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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Fast Fixes

In his decades running a premier photo retailer in Southern California, Mark Comon has been a counselor, an advisor and chief troubleshooter for customers. He shares two of the most common problems he has heard and the fixes that take care of them.

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In his years behind the counter at Paul’s Photo, Mark Comon has seen and heard it all. Among the most common problems he has helped customers trouble shoot have been issues of autofocus malfunctions and exposure difficulties. Here are some of his quick fixes.

1) Be sure the camera’s autofocus is turned on.

2) Double-check the mode dial to get the right exposure.
When you work behind the counter in a camera store for 35 years like I have, you see and hear virtually everything. I’ve seen pictures from engagements and weddings, births and baptisms, vacations and holidays. I get to know my customers through their pictures. I also see the failures with photography that can ruin a trip or cause family squabbles. In fact, behind the counter of a camera store, we often feel like your local bartender because we’re involved with your life and are part of it all.

Every day, photographers come to us for advice about cameras that won’t work and pictures that are disappointing. The two most common problems are: “My camera won’t focus properly,” and “My pictures are too light (or too dark).” Here are simple answers to remedy them. Use this checklist of what I look for when my customers and students have focus and exposure issues.

3) Auto is a good choice for many, but definitely not all, scenes.
“My camera won’t focus.”
Since the introduction of automatic focus in the 1980s, no camera issue has been more vexing or so worrisome for photographers. Try these tips if your camera won’t focus (in this order):

Turn AF on. In the camera menu, on the front of the camera body or on the lens, is a setting for manual or autofocus. Some SLRs have a switch on the front of the camera (M = manual C = continuous AF-S = single AF) or a “slider” on the lens (AF or MF). These switches easily can be bumped. I recommend flipping the camera and/or lens to Manual focus, turning the lens focus ring manually and then re-engaging the autofocus. Remember to check both switches if you have both!

Reset the lens. On SLR cameras, quite often the lens isn’t “clicked in.” Simply remove the lens and reattach it to the camera, verifying the audible click. Check to be sure the AF-MF switch didn’t get bumped.

4) and 5) Gently clean the electronic contacts to be sure your lens and camera are communicating with one another.
Clean the electrical contacts. Modern AF SLRs have a buss connector that relays data from the camera to the lens. Finger oil, dust or oxidation can spoil the electrical connection and disable the AF functions. Remove the lens from the camera. On the back of the lens and front of the camera are a number of silver- or bronze-colored electrical contacts. Using a clean microfiber cloth, gently wipe the contact points on the lens and in the camera. One quick swipe generally will do it. Also, don’t scrub or grind the contacts or use solvents or contact cleaners on your camera. Only attempt cleaning the contacts in a clean environment (not at the beach)—and only if you’re somewhat mechanically competent and can follow instructions! If you don’t have the skill or confidence, take your camera to your local camera store.

Adjust the focus points. Most SLR and pocket cameras today come out of the box with the camera automatically selecting where to focus in the frame. The cameras use sophisticated algorithms that look for faces, smiles, distance, and closest and largest items to determine on which “point” to focus. When the camera finds this, it illuminates a square or box (red, green or black) on the subject. With moving subjects, low-light pictures or complicated scenes where the camera can’t decide, it often gives up and won’t focus, or slows to a painful pace that’s quite frustrating.

To eliminate these frustrations, I often recommend the photographer to select the focus point. This assures the camera focuses on the subject of your choosing, plus the camera often will focus much quicker and accurately. In the camera’s menu or on the camera, choose to select the focus point. Use the thumb dial or control dial to move the point of focus. Remember, the center AF point on the camera generally is the most accurate, fastest reacting and best in low light.


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