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Speed Up Your Camera

Want to make your camera faster? You might not be able to swap out its components, but you do have a veritable smorgasbord of options for speeding up your digital photography. We have ways to freeze the action, reduce shutter lag, and reduce the time between taking a picture and doing something useful with it--like printing it or sharing it online.

Reduce Shutter Lag

If you have an older camera or an inexpensive point-and-shoot, you might be frustrated by shutter lag. You can do a couple of things to shorten that wait.

Camera settings
If your camera features a shutter priority mode, you can set it to ISO 100 to reduce the effects of shutter lag and take photos faster.
Shutter lag happens because your camera, set at its defaults, has a lot of things to do before it can take a photo. Reduce some of that workload by turning off a few of the automatic settings. Instead of using automatic ISO, set the camera's ISO to 100 or 200. Likewise, instead of automatic white balance, set your camera to a white balance that reflects your scene, like outdoor daylight or indoor incandescent. Most important, prepare for your shot by prefocusing: Point at your subject and press the shutter release halfway to lock your focus. When you're ready, press it the rest of the way to snap the photo. All of these tweaks together can shave several tenths of a second off your time, making your camera a lot snappier.

Save Photos Faster

After you press the shutter release, your camera processes and saves the image. Most cameras can process several photos at once and still be ready to take more. After a certain number of shots, though, the camera has to call a time-out before it can take any new pictures. You can do two things to relieve the bottleneck.

First, if you don't need to capture a bounty of 12-megapixel shots, use your camera controls to save the images at a lower resolution. That can significantly increase the number of photos your camera can handle without stopping.

Second, buy a faster memory card. Memory cards are rated with different speeds, and faster cards, while they cost more, can write photos from camera memory swiftly enough to improve performance noticeably when you're taking a lots of pictures in a row, such as a burst of action photos.

Capture Fast-Moving Subjects

Action photos--of rambunctious puppies, grade-school soccer games, air shows, and NASCAR races--are challenging, particularly with slower cameras. But stopping the action is generally just a matter of using a fast shutter speed.

Most DSLRs and some high-end point-and-shoots have a shutter priority mode, which lets you manually dial in the fastest speed available; the camera will accommodate with the appropriate aperture setting. (Alternatively, you can use aperture priority to choose the smallest f-stop number, and the camera will match that with the fastest shutter speed available.)

If that still isn't quite fast enough, increase the camera's ISO. By doubling the ISO from 100 to 200, for example, your camera can halve its shutter speed. By pushing the ISO to higher values, you can stop action even in relatively dim light. The cost, though, will be noisier photos.

If your camera doesn't include these controls, you can improve your action photos by panning. Track the subject in the viewfinder and twist your body as the subject moves across your field of vision. Snap the photo and continue to pan, following through as if you were swinging a baseball bat or a golf club. The background will blur, but the subject will be sharp and distinct.

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