The First User’s Guide to the Canon Rebel T4i / EOS 650D Now Available!

Canon T4i / 650D Experience, my most recent Full Stop dSLR e-book and the first available user’s guide to the T4i / 650D, goes beyond the manual to help you learn the features, settings, and controls of the advanced and versatile T4i / 650D, plus most importantly how, when, and why to use the functions, settings, and controls in your photography.

Written in the clear, concise, and comprehensive style of all Full Stop guides, Canon T4i / 650D Experience will help you learn to use your Canon T4i / 650D quickly and competently, to consistently create the types of images you want to capture. The e-book is available in PDF format for reading on your computer, e-reader, or tablet.

Learn more about it, preview it, and purchase it here:

As one reader has said about the previous Canon T3i Experience e-book:A Must-Have Accessory – What a great addition to my bag. This is a well written, full body of work that explains, in plain English, how to get the most out of my new camera.  Doug provides the knowledge and experience to bring you to the next level.  I look forward to learning more every time I open the book.”

Take control of your Rebel T4i / EOS 650D, the image taking process, and the photos you create!

Canon Rebel T4i 650D book ebook manual guide tutorial instruction bible how to dummies field EOS

For beginner, intermediate and enthusiast photographers:  This Canon T4i / 650D e-book is for those who wish to get more out of their camera and to go beyond Auto+ and Program modes and shoot in Aperture Priority (Av), Shutter Priority (Tv), and Manual (M) modes. To get your camera set up, it begins with explanations and recommended settings for all Menu settings, Custom Function options, and Movie Mode Menu settings of the T4i / 650D.  It covers basic dSLR camera functions and exposure concepts for those new to digital SLR photography, and explains more advanced camera controls and operation, such as using the various metering modes and exposure compensation for correct exposure of every image, controlling autofocus modes and focus points for sharp focus of still or moving subjects, and making use of the camera’s new multi-shot exposure modes.

Canon T4i / 650D Experience focuses on still-photography with an introduction to the movie menus and settings to get you up and running with video. Sections include:

  • Setting Up Your Camera – All of the Menu settings and Custom Function settings for the T4i / 650D, including movie mode menus, with brief descriptions and recommended settings for practical, everyday use. Set up and customize the advanced features of this dSLR to work best for the way you photograph.
  • Camera Controls – Description of all of the camera’s controls, plus when and why to use them, including how to take advantage of the new Touch Screen and Quick Control settings screens.
  • Aperture Priority (Av), Shutter Priority (Tv), and Manual (M) Modes – How and when to use them to create dramatic depth of field, freeze or express motion, or take total control over exposure settings.
  • Auto Focusing Modes and Drive Modes – How they differ, how and when to use them to capture sharp images of both still and moving subjects. Also how and when to use focus lock and back-button focusing.
  • Exposure Metering Modes of the Canon T4i / 650D – How they differ, how and when to use them for correct exposures in every situation. Also how to make use of exposure lock.
  • Histograms, Exposure Compensation, Bracketing, and White Balance – Understanding and using these features for adjusting to the proper exposure in challenging lighting situations.
  • Lenses – Explanation of Canon lenses and choosing your next lens.
  • Composition – Brief tips, techniques, and explanations, including the creative use of depth of field.
  • The Image Taking Process – A descriptive tutorial for using the settings and controls you just learned to take still and action photos.
  • Photography Accessories – The most useful accessories for day-to-day and travel photography including those specific to this camera, plus recommended photography books.
  • Introduction to Video Settings – Some basic settings to get you started.

This digital guide to the Canon Rebel T4i / EOS 650D is a 165 page illustrated e-book that goes beyond the manual to explain how, when, and why to use the features, settings, and controls of the T4i / 650D to help you get the most from your camera.

Learn more about Canon T4i / 650D Experience e book manual for the Rebel T4i / EOS 650D on my Full Stop website here:


Canon Rebel T4i / 650D vs. EOS 60D

Canon Rebel T4i vs. EOS 60D

I first introduced and discussed the new Canon Rebel T4i in this recent post, Introduction the the Canon Rebel T4i.  I encourage you to read that first to learn about all the features of the T4i. Then you may be wondering about how to choose between the T4i vs. the Canon EOS 60D, so I go into more detail about that here:

The predecessor to the T4i, the T3i, shared several important features with the 60D including the same 18 MP image sensor and the 63 zone exposure metering mode, both allowing you to get great, high-quality, well exposed images even in challenging lighting situations.  However, the T3i lacked a couple critical features that dedicated enthusiast photographers might eventually find that they would need, even if they weren’t ready or knowledgeable enough to use them right away.  They might have found that the less accurate autofocus system was eventually not up to their needs and that the slower continuous shooting speed limited the moments they could capture.

Canon Rebel T4i EOS 650D unbox unboxing compare vs T3i 60D choose decide

As I discussed above, the new Canon Rebel T4i / 600D demonstrates a significant leap in the “trickle-down” trend by borrowing several additional important features from the 60D, including the more accurate all-cross-type 9 point autofocus system and 5 frames per second, faster continuous shooting speed.  The fact that both of these cameras, the T4i and 60D, now share numerous key features, it is obviously a challenge to decide between them.

There are still a few features, however, that may help you decide one way or the other. The T4i has added continuous autofocusing while shooting video and a couple new Movie autofocus modes to best make use of this.  If you intend to shoot lots of video with your camera, this could be an important deciding factor. The T4i also adds a Touch Screen, allowing you to change settings, navigate menus, and browse through images with iPhone-like multi-touch gestures.  This isn’t a vital feature for taking better images, but it may be a convenience issue that makes a difference.

But the 60D still holds some important advantages for those who intend to be serious and dedicated to their photography, and who wish to use their camera as a versatile tool to fit with how they shoot. The 60D still offers a bigger and brighter viewfinder, additional external buttons and controls which makes changing camera settings on the fly much quicker and easier.  For example it has the metering mode, autofocus mode, etc. buttons right on top for easy access, plus the large Quick Control Dial on the rear of the camera to quickly change exposure compensation or to help with changing settings and rapidly moving through menus, and the all-important AF-ON button allowing more control over autofocus operation.

The 60D also has a slightly more rugged build than the T4i and some amount of weatherproofing seals, where the T4i basically has none.  Even more importantly, the 60D boasts additional Custom Function options, which will allow you to customize the camera and its functions to operate  exactly how you want them to: Safety Shift, Bracketing Sequence, ISO increments at 1/2 or 1/3 rather than full stops, dial direction reversal.  While some of these options may not seem important to the casual user, the heavy-duty user will find them indispensable in increasing their efficiency and deceasing their aggravation. And due to some of the additional features/ controls and stronger build, the body of the 60D is larger, feels sturdier, and is better balanced with the larger heavier lenses that a more dedicated photographer will likely be using sooner or later.

Introduction to the Canon Rebel T4i / 650D

Canon Rebel T4i / EOS 650D:

(After learning about the features of the new T4i here, see this other post for a comparison of the Canon Rebel T4i vs. EOS 60D)

Each year as Canon updates its high end Rebel (or xxxD) model, they borrow additional features from their more advanced (and more expensive) dSLR cameras, resulting in higher and higher quality consumer models that incorporate previous “pro” and “pro-sumer” features. The T2i then T3i added the improved 63 zone exposure metering system, 18 megapixel sensor, wireless controlled external flash, and full HD video of the pro-sumer models, plus threw in some additional menu items, custom function options, and in-camera processing features that were lacking in previous Rebels.

Canon Rebel T4i EOS 650D features compare
The Canon Rebel T4i / EOS 650D (image by the author)

Trickle-Down Features: The new Canon Rebel T4i / 650D demonstrates a significant leap in this “trickle-down” trend by taking the all-cross-type 9 point autofocus system and faster continuous shooting speed from the 60D and introducing these to the Rebel line. Although these previous omissions were seemingly necessary to differentiate the Rebels from the mid-level 50D/ 60D line, they resulted in two of the few but important “shortcomings” of the Rebels: they always had a less precise autofocus system with only one cross-type AF point (the center one), and a slower frames-per-second maximum continuous shooting speed. (Learn more about why cross-type points are so great just below.) Now with these improved features, the differences between the T4i and the mid-level 60D have been significantly reduced. (The 60D still offers additional external buttons and controls, slightly more rugged build and weatherproofing, and additional Custom Function options.)

All New LCD and Movie Focus: In addition, the T4i adds a first for a Canon dSLR: a touch-screen LCD that can be used for settings selection, image review, menu navigation, and even autofocusing or shutter release in Live View. Plus it offers a totally revamped hybrid autofocus system for Live View and Movie shooting that makes use of phase detection and contrast detect, allowing for another Canon dSLR first: continuous autofocus during Live View and Movie shooting. The phase detection aspect of the new AF system allows the camera to determine both the out-of-focus distance and the direction in which to correct, finally eliminating the slow and awkward focus hunting of previous models. Add one of the new “step motor” STM lenses such as the 18-135mm kit lens or the 40mm “pancake” and the lens will now silently focus during movie shooting, thus eliminating the autofocus motor noise previously picked up by the camera’s microphone. (Did I mention the built-in mic is now a stereo mic! And there is a stereo mic input jack.) Plus the image stabilization of the 18-135mm EF-S IS STM lens is designed to counteract camera shake caused by walking while shooting video.

Canon T4i EOS 650D Rebel T3i autofocus viewfinder 9 point cross type
Simulated view of the Canon T3i/ T4i viewfinder with 9 autofocus (AF) points. (Image by author)

All Cross-Type AF Points:  Cross-type autofocus points are more accurate and more desired because they can grab focus on a wider range of subjects. If your non-cross-type point is oriented only in the vertical direction, and you aim it at a subject displaying a strong line also also in the vertical direction (such as the side of a door frame) it will not be able to detect the line or a change in contrast, and will not be able to focus. Aim it at the strong horizontal line of the top of the door, and it will lock right on. (learn more about autofocus concepts here.)

So the fact that the T4i uses cross-type AF sensors for all 9 AF points means that the autofocus system is significantly more accurate, and you can confidently use not just the center AF point but all the outer points as well to focus on or track a subject. Not to mention that the center AF point is now also an even more accurate diagonal cross-type sensor when using an f/2.8 lens.

Faster Frame Rate: The T4i now boasts a more rapid 5 frames per second maximum continuous shooting speed, and incorporates the speedy Digic 5 processor, narrowing another major difference with the mid-level 60D. These features will allow you to capture quicker shots in a burst thus giving you the greater possibility of capturing just the right moment of action or the best facial expression or pose.

As mentioned, the Canon T4i also finally brings us great quality touch-sensitive (not old-fashioned pressure-sensitive) touch-screen capabilities on a Canon dSLR (with smear-resistance!). You can select and change your settings on the Quick Control Screen (Q Screen) simply by touching your choice, or use it to tell the camera where to focus during Live View shooting. It can also be used to navigate the menus, and during image playback you can easily swipe and zoom with iPhone-like multi-touch motions and response. Early reports indicate that the screen responds incredibly well, and the graphic layout of icons and options make it easy to use. This 1 million pixel LCD screen is fully articulating, as with the T3i and 60D.

New Live View/ Movie AF Modes: So in addition to the upgraded AF system during stills shooting, Canon has modified the Live View and Movie Shooting autofocus system, which now offers Face Detection+Tracking, FlexiZone-Multi, and FlexiZone-Single AF modes rather than the previous Quick, Live, and Face AF Modes. Quick Mode AF is still also available for Live View shooting. (With Quick Mode you use the 9 auto focus points, similar to the viewfinder AF Points, as displayed on the LCD Monitor. But since the camera is using the autofocus sensor to focus, it momentarily interrupts the Live View on the LCD Monitor when it flips the mirror back down to access the AF sensor.)

All of these features contribute to the T4i / 650D being quite an amazing consumer level camera. In most ways it is a higher-quality, more capable camera that the pro-sumer 50D of just a few years ago, and it will definitely fulfill the needs and expectations of most any enthusiast shooter. The only reasons one would need to step up to the 60D would be if you need more direct access to controls, buttons, and settings on the body of the camera in order to change and adjust settings on the fly, if you needed a slightly more rugged and dust/water-proof body, and wanted greater ability to customize the controls and functions of the camera with its additional Custom Functions.

Borrowing from the 5D MkIII:  The specs also note that due to the faster Digic 5 processor, the T4i has Lens Aberration Correction and Chromatic Aberration Correction features as first seen on the 5D3, as well as a new Ambient Light Correction.

Canon Rebel T4i EOS 650D mode dial
Note the additional Mode Dial options and Power Switch change (Movie Shooting Mode) to the Canon T4i (image courtesy of Canon USA)

Some Extras: And in addition to the standard Creative Zone shooting modes (Av, Tv, P, M) and the Basic Zone modes (Flash Off, Creative Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Close-Up, Sports, Night Portrait) the T4i eliminates the Automatic Depth of Field mode on the dial and adds Night shooting without a tripod and HDR backlight compensation. Movie Shooting mode is removed from the Shooting Mode dial and is added to the On-Off switch. The T4i includes the Auto+ Shooting Mode (Scene Intelligent Auto) introduced on the T3i and even used on the 5D Mark III, where the camera analyzes the specific scene in order to automatically determine the best and most appropriate exposure, white balance, Picture Style, focus, and other settings.

The T4i shares the same battery (the LP-E8) and the same battery grip (the BG-E8) as the T3i and T2i. The fun filter (Creative Filters) effects introduced in the previous models (including Grainy Black and White, Soft Focus, Fish-eye Effect, Toy Camera Effect, Miniature Effect) are all still available, plus a couple new ones such as Water Painting and Art Bold.

Order your T4i from Amazon or B and H Photo today:

(If you plan to purchase the T4i, or any photo equipment or books etc., I encourage you to do so through these referral links. While your price will be the same, they will give me a little something for the referral, which helps to support my blog and my work – thanks!  I appreciate your support!)

Canon T4i from Amazon – body only, 18-55mm kit, or new 18-135mm STM kit

Canon T4i from B&H Photo – body only, 18-55mm kit, or new 18-135mm STM kit

Remember to check out this other post for a comparison of the Canon Rebel T4i vs. EOS 60D.

For a full list of Rebel T4i / EOS 650D specifications and features, have a look here:


Taking Control of Your Canon Autofocus System

This article mostly applies to the 9 point autofocus system of the Canon 60D and the Rebels including the T5i / 700D and T4i / EOS 650D (and their predecessors), as well as to the new Canon 6D and its 11 AF points.  The Canon EOS 7D also shares the same Autofocus Modes discussed below, but it adds Autofocus Area Modes to the mix as well as additional Custom Functions affecting the AF system, so I will have to address those additional capabilities in the future (or you can learn all about them now in my Canon 7D Experience e-book).  I have written a separate post that addresses the AF system of the Canon 5D Mark III.

You can learn much more about using these cameras with my Full Stop e-book camera guides for Canon dSLR cameras.

Using Auto Focus
One of the essential steps in taking a successful photo is controlling where the camera focuses.  If you allow the camera to auto focus by choosing its own focus point(s), it typically focuses on the closest object.  This may or may not be what you want to focus on, so you should select where the camera focuses using the Auto Focus Points.  This does not mean you have to manually focus the camera, it means you tell the camera exactly where to autofocus.  For example, you often want to focus on a subject’s eyes, but if you allow the camera to choose the autofocus point itself, it may select another part of the face, or somewhere else on the body, or even a raised hand that is nearer to the camera than the face to focus most sharply on.  If you are capturing an image of a bird in a tree, the camera has no idea you want the autofocus system to zero-in on the bird so that it is in sharp focus and not the branches or leaves near it, or the leaves closest to you.

Autofocus works by looking for contrast, so try to focus (place your AF Point) on a detail with a strong line or strong contrast between light and dark.  It may not be able to focus on a large area of consistent color – such as a white wall or blue sky or even an evenly colored and lit shirt – or on a subject that is too dark.  It can be disrupted by regular patterns or confused when looking through close objects to objects farther away, such as looking through a fence.  And it sometimes fails to work as well in dim light, though the AF-Assist Beam can assist in this situation.  When photographing people, always try to focus somewhere on the face, ideally on the eyes or eyebrows, then recompose the framing of your image if necessary.

Select an Auto Focus Point, or AF Point, using the Multi-Controller or using the AF Point Selection Button and the Cross Keys (depending on your camera).  If you have a model with the Multi-Controller (such as the 60D with the thumb-pad or the 7D or 5DII with the thumb-joystick), be sure to set the Custom Function setting for AF Point Selection Method so that you can directly change the AF Point without pressing the AF Button first.

Canon 60D T3i 600D autofocus system AF point select choose set setting
Figure 1 – The selected AF Point is located over the subject’s eye in order to ensure the camera autofocuses where desired.  (Canon 60D viewfinder shown, T3i/600D viewfinder similar)

To see how autofocus point selection works, make sure the switch on your lens it set to AF and your Autofocus Mode, as seen on the top LCD Panel or rear LCD screen, is set to One Shot, then:

•    Tap the Shutter Button with a half-press to wake up the camera.
•    Looking through the viewfinder, use the Multi-Controller or Cross Keys to select the focus point that is nearest to where you want to focus.
•    Place that point over your intended subject.
•    Press and hold the Shutter Button halfway down and see that point blink red.  The Focus Confirmation Light should light up in your viewfinder.  You have locked the focus.
•    Keeping the Shutter Button pressed halfway, recompose if necessary, and take the shot by fully pressing the Shutter Button.

There are reasons to use the outer focus points and not just the center one all the time.  First, if you are taking several shots of the same subject and framing, you will not have to re-focus with the center point and recompose between each shot.  And by controlling exactly where you focus, you then have greater, more precise control over the use of dramatic depth of field.  Also, if you use the center point and recompose, you have swept the camera in an arc to recompose, and are thus always focusing at a distance behind the subject (think of an arc that is your focus distance, and the tangent line off that arc that is the focus plane which now runs behind the subject after re-composing).  This may not be as noticeable when the subject is further away, but for a close subject – especially when using shallow depth of field – the difference is critical.

It may sound difficult to select the focus point each time, but it is actually very quickly done and should become instinctive.  You may even start to set your focus point as you approach a scene before even bringing your camera to your eye.

Focus Modes
The 60D and T3i (and 5D/ 5DII and 7D) have different focus modes to choose from, typically depending if your subject is still or moving, or if you wish to track its movement.

One-Shot AF
Use this mode when your subject is still and not going to move, or if your subject is not going to move very much, or if the distance between you and the subject is not going to change between the time you lock focus, recompose, and take the shot.  Lock focus on the subject and recompose if necessary.  This mode can even be used for moving people or objects if you quickly take the shot after establishing or locking focus.

Focus on your subject by pressing the Shutter Button halfway.  The active or selected AF Point will be displayed or will illuminate, and the Focus Confirmation Light at the lower right in the Viewfinder will illuminate as well.  Continue to press the Shutter Button all the way to take the shot.  If you half-press the Shutter Button to lock focus on your subject, the camera will remain focused at that distance as long as you keep half-pressing the Shutter Button.  You can recompose the shot as you wish and then full press the Shutter Button to take the photo.

As just noted, if the Focus Confirmation Light does not light up and the camera does not take the photo, the camera may not be finding enough contrast to focus on, you may be too close to your subject for the lens to focus, or the lighting may be too dim for the AF system to work properly.

However, if you are photographing a subject that is approaching or receding from view at a relatively constant rate, or photographing fast or erratic or unpredictably moving subjects, or photographing sports, action, or wildlife you will usually want to use AI Servo Focus Mode.

Canon 7D 5D mark II 60D T3i 600D autofocus system AF point choose select set setting
Figure 2 – Use One-Shot AF mode and select your desired AF Point to capture still or moderately moving subjects.  (Canon T3i viewfinder shown – 60D similar)

AI Servo
AI Servo mode is used for tracking and focusing on moving subjects, and is ideal for capturing sports and wildlife including birds.  If the subject is moving towards you or away from you the camera will keep evaluating the focus distance as long as the subject remains under the focus point that was originally active and the Shutter Button is kept half-pressed, and if the subject is moving from side to side or throughout the frame the camera will track it as it passes from one AF Point or Zone to the other ones (if you started tracking with the center AF point on the 60D and T3i or any selected AF point with the 7D).

If the subject is going to be moving across your field of view, set the camera to automatically select the focus point using all the AF points (this is one of the few times you will not be manually selecting the auto focus point), focus on the moving subject with the center focus point, and then as long as the Shutter Button remains half-pressed the camera will track the subject to the other focus points if it moves to them.  Thus when the image is taken, the subject is in focus.  This will even work in conjunction with continuous shooting.  If you keep the Shutter Button fully pressed and continue to take photos, the camera will keep focusing on the moving subject.  As you can imagine, this is ideal for tracking a player running across a field, a dog running toward you, or a bird moving across the fame.  Note that when shooting with Continuous Shooting Drive Mode not every shot may be in sharp focus as the camera sometimes can’t keep up and accurately predict the subject’s speed or location.  But you should be able to capture many sharp images with this technique.  The more sophisticated Canon 7D will allow you to start tracking moving subjects with any selected AF Point and not just the center AF Point.  These are the types of advanced capabilities you are paying for (and should take advantage of!) with a more expensive dSLR.

As you will see, when using AI Servo mode your compositions will be partially dictated by the positions of the autofocus points in your Viewfinder.  The subject needs to be at one of these AF Points in order for the camera to maintain focus on it.  This is why in some situations becoming skilled at quickly using One-Shot AF – even for action scenes – will give you much more ability to control your compositions.

AI Focus
This mode is a hybrid of the two other focus modes.  It starts in One-Shot AF mode then changes to AI Servo mode if your subject starts moving.  Why shouldn’t you use this all the time, then?  Well, it is typically not the best of both worlds.  If you are focusing and then recomposing, as you may often be doing, your movement of the camera may fool it into thinking that the subject is moving and then activate subject tracking AI Servo Mode, and your resulting focus may not be where you intend it to be or may not be as accurate as it could have been with One-Shot AF.  And in AI Focus Mode it may not be as quick to respond to a moving subject as it would in AI Servo Mode.  Typically you know if your subject is still or moving so it is better to select one of the other two AF Modes.  Plus that way you always know which AF Mode you are working in and can either lock focus where you want it or begin tracking a subject without wondering what mode the camera is in and if it will suddenly change.  But there may be situations that call for this combination mode such as a still bird or animal that may start moving unexpectedly, so keep it in mind.

How do you remember which mode is which since the terms “AI Servo” and “AI Focus” tell you nothing that makes sense?  Although I listed them in a different order above to explain them more easily, on your camera they are listed:


Remember that One-Shot AF just focuses once and doesn’t change once you lock it in, and AI Servo AF is the other extreme – continuous focus used for moving objects. And AI Focus AF is listed in the middle, between the two, because it is the hybrid, combination of the two.

Checking Focus
You can review your images on the rear LCD Monitor of your camera to try to determine if they are in focus, especially by zooming in as close as possible.  But be aware that this screen has only about one million dots or pixels, while your actual image has about 18 million pixels.  That means that many images will appear to be in proper focus on your LCD screen, but you might discover that the actual images are not really so sharply in focus.

Before continuing, I want to mention that much of this text is excerpted from my dSLR guides for the Canon EOS 6D, Canon 70D, Rebel T5i / EOS 700D, Rebel T4i / EOS 650D, and the Canon EOS 7D. If you would like to learn more about the autofocus systems as well as all the other features of your camera including metering modes, Aperture and Shutter priority modes (Av and Tv), all the menus and Custom Function settings, and more, have a look at my Full Stop e-book camera guides. In addition to explaining the features and settings, the guides clearly explain when and why to use them in order to capture the images you desire.

Take control of your camera and the images you create!

Learn more about the e-books by clicking on the banner below:

full stop dslr photo photography camera manual guide for dummies canon nikon


To learn about another important reason why you need to take control of your autofocus system, and why the two example photos above actually weren’t my final compositions, see the next post:

Don’t Let the Locations of the AF Points Dictate Your Composition

What do you do when, with your desired framing, your subject is not located exactly under or near an AF point?  Even with the 19 or 39 points of an advanced Canon 7D or Nikon D7000, this will often be an issue.  For example in Figure 2 above, I actually wish to capture the entire window and more space around it within the image frame, but moving the camera and framing for that composition leaves me with no AF Point at the woman where I wish to focus.  Have a look at the above post to learn why this is an issue and how to resolve it.

Focus and Depth of Field

Many functions of dSLR cameras are related to some degree or another, and Focus and Depth of Field are two of these.  The depth of field, based on your aperture setting (and thus related to exposure…) expands forward and back from your point of focus.  Thus, one important aspect of controlling your depth of field begins with focusing exactly where you want to.  To begin learning more about depth of field, have a look at my post Depth of Field Simplified.

Was this post helpful?  Please let others know about it by clicking the Facebook or Twitter sharing buttons below, linking to it from your blog or website, or mentioning it on a forum.  Thanks!  Want to help support this blog with no cost or effort?  Simply click on the Amazon, B&H Photo, or Adorama logos on the left side of this page to go to those sites and make your purchases.  They will then give me a little referral bonus!

Exploring Metering Modes

It is one thing to know that your cool new Canon or Nikon digital SLR provides you with 3 or 4 different metering modes. It’s another thing to know how and when to actually use them in the field or in different real life situations. The Canon 5D, 7D, 60D, 50D and T3i all offer four different metering modes – Evaluative, Center-Weighted, Partial, and Spot – as I’m sure you have thoroughly read about in your manual, right? Nikons, like the D7000, D51000, and D3100 generally have three different modes: Matrix, Center-Weighted, and Spot. I’ll try to cut to the chase and simplify the explanations and their uses.  Note that there are some important differences between how they work for Canon and Nikon cameras, particularly the Spot mode.

Canon T3i T2i 60D metering mode partial spot viewfinder
The viewfinder of the Canon T3i (T2i and 60D similar) showing the areas evaluated for Partial Metering (superimposed grey area) and Spot Metering (black circle in center).

Evaluative (Canon) or Matrix (Nikon): This is the default mode for your camera, and it can be used for almost every situation you shoot. Yes, maybe 90% of the time, maybe more. The camera evaluates the entire scene, as divided into several zones, and chooses the best exposure based on its knowledge of thousands of potential image situations. The current metering systems are so good, they can even be relied on for backlit or other challenging lighting situations. An important feature of this mode is that advanced cameras such as the Canon 7D, Canon 60D or Nikon D7000, D5100 take into account the selected focus point in its determination of exposure settings. It is assuming your focus point is on your most important subject, so under challenging and critical situations, it is wise to confirm that the camera has chosen the focus point you want (well, this is always wise). Even better, you should typically manually choose the focus point or cluster of focus points, as the camera has no idea what your intended image is. So in special situations, such as dramatically back-lit scenes or a situation with bright light plus deep shadows, make sure you are not using the center point to focus and meter, and then recomposing to take the shot – because some of the zones that the camera evaluated are now no longer in your shot after recomposing, and other new areas are, so the camera has set exposure for an image other than the one you are taking.

San Miguel Duenas, Guatemala

Partial (Canon only): This mode meters a smaller area, about 9.4%, in the center of the scene on the 7D and 6.5% with the 60D. Nikons do not have this mode, though some Nikons such as the D7000 offer the ability to change the size of the Center-Weighted Metering circle (see Center-Weighted Metering below), so it makes up for this.  The area is approximately a circle that reaches to the top and bottom focus points, and the metering system ignores the rest of the frame. This mode is useful where there is a dramatic difference in lighting between the foreground or subject and the background. For example, when your subject is backlit – maybe standing in front of a bright window or the sun – and consequently their face is in shadow. I know I said evaluative mode can often handle this type of situation, but if you want the face or subject to be properly exposed and not risk blowing the shot, it is worth it to quickly switch to Partial metering mode. Again, another time to use this is when there is a wide range of light in your scene, from bright sunlight to deep shadows. Remember, this mode is not linked to your focus point. The partial area that is metered is always in the center, so meter on the part of the scene that is most critical and that you want properly exposed, using the central area of the viewfinder, lock in that exposure, then recompose and take the shot.

Campo Nuevo, Guatemala

Important Note about Locking In the Metered Exposure: The metered exposure setting is sometimes locked in by pressing the shutter button half-way down or sometimes not “locked” until the image is taken (depending on your camera, or current shooting mode, or how you set it up – read your manual!).  The shutter button also typically locks focus (unless you have changed that setting).  If you wish to lock in focus and exposure separately, which you often will need to do, on a Canon use the AF-Lock (for focus) button and/ or the AE-Lock (for exposure) button – which looks like this: * – to lock in one of them before locking in the other with the half-press or full press of the shutter button. On the Nikons, you have to set one of your buttons to be the exposure lock button, either the AE-L/AF-L Button or the Fn Button on some cameras like the D7000. I suggest first metering on the subject and locking in that exposure by pressing the appropriate button, then recomposing and locking in focus right before or as you take the photo. Or else learning the advanced methods of back button focusing. Get in the habit of knowing how to do this instinctively, and if you need to hold or just press the particular button, so that it comes naturally during critical situations. On the 7D and D7000 and other cameras you can also customize how these buttons perform or set other buttons to do these tasks. You can see in the viewfinder that you have locked focus when the focus dot is lit. You can see that exposure is locked with the AE-L indication in the Nikon viewfinder or the * symbol in the Canon viewfinder.

Locking exposure and focus, independently, each in the brief seconds before you take a shot? Confusing? A little, but not impossible to figure out with some experimentation and practice. Remember, this is why you bought the fancy dSLR, so that you could make use of all these advanced features and take your photos to another level!

Center-Weighted Average: This metering mode is sort of a cross between Evaluative and Partial metering. It acknowledges that the subject is in the center and requires special metering attention, but it also takes into account all the other zones. Again, this is not linked to the focus point, but always to the center, so if your subject is off center – which it typically should be for a more dynamic image – you need to lock in exposure on your subject and then recompose. I have found that with the Canon 50D, this mode is actually more consistent than Evaluative metering, which often over exposes by 1/3 or 1/2 a stop.  Note that you can use the Custom Settings of the D7000 to change the size of the center area being weighted.

This mode can be used when you want to ensure that the subject is properly exposed, but you also want the camera to consider the background. However, if the background is much darker or lighter than the subject, and you want the camera to expose only for the subject and ignore the background, use Spot Metering…

San Miguel Duenas, Guatemala

Spot: This mode meters a small center area, 2.3% of the frame with the 7D, 2.8% with the 60D, and 2.5% with the D5100 and D7000. This area is indicated by the small circle in the center of the viewfinder of the 7D and 60D. There is no center circle in the Nikon viewfinder and you will soon find out why.  So when do you want to use Spot metering? This, again, is useful for scenes with great variation in light and shadow, or in very critical situations. One of the most common ways to use it is when metering for proper exposure on a dramatically lit face or subject, but the exposure of the rest of the scene is unimportant. Or perhaps your subject is set against a plain but consistent background, like a bird against a large blue sky. It is also used to determine proper exposure of a subject before switching the camera to manual for a controlled studio shot, or a critical shot or series of shots where the lighting is not going to change. If your background is completely dark or extremely bright, and you don’t want the exposure system to consider it at all when determining the exposure of you subject, use Spot rather than Center-Weighted or Partial. With Canon cameras, the Spot that is used to evaluate the exposure is in the center of the frame, and is often indicated by a small circle. However, with Nikon cameras like the D5100 and D7000, the Spot surrounds the active focus point and is not necessarily in the center of the frame unless you are using the center AF point. So it is wise to become familiar with how your camera operates.

A fifth metering mode is Manual metering, which isn’t actually a mode in your camera, but is a method of metering. This is where you use a light meter or use your camera as a light meter (such as described at the end in the Spot section above) and then manually set your exposure based on the meter readings. This is used when you want ultimate control of the metering and exposure.

You can learn much more about the Exposure modes of specific cameras, including the 60D, T3i, D7000 and D5100, in my e-book users guide. See my e-book website, Full Stop to learn more about them or click the banner below! The guides also go into much more detail about setting up the related metering mode Custom Functions/Custom Settings and camera controls.

full stop dslr photo photography camera manual guide for dummies canon nikon

I recently ran across an interesting article which takes this discussion to another level by addressing the use of different metering modes in the very specific situation of a wedding. Since one of the main subjects in typically all in white, and the other in black, the metering mode you select and where you meter can make a dramatic difference in the exposure. While that article is specific to weddings, it is useful and helpful to read to further understand how the different modes work, and how special situations might call for some extra thought.