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Come in! There are a few adventures I’ve written about, but most of the content offers classes in photography and mentoring for photographers, including photo theory, which, although a vital part in our profession, is largely an overlooked subject in all published media that profits from and feeds our gadget minded mindset today.

Final installment on making sense of specs in camera manuals – A42

September 20 2009 - Photo Technical

This is the third installment covering things to do in researching a camera, using the example list of specifications you can find on such websites as dpreview.com. I continue to add my clarifications to this list of specifications to give you greater insight as to what each spec means. The product represented is the Lumix DMC-FX150 camera, manufactured by Panasonic.  Again, this product was randomly chosen for this article and it is not a recommendation.  Moving on from image stabilization (IS) ending this article in last month’s issue, we continue with:

Auto Focus: TTL – The first part “auto focus” or AF means you do not need to worry about focusing your camera to take a shot.  It will do it for you.  The acronym “TTL” means “through the lens.”  This term is also used in metering light for the proper exposures, and in flash terminology.

There are several ways to determine focus.  A camera can send out ultrasonic sound like a sonar device.  The camera can send out infrared light to reflect back from a subject to calculate the focusing range.  These two are active systems.  Then there are passive systems that will, for instance, compare contrast in a scene to determine distance.  This is beginning to get detailed… pocket cameras manuals don’t even begin to get into these details.

Pressing the shutter part (or half) way down gets the camera to focus.  You will find the AF may work quickly in good light, slower in low light, and get confused when shooting through glass or a screen, and until it finds (what it believes to be) the right focusing point you are unable to take the photograph.


Manual Focus: No – This camera does not allow for manual focus, making it one less thing for you to worry about.  On the other hand, there are situations when a camera focusing system will get confused, as mentioned in the paragraph above, and in the meantime will not expose (shoot) and you miss snapping a special moment.  Taking pictures through glass, into mirrors, of quick moving objects, or attempting to capture an action at a specific point are times when a manual focus override comes in handy.  You can then set your own focus point or pre-focus for the action, and instantly shoot


Normal focus range: 50 cm – Spec’s are most often given in metric terms, because a majority of manufacturers are in countries using the metric system.  This minimum of 50 cm is about twenty inches.  You should know this so if you are shooting the beauty of your lovers’ eyes at a closer distance, you need to switch to macro.

Macro focus range: 5 cm – This is two inches… amazing to focus this close.  Now you can get close to those sparkling eyes.  One very important thing to never overlook is not to be operating your zoom in this mode or it will not work properly for you.  Your lens has to be as I say “full out,” not in any level of zoom and at its widest angle, otherwise you get fuzzy shots.


White balance override: 5 positions, plus 2 manual – You can easily use auto white balance, or set if to five other pre-calculated positions, and you can set two to match your own conditions or desires.

First let’s look at what “white balance” means.  All light, the blue sky light, reflected overcast light, sun light, fluorescent light, mercury vapor light, tungsten light, incandescent bulb, light candle light… all have their own wavelength or Kelvin reading, ranging from 10,000K to a 1000K, respectively.  The higher Kelvin reading is very blue and the lower very red and warm.

Human vision makes the adjustment to keep the color temperature of light balanced.  To get the same balancing effect in our cameras we need to white balance, so that in blue sky light our images do not come out excessively blue or otherwise excessively yellow under candle light.

The most exact way to white balance is setting it manually in your camera by aiming and framing the lens on a white sheet of paper illuminated by the light source under which you will be photographing.  This process is a process you might like to avoid, therefore this camera has five presets you can pick from, and likely include blue sky, cloudy sky, sunny, fluorescent, and incandescent options.  Therefore, if you find yourself shooting under one of these conditions one of these presets may work for you.

There are times you will face mixed lighting.  It could be incandescent light mixed in with fluorescent or daylight.  What do you do then?  Well, there is the option to go auto and let your camera figure things out.  I’m always a straight schot with you and I can tell you I use the auto white balance most of the time and my camera usually does a great job in setting it right.

Even if you use auto focus, auto metering, auto white balance, etc., you have to live a little.  When you some extra time, try all the manual settings available and see what results and interesting affects you get.  Your style makes your photos more interesting to look at.  I assume or otherwise suggest, when you read these photography articles you have your cameras handy so you can actually check out and play with what I write about.  Do it, and have a good time, while I take some time to go ashore.