A 12 Step Program : You Got a New Camera For Christmas! Now What?

Hooray!  You received a new camera for Christmas!  Or you went out on Boxing Day and got yourself a new camera.  Good for you!  But now you have a box of stuff, you want to get started and aren't exactly sure where to start.  You want to be making photographs, RIGHT FREAKING NOW, but are concerned about what could go wrong, what got missed, and what you forgot.  Relax, I'm here to help!

I won't tell you that doing these things will save the planet, but if done, they will make sure that the big fails are avoided completely.

  1. READ the manual.  Yes, read it.  Cover to cover.  Having the camera in hand and operational is not a bad idea, but not required.  Unless you bought/got EXACTLY the same camera as what you've been using all along (why?) your new camera is different.  Learn what all the buttons and dials do.  It won't be as obvious as you might think, and modern products are vastly programmable so the buttons may not do what you think they do, or even what you want them to do.  If your camera came with only a starter manual, download or install the full manual from the manufacturer's website.  READ that one.
  2. Charge the battery.  Yes, most all batteries arrive with a partial charge.  After completing step one, put the battery on for a full charge and let it charge completely.  No point running out to make images to discover that the "charged" battery is not so charged.
  3. Check the memory card.  Professional sellers would recommend the right card for the camera and the camera's requirements, but cameras are bought everywhere these days and it's safe to say that many sellers were in housewares two days ago.  Make sure that the card satisfies the requirements as documented in the owner's manual.  If it doesn't, you need to head out to the sales and get a couple of proper cards.  BTW, if the card doesn't come from Sandisk or Lexar, you might want to head out anyway.  Billy-Bob's memory card may have been inexpensive with lots of space, but it probably is very slow and likely to fail when you least expect it.
  4. Check the lens for fingerprints.  Enthusiasm and a busy holiday season could mean that others have handled your new unit and inadvertently placed greasy fingerprints on the lens elements.  Use the lens pen that came in your stocking to clean the lenses.  If you didn't get a lens pen, buy one while you are buying reputable memory cards.
  5. Once the battery is charged, place your card in the camera and following the manual instructions, format it.  Get in the habit of only formatting the card in the camera you will use it in.  Once you have copied your images to your computer and are sure that they are intact, put the card back in the camera and format it.  Get into this good habit.
  6. Open the menu system, and by following the manual, disable the ability to trip the shutter without a card installed.  The last thing you want is to make one hundred images only to find later that there was no card in the camera.
  7. If your new lens did not come with a protective or UV filter, don't worry.  Unless a lot of money was spent on the filter, it's not helping you at all, and if you are marginally careful, the lens will hold up just fine, and you won't suffer the image degradation caused by Joe's House Brand filter. 
  8. If you received a separate flash with your camera and it didn't come with rechargeable high capacity NiMH batteries, they go on your shopping list because running a flash on alkalines is a prescription for a brutal headache.
  9. If your new lens did not include a lens hood, you need to get one.  I am not suggesting spending $70 on the hard plastic ring that some vendors want you to think is a hood, that's actually worth about $5, you are better served to get a collapsible rubber hood.  See your local photo store for one that fits your lens and that will not vignette.  A wide angle lens needs a wide angle hood.  Once you have a hood, use it all the time.  It will help protect the lens and will improve your images ALWAYS by reducing glare and reflections on the front element.  There is really no cheaper way to improve your image than always using a lens hood.  There will be folks who will tell you that they don't matter.  Those folks are wrong.
  10. Shoot about a dozen or so snapshots and download them to the computer.  Make sure that they look decent enough.  Shoot in Program mode, we aren't going for art, we are going for a front to back function test.  Do this before you embark on photos that are really important.
  11. If you are upgrading from a different camera, take the time to migrate your preferred settings.  Out of the box, cameras are set for lowest common denominator, meaning basic JPEG, sRGB colour space and other options made to ensure that the first pics shot by someone who hasn't have broken the seal on the baggie holding the manual don't look completely like litterbox filler.  You know what you want, take the couple of minutes to make the settings work for you.
  12. In the first few days, spend several runs going through the menus.  Even if your camera is from the same manufacturer as your prior camera, the menus will be different  Changing tech requires manufacturers to constantly modify their menus.  Annoying to be sure to have to learn a new menu, but a heck of a lot better than trying to find a setting under pressure.  Camera manufacturers are not software companies and their menu user interfaces are typically horrible at best.  An important photo is not a good time for you to be trying to figure out the intent of a designer with lousy UI skills.

Are there other things to think about and look for?  Absolutely, but I've seen these trip up both seasoned and new photographers A LOT.  So save some pain and anguish and embrace this 12 step program.

Until next time, peace