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.


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0 thoughts on “Read the Effing Manual

  1. Spot on, I’d say. Minor grumble about some manuals: they sometimes cover several models in the same range (Camera X – models AA, BC and DX) and you have to jump about a bit to see which of the multifarious controls and options apply to your specific model.

    And, much less nowadays I accept, you can come across a manual obviously translated from the Japanese via Norwegian to some kind of English.

    That said, I agree with you entirely. Get to know your Device, whatever it is, as thoroughly as possible by taking the time to read the manual.

  2. I totally agree. Once I’d read the ‘quick start’ to get me going, I read the manual, and later on downloading the online one which is generally more comprehensive. I have always kept the paper one in my camera bag and the ‘downloaded’ on the iPad for reasonably quick reference.

    Trying to get my head around some items (focussing systems!) I’ve often turned to third-party ones which do tend to explain those items better and give you more real-world suggestions etc.

    I still consult them today, having had a Canon 5D Mk ll and now Mk lll for some 7 years. It really is essential to get the best from your very expensive investment but I do understand why some people are adverse to doing it, but obviously the expensive camera makes you look good and the people seeing you with it slung around your body aren’t generally getting to see your pics!

  3. Manufacturers: Write a better effing manual!

    It sounds like your Fujifilm camera manuals are pretty good. Many manuals aren’t. Most camera and camcorder manuals that I read are not well-written or complete. Usually, they are confusing. It’s part of a race to the bottom. Reviewers frequently ignore the manual. Consumer requests for a better manual are ignored. Manufacturers cut the size, detail, and accuracy of the manuals without penalty. Therefore, reading the manual has less value to the consumer. New cameras are released as soon as possible, often before features are finalized, and usually with insufficient and sometimes inaccurate manuals. And the cycle starts again.

    In spite of these problems, it’s still useful to read the manual. But if the manual quality was not so effing poor, more people would read them.

  4. Why don’t owners read camera manuals? Mostly because they are terrible – lists of controls and features without any explanation of how or why you would want to use them. Sony is an example of this – their manuals tend to be horrible. Gary Friedman has built a business on writing books explaining Sony (and other company) cameras. I don’t bother with the manuals and buy one of Gary’s books.

  5. I agree with David Redfearn. I don’t read the manual because it is, usually, unreadable. I much prefer to buy and read a companion guide. Writing a good guide to how and why adjust a piece of equipment is not easy and only the most gifted writers produce good books that really help.

    That said, modern cameras are too complicated anyway IMHO. With a very automated camera I find myself second-guessing what the computer is going to think instead of working with what the camera itself can do. There was a time you could see for yourself that the right part of the image was in focus, that the aperture set on the lens barrel will give the right DoF and the shutter speed will be sufficient for subject motion and the ‘sunny 16’ rule.

    My internal biological computer can handle that small set of variables, and do it instinctively while I am thinking about composition, relating to the people in the photograph, etc. No manual required.

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