How to Set Up Your New Camera: A Step-by-Step Checklist

A new digital camera can be a thrilling time for videographers and photographers. There are many opportunities for learning and new places and adventures to be discovered. It’s not always easy to use a camera when you are a beginner. It can be difficult to understand the many complex letters, numbers and acronyms that are available, as well as how to use the various dials, buttons and switches. Follow these simple steps and you will be up in no time.
We will show you how to turn on the camera and dial in the time/date/location settings. Then attach it to the tripod and go over the various shooting modes and exposure settings. Let’s get started and get the new camera up and running.

Table of Contents

  • Charge the battery
  • Format the Memory Card
  • You can set the time, date, and location
  • Attach a Lens
  • The Lens Settings are available here
  • Attaching to a Tripod
  • Be familiar with the modes
  • Image Quality
  • Select the Autofocusing Mode
  • Slow down the Stills shooting speed
  • Video Setup Basics
  • Your new camera is ready to shoot

Charge the battery

Cameras will have card and battery slot ports under concealing flaps. These flaps can be unlatch or latch to reveal the port. Are you unsure where the port is located on your camera’s body? Refer to the manual.

New cameras come with a partially charged battery so that it can be used straight out of the box. However, it is best to fully charge the battery before you use it. This is because rechargeable batteries for digital camera come with lithium-ion (Liion) batteries. They are limited in their life expectancy and can only be charged once before they stop holding charge. It is better to top up the battery than let it run out to death. This may increase the battery’s longevity. You will have more time to use the camera if you fully charge the battery.

Format the Memory Card

Person putting memory card and battery in camera

The memory cards can store images and videos that were taken with your camera. This card is required before you take photos or videos.

Even if the card is brand new, it’s a smart idea to format it inside the camera before you use it. The card will then be empty, and the camera can create any subfolders for optimal storage.

Make sure you back up any data that has been stored on the card before formatting it. This will erase any information.

You can set the time, date, and location

Time and date settings on camera

Set the date, time, and location. This information will be displayed on new cameras, but it may not appear on older cameras. Make sure to look in the menu and update the camera’s settings. This ensures that the EXIF data for photos and videos is accurate. It makes it easier to find media in the future. If you need a rough location, a time zone can be used. However, some digital cameras have GPS to geotag media.

Attach a Lens

Person attaching a lens to a camera

Each lens and each camera body has a marker that indicates the correct alignment for installing a lens. These markers should be positioned in the correct direction so that the lens can be fitted to the camera. Depending on the make/model of the camera, markers may come in different colors or be placed at different places. For example, the markers for Nikon are white and the Canon markers are red.

It is possible for lenses to be mounted in different directions depending on their make. The lens should feel comfortable to attach. It’s possible that the lens is being mounted with moderate to heavy force. This could be due to: it being twisted in an unfavorable direction (unlikely), a defective lens mount (unlikely), and a faulty mount for the camera (unlikely).

The Lens Settings are available here

Lens settings switches on the side of a lens

Although there are only a few controls built into lenses, it is important to check what they are set to before you start shooting. The focus ring allows photographers manually adjust the focus by turning the dial. Sometimes, a distance marker is also found on the lens barrel. Zoom lenses have a zoom ring which spins to adjust focal length.

Sometimes, there are switches or buttons that can be found on the sides of lenses. These allow you to switch between manual focus and autofocus, engage or disengage photo stabilization, or choose from different types.

Your camera may not be autofocusing on subjects that are targeted by autofocus points if your focus switch is set for AF (autofocus) and not MF (manualfocus).

It’s a good idea to have stabilization on while shooting handheld but to turn it off when mounting the camera onto a tripod. The stabilization system can create tiny vibrations on tripods and blur the image during long exposures. Some lenses can recognize when they are on a tripod, and will automatically turn off IS. Make sure to read the manual before you operate.

Attaching to a Tripod

Quarter inch thread connection on camera

Attaching the tripod to the camera can be tricky, even though it sounds obvious. Let’s have a look at the steps involved. First, you will need a threaded connector to attach your camera’s underside (located at its base when viewing through the viewfinder and shooting normally).

Tripod footplate with winged screw

Once you have located it, remove the tripod footplate and attach the screw to the camera. Some footplates include a built-in wing that allows you to turn the screw into a connector. Others have slots. You can simply insert a penny or a screwdriver into this slot and tighten it.

Person screwing on a tripod footplate with a penny

Next, attach the footplate to the tripod head following the instructions. Make sure that any quick release lever or securing set screw holds the camera securely. To check that the connection is correct, gently tug on the camera. Adjust the tripod head until you have the right composition.

Camera and telephoto lens attached to tripod via tripod collar

Telephoto lenses that are large and heavy can cause a shift in the balance between the lens and the camera body. Manufacturers fit tripod collars to lenses. To avoid stressing the lens mount or causing damage, attach the tripod footplate to the tripod collar. To prevent mounting stress, you can also carry your kit with a tripod collar.

Be familiar with the modes

Scene mode on camera

If you are new to photography, the automatic shooting modes can be used (normally located on the dial at the top) to capture images without having to input manual settings.

A full auto mode, often marked with a green icon, is where the camera selects all your settings based on its calculations for the best photo. A programmed auto mode (often called the (P) option) should also be available. This mode allows the photographer to adjust other settings, such as ISO, flash, white balance, exposure locking/compensation and flash speed.

To get an idea of how to compose and shoot photos, you might want to use full-auto or programmed auto. Then you can learn more about exposure and control shutter speed and/or aperture.

Many entry-level cameras have modes such as “fireworks” and “portraits”, which create pre-determined settings that are applied to the appropriate scenes. While this mode is useful for beginners, it should not be used without being aware of its limitations.

Mode settings on back of camera

It’s difficult to predict the results of these modes because there is no creative control over exposure triangle (aperture speed, shutter speed, and ISO). It’s better to choose semi-automatic modes like aperture-priority or shutter-priority. Budding photographers can learn to master manual control by focusing on one setting at a given time.

Image Quality

Setting up image quality on camera

There are three types of still images: JPEG (or TIFF), RAW (or RAW). Each type has its advantages and disadvantages. However, it all boils down to the original data stored and how detailed the image is.

JPEG is the most popular image file format. It compresses stills to save storage space and stores the least data. TIFF, on the other hand, stores more data, is less compressed, and has larger file sizes. Raw files are the most large and store the most data. They also have the largest file sizes.

The more data in a file, the easier it is to edit. RAW is the best format for shooting because it allows you to edit the image more easily, including changing the exposure, color and tone without causing distortions.

TIFFs and JPEGs can be used to save space (which isn’t an issue anymore), but also to produce files for sharing/publication. These two file formats are common in modern times. A photojournalist might send images straight from their camera to a media desk. Beginners may also use them to share images without having to process them first.

RAW files can be used in almost all situations, however, you will need to use an editing program that is compatible with these files.

Select the Autofocusing Mode

Autofocusing options on camera

Autofocusing (AF), is the camera’s method of automatically achieving focus based upon the location of the AF points in the frame. You can choose to have it operate in one-shot focus, also known as one-shot focus. Once focus has been achieved, the camera will keep the focus in place until you take the picture. Or, the focus will adjust on the AF points continuously until the image is taken. Single-shot focus can be useful for static subjects like a portrait or a building. Continuous autofocus is helpful for tracking focus on moving subjects like pets or vehicles.

You can also change the size and location of the AF points, using common options such as spot, multipoint, group, zones, and groups. Modern cameras have the ability to detect eye, face and animal information, which allows them to track focus while moving subjects or cameras. The best setting is the one that suits your shooting situation.

Slow down the Stills shooting speed

Single and continuous shooting speed modes on camera

Digital cameras can capture one still image at once or multiple images in succession. These drive modes are commonly known as single-shot and continuous-burst. They offer different levels of stills capture. While a single shot may be sufficient for capturing a landscape, it is not practical to take multiple images to capture the skateboarder on the ramps.

You might be asking why single-shot mode is necessary. It saves you the trouble of having to delete multiple photos of the same subject. The shutter release button can be very sensitive and may capture more photos than you intended.

Video Setup Basics

Setting up video on camera

Virtually every digital camera that has been released over the last decade can record video. While the effects of aperture, shutter speed and ISO on the image remain the same, the most important difference between stills or video is the resolution and frame rate.

Full HD (1920×1080), 4K Ultra HD (3840×2160), and 8K Ultra HD (7680×4320) are the standard video resolutions available on digital cameras. The numbers indicate how many pixels are located along the X and Y axes. The larger the number, the more detail that will be captured and the file size.

Peaking on video settings

For those who are new to video, frame rate is available in standard speeds. The average film running at 24 frames per second at the cinema is at 29.97fps (approx. 30fps) while US TV broadcasts at approximately 25fps and UK TV broadcasts around 25fps. Smoother images are created if there are more frames. Cameras can capture 60 frames per second for smooth footage. 120 frames per second can sometimes be captured for slow-motion. This is because 120 frames can easily be spread out up to four times so that the project can match the 30fps one without image stuttering. This would result in footage that is 25% faster than the original action.

Video files can be larger than stills due to increased frame rates and audio, which takes up a lot of memory card space. The standard audio recording settings for audio are 48kHz (sampling speed) and 16bit (bit depth). However, some models allow you to increase this setting higher to capture more detailed audio.

Your new camera is ready to shoot

This guide will cover all the basics required to get your camera started. If you are ready to go one step further, try manual settings like aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and white balance. You can change the metering, but only experienced photographers will need to do so. Exposure can be controlled by shutter speed, aperture, and ISO sensitivity.