Was the holiday season good to you? Are you blissfully cradling a brand new camera? Before you run out and start firing frames, be sure to check this list to make sure you and your camera are in top shape.
1. Diopter Adjustment
Contrary to popular belief, adjusting your diopter does not affect the ability of your camera to focus; it simply changes the clarity of what you see through the viewfinder. If you wear glasses or find things are consistently fuzzy (a good check is looking at the numbers or the focus points in the viewfinder, not the image itself), you might need to adjust the diopter. Simply use the small wheel on the viewfinder to dial in the setting that looks sharpest to you (again, using the numbers and focus points), and you're all set!
2. Check Your Image Settings
For some reason unbeknownst to me, some cameras come set to shoot small JPEGs or something similar, likely a throwback to the days of miniscule memory cards, gasoline for under a dollar a gallon, and a brief square dancing fad that swept the nation. No one wants to go out for a day of shooting with their shiny new camera, only to return home with web-sized JPEGs. Be sure you're set up to shoot in raw or raw+JPEG. With storage as cheap as it is today and the huge gains in versatility inherent to shooting raw files, I'm an advocate for always shooting in raw, except for the rare situations in which JPEGs are needed immediately, such as sports and press photography. Furthermore, if your camera offers dual card slots, be sure to set up an in-camera backup by writing to both cards.
3. Check If You Need an Autofocus Microadjustment (AFMA)
Every individual camera and lens will have a different affinity to one another due to sample variation. If you love razor-thin depth of field or you frequently use wide apertures for low-light work, be sure that you're not going to be frustrated when shooting at maximum aperture. Check out this article for more details on how to perform an AFMA.
4. Get Some Cleaning Supplies
Your gear is going to get dirty eventually. Don't resort to breathing on it and using your shirt to wipe it clean. Be prepared with proper supplies, including a blower, brush, microfiber cloths, cleaning solution, and wipes for on the go. Remember the most important philosophy of cleaning photo gear: always use the minimal amount of contact to do the job. Start with a blower, move to a brush, then finally to wet-cleaning, if necessary. Check out this article for detailed advice on how to clean your equipment.
5. Battery and Memory Card
One of the keys to success in photography is redundancy, whether that be in backing up your files (you are doing that, right?), having multiple bodies and lenses ready in case one fails, or something as simple as having a spare battery. Be sure to have multiple batteries on hand. In particular, if you're shooting a mirrorless camera, you'll probably want three or four (or five or six...) batteries in your bag. You might even consider a grip, both for the extra battery life and the benefit of being able to shoot in portrait orientation with more comfort.
Just like batteries, be sure you have multiple memory cards and furthermore, that they're fast enough to keep up with your fancy new camera's ultra-fast "look, here's 800 frames of a heron catching a fish" mode; otherwise, you might find you're not getting the advertised performance. Also, be sure to format the cards in the new camera. Different cameras use different file structures, and you may find yourself with irretrievable images if you don't start fresh.
6. Migrate Your Settings
Most of us have customized our cameras' menu systems and behavior at least to some degree, even if it's something as simple as turning off focus beeps. However, you may have more intricate settings that are crucial to how you shoot, such as auto ISO parameters, back-button autofocus, or flash sync rules. Once we set these, it's easy to forget we've done so, simply because it's how we expect the camera should act. If you've upgraded or obtained another body, be sure to go through the menus of your old camera and replicate any customizations you made in the new model.
7. Consider a New Strap
Camera straps are like socks. Most of us just go with the default option, not considering how something so seemingly innocuous can affect our experience. A more ergonomic third-party strap can do wonders for your comfort; after all, don't forget that our necks were designed to hold our heads on top, not carry the load of a camera and lens pulling downward and across them. Your neck will thank you after a long wedding. Furthermore, manufacturer straps, with their multi-colored stripes and imprinted model numbers, are basically readymade advertisements for thieves.
8. Warranty and Insurance
Yes, it's boring, but be sure you check the fine print on your warranty and its coverage. If you carry insurance on your gear (you do this as well, right?), be sure to add your new gear to your policy. It's easy to forget to do this.
9. Get a Proper Bag
Modern cameras and lenses are remarkably rugged, but at the end of the day, they're still basically hunks of very finely tuned electronics and glass. Why risk them? Furthermore, there's a veritable cornucopia of bags on the market nowadays. You can protect your new gear and make a bold fashion statement at the same time, or just go the utilitarian route — whatever floats your boat.
10. Read the Manual
Ok, you don't have to read all 300 pages. However, you should definitely at least skim the manual. Modern cameras are small wonders of technology and often contain features that might not jump out at you initially or may function in a way counter to your instinct. Becoming familiar with the manual will ensure that you can take advantage of all the capabilities of your camera and that it operates the way you expect it to, so you won't miss those shots. I promise it's not that boring; you'll be happy to marvel at all the neat things your new gear can do.
We all want to rush out the instant we get a new piece of gear and shoot nonstop. However, take an hour or so to set up your gear properly, and your shooting experience will be all the more enjoyable. Do you have any tips for setting up a new camera? Let us know in the comments!