Nine Dos and Don’ts for the New Camera Buyer

Whenever I buy a new camera, I have a tendency to leave it sealed in the box and eye it warily for a few days — or even a few weeks — before I take it out to play.

Even though I’ve owned dozens of cameras in my life, I still find myself somewhat intimidated when there’s a new addition. As familiar as I am with what most camera features do and the new surprises I can expect to find, there’s still that awkward “new gizmo” hump I have to get over.

Over the years, I’ve developed a list of tips for making the process go faster, which I share with the photography classes I teach. See if these help you, too.

  1. DO read your camera’s manual. It’s one of the few books that was written expressly for the camera that you own. Also, see if there is a Magic Lantern Guide published for your camera — they’re much better written and well illustrated. Keep your camera with you as you read and find each control or feature as you read about it.
  2. DO read all of the menu screens. Granted, some menus are kind of obtuse, but the menus are the dashboard of your camera and the more familiar you are with the menu choices — and sub-choices — the faster you can custom-set your camera to a particular situation.
  3. DO take your manual with you when you’re out shooting. If you’re out on a Sunday afternoon cruising for snaps and you encounter a question about camera controls, you don’t want to wait until you get home to find the answers. Keep the manual in a plastic zipper bag.
  4. DO take lots of pictures. Photography, like any craft, is a learn-by-doing process. The more photos you take, the more comfortable you’ll feel with your new camera — and the more likely you are to experiment.
  5. DON’T, however, shoot carelessly. Take the time to think about each photograph that you take; think quality, not quantity.
  6. DO feel free to leave the camera in the Program or Auto exposure mode while you’re getting used to it. Better to shoot pictures right away than to avoid the camera because you’re intimidated by its complexities. Lots of pros, including me, use the program mode regularly.
  7. DON’T be afraid to experiment with all of the controls. Try out different exposure modes and see what happens. Search for and play with unusual modes like flash exposure compensation. Again, just read the manual and have fun. Short of dropping it on concrete, you can’t hurt the camera. There’s a reset button (see your manual) to take you back to all of the default settings if you get hopelessly tangled.
  8. DO print your pictures frequently so that you can see your mistakes and successes more clearly. There’s nothing like seeing a nice 8 x 10 of a great shot to boost your confidence (or, if the shot’s not so great, to show you your technique flaws).
  9. DON’T live in a creative vacuum. Join a photo-sharing community, see what other photographers are doing creatively, and get advice from those who own the same camera.

Happy shooting!

6 Responses to “Nine Dos and Don’ts for the New Camera Buyer”

  1. Wow, this is exactly how I feel and tell others, but you have put it perfectly in a written form. I am going to blog about it!

  2. Excellent tips. I started taking my manual with me out in the field last year. I have used it on several occasions to solve different on-site challenges. The best tip is to read the manual and experiment with the controls. Don't be afraid of the camera, it won't bite!

  3. Excellent tips! I've got one for you, though.

    DON'T leave your camera sealed in the box for days after you get it. The longer you wait the more likely you are to lose the receipt and/or miss the return period if it's a camera you don't like or it's defective. Take it out right away, in the car if you have to to check it over for damage or defects. Working in consumer electronics for many years I've learned that the sooner you make sure it's a good product the better.

  4. Great advice! Glad I doing a few things right 🙂

  5. Regarding your camera, flash, and light meter manuals, most are available in PDF form. For those who have smart phones, just take your manuals with you on your phone. That way, they don't take any additional room or weight.

  6. Thanks all--and Nice idea Kevin--finally a reason for me to own a better phone! Thanks 🙂


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