by Harry Flashman
When all else fails - read the instruction manual - again!
I went to the Jesters Children’s Fair a couple of weeks ago. I took my two
children, and took a camera, a Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ50. I had just shot a
couple of frames and then hurriedly turned the camera on again to get an
action shot, and the viewfinder display had gone! Like electronic magic the
indicators for aperture and shutter speed had just vanished into the clouds
(where they do all the computing these days, I am told)!
I turned the camera on and off. I popped the flash up and down. I spoke
several words not generally seen in family newspapers. Eventually I just
selected A for Auto, clicked away and hoped for the best.
Of course, it was possible to review the shots through the LCD monitor
screen, but have you ever tried to really judge what you have got in bright
sunlight? At least you know you’ve got an image, and hopefully Mr. Photoshop
can fix it.
I eventually gave up shooting and returned home, tail firmly between legs.
Now I have written before that when all else fails - read the instruction
manual. This is always some good advice, and the answer to many photographic
problems can be found between its pages. Mine was simply that I had pressed
the display button accidentally. Pressed it again and hey presto, full
details in the viewing screen!
Unfortunately, many instruction manuals are close to being useless as the
details are too difficult to understand (or ‘navigate’) these days. Is this
you? Be honest now. I have this problem too. The family happy snapper point
and shooter has had the situation after one or both of the children play
with it, that the LCD screen ends up with all kinds of confusing icons and
histograms. How to return it to the simple turn on and take pictures mode is
beyond me, and beyond the capabilities of the instruction manual to impart.
Fortunately, the store where we bought it has a bright young man who races
through menus and gives us back a camera we adults can use. And he does it
free of charge. What a bargain.
I have another e-camera for which the instruction manual comes as a CD. More
than 120 pages CD! Now the CD may be packed with all kinds of great
information, but 120 pages! And how do you access your 120 pages in the
field? Perhaps one should carry a laptop as well when out with the camera?
The discussions on instruction manuals has been on-going for many years, and
some time back I received a letter from Don Griffith which contained the
following, “I have a D40 and probably the instruction manual for it is very
badly laid out and confusing - vague language and far too many cross
references for someone making the transition up to a DSLR to make total
“To this end it is very worthwhile investing in a third party book on the
camera if one wants to get the best out of it.
“I got one from my local ‘Amazon’ - the beauty of using Amazon being I was
able to read parts of it before I bought it to make sure I was not buying
yet another confusing instruction book. I bought the cheapest available out
of a surprisingly large collection that was on offer - and it has been a
complete revelation and consider it has totally paid for itself in the first
three or four chapters.
“For example, I have had the camera for 12 months and in the first chapter
or so I learnt basic things that I was previously unaware of - like how to
use the exposure compensation/aperture button.
“No doubt there are owners of other makes of DSLR cameras with much the same
problem - if so it is also worth them looking for a book for their camera as
With today’s increasingly more technical (electronic) cameras, you do need a
good manual, and if the factory one is too complex, then I suggest you do as
Don Griffith has done. Look for the easier after-market publications.
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