The First 10 Things You Should Do When You Have a New Camera

The First 10 Things You Should Do When You Have a New Camera

Was Santa kind to you? Did he bring you that brand new camera you've been drooling over for months? Before you run out and start shooting with it, here are 10 things you should do.

1. Read the Manual

I know I sound like Alex Cooke, supreme commander of the land of no fun, but don't worry, I'm not saying you should grab that 400-page behemoth and pore over every last detail. Rather, it's important to remember that today's cameras are little technological wonders, full of features and quirks. Reading the manual can work to your advantage in two ways. First, it's likely you'll find some little feature of the camera that you didn't even know it had. Second, it helps you get a feel for the quirks and operational tendencies of that specific camera. For example, when I first got my 1D X Mark II, my in-focus rate was much lower than I knew it should have been, so I pulled out the autofocus manual (the AF system on the 1D X is so crazy that it comes wth its own separate manual), and after learning a few things and making some adjustments, my keeper rate went way up. Spend an hour or so at least skimming the manual.

2. Customize the Controls

So many customizable buttons! So much space for activities!

Most modern cameras have a ton of customization capabilities, and it's worth taking the time to set up custom functions with the controls to make your shooting life more enjoyable and efficient. For example, I shoot a lot of classical music, so instead of digging into the menus to turn on the silent shutter, I mapped it to the C2 button on my Sony a7R III. I can also access any AF settings I need without ever jumping into the menus via my custom functions, and that's crucial to keeping me shooting as quickly as possible and not missing shots. 

3. Check and Migrate Your Settings

For some reason (likely to do with the old days of smaller memory cards), a lot of new cameras come with some strange default settings, like shooting small JPEGs. Make sure you click it over to raw and give all the settings a once over to make sure nothing funky is going to mess up your images. I also like to do things like turn off the focus confirmation beep. Make sure that the time is synced between your new body and old cameras. 

In a similar vein, you've probably customized your old camera to how you shoot and the specific situations in which you shoot. Sit down with both cameras side by side, and go through the menus of your old camera, then find the corresponding item on the new camera and set it accordingly. While this sounds overly methodical, you may have come to rely on some very specific parameters — limitations of auto ISO, autofocus settings, back-button autofocus, etc. — the sorts of things that can cause you to miss shots if they don't behave the way you've trained yourself to expect. 

4. Warranty and Insurance

If you have gear insurance, don't forget to add your fancy new camera to your policy. In a similar vein, be sure to register the warranty. Take note of the serial number of all your equipment. I always do all of this right away, because I know I'll forget otherwise. 

5. Check if You Need an Autofocus Microadjustment (AFMA)

If you got a new DSLR, remember that every DSLR and camera might have slight sample variation differences between them, and if you shoot a lot with wide aperture glass for portraiture or low-light situations, it's a good idea to perform an AFMA with your new camera and any such lenses. Doing so will increase your keeper rate. If you need to learn how to perform an AFMA, check out this article

6. Get Spare Batteries and Memory Cards 

With higher resolutions and faster frame rates, cameras move more data than ever nowadays. If you haven't upgraded in a few years, your old memory cards might not be able to keep up. Check the write speed specs on your memory cards and if you need to, grab a few new cards. Similarly, if your new camera doesn't use the same batteries as your old, be sure you have at least one spare battery. No one likes running out of power when they're shooting with their fancy new camera.

7. Get Some Cleaning Supplies

I love these things.

Be sure to keep your new gear in tip-top shape. A good blower, brush, microfiber cloths, cleaning solution, and wipes won't set you back too much, but will ensure that you're keeping things like dust off your camera sensor. 

For a guide on how to safely clean your gear, check out this article.

8. Consider a New Strap

Manufacturer straps are rarely the most comfortable things, and on top of that, manufacturers typically emblazon them with bright colors and the camera's brand and model — basically, all things that scream: "look at this expensive thing hanging off my neck!" A nice third-party strap can make your camera a bit more inconspicuous, and it can make you a lot more comfortable, as such straps typically have more padding, breathable fabric, and stretchable components to absorb shocks. Many also have quick release connections that make them more convenient.

9. Get a Proper Bag

No matter how rugged a manufacturer claims their camera is, it doesn't change the fact that they're all just collections of delicate circuitry and glass. Get a bag that offers good protection and fits your camera snugly. 

10. Get Out and Shoot!

While it's important to read up on your new camera and make sure you understand all its functions and features, nothing can replace the intuitive feel you'll get for it by simply going out and shooting with it. Even if you don't have any shoots coming up, slap a lens on the front of your new camera and go out and simply shoot for joy of it.

What do you do when you first receive a new camera? Let us know in the comments! 

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17 Comments

Charge the battery ?

Dylan Bishop's picture

Great recommendations. And Merry Christmas!

Alex Cooke's picture

Merry Christmas to you too! :)

John Dawson's picture

Good recommendations.

Adding an LCD screen cover is also a must for me. I've got a crack in my cover right now that otherwise would have been the screen. I also look into setting recommendations from others who have experience with the camera.

Simon Patterson's picture

Interesting. You have effectively written exactly what I do with a new camera!

(Obviously) signed, Simon Patterson, 2nd In Charge of the Land of No Fun!

Alex Cooke's picture

Together, we shall rule the land of no fun!

Rifki Syahputra's picture

some may have the need to pimp the camera, get stickers, cute accessories, it's fun

Well, my new camera is a 50 year old Calumet 8x10 view camera.
1. Didn't come with one. I might be able to find one online.
2. Only three "controls": set bellows then aperture and shutter speed on the lens
3. same as #2
4. done
5. autofocus? I wish
6. I guess I can order more film
7. I am running low on pec pads
8. No strap for this 14 pound beast
9. I think I'll have to look for a box, not a bag
10. That, I will do!

Buy all the lenses.

Gifted myself gfx-50s, dumped 5d miv (not because of mirrorless craze, just wanted to try mf). Gotta go through #1 - #3, makes sense now. Thankfully I have been using a xt3 (before it's xt2) and so customization will be quick.

I think most of us (incl me) either get too excited to try out the new purchase and hence won't go through #1-#3 or we rely on YouTube or simply find it insulting to go through the manual.

It's a good reminder

Alex Cooke's picture

Ooo, how do you like it so far!?

Understanding why medium format shooters says it slows you down for good.

Crappy compositions turned out to be horrible and so I am learning to be more intended and focused.

And yes, reading manual, one feature a day.

Taking it out even on an unfavourable weather like this.

Number one should be "Check for firmware updates".

Nick Barrett's picture

Just got a new 6D for Christmas. Very good timing and placement

Alex Cooke's picture

I miss my 6D — such a great camera. Enjoy!

One of the reasons I am still a Canon shooter despite their complete lack of innovation vis-a-vis their competitors, particularly in the IQ department, is that it takes me five minutes to set up a new model. All the settings, including the custom ones, are done is a flash, because they have kept the same interface since, forever. I love it.