Quickly set up your new digital camera

Hit the ground running with our guide to setting up your new camera!

Congratulations on getting your new camera! It’s only natural that you can’t wait to start using it, but it’s worth spending a few minutes configuring it correctly first. Not only will this save you time and effort in the long run, but it’s a good way of familiarising yourself with your camera’s layout, features and functions.

With the help of our quick-start camera set-up guide, it will only take a few minutes…

Select high-quality pictures

When it comes to file format, shoot in raw rather than JPEG. The extra data that’s captured in the uncompressed raw format gives you more flexibility to adjust your shots post-shoot if necessary. Try to keep the ISO as low as possible, ideally between ISO 100 and 400, because digital “noise” can be a problem at high ISO settings. As for white balance, set it to auto for now – as you progress you’ll become more confident at knowing when to switch to a specific setting, such as Cloudy.


Choose the exposure mode

SLRs 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 provide lots of creative control.

In Aperture Priority mode, you set an aperture and the camera automatically works out what shutter speed you need for a correct exposure, while in Shutter Priority mode, you set the shutter speed and the camera works out the correct aperture. Simple!


Choose the metering mode

Metering options depend on the camera, but the three most common are Multizone (also known as Evaluative or Matrix), Centre-weighted, and Spot. Multi-zone mode takes a reading from the entire scene and then sets the exposure accordingly. It’s pretty accurate, and is suitable for most conditions. Centre-weighted mode takes a reading that concentrates on the central 60% of the frame, making it ideal for portraits, and Spot takes a reading from a tiny area and is therefore potentially the most accurate.


Aperture and shutter speed

Aperture and shutter speed affect not just the amount of light you let into the lens, but also the way images look. The aperture is used to determine the depth of field, which is the amount of the scene that’s in focus. If you want a blurred background, you need a wide aperture, such as f/2.8; and if you want everything in focus from front to back, you need a narrow aperture, such as f/22. The shutter speed controls whether a moving subject is frozen or blurred; the slower the shutter speed, the more motion blur there will be.


Set the focus and drive modes

To ensure your shots are razor-sharp, SLRs offer a number of focus modes. The two main settings are single-shot, mainly for stationary subjects, and continuous or servo, for moving subjects. All SLRs feature multiple focus points that can be selected manually. The drive modes enable you to select whether a single shot is captured each time you press the shutter release, whether a sequence of shots are taken in rapid succession, or whether the shutter is fired after a delay of two or ten seconds.


Use review to check your shot

Now you’ve set up your SLR, it’s time to ensure you’re using its LCD properly. By this we mean using the zoom buttons to zoom in on parts of the image on the rear screen, so you can check for sharpness or excessive noise. And you should also try to get into the habit of checking your image’s exposure by calling up the histogram, or tone chart. A histogram bunched up at the left can indicate under-exposure; a histogram at the right suggests over-exposure. If you’re unsure, adjust your settings and try taking another test shot.