One of the responsibilities of my day job is to write instructions for people who don’t want to read manuals. The stuff I write tends to be in the form of step 1, step 2, etc., and I am always sure to use little words and include a lot of white space.

I understand why people just want to cut to the chase. I’m generally just as bad as the next person about reading manuals, since I’m always too eager to get to the job at hand instead of delving into details. But after spending time this morning gazing longingly at web sites about the camera of my desire, I decided to revisit the manual for my Canon XS to see if there might be a few more tricks that I could get it to perform.

Well, well, well. It turns out I had forgotten all about “Picture Styles”, which allow you to adjust sharpness, contrast, saturation, and color tone in-camera instead of relying on a program like Lightroom. Once I saw them discussed in the manual, I remembered that I had first come across them when trying to capture the nesting herons last spring. After that, though, I had semi-permanently set my camera to Landscape mode.

I thought it might be interesting to take multiple pictures of the same subject to see what the difference was. I created my own Picture Style and set it so that the sharpness and contrast were all the way up on the dial.

Here’s the before version, taken in standard mode:

Picture of a dormant plant

Before (standard)

And the after version, taken in user-defined mode:

Dormant plant

After (user-defined)

Both of these are “SOOC” (straight out of camera), except for a little cropping. I really prefer the user-defined settings, but I understand that it’s a question of taste. Last year in Jackson Hole, I remember hearing a disagreement between the pro-that-works-for-Nikon and the pro-that-works-for-Sports-Illustrated, with one saying that it was better to sharpen in-camera and the other saying it was better to sharpen with software after the fact. Right now I’m leaning towards the in-camera sharpening.

In case you’re not seeing much of a difference, here’s a close-up:

Closeup with standard setting

Close-up with standard setting

Close-up with user-defined setting

Close-up with user-defined setting

Like a couple that is told by the marriage counselor to start dating again, I’ve found that I’m re-discovering things that my camera had all along.



  1. Good for you! While I do not remember everything I read in my camera manuals, I often find myself like you remembering about something in there. Then I go look for it. If I hadn’t read the manual in the first place, I would nothing to remember. LOL

    Nikon has something similar called Picture Control settings. Very handy. I have ones set up for Vivid colors (like Velvia film), People (for good skin tone) and Hockey (to handle the kind of lighting in ice rinks).

  2. Hi I like this post, though a you shoot in RAW or JPG.? because yes if you shoot in raw useing picture styles will show up in photoshop, but if you shoot RAW then they do not. Unless you have Canon editing software. I found that out because I loved twiking my picture styles only to find out they were not showing up in Raw. So I have to still ajust those settings anyway.

    • Hi Liz,
      Lately I’ve only been shooting in JPG because it takes longer for my camera to record RAW (and I guess I’m becoming impatient in my old age!). So the example above was the in-camera difference that the picture styles made.. When I first learned about shooting in RAW last year, I remember having to go hunting for the disk that came with the camera so that I could edit my pictures. Now I use Lightroom for a lot of the adjustments, and I believe (but I’m not sure) that you don’t need the separate Canon software for that.

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