Getting a new camera is always exciting. You can’t wait to get it out of the box and test it. But it’s also important to check a few things before you start shooting away
Most people are rightly excited when they buy a new camera. After all, a good camera can cost a lot of money and so it’s easy to simply want to get it out of the box and start shooting straight away. Most cameras are set up with default factory settings that may not be quite right. So you need to spend a bit of time setting your camera up to your needs. But just as important as this is to also test your camera to know its capabilities.
To help you, here are 5 tests to run whenever you get a new camera.
1 Check file size output
One of the first things that you should check when you get a new camera is that the file output is the best quality that the camera can produce. In other words the highest-resolution RAW file. Don’t just assume that your camera will come set up at high resolution straight out of the box.
The next test is to actually take some shots to know exactly what the image size is that your camera produces. Why is this important? Well, if you know that your camera produces file sizes of say 6000 pixels on the longest edge, you also know that you have a considerable amount of leeway to crop your images if you need to. This is especially useful for scenarios like photographing buildings when you may have to straighten verticals to avoid converging lines. To fix this issue your image will end up being cropped.
But there are also times when you may want to crop in a little to make your subject bigger. So by knowing that you have the pixels in the output file you can afford to crop in more than you might otherwise be able to do so.
2 ISO test
This is one of the most important tests that I always run when I get a new camera and I would advise everyone to do so as well. Digital cameras are pretty amazing at capturing photos at high ISOs these days. However, it’s important to know that each camera is different and produces different levels of noise at high ISOs. This is especially important to be aware of if using a cropped sensor camera.
So the only way to know for sure how your images are going to look at high ISOs is to test your camera out. Simply place your camera on a tripod to take photos of a static subject. Then take photos at different ISO settings from the lowest to the highest ISO that your camera has. Finally, check the photos in editing software and zoom in to see the level of noise that the camera produces.
This will give you a good indication of how high you can set your ISO before the amount of noise becomes unacceptable. You can then ensure that you keep your ISO below the threshold as much as possible and only increase it above that if absolutely necessary.
3 Image stabilisation test
Another modern digital innovation has been image stabilization. This technology allows photographers to be able to take handheld photos at slower shutter speeds than would be possible without IS. But again as per the ISO setting above, image stabilization works differently in different models but also importantly will depend on the individual. For example, someone who has really steady hands might be able to hold a camera steadier, and so image stabilization will allow them to go even slower.
Again, I would advise you not to leave things to chance and test out your camera’s (or new lens’) image stabilization technology. This is another simple test that will involve taking photos of a static subject at different shutter speeds and then checking the results in editing software. You will then get a really good idea of how slow you can go with your shutter speed when handholding the camera.
4 Know where “specific” settings are
I always find it astonishing when on my photo tours or workshops when I have people who come with a brand-new camera they have never used. Even if you are an experienced photographer, a new camera will take some getting used to. So, it is really important to always spend a bit of time getting to know your camera and the settings that you are likely to use.
For example, things like HDR or being able to lock your mirror (if using a DSLR) might be settings that you may to need to use regularly. So one option is to customize your camera’s buttons to have shortcuts to these most used settings or functions. Either way, don’t just turn up to a shoot without having spending a bit of time getting to know your camera.
5 Find the “sweet spot”
If your new camera was purchased as part of a bundle deal and came with a new lens, it also pays to find what is called the lenses’ “sweet spot”. Basically, every lens is built differently and won’t produce the same sharpness across all apertures. While you will get photos that are perfectly acceptable at most apertures, every lens has an optimum aperture that produces the sharpest image. Generally, for most lenses, the “sweet spot” is around two to three f/stops from the widest aperture. So for example for a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8, the sweet spot would be between f/5.6 to f/8.
It's important to remember, that sharpness will be based on the focused area. Naturally, if you are taking photos at wider apertures, you will have a shallower depth of field so you will find the areas around your subject blurred. But relatively speaking, the focused area will be sharper than the sharpest area at a smaller aperture.
This general rule of thumb works for all lenses but to get a more accurate understanding of the “sweet spot” of your lens, it’s worth running a simple test. You simply need to take photos of a static object (something with writing on will be really useful for this test), at different apertures and compare the results in editing software. This will then give you an accurate measure of your lens’ “sweet spot”.
These simple tests will help ensure that not only will you understand your new camera better, but also ensure that it is set up correctly for you to use.