Making your digital camera go faster

Making your digital camera go faster

SONY RX-100

SONY RX-100

 

“My digital camera takes forever to take a picture. By the time the camera snaps, my kid isn’t jumping any more.” Have you ever said this? If you are like people, you feel your digital camera is too slow. When you press the shutter, it seems like an eternity before it snaps the picture. When it does take the shot, whatever was happening is already over.

The goal of this article is to help you get more out of your digital camera. I will explain how to get great images of your kids, sports or anything else that moves quickly. The technical explanation of why your camera is slow is left for the end of this article.

How to make your camera faster
If using more expensive batteries or hitting a button fixed the slow digital camera problem, it would be great. Neither of those ideas will help but it is almost that easy if you know the tricks! The reason your digital camera takes so long is it needs time to focus.

More after the break…

Trick 1 (Fixed focus): The easiest way to make your camera focus faster is to put it in Landscape mode. Figures 1 and 2 show what Landscape mode might look like on your camera. On some cameras, if you turn your camera to Landscape, it will lock the focus and make it shoot several times faster. It is just that easy. Some cameras lock the focus for Landscape mode and others do not, so you will need to try this on your camera.

However, there is a downside to Trick 1. The one problem with putting your camera in Landscape mode is that anything closer than 8 feet will be out of focus. That is the bad news about Trick 1. However, anything moving fast will be more than 8 feet away most of the time. If things are too close or your camera shoots the same speed in Landscape as any other mode, you will need to use Trick 2.

Trick 2 (Pre-focus): What if you just need to take pictures of something moving fast and closer than 8 feet? You have to make your camera focus before actually shooting the picture. Put the camera is Auto (Green) or Sports mode first. Then press the shutter button half-way down. Each camera is different so you will have to feel for the button stop. The LCD on the back will show that the camera is focused. Now when you fully press the shutter button, the camera will instantly take a picture.

There is one challenge with using Trick 2. If what you are taking pictures of moves closer or farther away, it will be out of focus. If that is the case, let off the shutter button, press it half way down again and wait.

That’s all there is to it. Using Trick 1 and Trick 2, you will capture great photos of fast things every time!

The technical material

Pre-focus – The problems with Trick 2
Trick 2 covers the advantages of using the pre-focus technique. However, when a subject moves closer or farther away, the shutter has to be released and half-pressed again. The reason for this is the object has moved out of the depth of field (DOF) of your camera, resulting in an out-of-focus subject. What this means is that for any point that you focus on, there is only a certain range of distances that is in focus. That range is dependent on factors beyond the scope of this article. The end result is the photographer must be aware of how far away a subject is and has the subject moved significantly from the pre-focus point? If so, then half-press the shutter release again and shoot the photo.

Trick 2, Advanced
Trick 2 revolves around the technique of focusing where you believe the action will occur. This is not as easy as it sounds. Even professional photographers have to guess at this for fast-paced action, though those with more experience are able to anticipate where something interesting will happen but it’s still a guess. With unpredictable movement, say a soccer game, there is no really good way around make a guess. You have to choose a distance you want and wait for the action to move there. This is much easier for sports like football and baseball where there is a more predictable direction of travel.

Why not just use Sports mode? It’s the fastest on the camera, right?
Sports mode on a digital camera makes the shutter fire much faster, up to 1/1000th of a second. In fact, it is possible to freeze a flying baseball in mid-air. However, the camera still takes one second to focus before taking that super-fast photograph. What this means is the action has to be anticipated and you have to pre-focus to get the most out of the high-speed sports mode.

Why are digital cameras slower than film cameras? Aren’t they better?
Many film cameras have fixed focus or short focus lenses, meaning that when the shutter is depressed, there is a very short time before the picture is taken. Digital cameras seem to have a longer focus throw mechanism, causing the time between depressing the shutter button and the picture actually being taken to be quite long.

Also, zoom lenses have to move out of the camera body, requiring them to re-focus every time. What this means is that every time the shutter is pressed, the digital camera has to run the focus motor, find a focus point and then take the picture. This operation seems excruciatingly slow in comparison to a fixed lens camera. Even professional camera bodies take a half second or more to move a lens from near to far focus. My most expensive lens ($1,500) takes 1.5 seconds to go from near to far focus. That’s slow! The reason pros have better success is that they learn to anticipate the action and pre-focus their cameras.

Advertising of how “fast” a digital camera is
Some digital camera makers claim that their cameras take pictures real fast. No “shutter lag” is a term you might read. Their digital camera might have an unnoticeable short “shutter lag” but there is a little asterisk behind that big claim. The advertised speed is quoted is always after the camera focuses. What does that mean? After waiting a full second for the camera to focus, their camera takes an image in a few hundredths of a second. So, their camera is no faster than any other manufacturer’s. A digital camera takes 1 second to focus and 1/125th of a second to take the picture. The advertising claim is that a camera shaves off a few hundredths of a second off the focus. The difference between 1.15 and 1.12 seconds is indistinguishable.

Conclusion
To get better pictures of your kids and all moving things, Trick 1 and Trick 2 will take you a long way. Each trick isn’t perfect but anyone can learn these tricks easily. These tricks don’t solve the actual problem but until digital cameras focus faster, are the best options available.

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