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The Joy of User’s Manuals


Millions of photographers are spending the day after Christmas reading the User’s Manuals of their new cameras cover to cover before taking the first shot. Ok, that’s not entirely true. In fact, it’s a lie. Most photographers charge the battery while drinking grog and then take semi-inebriated photos of the cat beneath the Christmas tree, and more often than not stuff the yet-unopened User’s Manual back into the box. But local photographer Ralph Studebaker is different. Ever since his first camera (a Kodak Disc camera), he’s read ever single user’s manual cover to cover before taking a single photo.

For years, Studebaker was a fan of jigsaw puzzles, riddles, and the unsold mysteries of ancient civilizations, but those pale in comparison to the sheer confusion and bewilderment that camera User’s Manuals create. “If you think that finding the lost civilization of Atlantis is a challenge, try understanding all of the advanced features of a Sony NEX camera!” Studebaker exclaims with glee.

Studebaker’s Christmas gift to himself was the Nikon Df User’s Manual, and much to his suprise, the manual came with a free Nikon Df! He’s barely made it through the Table of Contents and Legal Notices, but he can already tell that this is going to be a good one. “The language in the Nikon Df User’s Manual is like poetry to me,” says Studebaker. “It’s like Shakespeare translated into Polish, then translated into Hindi, and finally back into English, all with Google Translate.”

Even simple things like knowing if a feature is on or off gives Studebaker hours of puzzled, confused joy.

On or Off? Could take weeks to decipher.

On or Off? Could take weeks to decipher.

Studebaker especially likes it when a sentence refers to three or more other pages of the manual, forcing him to bounce back and forth from multiple pages. Often, he gets so confused by all of the page flipping that he has to start all over again. He loves that.


60, 247, 246, Hike!

Studebaker also enjoys finding “Easter Eggs”, tiny gems of information that you could only find in the User’s Manual if you read it cover to cover.


Thus equipped with this important knowledge, Studebaker, an avid philatelist as well, will use another camera to document his collection.

The illustrations also bring Studebaker delight.


You see crude line drawings. Studebaker sees high art.

“The compositions of the illustrations are always interesting, and the subjects are almost always attractive in a line drawing kind of way and as white as the paper they are printed on.”

The Nikon Df user’s manual really shows how Nikon has simplified the user experience to create “pure photography.” This Shooting Data screen, for example, is much like you’d see on a Nikon FM.

Evokes the Nikon FM and the simpler days of film, doesn't it?

Evokes the Nikon FM and the simpler days of film, doesn’t it?

Studebaker’s eyes light up when he sees something like this. “Just look at all the small type, the numeric key, and the multiple page references! This will take days to even begin to comprehend!”

Studebaker loves the photography in the User’s Manual as well. They are his aesthetic benchmark, the photos that he aspires to take with any new camera he purchases.


“I know that Nikon used the phrase ‘pure photography’ when they launched the Nikon Df. But I see it differently;” says Studebaker. “I see ‘Pure User’s Manual’. There are over 350 pages for me to decode and decipher. I’m quite looking forward to it.”

Studebaker expects to complete the 374 page Nikon Df manual sometime in June, 2014.

[all illustrations/photos: Nikon]


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