couple of years, when you have a better idea of what you want to do and the features you really need, check out the more advanced models, which will have new features and better performance by then.

Check out these articles if you are unsure about getting a Rebel or something higher up the model range –

Should I get the latest Nikon/Pentax/Sony/MFT... instead of a Canon?

Sure... if that camera works better for you. But don't forget that when you buy a DSLR you are also buying into a system of interchangeable lenses and accessories, so consider which system gives you the widest choice of lenses you can afford (including lenses from independent manufacturers like Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina), for what you might want to do in the future. In general, the widest range of lenses is available for Canon bodies. "No-one" will be able to tell whether you took a shot with a Canon or a Nikon, but you'll take more good shots with a camera you like using.

Don't base your camera choice on technical reviews of image sensor performance. Yes, the sensors in Sony and Nikon DSLRs do score better in many reviews than Canon sensors, but the difference in real-world use is insignificant compared to what the photographer does with it. The photographer with a sympatico camera has a better chance of getting the best shot, so get one that fits the way you think and work, and that gives you the control you want over the things that matter to you. If the first thing an average person notices in your shots is the noise in the shadows, you need to work a lot harder on making your photos interesting. It's not what's behind the shutter that matters most, it's who's behind the viewfinder.

Magic Lantern adds some amazing features, especially for video, and similar projects like Nikon Hacker and PTool are nowhere near as sophisticated at this stage.

The "Dual Pixel" autofocus of the 70D should be included in the 750D, bringing tremendous advantages for video shooting, as do Canon's STM lenses. No other DSLR brand can do video like Canon can with those technologies. Entry-level Nikon bodies don't support high-speed sync. flash, which is highly desirable for outdoor daylight flash.

Should I wait for the next model to come out?

If you want a camera now, get one! The camera of tomorrow can't take the photos of today. It might take a significant chunk of a year after a new model is announced for price and firmware to stabilise, and it will take a while for software, such as Adobe Camera Raw, to support new models.

New Rebels tend to be released in the first half of the year, which makes November through February a good time to buy when big online retailers like B&H, Amazon, and Adorama offer special deals in pre and post-Christmas sales.

The appeal of your photos will depend much more on your ability than anything to do with the camera. Bodies come and go, the real investment is the lenses.

Should I wait for the price to drop on the camera I want?

The camera you want will get cheaper until they stop making it, meanwhile new and more desirable models will come out and go through the same cycle. You can wait forever for the perfect deal. You might save $100 if you wait a year but you'll never get another chance to take all the photos and have all the fun you missed while you were waiting.

Camera bodies are just tools, they wear out, get stolen, dunked, broken... and get superseded sooner or later. Just get the best one you can afford and use it. You can save money by shopping for special deals, but it's guaranteed that the best deal you can find today will be beaten tomorrow so stop looking when you've made the payment.

I'm unhappy with my photos so I want to upgrade my camera...

For a beginner, it doesn't really matter which camera you use – a 7D won't give you better images than a 550D, or even a good point-and-shoot. The camera starts to matter when you are trying to do something genuinely challenging, like birds in flight, so wait until you know what you want to do and that it really is your current camera (rather than your artistic and technical skills), that is holding you back.

Better cameras don't take better photos, they let the photographer take better photos, but for the photographer to take better photos they have to become a better photographer. Upgrade the photographer before you upgrade the gear.

Should I get one with a swivelling monitor?

The main reason for having a swivelling monitor is that it's great for Live View, so the question really is, will I make significant use of Live View?

Don't buy a DSLR assuming that you will hold it at arm's length like a point and shoot camera, 'cos that sucks and you'll hate it.

Live View is great on a tripod, and any time it's inconvenient or impossible to look through the viewfinder (e.g. macro, over the heads of a crowd, shooting from the hip). If you know you will only ever shoot birds in flight, then sure, you don't need it, but if you're open to the possibilities, a swivelling monitor is a real asset.

A swivelling monitor will be weak and break...?

Canon have been making swivelling monitors since the G1 (released in 2000) – how often do you hear of them breaking?

If you're worried about the risk of damage, leave the monitor against the body just like a conventional DSLR, and flip it out only when it's completely safe. If you're really worried, you have a big advantage over a conventional DSLR – you can keep the monitor facing in against the body and protect the screen from knocks and scratches.

The 600D doesn't have a sensor to turn off the display when you put the viewfinder to your eye... will that drive me nuts?

It's only a problem if you worry about it. "Everyone else" forgets about it in the first few minutes and never has any trouble with it.

Should I get a screen protector?

If you scratch or crack the "window" that protects your LCD monitor, you can get a replacement for a few dollars direct from Canon and fit it yourself. See 5D – Broken LCD Protector Repair Tutorial and Canon 5D Mark II LCD Screen Repair DIY.

Canon call the replacement part a "TFT Display Window". They are also available from online vendors like uscamera.com. You might find them on ebay listed as a "TFT Window" or "LCD Window". Make sure you get the appropriate double-sided adhesive tape as well.

The touch screens on recent Rebels work fine with the protector film intended for iPhones, even though Canon don't recommend it.

Touch screen = gimmick?

The overwhelming majority of owners tell a story like this, "I thought the touch screen would be a gimmick and I wouldn't use it, but now I use it all the time and wouldn't buy another camera with it. It's brilliant, you'll love it!" If someone tells you it's useless and you'll hate it, they either haven't tried it or they are quite unusual. If you don't like it you can leave it switched off and use the buttons like any other camera, so there's no penalty in having it and no reason to avoid a camera that has it.

Do I need the wireless flash master function?

The 600D, 650D, and 700D (and 60D, 70D, and 7D, but not the 100D), can control compatible external flashes using the built-in flash. If you think you will want to use remote flashes indoors, it's worth considering. See How can I use my external flash off the camera?

Do I need a spare battery?

If you don't charge your battery until it runs out, or are travelling for a few days without a charger, or shooting in sub-zero temperatures, or shooting many hundreds of shots in a session, or shooting long sessions using Live View and/or the built-in flash... sure, but if you don't work your camera hard, and you charge your battery after each shoot, and you replace it when it starts to lose capacity, you might never need a spare.

Can I use non-Canon batteries in my camera?

Many of us do and have no problems. Just do your buying with the same caution you would any other electronic item, for instance, buy from a reputable retailer with overwhelmingly positive feedback about the product.

Is Magic Lantern safe?

Magic Lantern adds amazing functionality to your camera by loading software from the memory card during start-up. It doesn't permanently alter anything in your camera.

DIY PHOTOGRAPHY asked Canon if using Magic Lantern would void the warranty. They said no, but damage caused by using something like Magic Lantern, like "bricking" (making the camera unusable), would not be repaired under warranty.

As far as we know, no user has had problems with their camera that can't be fixed by turning it off, taking out the battery, replacing the Magic Lantern memory card with a standard one, and turning on the camera again.

How durable is my camera?

Watch these videos –

Can I use my camera outside when it's really cold?

Canon say the "working temperature range" of a Rebel is 0-40°C, but many of us have used them in temperatures like -20°C and found they work fine. The problem is cold can significantly reduce battery performance, so if you plan to shoot in sub-zero conditions take spare batteries and keep them warm in a pocket close to your body.

Avoid bringing a cold camera into a warm moist environment (not just sub-zero to room temperature, also from air conditioning to tropical heat and humidity). Condensation might penetrate into the body and cause damage. Leave your camera in a camera bag, or put it into a ziplock bag, then allow it to warm up to the ambient temperature before you take it out.

Also see this Canon video on How To Care For Your Camera.

Camera Problems

How can I test my new camera to verify that it's not faulty?

Start at the beginning of the Instruction Manual, try everything it tells you, until you get to the end. If everything seems to work you have no reason to worry. If something doesn't work, it's more likely that you have misunderstood the instructions, so ask a question in the forum. Describe everything you did (which shooting, metering, and AF modes; which AF points; what light levels; what kind of subjects; what buttons you pressed, when, and why...), and provide an image with full EXIF data that shows the effect.

See the Focussing section for questions about that.

I see dirt in the viewfinder!

If there is something like dust or a hair on the mirror, the focussing screen, the pentamirror/prism, or the eyepiece, you might see it in the viewfinder but it won't affect your images. Try a blower (like the popular Giottos Rocket-air). If that doesn't remove what you're seeing it's probably between the focussing screen and the pentamirror/prism.

The focussing screen is removable (see Focusing Screen Installation Guides), but if you're not confident working with extremely delicate stuff in tight spaces, get a professional to do it. You could try unclipping the focussing screen, tilt it towards the mirror, and blow gently with a blower (don't blow with your mouth – you'll spit on it, and don't let the screen touch the mirror). If you do remove the focussing screen, handle it by the edges and don't touch it with anything harder than air.

I press the shutter button but it won't take a picture…?

Unless it's in self-timer mode (you checked that, right?), the camera should always take a shot immediately with the lens set to MF (manual focus), so try that. If the viewfinder goes black, press the shutter button again – if it takes a photo you are in mirror lockup mode. Disable that in the custom functions and you'll be back to normal.

If the lens is set to AF (autofocus) and the AF mode is set to One-Shot, you can't take a shot until focus is confirmed (you get a beep and a green light in the viewfinder). So try with those settings on a well-lit contrasty target a few metres away.

If the lens is set to AF and the AF mode is set to AI Servo, it should take a shot, but there might be a delay while the lens gets into focus.

Shutter buttons can get clogged up. Many have been able to fix that by pouring isopropyl alcohol into the battery compartment to flush the shutter button mechanism. Google "fix shutter button with isopropyl alcohol" for lots of instructions.

I can't autofocus in Creative Zone modes...?

You have autofocus assigned to the "*" button. Check your setting for the "C.Fn IV: Operation/Others", "Shutter/AE lock button" custom function.

Why didn't the filenames start at 0001 with my new camera?

If you use a memory card which has files on it, the sequential number will pick up from what's on the card. If you don't want that to happen always clear all the files from your cards, especially if your cards get used in more than one camera.

Why do my files start with "_MG_" rather than "IMG_"?

That happens when you switch to the Adobe RGB colour space. See Which colour space should I use? 

Why is my camera so slow in continuous shooting?

Make sure that all in-camera post-processing "reduction" and "correction" image enhancement features are turned off, such as Auto Lighting Optimiser, High ISO Speed Noise Reduction, Long Exposure Noise Reduction, Peripheral Illumination Correction, and Chromatic Aberration Correction.

My camera is doing something bizarre...

Some weird problems go away after turning off the camera and taking out the battery for half an hour (older bodies have a second small battery in the battery compartment – take that out too). Reverting all options and custom functions to their default values can also help (use the Clear settings menu option).

Another thing that can work is to clean the electrical contacts in the lens mount. It's often advised to do that with a pencil eraser, though others claim that will damage the contacts and recommend isopropyl alcohol instead. If you do use an eraser, make sure you don't get any rubber crumbs inside your camera or in the back of your lenses! Try another lens if you can.

Weird problems can also be caused by faulty batteries or memory cards, so also try another battery and a freshly formatted known-to-be-good memory card.

How come my photos are tilted to the left?

You're tilting the camera to the right when you press down on the shutter button. Concentrate on pressing the shutter button with just your finger while holding everything else rock steady.

Image Quality

I just bought a DSLR and the photos are dull and boring compared to my old Point and Shoot...

P&S cameras are set up to produce vivid images straight out of the camera, whereas images from DSLRs on default settings are underwhelming by comparison. To get the best out of a DSLR you need to tune its settings to suit your needs, or work on the images on a computer to get them looking the way you want (and the best way to do that is to shoot raw). If you're not willing to learn those skills and put in that work, you're really better off with a good P&S.

See Getting Great Colour From Canon Picture Styles.

I have dark spots on my photos...

If you're seeing vague dark spots in the same places in your photos (especially when you shoot with tight apertures), you have dust on your sensor. Don't panic, it happens to everyone, even people who never change lenses.

You can clean the sensor yourself, it's not difficult or dangerous, but if you're not confident working in confined spaces with delicate things, get someone who knows what they are doing to do it. Here are some instructions –

You can minimise dust accumulation on your sensor by regularly using your camera's built-in sensor cleaning function, and blowing the sensor with a blower like the Giottos Rocket-air.

I have bright spots on my photos...

Sometimes an image sensor can end up with a "hot pixel", which appears as a tiny bright spot in the same place on every image.

Many people have cleared hot pixels by leaving the camera in manual cleaning mode for a minute (check the Manual Sensor Cleaning section in your camera's instruction manual). Some say take the lens off and fit a body cap and have the camera pointing down, and others say warm up the sensor by leaving the camera in Live View for a few minutes first, but it's not clear that any of these things are necessary. If it doesn't work without them, try it with and see if it makes a difference.

My photos don't look sharp...

The answer for most people is, don't look at your photos at 100%! An 18 Megapixel image at 100% on your monitor is like viewing a 1.4m wide print. The best shots with the best lenses look soft, noisy, and mushy when viewed like that.

The default level of sharpening your camera applies is quite modest (you can change this in the Picture Style settings), and resizing an image reduces sharpness so you need to sharpen after resizing.

Focus accuracy, motion blur, and aperture all affect image sharpness, so you have to control those factors to get valid data. If you want to shoot some test images, mount the camera on a tripod, turn off image stabilisation (IS) on the lens and remove any filters, use f/8 and ISO 100, use Live mode autofocus in Live View, use the self-timer to fire the shutter, and shoot a static target in bright enough light to give a short shutter duration. If most of them are obviously not sharp when viewed fullscreen, post a typical one to the forum and we'll give you some opinions.

If you're using IS, give it a moment to settle before you fire the shutter. Like, half-press, focus confirmed, say "one thousand" in your head, then full-press.

Aperture and Shutter Speed

Which aperture values should I use?

Most consumer grade lenses give their best sharpness a couple of steps down from their widest setting, e.g. the EF 50mm f/1.8 II is quite soft at f/1.8, sharp by f/2.8, and surgical by f/4. Long focal length Canon EF L lenses (e.g. the 400mm f/5.6) are generally perfectly sharp wide open (that's one reason they cost so much more).

See Depth of Field (DOF).

There are too many factors involved in perceived image sharpness to make any definitive rules about it, but most people seem to find the softening due to diffraction to be noticeable from about f/11 or f/13. Take a series of identical shots at f/8, f/11, f/13, f/14, f/16, and f/22, and see when it becomes unacceptable for you in that scenario. Moderate diffraction is relatively easy to fix with good sharpening.

You get the best image quality by capturing as much light as possible on the sensor, so the optimal aperture is the widest one that gives the required DOF and sharpness. If you require more DOF than your lens can deliver sharply, try focus stacking.

What shutter speed should I use?

What matters to photography is shutter duration, the time during which the sensor is exposed to the scene. Camera manufacturers talk about shutter speed rather than duration, because it means they can show whole numbers rather than fractions on the user interfaces, e.g. "1000" (shutters per second), rather than "1/1000" (of a second).

The shorter the shutter duration the more likely you are to avoid blur due to motion of the subject or the camera.

Camera motion blur increases with focal length. The classic rule of thumb for 35mm cameras with static subjects is, maximum shutter duration = 1/focal length, e.g. 1/100s or quicker with a 100mm lens. For a "crop" camera (the Rebels, EOS M, 20D-70D, and 7D), the rule of thumb is maximum shutter duration = 1/35mm equivalent focal length = 1/(1.6 x focal length), e.g. 1/160s or quicker with a 100mm lens. But it depends a lot on the photographer – do you have good holding technique? Steady hands? Can you press the shutter button without jerking the camera? Some people can regularly shoot a Rebel at 1/(0.5 x focal length) while others need 1/(4 x focal length). Try it for yourself and find out how slow you can go and still get nine out of ten sharp shots.

Image stabilisation (IS) should give two to four steps advantage, e.g. 1/50s with a 100mm IS lens on a Rebel, but try it for yourself. Also try "poor man's image stabilisation" when your shutter duration is marginal – shoot bursts in continuous shooting mode and keep the sharpest of the shots, which may be significantly better than the average single shot.

Subject motion obviously depends on the subject. You might need 1/200s to get a sharp shot of a child playing, 1/500s for people playing sport, 1/1000s for a racer on a track, or 1/2000s for a bird in flight. Try a range of durations and see what works, including longer to show some blur, e.g. 1/1250s might show a nice blur in the pinion feathers on a bird in flight.

You get the best image quality by capturing as much light as possible on the sensor, so the optimal shutter duration is the longest one that gives the required sharpness or blur.

If the scene is too bright for the optimal aperture and shutter duration at the lowest ISO, you'll have to compromise something, or use a filter to reduce the light entering the camera (see Which filters do I need?).

Which shooting mode should I use?

The Basic Zone modes don't let you take control of critical things, like autofocus, metering, and flash, so they're useless for anything serious.

Once you press the shutter button, it only matters what values are used for the aperture, shutter duration, and ISO. It doesn't matter how those values were determined, so use the shooting mode that helps you the most to get the shot.

Aperture-Priority (Av) is a good default for most situations, since it gives you direct control over the depth of field (DOF). You just need to use the exposure compensation controls to alter the choice the camera makes for the shutter duration. You can also use the Auto Exposure Lock (AEL, usually the * button), to hold a set of values so that they don't change when you recompose.

Use Shutter-Priority (Tv) if you want direct independent control of the shutter duration for some reason. The exposure compensation controls alter the aperture in that case (unless you're using Auto-ISO, in which case the camera follows it's own rules about what changes when).

If you need to hold a set of metering values for longer than you want to hold down the AEL button, or if you need to go further from the values that the meter suggests than the exposure compensation controls allow, use Manual (M) mode. M should be your default mode for flash photography (see I can't get flash to do what I want...).

Program AE (P) is kinda like full auto ("green box") mode, except that you can alter the balance between aperture and shutter duration, compensate the metering, select individual autofocus points, and deploy the flash when you want. P mode tries to help by making some decisions for you, but that will ultimately restrict what you can do with it, and then you're better off using M, Av, or Tv.

Having said all that, don't get hung up on the technicalities. A great photo makes you go "wow!" because it captures something wonderful, not because you chose the perfect shooting mode. Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field. Dedicate your efforts to the magic, not the machinery.

When should I use mirror lockup?

Extensive testing shows that you don't need it at all if you use a quality tripod, you do need it if you are using a cheap tripod and your shutter duration is between 1/80th and 3 seconds, and you need it the most if you mount the lens, rather than the body, on the tripod head. if in doubt, take a minute to test it for the shot you want to take. Also see DSLR Mirror Lock-Up – Worth the Effort or Not? for another point of view.

Metering and Exposure

What's the best metering mode?

Metering is about capturing the best quality data. That basically means maximising the luminous exposure (aperture x shutter duration), while retaining detail that matters in the brightest and darkest parts of the scene.

Ideally, you choose the widest aperture that will give you the depth of field (DOF) you want, the longest shutter duration that will not cause unwanted blur due to camera or subject movement, and the ISO that best captures the range of tones in the scene.

The meter in your camera doesn't know whether you are shooting a white cat in snow or a black cat on coal, it just chooses settings to make both of those scenes average to a uniform mid-grey, based on the amount of light it sees through the lens. It's up to you to decide what to do with that information.

The difference between analogue (film) and digital metering is that for analogue you only have the meter and your experience to help you decide what to do, whereas a digital camera gives you immediate feedback on the quality of data via the histogram and highlight alerts.

Analogue Method:

Try all the metering modes and get to know what kind of situations they suit. Memorise how much compensation to use in each case, for instance, +2 if you're spot metering on a white wedding dress.

Evaluative mode is biased towards the active autofocus point, so it can give variable results if you focus and recompose.

Digital Method:

It doesn't really matter which metering mode you use to get a starting point. Use the histogram and highlight alerts (for a test image or in Live View), to see which way you have to compensate the image brightness to avoid blowing the highlights.

Most people who shoot this way favour centre-weighted average metering for general purposes, and may use partial or spot to limit the part of the scene the meter uses, for instance, to meter off the face of an actor on stage.

The bottom line is, you can't fix metering problems by using a different metering mode, you fix them by compensating the metering values to move the histogram curve to the left or right. See What is exposure/metering compensation? and How do I compensate the exposure/metering?

How can I take control of image brightness?

Try these camera simulators to see what you can change in each shooting mode (aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual), and how the metering factors (aperture, shutter duration, ISO, and compensation) influence the image you get:

What is exposure/metering compensation?

"Exposure" happens when the shutter is open, while the sensor (or film) is exposed to the scene. The word is correctly used to mean the amount of light reaching the sensor (scene luminance x aperture x shutter duration). Or when the scene luminance is fixed, it means the metering values that determine the exposure (aperture x shutter duration).

"Exposure compensation" is using metering values (aperture, shutter duration, and ISO), different to what the meter wants, to make the image darker or lighter than you get using what the meter wants.

Have a play with the simulator at Exposure Compensation: Your new best friend. Also see Dark or light scenes fool/trick the meter..., What is Expose To The Right (ETTR)?, and You Can't Do Exposure Compensation in Manual Mode in Busted! Digital Photography Myths.

When shooting film, the only thing you could change with the camera to alter the brightness of the image was the aperture and shutter duration, hence "exposure compensation" was apt. When shooting digital we can alter the ISO setting from shot to shot, so a much better term for altering image brightness is "metering compensation", since we can alter the image brightness via the in-camera processing (ISO) as well as the exposure (aperture x shutter duration).

In full manual (M) mode, you have complete control over all metering values, so the meter display just shows you how far your settings deviate from what the meter would choose. See Should I use Auto ISO?

In the other Creative Zone modes (Av, Tv, and P), you can set how far away you want to be from what the meter wants as a number of exposure value (EV) steps, and the meter display just shows you that number while changing the aperture and/or shutter duration to make it true (see Setting Exposure Compensation in your camera manual). So M is static settings/dynamic deviation/manual compensation, while Av, etc. are static deviation/dynamic settings/automatic compensation.

You can't compensate the metering in Basic Zone modes, which is a good reason to avoid those modes.

How do I compensate the exposure/metering?

Set up your camera on a tripod with a static scene in unchanging light. Using manual (M) mode, set the aperture to f/8 and the ISO to 400, then set the shutter duration so that the meter is centred on zero. That's the image brightness that the meter would choose if you let it.

Switch to Live View and press the INFO. button until the brightness histogram is displayed (see Shooting Information Display in your camera manual). That's the distribution of dark tones (to the left) and bright tones (to the right) in your image, according to what the meter would choose.

Open the aperture (f/5.6... f/4...) and see how the histogram curve shifts to the right as the image gets brighter. See how far you have to go to get a big spike on the right, which shows that highlights are "blown out".

Go the other way (f/11... f/16...) and see how the curve shifts to the left as the image gets darker. See how far you have to go to get a big spike on the left, which shows that shadows are "blocked".

Back at f/8, increase and reduce the shutter duration and see how the curve shifts and the image get brighter and darker just like it did with the aperture, then try the same thing with the ISO.

See how different combinations of settings are equivalent, giving essentially the same curve and image brightness? E.g. f/8, 1/200, and ISO 400 is equivalent to f/11, 1/50, and ISO 200.

Compensation is essentially the same in aperture-priority (Av), shutter-priority (Tv), and program AE (P) modes, except that you delegate the selection of one or more metering value to the camera, and just tell it how far you want to deviate from what the meter wants, using the Av+/– "exposure compensation" button and main dial. The meter always shows the deviation you have chosen.

What is Expose To The Right (ETTR)?

ETTR means setting your metering values so that the histogram curve is to the right hand side of the graph rather than the left, without important highlights "going over the edge" and losing detail. The idea is to maximise the signal-to-noise ratio in the data you capture, but only when the important highlights are safe.

There are two forms of ETTR. "Naïve" or "ISO-first" ETTR happens when you assume that ISO is the most stable factor, and therefore compensate the aperture and/or shutter duration to move the histogram curve. (Unfortunately, the user interfaces of Canon DSLRs are designed in keeping with that assumption.) This often results in the capture of less light, which generally means more noise.

"Smart" or "ISO-last" ETTR happens when you –

  • set your aperture to the widest that will give you the depth of field you need,
  • set your shutter duration to the longest that avoids camera and subject motion blur,
  • then set the ISO to put the histogram curve safely TTR.

Doing that means you capture as much light as possible, then optimally process the signal from the image sensor.

Opponents of smart ETTR often claim there is no noise penalty in shooting at a lower ISO than one that gives a highlight-preserving curve TTR (e.g. using 1600 instead of the "correct" 6400 and boosting image brightness in post-processing by two steps), but with contemporary Canon DSLRs there is always an image quality penalty in doing that, although it may be unnoticeable in comparisons between carefully processed images viewed at significantly less than 100%.

Dark or light scenes fool/trick the meter...

The meter is never fooled or tricked by anything. It always gives you the right exposure (aperture x shutter duration) and processing (ISO) values for a scene which reflects a specific percentage of the incident light. The problem is, many scenes don't reflect that percentage, or they have a distribution of highlights and shadows that are not well served by a simplifying assumption. The fool is the photographer who thinks the meter should get it right for every scene when the meter can only get it "right" with standard unchallenging scenes.

Try metering a scene in spot metering mode in Av. You'll see that the shutter duration varies widely depending on what the spot can see. Bright parts of the scene might show shutter durations 2 to 4 steps faster than what's required for those areas to look right in the image, e.g. the meter shows 1/2000 when 1/200 is required. Similarly, dark parts of the scene might show shutter durations much slower than what's required for those areas to show as dark in the image, e.g. 1/20 when 1/200 is required. In both cases the meter is telling you what would be required to make what it's seeing come out as a middle tone (like a grey card, which reflects 18% of the incident light). The other metering modes just take various parts of the scene into account in more elaborate ways, but they are all fundamentally doing the same thing.

So, all the meter can do is give you a guess of how much light is hitting the scene, based on how much light it sees, and it's up to you to interpret that information to get the image you want, e.g. the full 8 step range between the darkest and lightest tones recorded without blocking the shadows or blowing the highlights.

The best thing is to take responsibility for the exposure and processing values, so that you get what you want with any scene – check the histogram and highlight alerts ("blinkies"), and move the histogram curve to where you want it by changing the values. In aperture-priority (Av), shutter-priority (Tv), and program AE (P) modes you can apply a relative offset to the metering, so you always get -1, or +2... from what the meter would do. In manual (M) mode, you have absolute control of all the values with an indication of how far the result is from what the meter would do. (See What is exposure/metering compensation? and How do I compensate the exposure/metering?) Don't be a fool and expect the camera to make those decisions for you.

Should I use Auto ISO?

Sure, if it helps you get the shot you want. Many people like to use it with Manual (M) mode, but be aware that you can't compensate the metering in M with Auto ISO, so you are stuck with the values the meter wants.

There is one way to emulate metering compensation with a manual exposure and Auto ISO – in Tv mode with a manual aperture lens (e.g. an old manual focus Nikon or Pentax lens mounted via an adapter). You can turn an EOS-compatible lens into a manual aperture lens by setting the aperture you want, and holding down the DOF preview button while you unlock the lens and rotate it far enough to show "00" for the aperture. Don't forget to rotate your lens back into the locked position when you're done!

Raising the ISO makes the sensor more sensitive…

Not really… the sensitivity to light of the photosites on the sensor is fixed by their physical design. The ISO determines how the signal from the sensor is mapped to image brightness values. ISO = brightness, not sensitivity.

Raising the ISO makes the image noisier…

Not really… the biggest factor with noise is how much light you capture (aperture x shutter duration), and if you capture less light you have to amplify the signal from the sensor more to achieve the same image brightness. Raising the ISO does that, which makes the noise more visible. Low light = noise, not high ISO.

Raising the ISO reduces the dynamic range…

Technically, yes, raising the ISO by one step reduces the dynamic range that can be captured in the raw data by about one step. So you can use a lower ISO than the meter wants and push the brightness later on the computer. That gives you more options for developing highlights, but with a Canon EOS the best image quality comes from setting an appropriate ISO in the camera that doesn't blow important highlights.

Should I avoid using high ISO?

No. A noisy sharp shot beats a clean blurry shot, since you can reduce noise in post-processing but you can't fix significant blur. For the best results, maximise the exposure (aperture x shutter duration) then set the ISO for the image brightness you want.

Should I use highlight tone priority (HTP)?

HTP basically compensates the metering by -1 step with a different mapping of input tones to output tones. If you shoot JPEGs and don't want to do your own metering compensation, it's a simple on/off way of darkening the image to protect the highlights.

Which colour space should I use?

Unless you know for sure that you need something different (e.g. your publisher tells you your submissions must use the Adobe RGB colour space), just stick with sRGB.

If you switch to Adobe RGB your filenames will start with "_MG_" rather than "IMG_", so they might not show up in the order you expect.

When should I use the eyepiece cover?

The little rubber thing on the strap that came with your camera is there to prevent light entering the viewfinder during metering when you don't have the camera to your eye. You don't need it during the exposure, since the mirror completely blocks that light path when it is flipped up.

Why shoot raw?

Raw is like exposed film, whereas JPEG is like a developed transparency (slide). With raw you can drastically change many important image parameters any time you want, such as white balance and tonal range. You can't do that as easily with JPEGs, since the effects of things like color space, picture style, contrast, sharpness, saturation, filter effect, High ISO speed noise reduction, and Auto Lighting Optimizer are "baked-in". See Why use your camera's raw format?

The hard part about raw is learning how to use a raw converter (see Which software should I use?), but the sooner you get into it the sooner you can take full creative control of your images. You could start with Canon's own tutorials.

On the other hand if you just take snaps, don't worry about raw. You need to master getting the image to look the way you want with the camera, via the white balance settings, picture styles, and exposure compensation controls.

"RAW"? "Raw"? "raw"?

It's not an acronym or file extension, it's an adjective, so "raw" is grammatically correct, but "RAW" makes it look more impressive ("ROAR!"?).

Should I shoot raw+JPEG?

Whenever you take a shot, the signals from the photosites in the image sensor are converted to digital (raw) data, a JPEG image is cooked from that, and the JPEG image is displayed on the camera's monitor. If you shoot JPEG only, the raw data is discarded and the JPEG image is saved in a file. If you shoot raw only, the raw data is saved in a CR2 file with the JPEG image embedded in it. If you shoot raw+JPEG, a CR2 file is saved like when you shoot raw only, and a JPEG file is saved like when you shoot JPEG only. If you view the shot on the camera sometime later, it's always the JPEG image you see.

You can view and extract the JPEG embedded in a raw file with various software on a personal computer, so the only reason you really need to shoot raw+JPEG is if you want to hand over images directly from the memory card while retaining all the post-processing freedom of raw.

Lenses

Which lenses can I use?

All Canon EF (Electro-Focus) lenses should work on all EOS (Electro-Optical System) bodies. EF-S (EF + "Short back focus" or "Small image circle") lenses can only be mounted on the EOS bodies which have APS-C sized sensors (the Rebels, 20-70D, and 7D). Other manufacturers also produce EF and EF-S compatible lenses, such as the DG and DC series from Sigma, and Di and Di II from Tamron.

An EF lens has a raised red dot on the barrel near the mount, which aligns with a sunken red dot on the lens mount on the camera body. An EF-S lens has a raised white square on the barrel, and it can be mounted on a camera which has a sunken white square near the red dot on its mount.

Current lenses for Canon 1.6x crop cameras

SLR Camera Lenses for the Canon EOS Mount

Top Twenty EOS compatible lenses

Canon U.S.A. Lens Selection

Can I use an EF-S lenses on an EF camera?

Yes, but the only safe and reliable way to do it is to use an auto extension tube between the camera and the lens. That shifts the focus range closer to the camera, so you will only be able to focus on close things.

Can I use old manual lenses?

Canon FD mount lenses can be used on EOS cameras with adapters. You can replace the mount on the lens (e.g. EdMika), use a very short mount adapter with some long lenses, or use a generic mount adapter with optical elements (like a teleconverter) to allow focus at infinity. Those optical adapters are either rare and expensive, or cheap and nasty.

Many other types of SLR lenses (M42, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax K...) can be mounted with simple adapters, and you can usually get "chipped" adapters that enable focus confirmation. It's generally not worth trying to use a non-EOS-compatible lens unless it has some special feature that you can't get with a compatible lens. For instance, the focus rings on a manual focus lenses have long smooth motion compared to an autofocus lens, which makes them much nicer to use for that.

If you want to see what it would be like to use a manual lens, set your EOS-compatible lens to MF, set f/8 in Av or M on the camera, hold down the DOF Preview button, press the lens release button, and turn the lens until the aperture display shows "F00". You now have a manual focus fixed aperture lens insecurely attached to your camera. Don't forget to turn your lens back to the locked position when you're finished playing with it! That will reset the aperture to wide open.

What do the numbers and stuff on a lens mean?

Let's take a couple of examples of Canon lenses.

EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II:

  • "EF-S" means the basic kit lens will only mount on cameras with APS-C sized image sensors (the Rebels, 20-70D, and 7D), it won't mount on larger cameras like a 5D or 6D.
  • "18-55mm" means it's a "zoom" lens, with a focal length range from 18mm to 55mm. Think of focal length as corresponding to how wide a view you get – 18mm is "wide", and 55mm is a bit "zoomed in".
  • "f/3.5-5.6" means that at 18mm the maximum aperture is f/3.5, and at 55mm it is f/5.6. The wider the maximum aperture, the more light a lens can let in (see Why is F4.0 "wider" than F8.0?).
  • "IS" stands for Image Stabilisation. The lens compensates for it own motion to lessen blur in the image. It means you can use longer shutter durations for static subjects, but doesn't help with moving subjects.
  • "II" means this is the second version of this lens. The first version of a lens doesn't have a "I" on it.

EF 400mm f/5.6L USM:

  • "EF" means this lens will mount on all Canon EOS cameras, either directly on the film or digital SLRs, or via an adapter on EOS M mirrorless cameras.
  • "400mm" means it's a "long" fixed focal length lens, you can't zoom it.
  • "f/5.6" means the maximum aperture is f/5.6.
  • "L" means this lens belongs to Canon's "Luxury" top quality range.
  • "USM" means this lens has an ultrasonic focus motor. Humans can't hear these motors and they generally give faster focus than other types of motors.

Other things you will see on Canon lenses:

  • "DO" stands for Diffractive Optics, a technology intended to make lenses smaller and better.
  • "Fisheye" means the view through this lens is so wide that things get radically distorted.
  • "Macro" lenses can focus close so that a small subject will fill the frame.
  • "STM" means the lens has a stepping motor to drive the autofocus, for quieter and smoother video shooting.
  • "TS-E" means the lens body has special joints in it so that it can tilted and shifted relative to the image sensor.

Long... short... wide... telephoto...?

"Long" and "short" refer to the focal length of a lens, e.g. 55mm is literally longer than 18mm. The shorter the focal length the wider the view of the scene you get, so 10mm is "wider" than 18mm, which is "wider" than 35mm...

If the focal length of a lens is significantly shorter than the "normal" focal length for the body it's mounted on, it will be called a "short" lens for that format, and it gives a "wide-angle" view. For instance, normal for a Rebel would be something like 27mm, so an 18mm lens is short (wide) and a 50mm lens is "long" (narrow), but on a full-frame camera 50mm is normal, and on a medium format camera it is short.

"Telephoto" means a design that gives a lens which is physically shorter than the focal length. Most people use "telephoto" to mean long focal lengths (e.g. 300mm and over), but that's not strictly correct.

What's the best lens...?

First, read –

For the forum members to make suggestions we need to know what you want to do, how what you have already doesn't fulfil that purpose, and how much you can spend.

The EF-S 18-55mm IS (Image Stabilizer) kit lens is very good optically. You won't necessarily get better looking photos with an expensive lens that covers that range, but it will probably be nicer to use, have faster and quieter Full Time Manual focussing, work better with a polarising filter (because the front element doesn't rotate), be more versatile (for instance, the wider range of the 15-85 or the f/2.8 maximum aperture of the 17-55), and perform better at the extremes of its focal and aperture ranges. The new STM (Stepping Motor) version is much improved and well worth seeking.

For a longer reach, the EF-S 55-250mm is fantastic value and a great performer for the price. Just give the image stabilisation (IS) a moment to stabilise before you fire a shot. The STM version is even better.

Some bargain-basement kits come with a non-IS version of the 18-55, and an EF 75-300. These lenses are not recommended, get the 18-55 IS and the 55-250 instead, STM if you can. There are really only cosmetic differences between the original versions of those two and the "mark II" versions.

The EF-S 18-135mm IS STM is very popular with video shooters because of its quiet and smooth autofocussing. It's good value and widely available as a kit with the latest Rebels.

If you want to try a fixed focal length lens, the EF 50mm f/1.8 II "nifty fifty" is cheap and very sharp in the middle of the aperture range, but it's soft up to about f/2.8 and is generally challenging to focus, in both auto and manual modes. The new EF 40mm f/2.8 STM "shorty forty" is extremely compact, doesn't cost much more than the 50/1.8, has remarkably good image quality even at f/2.8, and well-behaved autofocus. Get a 52-58mm step-up ring and a 58mm lens cap with your 50/1.8 or 40/2.8, and it can share filters and lens caps with your 18-55 and 55-250.

A set of two or three lenses like that goes very well with a Rebel body, and will allow you to explore a lot of photography for very little cost. Do yourself a favour and spend at least six months or a year with a few low cost lenses before you start thinking about spending big money. As Scott Bourne says, 99% of lenses are better than 98% of photographers, so don't buy a lens because it has the best DxOMark score, buy it because it helps you get the shots you want.

Should I get the 50/1.8 or the 40/2.8?

There are only two ways the 50/1.8 beats 40/2.8 –

  • you can't afford the extra few bucks for the 40/2.8. Really? You can afford to spend $125 but you can't save another $25? How much did you spend on alcohol, tobacco, eating out... last week?
  • there's not enough light to get the shot at f/2.8. Time for a flash?

Most people who have both reach for the 40 every time while the 50 gathers dust.

Can you recommend a lens for...?

Not without knowing what you want to do and how much you want to spend. But here's a list of lenses that are often recommended by forum members for APS-C cameras. It's not The Ultimate List of Lenses You Must Get, it's just some of the most popular favourites, to give you some ideas to get started in your research. If you like the sound of a lens on this list, also check out equivalent models from third-party manufacturers like Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina.

Some Favourite LensesProsConsGood for...

Samyang 8mm f/3.5 fisheye
(also sold as Rokinon, Bower, etc.)

inexpensive manual aperture; distance scale usually needs adjustment ultra-wide
Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM low cost; good IQ; IS; small; light weight "slow" max. aperture landscape; architecture; interior
Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC HSM lower cost alternative to the Canon 10-22 distortion at short end landscape; architecture; interior
Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM good IQ; fast AF not especially fast aperture; no IS; twice the price of the 10-18 landscape; architecture; interior
Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM good IQ, AF, and IS over a wide focal length range vignetting; thought of as expensive for what it is, but is it really? walk-around; travel; landscape
Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM lower cost alternative to the Canon 17-55 Sigma reputation for AF problems low light; general purpose
Tamron SP AF 17-50mm F/2.8 XR Di II lower cost alternative to the Canon 17-55;
better IQ than VC version
focus can hunt in low light low light; general purpose
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM sharp; constant aperture relatively expensive low light; general purpose
Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM unique wide aperture + short focal length combo; beautiful IQ no IS low light; shallow DOF; street
Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II good value; compact front element rotates; prone to AF failure general purpose
Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM internal focus (front element doesn't rotate); smooth quiet AF; FTM; improved sharpness some barrel distortion and vignetting at wide end video; general purpose
Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM

smooth quiet AF; handy focal length range

soft corners compared to 18-55 STM; continuous AF in video doesn't actually work very well prior to the 70D? video; general purpose
Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM wide aperture "normal" prime iffy AF low light; street
Canon EF 35mm f/2 inexpensive "normal" prime old-generation build and AF low light; street
Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM light and compact; does everything well not as fast as the Sigma f/1.4 Art low light; street
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art excellent resolution large and heavy compared to the Canon f/2 IS; no IS low light; street
Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM ultra-compact; inexpensive; great IQ focus-by-wire street;  close-up, couple/trio, or full-length portrait
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM better AF and wide open IQ than 50/1.8 can be fragile low light; portrait
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II cheap; very sharp from f/2.8 cheap; unreliable and noisy autofocus; tricky manual focus; soft wide open; ugly bokeh; 40/2.8 is better portrait
Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II unbeatable value; light; compact IS needs a sec to settle; front element rotates long walk-around
Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM improved IQ; internal focus; FTM slightly higher cost long walk-around; video
Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM sharp no IS macro close to the subject
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM - IS, non-IS constant wide aperture; great IQ cost (esp. IS version); very heavy to handhold sport; photojournalism; weddings
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM - IS, non-IS great IQ; light, compact, and inexpensive compared to the f/2.8 versions superseded by the 70-300L? medium general purpose
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM great IQ and IS over wider range than 70-200 expensive compared to the 70-300 non-L or Tamron

large/close wildlife; zoo; outdoor sport

Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD Good value alternative to the Canon 70-300 lenses not the nicest bokeh

large/close wildlife; zoo; outdoor sport

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM sharp; fast AF; shallow DOF and background blur; good value susceptible to purple fringing indoor sport; action; portrait; weddings
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM sharp; less expensive than IS version less versatile than IS version studio macro
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM effective IS and servo AF all the way down to 1:1; superb IQ more expensive than non-IS version hand-held macro
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM versatile; push-pull zoom limited IS; heavy; push-pull zoom; often needs AF microadjustment wildlife; safari; air show; outdoor sport
Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD unbeatable range, features, and performance for the price big and heavy; tricky AI Servo at the long end wildlife; safari; air show; outdoor sport
Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM light; well balanced; fast focussing; great IQ wide open; good value very long MFD; no IS wildlife; birds in flight

Acronyms: AF = autofocus, FTM = full-time manual focus, IQ = image quality, IS = image stabilisation, MFD = minimum focus distance.

DPReview's Lens Hub has a lot of good research tools, and the Canon SLR Lens Talk Forum is a good place to ask specific questions of Canon users. Also check out the feedback at B&H (click on "Customer Reviews" on the page for an individual lens), and take a look at the lenses recommendations and reviews at The-Digital-Picture.

Any lenses you don't recommend?

Not Recommended LensesWhy not?
Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L USM fine lens on a full-frame camera, but the Canon 17-55 is much better on a Rebel
Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM not significantly better in any way than any alternative, get the Canon 15-85 instead
Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 (non-IS) not so good IQ, get an IS version instead, particularly the STM
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II The only thing the Canon 40/2.8 can't do better is shoot at wider than f/2.8
Canon EF 75-300mm f/4.0-5.6 III poor IQ, get a Canon 55-250 instead

Should I avoid EF-S lenses if I plan to go full-frame one day?

Good lenses hold their value very well and are easy to sell when you don't need them any more, so choose lenses on the basis of what will give you the best results today rather than on the basis of what you might want in the future.

I want one lens to do everything…?

Lenses with wide focal length ranges (e.g. 18-200 or 270mm), are very versatile but you pay for that in other ways, such as compromised image quality (IQ) or autofocus performance. Two lenses, like the super cheap 18-55 + 55-250 combination, generally give better results overall.

Inevitably you will have to clean your sensor, even if you never swap lenses, so don't restrict yourself to one lens for that reason.

A 50mm lens on a crop body is really an 80mm lens...?

No, a 50mm lens is always a 50mm lens, whatever you do with it. An EF-S lens at 50mm will give you exactly the same view as an EF lens at 50mm. (Also see Why don't I get the same view with two lenses of the same focal length?)

To get the same framing of a scene from the same point of view using a full-frame body as you get with a 50mm lens on a crop body, you need an 80mm lens (1.6 x 50), or if you go the other way around, to get the same framing of a scene from the same point of view using a crop body as you get with a 50mm lens on a full-frame body, you need a 31mm lens (50/1.6).

Focal length equivalence only matters when you're trying to replicate a shot taken on a different format (see “Full Frame Equivalence” and Why It Doesn’t Matter). If you're only using a crop body, just learn what each focal length does on your camera and don't worry about equivalence. See What Focal Length Do I Need for a Particular Shot?

Should I turn off IS on a tripod?

Lenses which have the first generation of image stabilisation (IS) –

  • EF 28-135 mm f/3.5-5.6 USM IS
  • EF 75-300 mm f/4-5.6 USM IS
  • EF 300 mm f/4 USM L IS
  • EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 USM L IS

may misbehave on a tripod. Their manuals advise turning it off.

Second generation IS lenses –

  • EF 300 mm f/2.8 USM L IS
  • EF 400 mm f/2.8 USM L IS
  • EF 400 mm f/4 USM DO IS
  • EF 500 mm f/4 USM L IS
  • EF 600 mm f/4 USM L IS

are said to detect that they are mounted on a tripod and switch off IS when that's appropriate.

Third generation IS lenses are generally those that claim four steps of stabilisation, which includes most EF-S lenses. Those with short focal lengths generally don't require the user to switch the IS off. One known exception is the EF-S 18-55 II, which will drift when used at wide angles for exposures longer than one minute. Most EOS bodies will not activate IS in B (bulb) mode, and Canon recommend turning it off.

IS can cause blur with longer focal length lenses. The more stable the mounting and the longer the exposure the more likely you are to get IS blur. On the other hand, if there is any camera movement or vibration IS is likely to help (e.g. if you are touching the camera or it's gusty), especially at shutter durations for which IS was designed to work.

Canon say

  1. Image stabilization generally is not effective for shutter durations shorter than about [1/focal length] seconds.
  2. Image stabilization is most effective at shutter durations between 1/25 of a second and one second.
  3. Image stabilization has no discernible benefit on images taken at shutter duration longer than one second.
  4. In certain conditions, depending on the tripod type or camera, there may be less blurring in the resulting photograph when the image stabilization function is off.

The best thing to do is test your lens under the conditions you will be shooting, and see if there's any difference. Always make sure you allow a second for the IS to stabilize before you fire a shot. If the image in the viewfinder or Live View is more stable without IS, the photo will probably be sharper that way as well.

IS won't help much at short shutter durations, like 1/1000 and above, and some say it's detrimental above the flash sync. speed. Leaving it on will flatten your battery more quickly, but it does stabilise the image in the viewfinder, which makes focussing and framing much easier.

Leave IS on with a monopod or other semi-stable support.

Check out Lenses: Image Stabilisation.

Here's a comprehensive set of rules (for the Nikon Vibration Reduction system) which shows how hard it is to give a simple answer to such a complex question – All About VR. If in doubt, just test it!

Why is F4.0 "wider" than F8.0?

When Canon show "F4.0" on the camera, they really mean f/4, which is focal length divided by four. Say you have a 100mm lens, f/4 is 25mm, which is the diameter of the entrance pupil, in effect the hole through which light enters the camera. At f/8 the entrance pupil is 12.5mm in diameter, and so on.

What matters for the exposure is the area of the entrance pupil, not the diameter, so f/4 gives twice as much area (and light) as f/5.6, which gives twice as much as f/8, which gives twice as much as f/11…

Put your camera in Av mode, hold down the DOF Preview button, and look into the front of the lens while you change the aperture value with the main dial – you'll see the size of the entrance pupil changing.

Am I better off with IS or a wider aperture for low-light?

For static subjects while hand-holding the camera, 3 or 4 steps of image stabilisation (which makes longer shutter duration possible, therefore you can gather more light), is worth more than 1 or 2 steps of aperture (which makes shorter shutter duration possible). But for moving subjects, like people, the limiting factor is subject movement so it's the other way around.

Changing the focal length changes the perspective...

No, perspective depends only on the camera's spatial relationship with the elements of the scene, IOW, where you are. Focal length only changes the angle of view, IOW, how much you can see from where you are. See Is it better to learn composition with a fixed focal length lens?

If I turn the focus ring with the lens in AF mode, will it break the lens?

Answer 1: "Definitely! Canon say things like, 'Do not touch the focusing ring on the lens during autofocusing', which means it will break even if you touch it when it's not 'during' autofocusing."

Answer 2: "Thousands of lenses set to AF mode have their focus rings inadvertently turned every day all over the world, when their owners put on a lens cap, hood, or filter, mount the lens on a body, put the camera in a bag or bump it against something... and yet there isn't a single credible report of a lens ever being harmed by it. Canon say things like, 'Do not touch the focusing ring on the lens during autofocusing', or, 'Do not touch the rotating parts of the lens while autofocus is active', which is common-sense advice to avoid interfering with the focus ring while the motor in the lens is trying to drive it. This advice does not suggest the lens will break if the ring gets turned when it's not actively/during autofocussing, and there's no evidence that it ever has done any damage."

See You Will Break Your Lens If You Turn the Focus Ring in AF Mode in Busted! Digital Photography Myths.

Should I turn off the camera when I change lenses?

The system is designed for lens swapping while the camera is on, so no, don't worry about it. Just don't do anything silly, like removing a lens while it is autofocussing, or during a long exposure.

Some people say that since the sensor is electrically charged, you should switch off the camera to change lenses. The filter which covers the sensor is behind the shutter curtains while changing lenses, so it's not directly exposed, and no matter what you do, even if you never remove the lens, the filter will get dirty anyway in normal use.

Can I get a teleconverter for EF-S lenses?

No, there are no teleconverters (TCs) that fit EF-S lenses. Kenko teleconverters work with most bodies and EF lenses (see Kenko TELEPLUS DGX Compatibility List). Canon "Extenders" fit a limited set of EF L lenses and are much more expensive.

You can use a TC with an EF-S lens by putting an extension tube between the TC and the lens, but that shifts the focus range closer to the camera (which is what you want for macro), so you won't be able to focus at infinity.

Do I need STM lenses to take advantage of hybrid AF?

Stepping motor (STM) lenses just use a different kind of motor for focussing. The advantage is smoothness and quietness, which is better for shooting video.

Hybrid autofocus (AF), which was introduced in the 650D, allows faster focussing in Live View and video, but it doesn't depend on STM and works with any lens technology.

Why don't I get the same view with two lenses of the same focal length?

The nominal focal length of a lens is measured with the lens focussed at infinity. For many lenses, the actual focal length is shorter at closer focus distances ("focus breathing"). The nominal focal length printed on a lens is not a high precision number, and might have been chosen more for marketing than technical reasons. For instance, a "250mm" lens might have an actual focal length more like 230mm at infinity and 200mm up close.

My 18-55 won't focus properly...

There is a "flex cable ribbon" in that lens that is prone to failure with normal use. Typically you notice autofocus works okay at some zoom positions and doesn't work properly or not at all at other zoom positions. You can get the part and replace it yourself, but most of us would write it off and replace it with the STM version or one of the other recommended lenses (see Can you recommend a lens for...?).

Filters

Should I put a filter on my lens for protection?

Answer 1: "Lenses are very delicate and always need protection. My camera hit the ground and the filter smashed, which proves it protected the lens."

Answer 2: "Lenses are a lot tougher than you think. Generally a lens hood and lens cap will provide the best all-round protection. Filters can interfere with autofocus and cause flare or loss of contrast, so only use one when necessary in adverse conditions (flying sand, sparks, salt water, body fluids, etc.), and only use quality filters (you generally get what you pay for). When you drop your camera and the filter smashes (which it will because it's much more fragile than the front element of your lens), it puts fragments of very hard and sharp material onto the front element, thus putting it in much more peril. There's not much point spending $100 to protect a $150 lens, and it only costs about $300 to replace the front element of a big L lens, so it's very expensive insurance. Digital cameras don't benefit from Skylight or UV filters like film cameras do."

Check out Protective Filter FAQ.

If putting on a filter is what you need to do to have the courage to go and take great shots, then go for it. Just remember to take it off as a first step if you have autofocus, flare, or other image quality problems.

Which filters do I need?

There are two filters you can't simply emulate in post-processing – polarising and neutral density.

A polariser can reduce reflections from non-metallic surfaces, such as water, paint, or glass, and can be used to darken the colour in the sky. A photographic polarising filter has two elements, a mounting ring that screws onto the lens, and the actual polariser, which rotates on the mounting ring. You vary the effect of the polariser by rotating it on the mounting ring. Always rotate the polariser in the direction that screws the mounting ring onto the lens (i.e. anti-clockwise from behind the camera).

There are two kinds of polarisers, "linear" and "circular" (it's about how they work, not what shape they are). You must use a circular polariser with autofocus on a digital SLR.

Neutral density (ND) filters simply block some light, so that you can use a longer shutter duration, for instance to blur moving water in daylight. You can get the same effect without an ND filter by taking a series of shots whose total shutter duration adds up to the duration you want, then combine the shots as layers in Photoshop. Set the bottom layer to 1/1 = 100% opacity, the next layer to 1/2 = 50% opacity, the third to 1/3 = 33%, 1/4 = 25%, and so on.

Graduated ND filters have variable density, like dark at the top fading to clear at the bottom. That allows you to do things like darked the sky at sunset to match a dark foreground. You can achieve the same effect in various ways in Photoshop, e.g. take bracketed shots (e.g. 1/60s, 1/125s, and 1/250s) and blend the layers, or develop multiple layers from a single raw exposure, or use the Adjustment Brush in Adobe Camera Raw to apply different parameters to areas of the scene. And if you like the radioactive vomit look, there's High Dynamic Range (HDR) processing.

I can't get a filter off my lens...?

Some filters will stick if left on a lens for a long time, particularly if they are done up tight. A wide rubber band around the filter might give you enough grip to loosen it. If that doesn't work, try putting the lens down filter first on something like a firm rubber mat, and turn the lens anticlockwise. Or get a filter wrench.

Don't screw you filters on hard, fingertip tight is fine. Just check occasionally that they haven't loosened.

Focussing

How can I take more control of focussing?

If you're using the viewfinder (rather than Live View), the Basic Zone modes force you to use all phase detection (PD) autofocus (AF) points, and in that AF mode the camera will generally focus on the closest thing any AF point can see. So the first thing to do is switch to a Creative Zone mode (P, Av, Tv, or M) so that you can choose a single AF point.

You can focus with the centre AF point then reframe the scene to put the subject where you want it in the composition ("focus and recompose"). If you do that by pivoting your body it might put the subject out of focus if the depth of field (DOF) is small, so sway sideways instead, keeping the sensor in the same plane. It's probably better when it's practical to do so to use the focus point that requires the least recomposition.

In Live View Live mode you can put the contrast detection (CD) frame where you like in the image frame, and zoom in to 5 or 10 times with the magnify button. CD AF won't work if the only thing it can see is horizontal lines, so you might have to tilt the camera for autofocus to work in that case. (You might find that when using the viewfinder in low light it also works better on vertical lines.) Live mode autofocus is much slower but generally more accurate, so it suits static situations where precision is required.

Many people like to assign AF to the "back button" (the * button on Rebel bodies), via the custom functions. This disconnects AF from metering and shutter firing, and works well when you don't want to re-focus every time you press the shutter button, or if you want to be able to interrupt AF in AI Servo mode. You can also AF then switch the lens to manual focus (MF) to deliberately hold a focus for a longer time.

When should I use all focus points?

In AI Servo, when tracking small moving subjects. It's important when doing that to start with the centre AF point on the subject, so that the system knows what it's trying to track.

What about AI Focus?

Most people find it doesn't work very well and just use AI Servo instead in situations in which subject movement is unpredictable (in fact many skilled photographers use AI Servo, with the back button, all the time).

My camera doesn't focus right...?

Each AF point covers an extent of the scene about three times larger than its box in the viewfinder, so make sure there's nothing else in that range for the AF point to see. The boxes in the viewfinder might also not be perfectly aligned with the AF sensors.

For testing, make sure you eliminate other possible sources of lack of sharpness – take off any filters, put the camera on a tripod, and use a remote release or self-timer in you are firing the shutter. Use a brightly lit target parallel to the image sensor with high-contrast horizontal and vertical detail. Compare the results of Live mode (contrast detection) and Quick mode (phase detection) in Live View. Or download and print a good slanted target (see You Can't Test Autofocus with a Slanted Target in Busted! Digital Photography Myths).

Calibration?

If you send your body and lenses to a Canon service centre they will check them for focus calibration problems, and they will fix them under warranty if they decide that it's necessary. The problem is, Canon has a very loose standard for focus quality, and it can take a lot of work (like returning your camera four times) to convince them to do the calibration.

You can do your own per-lens calibration using the Autofocus Microadjustment functions of bodies like the 50D, 70D, and 7D, but this is not available on any Rebel or the 60D bodies.

The centre AF point is more sensitive at f/2.8...?

Autofocussing is always done with the lens aperture wide open, so the aperture you use to take the shot doesn't have any effect on autofocus (AF).

There are two levels of precision for AF points – "standard" and "high". Standard precision AF points are used if the maximum aperture of the lens is f/5.6 or wider (e.g. f/4, f/2.8, f/1.8 – see Why is F4.0 "wider" than F8.0? if that doesn't makes sense). The system will not even try to focus a lens that reports a maximum aperture tighter than f/5.6, e.g. f/6.3. High precision AF points are used if the maximum aperture of the lens is f/2.8 or wider (e.g. f/2, f/1.4).

All Rebel bodies have standard precision AF sensors arrays in the centre AF point. The bodies other than the most basic (nnnnD) also have a set of high precision AF sensor arrays in the centre.

When Canon say the f/2.8 AF points are more "sensitive", they don't mean sensitive to light (as if they are able to operate better in low light situations), they mean those points are designed to provide greater precision of focus. Generally they require more light than f/5.6 AF points to do that well.

Lenses wider than f/2.8 focus better in low light...?

It seems obvious that they would, but the aperture doesn't affect phase detection (PD) autofocus (AF) that way.

Imagine you have two telescopes mounted parallel to each other 0.9 metres apart. If you put them at a window that is 0.5m wide, you can't see outside through both of them at the same time (similarly, you can't properly illuminate an f/2.8 AF sensor with an f/5.6 lens). If you put them at a window that is 1m wide, you can see outside through both of them at the same time (you can illuminate an f/2.8 AF sensor with an f/2.8 lens). If the window is 2m wide, the views through the telescopes are the same, they don't get any brighter or clearer (you can illuminate an f/2.8 AF sensor with an f/1.4 lens the same as an f/2.8 lens).

The telescopes are the light paths to the AF sensor arrays, and the windows are the apertures. As long as you're looking through an aperture that is wide enough, making it wider doesn't make any difference to the autofocus system, all that matters is that both elements of the AF sensor can "look through the window".

How does autofocus work?

There are four types of autofocus (AF) on Canon DSLRs. Contrast detection (CD) uses the image sensor, so it only works in Live View (in Live mode). The system measures the contrast in the vertical detail from a section of the image sensor, gets the lens to change the focus a little, then checks the contrast again. If contrast increases, it knows to keep going in that direction, until contrast decreases, which means it has gone past the point of optimum focus and needs to go back the other way. CD AF is very slow on Canon DSLRs (better on the EOS M), but it is generally the most accurate and consistent method, so it suits situations in which the camera and subject are static and you have time to set up the shot.

Conventional phase detection (PD) AF uses a separate focus sensor, which is illuminated while the reflex mirror is down. Light from both sides of the lens is compared, which gives an indication of how far and in which direction focus needs to change. Focus is confirmed when the AF sensor "sees" an in-focus subject (it's not "one measurement, one movement" – see Busted! The Myth of Open-loop Phase-detection Autofocus).

PD AF is very fast and able to keep up with fast moving subjects (in AI Servo mode), but accuracy depends on the state of calibration of the body and lens, and it is generally more variable than CD AF. You can use PD AF in Live View with Quick mode, which flips down the mirror to illuminate the AF sensor.

The 650D introduced a form of phase detection on the image sensor. It works in Live View by using PD to get the lens close to focus, then CD for an accurate finish. This results in faster AF in Live View Live mode, and enables continuous AF in Movie mode, but the PD only works in a limited area in the centre of the frame and is much slower than AI Servo mode (using PD on the separate AF sensor). Hybrid AF works with all lenses, not just STM lenses (see Do I need STM lenses to take advantage of hybrid AF?).

The 70D introduced "Dual Pixel CMOS AF", an on-sensor PD system that does the whole job without needing CD. It allows camcorder-like continuous AF in video recording, and works really well with the touch screen. It's reasonable to expect that the next Rebel model will use this technology.

Does focus and recompose really suck?

Some say so, but it's only a problem when the DOF is very thin (for instance, shooting up close with a wide aperture), when you recompose by pivoting the camera. In that case, there are several things you can do to avoid it –

  • Sway back or forward to compensate for how the DOF has moved relative to the subject. This takes some experience and skill to get the right distance.
  • Recompose by moving sideways or up/down instead of panning or tilting the camera, so the subject stays in the plane of focus. Also try framing first, then move to get an AF point on the subject, focus, and move back to your original framing.
  • Use the autofocus point that requires the least recomposition. This is a good thing to do in many situations, and it can be combined with either of the other methods to minimise whatever movement is necessary.

See also Why recomposing with AF cameras is a bad idea.

Where can I learn more about focussing?

Watch the 3-part  B&H video by Rudy Winston –

Taking Control of Your Canon Autofocus System

DSLR Camera Focus Tips

Depth of Field (DOF)

What's this DOF thing?

The depth of field is the zone in front of and behind where the lens is focussed in which things appear to be sharp to a viewer of an image, even though those things are actually not in focus at the sensor. Out-of-focus elements will appear sharp if the amount of blur is too small to notice, and that depends not only on how out-of-focus they are, but also on how sharp are the viewer's eyes (visual acuity), how big is the image, and how far away they are from it.

How can I work with DOF when I'm shooting?

DOF calculations (like DOFMaster or Depth of Field Calculator) give distances for the near limit of DOF, the hyperfocal distance, and the far limit of DOF under standard viewing conditions for a viewer with ordinary acuity, based on a measure of blur called the circle of confusion (COC).

Hyperfocal Distance...?

The hyperfocal distance is the distance you should focus at to get a calculated far limit of DOF at infinity. For instance, with an 18mm lens at f/5.6 on a Rebel, if you focus at 3m, someone with ordinary eyesight who views a 10x8" print from 12" away, should perceive everything in the scene from 1.5m to infinity as in focus, according to the calculations.

But those calculations don't take into account other factors that affect image sharpness (such as diffraction, object-field effects, camera motion blur, and lens sharpness), so the results of depending on them often disappoint.

A rule of thumb for landscapes that approximates hyperfocal shooting is to focus 1/3 of the way into the scene, but something like 1/2 of the way into the scene might work better for distant detail.

A simple alternative to messing around with hyperfocal calculations or rules of thumb, is to focus on the furthest thing you want to be truly sharp in the image, and use the smallest aperture you can that avoids diffraction and camera motion blur. All foreground detail larger than the entrance pupil will be adequately resolved in the image, even though it's well out of focus, e.g. an 18mm lens at f/11 gives a minimum resolution of 18/11 = 1.6mm.

Macro

How can I get started with macro?

You can do a lot with cheap lenses, like the 18-55, 55-250, 50/1.8, and 40/2.8, using extension tubes, teleconverters, close-up lenses, and reversing rings.

Extension tubes hold the lens away from the body, which allows you to focus closer. "Auto" extension tubes electrically connect the body with the lens so all automatic functions operate normally, such as aperture and image stabilisation (IS). Autofocus may be possible but often isn't practical. Check out sets from brands like Kenko, Vivitar, ProOptic, Zeikos, Aputure, Polaroid, and Vello (the last six are generally the same product, at half the price or less than the luxury Kenkos, and do exactly the same job). "Manual" extension tubes don't allow communication between the body and the lens, so you will have to set the aperture manually (see next section), but they are very inexpensive.

A teleconverter multiplies the focal length, effectively "zooming in". Canon "extenders" only fit a limited set of EF L lenses, whereas Kenko teleconverters fit many more EF lenses and generally behave well with Canon gear.

A close-up lens attaches to the front of a lens and acts like a magnifying glass. Canon make two, the 250D for shorter focal lengths (30 to 135mm) and the 500D for longer (70 to 300mm). Raynox make close-up lenses with a mounting system that adapts to various diameters.

A reversing ring lets you mount a lens backwards, which means you can focus on things a few millimetres from the lens. Since there is no electrical connection between the lens and the body, you can't control the aperture, so you'll have to set it manually, and then you will be focussing and framing through a dark viewfinder.

Which should you use? Extension tubes and teleconverters make the image on the sensor less bright, which could be a problem if illumination is limited, or with "slow" lenses, whereas close-ups don't lose any light. Extension tubes can be used with any lens, whereas fixed size close-up lenses require adapters to fit different filter threads. If a lens won't mount directly on a teleconverter, you can use them together by putting an auto extension tube between them. Extension tubes, close-ups, and especially reversing rings bring the range of focus closer to the lens, which means you can't focus at infinity any more, but that's not the case with teleconverters.

Extension tubes give the greatest effect with short focal length lenses, and close-up lenses give the greatest effect with longer lenses. For example, the EF-S 18-55 will generally do better with extension tubes, whereas the EF-S 55-250 will generally do better with a close-up, like the 500D. The EF 50/1.8 with 65mm of extension tubes and a 250D will give an image on the sensor about 1.6 times larger than the subject (1.6:1). Standard macro lenses like the two EF 100mm f/2.8s and the EF-S 60mm, give an image on the sensor the same size as the subject (1:1) without any extra equipment, and can focus from there to infinity.

Check out Macro Extension Tubes & Close-up Lenses and Macro Photography without Macro Lens.

Most serious macro is done using flash, and is focussed by changing the camera-to-subject distance rather than using autofocus. One exception is the EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS, which works very well with a single AF point in AI Servo mode all the way to 1:1, and even beyond with extension tubes, teleconverters, and close-up lenses.

How do I "set the aperture manually"?

For an EF or EF-S lens, set the aperture value you want (in Av or M mode), and hold down the depth of field (DOF) preview button while you remove the lens from the body. The physical aperture (iris) will stay at that setting until you put the lens back on the body.

Do I need a tripod for macro?

In the olden days, macro was pretty hard without a tripod and focussing rail. Now we have E-TTL flash to freeze camera motion and AI Servo to nail focus. If you're not shooting static subjects with manual focus lenses in ambient light, a tripod isn't essential, get a flash and a fast-focussing lens (USM or STM) instead.

Flash

My flash won't pop up!

There is a tiny switch under the leaf spring on the right hand side of the hot shoe. It tells the camera whether an external flash is mounted and it can get stuck, preventing the release of the built-in flash. Try flicking the spring to free the switch.

Should I buy a new lens or a flash?

An external tilt and swivel flash will open up more creative possibilities and do more for your development as a photographer, than any other accessory.

Which flash should I get?

For maximum versatility you want a flash with a head that tilts and swivels, so that you can bounce the light off the ceiling or walls in both landscape and portrait orientation.

The ultimate Canon flash is the 600EX-RT, which can be remotely controlled via radio signals with the latest high-end bodies, or via the ST-E3-RT controller. If you are really serious about flash, it's the one to get. There is also a straight 600EX without the radio capabilities.

The 580EX II was Canon's premium non-radio wireless flash for many years. The 430EX II is a great little unit that goes well with the Rebel bodies, and also can be controlled remotely by the latest bodies. The difference in output between the two is not as great as you might expect from the guide numbers (58 vs 43), but the 580 will fire faster and has other advanced features, including the optical transmitter function to control other flashes.

Older models such as the 580EX (I) and the 550EX can be bought second-hand and do a fine job. Don't bother with the even older EZ series flashes.

Third party flashes don't have guaranteed compatibility with Canon bodies and might not support all features (such as high-speed sync.), but they are generally much less expensive. They might require a shutter duration longer than the maximum sync. speed to deliver their full output. Look for something that supports "E-TTL II" and is compatible with the Canon optical wireless remote control protocol. The Nissin Di622 and Di866 are well regarded around here, as are the the Metz mecablitz models, and the YongNuo Speedlites for those on a tight budget.

Take into consideration how well a particular flash might work off-camera – see How can I use my external flash off the camera?

Check out Flash Units for Canon and Canon Compatible Flashes.

Guide number...?

A flash unit's guide number tells you how far away your subject can be for a given aperture. For instance, if your guide number is 13m at ISO 100 (like the built-in flash on most Canon DSLRs), and you're shooting at f/8 at ISO 100, you should be able to illuminate a subject in the dark at 13/8 = 1.6m. At f/5.6 it's 13/5.6 = 2.3m, f/4 it's 3.2m, f/2.8 it's 4.6m...

Since we're dealing with an inverse square relationship between flash output and distance, each step up in ISO multiplies the usable distance by the square root of 2, so at ISO 200 it's 1.4 x 13/8 = 2.3m, at ISO 400 it's 1.4 x 1.4 x 13/8 = 3.2m, and so on. (See how ISO 200 at f/8 gives the same distance as ISO 100 at f/5.6, just like it would give the same image brightness for a non-flash exposure?)

Canon flash model numbers are ten times their guide number measured at maximum zoom, e.g. 430EX II is 43m at ISO 100 at the 105mm zoom position. The effective guide number will be less at other zoom positions. The 600EX and 600EX-RT have the same output as a 580EX but they can zoom further to concentrate the light for longer focal lengths, so they have a slightly higher guide number.

Why is the shutter speed so slow with flash in Av mode?

The key to working with flash on Canon cameras is understanding that the exposure due to the ambient light ("the ambient exposure") is independent of the flash exposure. This is the same for all shooting modes, it doesn't make any difference to how they work whether flash is active or not. So in Av mode the shutter duration will be what the meter thinks you need for the ambient light alone. To get a shorter shutter duration in Av mode you have to raise the ISO or apply some negative metering compensation (see What is exposure/metering compensation?).

Unless you need the camera to handle changes in the ambient light level, you're generally better off using manual (M) mode for flash (see I can't get flash to do what I want...).

What is fill flash?

You can use flash to "fill" the shadows of backlit or brightly lit subjects, for example, people in sunlight. Most people think of fill flash as something you do in Av mode, but it has nothing to do with the shooting mode, it just depends on how you balance the two sources of light. See Canon EOS Cameras Have a Fill-flash Mode in in Busted! Digital Photography Myths.

Why can't I go faster than 1/200th with flash?

In normal modes, flash works by firing a single pulse of light while the shutter curtains are fully open and the image sensor is fully exposed. The shortest shutter duration at which that can happen is called the "maximum synchronisation speed" (or "max. sync. speed"), which is 1/200th of a second with a Rebel body (generally 1/250th with bodies like the 60D, 70D, and 7D).

To use a shutter duration faster than 1/200th you need a flash with high-speed sync. (HSS) mode, like a 430EX or 580EX, which fires a series of low-output pulses as the slit between the shutter curtains moves across the image sensor.

How does E-TTL work?

Evaluative-Through The Lens (E-TTL) flash works by firing a low-output "pre-flash" before the mirror rises. The flash metering system determines from the pre-flash how bright the main flash needs to be. Flash metering is independent of ambient metering, which means you'll get the same image brightness from flash in Tv, Av, P, and M with the same aperture, shutter, and ISO settings.

In normal operation you probably won't see the pre-flash, but you can if you set the flash to 2nd-curtain sync. and use a long exposure. Another way to see the pre-flash is to press the flash exposure lock (FEL) button (the * button).

I can't get flash to do what I want...

Flash works best in manual (M) mode. Try it indoors using settings like f/8, 1/200th, and ISO 400, and use flash exposure compensation (FEC) to alter the brightness of the image. When you see how that works, try using longer shutter durations to see how you can balance the flash illumination with the ambient illumination.

The brightness of the image from the ambient illumination is determined by the aperture, the ISO, and the shutter duration (and is indicated by the meter), whereas the brightness due to the flash illumination is determined by the aperture, the ISO, and the flash output level. Note that shutter duration isn't a factor for flash, so if flash is the only significant source of light, it doesn't matter whether you shoot at 1/200 or 1/2 a second.

If you have a reasonable combination of aperture and ISO, then the image brightness due to ambient light depends on the shutter duration, and the image brightness due to flash depends on the flash output. In E-TTL modes you control the flash output with the flash exposure compensation (FEC) controls, which increases or decreases flash output relative to what the meter wants, and in manual flash mode you control the flash output directly, without any information about what the meter wants (Rebels before the 600D don't have a manual mode on the built-in flash).

Is there a method I can use to approach flash shooting?

This four step method will give you control over the balance between ambient and flash illumination –

  1. Take a test shot without the flash, with the meter on zero. This will show you what the meter thinks is right for the ambient light.
  2. Adjust the ambient brightness with the shutter. Generally you will want to darken it by using a shorter duration. In Av use the exposure compensation controls to apply a negative offset, in M just set the shutter to give a negative meter reading.
  3. Take a test shot with the flash. If the flash is in E-TTL mode, this will show you what the flash meter thinks is the right output for the flash. If you have the flash in manual mode, try something like 1/8 or 1/4.
  4. Adjust the flash brightness with the flash exposure compensation controls (FEC, in E-TTL), or by adjusting the manual output.

Then you can tweak the balance with the shutter duration (for the ambient component) and FEC or manual flash setting (for the flash component).

Things to watch out for –

  • If your shutter duration without flash is shorter than the maximum synchronisation speed (1/200 on a Rebel, 1/250 with many other models), when you add flash the camera will override that and set the shutter to the max. sync. speed. If you don't do anything to compensate for that you're images will be blown out, so make sure your shutter is 1/200 or longer to begin with. This doesn't apply if you're using a flash with high-speed sync. (HSS), which can work at shorter shutters.
  • If your shutter duration without flash is longer than 1/60, P mode will play a trick on you by setting the shutter to 1/60. That makes the contribution of the ambient light darker, but it still shows the same meter reading as before it did that. In other words, P made it a manual exposure and didn't tell you, so P is good if you want the camera to do the flash for you, but bad if you want to take control of what's happening (use M or Av instead).

My photos look horrible with the flash...

Direct light from a bare flash looks harsh and casts sharp shadows behind your subject. One trick is to increase the area from which light is emitted. The best way to do that is to bounce the light off a large surface, or if that's not possible, use a diffuser to soften the direct light. Another trick is to raise the flash so that the shadow falls below the subject and can't be seen in the image.

What's the best way to bounce flash?

Set up your subject with a white wall and/or ceiling in the direction in which you want the light to come from. Aim the flash head at the reflecting surface in a way that no light goes directly from the flash head to the subject (if it does, you will get harsh-looking double shadows).

To get the softest light on the subject, you want to illuminate the largest reflecting area you can. You can do that by zooming the flash head to its widest setting, using the built-in "wide panel" if the flash has one, and moving further away from the reflecting surface. The maximum output of your flash will limit how far you can go with that.

How can I use my external flash off the camera?

Any flash that mounts on the hot shoe can be connected with an E-TTL cord, and will function as if it were on the camera. There are many cheaper and/or longer alternatives to Canon's E-TTL cord.

If you have a 600D, 650D, 700D, 60D, 70D, or 7D, you can remotely control the output of many Canon EX flashes via the camera's own wireless flash controller. That system uses the built-in flash to fire pulses of light which tell remote flashes when and how brightly to fire. Since the built-in flash is active in that case, you can have it contribute to the exposure if you want.

Even if you tell the built-in flash not to fire when it's acting as a controller, the control signals might show in the image, for instance in reflections off glass. You can stop that by using a Nikon SG-3IR to mask the visible part of the signals, but you will have to modify the foot of the SG-3IR to not press the switch in the hot shoe (see My flash won't pop up!).

For earlier camera models, or the 100D, you can put an ST-E2 Speedlite Transmitter on the hot shoe to do the same kind of wireless controlling. The built-in flash can't be active in that case, so it can't contribute to the exposure. Canon makes an ST-E2, as does YongNuo for less than half the price. For about the same price as the YongNuo ST-E2, the humble 90EX flash also has a controller mode, but it is not able to contribute to the exposure in that mode.

All versions of the 580EX and 600EX flashes can do wireless flash control, and that will work if you have one mounted on your camera's hot shoe or directly connected via an E-TTL cord. With multiple flashes you generally want most of the output coming from the slaves, so you get more value out of a 580EX or 600EX as a slave than as a controller.

For these visible or near infra-red light systems to work, the remote flash needs to be able to "see" the control signals, either by direct line of sight or via a strong reflection, so there are limits to how far away you can have the master and the slaves. Canon say wireless flash should work up to 5-7m outdoors, and 7-10m indoors, with direct line of sight.

Radio systems are not limited in the same way, since the signals can penetrate where light can't go, and many claim to work out to distances like 80 or 100 metres. You can get simple triggering systems like the YongNuo RF-603 (you have to set the flash output manually on each unit), or E-TTL II systems like the YongNuo YN-622C (which does high-speed sync. and remote manual output setting, and has a built-in AF-assist light), for less than $100 for a pair of transceivers. See Radio triggers: An introduction and Flash Triggering Guide.

The Canon 600EX-RT has a built-in radio receiver and transmitter. Groups of 600EX-RTs can be controlled by a 600EX-RT or an ST-E3-RT transmitter mounted on a camera. Some functions are limited to cameras released since 2012.

You can also mount a remote flash on an optical slave trigger, which will fire the remote flash when the trigger sees a flash of light. The simple type fires on every flash it sees, so it will fire on the metering pre-flash that your built-in flash fires in normal E-TTL operation. To make that work you need to be firing the control flash in manual mode (the 100D, 600D, 650D, and 700D can do this but older Rebel models don't have a manual flash mode). Some optical slave triggers only fire on the second flash of two close together, which will work with the triggering flash in E-TTL mode. Some third party flashes have built-in optical slaves.

For more information about off-camera flash, have a look at Strobist.

Why won't my flash fire in Live View?

Modern Canon flashes should fire on a Rebel in Live View, but other brands and models might (e.g. Nissin Di866 II, YongNuo 565EX and 467 II), or might not.

If you have a flash which has only one electrical contact in the centre of the mounting foot, or you're using a simple radio trigger, the flash definitely won't fire in Live View even though it will in normal shooting. With more advanced models, such as the 60D, 70D, and 7D, you can disable "Silent shooting" to allow non-Canon flashes to fire in Live View. See the section in your camera's manual about "Using Non-Canon Flash Units".

My 430EX II won't zoom...

If your 430EX II shows "14mm" for the zoom setting, either the "wide panel" is out, or it hasn't gone all the back into the flash head. Gently push it all the way back into its slot.

Can I use an old flash on my new camera?

Some old flashes expose the camera to hundreds of volts through the hot shoe. Contemporary cameras will be damaged by that. Check whether your old flash is "EOS Safe" in the Strobe Trigger Voltages list.

You can protect your camera with something like the Wein Safe-sync, but you'd be better off spending the money on a new flash with modern features, unless what you have is really something special.

What's a good flash diffuser?

The Best Flash Diffuser

Where can I learn more about flash?

Flash Photography with Canon EOS Cameras

Flash exposure seems wrong

natural looking flash

Lighting Rumours Tutorials

Speedliter's Handbook by Syl Arena (highly recommended)

Memory Cards

Which brands should I buy?

There are many low quality counterfeit cards on sale, so buy cards with reputable names, like SanDisk, Transcend, Kingston, and Lexar, from stores with good reputations. Don't buy cheap cards on eBay.

What class do I need?

For stills, the write-speed of the card generally isn't a bottleneck, so class 6 on a quality card seems to be fine. For video, class 10 is generally recommended.

What size cards should I get?

An 8GB card is fine for most people for casual shooting. It's a good idea to carry a spare in case the card fails or you come across something special. If you regularly take hundreds of raw shots each outing, or long video shots, you might be better off with 16GB cards.

Some prefer to use a number of smaller cards rather than a few big ones, since a failure or loss of a single card could mean you lose the whole shoot. OTOH, if you have to change cards often you're more likely to lose or damage one...

Should I re-format my memory card after I've uploaded the images?

Many people do this all the time, perhaps because Canon occasionally recommend it, but it's not essential. Formatting requires fewer writes to the card than deleting, so your cards might last a tiny bit longer. If a card starts to give you errors, don't try to fix it, replace it.

If you need to format a card (for instance, if it's new or has been used in a different camera), do it in your camera rather than your computer, and use the Low level format option.

It's a good idea to copy a file onto each card that tells someone who finds it how to return it to you, but formatting will erase that file.

Always wait for card activity to stop completely before removing a card from the camera or a reader. Opening the card door stops card activity, so always wait for the red light to go out before opening the door.

Other Accessories

Which tripod should I buy?

Most beginners think, "I probably won't use a tripod much, so I shouldn't spend much money on one." And it turns out to be true – you'll only use a $30 tripod as a last resort. Whereas if you spend more like $300 you can get something that will be reasonably stable with short lenses, have useful features, and be a pleasure to use. It's easy to spend ten times that, and it's worth it for things like shooting wildlife and birds with a huge long lens, when you want the best of portability and stability. It's a case of "buy the best and cry once".

There are some decent all-in-one tripods, but in the long run you'll probably appreciate the flexibility of separate legs and heads.

Get a tripod head with a quick release (QR) system, like Arca-type or Manfrotto RC2, and attach a QR plate to each of your camera bodies and tripod rings. Screwing the head to the camera every time gets tiresome very quickly, and is a big reason why you'll leave a cheap tripod at home.

There are basically three types of heads. Pan and tilt heads allow you to swing the camera around (pan) without any up and down (tilt) movement, and the other way around. They are good for shooting images to stitch into panoramas, and for video, but if you have that in mind make sure you get a head designed specifically for video, which will give smooth panning.

Ball heads allow unconstrained motion of the camera, and are much better if you want to point the camera at the subject then lock it into position. Most photographers prefer a ball head over a pan and tilt head for general shooting.

Gimbal heads hold the camera and lens in balance and allow you to freely swing it with little effort. They are very much better for supporting long heavy lenses, and are good for tracking moving subjects, like birds in flight. The big name gimbal heads cost as much as a Rebel body, but there are others, like the Opteka GH1 Pro, LensMaster RH-1 and 2, and Manfrotto 393, which will do the same job for a fraction of the cost.

See How to Properly Use A Tripod.

What about a monopod?

You can use a monopod in many different ways –

  • extended under the camera or lens to take the weight and provide a point of stability,
  • extended in front to form a tripod with your legs,
  • hanging from the camera or lens to provide stability by adding mass below your hands,
  • tucked into your belt or one of those pouch things that fishermen wear to support their rods,
  • over your shoulder, kinda like a rifle.

You can mount a camera directly to a monopod, but you'll get more out of it with at least a tilt head (e.g. Manfrotto 234), and as for tripods, use a quick release system for speed and versatility.

There are monopods that are primarily designed as walking sticks, and other novelties like three collapsible feet in the base that add more stability.

Which camera bag/case should I get?

It's difficult to say which bag or case might suit your needs since it's so much about how you want to use it and what you might prefer, and you often don't know that until you have tried a few. How about checking out some options on a site like CamBags, then ask a more specific question.

Composition

How can I improve my composition?

Newbies often fall into the trap of "bulls-eye" composition – you can tell what they focussed on because it's in the exact centre of the frame, so the camera is in control of the composition rather than the photographer. To put the subject where you want in the frame you have to be able to focus anywhere you want, so the first task is to take control of that (see How can I take more control of focussing?).

Practice using a single autofocus (AF) point, half-press the shutter button with that point on the subject, then put the subject where you want it in the frame. Although the centre AF point is generally the most accurate, the outer AF points are fine in many situations and are often more convenient and sometimes more reliable than the centre point. Live View Live mode gives you direct control over where in the frame autofocus will operate, and you can zoom in on a particular section of the scene.

Work the scene – change your point of view, step sideways, shoot wide, shoot tight, shoot low, stand on something... until you find a way to capture what you have in mind or the thing than made you stop and look. Most people could improve most of their photos most of the time by getting closer to the subject. Try getting closer until you know for sure that it looks worse that way.

When you're framing the shot pay attention to the background, look all around the frame not just at the subject. Watch out for things like trees growing out of people's heads, branches coming in from the edges, signs, litter, overhead wires... any visual junk that doesn't help to present your subject in the most compelling way.

None of that matters much if you have a boring subject in horrible light – get the fundamentals right first.

Is it better to learn composition with a fixed focal length lens?

It's often said (usually by old-timers), that beginners should start with a single fixed focal length lens (FFLL). That made sense when zooms were remarkably expensive and optically inferior, but that's not the case any more.

The reason given is that you will learn to "zoom with your feet", to change the position of the camera to achieve the desired framing of the scene. But moving the camera alters the perspective – the relative size and spatial relationship between elements in the image – in other words, fundamentally altering the composition. Ideally you make perspective choices first (where to position the camera?), then use a suitable focal length to frame the scene (what to include in the frame?).

So if you want to learn about working with perspective in photography, an FFLL will actually frustrate you, whereas zooms allow you the freedom to play. By all means try shooting for a day with an FFLL (or tape the zoom ring on your kit lens), and learn what you can from seeing the world that way, but the true advantage of FFLLs is wide apertures, not in forcing you to move around to frame the image.

See Perspective Control in Images – Focal Length or Distance?

So what actually is composition?

You should be able to clearly identify two things in any photo. The first is a subject – what is the photo about? A snap says, here's a home/dog/car/baby/mountain, etc. – that's all it's about. Whereas a great photo shows the viewer something they never knew about a home/dog/car/baby/mountain, etc., and it will do that through providing an opportunity for the viewer to feel something – delight, awe, tenderness, intrigue, connection, sensuality...

The second is a context – a setting in which the subject has meaning. Remove anything from the context that detracts from the impact of the subject on the viewer.

So composition is putting a subject in a context, and making it worth looking at. See What makes a photograph an award-winner?

Birds, animals, portraits...?

Whatever you do, get the eyes in focus (unless you have a strong creative reason not to). You generally want to leave some space where the subject is going or looking, otherwise it might look boxed-in.

Keep the background simple unless it's necessary for the context.

Landscapes...?

Landscapes that are all middleground and background generally don't work well, so include a foreground.

Landscapes with the horizon through the middle are usually pretty boring (same thing with the setting sun in the centre of the horizon). Add some drama by putting the horizon in the upper half of the frame to emphasise the ground, and in the lower half to emphasise the sky.

Include something that gives the viewer an idea of the scale of things, such as person, house, bird, or vehicle.

Instead of finding a great subject then photographing it in whatever light is available, try finding great light then photographing whatever subjects are available. Sounds crazy but it works.

Do I have to follow the Rule of Thirds?

No! Absolutely not. The Rule of Thirds is just a is a rule of thumb – an idea you can use when you don't have any better ideas of your own. It's not a rule as in an authoritative prescription.

If keeping thirds in mind stops you making "bulls-eye" compositions, then yeah, that's a good thing, so try it until you develop your own sense of what works, but don't let it get in the way of making a compelling image. See Three ways to break the Rule of Thirds.

What's the best way to shoot a panorama?

The first rule of panorama shooting is, manual everything – aperture, shutter duration, ISO, white balance, and focus – you don't want any of those things to vary from shot to shot. The metering values you set needs to accommodate the brightest part of the scene.

Overlap each shot by about 20-25% (each shot includes 1/5 to 1/4 of the previous shot). Shoot quickly to avoid things like changing light and moving clouds. Try doing horizontal panoramas with portrait orientation shots. It's not essential but you should get better results with a tripod that allows you to swing the camera.

Once your shots are stitched together you will have to crop the result, so frame the original shots with some cropping room in mind.

Where can I learn more about composition?

Photography Composition Articles

Post-processing

Post-processing is kinda cheating, isn't it?

There is no reality in photography, cameras don't see things like people do. Every choice you make changes how the viewer perceives the subject –

  • where you put the camera,
  • what's in the frame and what isn't,
  • the focal length, aperture, shutter duration, white balance, saturation, sharpness, colour space... you use,
  • when you fire the shutter.

Editing what was captured is just another way to express your artistic choices.

If you shoot JPEGs those images are already post-processed, in the camera rather than later on a computer. There's nothing pure or honourable about that. The outcome depends on the settings you choose, just as it would if you did the processing later on a computer.

Which software should I use?

The image editor that came with your camera – Digital Photo Professional (DPP) – does a fine job of individual and batch raw conversion and basic editing, and is a good place to start.

Adobe Lightroom (LR) is a very popular "digital darkroom", providing tools for batch conversion, basic image editing and some content editing, cataloguing, and management.

If you are the kind of photographer who mainly needs to do basic editing on many images at once (e.g. whitebalance, brightness, contrast), then tools like those may be all you need. But if you're the kind of photographer who wants to make sophisticated changes to the content of individual images (e.g. cloning, dodging and burning, blending layers), then you will need something more.

The ultimate industry-standard graphics editing package is Adobe Photoshop (PS) Creative Suite or Creative Cloud, but you may never need more than Photoshop Elements (PSE), which is much less expensive and almost as capable.

There are many free editors that might do everything you need, e.g. Top 11 Free Photo Editors for Windows and 5 Free (and 1 almost free) Photoshop Alternatives.

For image display, review, and basic editing, FastStone Image Viewer works nicely with Canon raw files and it's free.

For a free, simple manual monitor calibrator, try Calibrize.

Any tips on computers for photography?

You don't need to spend a fortune on a Windows machine for photo editing. $500-600 for a desktop box and about the same for a good monitor and everything else would set you up nicely. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • RAM is so cheap these days there's no reason to skimp on it (at least 4GB, more for video editing).
  • You don't need a fancy video card unless you're into something like gaming as well. Nice to be able to connect two monitors.
  • Get a monitor with an IPS panel (or equivalent, e.g. Samsung PLS), for accurate colour and levels, and wide viewing angles.
  • Consider investing in a monitor calibrator.
  • Most of us still prefer the user interface of Windows 7 over Windows 8 for a desktop machine, but try it for yourself.
  • You can get by with Windows XP SP3, but some new software won't run on it and that will get worse over time since XP is basically obsolete.
  • Get a solid-state drive for your C: drive and a conventional hard disk drive for storage and backup.
  • Consider a notebook, but the inexpensive ones have horrible monitors for photo editing.
  • Get USB 3 devices if you can afford it (e.g. card reader, external storage).

Mac? Sure, if you like them and can afford them.

What difference does the number of PPI or DPI make?

The only time pixels per inch matters for a photo is when you print it, and then only as a suggestion for a default print size. For instance, if you have an image which is 5,184 pixels wide, and an XResolution of 240 pixels per inch, the suggested print width is 5184 / 240 = 21.6 inches, but you can override that in the printer settings and make the width anything you want. It's just a number stored in the image file, and it makes no difference to anything else at any other time.

What is a "100% crop"?

If you view an image at "100%", each pixel in the image is displayed as a single pixel on your monitor, so it's "actual size" or "full size". At 50%, two pixels in the image are displayed as a single pixel on the monitor ("half size"), at 200%, each pixel in the image is displayed as two pixels on the monitor ("double size"), and so on.

A "100% crop" is just a crop from the original full size image, which hasn't been resized to a lesser or greater number of pixels.

Being a Photographer

Nothing in this section related to legal issues constitutes legal advice, and it won't get you out of jail!

Where am I free to take photos of strangers?

In western democracies there is generally no right to privacy on public property, such as streets and parks, so you are probably not breaking the law by taking innocent candid photos of people in situations in which there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. There is a clear expectation of privacy in places like changing rooms, toilets, and medical facilities, so expect serious trouble if you try to take photos there.

On private property, such as private residences, hotels, shops, shopping malls, work places, sports venues, and art galleries, the owner or operator has the right to control what happens, so always assume that you don't have permission to take photos. There are many situations in which you can take all the photos you want with a mobile phone or compact camera, but you will be asked to stop if you use a DSLR, because people think it's a "professional camera", particularly if you use a large lens.

The tricky one is when you are on public property or your own private property, and you take photos which include other people's private property, such as shooting a restaurant from the street or your neighbour's kids in their back yard. If it's wholesome and unobtrusive you probably aren't breaking any law, but you still might get into serious trouble with the people involved, since they might assume they have a universal right to privacy, and therefore believe you need their permission to take their photo.

If you do things like take photos of kids in a school or childcare centre, or lurk around a power station or army base taking photos of the security facilities, expect prompt and enthusiastic attention.

Always do the right thing – don't intrude or be a nuisance, don't do things that might make people look stupid or feel bad, and stop if anyone objects. On the other hand, people, including the police, generally don't have the right to confiscate your camera or memory cards, make you delete your shots, or detain you simply for taking photos.

Can I take photos of copyright work?

Taking a photo which happens to include a business, their logos, or their products, is generally not an infringement of their copyright.

A photo of a copyright work itself is legally a reproduction, and the copyright holder has the exclusive right to do that, but it's unlikely you would be prosecuted if you only make personal (non-commercial) use of your images.

See Legal Pitfalls in Taking or Using Photographs of Copyright Material, Trademarks and People.

Do I need to get a model release from anyone I shoot?

In western democracies you generally need a person's permission to use an image of them to endorse a product (which essentially means for advertising – so called "commercial use"), but you don't for other legitimate purposes, like news reporting, satire, research, teaching, record keeping, or artistic expression. Copyright for an image belongs to the photographer (or their employer), not the subject.

Let's say you take a shot of someone in the street without their knowledge and you don't ask them for a model release. Are you generally legally entitled to put that shot somewhere like your DPReview gallery, Flickr, or FaceBook? Yes. Sell fine-art prints of that shot? Yes. Sell it to a newspaper or television station for editorial purposes? Yes. Sell it to an advertising agency for use on a billboard? No. Use it in the graphics of a magazine or commercial website? No. Post it online for sale or free download as a "stock photo" for commercial use? No.

Even though you don't need a model release for non-commercial use, you might still be sued for defamation if you publish an image which "injures the subject's reputation", as you would if you painted that picture with a thousand words.

Should I keep every photo I take?

If a shot doesn't light-up the pleasure centres in your brain the first time you see it on your computer, it is unlikely that it ever will in the future. Cull mercilessly! Delete every second-rate, redundant, or boring shot.

Only put your very best work in your gallery or album, the shots that make people go, "Wow! What a great photographer!"

How can I become a better photographer?

Mark Scott Abeln says –

  • To master photography, you must master Photoshop. You have mastered Photoshop when it appears as if you did not use Photoshop.
  • You must master Photoshop by mastering its functions. You master Photoshop’s functions by never using most of them. Likewise, the worst Photoshop books are those that explain all of its functions, and the best are those that explain only a few.
  • To sharpen a photograph in Photoshop, you should not use the Sharpen function, but rather use the Unsharp function.
  • To achieve utter freedom and creativity in post-processing, you must enslave yourself to the mathematics underlying post-processing.
  • A bad camera can be the best tool for making a good photographer.
  • The sRGB color space is worst color space because it represents the narrowest range of colors of any standard RGB color space. For this reason, sRGB is the best color space to use in post processing.
  • If you must ask if Photoshop is the right post processing software for you, then Photoshop is the wrong software for you.
  • The best photographers can make the best photographs with even poor cameras. For this reason, the best photographers use the best equipment.
  • A poor photographer blames his equipment, a good photographer blames himself.
  • Many good photographs are due to luck. Good photographers are luckier than poor ones.
  • Do not trust your eyes, for they deceive you, and so you must measure the color numbers to ensure that they are good. Buy you must trust your eyes, for if the image does not look good, then the color numbers must not be good.
  • You must spend thousands of hours post processing images in order to post process images quickly.
  • You have mastered photography when it is graceful, effortless, and joyful. Your tools ought to appear to be a natural extension of yourself.
  • In order to post-process a photograph of a subject, you must bring out the subjectness that the photograph failed to capture.
  • You must not care what master photographers think of your photography, for they are prone to envy. You achieve this by carefully following the advice of master photographers.

Video

Should I get a video camera or a DSLR?

Same answer as Should I get a point-and-shoot camera or a DSLR? – a DSLR can produce superior results in certain ways if you're willing to put in the work to get the best out of it, but if not you're likely to be disappointed.

What are some good settings to start with?

Try setting the camera to manual (M) mode, set the aperture to give you the depth of field you need, set the shutter speed to twice the frame rate you are using (e.g. for 24 or 25 frames per second use 1/50th, or 1/100th for 50 frames), and use auto ISO.

1280x720 (720p high-definition) will give a high quality result that is practical to edit on a decent PC.

Can I focus while I'm shooting video?

You can (by half-pressing the shutter button), but it will look and probably sound ugly so you'll want to edit that out, making two separate shots.

Prior to the 650D there is no continuous autofocus like you get on a video camera. You're better off using manual focus and planning each shot so that the subject stays within the depth of field. The 70D does video-camera-like continuous AF, which will be smooth and silent with an STM lens (except the 40/2.8, which is not silent).

How can I record longer than the 4GB file size limit allows?

You can use the EOS Utility to show what the camera sees in Live View, then use a video capture application to record the video stream shown by the EOS Utility.

Can I do [some fancy video thing] with a Rebel body?

Probably not, but if you run the Magic Lantern firmware enhancements you probably can.

Where can I learn more about shooting video?

How to Shoot Video on Your Canon Rebel

Shooting Video with your Canon EOS Rebel Camera (Part 1)

Shooting Video with your Canon EOS Rebel Camera (Part 2)

Shooting Video with your Canon EOS Rebel Camera (Part 3)

Books

What are some good books about photography?

Essential Digital Photography Books

The first book that usually gets recommended is Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. It's full of reminiscences of strolling through sun-kissed piazzas in Tuscany, and some lovely images to go with them, but in my opinion the last thing you'll get from it is an understanding of exposure in the digital age. One for the coffee table, not the study or studio.