How to Use a 35mm SLR Camera for Beginners

Written by bridget conn
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How to Use a 35mm SLR Camera for Beginners
A 35mm camera offers more control than a point-and-shoot camera. (Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

A point-and-shoot camera may be simple, but it doesn't offer you the control that a manual 35mm camera does. Learning how to use one may seem daunting at first, but after getting to know your camera's light meter, you will be glad you made the effort. An understanding of aperture and shutter speed will help you learn exposure basics, which makes learning the 35mm camera a worthwhile experience.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Owner's manual for your specific camera

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  1. 1

    Set your camera's ISO (film speed) if necessary. Newer cameras automatically detect the ISO. Older cameras have a dial usually located within the shutter speed dial. Make sure this number matches the speed of the film you have purchased.

  2. 2

    Identify your camera's light meter display. This may be as simple as a needle inside the viewfinder that moves between a plus and a minus sign. Cameras with digital display panels may show a series of bars that travel towards the plus or minus signs.

  3. 3

    Take note of whether the bars or needle are leaning towards the plus sign or the minus sign. If they lean towards the plus sign, this means that too much light is entering the camera to make a proper exposure. If they lean towards the minus, too little light is entering the camera.

  4. 4

    Decide whether you want to let in a different amount of light through either the shutter speed or through the aperture. Changing the shutter speed affects whether objects in motion appear blurry or sharp. Adjusting the aperture effects how much of your photo, from foreground to background, will be in focus.

  5. 5

    Select a faster shutter speed if your light meter indicates that you have too much light entering the camera. Shutter speeds are measured as fractions of a second. For example, choosing 500 (1/500 of a second) lets in half as much light as 250 does, and freezes motion more than 250. Alternatively, choose a slower shutter speed if the light meter says there is not enough light entering the camera. Once the needle rests in the middle of the plus and minus signs, or only a single bar appears under the dot between the plus and minus signs, you have found the proper exposure for your scene.

  6. 6

    Choose a different aperture setting if you prefer to use this method over shutter speed. Lower aperture numbers, such as f/2, let in more light than higher numbers like f/22. Higher numbers make more of the composition in focus, while lower ones create what is called a shallow depth of field. Adjust the aperture until your light meter indicates you have reached the proper exposure.

  7. 7

    Focus the image by using the focus ring located at the end of the camera lens. Newer 35mm camera models may have an autofocus feature. To use this, tap the shutter release button halfway to focus on an object in the centre of the viewfinder.

  8. 8

    Press the shutter release button the entire way to take a photo once you have achieved the proper exposure and focus. If you have an older camera model, push the film advance lever all the way forward to make the camera ready for the next exposure.

Tips and warnings

  • You will likely have to adjust both the aperture and shutter speed to achieve a proper exposure. Many combinations of these controls are possible. The amount of light you need quickly changes when you recompose the scene, so pay attention to the light meter.

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