Got a new DSLR for 2011 but can't face reading the multi-page manual? Here we show you how to get started with your digital camera in 6 easy steps.
Congratulations on getting a new digital SLR. It's only natural that you can't wait to start using it, but it's worth spending a few minutes configuring your camera correctly first. Not only will this save you time and effort in the long run, it's a good way of familiarising yourself with your camera's layout, and its various features and functions. Hit the ground running with our quick-start set-up guide – and if you have any questions, add them in the comments box below…
Camera settings – step 1: Select the highest quality
Choosing the right file format, ISO and white balance settings will put you on the right path to top quality results. When it comes to file formats, shoot in RAW rather than JPEG. The extra data that's captured by shooting in the uncompressed RAW fornat gives you more flexibility to improve your shots post-shoot if necessary. Shooting RAW does mean a potentially lengthier period sat in front of your computer, but the results are worth it.
Try to keep light sensitivity as low as possible – between ISO 100 and 400. Most cameras produce digital noise at high ISO settings. Noise is essentially digital 'grain' and can ruin colours and detail in a picture.
As for white balance, you can leave it on auto, but you'll become more confident at knowing when certain lighting conditions require you to switch to a specific setting, such as Cloudy or Tungsten.
Camera settings – step 2: Choose the right exposure mode
DSLRs offer a range of exposure modes, from fully automatic – like a point-and-shoot camera – to fully manual. In between these two extremes are the two popular 'semi auto' modes, Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority, which give lots of creative control. In Aperture Priority, you can dial in your chosen aperture – so you can decide how much of your scene will be in focus – and the camera automatically works out what shutter speed is needed for a good exposure. If you know what shutter speed you want to use to create a certain effect, Shutter Priority lets you select it. The camera then works out the aperture you need for a correct exposure. Simple!
Camera settings – step 3: Get the metering mode right
Metering options depend on the camera and the brand, but the three most common on a DSLR are Multi-zone (also known as Evaluative in Canon, and Matrix in Nikon), Centre-weighted and Spot.
Multi-zone mode takes a light reading from the entire scene and then sets the exposure accordingly. It's pretty accurate and is suitable in most conditions. Centre-weighted mode takes a reading that concentrates on the central 60-70% of the frame, making it ideal for shooting portraits. Spot metering enables you to take a reading from a tiny area of the scene and is therefore the most accurate – although needs to be used with care. When shooting with a DSLR's autoexposure mode, such as Aperture Priority, Spot metering is often used in conjunction with the camera's exposure lock (AEL) button so that the framing can be changed without affecting the exposure.
Camera settings – step 4: Decide on aperture and shutter speed
Aperture and shutter speed are the two most important settings on your camera. The combination of these two…