How to take a picture by looking to the display of the Nikon D5100 instead of looking through the viewfinder eyepiece? for example. This is extremely easy to find in the manual, which is itself extremely easy to find online.

The mention on page 3 is to "live view switch", which one might not understand, but on page 5, it's got:

manual clip

... and the instructions on page 44 are straightforward and include pictures.

How should we handle these?

  1. Close with some off-topic reason?
  2. Downvote as "no effort"?
  3. Leave a comment pointing to the manual (as @Tetsujin did)?
  4. Just go ahead and answer (as I did in this case)?
  5. Something else?

And, where do we draw the line? This example is very trivial, but what about something more complicated which can be found in the manual if you know where to look? What about cases where the manual isn't as clear as this one?

  • Second-hand cameras often don't come with a manual. – Nicolas Raoul Jun 3 at 9:21
  • 1
    @Nicolas But in 2018, "can't find manual in 20 seconds of googling" is a special case. – mattdm Jun 3 at 14:11

The question, while trivially answered, certainly seems topical. And IMO, answering in comments, even an obvious answer, is not appropriate.

The downvote reason, "This question does not show any research effort", seems particularly apt here, so I don't think downvoting is inappropriate.

I don't think there's really a line here. If the answer is difficult to find in the manual, or isn't really clear, then the only difference is that a downvote probably wouldn't be appropriate.

This specific case is a little different than most, I think, because of OP's comment to the answer:

Thanks a lot. You are right, I am totally new to this camera and to photography in general. Actually, my girlfriend is the one with the question and I just wanted to find it out for her. We'll start reading the manual right away. Thanks again.

So, we've got a guy just trying to get some relationship brownie points. Also, he likely didn't have the manual with him and he's got some SE experience on other topics - so it's a pretty easy to see why he came here with the question.

SE looks like, on the outside, a forum where people can have their questions answered. I agree with Scottbb that a downvote is appropriate here - but it would be good to also explain why, as Tetsujin kind of did (although not explicitly).

IMO, the value of SE is in the community, and growing the community by recruiting new question askers and new question answerers is a top priority. It'd be great if there was a new user onboarding or if first questions had to be edited and approved by someone with some street cred (allowing a dialogue on best practices to form if necessary) - but until that happens, we should field these questions and continue to advise better practices using comments.

Since I was the novice who asked the question that produced this debate, I would like to contribute to the previous answers.

Now I see clearly that I just needed to take a simple look to the manual. Now I see how trivial the question is, and why you consider down-voting it. However, since I am completely new to the field, and since my girlfriend is the one that "loves" taking photos, and is the owner of the camera, I believed that this was a really tricky issue, and was not straightforward to solve.

Now I have to say that I would downvote myself indeed if this were the DSP community, which is my main SE community.

So, I completely agree with @Corey. Besides, I was kind of testing how responsive and active is this community. Next time I will try harder before asking. Thanks @Corey for your comprehension.

I think that the burden on being "too obvious" has to be based on the context of the asker. While "Live View" is something we all inherently understand as people familiar with photography, it isn't necessarily something that would be immediately obvious to someone completely new to cameras and photography or someone initially starting with digital cameras.

It's one thing if someone asks "how do I change the aperture on my camera" when there is a clearly visible answer in the manual for those terms.

The difference here is that the user did not know that "Live View" is what they needed, so finding it in the manual isn't necessarily easy. The question should, however, be simplified to the general case as pretty much all cameras refer to this functionality similarly. It could easily be rewritten as "what is it called when you are taking photos using the LCD rather than the viewfinder?" and then all similar questions could be closed as duplicates of this. Once the user knows to look for "live view" they shouldn't need help finding it in their specific model's manual.

  • I kind of agree, except see the manual excerpt above in this case. It actually presents lots of different ways to find the right information even if you don't know what "Live View" means. – mattdm May 31 at 16:57
  • @mattdm Yeah, but if you have a several hundred page manual and can't tell from the table of contents where to look, why would you assume you should just start reading and hope for the best? It happens to be on page 5, but could have not been in there until page 230 and these things don't always have quick start stuff at the beginning. Either way, once the question of what "Live View" refers to is answered, all the particulars of where it is or isn't in the manual become irrelevant as they are all dupes at that point. – AJ Henderson May 31 at 17:08

As with most things in life, I think that this question is more than black-and-white. While I usually do not react well to answers that only need a quick browse through the manual, I do not vote them down usually and try to be as polite and helpful as possible, while sometimes mentioning that reading the manual is what pros do. ;-)

Some things I experienced and what I think of them:


Things that require experience, not a manual:

E.g. Asking about an EOS 7D Mark II's AI Servo (a.k.a. continuous AF) modes and when to best use them..

A professional sports photographer might know the AI Servo modes by heart - yet I, as someone who does not shoot in AI Servo more than once a year, am absolutely clueless if the modes are a feature - or just a marketing gimmick.

I would consider this a good question, as it is about something that is hard to find out about. Candidate for +1.


The manual is badly written:

This is what I call "the Sony problem": While I love both Nikon's and Canon's manuals, I do not understand the layout of Sony's manuals at all. I really tried to understand the a6000, but gave up after around 30 minutes and went the "ask about everything that you cannot find out in 10 minutes by clicking around"-approach.

Manuals might be badly written in different languages and/or for different devices, and they might miss certain things ( e.g. How to delete a memorized AF point with an EOS 5D Mark III) or feature them at a spot you will not expect them. They might have wrongly translated names for features - or the feature was named badly by the manufacturer in the first place.

If that happens, it would be nice if the OP would say so, e.g. In the Hungarian manual p. 17, <XYZ> is explained. However, when I try it as explained there, it does not work. I do not understand the English manual, either. Could someone please point me in the right direction?

No problem here - at least with more difficult settings.


Things people consider broken:

E.g. "My 5D III's LCD does not darken when using viewfinder and it stopped providing information, too"

The typical workflow for bad things to happen is:

  • Restart the device
  • Try different settings for error reproduction (e.g. does it only affect a certain lens? Is the camera misbehaving only in manual modes?)
  • Consult the manual and the internet: Has the error occurred with someone else before?
  • Reset the device
  • Freak out and/or ask at photo.stackexchange.com
  • If point above did not help: bring your device to a professional repair center and/or buy a new one.

I had such a moment when, for some reason, I forgot that the Auto ISO of the 5D III defaults to 400 with a speedlight attached. 10 minutes later, I knew that I simply suffered from very early dementia.

No opinion here - I do not like these questions, yet I myself asked some of them. Should not happen, but most certainly does. Errare humanum est.


Lack of knowledge that leads to not knowing where to start looking:

E.g. "Can't control shutter speed/aperture values in P mode, half clicking the shutter" and also the question that spawned this meta-question.

There is no reason to not have a quick glance at the manual. At this level, even the quick start guide might provide substantial knowledge. It may not be necessary to learn every page of a manual by heart to ask a question here, but it definitely would not hurt to look at it for a few minutes. After all, if you have to ask about every dial, mode, and setting, those will fill up several pages, and while asking What does the top dial do? might be quicker than looking the stuff up in the manual, waiting for someone to write an answer (and then reading/understanding that) certainly will not save any time.

To me, these are sort-of-bad questions. I would try to answer them, yet point out that the manual is a must-read for anyone that wants to comprehend all features of a camera.

Under special circumstances, I would consider these as bad questions: If I just need to look at the schematic drawing of the DSLR in the manual (usually around p. 3) to find out where to read about it, it is the only definite candidate for a -1 to me.

I'm a big fan of using manuals, and I tend to read them cover to cover, but I'll offer a counterpoint:

Stack sites tend to be easily findable using websites like Google. In the field, if someone doesn't have their manual and has an issue they want to understand, they're likely to use a search engine. And they are quite likely to find an answer here, in Photography.SE.

Having these questions with good answers will generate traffic here. Yes, we should still encourage askers to read the manual, but we should absolutely answer the question as well, for the sake of future searchers.

It's easy to forget that nowadays, the vast majority of consumer tech doesn't really require a 200-page manual

There is an ever-growing population of people who either grew up with the internet basically always available at their fingertips, and a generation or two older than them, who have adapted to the reality that most information is a quick internet search away.

And coinciding with these growing populations is the fact that technology is consistently becoming easier to use, more intuitive, and requiring less up-front instruction (such as user manuals). The idea of having a tech toy that actually requires some thought and knowledge about the subject domain the toy plays in, is becoming passé.

Think about it — a generation ago, complicated tech toys such as remote-controlled aircraft required plenty of assembly, glue-up, wiring, tweaking of the control rods and servos, etc. And once you learned how to fuel the engine and start the glowplugs without cutting your fingers off, you probably crashed that aircraft on your first flight. The out-of-the-box experience of those planes sucked. (And let's not even start on the helicopters).

Today, amazing quadcopter drones, that can be had for a few hundred bucks, can be safely flown 20 minutes after unboxing. They have built-in cameras, object detection and avoidance, automatic hovering, and return-to-launch capabilities. Without having to sit and read a 200-page manual. Probably a 10-minute YouTube video (that they played at 2x speed) is sufficient.

But DSLRs — and to a slightly lesser degree, mirrorless cameras, with their increasingly smartphone-like touch interfaces with broad control over focus points, etc. — are different beasts. Even if you're moving from a 2012-era DSLR to a 2018 DSLR of the same brand (which for the most part aren't that different), you still need to read the manual. The tools of photography and videography are complex enough to require manuals, because the art and science of photography is still complex enough to require study and thought.

But because the rest of tech-toy world is shifting away from requiring manuals, it just doesn't occur to most people to need to read manuals.


So, how / to what degree should we answer questions that are trivially answered in the camera's user manuals? The same way we answer any other photography question: politely, nicely, without condescending to the questioner about "RTFM". Think of it like this: in the face of an ever-growing population of people who are accustomed to finding what they need by asking the internet, we can approach it in two basic ways:

  1. Curtly point them to the manual page, in a "RTFM"-sort of manner (or worse, tell them to go away because the question is too basic). This will eventually cause Photo.SE readership and community to dwindle, possibly being stuck with a reputation for being a bunch of smarter (and holier)-than-thou photo snobs who condescend to noobs; OR

  2. Answer these basic questions in the spirit of StackExchange's newer, nicer, better Code of Conduct, and maintain and hopefully build Photo.SE's reputation as the place to go for photography questions.

Obviously, I suggest we go with the latter. Yes, it's tedious answering basic questions that people should read the manual for. But then again, it's the self-volunteered "customer service" role we chose by being part of the Q&A community at Photo.SE. Just like when each of us started practicing photography, it got tedious at times, so too is community education. The really fun, stump-the-experts type questions can only come along once in awhile. For the rest (and majority) of the time, there's the help-a-new-budding-photographer questions, that help us practice our patience, technical writing, and explain-it-like-I'm-five skills.

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