Today's digital cameras can have many modes. They are usually accessed by one of three ways: A dedicated 'Mode Dial', the menu button, or a dedicated button to acces one or more modes. For example, some cameras have a dedicated video record button on the back instead of using the shutter button. The dial on the left is from my GE bridge camera, and is typical of many mid range cameras. There's the 'Usual' array of auto, scene, movie, panorama, manual, aperature, shutter and programme modes. Each manufacturer does things a little differently, and you'll notice that macro mode is not on the dial, whilst there's a dedicated portrait setting that is not common to many mananufacturers. Some Kodak cameras (my point & shoot included) have a dedicated mode button with a picture of a movie camera, which confuses the user into thinking it's the video record button, so be careful.

Depending on the mode selected, various options can be changed. Here we'll look at what these options are. With the exception of Auto or Scene mode, the majority of settings apply to all modes, but Aperature, Shutter and Manual modes, have extra options, specifically to do with aperature and shutter speeds. Here I'll explain the main settings that can be changed. Virtually all recent cameras have Auto, Scene & Programme Auto modes. Some manufacturers have their own names for Auto mode such as 'Smart Capture', 'Easy auto' or something similar.  There's very few settings that can be changed in this mode, usally image size (megapixels) and possibly image quality. You might also get a few setup options such as LCD brightness & time (how long image stays on screen), timer & burst settings. Switch to programme (P) mode, sand you'll get lots of options. Below is a list of the common settings in alphabetical order.

Common Camera Menu Settings (In Alphabetical Order).

AF Assist lamp: This is usually an infra red or similar coloured lamp that is projected from the camera to bounce back off objects to assist focus and give a sharper image. The options are usually On or Off. The technology does work, but slows down the camera a little, so unless you need to take a lot of images quickly in bright light or daylight, keep it on.

AF Mode: There's several methods of autofocus on most cameras. usually single point and multi point. Single uses a single point to focus on, whilst Multi will focus on several points of an image. My Kodak point 'n' shoot uses 5 areas, my GE bridge camera has 13, and the top end bridge models can have up to 98 points on which it will use to focus on.

Blink/Smile Detection: Some cameras will have a dedicated button. Others put these functions in the menus. My bridge camera has an option for both.

Continuous AF: The Camera will constantly be autofocussing, every movement will cause the camera to refocus. You'll still have to half press to focus if this is switched on, but you'll probably find focusing time is shortened.  If you have to photograph subjects that are constantly moving you're better off switching this on.

Contrast: Some models let you choose the level of contrast, so that blacks look darker for more outstanding photographs, especially black and white ones.

Copy To Card/Internal: If some of your images are on the built in camera memory  you can copy them to a memory card for easy transfer to your PC using it's card reader, or, if your card is full you cam move images to internal memory to take advantages of high speed memory card.

Crop: You can crop your images in camera. You usually use the zoom lever. It's not as precise as using an image editor, but it's useable.

Date/Time: This lets you set the correct time and date, which is inserted into the image data embedded into your photos.

Delete: If your camera hasn't got a dedicated delete button, you'll have to use this setting in the menu. Usually only available in Playback mode, options are One (the current single image displayed on screen) or All (entire card or internal memory). Some cameras will only let you delete all images from the menu system.

Digital Zoom: You can choose whether or not to activate digital zoom. Digital zoom is lower quality than Optical zoom, but if you keep it down to a low level it's hardly noticeable.

DPOF: Digital Print Order Format. You can select which images you want to print and how many copies you want to print of each image when you connect the camera to your printer.

Exposure Metering. There's usually three choices on offer. Every manufacturer will usually offer Centre and Spot weighting, plus it's own brand of multi zone exposuring such as Matrix, Multi Pattern, AiAe and others. Center weighting generally takes it's overall focus from the centre with a few outer points forr a balanced image, but the emphasis is firmly on the centre of the image. Spot focuses on a specific point, whilst the multi pattern/AiAe method will use several points.

Image Quality: Most cameras have 3 settings. Best, Better and Good. They can be fine, Normal, or even Economy. Different manufacturers use diferent names for each quality setting. My bridge camera takes 550 14Mp images on Best, 1094 on Fine and 2160 on Normal. Lower the resolution to 8 Mp and you get 969, 1893 and 3720 respectively. If you're running at VGA level (640 x 480 pixels or 0.3 Mp) then I can fit over 10,000 (the camera stops counting at 9,999 and no, I'ver took that many in one go).

Image Size: Allows you to change the size images are captured at. The smaller the Megapixel size, the more images can be captured. on your memory card.Also, the lower quality setting, the more images can be captured. As an example, on a 4 Gb card on best setting, my 14 Mp bridge camera takes about 550 14Mp 6 Mehabyte sized images on the 'Best' setting and 960 at 8 Mp.

ISO: This refers to the equivalent speed of film on a film camera. Film came in different speeds, ranging from ISO 50 upwards, usually in 100's.  and the highest in common use is ISO 3200. The higher the rating, the more graininess in the film. Also, the higher rating means the film can be used in either lower light, or to film faster moving subjects. ISO 50 is generally used for portraits, whilst ISO 100 and  200 are usually used for daylight conditions, whilst ISO 400 film and above are generally used for either fast moving subjects or to produce images that the graininess will enhance. On a digital camera, however, whilst a higher ISO speed will boost both the overall brightness and sharpness of an image, instead of introducing an artistic graininess, it delivers an ugly speckly 'Digital Noise' that gets progressively worse the higher the ISO rating. Modern compact digicams typically will have an ISO equivalent of 3200 whilst DSLRs can go up to 125,000. The bigger the camera's sensor is, the bigger the pixels, and the bigger each pixel is, the less noise there in the image. Modern point and shoot sensors are usually about half  an inch in size, and an 8 Mp (8 million pixels) one will show less noise than a 12 Mp (12 million pixels) in the same sized sensor.  DSLRs and the most expensive  semi pro bridge models use larger 2/3 of an inch. or even larger senors to reduce noise. For point and shoot users, shooting at ISO speeds up to 400 will produce acceptable results. It's reccommended that you shoot at as low an ISO speed as possible. Should the image be darker than intended, boost the ISO speed up and retake the shot. Cameras with digital image stabilisation generally use a a technique that includes increasing the ISO speed to produce a sharper image.

LCD Brightness: You can set how bright the LCD is on a percentage basis. The lower the brightness, the longer battery life is. However in bright sunlight some screens are difficult to see unless the brightness is 100%. Some models can be set to Auto, which increases the brightness on sunny days, and reduces it in darker situations to conserve battery life.

LCD Preview: After you've taken your shot it's automatically displayed  on screen for a few seconds. This option let's you choose how long it's displayed for. 2 - 3 seconds is usually long enough to allow you to view the image to decide if you need to re take it. Shorter times will help save battery life.

LCD Timer: This is a setting to turn your LCD off after a number of seconds/minutes to save battery life. A half press of the shutter or a press of any button will usually switch it back on.

Lighting (Hz). Some cameras let you select between 50 (Europe) and 60 Hz (Rest of world) for the lighting on indoor shots. Just like T.V.'s 50 Hz lights flicker more than 60 Hz ones. The camera adjusts for this, though I found no obvious difference when I had a camera with the function. Not many cameras have or need this function.

Memory or Storage: This will let you choose between using your memory card and the cameras Internal memory, or using an Auto Setting. Using the latter setting will enable the camera to switch to internal memory when the card is full.

Protect: Using this setting you can prevent images from being deleted in camera.

Red Eye Reduction: Removes red eyes in your images.

Resize: If you need to free up space on your memory card or internal memory you can resize it to make it smaller and fit more images.

Rotate: If you take your images in the portrait position (camera on it's side), when you transfer images to your computer they'll appear sideways. Use this option to rotate in camera so they transfer the right way up.

Saturation (Colour): most cameras let you choose the amount of colour in your images. terms vary between makes, but my Kodak Point-n-shoot has Vivid, Full and basic colour, whilst my GE Bridge camera has Vivid and Off (normal colour) and others will have Good and possibly Normal as well. In addition to the colour settings there will usaually be a Black and white setting, and probably a sepia setting (B&W with an yellowish brown tint) as well. Some cameras have coloured filters which will add a red, blue, yellow or green filter to your photos.

Sharpness: Not all cameras have this setting (my Kodak does, my GE doesn't), and three settings are offered: Soft, Normal and Sharp (sometimes called Hard). As the names suggest, the camera adds the selected level of sharpening to the image. It's down to personal choice as to what you prefer, but the professional reviews will usually tell you that the out of the camera images will need sharpening. This normally refers to the default setting of normal. I like my images Pin Sharp, and always use the sharp setting.

Shutdown/Power: Sets the amount of time after which the camera shuts off if no buttons are pressed. May also be used for LCD shutdown.

Sounds: You can assign a sound to various functions, such as a shutter sound when you take a picture, or a beep to a button press, or select which ones to have on or turn off.

White Balance: This is to ensure that you don't get odd colour casts on your photo's. Most cameras have 4 or 5 preset settings.  The default setting is usually Auto, which does a good job in most outdoor situations, but if you're shooting indoors you'll need to set it to the correct lighting, tungsten or fluorescant, whilst if it's a cloudy outdoors shot you might want to try that setting. Some cameras have a manual setting which is the best setting to use.

These are the most common menu items found on most compact and bridge cameras from the last 5 years. You might have fewer settings or extra ones. If you're unsure what any unlisted item on your camera is fo , please leave a comment below or post to the forums and I'll reply with an explanation of what it does.

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