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Need some instruction on those instructions?

Need some instruction on those instructions?

I remember back when a camera had only three settings: aperture, shutter speed and ASA (the film speed, later replaced by the ISO setting). Photography was all so simple then, all the settings were a quick twist of a dial. Pop in a roll of film and you’re off to the races.

All that was needed was a small battery to power the built-in light meter; the camera would operate just as well without the lousy battery. Imagine. A camera working without any battery power or a forest of chargers? (Anyone remember advancing the film with just your thumb? I do.)

It’s hard to believe how complicated cameras have become. My new Canon EOS 7D has so many bells and whistles that even I, a so-called pro, sometimes find myself befuddled. It’s part camera, part computer, not to mention that most of the functions can be controlled from various parts of the camera. Push this button down, hold that, turn this…

This got me wondering if there wasn’t a better way to understand my camera.

My first step was to read the manual that Canon provided with the camera. Okay, my first big mistake. I consider myself well versed in high-tech equipment and cameras, but I was frankly more confused after reading it than when I started. Sure, you’re saying, welcome to the club.  The booklet is small, which does make it handy to carry, but to what purpose? Trying to decipher the welter of instructions pretty much sapped the joy, and the fun, out of learning about the camera. And trust me, not many seasoned photo enthusiasts are willing to take this journey. We just want to go out and shoot.

I needed to find a better way to learn about all the amazing features of my new camera. I use my camera for work, while most people use it for fun or as a hobby. The way I see it, learning about photography, even for work, should be enjoyable and user-friendly.

So I headed to my local Barnes & Noble. I don’t really need much of an excuse to go there. When my wife and I go book shopping, we walk in the door and immediately split in two directions: She heads to bestsellers and I maneuver over to the computer and photography books.

At my Barnes & Noble, there are entire bookshelves sagging with books on photography and individual camera brands, ranging from Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Sony and so on.  My first dilemma was finding the right book. There were too many to choose from!

First I tried the “Canon EOS 7D Multimedia Workshop,” which is part of the Magic Lantern Guides series ($24.95 Lark Photography Books). And a good choice it was. While it looks like a book, it’s actually a tutorial video DVD packaged inside a small general photography book. The ad on the back says, “It’s like having your own personal D-SLR [Digital Single Lens Reflex] workshop.”

After spending my entire Saturday night watching this two-hour training video, I certainly would agree. Maybe some people go to movies for entertainment. For me, a first-rate “How To” camera tutorial is better than two hours watching Leo DiCaprio plunder other people’s dreams.

I have to say, this was an excellent hands-on tutorial. The DVD is divided into 11 chapters, including Features and Controls, Menu System, Playback, Image Quality, Meter & Exposure, Focusing Modes, White Balance, Flash Photography and Live View & Movies — all first-rate. The instructions by photographer David Jensen were interesting, informative and moved at a good pace.

Watching the video with camera in hand felt like such an intuitive way to learn. I could easily follow along, pausing the DVD at any point, while experimenting with the myriad controls and custom functions.

Jensen followed a natural path, starting with the exterior camera controls, among them the screen that contains shutter speed, white balance, aperture, memory card capacity, auto-focus and drives modes,  ISO , image quality, battery level … and, yes, lots more. This was just the beginning, folks. Spoiler alert: There is so much to learn on the Canon 7D. “The camera is smart but not a mind-reader,” says Jensen as he talks about focusing points.

Take it from someone who has been there and lived to tell the tale: There are so many gadgets, gizmos and whatnots on the Canon EOS 7D, if you think you can decipher the custom functions, live-view options, three focus modes, white balance and abundant menu options all from the tiny, tiny manual Canon provides — well, send me an email. I want to hear from you. My manual ended up in the bottom of my desk drawer.

And here’s a cool bonus feature: The Magic Lantern instructional DVD comes with a second general photography DVD called “Great Photos with your Digital SLR.” Topics on this DVD include Understanding Lenses, Basic Exposure, Picture Quality, White Balance and Flash Tips. While this guide isn’t specific to the Canon 7D, I found it to be a very breezy and informative introduction to digital photography.

Personally, I love instructional DVDs. It’s so much easier to watch, learn — and experiment — with your camera in hand. I say chuck the instruction manual.

But back to Barnes & Noble: Another good book I discovered was “Canon EOS Rebel T2i/550D” by David D. Busch (Course Technology, 359 pages, $29.99). Although this isn’t for all you 7D enthusiasts, I realized I had a lot to learn about my less expensive, consumer friendly Canon Rebel T2i, so this book jumped right off the shelf. The book is large-format with amply-sized, easy-to-understand illustrations.

Still, this book is a much bigger time commitment. It is much more in-depth — and actually requires, well, reading. (Which is why, folks, I became a photographer: one picture … a thousand words?)  In truth, I was really impressed with this book. It was so well thought out I even enjoyed — yes, reading it — cover to cover.

This book is the complete package, with chapters that include Setting up Your Canon EOS Rebel T2i/550D, Fine-Tuning Exposure, Movie Shooting, Working with Lenses, Making Light Work for You, Editing Your Images, and Troubleshooting and Prevention. Busch makes it simple yet so informative, breaking each chapter into logical sub-headings that include lots of great graphics and illustrations that explain the inner-workings of a standard DSLR — not an easy task. He also has a very helpful section on the various Canon lenses, offering suggestions about what lenses to buy, with prices and options.

In the end (which is, conveniently, where we find ourselves), it’s really a personal choice of how you prefer to learn a new skill: watch a video or read a good book. As for me, I’ll see you at the movies…

Top Photo: Canon EOS 7D Multimedia Workshop and Canon EOS Rebel T2i/550D by David D. Busch. Credit: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times

Photo: DVD’s included with the Canon EOS 7D Multimedia Workshop book. Credit: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times

Photo: Canon EOS 7D Multimedia Worshop instructor, photographer Dave Jensen. Credit: Mark Williams

Bottom Photo: Close-up of menu items from the Canon EOS Rebel T2i/550D guide. Credit: Cengage Learning – Course Technology

1 Comment

  1. August 30, 2010, 10:13 am

    […] but still at around $700 with lens), but we’re pretty sure everyone can relate to this guy’s blog post. Check it out for some good info on where to look for instructions on your instructions. Any of you […]

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