Guide to using any digital camera1

Think back to your 1st film camera.

You had to figure out how to load the camera, take a light reading, change the ISO to match your film speed, set it on one of the automatic modes,  then click the shutter.

Then when you ran out of film, you had to reload.

With a digital camera, it’s not that different.

So you need to know how to:

Power on

If the LCD monitor has no readout, then it means either there is no battery or there is no more power in the battery.

Look around the camera body for a battery compartment.

They tend to be accessible via some groove which you will open with the help of your fingernail.

With digital cameras, you can’t ever have too many spare batteries because without power, you’re up the proverbial creek. Proprietary batteries cost more, but tend to hold a longer charge.

Next press the Playback button (the icon is usually a triangle pointing to the right). If there is a memory card, you should see a preview of the last image recorded. No image preview can mean there is no memory card or there was no image on the memory card.

Load the memory card

Currently the most common types are memory cards are Secure Digital and Compact Flash. These cards are designed to go in the slot only one way. If you’re forcing the card, you’re doing something wrong and will surely damage the tiny pins inside the camera body.

I’ve actually known people who don’t know that they are supposed to reuse these memory cards. They just keep buying more when their camera says there is no more room. Those folks are also the ones who are afraid of the computer.

Change the exposure settings

These three settings, ISO, aperture and shutter speed, I group together because they are all relate to Exposure. Changing the ISO always affects the other 2. Knowing why and when to change the ISO, the sensitivity of the light gathering sensor in the camera body, is very important.

Over-riding the camera’s automatic mode

Knowing how to over-ride the camera’s automatic modes is important. Depending on the complexity of your camera, there are 3:

White Balance–deals with the color temperature that is dominant in a scene you are trying to photograph. Often confused with exposure especially when extreme under-exposure results in color shifts in a scene.

Autofocus–there are times when insufficient contrast or low light levels won’t let the lens focus. yes, even auto-focus has a threshold of light it needs to work. But most people don’t realize that they can manually focus the lens by turning off auto-focus, a switch on the lens.

Auto exposure–camera meters try to render every scene you point your lens for an average 18% percent grey. If you’ve ever wondered why your pictures of a full moon’s surface is devoid of details, this is why. The dominant black of the sky tells the camera there is insufficient light, so it opens up the aperture or lowers the shutter speed to let in more light to make the black sky 18% grey. As a result the moon is over-exposed and there is no highlight detail.

At its most basic, most cameras perform this when you half-depress the shutter button. When set to Program mode , or the so-called “idiot-proof” mode,  most cameras perform 3 functions.

  1. Take a meter reading and sets the aperture and shutter speed
  2. Acquire focus
  3. Determine and set the White Balance for the scene.

So the half-depressing the shutter button and pausing step is extremely important. If you don’t do that, or if you don’t pause long enough, you’re not giving your camera a chance to compute all those 3 settings.

Format the card or erase the images

Before you do this step, make sure you have downloaded those images on to a computer for longer term storage. I also recommend using a card reader instead of connecting your camera directly to your computer.

Data transfer when interrupted by a drained camera battery can cause you to lose or get a corrupted file.

Formatting the memory card deletes the images more permanently than just erasing. I do that every 5 or 10 times after erasing the card. Some downloading software offers to erase the card after it’s done. I always choose “no” and I always format with the camera.

This step is hidden away in the menu for good reason. Most people keep their compact cameras in their pockets. Camera manufacturers don’t want an unlucky combinations of buttons being pushed to trigger an accidental erasure of formatting of your memory card.

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2 thoughts on “Guide to using any digital camera1”

  1. Hi DeeAnn,
    Whitewater rafting? Get yourself a underwater housing…To be honest I didn’t research the card reader as thoroughly as you obviously did.

    I suspect your choices are better. I just wish the “pipeline” to transfer the data was bigger and faster. Currently everything I’ve read says that the bottleneck is the memory cards themselves not being able to transfer data faster than what the USB2.0 or Firewire connector. That will change soon as file sizes for digicams increase and more photographers become impatient. 😉

  2. Finally bought a point & shoot (for upcoming white water rafting trip).
    Was looking at Lexar dual card reader you have posted, but then read Amazon reviews on it.

    Looking at these two:
    Kingston 19-in-1 USB 2.0 Flash Memory Card Reader
    Lexar Dual-Slot USB 2.0 Flash Memory Card Reader

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