So, you just opened your presents, and you received that amazing camera you've been staying up late reading reviews about for the last six months. Rad! Now what? Here are the first 10 things you should do with that new camera.
1. Migrate Those Old Settings
If you've upgraded from another camera, you likely customized it in a bunch of ways, ranging from crucial shooting behavior such as autofocus settings and auto ISO limitations to stuff like not beeping every single time it acquires focus. The first thing you should do is sit the two cameras side by side and go through the menus of the old one to duplicate any custom settings in the new one. It'll feel more like your camera instantly.
2. Check All the Settings
Photography is very much a game of parameters, the improper setting of any of which can destroy your shots. For example, many cameras come set to shoot small JPEGs, likely a setting that was designed to save space when memory cards were smaller in capacity and more expensive. There's no reason for that nowadays, so make sure you change it to raw or at the very least, full-size JPEGs (though you should really be shooting in raw unless you have a specific reason not to). Be sure to check all the other settings too; the last thing you want is the camera surprising you in the middle of a shoot. Check out the autofocus, the metering, the white balance — anything and everything. Personally, I take a half-hour to go through every single menu item to ensure I understand both what they do and where they're located as well as making sure they're all set the way I desire. For example, I never let my camera take a shot without a memory card in it, because as soon as I do, I will take some (several hundred) shots without a memory card in it.
3. Check Your Diopter
Do you see a little geared wheel on the side of the viewfinder? If you wear glasses or the viewfinder just doesn't seem sharp to you, look at the numbers or focus points in the viewfinder (or pull up a menu if you're on a mirrorless camera) and turn it until the image in the viewfinder looks sharpest, then leave it set there. You likely won't have to change it again.
4. Warranty and Insurance
Do you have gear insurance? Don't forget to add your new camera to your policy before you drop it, because the one time you forget will be the one time your camera dive-bombs an entire staircase at the Cavs game (ask me about that one time with my new iPhone).
5. Read the Manual
A fairly accurate representation of how I feel reading my camera manual. (Image by ThePixelman, used under Creative Commons.)
I know, I know. That's not really the most exciting thing you've heard. Don't worry, I'm not saying to sit down with a glass of wine and labor over all 400 pages like the latest bestseller. However, you should definitely at least skim the manual. Most new cameras are like little photographic treasure troves of capabilities with unexpected entries in each menu, and you might be surprised by a few features you didn't know your camera had or some customizations that make your shooting way easier. Just as importantly, you'll want to be aware of any quirks or behaviors that could affect your work, particularly if you shoot in a high-pressure genre such as wedding photography.
6. Get Yourself a Bag That Fits and Protects
Never forget that no matter how weather/dust/locust/molten lava-resistant your new camera is, it's still basically a box with a bunch of fragile and expensive electronics that you attach a bunch of fragile and expensive glass to. Why risk breaking your brand new photography box thing (that's the technical term)? Get a proper bag that fits the camera snugly and has enough padding and weather-sealing to protect it both from the elements and your own clumsiness. There are literally thousands of options.
7. Battery and Memory Card
If you got a camera that shoots 20 fps, first of all, I'd like to be your new friend. Second of all, make sure your memory cards are rated to keep up with that performance so you can take advantage of your camera's capabilities. On a similar note, redundancy is key to security in photography, so if your camera has dual slots, make sure there's a memory card in both slots and you've set it to write to both of them. Similarly, make sure you're backing up your files with at least one backup off-site.
In a similar vein, one battery is never enough. Always carry a spare just in case. I personally could never go back to shooting without a battery grip. On top of the doubled battery life, it make such a difference ergonomically when you're shooting in portrait position and helps you to hold the camera more steadily by keeping your elbows into your body, plus it makes you faster overall if you're working in a genre that requires good reflexes.
8. Keep It Clean
First of all, always remember that when you're cleaning photography gear, the goal is to use the minimal amount of physical contact to effectively clean it. So, get yourself a blower, brush, microfiber cloths, cleaning solution, and wipes, the check out this article for the full rundown on how to properly clean your gear.
9. Study Up
New cameras often have lots of new features, but they won't bestow you with new skills. Stay committed to continuing to learn and grow. While there's a lot of great free content out there, consider getting a professional tutorial that can give you a comprehensive course on all facets of a given genre with a rigid structure that will guide you to your goals.
10. Get Out and Shoot!
You should read up on your new photography box thing and study up on techniques, but there's absolutely no substitute for having your camera in hand and clicking the shutter. You'll gain an instinctual feel for it and of course, your photography will improve.
Do you have any habits for when you get a new camera? Share them in the comments!