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3 great digital camera tricks for better photos

Unlock advanced camera features the easy way

Digital photography makes everything easy, right? Well yes, but sometimes the inner David Bailey requires a bit more control than the average compact point-and-shoot allows. So here are three simple - but detailed - ways to unlock your camera's hidden potential.

Shoot RAW to save the complete picture

Your camera processes images a few times in order to spit out JPEGs, compressing and converting the native data that it captures. Even if you set it to record a JPEG at the highest size and in the highest quality, you'll still lose details compared to the camera hardware's inherent ability.

RAW pictures - most common on DSLRs - save files in the native format of each specific camera's image sensor. This means that the photos are less compatible with software in general, since the RAW format varies. But the trade-off is that you can process popular camera file formats on a PC, instead of relying on the camera to set white balance and other variables permanently when saving to a JPEG.

On your camera, enter Alt mode by pushing Direct Print or Shortcut. Push the Menu button. Navigate to 'RAW Parameters', activate Save RAW, and you'll see a dot confirming the choice. Push the Menu button again, and exit Alt mode using the same button that you used to enter it. Now a RAW counter should float over your camera's regular remaining-photos countdown, helping you keep track of space for these bigger files.

On most cameras, you can toggle RAW mode by holding the shutter halfway, and pressing the joystick to the right.

Apple's Aperture, Adobe's Photoshop Lightroom, and other photo software can natively read the files from most cameras that have RAW saving built-in. At press time, however, these wouldn't read the unconventional RAW images that we shot using CHDK; you'll need to use a different tool.

I like making simple edits on a PC or Mac with PhotoLine, which natively recognised the files in my tests. Alternatively, you can use other software to alter these true RAW files minimally into DNG images that retain RAW data while becoming compatible with standard image editors. DNG4PS-2, RawTherepee, and UFRaw are good options.

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