I have a confession. I rarely read the camera manual. Yeah, I know. Pretty dumb. That’s why I confessed.
Recently, though, I have reformed. I dug out all my camera manuals, and lens manuals, and sorted and placed them in plastic sleeves, arranging them alphabetically into a large notebook binder. This works for the small manuals and also for the one-to-two-pagers that came with some of the simple film cameras. Then I put all the thicker manuals that wouldn’t fit in the little plastic sleeves in an old box. I looked through my cameras and figured out which ones didn’t have manuals (bought used, with no extra details), and identified the manuals that would be helpful to have. Noodling around on the internet, I found the manuals I wanted for a couple of old DSLRs, a little digital point and shoot camera, and a couple of film cameras that have a little more to them than point-and-shoot. I printed these manuals out, thanks to the photographers and camera enthusiasts who have scanned and uploaded these forgotten manuals, and companies who keep archives available. Then I stapled or clipped these manuals together, and placed them with the binder and box full of manuals. Now, if I ever sell any of these cameras or lenses, it will be easy to find the manual and send it along with good wishes to the new home of the camera or lens.
A couple mornings ago, I was too lazy and chilly to get up for an early dawn walk to a local nature area to take photos of the sunrise, but I did want to do something photographically, so I poured a cup of coffee with a splash of milk, and curled up on my made bed with a quilt tucked over my lap, and began to read the manual for a little digital camera I just bought less than a month ago. I knew there were a couple of features that I didn’t know how to get to with the weird early 2000s menu setup. Sure enough, the manual pointed me straight to it and now I can’t wait to get out and play with that camera. This morning, I curled up again with a cup of coffee and a manual for a DSLR that I scored for a bargain over the summer. I have taken it out for a couple of test spins, but I knew that reading the manual would help me unlock the frustrations I was having with the camera. Sure enough, the manual helped me find a couple of settings that I couldn’t find easily, and it also assisted me in addressing a problem I had encountered with the auto-focus of one of the lenses. Wow.
I am sure this seems like a “big duh” (when my nephews were little “big duh” was their sarcastic answer to things that they seemed to know inherently or when they had just learned something and wanted to show off their seven-and-eight-year-old wisdom), to more advanced and experienced photographers than I. I have heard before that a huge part of photography is knowing your gear, but apparently I appreciated getting to know my cameras through long and awkward conversations over the years, instead of with a simple sit down before the first photography voyage, even if it was a simple walk around the block. My photography skills are slowly improving, but there was a huge leap when I stopped to read the manual.
If I had any photography advice to give, and please, you really shouldn’t take photography advice from me given my confession above, but it would be to read the manual, even if the manual is only one page, and even if you have used a million cameras, and even if you have used a similar camera. The manual is a gold mine. It can help you trouble-shoot, discover an unknown feature, or even confirm what you already knew about your wonderful camera. Curl up with your favorite beverage, placed safely away from your camera, and a camera manual on a day when you are home and not able to get out for a quick walk or a bigger photography adventure.
Get to know your camera, and get properly introduced to it with that lovely manual. There are secrets to behold, and while your camera may whisper, your manual will shout or speak to you in the appropriate volume. You and your camera might be able to have a deeper conversation, and when it’s time for your next adventure, you and your camera will both be ready.
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