Instruction books ain't what they used to be
Back in the golden days of film cameras, when a new SLR landed on my desk, the first thing I did was open the box, slip out the instruction manual, and then reseal the container.
• Large pictures
• Great diagrams
• Clean headings
• Large, easy-to-read text
• Thick, glossy paper
I'd save the grand opening for later that evening in the safety of my dining room, but on the train ride home earlier, I'd read the manual. Thanks to its colorful cover; heavy, glossy, durable paper; clear how-to instructional photos, drawings, and charts; and generous use of second color to increase graphic snap, I could slaver with anticipation for the main course, the camera itself yet to come.
Don't rely on most DSLR manuals today to give you the same glow. If you're the proud owner of a new camera, but you're not a digital techie, allow yourself plenty of time to sort through all the many DSLR accompaniments -- charger, battery, AC plug cord, AV cable, USB cable, lenscaps, neckstrap and one or two CDs with their own instructions. Add to that a massive camera instruction manual, or maybe two -- one in English, another, Spanish. There may also be a "How to Get Started" booklet which, by itself, won't usually satisfy you enough to make carrying it worthwhile.
Far be it from me to suggest you select a camera by its instruction book(s). In the best of circumstances, you'll hand-examine the camera at a store and choose wisely after comparing it with some also-rans.
If the quality and graphics of instruction books mean nothing in choosing a camera, why dwell on them? Because a good instruction book should be like the initial circus parade, orchestral overture, or sparkling book prelude. You deserve the fun of anticipation and later the satisfaction of pleasurable page-turning as you easily extract information. It's part of the promotional package that a camera maker should furnish to help snare you into becoming a part of its lens and accessory family.
A quick glance at a selection of camera instruction book covers of the past hint at what we've lost. Perusing the contents of these books provides numerous examples of eye-catching graphics and clear how-to info. Many also contain excellent full-page display photos showing what the camera can do.
Compare these oldies with today's DSLR instruction books. Covers are mostly a sea of white or gray. Within, too often, thin, matte paper, small and light type, no second color, and sometimes near-infinitesimal, black-and-white photos make these books dull boys. None of those I sampled contains a display photo shot with the camera it describes. That's probably a good thing, since the paper and printing could not do it justice.
• Tiny pictures
• Small, low-contrast type
• Crude diagrams
• No second color
• Headings too small
• Thin, matte paper
In partial defense of the booklet producers, creating today's necessarily monster-sized manuals -- some more than 200 pages and often in 6 or 7 languages -- for every DSLR model, is far more daunting and expensive than turning out the relatively simple film SLR equivalents, which needed but a fraction of the pages to cover models that had much longer selling lives. Still, I feel that camera makers ought to be able to enhance their manuals at reasonable cost.
To calm tyros intimidated by the sight of the full manual, some makers supply additional "Quick Start" booklets or foldout sheets. Graphically, most are far superior to the camera manuals, but their informational content may seem oddly incomplete. For instance, all explain how to insert the battery into the camera, but some don't explain that you must charge the battery first.
Many first-time DSLR buyers are also puzzled why the viewing image is blurry. They weren't told to adjust the diopter correction control. Other quickies explain the function of controls but not how to get started taking pictures. For that, you need the monster manual.
Can I offer any advice on how to tackle the big books? Use patience. Great patience.