Nikon D600 – The First Affordable Full-Frame dSLR (and the updated Nikon D610)

Introducing the Nikon D600 Full Frame dSLR Camera and the updated Nikon D610:

(With additions made at the end of this article to explain the features added to the updated Nikon D610)

(First, I have been corrected on the title of this post – the Sony a850 was the first “affordable” full frame (meaning ~$2000 price at introduction). But as I unfortunately only have time in my work day to mostly follow, research, and write about Canon and Nikon news and dSLR cameras, this one slipped by me!)

The day has finally arrived!  For a couple years I have been suggesting to my readers that when choosing lenses they anticipate the time that, someday soon, full-frame cameras will be more affordable.  This was both to address the possibility that certain DX lenses could not be used on an FX body, plus how a lens’ field of view will be affected by a full frame vs. a cropped APS-C sensor.  Well that day has now arrived with the introduction of the Nikon D600.  Initially priced at $2100 (body only), it can certainly be considered the first enthusiast full-frame (or in Nikon terminology, FX Format) camera – and which should also be more than rugged enough and capable enough for a semi-pro or a second body.  And as icing on the cake, DX lenses are indeed compatible with this new FX camera (although the resulting image will be a 10MP DX crop).

(Of course the full-frame Canon 5D Mark II is under $2000 at this time, but that is due to it recently being replaced by the 5D Mark III.  When the 5D Mark II was new, it was priced at around $2700, and didn’t go below $2400 for most of its active life.  And you don’t want the 5D Mk II anymore – its continuous frame rate is slow and its AF system isn’t so hot, especially compared to current models.)

Nikon D600 unbox unboxing full frame FX dSLR camera 35mm new kit lens
Nikon D600 full frame dSLR camera, shown with kit lens Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR – Image by author.  Special thanks to Newtonville Camera of Newton, Mass.

Sensor, Viewfinder: The D600 sits between the D7000 and the recent D800, being closer – I would say – to a full-frame version of the D7000 (with a few more megapixels).  It boasts a 24.3 megapixel image sensor (over the 16.2 MP of the D7000) and the same 39 point autofocus system with 9 cross type points and similar custom settings options as the D7000. This full-frame size sensor delivers not only improved resolution but also increased dynamic range and improved low light / high ISO performance (6400 max. ISO expandable up to 25,600).  As noted above, the full-frame sensor will also affect the field of view of your lenses.  For those coming from an APS-C sized sensor camera, a 50mm lens will now act as a true 50mm lens – no more 1.5x  crop factor to consider.  This means that your wide angle lenses will now act as true wide angle lenses, but your telephoto lenses will no longer have quite as much reach as you may be used to.  However, the D600 offers a DX setting so that you can act as if you have a DX sized sensor.  This camera also has a nice big and bright 100% view viewfinder so that one can easily see their subject, make use of the AF Points, and frame their images.

Interface and Controls: Much of the user interface (menus, displays) as well as the controls are also similar to the D7000, with a few changes such as the addition of the Live View/ Movie switch, a locking Mode Dial switch, and the addition of a Picture Control button.  The newly locking Mode Dial contains the customizable user modes U1 and U2 so that you can set up the camera to quickly switch to your desired mode and settings, including your desired Custom Settings parameters.  In the“why did they do that?” category, Nikon has swapped the position of the Image Zoom [+] and [-] buttons used during image review.  So overall, any D7000 user will be immediately comfortable and familiar with this D600 body.  Changing the AF Mode and AF Area Mode of the D600 is done with the “hidden” button inside the AF/M switch at the base of the lens, in conjunction with the Command Dials (as with the D7000).  The D600 offers two customizable Function Buttons on the front of the camera to set for whichever functions you desire.

Nikon D610 book manual guide how to autofocus settings menu custom setup dummies learn use tips tricks     Nikon D600 book ebook camera guide download manual how to dummies field instruction tutorial

Brief Commercial Interruption: Of course I offer a Full Stop e-book user’s guide for the Nikon D610Nikon D610 Experience, and one for the D600, Nikon D600 Experience.  This first book is currently the highest rated D600 guide on the market, with nearly 50 five star reviews!  Click the links to learn more about the guides and all my other e-book camera guides for Nikon and Canon dSLR cameras.

Nikon D610 D600 autofocus af system full frame use choose decide book guide manual how to dummies
Simulated view of the Nikon D610 / D600 viewfinder showing the location of all 39 autofocus AF Points

Autofocus (AF) System / FPS: As mentioned, the D600 makes use of the 39 point autofocus system with 9 cross-type points of the D7000.  For those not familiar with this system, it is somewhat sophisticated in that it offers several combinations of autofocus modes (for still subjects or a variety of situations with moving subjects), autofocus area modes (how many of the AF points are active and how they track), AF related Custom Settings (to tweak the performance of the system to your subject and needs), and customizable controls (to set which buttons do what).  There is a bit of a learning curve in order to take full advantage and full control of it, but once mastered it enables a photographer to consistently and successfully capture sharp images of still subjects and to track and capture moving subjects in a variety of ways.  You can start to learn about this system in my post explaining how to Take Advantage of the Nikon D7000 Autofocus System.  You can put the AF subject tracking to good use as you shoot up to 5.5 frames per second with the D600.  This is a great frame rate for most action, sports, or wildlife photography – any slower misses important moments and any faster starts to give you nearly identical multiple shots which become a time and memory space drain when backing up and editing. (Of course if you shoot something like motorsports or professional sports, you likely need the faster frame rate of a full-fledged pro camera!)

Body, Size, Battery, Memory Cards: Regarding size and weight, the D600 is slightly larger than than the D7000, but surprisingly 20g lighter (with the battery.)  It shares the same EN-EL 15 battery as the D7000, and offers a new MB-D14 battery grip for the use of two batteries – and to perhaps make the camera more comfortable for some users particularly when using larger lenses or working often in portrait orientation.  The top and rear of the camera body are constructed of strong and light magnesium alloy, and the body is weather sealed against dust and moisture (including the battery and memory card doors).  Although the entire body isn’t magnesium like the Canon 7D or 5D Mk III, it should prove to be more than rugged and durable enough for most any photographer’s needs.  The D600 has two SD memory card slots which can be configured in a variety of ways including overflow (when one card fills images are automatically then saved to the 2nd card), simultaneous back-up (each image is saved on both cards), or stills on one card and movies on the other. The LCD monitor on the rear of the camera is now a slightly larger 3.2 inches (compared to the 3″LCD of the D7000) with 921K pixels, and is optimized for minimum glare and good contrast in sunlight.

Nikon D600 unbox unboxing full frame FX dSLR camera 35mm new kit lens
Unboxing of the Nikon D600 full frame dSLR camera, shown with kit lens Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR – Image by author.  Special thanks to Newtonville Camera of Newton, Mass.

Accessories: Nikon is offering a Wireless Adapter, the WU-1b, which will allow you to immediately share your images through mobile devices, remotely save images, or remotely fire the shutter through a smartphone.  It is also compatible with the Nikon GP-1 GPS unit for geo-tagging your images.

Flash: Unlike the full-frame Canon 5D series that forgo the built-in flash, the D600 (like the D800) has a built-in flash that also acts as a wireless Speedlight Commander to control remote flashes (up to two groups).  The camera of course has a hotshoe for optional external Speedlights like the Nikon SB-900, SB-800, SB-700, or SB-600.

HD Video: And of course the D600 offers full HD video with manual control and all the usual frame rates (1080p at 30/25/24 fps and 720p at 60/50/30 fps). As with stills, you can switch to DX (as if you were using a smaller DX sized sensor) for a “telephoto boost,” and it is capable of full time autofocus, though most dedicated videographers still prefer manually focusing. The camera records mono audio but is compatible with optional stereo mics, and has a headphone jack for audio monitoring.

Bracketing: The D600 unfortunately only offers the choice of 2 or 3 frame Auto Exposure Bracketing (up to +/- 6 EV), which doesn’t help the HDR shooters who would prefer 5 or 7 bracketed shots.  There is a dedicated BKT Bracketing Button on the camera body to initiate this process.  There is also a built-in “HDR mode” which combines and processes two images in-camera.

Nikon D600 book guide ebook instruction manual how to dummies field guide
Image of a gorgeous Nikon F taken with the Nikon D600 and kit lens (24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR)  Unprocessed JPEG straight from camera (with watermarks added), ISO 2500.  Image by author – click to see larger.  Special thanks to Newtonville Camera of Newton, Mass. 

Of course the D600 offers the usual Metering Modes, Drive Modes, and White Balance options, as well as the familiar Scene Modes, Picture Style settings, Multiple Exposure mode, Interval Timer for time-lapse photography, and in-camera image processing and filter/ art effects.

I expect the Nikon D600 to be an extremely popular camera, offering an affordable full-frame camera for dedicated enthusiasts, aspiring pros, and semi-pros, or a highly competent second body for semi-pros and pros.  There is nothing lacking in this camera that would prevent any photographer from capturing the highest quality, professional level images in most every shooting situation, be it general photography, portraits, street photography, studio work, wedding photography, or travel use.  Plus it offers the ability, although somewhat limited by its frame rate and centrally clustered AF Points, to capture non-professional sports, wildlife, and other action type situations.  (See the image at the bottom of the page for the AF Points locations.)

As I work on a comparison post of the current Nikon dSLR line-up, have a look at these other Nikon related posts, including how to take full advantage of your autofocus system.

The camera is offered as a body-only or with the 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR Lens (image stabilized).

And as I mentioned, I will be coming out with a Full Stop e-book user’s guide for the Nikon D600 – Nikon D600 Experience, possibly as soon as November 2012.

Order your D600 today on Amazon or B and H – it is already available and shipping!

Nikon D600 on Amazon (body only or kit)

Nikon D600 at B and H Photo – body only

Nikon D600 at B and H Photo – with the 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR Lens

Nikon D600 full frame FX dSLR camera unbox unboxing 35mm new kit lens 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5
Nikon D600 full frame dSLR camera, shown with kit lens Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR – Image by author.  Special thanks to Newtonville Camera of Newton, Mass.

The Nikon D610 was introduced in October of 2013, and has added a couple minor, but important features to the camera. The D610 incorporates a new shutter mechanism which enables a faster six frames per second (fps) continuous shooting speed and a new Quiet Continuous shutter-release mode for taking a burst of images up to three frames per second and with decreased shutter noise. In addition, the D610 has an improved Auto White Balance setting which promises more natural color reproduction both indoors under artificial lighting and outdoors. As mentioned above, the previous D600 model marked an important moment in the evolution of digital SLR cameras as the first dSLR with a full-frame sized image sensor to also be priced at about $2000 at release, thus putting it within the reach of far more photography enthusiasts. With the D610, Nikon has retained a similar price. And although a number of D600 users reportedly experienced issues with dust or oil spots on the camera’s sensor, it is expected that the new shutter mechanism of the D610 will eliminate this concern.

Nikon D610 D600 autofocus af system points full frame viewfinder
Another simulated view of the Nikon D610 / D600 viewfinder, showing the location of all 39 autofocus AF Points.  Image of Nikon F SLR by author, taken with Nikon D600 with kit lens – 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR, ISO 2500.  Special thanks to Newtonville Camera of Newton, Mass. 

Taking Control of, and Possibly Understanding Exposure

Whenever a new photographer wishes to learn about exposure, shooting modes, and working in Manual or Aperture Priority Mode, most photographers recommend the Bryan Peterson book Understanding Exposure.  It has become the go to guide because it offers explanations that no other book seems to cover as well or as thoroughly.  However, many people aren’t the biggest fans of it and wish there was another guide with a slightly different approach – perhaps an easier, less confusing way to present some of the material.

Understanding Exposure has been updated for the current digital era, but it may be better to toss many of the old notions and methods that have been carried over from film, start from scratch, and approach the subject in a practical manner that applies fully to digital SLR cameras – cameras with histograms and instant feedback of the image and the exposure settings via the rear LCD screen, not to mention the ability to head straight to your computer and study and analyze your results and EXIF data.

While I contemplate writing an exposure book for the digital era, I will begin with a quick-start tutorial to exposure and metering with a dSLR:

First, don’t start with M mode yet. Start working in Av or A – aperture priority mode.

Set the camera on Av / A (aperture priority). Go into the menus and turn off Auto Lighting Optimizer and Highlight Tone Priority on a Canon and Active D-Lighting on a Nikon.

Set the ISO to an appropriate setting based on the lighting of the scene.
outdoors in sun: 100
less sun or shade: 200-400
more shade or darker: 800
indoors: 1600-3200

Set your aperture setting to whatever aperture setting you desire based on how much depth of field you want. Want a lot of depth of field with everything in focus from near to far? Set for f/16 or f/22. Want very shallow depth of field with just the subject in focus and cool background blurring? Set for f/2.8, f/4, or f/5.6.

Aim your camera at your subject, press the shutter button halfway, and see what Shutter Speed the camera selected. Is it slower than 1/125? (such as 1/80, 1/30) Then increase your ISO setting to a higher number. If you can’t or don’t want to increase ISO, use a wider aperture setting (a “lower” F number like f/4, f/5.6).

Is your shutter speed now about 1/125 or faster? (for still subjects – use perhaps 1/500 or 1/1000 for moving subjects). Take the photo.

Now, if the exposure is not coming out how you want, use exposure compensation to adjust it and then re-take the photo.  Adjust it to the positive side to make the exposure lighter, and to the negative side to make the exposure darker.

Sound easy? It is! But of course, it all gets more complicated from here. For example, how did the camera determine what the proper exposure was? You can learn more about that, and how to better control the camera’s determination of exposure with Exploring Metering Modes.

And then now that you have the basics, and can move on to learning more about controling your autofocus system, locking focus and exposure – independently, how focal length and distance affect depth of field, composition, white balance, etc, etc!

You can learn all about these settings and functions in my e-book camera guides for Nikon and Canon dSLRs, such as Nikon D5100 Experience and Canon T3i Experience.  Click the image below to see all the available guides and to learn more:

full stop dslr photo photography camera manual guide for dummies canon nikon


How to Use Your New dSLR

I know many people happily unwrapped a new dSLR this holiday.  And now after playing with it for a bit, you may be discovering that there is a bit of a learning curve to learning all the features and functions of your camera.  So if your are eager to learn how to use your new T3i, D5100, 60D, D7000, or whichever Canon or Nikon dSLR you received, be sure to have a look around my blog at the various articles discussing how to use your autofocus system, metering system, and other functions, plus photography techniques once you have started to get a hang of the controls.

Have a look at the front page of this blog to see these different categories and find the articles about Canons, Nikons, Photography Techniques, Lenses, Accessories, Books, and more.

And to quickly learn the ins and outs of your camera, also be sure to have a look at my e-book camera guides, which will not only teach you the functions and controls of your dSLR, but when and why to use them.

full stop dslr photo photography camera manual guide for dummies canon nikon

Happy shooting, and let me know if you have any questions.

Ten Top Accessories for the Nikon D5100

Now that you’ve finally decided on a dSLR and chosen the Nikon D5100 you will want to get some basic, essential accessories. While there are countless accessories available that may look appealing or seem necessary, I suggest you first gain some experience with your basic equipment, and then discover through use which additional items you truly want or really need.  No add-on, whether an elaborate flash modifier or color balance correction tool, will instantly improve your images so concentrate instead on your image making!

nikon d5100 dslr camera unbox unboxing kit lens choose decide vs
photo by author – copyright 2011 – please do not use without permission!

But you can’t go wrong with these initial 10 additions to your camera bag. Click on the links or the images to view and purchase them on (and help support my blog by doing so – thanks!)

1. SanDisk Extreme 8GB Memory Card – You are going to need a high quality, high speed memory card to save all those images and capture those videos. Go with the best and don’t risk corruption and errors – a SanDisk Extreme. Perhaps a couple 8GB cards or 16GB cards.

2. Nikon EN-EL14 Rechargable Battery: It is always good to have an extra battery or two, especially when traveling or when photographing an event all day.  Go with the official Nikon brand and avoid battery communication and charging issues. If you are a fan of the optional battery back / vertical grip, there is a third-party offering for the D5100, the Neewer Pro Battery Grip for Nikon D5100.  Though Nikon did not design their own D5100 battery grip, this third-party option fills the gap, and accepts 2 EN-EL 14 batteries. The grip may make the camera easier to handle for those with larger hands, when working with a large lens, or if often working in portrait orientation.

Nikon d5100 battery en-el14

3. Nikon D5100 Experience e-book – You will want to begin to learn to use your camera, go beyond Auto, and start to use the advanced functions and settings of your sophisticated D5100, so be sure to check out my e book, Nikon D5100 Experience.  This guide will help you to take control of your camera so that you can consistently take better images – the images you wish to capture. You’ve invested in an advanced camera, now invest the time to learn how to use it to its full potential! There are also Kindle, Nook, and iPad versions of the e-book available here.

4. Black Rapid RS7 Strap – This sling-style camera strap provides a more comfortable and practical – and somewhat more discreet – way to carry around your camera, especially if you have a larger lens on it.  The RS-7 version has a nice curved shoulder strap, the RS-4 is not curved at the shoulder but does have a handy little pocket for memory cards, and the RS-W1 R-Strap is designed for women.

5. Giottos Large Rocket Blower – Blow the dust off your lens, camera body, interior, and sensor safely with the Rocket Blower. Get the large size for maximum “whoosh!”

6. LensPEN Lens Cleaning System – Clean those fingerprints, smudges, and mysterious spots off your camera lens (filter) safely and quickly with the LensPEN. Brush off the loose spots with the brush end, “charge” the tip with a twist of the cap, then clean by “drawing” in a circular motion. Read the manufacturer’s instruction for complete details.

7.  Nikon SB-900, SB-800, SB-700, or SB-600 Speedlight Flashes: Use one of these external flashes for greatly increased flash power and control compared to the built-in flash. They also have adjustable and rotating heads so that you can use indirect and bounce flash, and all of them can be used as remote flashes controlled by the built-in flash.  With the exception of the SB-600 all can be used as commanders to trigger remote flashes. The SB-900 Speedlight or the new SB-910 Speedlight is recommended if you need maximum flash power for events and weddings, etc. Otherwise the smaller SB-700 Speedlight is best for general use.

8. B+W Brand UV Filter – Protect your lenses from dust, scratches, and impact damage with a high-quality, multi-coated B+W brand UV filter. It typically shouldn’t affect your image quality due to its high quality glass and coatings, and it just might save you from a $200 repair. Leave one on each of your lenses at all times, unless you are using another filter like the circular polarizer. Be sure to get the right size filter for your lens.

8a. B+W Brand Circular Polarizer Filter – Use this high-quality, multi-coated filter to dramatically darken skies, increase contrast, and cut through reflections. Turn the rotating lens to adjust the amount of darkening or reflection as you place the sun to your left or right.

9. Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VR II Lens – After you’ve realized the limitations of the kit lens, especially in that area of focal range, pair your D5100 with this high quality all-purpose “walk-around” lens, great for everyday and travel use. It provides the full focal range from wide angle (for capturing the entire scene) to telephoto (for zooming in on details and faces), and delivers excellent image quality, color, and contrast, as well as Vibration Reduction (image stabilization) to prevent blur from camera movement.

9a. HB-35 Lens Hood – And you will want the optional bayonet lens hood for the 18-200mm lens, to shade the lens from unwanted glare and flare and protect it from bumps and bangs.

10. M Rock Holster Bag – Carry and protect your camera and walk-around lens in a holster style bag from M Rock. I used the Yellowstone style extensively in my travels throughout South America, and I love its durability and extra little features like a built-in rain cover, micro-fiber cleaning cloth, zippered interior pocket, adjustable interior, and extra strap. Be sure to get the model that fits your body and lens.


Bonus items:

Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson – If you don’t yet understand the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, read this book immediately. This knowledge is essential to understanding and using your powerful dSLR to its full potential.

Nikon ML-L3 Wireless Remote or MC-DC2 Remote Release Cord: These remotes will allow you to trigger the shutter of the camera remotely, thus allowing either self-portraits or the ability to release the shutter without pressing the Shutter-Release Button thus preventing possible camera shake.

Nikon Capture NX2: If you are not using Photoshop, this software will enable you to process and retouch your JPEG or RAW files, and correct things such color, contrast, and sharpening.

For additional photography gear, accessories, and books, be sure to check out my dSLR Photography Gear, Accessories, and Books post!

Cyber Monday Camera Deals at Amazon and B&H

Like every other retailer, Amazon and B&H Photo are having some great Cyber Monday deals.

Amazon is offering the Canon T3i with a couple different lens kit options for a really great price.  They also have some great quality point and shoots like the Canon Powershot SX230 (which boasts 14X zoom) on sale.

cyber monday camera photo sale deal bargain

B and H Photo also has deals on the Canon T3i, as well as some third party lenses, plus the Zoom H2 digital audio recorder that is great for recording interviews or sound to go with your videos or photo slideshows.  Plus countless other deals on external hard drives and other equipment and accessories.  Plus great deals on Lexar and Sandisk memory cards.

camera photo cyber monday deal sale bargain

Please consider clicking on these links or logos to take you to these sites if you plan to make any purchases, as it will help support my blog – thanks!

Plus, there are lots of new Canon instant rebates available on the top quality lenses and Speedlites.  Click the image below to go to B&H and start saving!

Cyber Monday Camera Guide Sale!


On Cyber Monday, November 28, 2011 only, I will be offering a coupon code for $5 off the price of most of my PDF camera guides.  Any guide on the Full Stop website with the current price of $10.99 will be available for $5.99 (with the coupon code).  That’s almost 50% off!

Plus $5 off The E-Book Handbook too!  (only $4.99 with coupon code!)

This sale includes the following PDF e-book camera guides:

Nikon D5100 Experience

Nikon D7000 Experience

Canon 7D Experience

Your World 60D

Canon T3i Experience

In order to get the savings, use coupon code fsmonday5 when making your purchase.  Click on the “Check out with PayPal” button in order to enter the coupon code.  Don’t worry, you can check out with either a credit card or PayPal when using that button.

The coupon code will be valid all day Monday Nov. 28, 2011, until 11:59pm Eastern Time.


Nikon Manual Viewer App

I just learned over on the Nikon Rumors website that there is an app for downloading and viewing your Nikon camera manual on your iPad or iPhone.  The app, called Nikon Manual Viewer, can be downloaded for free.  Once you have downloaded the manual, you can then view it offline at anytime.  It does not appear that Canon has a similar app yet.

Nikon Manual Viewer app ipad iphone guide book tutorial instruction

Be sure to also consider my dSLR camera guides, which can also be downloaded and carried with you on your iPad or computer, including Nikon D7000 Experience and Nikon D5100 Experience.  These guides go beyond the manuals to help you learn not only how, but more importantly when and why to use the features and functions of these versatile cameras.


Choosing Your First dSLR for the Future Pro on a Budget

I spend a lot of time on photography forums, trying to stay on top of the latest news and equipment as well as to better learn about the concerns and difficulties of those trying to choose or to learn to use their new dSLR.  This always helps me in writing my dSLR camera guides, such as learning which functions and concepts users have trouble with, and figuring out how to best explain them.

tips tricks photography dslr learn use manual instruction tutorial for dummies guide

Unfortunately one begins to see the same posts again and again:

“I want to get my first dSLR.  Which one should I get?”

often supplemented with

“I hear/ read/ am told that Canon is better at XX but Nikon is better at XX.  Which one should I choose?”

and then

“I want to start taking wedding and portrait photos.”

typically qualified with

“I only want to spend $500.”

So to be honest, it is pretty simple:

If you are truly on a budget and don’t want to spend a lot on a dSLR, then get the entry level Canon T3 or Nikon D3100.

But, if you really intend to grow and learn and develop as a photographer, and don’t want to quickly reach the limits of your camera and have to spend more money and buy another one, start out with the advanced-entry-level Canon T3i (also called the 600D) or the Nikon D5100.  These cameras will give you a bit more room to grow with their additional features, capabilities, and image quality.

If you plan to be really dedicated to photography, to pursue it as a serious hobby or even as a semi-pro, and intend to read every book you can find about your equipment, photography, exposure, composition, and Photoshop, and be out there using your camera all the time, then it may be worth your while to start off with a mid-level or pro-sumer camera such as the Canon 60D, Canon 7D, or Nikon D7000.  That way you won’t find yourself reaching the limits of your first camera within a year and having to upgrade so soon.

But know that starting out with a 7D or D7000 is jumping in near the deep end of the pool.  You will have a steep learning curve in order to get to the point where you can take control of your camera and take full advantage of all those features and capabilities you paid for.  As can be witnessed on the forum posts where the new user says

“I just got my ($1500 camera), set it on Auto and took some photos, and they don’t look anything like (pro photographer’s) photos.  What is wrong with my camera?  I guess I should start reading the manual, but what settings should I use to take better photos?”

…spending a lot of money on a “better” camera does not automatically, instantly lead to great images.

If you wish to become serious about photography, you need to understand that “photography” and “budget” do not belong in the same sentence!  If you want to do wedding and portrait/ child/ pet photography eventually, and want to be paid for it, then you need to change your mindset about the cost of the equipment required by a professional photographer.  The camera is a tool required to do the job right, and a professional needs professional equipment.  Not just because it is expected or is the price of admission, but because professional tools are needed to do professional work.  While one can get away with using a mid-level or pro-sumer camera for weddings or when starting out as a portrait or pet photographer, you will find that you really need the quality and capabilities of a pro camera to properly do the job. You need equipment that can perform in all situations (in conjunction with your skills).

I’ve written some much more detailed posts about comparing a choosing a dSLR camera, including:

Choosing Between the Canon 7D vs 60D vs T3i (600D)

Choosing Between the Nikon D7000 vs D5100 vs D3100

These posts go into detail about their features and differences, and why you may or may not need to additional features of the advanced cameras for your photography.

Nikon D5100 Autofocus System Video

I’ve written a detailed article about Taking Advantage of the Nikon D5100 Autofocus System, but I decided to make a video as well, to introduce and explain the Focus Modes, Autofocus Area Modes, and the AF Custom Settings of the D5100, in order to help one use their camera to its full capabilities:

Change the viewer settings to 720p to watch in HD

To learn more about about the Nikon D5100 autofocus system as well as how to fully take control of your camera in order to consistently capture better images, please have a look at my e-book user’s guide Nikon D5100 Experience.  It not only explains all the features and controls but also when and why to use them in real life photography.

New Firmware for the Nikon D7000 and D5100

New firmware has been released for the Nikon D7000, version 1.03.  Be sure to update your camera, as it will fix several minor bugs including some settings and displays that have mysteriously changed on their own previously.

Update information on the Nikon site here:

The Nikon D5100 firmware has also been updated for the first time, v 1.01, with fixes including:

  • An error recognizing some memory cards has been addressed.
  • When Selective color from the retouch menu is performed on a picture taken with the image quality set to NEF (RAW)+JPEG and an image size of M or S, the edges of the image may not have changed color. This issue has been resolved.
  • When Metering was set to Matrix metering, the exposure mode set to M (Manual), and the HDR exposure differential set to Auto, the exposure differential was fixed at a value equivalent to 2 EV. This has been changed to enable automatic adjustment of exposure differential so that it is appropriate for the scene.

D5100 firmware upgrade available here:

Nikon D7000 D5100 firmware update upgrade

Rare Leica Auction

Those who appreciate old, rare cameras, especially those with Leica fetishes, should have a look at this catalog for an upcoming Leica auction by Tamarkin Photographica.  The auction takes place October 29 and 30, 2011 in Woodbridge, CT.  There are even a couple Nikon rangefinders available, with gorgeous brassing.

Photo from Tamarkin Photographica Fall 2011 Auction Catalog – Nikon SP with Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 – estimate of $4,000-$6,000

Photo from Tamarkin Photographica Fall 2011 Auction Catalog – Nikon SP with Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 – estimate of $4,000-$6,000

A Brief Introduction to Exposure Bracketing

If you have begun to take control of your camera’s functions and settings and are understanding the basics of exposure, and perhaps are working in Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority Mode, you may still find that sometimes your images are coming out lighter or darker than you desire.  This could be due to an unusual lighting situation, a scene that contains a wide range of bright and dark areas, a subject that is back-lit, the camera metering from the “wrong” area of the scene, or a number of other reasons.

In this situation hopefully you have begun experimenting with exposure compensation.  If not, exposure compensation can be the solution to these types of problems by enabling you to “over-ride” the camera’s exposure decision and making the next image lighter or darker as desired.  And since most all the functions and settings of a dSLR are inter-related, the use of other metering modes such as Center-Weighted or Spot metering can also be part of the solution (or part of the problem) – but those are topics for other posts!  I’ve written one about Exploring Metering Modes, and should probably tackle some exposure issues soon.

exposure compensation auto exposure bracketing aeb canon nikon dslr
Figure 1 – French Medieval Storefront Carving, Gloucester, Mass. – Three bracketed exposures of the same scene:  the “proper” exposure as determined by the camera (Center-Weighted Average Metering Mode) in the center; over-exposed +1 stop on the left; under-exposed -1 stop on the right.  The desired exposure, for my eye, lies somewhere between the “proper” exposure and the darker under-exposure, where some highlights on the figure remain but the color and detail of the wood can be seen in those areas.  Center exposure:  Shutter speed 1/60 aperture f/2.8, ISO 200

If you have begun to make use of Exposure Compensation, or wish to start, a technique called exposure bracketing can expand upon that or perhaps help you to learn and understand over- and under-exposures.  Exposure bracketing is when you take at least three photos of the same scene, one at the “proper” or desired exposure, one under-exposed, and one over-exposed (see Figure 1).  For example you may take the second and third shot with the exposure compensation set at +1 and then -1.  This is done to ensure that you capture exactly the right exposure you desire or to experiment and see the results of varying your exposure settings.  A common feature of dSLR cameras called Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) can even automate this process for you.

In the days of film, exposure bracketing was a helpful technique – especially for critical situations – since one didn’t have the immediate feedback of the image on an LCD screen and a histogram.  It can still be used today for critical situations or for test shots when determining the right exposure settings.  The Auto Exposure Bracketing feature of digital SLRs automates this process by automatically changing the exposure settings between shots.  You set the amount of under- and over-exposure desired (such as +1, -1 or +2/3, -2/3) and then take three images in a row.  The camera automatically adjusts the exposure for each shot so that one is taken at the “proper” or baseline exposure, another shot is under-exposed, and the other is over-exposed.  If your camera is set on continuous drive mode, you can just hold down the shutter button and the camera will take the three shots in a row.  Or if you have it set on single shooting, you click the shutter three times in a row, ideally of the same scene.  Many cameras even allow you to dictate the order that the images are taken, and whether or not AEB cancels itself after one use or when the camera is turned off.

Or you can perform this process yourself, by either using exposure compensation between shots or by working in Manual Mode and adjusting the aperture or shutter speed setting between shots.

auto exposure bracketing canon nikon dslr aeb
Figure 2 – Weaver Constructing the Keshwa Chaca, Huinchiri, Peru – Three bracketed exposures of the same scene:  the “proper” exposure as determined by the camera (Evaluative metering mode) in the center, under-exposed -2/3 stop on the left, over-exposed +2/3 stop on the right.  The desired exposure in this case, for my eye, lies somewhere between the “proper” exposure and the over-exposure.  With auto exposure bracketing you can often customize the order that the bracketed images are taken, for example proper/under/over or under/proper/over.  In this example they were taken proper/under/over, so they are displayed here in a different order than actually captured.  Center exposure:  Shutter speed 1/1000, aperture f/5.0, ISO 100

Exposure compensation and bracketing are also used in HDR (high dynamic range) photography to take three or five or more photos of the same scene at various exposures.  All the images are then combined by the photographer, using HDR software, into a single image which will contain a much broader dynamic range of light and dark than is possible with a single image.

The basic principles of exposure as well as all of the other important functions and controls of a dSLR, such as Metering Modes and the Autofocus System, are explained in my e-book Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography, as well as in all my other dSLR camera guides to specific cameras such as Nikon D5100 Experience and Canon T3i Experience.  Click on the titles or the cover below to learn more!

dslr learn improve autofocus exposure aperture shutter priority for dummies


Don’t Let the Locations of the AF Points Dictate Your Composition

I began to discuss the autofocus modes of various dSLR cameras in previous posts including Taking Control of Your Canon Autofocus System and Taking Advantage of the Autofocus Systems of the Nikon D5100 and the Nikon D7000

In this post I wish to go into more detail about one of the reasons it is important to take control of your autofocus system, namely not allowing the locations of the AF Points in your viewfinder to dictate your final composition.

As I mentioned in previous autofocus posts, one of the essential steps in taking a successful photo is controlling where the camera focuses.  If you allow the camera to auto focus by choosing its own focus point(s), it typically focuses on the closest object.  This may or may not be what you want to focus on, so you should select where the camera focuses using the Auto Focus Points.  For example, you often want to focus on a subject’s eyes, but if you allow the camera to choose the autofocus point itself, it may select another part of the face, or somewhere else on the body, or even a raised hand that is nearer to the camera than the face to focus most sharply on.

In addition, there are reasons to use the outer focus points and not just focusing with the center AF point and then recomposing.  First, if you are taking several shots of the same subject and framing, you will not have to re-focus with the center point and recompose between each shot.  And by controlling exactly where you focus, you then have greater, more precise control over the use of dramatic depth of field.  Also, if you use the center point and recompose, you have swept the camera in an arc to recompose, and are thus always focusing at a distance behind the subject.  This may not be as noticeable when the subject is further away, but for a close subject – especially when using shallow depth of field – the difference is critical.

One of the additional critical reasons to take control of your autofocus system is so that you don’t let the location of the AF Points dictate your composition. What happens when the subject you want to focus on is not located exactly under one of the AF Points? Even with 9 or 19 or more AF Points to choose from, they will not always be located exactly at or near where you need them to be.  Recomposing or re-framing your shot is often necessary so that you can capture exactly the image you wish to and not one dictated by the locations of the AF Points as you see them in the viewfinder.

Canon 7D 5D mark II 60D T3i 600D autofocus system AF point choose select set setting
Figure 1 – The desired framing and composition of the shot I wish to take, yet no AF Point, including the selected lower right point (the larger point shown in red here) is located exactly at the woman’s head where I wish to focus. (Canon 7D viewfinder shown)

Canon 7D 5D mark II 60D T3i 600D autofocus system AF point choose select set setting
Figure 2 – Image is temporarily framed to place the selected AF Point over the woman’s head, Shutter Button is pressed half-way and held to lock focus at that distance, image is recomposed to the desired framing of previous Figure 1, and Shutter Button is fully pressed to capture the image.

Figure 1 shows the desired framing and composition of the shot I want to take, but the woman is not located under an AF Point. This composition is desired for me because it captures the entire window along with some space around it, as well as some space in front of the woman for her to “walk into” – but not an excessive amount of space. So I manually select the lower right AF Point (using Single-Point AF Mode), temporarily frame the image to place the selected AF Point over her face or head, press and hold the Shutter Button half-way to lock focus at that distance (Figure 2), and see the Focus Confirmation Light illuminate in the viewfinder. I then recompose back to the final framing I want (Figure 1) and press the Shutter Button fully to take the image. Even though the subject is moving, I do not need the sophisticated tracking of AI Servo (Canon) or Continuous Servo (Nikon) Focus Mode to keep her in focus. I can quickly lock focus using One Shot (Canon) or Single Servo (Nikon) Focus Mode, recompose, and take the image without the camera-to-subject focus distance changing significantly.

With the example images above (Figures 1, 2), focusing on the wall would not have been tragic because the distance between the subject and the background is small, and if a medium or narrow aperture such as f/8 or f/16 is used both the wall and the subject may be in acceptable focus. If the background was further away, and/ or a wide aperture such as f/2.8 was used – especially with a telephoto lens, and if the image was enlarged, you would clearly see that the camera focused on the wall and not the woman. Not to mention the fact that the wall is a somewhat consistent area of color and the AF system may have difficulty properly focusing on it. So it is best not to take shortcuts such as focusing on the wall and hoping the subject will also be in focus, because in many other situations you will not have this option. It is best to take the photo properly and to learn and practice the habit of working in the more rigorous manner if you want all your photos to be sharp.

If you would like to learn more about the autofocus systems of your Canon or Nikon dSLR camera, as well as learn to use the other features of your camera including metering modes, Aperture and Shutter priority modes, all the menus and Custom Function settings, and more, have a look at my Full Stop e-book camera guides. In addition to explaining the features and settings, the guides clearly explain when and why to use them in order to capture the images you desire.

Take control of your camera and the images you create!

Learn more about the e-books by clicking on their titles or on the banner below:
Canon 7D Experience
Canon T3i Experience
Your World 60D
T2i Experience.

Nikon D7000 Experience
Nikon D5100 Experience.

full stop dslr photo photography camera manual guide for dummies canon nikon

For those with other cameras, check out my Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography which also discusses taking advantage of any dSLR camera’s autofocus system.

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Understanding and Using Exposure Compensation and Bracketing

One of the key elements for obtaining the proper exposure of your images when working in Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority modes is making use of Exposure Compensation.  Although all the exposure related settings of a dSLR are intimately intertwined (such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO setting plus the exposure metering mode you are using, etc.) and it is challenging to speak of one without addressing the others, I will focus here on exposure compensation and when and how to use it.

The following text is excerpted from my e-book guide Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography, where you can learn more about exposure compensation plus apertures, shutter speeds, exposure metering modes, composition and more.  Click on the cover at the end of the post to learn more about the guide, preview it, or purchase it.

Why Exposure Compensation is Needed

If you take an image that turns out to be darker or lighter than you desire, based on reviewing the image and/ or its histogram on your rear LCD screen, you can use exposure compensation in the non-Auto shooting modes to “override” the exposure that the camera is selecting, in order to brighten or darken the next image’s exposure.  You may want to do this if you have seen that your highlights have run off the right side of the histogram and been blown-out, resulting in complete loss of detail in those areas of the image.  Consult your manual to determine how to adjust exposure compensation on your specific camera.  With some Canon models, you press the Exposure Compensation [+/-] button and turn the Main Dial.  With other Canon models you use the Quick Control Dial to adjust this setting.  With Nikon, Sony, Pentax, and Olympus models you typically press the Exposure Compensation [+/-] button and turn a dial.  You will then see the exposure compensation amount change in your viewfinder and/ or on the top or rear LCD screen.  If the exposure level indicator in one of these places is not changing, press the shutter button half-way to first wake up the camera, or move/ press the Lock switch/ button near the rear dial on a Canon.

Putting Exposure Compensation to Use

If you have taken a photo that is too dark and you wish to retake the image and make the next exposure of the scene lighter, adjust exposure compensation in the positive (+) direction.  To make the next exposure darker, adjust exposure compensation in the negative (-) direction.  Try changing the Exposure Compensation by perhaps 1/3, 1/2, or 2/3 in the direction you desire, retake the shot, and see if your exposure problem is solved.  Increase or decrease the exposure compensation as needed.  Remember to set the exposure compensation back to zero when you are done with that situation and move on to take different images!  This is one reason why you should check your camera’s settings often – to make sure you haven’t left the camera on the settings from a previous situation.  This can often happen with the ISO setting and exposure compensation setting.  Check your current settings on the top or rear LCD display or in the viewfinder.

To remember how to compensate – which direction to turn the dial – think of the histogram peaks on the graph.  If you wish to shift the peaks to the left, to the darker side, to make the image darker, turn the dial so that the exposure compensation level moves to the negative side (-1, -2, etc.).  If you wish to shift the peaks to the right, to the lighter side, to make the image lighter, turn the dial so that the exposure compensation level moves to the positive side (+1, +2, etc).  Curiously, some cameras put the negative side of the exposure level indicator on the left, and others put it on the right, so look in the manual or viewfinder to see how yours operates.


Exposure compensation can also be used to “bracket” an exposure.  Bracketing is when you take at least three photos of the same scene, one at the “proper” exposure, one under-exposed, and one over-exposed (see the image below).  For example you may take the second and third shot with the exposure compensation set at +1 and then -1.  This is done to ensure that you capture exactly the right exposure you desire.  In the days of film this was a helpful technique, especially for critical situations, since one didn’t have the immediate feedback of the image on an LCD screen and a histogram.  It can still be used today for critical situations or for test shots when determining the right exposure settings.  Digital SLR cameras typically have an auto exposure compensation feature so that this process is more automated.  You set the amount of under- and over-exposure desired (such as +1, -1 or +1 2/3, -1 2/3) and then take three images in a row.  The camera automatically adjusts the exposures for each shot in order to bracket the second and third shots.  If your camera is set on continuous drive mode, you can just hold down the shutter button and the camera will take the three shots in a row.

Weaver Constructing the Keshwa Chaca, Huinchiri, Peru – Three bracketed exposures of the same scene:  the “proper” exposure as determined by the camera (Evaluative metering mode) in the center, under-exposed -2/3 stop on the left, over-exposed +2/3 stop on the right.  The desired exposure, for my eye, lies somewhere between the “proper” exposure and the over-exposure.  With auto exposure bracketing you can often customize the order that the bracketed images are taken, for example proper/under/over or under/proper/over.  In this example they were taken proper/under/over, so they are displayed here in a different order than actually captured.  Center exposure:  Shutter speed 1/1000, aperture f/5.0, ISO 100, focal length 105mm.

Exposure compensation and bracketing are also used in HDR (high dynamic range) photography to take three or five or more photos of the same scene at various exposures.  All the images are then combined by the photographer, using HDR software, into a single image which will contain a much broader dynamic range of light and dark than is possible with a single image.

Beyond Exposure Compensation

As I mentioned at the start, exposure is determined by a number of controls and settings on your dSLR.  If you are consistently taking images that are under- or over-exposed, you may wish to explore the other metering modes, to ensure that the camera is metering your exposures exactly where and how you want.  Have a look at my previous post on Exploring Metering Modes to learn more about this, or have a look at my e-book guide Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography to learn about all the aspects of exposure and how they relate.


Full Manual Exposure Control, Video, Live View, and the D5100

I recently received some interesting questions from two different readers on my posts about the Nikon D5100, Nikon D5100 vs D7000 vs D90 etc. and Nikon D5100 vs. Canon T3i.  Both questions point out interesting issues with the Nikon D5100 that may be important considerations if your shooting needs required these functions, or that might not affect you and your shooting at all if, like me, you never use manual exposure control in video and/ or you don’t use Live View (and M mode) when shooting stills.

Here is the first question and my reply:

Question 1:

I wanted to ask about a major differentiator, if its true and useful for someone trying to learn a bit of manual photography. Below link and video talks about D90 and D5100 not having the ability to do manual control in video. Is it true? Does it really matter. Please advise.

(video is no longer available on YouTube)

I would also like some instructions on how to use manual control – when, why, how.

Nikon D5100 mode dial video manual exposure a s m aperture shutter
Mode dial of the Nikon D5100

My Answer:
Yes, the lack of full manual control in video mode is a very real deficiency of the of the Nikon D5100, especially for people who wish to seriously use it for video.  To answer your question “does it really matter?”, yes, it really matters if you wish to have straightforward, full manual control while shooting video.  I know that sounds like a smart-ass response to the question, but it is kind of like “if it isn’t an iPhone, it isn’t an iPhone,” blatantly stolen from “if you had invented Facebook, you would have invented Facebook.”

Wait a minute, I just realized that I was ahead of the curve and I wrote this similar smart-ass phrase before that movie even came out:
“If the 5D Mk II fits your expanding and demanding needs as a photographer, you would already pretty much know that you needed a 5D.”
See, look here, I said that earlier than August 26, 2010, and the movie came out Oct 1, 2010, and I didn’t even see it until a couple months ago!

Anyway, if you need full manual control in video, you know that you need full manual control in video based on your experience and needs, and then you need your camera to have full manual control in video.  Simple, right?  But…do you not know yet but wonder are you going to need it in the future if you grow and develop as a photographer/videographer?  That is the big unknown that no one can answer but one needs to figure out on an individual basis!

However, there is a “work-around” for this shortcoming of no full manual exposure control with the Nikon D5100.  To manually set your shutter speed, you must set the camera on Shutter-Priority Auto Mode (S) and set your desired shutter speed before going into Live View mode, use exposure compensation to obtain the aperture setting you want, and use the AE-L/AF-L Button to lock that exposure (set Custom Setting f2 for AE-Lock Hold).  If you wish to first set the aperture setting, you must set the camera on Aperture-Priority Auto Mode (A) and set your desired aperture before going into Live View mode, use exposure compensation to obtain the shutter speed setting you want, and use the AE-L/AF-L Button to lock that exposure (set Custom Setting f2 for AE-Lock Hold).

See this video I came across on YouTube for a demonstration:

As far as instruction in manual control (for still photography), see my Full Stop dSLR camera guide e-books, of course!  I don’t go into a lot of detail of full manual (M) because I don’t feel it is necessary for most beginner or intermediate photographers in most situations.  I don’t believe in M for the sake of old-school, full control, “look, I’m a skilled photographer/ martyr ‘cuz I use full manual.” It just adds an extra step (setting BOTH aperture and shutter speed rather than just one) to each photo that isn’t necessary.  Let the camera do it for you.  Pick your priority:  Aperture or Shutter Speed.  Are you concerned with depth of field (aperture) or with freezing or blurring action (shutter speed)?  Set your aperture in A (Av) mode or else set your shutter speed in S (Tv) mode, and let the camera take care of the other setting.

I know that many photographers like working in M mode, but if you are wondering if you need to use it: if you haven’t encountered a need for it, you don’t have a need for it. The aperture setting is typically my priority, hence I use Aperture Priority Mode.  Here is a detailed explanation of how I use Aperture Priority in the real world:  Deconstructing the Shot.

As my e-books say about possible situations for using M:

“There are times you may wish to use Manual Exposure Mode.  For example, if you are taking several photos to stitch together into a panorama, you want them all to be taken with the same exposure so that the lighting is consistent across the entire scene. Or if you are working in a studio setting and the lighting will remain consistent, you can set the exposure once and then not worry about it. Or in any other situation where the lighting or your desired exposure will remain consistent such as an indoor performance or sunny day portrait session where the lighting does not change.”

And I know that other situations also demand or benefit from M mode, including macro situations, but many of those situations fall under the “any other situation where the lighting or your desired exposure will remain consistent” category.  Readers, please defend M to me and tell me why you use it!

Question 2:

When I used the Nikon D5100 at a nearby camera store in Live View and Manual (M) mode, it never quite seemed to register ANY of the changes I made to shutter:  the image is supposed to go dark as the shutter speed increases right? (I was in a moderately lit room).  The weird part is that the actual image captured was dark (like it should be) but not the preview!  Is there some setting on the Nikon that is wrong on the piece I tested?  If the camera can’t display the changes it is making during Live View – leaving me to approximate the changes I’m making, then that is a deal breaker for me. I am wondering if this is a bug that was only on the piece that I saw at the showroom, or if you saw it too.

My Answer:

That is a really great question! These are the kinds of features one really has to dig into the camera, menus, or manual of a new dSLR model to determine if it is actually going to meet your needs.

It turns out that no, it is not possible to see actual exposure simulation with the Nikon D5100 in Live View while in Manual M shooting mode. However, in the P, A, or S shooting modes, the live view image will lighten or darken to simulate the exposure settings or the exp. compensation that you set. And to add insult to injury, there is no exposure meter displayed on the Live View screen, so to check your exposure you will need to temporarily leave Live View and switch to the control panel view by pressing the [i] Button.

The Canon 60D and Canon Rebel T3i both have Exposure Simulation in all modes during Live View. On the 60D you can turn this feature off and on. On the T3i it is on automatically while in Live View.


Now, if you are thinking of buying a Nikon D5100 and after reading this you are suddenly concerned that it is lacking important features that you might need…be sure to first determine if you, indeed, really even need these features.  They shouldn’t be anything to worry about if you are never going to use them and never going to encounter these issues.  For example, I would never encounter the first issue, the lack of full manual control in video, because I don’t shoot video.  If you plan to use the camera to shoot production quality, professional video, this is pretty important.  If you plan to switch over to video and shoot a kid’s sporting event, it is unlikely you are going to shoot this in Manual and so it doesn’t matter.

Regarding the second issue, do you plan to use live mode AND manual shooting mode (M) AND need to preview your image exposure at the same time?  I rarely use M mode and I rarely use Live View and I rarely preview my exposure in Live View if I do use it, so for me and my photography, it will be “rare x rare raised to the rare power” (or (rare x rare) rare or is it merely rare x (rare) rare ?) that I need to use Live View AND M mode AND preview what my exposure will be.  If I needed to, I think I could get by with A mode instead, where the Exposure Simulation in Live View functions on the D5100.  But, if you are like the reader who had this question and you have a real need for this, say shooting cool macro shots of flowers and insects, then you will need to consider the Nikon D7000, Canon T3i, or Canon 60D instead.

Caught in a Scott Kelby Sandwich

I was checking on the sales of my e-books on Amazon, and discovered my latest book, Nikon D5100 Experience, is caught in a Scott Kelby sandwich in the list of Photography Bestsellers in the Amazon Kindle Store.  Yes, his Digital Photography Book v.1 is at number 2 and his Digital Photography Book box set is at number 4.  And between them, in the number 3 spot, my Nikon D5100 Experience.  (Both of us being behind Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure which never budges from number 1.)

Have a look at all my e-books, including dSLR camera guides for the Nikon D5100, Nikon D7000, Canon 60D and Canon T3i (600D) on my Full Stop e-book website here.


Ten Tips and Tricks for the Nikon D7000

In addition to delivering great image quality, exceptional low light/high ISO performance, and rugged construction, the Nikon D7000 is an extremely sophisticated camera that can be highly customized to work exactly how you want or need it to.  Its autofocus system and metering system can be set up and tweaked according to your preferences, its buttons and dials can be assigned and customized for your most-used functions, its frame rates can be adjusted, its white balance fine-tuned, and much more.  I’ve spent a lot of time with the Nikon D7000 as I researched and wrote my e-book user’s guide to the D7000 called Nikon D7000 Experience, and here are the some of the top “tips and tricks” I’ve discovered for setting up and using this powerful dSLR (in no particular order):

(Looking for additional tips for the Nikon D7100? New post here.)

Nikon D7000 tips tricks book guide download how to learn
Detail of the Nikon D7000 – photo by author

1. Take Control of your Autofocus System: In order to always ensure that the camera autofocuses where and how you want, you need to take control of your AF system.  Use AF-S Autofocus Mode and Single Point AF Autofocus Area Mode for still subjects, and use AF-C Autofocus Mode and Dynamic Area AF or 3D-Tracking Autofocus Area Mode for tracking moving subjects.  Select your desired AF point so that the camera focuses on, or begins to track, your intended subject.  Press the AF Mode Button and then turn the Command and Sub-Command Dials to change the Autofocus Mode and Autofocus Area Mode as you view the settings on the top LCD screen.  There is so much more you can do with the AF system, including selecting the number of active AF points and determining exactly how it tracks moving subjects.  I wrote an entire previous post that goes into more detail about the settings and capabilities of the D7000 autofocus system.

2. Set up your Dual SD Memory Card Slots: The two memory card slots of the D7000 can function in a couple different ways, including using one for RAW and the other for JPEG files, saving all your images to both cards simultaneously, using the second card as overflow when the first one fills up, or saving stills to one and movies to the other.  You can set this up in the Shooting Menu under “Role played by card in slot 2.” To set how the cards function for saving videos, use the Shooting Menu > Movie Settings > Destination.

3. Set or Create a Picture Control for your JPEG Images and Movies: If you are shooting in RAW (NEF) or JPEG and will be post-processing your images in Photoshop, Lightroom, or using the Nikon software, then you don’t need to worry about Picture Controls.  If that is the case, set the Picture Control for Standard or Neutral and that way the images that you view on the camera’s rear LCD screen will be close to how they will appear in the actual RAW image file.  However if you are not post-processing, you will want the images to come out of the camera looking as you want them to, so you will need to set, customize, or create a Picture Control that best creates your desired look.  Adjust the contrast, saturation, brightness, and sharpening to achieve the look you are after.  Save the Picture Controls you have created to access them later.  You can even create your own styles using the included software, or find them online and download them.  There are styles to be found online that recreate the look of various roll films including Kodachrome and Velvia.

4. Verify that you Haven’t Over-Exposed Your Highlights: View your histogram along with your image during image review or image playback to confirm that you haven’t over- or under-exposed your image.  To see the Overview image-view that shows the histogram, press up or down on the Multi-controller during image playback to flip through the different available views.  The histogram will show you if your highlights or shadows have run off the graph, indicating that those areas of the image contain no detail in the highlights or shadows other than pure white or pure black.  In the RGB Histogram and Highlights view, the over-exposed highlights will also blink in the tiny image, indicating that those areas of the image have been “blown-out” and that there is no detail other than pure white in those parts of the image.  If you have over- or under-exposed your image, then…

5. Make use of Exposure Compensation: Explore the various options in Custom Setting b3 to customize exactly how exposure compensation works.  Set it so that you press the Exposure Compensation Button first before turning a dial to change EC, or have it set so that you can just turn a dial to quickly and directly change EC.  You can even select which dial you use with Custom Setting f6.  And you can set it so that the EC amount that you dialed in stays set for the subsequent shots, or that it is automatically reset to zero, depending on which controls you use to set EC.  This last option is the most sophisticated and most flexible, and may be the best one to learn and use.  Using this option, On (Auto reset), you can choose to turn a dial to directly adjust EC, but your EC setting will be reset when the camera or exposure meter turns off .  This is because you can still continue to use the Exposure Compensation Button with a Command Dial to set EC, but by setting it this way, EC will not be reset when the camera or meter turns off.  EC will only be automatically reset if you set it directly using the dial without the button.  So if you wish to use EC for just one shot, you can adjust EC with just the dial.  But if you wish to take a series of shots with the same adjusted EC, you can use the button/ dial combination to set it more “permanently.”  Pretty powerful stuff!  This is why you got the D7000, right?  So that you can take advantage of these sophisticated controls!

Brief Commercial Interruption: Are you already getting a little confused?  Want to learn more about these and other features of the D7000?   I recently completed an e-book user’s guide for the Nikon D7000 called Nikon D7000 Experience that explains all of this and much more.  The guide covers all the Menus, Custom Settings, functions and controls of the Nikon D7000, focusing modes, exposure modes, shooting modes, white balance, etc., PLUS when and why you may want to use them when shooting.  As one reader has said, “This book, together with the manual, is all you need to start discovering all the camera’s potential.” It will help you to take control of your camera and the images you create!  Learn more about the features and settings discussed in the ” tips and tricks” here and much more.  To read more about the book, preview it, and purchase it, see my Full Stop bookstore website here!
Nikon D7000 tips tricks book download manual
Nikon D7000 Experience by Douglas Klostermann

6. Fine-Tune the Exposure Metering Modes: Using Custom Setting b5, you can fine-tune the exposure for each of the different Exposure Metering Modes (Matrix, Center-Weighted Average, Spot), all independently.  For example, if you find that Center-Weighted metering is slightly under-exposing all the time, fine-tune it for +1/3 or +2/3 using Custom Setting b5.  This tweaks the exposure behind the scenes, independent of exposure compensation.  You can still continue to use EC as always, on top of this fine-tuning.

7. Lock Exposure and Focus Independently: Sometimes you need to lock the focus distance before recomposing, or lock the metered exposure setting for one shot or for several shots in a row.  Or sometimes you need to lock both focus and exposure for the same shot, perhaps independently of each other.  By default, the Shutter Button locks focus when you half-press it and exposure is determined when you fully press the Shutter Button to take the shot.  You can use Custom Setting c1 to have the Shutter Button half-press also lock exposure, or better yet use Custom Setting f3 to use the Fn Button for locking exposure.  You can even set it so that you either press and hold the Fn Button or just press it and release.  Then you can use Custom Setting f5 to set the AE-L/AF-L Button for locking focus.  This is known as back-button focusing and that way you can lock these settings independently.  Learning to use back-button focus and even exposure lock can be awkward at first, and you may not fully understand why it is necessary.  But I highly recommend starting to experiment with them, then hopefully getting in the habit of using them all the time – especially if you shoot a lot of action scenes or situations where you are rapidly taking lots of photos (perhaps a wedding and reception), or if you are recomposing your framing between when you focus and when you take the shot.  You may soon find them both indispensable and wonder how you once managed without them!

Nikon D7000 tips tricks how to instruction book download user guide learn
Detail of the Nikon D7000 – photo by author

8. Reverse the Values of the Exposure Indicators: In the viewfinder and on the top LCD screen of the Nikon D7000, the exposure indicator shows the negative values on the right and the positive values on the left.  Perhaps you find this as counter-intuitive as I do.  Ever since grade school, negative values have always been to the left!  Plus with the histogram, the brighter values are shown on the right of the graph, and thus to make use of exposure compensation you would dial to the negative side to correct for over-exposed values, thus moving your histogram to the left.  So why do you have to move the value to the right on the exposure indicator?  It can obviously cause great confusion!  Use Custom Setting f9 to reverse the indicators to the more logical orientation.

9. Put Your Most Used Settings in My Menu: Instead of digging into the menus and Custom Settings all the time to find your most used settings, you can create your own custom menu called My Menu, which is then quickly and easily accessed with the Menu Button.  You can even decide what order to list the items in.  Set up My Menu by selecting Choose Tab in the Recent Settings menu, and select My Menu.  Then Add Items and Rank Items in the order you desire.  You can add items from most all of the Menus and Custom Settings Menus.  Determine what settings you are digging into the menus to look for and change most often, and put them in My Menu, such as maybe Format and White Balance (for more WB options and fine-tuning).  I recommend you include Format since you should re-format your memory card each time you are ready to clear off that card, and not just Erase All.  However, put Format lower down in My Menu so that you don’t have a tragic memory card accident.

10. Make Use of the Other Exposure Modes: While Matrix Metering will do an excellent job of determining the proper exposure of an image the majority of the time, there are some situations where you may wish to use the other exposure modes – Center-Weighted Metering and Spot Metering.  This includes dramatically backlit situations, subjects with a dramatically dark background, scenes that contain a wide range of highlights and shadow areas, or other dramatic lighting situations.  It is best to turn to one of these other modes to ensure you properly meter for the subject and don’t blow the shot.  If the background is not dramatically lighter or darker than the subject, but you still want to ensure that the camera’s metering system concentrates on the subject and not the entire scene, use Center-Weighted.  This is a situation where you may wish to lock in the exposure and recompose if your subject is not going to be in the center in the final framing.  You can even use Custom Setting b4 to change the size of the area being metered with Center-Weighted metering.  If the background is very dark or light and you want the camera to ignore it and just meter on a certain critical area of the scene, use Spot metering.  Again, meter for that critical area, lock the exposure, and recompose.

10a. Quickly Use Spot Metering to Determine a Critical Exposure:  You can use Custom Setting f4 to assign the Depth-of-Field Preview Button to Spot Metering so that you can quickly meter for a precise area without having to take your eye from the viewfinder and change the Metering Mode.  Versatile Custom Settings such as this are a big part of what makes the D7000 such a powerful, customizable camera, and this demonstrates why it is worthwhile to completely understand and take advantage of these advances capabilities.

There are many more great features and settings of the Nikon D7000 to take advantage of.  You have a powerful camera in your hands, so why not learn to take advantage of its advanced features?!  Have a look at my e-book guide Nikon D7000 Experience to learn more about the settings, features, and controls mentioned here, and so much more.  Learn to take control of your camera and the images you create!

Also, please know that there aren’t really any tips or tricks for better photography.  To improve your photography, simply learn your camera inside and out and learn the techniques of dSLR photography (with my e-book!) and then practice, practice, practice taking images, study the results, and look at and learn from the work of talented photographers.

Have a look at that post I mentioned earlier about the autofocus system of the D7000, and another post I’ve written which discusses the Menus and Custom Settings of the D7000.  Some of the same items are addressed, but there is also much additional information to be found in the older posts.

Was this post helpful?  Please let others know about it by clicking the Facebook or Twitter sharing buttons below, linking to it from your blog or website, or mentioning it on a forum.  Thanks!  Want to help support this blog with no cost or effort?  Simply click on the Amazon and B&H Photo logos on the left side of this page to go to those sites and make your purchases.  They will then give me a little referral bonus!

Nikon Instant Savings on Cameras and Lenses

Buy a Nikon dSLR including the D5100, D7000 or D3100, with one of the selected lenses, and save up to $250 on the purchase!  Here is a page on Amazon with the complete instructions.  It involves putting both items in your cart – camera and lens – and then using the proper coupon code:

Instant Savings Amount by Lens
$250 off Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VR II Nikkor Telephoto Zoom Lens. Enter code 33YES67Y at checkout.
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$100 off Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S DX Nikkor Zoom Lens. Enter code V8DLU4TK at checkout.
$100 off Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens. Enter code ESZBSIIK at checkout.
$100 off Nikon 55-200mm f4-5.6G ED AF-S DX Nikkor Zoom Lens. Enter code ZRB9VW8Y at checkout.

Head over to Amazon by clicking here, and save!


The instant rebate is also going on with other retailers such as B&H.  B&H has an informative page with visually spells it all out nicely (click the link or the image):

Nikon dslr camera sale savings rebate b and h B&H


Exposure Lock, Focus Lock, and Back-Button Focusing

When I got my first dSLR camera, I went through the manual and tried to absorb how and why to use all the buttons, controls, and menu items.  I was about to head off to Peru for three months and I wanted to make sure I was going to be able to use it properly and get the most out of it right from the start.

For some reason it seemed odd to me that when you pressed the shutter button half-way both the focus AND the exposure were locked in.  I had never used an auto-focus SLR before (I went from a Canon AE-1 to a digital point and shoot and missed the whole EOS film SLR era) and always thought of focusing and setting the exposure as two separate acts.  Based on my experience with a digital point and shoot, I knew I often focused on the subject with the static middle square (this was several years ago, before face detection and moving auto-focus areas) and then recomposed to take the final shot.  With a dSLR, I thought to myself, wouldn’t the exposure change between the framing where I locked in the focus and exposure, and the final framing?  Even if using the other focus points of the dSLR and not just the center focus point, I found that my subjects rarely sat right under a focus point and I was often recomposing in order to get the composition I wanted.

I asked a few dSLR users about this, and they looked at me as if I had a Rocket Blower growing out of my head.  They didn’t seen to encounter or consider this problem.  So I dug into the manual and the very helpful David Busch digital SLR guide and discovered I could overcome this issue with exposure lock.  Indeed, this was a real issue that was addressed by dSLR controls, and I wasn’t out of my mind!

Canon 7D 60D T3i exposure lock focus lock back button focus Nikon D5100 D7000 AE-L AF-L
The Exposure Lock (*) Button and AF-ON Button of the Canon 7D

There are typically a few different ways to separate exposure lock and focus lock with current dSLR camera.  As described above, you can use the exposure lock button to first lock exposure, and then deal with focusing.  With a Canon this is done by pressing the button marked “*”.  With a Nikon, you can set the AE-L/AF-L button for auto exposure lock (hence AE-L).  But since Nikons by default don’t typically lock exposure with a half-press of the shutter button, you really don’t have to worry about it for the same reasons that you do with a Canon (such as when you are recomposing a shot, since the Nikon only locks focus and not exposure with a shutter button half-press, and then determines exposure when the shot is taken, exposure should be correct).

For a Canon you can also set it so that the half-press of the shutter button will lock exposure but not focus, and then use the AF-ON button to lock focus (the T3i does not have this button, thus it is done differently).  This is one method of what is called back-button focusing.  This can also be done with a Nikon using the AE-L/AF-L button for auto focus lock (hence AF-L).  You typically have to dig into the custom function settings on any of the cameras to change these settings and button functions.  The terminology can be confusing, so you may want to have a look at any of my e-book user’s guides which all discuss how to accomplish exposure lock and focus lock with the specific cameras.  So far I have guides for the Canon 60D and Rebel T3i, and Nikon D5100 and D7000.  You can learn more about them all here on my Full Stop e-book website.

For example with the Canon 60D, I explain how you can go into the menus and set the Shutter Button to Metering+AF Start and the AF-ON Button to AF Stop.  This setup will allow you to use the camera as you always have, in the default manner of the Shutter Button locking focus and exposure when pressed halfway.  The “*” button functions as before, locking exposure at any time when pressed.  But this also gives you the option of locking focus independent of exposure metering.  It is the best of both worlds.

Learning to use back-button focus and even exposure lock can be awkward at first, and you may not fully understand why it is necessary.  But I highly recommend starting to experiment with it, then hopefully getting in the habit of using it all the time – especially if you shoot a lot of action scenes or situations where you are rapidly taking lots of photos (perhaps a wedding and reception).  You may soon find it indispensable and wonder how you once managed without it!

Canon has an article about back-button focusing which explains all the various options here:

It is not specific to any camera, so you may have to determine how to implement it on your camera.

Best-Selling, Most Popular Guide to the Nikon D5100 Currently Available

My e-book user’s guide for the Nikon D5100, called Nikon D5100 Experience, is the best-selling, most popular guide to the camera currently available!  How did I learn this?  Because it is the only guide to the D5100 currently available!

Nikon D5100 book manual download how to instruction tutorial

Through the flexibility of independent e-publishing, Nikon D5100 Experience is available months before any of the other guides for this dSLR are available.  OK, so maybe one of the other ones is selling more in pre-orders – I have no way of knowing that.  But for all the guides currently available…mine is on top!  And is in the top spot for Kindle Hot New Releases in the Photo Equipment AND Photo Reference categories.  And I’m quite proud of it.

Even if it wasn’t the only one currently available, I still think it is the most helpful guide out there, explaining not only the features, controls, and functions of the camera, but more importantly when and why to use them in your photography.

You can learn a lot more about the guide on my Full Stop bookstore website here:

Want to become an affiliate and earn 25% commission for selling the PDF version of this e-book?  See here for complete details on how to sign up as an affiliate and make money referring sales of Full Stop e-books on your blog or website!