Buying a new DSLR, or digital single-lens reflex camera, is an exciting experience. This type of interchangeable lens camera (ILC), preferred by the pros, enthusiasts, and anyone else who wants quality photographs, offers a bevy of features and adjustable settings to achieve superior images. Making the most of your new DSLR can also be a bit overwhelming if you’re a first-time user, even if it’s an entry-level model. To help you learn about your new camera and its functions, we’ve put together a guide explaining what each button on a DSLR’s body does, as well as common features associated with DSLR lenses. Exact placement of these buttons varies between brands and models, but they’re usually situated in the same general location and offer similar functionality. Canon and Nikon DSLRs will have their own minor idiosyncrasies and differences. That said, the brand likely makes little difference when you’re dealing with the shutter release, flash, and main power switch. Here, we’re looking at the buttons on an entry-level Canon DSLR, but you’ll find similar ones on cameras from Nikon, Ricoh Pentax, and Sony. (Note: Most of these buttons can be found in mirrorless ILCs as well, and perform the same function. Popular brands in this category include Panasonic, Olympus, Samsung, as well as the aforementioned companies.)
(David Elrich contributed to this article.)
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#1: Shutter release — The button that activates the shutter and captures a photo. The shutter is essentially a small panel that flips open, allowing light to filter through the lens and into the camera, which is then reflected by mirrors and captured as a photo on the image sensor. (Mirrorless cameras eliminate this mirror, hence the name.)
#2: Jog dial — The dial is used to change aperture and shutter speed settings. It’s also used for other adjustments, depending on the camera.
#3: Flash — Many DSLRs have automatic flashes – if the camera senses there’s not enough light, the flash will pop open, and fire away for a properly exposed photo. The flash button on your camera body will manually open it in case you want to add a fill flash for a portrait in the shadows, for example. Depending on the model, you can adjust the type of flash for specific photo..
#4: Power switch — The lever you hit to turn the camera on and off.
#5: Shooting mode dial — Also called the Main Mode Dial, you’ll turn this for the type of shooting you’d like to do. Most DSLRs have an Auto mode where the camera adjusts the focus, shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, and other settings for point-and-shoot simplicity. There are manual settings available as well, once you get familiar with the camera, called Program Auto Exposure, Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority, and full Manual; you’ll see P, A, S, M on the dial. Some DSLRs let you quickly access Scene settings such as Portrait, Landscape, Sports, and so on. There may also be a setting for Movies.
#6: Lens release — Press this key to unlock your lens properly.
#7: Autofocus — The switch for turning autofocus on your lens on and off. Most users leave this setting in Auto until they get familiar with manual focus.
#8: Image stabilizer — This switch turns image stabilization on, which helps prevent unwanted blur caused by camera movement. Again, it’s typically left on for everyday shooting. Some DSLRs have IS built into the camera so every lens you attach will be stabilized. Others, such as Canon and Nikon, will have the stabilization built into the lens.
#9: Zoom ring — Rotating the ring lets you zoom in and out on your subject.
#10: Focus ring — The ring used when manually adjusting focus.
#1: Diopter adjustment — The tiny dial next to the eye piece adjusts the sharpness of your viewfinder. Since everyone’s eyesight is different, this is a very convenient feature.
#2: Record/Live View — Here, it’s a combination button but the setup varies by manufacturer. Oftentimes you’ll use the viewfinder to frame your shots but if you want to see your subject on the larger LCD screen, you need to put the camera in the Live View mode. If you want to record a video, move the lever from still to movie, and then simply press the nearby record button. Tap it again and recording will stop.
#3: Trash/Exposure Value — Pressing this button deletes the currently selected image during playback. Here, it does double-duty for controlling exposure compensation.
#4: Zoom in/Exposure lock — Enlarges your photos while viewing them in playback mode. The button also doubles as the exposure lock, which will retain any changes to exposure settings made prior to pressing it.
#5: Zoom out/Focus point — Reduces your photos while viewing them in playback mode. The button also allows you to select specific points on an image as the main focal point.
#6: Display on/off — This button turns the LCD display on and off. It will also change the information you’ll see on the screen.
#7: ISO — This button brings up the menu to change your camera’s ISO (sensitivity) setting, which ranges from 100-25,600 (or more). Lower ISO numbers are used with strong sunshine, while higher ones are best for low light. Again, most people leave this in auto but the more you use your camera and manually adjust ISOs, you’ll learn which settings offer the best quality.
#8: AF-on — When held down, the AF button prevents the camera from using autofocus if that feature is enabled on the lens. Instead, it keeps the settings you had prior to pressing it.
#9: White balance — This button brings up your camera’s white balance options. Proper white balance gives photos truer and better-quality color. Along with Auto, there are icons for sunshine, clouds, indoors, and so on. Experiment with different settings to see which ones you like best.
#10: Playback — The playback button lets you to review images and videos shot with the camera.
#11: Menu — This aptly-titled button lets you access the camera’s main menu, where you adjust most options and camera settings.
#12: Burst/Timer/Jump — Press this button to put camera into burst mode (continuous high-speed shooting) or countdown. Burst is used to capture fast action. Jump lets you skip through multiple photos or videos while in playback mode, allowing you to quickly comb through your files.
#13: Set — The set button lets you select images while in playback mode, or accept menu items you’ve adjusted.
#14: Q — “Q” stands for quick or Quick Menu as is the case here. Press it and you’ll immediately see shooting parameters you can change using the jog dial or other controls. It’s quite handy for for quick navigation of the most commonly used functions of your camera.