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Managing the camera manual (09/24/2006)
By Tom Hirsch

Upon opening the box containing your new Gismomatic Deluxe XL 5000, you also find a packet of silica gel, the camera strap, a battery, and a booklet with a picture of a girl on horseback jumping a hurdle. You lay these items aside and carefully remove the camera from the styrofoam or bubble pack.

As you examine the camera, you notice that it contains a number of buttons and levers, each labeled with a puzzling set of letters or symbols. After a few minutes spent in attempting to make some sense of it all, you conclude that maybe the booklet was sent along for a reason.

Now that you have the manual in hand, don't try to make sense of everything at once. For starters, just thumb through to see what types of information it contains.

Before you get the urge to learn any of the functions in depth, go back and look over the pages containing the camera diagram and nomenclature. Next, follow the manual carefully, carrying out such procedures as attaching the camera strap, inserting the battery, loading the camera, turning it on, and using the zoom lens. Many of your questions about the new jargon will be answered. Now is a good time to play around with the camera for a while to get the feel of it, with the camera strap around your neck or wrist.

At this point, it's a good idea to start a small pocket notebook in which you list each function and its code. Begin with the basic functions, then, as others become important, add them to the notebook. In this way you'll learn the most important functions faster, and you won't need to carry the camera manual with you. You might even want to start a section in the notebook where you can jot down some of the hints found in these articles.

Initially, some camera functions will be more important than others. Know the symbol that tells you when you have sufficient battery power, the one that lets you know when the film or memory card is improperly aligned, and what it means if the focusing distance indicator light is blinking. Autofocus is a great feature, but find out what other focus features your camera has. Also, learn what types of subjects can cause focusing problems, and how they can be avoided.

You'll also need to know the maximum distance range for the flash. If you try taking flash pictures of subjects much beyond this distance, they'll be underexposed. Oops, this isn't exactly true. Most camera manuals give the maximum distance when using an ISO 100 film. If you use an ISO 200 film, or set your digital camera to ISO 200, multiply the given distance by 1.5. With an ISO 400 film or setting, double the given distance. This still doesn't mean that you can take pictures at a night football game and get good results. Always try to estimate the maximum flash distance and don't exceed it.

If you have a compact rangefinder film or digital camera, you will see a series of frame lines as you look through the viewfinder. These lines are to compensate for parallax. This is the discrepancy between what is seen through the viewfinder and what is "seen" through the lens. The frame lines might change as you zoom the lens in and out. Your manual will describe the use of these lines for close focusing. Many digital camera users can also use the LCD monitor for this type of shooting.

Chances are, the first time out with your new camera, you'll make mistakes. These are learning experiences too. The manual can help you determine what should have been done in those situations. You'll find that each time you look through the manual, you will learn something new. 


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