Read the Effing Manual

For many years, one of the common replies to simply questions about computer hardware and software has been RTFM, or “read the effing manual.” Many people post questions in forums, or on sites like Facebook or Reddit, without doing their own basic research.

Recently I’ve seen an interesting manifestation of this. I’m a member of several Facebook groups about cameras, and some people have a serious disdain for reading manuals, suggesting that users just ignore them and try to figure out how their cameras work.

This might be acceptable for point-and-shoot cameras, where you can just choose program mode and be relatively confident that your pictures will look all right. But the groups in question discuss cameras that cost more than $1,000/£1,000. Why people buying this sort of computer with a lens wouldn’t read the manual is beyond me.

Because that’s what cameras are these days: they are more computer than camera. Sure, you can put any camera into program mode and let the camera decide what to do. But if that’s how you plan to take photos, why spend so much? For a few hundred dollars or pounds you can get a good camera, marketed these days as “better than smartphones,” which is superior to a cheap point-and-shoot model, but doesn’t stress you out.

Some of the basics of using a camera don’t change from one model to another: shutter speed, aperture, ISO, exposure compensation, etc. But many features do change. Different camera manufacturers use different types of auto-focus, work differently with auto ISO, and have a number of profiles, presets, or scenes. Understanding these make a huge difference in how you use a camera.

I’ve read through the manuals for my two Fujifilm cameras. Their features are nearly identical, making it more like just reading one manual. I’ve learned countless things about features and functionality that I didn’t know by taking a few hours to read up on features and try different settings.

Seriously, if you don’t plan to read a manual, you shouldn’t bother spending much money on a camera. You won’t use it to its full extent, and you’ll simply be wasting money. I’m surprised that this needs to be said, but read the effing manual.

Check out my photo website, follow me on Instagram, and subscribe to PhotoActive, a podcast about photograph and the Apple ecosystem.