Top 10 Things to do When Your New Camera Arrives

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TripodAtGoldenGate

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.

Diopter

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.

Tripod-Plate

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.

Custom-Menu

My custom menu settings

#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.

Wifi

Set up the connection between your camera and your phone to enable remote shooting and camera image viewing.

#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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Jim Hamel shows aspiring photographers simple, practical steps for improving their photos. Check out his free photography guides and photography tutorials at Outdoor Photo Academy. The free tips, explanations, and video tutorials he provides are sure to take your photography to the next level. In addition, check out his book Getting Started with Photography.

  • The manufacturer manual may not be a easy to understand, so I usually order a 3rd party book on the operation of the camera. I find their examples and suggestions to be very helpful.

  • Susan Doyle Uzupis

    Don’t forget to check for firmware updates. And install software and apps.

  • Good point. I’ve used the Magic Lantern guides in the past and liked them. Thanks!

  • Ah yes, good additions, thanks.

  • You always learn something and it is always good to visit some basic settings. Although I have had my new camera for five moths I did spot a few things I should definitely do.

  • JvW

    #7, back button focus, can be good but it depends on what and how you photograph. Calling it ‘the better way because it doesn’t re-focus with each picture/shutter press’ (or for any other reason) is plain personal opinion over fact. It’s a matter of preference, but always good to know that it’s available if you need it.

  • Charles G. Haacker

    Good set of tips, but I couldn’t help but notice the apparently unattended camera on a tripod overlooking the GG Bridge. I know you were close by and did it only for illustrative purposes, but a tip that all new photographers should know is to NEVER leave a camera unattended on a tripod. You can see the wind (always windy up there) whipping the strap around. Really no problem for a good gust of wind to take a brand new $8000 camera over. Even if you sandbag the tripod, the way I was taught was that if you are alone and have to leave the tripod, take the camera with you (goes to #3, have a quick release). : )

  • Albin

    It’s been a while, but I’d suggest checking repair state and compatibility of externals like flash, spare battery, filters, etc. if not ordered with the new kit. And take (and organize for review) an aggravating number of test shots to get the true performance at different settings, before messing up shots in the field because of what (you thought) it’s “supposed to do”.

  • Gallopingphotog

    No, no, no. The first thing you do when you get your new camera is lay it down carefully in a safe place and then jump up and down as you hysterically scream “Yesssss!!!!!!!!!!”

  • logable

    no, no.. first thing you do is ensure it is covered by your home owners/rental property insurance! Ask the guy who recently had a D610 + 20mmF2.8, + tiffin variable nd filter, fall face first into the concrete floor. Also, check your policies. USAA offers an add-on pack to cover valuable personal property for about $10 a month that covert fills and spills (dropped cameras, water in camera, etc), but normal policies will not.

  • Excellent. Thanks!

  • Karen Garay

    I like to take test shots using as many different features as possible. That way if one doesn’t work properly you’ll know right away. (Especially since I just bought a refurbished DSLR, I really want to know everything works before the short warranty expires)

  • It may just be preference, I cannot say for sure. But while there are several advantages to back button focus in a lot of different shooting contexts, I can think of no advantage offered by using your shutter button to focus in any context.

  • Karen Garay

    Especially if it’s not a new camera. It could be that something may not work properly.

  • You got me. Yes, it is windy up there, and yes I was nervous about stepping back from my camera. But I don’t recommend doing it.

  • That’s true. But even in newer electronics or computer-related items, if there is a failure it often happens immediately. So good points.

  • Until you get your credit card bill or see your bank statement, then you fall to your knees can cry “NNNNnnnnnooooooo!”

  • Good info. I’ll be checking on my policy shortly!

  • Wade

    All great points below and the one I would add to it is to ensure that you have your date and copyright information included so that the files are immediately updated in camera.

  • Dude II

    Back button focus puts the photographer in control rather than the computer in the camera. Of all the NG photographers I have taken seminars from, to a person, they make the following adjustments to their new cameras in order, with #4 being variable.
    1. Back button focus.
    2. Histogram on LCD preview.
    3. Blinkies on LCD preview.
    4. Turn off automatic LCD display – (I shoot performance – dance, music – in theaters) the last thing the artists and venue want is a flashing screen to disturb the audience. (It’s not about you in those situations).

  • That is a good one. It will get you comfortable with all the features as well.

  • Thanks!

  • Jim

    Great article. I’d like to add/clarify that the diopter focus is only to sharpen in- camera digital display and does not affect actual photographic focus.

  • Good point. And thanks!

  • Yes valid point – also many home owners policies will not cover high end DSLRs as they consider them “PRO” bodies and assume you are shooting professionally with them whether you are or not. It’s worth a phone call for sure!

  • Clive

    What is point seven all about?

  • David Jackson

    Just caught up with this but would make a suggestion on point 10, “Read the Manual”. I tried (honest) but the manual for my Canon EOS 750D is so dull it is practically unreadable. Then I stumbled on “Canon EOS Rebel T6i/750D for Dummies”. Bliss…. read it cover to cover and still frequently refer to it. Best £20 I ever spent.

  • Annath

    Do you have any manual like what the Mr.David Jackson has mentioned for a Canon Mark3 DSR

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