How Base Camp Camera Settings Can Improve And Simplify Your Photography

I’ve always enjoyed a simple point and shoot (P&S) camera, from my first film camera seven years ago, a Holga 120N, through to my Sony Android phone today.

But even better is a camera that offers a little more depth and control, but can then be set up how you like it, so it’s ready to go like a P&S every time you pick it up.

With a very simple camera with next to no settings, it’s almost impossible to be on the wrong settings.

Using something more sophisticated though, say my Pentax Q for example, there are dozens of settings that can be changed.

If, every time you switched the camera on, you had to set up everything from scratch, it would not only be time consuming and frustrating, it would probably mean you missed plenty of photographs too, as you’re not ready to shoot in time.

This is where having what I call “base camp” settings comes in very handy. 

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I’ve been using my Pentax Q with the 02 zoom lens lately, which goes from 5-15mm, about 28-83mm in 35mm camera terms.

My base camp settings with the Q and 02 look like this –

– Aperture Priority with the aperture at its fastest, f/2.8.
– Auto ISO 125-400.
– Auto White Balance.
– Exposure Compensation -0.3, just to take the edge off clipping highlights.
– Custom Image (ie colour mode) set to B/W plus Digital Filter mode set to High Contrast – these two together are saved as position 1 on the Quick Dial on the front of the camera.

All of these settings are saved when the camera is switched off.

The lens I wind in to its smallest physical length when it’s in my bag, about 12mm, then when I switch on the camera I go to 6mm (33mm) to shoot.

So then it becomes in effect an aperture priority P&S camera with a 33mm f/2.8 lens, in high contrast b/w mode.

I don’t have to think about adjusting any settings, other than using the Auto Focus (AF) lock, and sometimes the Auto Exposure (AE) lock.

This doesn’t mean I don’t ever use a different colour setting if I spot a glorious flower that has to be captured.

Or that I never stop down the aperture if it’s a blazing sunny day and even the Q’s impressive 1/8000s top shutter speed isn’t fast enough.

Or that I avoid at all costs using the zoom lens at 5mm (28mm) if I need a wider angle, or 10mm (55mm) or 15mm (83mm) if I want to get much closer.

It just means if I do adjust any of these other settings, afterwards I return to my base camp settings – the ones I use most often and most instinctively – so I’m ready for the next composition that will highly likely need those default “P&S” settings I’m so familiar with.

This approach all but eliminates that horrible feeling of fumbling around with half a dozen buttons or options trying to get back to what you like best as a photographic opportunity appears then just as quickly evaporates before your eyes.

And it means, as I stated at the outset, I have the freedom and fun of a point and shoot camera, but with that extra depth and control I’ve used to set the camera up just how I like it, meaning greater enjoyment and flow when I’m using the camera, and a higher rate of keepers in the editing stage of the final images.

I use a similar approach with all of my favourite cameras.

Whilst they have their own unique charms and features, largely they are set up in a similar way, so I can treat them as a point and shoot, then the camera becomes almost invisible and I just get on with shooting.

How about you? Do you have base camp settings you return to with your camera(s) after making a shot?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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9 thoughts on “How Base Camp Camera Settings Can Improve And Simplify Your Photography”

  1. Sometime I wish they’d build a camera that didn’t have all the functions that get crammed in these days. They used to, but …
    One thing I liked about my P850 is it had three custom settings available. The P610 has two – sort-of. Plus a bunch of “pre-defined” sets.
    It’s hard to make choices when there’s so much to choose from. Like stopping at the “57 Flavours” stand!

    1. Yes, that’s exactly why I use this approach, having too many settings and diving into them trying to make multiple decisions every time you want to make a photograph is utterly overwhelming.

      Having a camera with some depth of control makes it more versatile for different subjects, colour and b/w, different focal lengths etc, but I generally decide those ahead of time then stick to the base camp idea.

  2. This is standard operating procedure with all-mechanical film cameras. The aperture and shutter speed are pre-set for the lighting conditions and likely action, and the focus is set to the hyperlocal distance. All the photographer has to do is raise the camera to his eye to quickly frame the shot and press the shutter release.

    1. Doug, yes, come to think of it, this is where this approach originated with me.

      With an SLR I would shoot Av, start with a 50/55mm lens at f/5.6, with the focus set to the minimum (usually around 0.5m). Much of the time this was just right for my subject matter.

      Sometimes I’d need to adjust focus for something further away, or I’d physically move a little to focus.

      So aside from using hyperfocal distance (instead my ideal distance was more often than not the minimum focus), this is pretty much what I did, and then it evolved into choosing base camp settings for other features too when I got more into digital cameras with more options, like colour settings, ISO, exposure comp etc.

      Do you still start with your camera set up at the hyperfocal distance and a smaller aperture (eg f/8 or f/11)?

      1. Indeed I do. f/11 with the shutter speed at the reciprocal of the film speed I’ve chosen. Open shade is right on the money, full sun is one stop over, heavier shade is one stop under, all easily handled in scanning and post. At f/ll the hyperlocal distance of the 35mm lens I’m using a lot lately is 13′ so focus is usable from 6′ to infinity.

        This is for outdoors, of course. For indoors by artificial or window light it’s the lens closed by one stop from wide open, the shutter set to 1/60 (or 1/50 for the older Leicas) and manually focused on the subject’s nearest eye or the nearest specular highlights if there are no people in the frame.

        1. I guess to a beginner this would sound complex – “the shutter speed at the reciprocal of the film speed…” etc, but actually after a little practice it becomes very instinctive. And there are so many aspects you don’t even need to think about.

          By the way isn’t it hyperfocal distance? You’ve said hyperlocal a couple of times. Or is that something different?

          1. Ah, glad I was on the same page with what you were meaning!

            Seems like hyperlocal is a recent buzzword often used in conjunction with “marketing”. To me it sounds more like a small grocery shop on a nearby street corner!

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