By Jim Hamel
I recently found myself in the position of having to buy a new camera. It is an exciting time, but the new camera will take some getting used to.
Once you have put the battery in, the lens on, and inserted the memory card, it’s time to make your camera your own. Here are some steps to do so:
#1 Set your diopter
If your camera has a viewfinder, there will be a tiny dial near the eye piece. This is called the diopter and it affects how you see through the lens. Be sure to set it for your eyes, or things might not appear sharp when you look through the viewfinder.
Actually, if you’ve been shooting for a while and have never set your diopter, go ahead and do it now. You might be amazed at how much clearer things appear.
#2 Set your Modes
You already know to set your mode dial (get it out of Automatic), but there are some other modes to worry about.
First, set the Drive Mode to what you want. I suggest Continuous because it will allow you to bracket your photos, or just shoot rapidly. If you do it now, you won’t be in the field wondering why your camera is only taking one photo at a time.
Next, you will need to set your Metering Mode. This is the way the camera determines the proper exposure level. The camera can either use a large portion of the scene to measure the brightness level, or just one specific point. The choices you have are:
- Automatic Mode: which is called Evaluative by Canon, Matrix by Nikon, and Multi-Segment by Sony
- Partial Metering: where the camera uses the center portion of the scene to measure light
- Spot Metering: where the camera meters using only one specific point (small area)
Any one of these modes is fine, just be sure to set the one you like best (Spot metering is more advanced so use with caution until you are up to speed with it).
Finally, set your Autofocus Mode, and by that I mean setting the focus points. You can either have the camera automatically select the focus points, or you can do it. If you do it yourself, set it so that the camera uses the center point to focus, it is the fastest and most accurate.
#3 Add your externals
Most of the time you will be adding a few things to your camera. Obvious items are the strap and the battery grip, if you have one. But another item you should add right away is the quick release plate for your tripod. That way, you won’t forget it, and you will also be able to put the camera on the tripod quickly when you are in the field.
While we are on the subject of external items, this is probably a good time to make sure you have an intervalometer, or remote shutter release, that is compatible with your new camera. These things are very cheap these days, so go ahead and get one.
#4 Arrange Image Review
All cameras will show your picture on the LCD after you take it. The camera will not necessarily do it the way you want though. Here are the settings to check to make sure it is set up according to your preferences:
- Length of time: In the camera’s menu, there will be an option to set the length of time your image appears. You might as well set this on its longest setting, as you can always click it away.
- Orientation: If you shoot with your camera turned to a vertical orientation, sometimes the camera will turn the image on your LCD so it fits horizontally on the screen. The result is a tiny image, so you may want to turn this off (Note: this may be called “Auto Rotate” in some cameras).
- Show Histogram: Definitely set your review so that it shows the histogram with the image review. That is the best way to make sure you have a proper exposure.
- LCD brightness: Set your LCD brightness level to the highest level. Otherwise, when you are out in the sun you will have a very difficult time seeing the LCD at all.
While I am on the subject of the LCD, I want to mention one tricky little item for Canon shooters. On many Canon cameras, to use the Live View function, you have to go into the menu and enable it. I recently rented a Canon camera and actually thought it was broken because the Live View didn’t work. Turns out, I just needed to enable it!
#5 Set the Image Quality
The next setting to check is image quality. This is where you tell the camera what type of file to create.
Do I have to tell you that this setting should be Raw? No? Good. You might as well have the camera also create a JPEG while you are at it though. It won’t cost you anything but a small amount of memory.
#6 Create a Custom Menu
There are certain things you will only want to access sometimes, but you will want to get to them fast. Mirror Lock-up and Auto Bracketing come to mind for me. Fortunately, most cameras allow you to create a custom menu. That way you can add the features and settings you use the most, to one menu screen. That will save you a lot of time digging around in your camera’s menu.
#7 Set up Back Button Focus
Normally your camera will focus when you press the shutter button halfway down. That works okay, but the better way is to set your camera to instead focus when you press a button on the back of the camera. This way the focus will not automatically reset with each picture. The setting will be in your camera’s menu.
#8 Protect your gear
I suggest using a label maker to put a label with your name and phone number on each camera, lens, or other piece of equipment you own. We are all careful with our gear, but sometimes things move fast, and I know people that have inadvertently left lenses or other items behind. What are the odds that someone who finds something you left behind will actually call the number on the label to return the item? I don’t know. Maybe they are not high. But I do know that the odds of someone returning something with no ability to identify where it came from to be precisely zero percent.
You can also add some protection for your gear by registering it with Lenstag. It is a free service where you register your camera and/or lenses with them, then if your item is stolen they put the word out to help you recover it. Does it actually work? Mercifully I’ve never had anything stolen, so I don’t know. But it is free so you might as well try it.
#9 Set up the Wifi
Almost all new cameras have a Wifi feature these days. To take advantage of it, you will have to download an app to your phone and go through a set-up process. It’s best to sit down and do that right away so that when you are out and about you are ready to take advantage of the Wifi feature.
#10 Read the Manual
You knew this was coming, didn’t you? Yes, you need to read your camera manual. Yes, it can be tedious, but you’ll be glad you did.
Do you have any other tips to add for new camera owners? Please share in the comments below.
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