New Camera? Burn The Manual.


Did you get a new camera for Christmas?  Many ask for a new camera with high hopes that it will magically improve their photos.  And by magically, we mean we hope we don’t have to actually learn what all the buttons do.

Good news.  You don’t have to know what all the buttons do.

Bad news, your new camera isn’t magic.

Contrary to what the teenager at the big box store told you, you definitely want to venture outside of auto mode…because the camera isn’t just going to automagically create stunning images any more than your oven is going to automagically bake a delicious cake.

A delicious cake has little to do with the oven.

A compelling image has little to do with the camera.

Ovens that turn on and maintain steady temps helps a lot.  Nice cameras are nice tools…which help.

But you’ll have to learn to use it.

YOU create the image with ingredients like composition, light, and exposure.  The camera just does what you tell it to.  It’s just your tool.

The good news, you don’t need to read your manual cover to cover.  Because you absolutely do NOT need to learn *all* the buttons in order to maximize your camera.

In the SPS Members class we spend an entire lesson learning the 12 essentials to drive your camera like a pro.  If you can learn these 12 functions of your camera, you can use it like a pro.

In fact, many “pro” bodies (the kind that cost 8k without a lens) have seemingly few shooting modes and dials.  Meanwhile your consumer cameras have 85 buttons because they’re trying to make an automatic solution for every scenario.  But when you understand how to use your camera, you don’t need all those automatic attempts.

So what are the 12 essentials?

0. On/Off
(Okay, this is “# zero” because you likely don’t even need to look this up.  You hopefully already know how to turn on your camera.  If you don’t, well, start pressing buttons.  It’ll be the one that turns it on.  :)
  1. Shutter Release Button.
    This is the “take the picture button.” You’ve most likely already used it a thousand times.  But, this button actually does 3 things.
  2. Shooting Modes.
    Just know how to select the Auto, Program, Shutter Speed Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual modes.  As we’ve already seen, the rest of the modes aren’t really needed.  Also know how to set the shutter speed and aperture within each of those modes.  For example, when in Aperture Priority mode, know how to set the Aperture.
  3. ISO
    Simple enough, know how to change your ISO setting.
  4. Focal Point(s) and Auto Focus mode.
    Your camera has multiple focal sensors.  While we can simply use the center focal point only and just focus and recompose, it can be advantageous to switch focal points, especially on really nice cameras.  You also need to know how to change your autofocus mode.  Specifically, look for your “one shot” or similar mode (used to focus on a still subject, including focusing and recomposing).  Then look for your “servo” mode (used to track focusing on a moving object).  These focus setting will help you shoot in Aperture Priority like a pro.
  5. Metering Modes.
    Especially spot and evaluative
    .  This function tells your camera what algorithm to use when metering the light in any mode except full Manual.  When in “spot mode” your camera will narrow the area metered to within just about 3% of the focal sensor (the exact percentage varies from camera to camera).  When in “evaluative” mode, your camera meters the entire scene of your viewfinder, with certain weight given to your subject.
  6. AE lock (Auto Exposure Lock).
    This button allows you to “lock your meter,” which is what we talk about here.  Essentially you can lock your focus, lock your meter, then recompose your frame before snapping the final shot.
  7. Exposure Compensation.  
    This allows you to stay in any of the semi-automatic modes such as Aperture Priority, yet still have a say on the exposure.  If you want the pic to be brighter while in, say, Aperture Priority mode, simply set the exposure compensation up to +1, for example.
  8. White Balance.
    Just know how to set it to one of the main settings (i.e. sunny, cloudy, shady, tungsten, florescent, flash, auto, etc.) and you’re golden.
  9. Drive mode.  
    Look for 3 things.  First how to set it to single shot so that when you press the shutter button, it doesn’t machine gun burst 5 shots.  Second, actually set it to that burst mode (continuous) for those soccer games.  Third, your camera might have a self timer option (ex: 10 seconds after you press the shutter release button, it will fire (for those self made family pics)).
  10. RAW / JPG.  
    There’s a place for both, but RAW is the safest.
  11. Review/Delete images.
    Quite simply, how to bring your picture up on the screen, go to the next pic, and delete when needed.  This is hopefully very simple and you likely already know how to do it.
  12. How to change your lens and set your Autofocus / Manual Focus.
    Super easy too.  But oh so important.

Help me Help you.

For awhile now I’ve been wanting to record very short Essential Camera Guides of many of the most popular cameras.  The idea is very simple.  Record short 5 minute videos where I go through the above 12 Essentials with YOUR camera.  And perhaps a few other tips that are camera specific.

Cost has always been prohibitive.  But I’m currently working on two options to acquire cameras for a short term in order to record the Essential Camera Guides.  One option is a local camera shop.

The other (and preferred) hopefully involves a hookup of sorts with the ever popular and great BorrowLenses.  The fine folks at BorrowLenses make it possible for you to borrow just about any piece of equipment for that important weekend event 🙂

How can you help me?  Simple, by answering the following question: What camera do you own?  It’ll give me an idea of which cameras to start with.

I’ll be bringing these guides to you free of charge folks.

Thanks much for helping!

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

Thanks again for your help, and stay tuned!

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12 thoughts on “New Camera? Burn The Manual.”

  1. I clicked T2i, but there was no submit button. I hope you were able to get it! I actually have a T1i, but T2i is I’m sure similar.

    1. Thanks Rebecca! There’s actually a little “done” button at the bottom of the survey. I just had to embed it so I’m not sure how it’s showing on mobile but I’ll look into it!

  2. This is so exciting! I DID get a new camera for Christmas and have been playing around with it, following your tips of course, but have had a few difficulties. I’m hoping my camera is one of the 12 you pick. Thank you for doing this!

    1. Hi Sandy,

      They aren’t. Kyle did post a video for the Nikon D750 on YouTube if that happens to be your camera, but in the end trying to keep up with the camera guides and access to the actual camera bodies proved to be too much.

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