Buttons and Menus
All modern cameras have an array of buttons on the top, but generally many of the functions across cameras are the same, (we will look at some below) they also often have complex menu systems, where you can customise your camera in many ways.
My advice on the menu system is, if you don't know what it does, leave it alone, the default values are best left unless you specifically know what you are changing. Buttons aren't toys.
Program Modes (Personal Choice)
Largely all cameras have the 4 main program modes - A, S, M, P, often shown on a dial - (right)
These stand for:-
You choose the aperture the camera sets the shutter speed.
You choose the shutter speed the camera sets the aperture.
You choose both aperture and shutter speed, using the in camera meter.
The camera sets both aperture and shutter, based on available light.
What to use? well some people would argue about the merits of either aperture (A) or shutter (S) priority, others say you must use manual, in all honesty in doesn't matter what you use, its a personal choice. The argument with the priority modes that you can choose the appropriate setting, forgetting that in programme (P) using the thumb well alters the settings as well. I leave my camera on programme (P), it means my camera is always ready, something happens in front of me I know the camera will produce good results, if I want to change settings then I can, but I have the image.
The other modes, shown as symbols (below) can be :-
Portrait / Landscape / Sport / Macro / Night Portrait
There are others and a detailed description will be in your cameras manual, and they work well for the mode they are intended, you will not learn about settings using them, but it gets you started.
Metering Modes (Leave it at default)
Cameras have an arsenal of different metering modes, (See below), Matrix or Evaluative is probably the default, and in all honesty I tend to leave it alone. You don't need to worry too much (unless you want to play) you wont find yourself adjusting them regularly, experiment by all means, but remember:- For any photograph, there is only one mathematically correct exposure.
Typical metering modes, depending upon make of Camera
Evaluative / Matrix / Centre-weighted / Spot / Partial
Shutter Release Modes (Depends on situation)
Cameras offer several release modes, several combinations of:-
Single - 1 shot at a time
Continuous - Several shots (up to camera max)
Self Timer - Delayed release
Focus Modes (Depends on situation)
Again lots of options, the 2 main ones are:-
AF-S - For stationary subjects, the shutter will not release until the subject is in focus
AF-C - The camera focuses continually (moving subjects) and can be released whether the subject is in focus or not.
White Balance (Leave it at auto)
White Balance is about setting the camera to record the correct colour temperature, lots of experimentation can be done here, but my recommendation is leave it set to Auto.
ISO (Leave it low)
ISO will be discussed in the section on 'Exposure', but as a general rule keep your ISO low i.e. 100-400.
File Size and Quality (Bigger is best)
The issue here is, you have spent all this money on equipment, read this guide - don't compromise your images at the last hurdle, go for the best quality images.
Image quality You have RAW, JPG, TIFF - JPG are processed/compressed images, JPG is the industry standard (most images are in this format). TIFF is better its a lossless format (like RAW) but creates very large files, and is probably quite specialist. (Graphic Design or medical imaging).
RAW is unprocessed (RAW DATA), almost film quality, so you have many more options available in editing (see below) and then can export as a JPG file, this is by the far the best option - However, If you don't have any way of converting images to JPG, shoot in JPG.
Image size - go large (why wouldn't you? you can always resize later)
This image was converted to JPG by the camera and exported to the computer, minor adjustments in Photoshop
This image was taken in RAW by the camera and exported to the computer, minor adjustments in Photoshop