Have you ever gotten sucked into one of those crazy endless debates about Nikon VS Canon? People start throwing around the phrase “it’s just a matter of preference, and the “feel” of the camera”
Right then, you realized you don’t have any real, solid reasons for preferring the “feel” of your Nikon? “I’m used to the controls” is actually a pretty weak excuse, when you think about it. I’m a Nikon shooter, but I also happen to know every Canon DSLR like the back of my hand too! That’s the only reason I’m sure that I prefer Nikon- I know both systems. I highly recommend that others do the same, if it’s not already too late, because you never know which system might actually be better for you. Both Nikon and Canon have a few huge serious control and customization differences, so there are plenty of reasons to choose one over the other.
Well, here are ten customizations that I love about my Nikon D700. Of course I appreciate the simple things like where the dials and buttons are located, but this list is about the lesser-known customization options, most of which you have to set up / turn on before you can use them. Many of these customizations also apply to other Nikon DSLRs in the semi-pro and flagship category. Unfortunately they may not all work on advanced amateur / prosumer bodies like the D7000 or D600. But you don’t have to set up your camera exactly the same as mine, just keep reading and you might find something useful!
1.) One-click zooming
This is the #1 thing I find other Nikon shooters have never heard about, and it’s a shame because it’s one of the best ideas ever. This is available on the D800, D700, D300, D200, and all flagship cameras. It is usually custom setting f2 or f1, titled “Multi-selector center button.” Set the playback option to zoom, then medium magnification. Now, when you’re reviewing your images on the back of your camera, Even a split second after you click a shot, …with one tap of the center “joypad” button you can zoom in to 100% review. Even if your subject was off-center- as long as you used the corresponding off-center AF point and focus was locked when you clicked the shot, the camera will zoom in to that spot! No more of that ridiculous “zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom, scroll, scroll, scroll”…. (Unfortunately, the D7000 and D600 do not have this customization. BTW, Canon shooters, the 5D mk3 is one of Canon’s first cameras to gain this customization! )
I really love how the D700 has it’s menu banks and “My Menu” setup. Unlike Canon, I can add as many items as I want to the My Menu. You can customize these to display whatever you want, but I have customized them to display all of the things I access the most often, of course.
In the My Menu, I have added two full pages of options:
- Shooting Menu Bank
- Custtom Settings Bank
- White Balance
- Set Picture Control
- Active D-Lighting
- Interval timer shooting
- Image review
- Battery info
—— Beginning of menu page 2 ——
- AF fine tune
- Exposure delay mode
- AF Activation
- AF point selection
- Flash ctrl for built-in flash
- Assign AE-L / AF-L button
- ISO sensitivity Auto Control
- Auto bracketing (Mode M) (so I can over-clock my D700 to 8 FPS without a vertical grip. Keep reading!)
3.) Custom Menu Banks
Some photographers really prefer the “U1” and “U2” menu banks that cameras like the Nikon D600 and D7000 have, however I’ve come to appreciate the oldschool setup at least a little. Here’s how I have my menu banks setup:
Shooting Menu Banks:
- Daylight (base ISO, daylight kelvin WB, Vivid picture control, etc.)
- Low Light (ISO 3200, WB at ~2700 kelvin, Neutral picture control, etc.)
- Automatic JPG (auto ISO, Auto WB, Active D-lighting, JPG capture)
- Maximum RAW (14-bit un-compressed RAW, base ISO, for landscapes etc.)
Custom Settings Bank:
- Portraits / Casual (general idiot-proof settings)
- Weddings / Action (More customized AF settings, control dials, etc.)
- Stealth / Ceremonies (no beep, no AF-assist light, short playback time)
- Macro / Landscape (exposure delay mode, release-priority shutter even for single focus, AF-ON only)
4.) Over-clocking via BKT (bracketing)
Okay, try this one at your own risk, kids. Basically the D700 is only supposed to be able to hit 8 FPS when you’re using the battery grip, with either a D3 battery or AA batteries. However, there is a work-around that has been proven to achieve 8 FPS *without* a battery grip! First, set up bracketing and bracketing bursts on one of your camera’s customizable buttons, such as the FN button. Turn on all 9 shots of bracketing. Then, go into your menu (e5 and e6 on the D700, this may be different for other cameras) …and set bracketing to “Flash Only”. Lastly, set your camera to Single shot mode instead of CL or CH. Now, when you hold down your bracketing burst button and jam your shutter, you’ll get 9 frames at 8 FPS! Of course if you’re using on-camera flash this will give you different exposures, but if you’re not then each shot will be the same.
I also use this setup to do actual bracketing bursts; in which case I set menu option e5 to AE only, and e6 to flash only. This way, I can use Aperture priority to do bracketing the way it was intended, and at 8 FPS I can do a 5-shot bracket in about half a second. This makes it possible for me to snap hand-held HDR’s if I shoot steady enough.
…Of course if you use a battery grip, this doesn’t matter. :-P
5.) FN Button – No Flash / non-CPU lenses
Most people probably don’t use non-CPU lenses, (old, manual focus, AIS type lenses) however I find that they’re awesome on the D700. I have owned a 24mm f/2.8 AIS, a 50mm f/1.8 AIS, the classic Nikon 25-50 f/4, and a Tamron 90mm f/2.5 AIS Macro. You can pre-program these lenses into the D700’s menu, and then access them via this FN Button customization.
More importantly however, (to some at least) is the “Flash Off” customization. I use this all the time when I’m shooting weddings, and I want to either test my ambient light sans flash, or if I want to actually shoot a photo with ambient light only. No more fiddling with a switch or button on a pocket wizard, and/or hotshoe flash. Just hold the FN button with your pinky or ring finger, and shoot away with zero flash.
6.) AF-L / AE-L Button – Live View
This customization is now obsolete if you have a D800 or newer, but if you’re jealous of how the newer cameras have a dedicated LV button, here is your solution. Personally, I’ve just never needed exposure or focus locking; I either shoot in manual exposure or I shoot in aperture priority. So now my AF-L / AE-L button is my LV button!
7.) RAW Compression and 12-bit RAW
Heck yes! A lot of people will scoff at RAW compression, or at the idea of turning your camera back down to 12-bits instead of 14-bits. But if you shoot thousands of images in a single day, and if you shoot many jobs per year, space savings on your memory cards and hard drives is critical. I won’t get too into this; either you’re willing to shoot with RAW compression or you aren’t. I have tested the difference personally, and I’m 100% confident that shooting 12-bit compressed RAW is all I’ll ever need for high-volume wedding photojournalism.
8.) Misc. AF point and exposure customizations
When you’re shooting fast action and you need to move your AF point around the viewfinder really fast, these options are awesome. On the D700 the AF options are A8 and A7; set them according to your liking. For exposure customization, I’ve set options B1, B2 and B3 to be 1-stop increments for ISO, and 1/2 stop increments for exposure control and compensation. This way, I can change my exposure with far fewer clicks. Even with my big clumsy fingers, I can easily crank four stops in a single spin of a command dial. This is especially useful for shooting in outdoor conditions where I need to memorize exposures for full sun and deep shade.
9.) RGB highlight warnings
This is probably the second least-known feature that I find other Nikon shooters never knew about. Ready for another eye-opener? Make sure your camera has the highlight warning playback option turned on, (on the D700 it’s the 4th option in the playback menu, “Display Mode”.) …Then, while you’re viewing your highlight warning playback, hold down the zoom out button, and turn your command dial. Watch as your blinking highlight warnings change from an overall RGB warning to the individual Red, Green, or Blue channels! Personally when I’m shooting portraits or theater, I just leave my camera set to display red channel highlight warning to help me with skin tones. This really helps me nail my exposures! Remember, however, that histograms and highlight warnings are generated from a JPG preview file, *NOT* original RAW data. Most of the time your RAW image will give you much, much more dynamic range in Lightroom etc. So what I usually shoot for is an image like this; that threshold where little or no RGB highlights are clipped, but individual channels do start to show clipping.
10.) File Naming / Copyright input
Definitely a handy option that Nikon has actually offered for a long time now. First, set up file naming in the shooting menu. Personally, I use two digits for my initials, and one to denote which camera the image is from. MS1 for example is my primary camera, while MS2 is my secondary camera. Or, I could do MS7 for my D700, and MS8 if I had a D800. And so on and so forth. This is a huge help if you’re shooting as part of a team with other photographers!
Second, the D700 has two separate options for “Image Comment” and “Copyright information”. These are super useful, but they’re in the setup menu. (the wrench symbol) Personally, I set the “Image comment” to list my website, and the copyright information to of course state “this image is copyright!” ;-)
There you have it! These customizations may be available on various different cameras, some of them are available on Canon DSLR’s as well. Either way, this is how I have my D700 set up and it really makes my job easier in difficult shooting conditions!