DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have a lot of buttons. If you’re just starting to get the hang of manually controlling your camera, you’re probably wondering what all the—seemingly non-essential—ones do. Let’s take a look at the AE-L, AF-L, AF-ON, and * buttons.
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The AE-L or * Buttons
The AE-L and * buttons are the same. It’s just that Nikon and Sony use AE-L and Canon, inexplicably, uses the asterisk symbol. The AE stands for “Automatic Exposure,” and the L stands for “Lock.” In other words, when you press it, whatever exposure settings your camera currently has selected are locked until you take a picture or release the shutter button fully.
This is incredibly useful if you’re working in one of the semi-manual modes like Aperture Priority or Shutter Speed priority. For example, if you’re trying to take a silhouette photo or working in a tricky lighting situation. Here’s what to do:
- Select whatever metering mode you think will work best.
- Half-press the shutter button to start your camera’s meter.
- Focus your camera on whatever object in the scene will give you the exposure you want. If you’re shooting a silhouette, meter off the bright background if you want your subject well exposed despite a bright backlight, meter off their face, and so on.
- Hold the AE-L button (Nikon) or press the * button (Canon) to lock the exposure settings. Keep your finger half-pressed on the shutter button.
- Recompose the image how you want; the exposure settings won’t change. Press the shutter button fully to take the photo.
If you don’t want to go fully manual, the AE-Lock button is a really handy tool to use.
The AF-L Button
Some cameras also have an AF-L button or the AE-L button may also double as one. The AF stands for “Auto Focus;” the L still stands for “Lock.”