April 12, 2008

Read Your Manual

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Photo by Scott Bourne

Every day I get email from audience members asking me simple things like, “How do I set my aperture on a Canon 1DS” or “How can I change lenses on my Nikon D70?”

Here’s how – Read Your Manual! That’s the first advice I am giving to new digital camera owners.

But there is plenty of help right there in the box. Read the manual! Digital cameras are far more complex on their face than film cameras. With film cameras, you can pretty much drop in a battery and a roll of film and press the shutter button and you get a picture.

Digital cameras on the other hand have menus. Lots of them. And they are often nested electronic menus meaning you get to one from the other.

And while some digital cameras are more intuitive then others, all can easily be deciphered if you JUST READ THE MANUAL.

I suggest that you give the manual a quick read from front to back before you even unpack the camera and install the batteries. This will give you a good idea of the camera’s overall capabilities.

Then, get the camera in your hand and practice all the basic functions by reading the instructions.

Now if you are an old pro, you may have decided this post has nothing for you. But wait. It does. I don’t care how familiar you are with your camera, in more cases than not, I can ask you a question about your camera that will stump you. Your defense will be something like, “But I never need that feature.” And my response will be, “How do you know?”

If you practice with all of the controls and menus and knobs and dials on your camera, when that million-dollar moment comes by, you won’t miss it because you were fumbling around with your camera, searching for the perfect setting.

I advise even old pros to spend a few minutes EACH DAY, reading one page of the manual for their camera. If you take this advice, your camera will start to feel more like an extension of your vision than a weight around your neck.

Join the conversation! 18 Comments

  1. “I can ask you a question about your camera that will stump you.”

    Hehe, I doubt it. Go ahead, try (I use a Nikon d40x).

  2. I couldn’t agree more! I have had my D70 for a few years now, and I’m still learning new stuff about it. It’s still fun when the light goes off and you think THAT’S what that does…

  3. Nobody reads the user manual. Only I. :)

  4. Isn’t this a lot like men asking for directions? Not to be a reverse-misogynist, but I’d bet more women read their manual than men. Just in the genes, I guess.

  5. And that’s why I’m thankful I had to wait for my Nikon D40 for a week, In that week I’ve read the manual from start to finish allot of times :-) I

  6. Read the Manual!? What happened to your sense of discovery? Do you want to take away from us the moment when we say “Oh Wow. So that’s how it works!” What is it with you guys? Do you really expect us to use “Common Sense”?

  7. How ironic, I just took a 3 1/2 hour flight 5 days ago in which I spent most of the time with my camera (Nikon D50 over 3 years old) and manual learning a few things I never knew I could do and I have completed over 15,000 pictures. For years I was frustrated, thinking that the D50 didn’t have a histogram, only highlight mode, when come to find out all I had to do was hit the up arrow on the back during playback mode and sure enough, their appeared a histogram. I also figured out how to reduce or enhance the flash level with out using the menu system, but instead a series of buttons and click wheel. Great Tip! Now I have to master my new SB-800 and that manual is haunting me!

  8. With my camera i really need to read the manual to understand the programmable advanced options. I have 20 advanced options that unless i read the manual i will not be able to know what they do.

    For example if i want to flip up the mirror i have to know what number does that.

  9. This is the second time I’ve gotten this advice this week. I even got my manual out so I could actually read it, but I hate reading. Going to have to bite the bullet, I suppose. No camera manuals on audible, right? =)

  10. Have you ever reread a book, article or report and been amazed of the brilliant ideas you totally missed the first-time?

    Did the book change?

    I read the user manual a lot of times.

  11. I am not trying to be “snarky” here but from this point on in our society, technology will continue to evolve, and we need to read manuals. You find alot of info like new features. Just the other day I figured out how to do auto bracketing but I would never have figured it out if I had not carried my manual. Maybe after a year of camera experience I might leave it at home but if you are like me and just learning my camera, then be like me and carry your manual.

  12. Graeme you left out the “in more cases than not” but this is not a fair test unless you’re sitting in front of me WITHOUT your manual :)

  13. When I got my Canon EOS 350D, I stuck the manual in the front pouch of my gadget bag for in-the-field reference if/when required. I’ve just bought a Canon PowerShot G9 this past week and it’s 274-page main manual only comes as a PDF on CD. Grrrr… Thanks Canon… :roll:

  14. 274 pages!? Gary that’s not a manual. That’s a non-fiction book!

  15. Some people, like me, download the manual off the vendor’s website before even buying the camera to understand it capabilities. “It” in this case includes both the camera AND the manual. Almost equal important to me if spending my hard earned money on an expensive DSLR. Most of those features are really good to know about to improve your photography.

    With a point and shoot, not so much studies are made as most of the 2000 features are just marketing stuff any ways.

  16. I keep the manuals for my camera, flash, and programmable remote shutter release in my kit bag at all times and read them regularly. They have really come in handy when I find myself with an opportunity to use a technique that I have not tried before. I also recommend carrying the manuals.

  17. @Tim – according to the PDF info, the page size is 10.5 × 14.8 cm – it’s not a regular paperback-sized book. If printed, it would virtually the exact same size as the main manual for my EOS 350D. Except that it only ran to 170 pages…

  18. I always read the manual. But personally, what I find more helpful is the Magic Lantern Series of books. They basically publish a 3rd party manual written in easy-to-understand English by a professional photographer. Not only do they explain what each feature does (usually in more detail than the manual), but they also pepper in helpful photography tips and even some sample photos throughout. The end result is they explain it in more detail and increase other aspects of your photography knowledge as well. I just picked one up for my new Canon 40D. I found it much more insightful than the actual manual that it came with.

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About scottbourne

Founder of Photofocus.com. Retired traveling and unhooking from the Internet.

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