Canon EOS Beginners FAQ
Copyright © 2002-2007 NK Guy
Version 0.9.5. 6 January, 2007.
Photography is a complex field, and it can be difficult getting started. Theres a lot of material out there aimed at beginners, but much of it is quite general and doesnt get into a lot of the specifics of a given camera makers product lineup. For example, Photo.net and Photozone.de are two sites with some excellent beginner articles, but these articles are fairly general in scope so as to be useful to as broad a range of users as possible. Many of the books on the market were written during the heyday of amateur SLR photography in the 1970s and early 80s and so dont even talk about autofocus cameras. Theres more specific material to be had, but a lot of it is quite advanced in nature. For example, Bob Atkins has an excellent Canon FAQ available, but it has little beginner material and has not been recently updated.
So thats the purpose of this document. Its information on Canon EOS SLR cameras and related products, aimed at the beginner and packed with a lot of typical questions that beginners actually ask. And though it assumes youre a Canon user or potential Canon user, much of the information here is still general enough to be of interest to users of other camera systems.
Note that I wrote this document because its basically what I wish existed when I was starting out. Im not affiliated with Canon or any other maker, nor do I endorse their stuff. I happen to use some of their products as they work well for me, but thats it.
This document really needs updating. I wrote it mainly in the days of film, and so a number of points here need updating to the contemporary reality of digital dominance. I just haven’t had time lately, since my new book on EOS flash photography has taken up so much time. I’ll probably be updating this piece sometime in 2010.
Will this document help me take better pictures?
Id like to mention one other very important point. This FAQ will help you understand the basics of your camera equipment and give you some suggestions for building your gear collection, but it will not in and of itself help you take better photos.
Why do I say this? Well, photography is both an artform and a technical craft. You can have the best and most expensive camera equipment that money can buy and still take incredibly boring photos. And you can use cheap disposable toy cameras and produce powerful and evocative images.
Now obviously theres a strong connection between equipment and results in photography. Writers, say, dont have this problem. A writer can write as good a novel with a ballpoint pen as a word processor (albeit perhaps more slowly), whereas photographs are by definition the product of technology. But where good gear can help a good photographer produce great results, the reverse is not automatically true.
So. In addition to reading stuff like this, I think that reading about photographic composition, learning about the crucial importance of lighting, taking art classes, looking at works of photographers you respect, developing your personal vision of photography and so on are critical if you have any interest at all in the artistic and creative aspect of photography.
But most importantly, go out there and shoot! The only way to improve your photography is to take more pictures. Shoot a lot, go over what youve done and decide what worked and what didnt. No amount of reading can make up for practical experience.
And try not to get caught up on the equipment. Camera gear is obviously a critical tool for photography, but unless your goal is to collect cameras I think obsessing over it can be a real trap. As David Hemmings, star of the 1960s film Blow Up, remarked in a BBC interview:
(Photographer) David Hamilton said that the difference between an amateur and a professional photographer is that the amateur thinks the camera does the work. And they treat the camera with a certain amount of reverence. It is all about the kind of lens you choose, the kind of film stock you use... exactly the sort of perfection of the camera. Whereas the professional - the real professional - treats the camera with unutterable disdain. They pick up the camera and sling it aside. Because they know its the eye and the brain that count, not the mechanism that gets between them and the subject that counts.
Do I have to read this whole thing?
Yeah, I know its kind of long. If you want to read the FAQ in its entirety, great! But I wrote it in sections with hyperlinked questions so it should be fairly easy to flip through quickly.
Either way, be sure to check the links section and see what other people have to say about Canon EOS gear. This document is the work of one person - me. Ive had corrections and suggestions from lots of other people (and please send me yours if you have them!) but nonetheless at the end of the day its all my writing. The facts listed here are correct to the best of my knowledge, but a lot of this material contains matters of opinion as well. So be to sure to check out other resources, particularly in person when you can. It would be foolish hubris of me to claim expert authority on all matters photographic.
Part I - General
Which is better? Canon or Nikon or Sony or Pentax, etc? What does EOS mean? What does EF mean? What does SLR mean? What is the history of EOS cameras? What is 35mm film? Should I get an APS camera? Should I buy a film camera or a digital camera? Why arent cameras and lenses from different manufacturers interchangeable? I have an EOS film camera and accessories. Can I use this stuff with an EOS digital camera? I have a non-EOS digital camera. Can I use its accessories with an EOS digital camera? Which is a better investment? A camera or a lens? Where can I get a manual for my camera? What is a third party product? What is a grey market product? Where should I buy my camera? What should I look out for when shopping for second-hand equipment? What does (some photography term) mean?
Part II - Cameras
Choosing a camera.
Which Canon EOS camera should I buy? Dont expensive cameras take better photos than cheap ones? Should I buy a used camera or lens? Ive just bought (such and such camera). What do you think?
Comparing camera models.
What is meant by a consumer camera versus an advanced amateur or professional camera? Whats the difference between a Rebel, Elan or Kiss camera and an EOS number camera? Should I buy a consumer camera or an advanced amateur camera? How do the EOS A2/5, EOS Elan II/50 and EOS Elan 7/30 compare? How do the Rebel 2000/EOS 300/Kiss III and Rebel Ti/EOS 300V/Kiss 5 compare? How do the first generation EOS cameras like the 600 series or the 700/750/850 hold up today? How do the early 90s EOS cameras like the 100/Elan, 10/10s or A2/5 hold up today? How do early 90s Rebel/consumer cameras compare today? How do the EOS 1, 1N, 3 and 1V compare?
General Canon EOS camera questions.
Ive heard that Canon bodies are easily broken, since theyre made of plastic and not metal. Does the lens mount material - plastic or metal - make a difference? How can I tell what market segment a camera is aimed at? I have an EOS film camera. Is there any way to turn it into a digital camera? Is it true that you cant use Canon cameras with infrared film? Why do none of the low to mid range EOS cameras have a spotmeter? How old is my camera or lens? Im left-handed, but EOS cameras are all designed for right-handers. Do I have any choices?
Camera functions and controls.
Is there any reason not to use the basic (picture icon) modes of my camera? What do the various letters (P, Tv, Av, M, C, etc) on the command dial mean? How can I find out what all the icons and acronyms on my camera mean? What is the difference between DEP and A-DEP modes? What is bulb (B) mode? What do the various metering modes and icons mean? Does the number of metering zones matter? What does Single versus Continuous wind mean? What are the One-Shot and AI Servo autofocus modes? What camera setting should I use for a wedding? Landscape? Birthday party? (etc) What is exposure compensation? What is a custom function? I set a custom function but it has no effect. Whats wrong? What is leader out? How can you change films in the middle of a roll?
Camera features and accessories.
What is mirror lockup? What is a pellicle mirror? What is meant by a bright or dim viewfinder? What is a pentaprism? A roof mirror? What is a viewfinder shutter or cover for? What is dioptric correction? What is depth of field preview? What is eye-control focus (ECF)? What is a cross sensor? Autofocus doesnt work very well when its dark. What can I do? Which EOS cameras can use split circle viewfinder screens? How good are EOS cameras and lenses for manual focus work? What does it mean that Canon professional cameras are high-precision and optimized for fast lenses? What is the advantage of a rear command dial (QCD)? Why doesnt mine work? What are add-on handgrips for? What is the advantage of a removable camera back? Should I pay extra for a date back camera? What types of remote controls are there? Should I get a wired or wireless shutter release? What is an intervalometer?
I took a photo and stuff appears around the very edge of the photo that I didnt see in the viewfinder. Why? My camera says it can go from f/1 to f/91. Why wont it? There are black specks in my viewfinder! I got fingerprints on the mirror! What can I do? My cameras back flexes slightly when I squeeze it. Is this a problem? My lens is slightly wobbly when attached to the camera. Is this normal? The camera is turned off and yet the screen on the top is still on. Why? Why does my camera click faintly when I tilt it? Why does my camera wind for so long when I first load a roll of film? My camera wont load a roll of film. What can I do? Which EOS models are vulnerable to the problem of blank photos caused by a sticky (oily) shutter? Which EOS models are vulnerable to broken command or mode dials? The built-in flash on my EOS 5/A2/A2E wont pop up. Whats wrong? Whats this about the EOS 3 having exposure problems? Why does my camera lock up when I push the shutter release button? My camera displays bC or Err 99 when I try to take a picture. What does this mean? My camera displays 00 as the aperture setting. What does this mean? Why does my cameras date printing feature not work?
Part III - Lenses
Choosing a lens and basic lens categories.
Why doesnt my camera just come with a lens? Isnt that kind of cheap? Whats the difference between a zoom lens and a fixed focal length (prime) lens? Which lens should I buy for my camera? Which lens should I buy for my EOS digital camera? What is an EF-S lens? What are all these numbers printed on my lens? What is a Canon L-series lens and why is it a big deal? What other general categories of Canon EOS-compatible lenses are there? Which lens falls in which category? Whats wrong with the kit lens included with my camera? Why do you call it a cheapie? Why are quality lenses so expensive? Whats a good beginner lens? What are some popular Canon EF lenses? Should I buy a non-Canon (third party) lens?
Types of lenses.
Why doesnt my camera have a motorized zoom lens with wide/tele buttons? Whats the difference between all the Canon 28-105mm lenses? Should I buy the Canon 28-200 or the Tamron 28-200 or the Sigma 28-300 (or some other lens with a big focal range)? What affordable Canon long telephotos are there? I want to take photos of wild birds. What lens do I need? I want to do sports photography. What lens do I need? What about mirror lenses? I can get a really cheap telephoto that way! What is a macro lens? My lens has MACRO written on it. What is a portrait lens? What is a fisheye lens?
What is the difference between two-touch zoom and push-pull zoom? Why are some Canon lenses painted white or silver? What is a tripod mount on a lens for? What is a distance or depth of field scale? What is the issue with a rotating end of a lens? Why does it matter how many blades the aperture diaphragm has? What lenses are weather-resistant? What is the close or minimum focus distance? Hey! I can turn the focus ring of my lens past the infinity mark! Why? What does a lens hood do? How are lens hoods named?
General lens questions.
Is it okay to change lenses when theres film in the camera? Are there compatibility problems with any EF lenses made by Canon? Are there compatibility problems with any EF lenses made by third party manufacturers? Can you use old Canon manual-focus lenses with EOS cameras? Can you use non-Canon lenses with EOS cameras? I have a consumer Canon camera. Can I put a professional L-series lens on it? Whats the big deal about f/8? What is a focal length multiplier (or cropping factor) for digital and APS cameras? Theres dust inside my lens! Theres a scratch on the front glass of my lens! Ive seen ads for teleconverters or extenders. Can I put one of these onto my, say, 50mm lens and magically turn it into a 100mm lens? I want to take closeup (macro) photos. What do I need?True macro lens (1:1 magnification.
Diopters for macro.
Reverse the lens for macro.
Attach a reversed lens to a regular lens.
Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens.
Can I use the Canon 100mm macro lens for portraits? What happened to the solid all-metal lens barrels of yesteryear? Why is everything today made of plastic?
Lens-related technical terms and vocabulary.
What is focal length? What does wide-angle or telephoto mean? What is a lens aperture or f-stop? What is a slow lens or a fast lens? What is depth of field? What is a bayonet mount? What does a Roman numeral on a lens refer to? What is the difference between the various kinds of lens motors (AFD, MM, USM)? What is full-time manual (FTM)? Do USM lenses take better photos than non USM lenses? What is image stabilization? What is distance data and which lenses support it? What is a lens element? What is a lens coating? What does aspheric mean? What is low dispersion glass? What is fluorite? What are diffractive optics (DO)? What is rear or internal focussing? What is bokeh?
Part IV - Flash
Which flash should I buy for my camera? What is a dedicated flash unit? I have an off-brand (non-Canon) flash unit. Will it work with my EOS camera? Why does my camera want such long shutter speed times when Im using flash in Av mode? My flash photos look like they were taken in a black hole. Why is the background totally dark? What is the difference between TTL, A-TTL, E-TTL and E-TTL II flash? What is a type A or a type B camera? What is X-sync? What is FP mode or high-speed sync? What is flash exposure lock (FEL)? Why do I have blurriness around my subjects in my flash photos? What is second-curtain sync? What causes the dark crescent-shaped shadows at the bottom of my flash-illuminated photos? What causes redeye and how does redeye reduction work? Yargh! My camera fires blinding pulses of flash in low light! What can I do? My flash unit doesnt work with my digital EOS camera. My flash unit keeps firing off bursts of light randomly. What is a PC connector? What is studio flash? Why do professional photographers have those great big umbrellas on stands? Why do my flash photographs always look so bad?
Part V - Filters
I bought a filter. Do I have to adjust something on the camera to use it properly? My camera salesperson tried to sell my a protective filter. Should I get one? Should I buy a coated or an uncoated filter? What does a polarizing filter do? What common filter sizes do Canon employ? What is a neutral density filter? What is a graduated neutral density filter? Is putting more than one filter onto a lens okay? Do I need a slimline filter for my wide angle lens? I have filters which dont fit my lenses. Can they be adapted? What are these numeric codes on my filter? What about Cokin filters? Why do black and white photographers use such brightly coloured filters? My pictures suck. I want to attach a magic filter to my lens to make them look great.
VI - Miscellaneous questions.
The edges of my photos are dark. Whats going on? How can I get the sharpest photos possible using my equipment? What is the handholding rule for non-blurry photos when not using a tripod? Do I really need a tripod? Theyre such a pain to haul around. My camera doesnt fit my tripod. The bolt is the wrong size. What can I do? What is the sunny 16 rule? What is the rule of thirds? I took a photo and the sky is white. It was blue at the time! I need help! Im shooting a wedding this weekend. What film and lens should I use? Is it true that taking a persons photograph steals their soul?
What is film grain? What is film speed (ISO)? What do film codes like EI 100/21° mean? What are C-41 and E-6? What is DX? What is film latitude? What is infrared film? I have some expired film. Can I use it? Should I buy professional film? Why do photo shops store some film in refrigerators? Is it true that film contains animal gelatine? What is chromogenic black and white film and why can it be developed in colour photo labs?
Printing and processing.
I got an enlargement made and tons of stuff is missing off the edges! My pictures all look lousy! Why? My pictures look grainy! Why? What is colour temperature? My pictures have strange colour tints. Why? Which is better? Matte or glossy? What is cross processing? What does archival mean?
Why are Canon EOS digital cameras so expensive? Why doesnt the back screen on my EOS digital camera display a live video preview? Why are the pictures from my digital camera soft-looking? What are RAW and DNG and why is there a controversy about them? Can my digital camera shoot black and white or multiple exposure images? Desaturated colour digital photos dont look quite the same as black and white film-based photos. Why not? What is aliasing and anti-aliasing? What does interpolated resolution mean? What is Err 99 on my digital EOS camera? What is front focussing and whats this about the EOS 10D having this problem? How can I turn off the shutter noise on my Canon digital EOS camera? Why does my EOS 300D/Digital Rebel/Kiss Digital rattle when I move it? What is noise? Can my choice of memory card affect picture quality? Is it true that flash memory used in memory cards wears out? Theres a small irregular black blob on all my pictures. What is it? What is dark noise subtraction/long exposure noise reduction? What is the EOS 20Da? What is a digital lens?
About online discussions and this FAQ.
How is PhotoNotes.org funded? What are some common photography-related spelling errors? Why are people on discussion groups such mean snobs? Why is this FAQ full of spelling and grammar errors? Why are there no photographs or illustrations in this FAQ? I have a question that isnt covered by this FAQ. Can I email you?
VII - Links.
- NK Guy, PhotoNotes.org.
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Thanks to Yakim Peled, Steve Dunn, Tom Pfeiffer, Phil Wallace, Jean Berthe and Brett Bainbridge for suggestions and corrections.