Read the instructions

Wow, some readers were very good last year and received a new DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera for Christmas. Like most people the reader likely tossed the box with the instructions aside, fumbled around looking for someplace to stick in the memory card, spied a dial and selected the letter P, turned on the camera, and started making pictures. If lucky, the on-camera flash was default programmed to pop up and flashed in low light environments, so technology is magical and amazing pictures are being produced.

  • Jan. 3, 2011 12:00 p.m.

Wow, some readers were very good last year and received a new DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera for Christmas. Like most people the reader likely tossed the box with the instructions aside, fumbled around looking for someplace to stick in the memory card, spied a dial and selected the letter P, turned on the camera, and started making pictures. If lucky, the on-camera flash was default programmed to pop up and flashed in low light environments, so technology is magical and amazing pictures are being produced.

“Heck, why did the manufacturers waste all that paper on an instruction manual? They should have saved some trees because the pictures are just fine with the camera set to automatic or program mode and if some pictures don’t work, reader’s can just delete and try again till everything looks good.” In my opinion, that is definitely the wrong approach to take with today’s cameras. Modern DSLRs are marvels of control and all one needs to do is to read the instructions to have command of all that marvellous control for spectacular pictures.

This will be the first of several columns in which I discuss turning that new digital single lens reflex camera from an expensive point-and-shoot into an amazing tool, and hopefully help those interested in turning their personal photography into more than just small print memory makers. I am also asking readers to review his or her instruction manuals.

Some new digital toting photographers never move that dial off the P mode and wonder what’s all the fuss about confusing modes like “aperture” priority, or “shutter” priority, and/or “manual” mode, and rationalize their opinion by saying, “I am not a professional and my pictures are mostly just memories for me and my family, and, anyway, the instructions are confusing.”

When a photographer confronts me with their new digital camera I begin with the suggestion, put the camera on P and shoot away, but only for one week. That’s right .…. only one week! And while that week passes my next advice is to find the instruction manual that came with the camera, and read everything up to and including using the camera’s P mode. That is the first step, and I’ll call that learning to use one’s camera.

While this reading and learning is going on, find the section on the Menu and search for ISO. Pick the camera up, scroll down, and find the heading ISO, and change the ISO to auto. Leave it there until later.

Now, after the first week, go to step two, and that can be called understanding the “A mode” or “Aperture” priority. Aperture priority means you choose the aperture setting and the camera chooses the shutter speed. I could start to complicate things by discussing depth of field and how the aperture controls the sharpness in front of, and behind, the main subject, but for now lets stay with the basics of using the A mode.

The instruction manual has details regarding Aperture priority and on how to control the aperture. Depending upon the camera that choice is accomplished with either a button or a dial.

Do more reading and select aperture priority on the camera, focus on something and make the numbers that appear in the viewfinder or LCD screen change. The aperture controls the amount of light the lens is letting into the camera. The numbers will probably show up as 3.5, 4, 5.6, 8, 11,16, etc. There might be more depending upon the lens, but those noted are the mid range. They are actually percentages as in ¼ or 1/11 or 1/16th and we are talking about light – ¼ lets in more light then 1/16.

Next week I am going to discuss more functions on the new DSLRs people got for Christmas. Readers should practice with their new cameras and get used to it with Program mode, then go on to experiment with Aperture priority. I have to emphasize that new owners should read their instruction manuals, re-read, and read again, and then we can decipher the camera more next week. My goal is for readers to understand when and why they need to use different exposure modes, and to be continually resetting the menu defaults to their personal shooting priorities.

My camera manuals are dog-eared, full of post-its and notations. That should be the norm.

That’s it for this week, I welcome your comments and suggestions at emcam@telus.net or call me at (250) 371-3069.

John Enman owns and operates Enman’s Camera at 423 Tranquille Road in Kamloops. And sells an interesting selection of used and new photographic equipment and offers professional wedding photography and private photographic instruction. Check out www.enmanscamera.com