Top Tips and Tricks for the Canon 5D Mark III

OK, I admit, I’m being a bit deceptive.  While this post will include “tips” for taking full advantage of the Canon EOS 5D Mk III, it won’t really contain any “tricks.”  That is because with digital photography, especially a camera as powerful and complex as the 5D3, there really aren’t any tricksTricks implies shortcuts, and to paraphrase Euclid, there is no royal road to dSLR photography.  Instead there are techniques and camera controls that can and should be learned.  These will then allow you to adapt not just to a specific situation or emulate a certain image or style, but will give you the tools and knowledge to adapt to any situation and create the images you desire.

I spent several intimate weeks with the Canon 5D Mk III as I researched and wrote my dSLR camera guide, Canon 5D Mark III Experience, the first (and hopefully best!) book available for the 5D Mk III.  In the process I learned and discovered a few obvious and not so obvious things about the 5D3 that will help you get the most from your camera.

Canon 5D mark III mk 3 Experience e book tips tricks how to learn manual guide instruction
Detail of the Canon 5D Mark III

Learn and Take Advantage of the Autofocus System

First and foremost is to learn, understand, and make full use of the new 61 Point autofocus system.  This powerful and highly customizable AF system will allow you to capture more sharp images of a variety of moving subjects which was not previously possible with the 5DII, or even the 7D.  But to do this you will need to take control of it in order to focus on, or begin tracking, your intended subject.  This involves making use of the AF Modes as well as the AF Area Selection Modes and AF Points.

For moving subjects you can then employ the AF Cases and their settings to let the camera know what to expect as far as subject movement.  AF subject tracking works in part by predicting where the subject will be when the Shutter is pressed, so if the camera knows the subject is going to be moving erratically about the frame and changing its rate of speed, then it can take measures to better follow this than if it is set for a subject that is expected to move smoothly at a steady rate.  Ten tips could easily be written about the autofocus system alone, but I will limit it to a few (my e-book guide Canon 5D Mark III Experience contains extensive explanation of the AF system and all its elements, if you wish to learn it inside and out.)

Canon 5d mark iii mk 3 auto focus autofocus 61 af point select
Simulated image of the Canon 5D Mark III viewfinder showing the 61 autofocus points, with the desired AF Point shown as the larger black square.

One of the essential steps in taking a successful and sharp photo is controlling where the camera autofocuses.  If you allow the camera to autofocus by automatically choosing its own focus point(s) (such as in Auto+ Shooting Mode or with One-Shot AF Mode and Auto Selection – 61 Point AF Area Selection Mode) it typically focuses on the closest object.  This may or may not be what you want to focus on, so you should select or at least narrow down where the camera focuses using the autofocus AF Points or Zones.  By doing so you are telling the camera exactly where to autofocus or to look to find a moving subject to track.  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.  If you are capturing an image of a bird in a tree, the camera has no idea you want the autofocus system to zero in on the bird so that it is in sharp focus and not the branches or leaves near it or the perhaps even the leaves closer to you.

You will select an AF Mode based on whether the subject is still or moving, and select an AF Area Selection Mode based on how large of an area you want the camera to look at to find your intended subject – ranging from a small spot to a wider Zone to all the available 61 AF Points.  You can set the AF Modes and AF Area Selection Modes in a variety of combinations based on what and how you are shooting.

Activate all the Available AF Area Selection Modes at first and experiment with them all.  Then if you decide that you will never or rarely use one or more of them, de-activate those modes so that you don’t have to “click” through them every time to select your desired mode.

canon 5d mark III mk 3 autofocus auto focus af point zone 61 af area selection mode
Available AF Area Selection Modes of the Canon 5D Mark III

Spot AF is Not Necessarily More Accurate than Single-Point AF.  You may be inclined to use Spot AF all the time, assuming it will be more accurate than Single-Point AF, but this is not advised.  Spot AF is designed for specific situations and autofocusing challenges, where you need to focus on a very precise area and avoid any surrounding or foreground objects that the AF system may otherwise lock onto.  This can include making sure you zero-in on a bird that is sitting among leaves and branches, or perhaps shooting through a fence to a subject beyond.  In those situations you may find that Single-Point AF searches back and forth between the near leaves/ fence and the further subject, because the area it is looking at to find the subject encompasses both potential subjects.  Spot AF will allow you to target in on a more precise area.  Although Spot AF is indicated in the Viewfinder by the tiny square within the larger selected AF Point square, Spot AF will actually pinpoint the focus to an area about the size of the larger square.

So while Spot AF will be more accurate in certain situations as described, it should not be used for general use.  Because it is so precise, the area it looks at to find contrast or a detail on which to focus may be an area of solid color.  For example if you used Spot AF to quickly focus on the general cheek and eye area of a face, it may be aimed at an area of skin without contrast, whereas the Single-Point AF area might encompass the cheek and the eye and thus find enough contrast to be able to properly and quickly focus.

Decide How Many Selectable AF Points you wish to Choose From.  If you are coming from a Canon 5D Mark II, the 60D, or any number of other previous Canon dSLR cameras, you may be used to only having 9 AF Point to choose from.  If you still wish to manually select a specific point or zone, you may find that 61 points are a bit overwhelming at first.  Even if you are used to the 19 AF Points of the Canon 7D, you may not wish to suddenly jump up to 61 AF Points.  So you can limit the number of AF Points you wish to choose from to either 15 or 9, or to just the more accurate cross-type points.  Unfortunately, the 9 points are not in the nice diamond pattern of previous EOS cameras, but you may find them to be more manageable.

canon 5d mark III mk 3 auto foucs autofocus af mode point area selection 61 11
Limit your Selectable AF Points if 61 are too many to deal with.

Choose Your Priority when Working in AI Servo – Focus or Release.  You will need to tell the camera what your priority is when shooting in AI Servo AF mode – is it to ensure that the subject is in focus, or that the shutter is release immediately, whether or not the subject is in focus?  There are two menu items to set the priority for the first image and the second and subsequent images if shooting in Continuous Shooting Mode.

For AI Servo 1st Image Priority, Release priority will prioritize shutter release, or immediately capturing the initial shot at the possible expense of exact focus.  Generally when taking a photo, you are supposed to half-press the Shutter Button, allow the camera to focus, then continue the full-press of the Shutter Button to take the image.  If you simply “mash” down the Shutter Button, this setting will cause the camera to take the photo without bothering to focus first.  Sometimes when photographing sports, news, or events, capturing the “decisive moment” may take priority over exact focus.

Setting for Focus priority will prioritize focus for the first shot, ensuring that the subject is in focus before the picture is taken.  So when you fully press the Shutter Button, this setting may cause a brief, perhaps micro-seconds delay while the camera confirms focus before actually releasing the shutter.

Equal priority is a slight compromise between Release and Focus priorities.  It allows a brief (perhaps micro-seconds) pause for the camera to possibly find focus before releasing the shutter.  It does not guarantee that the image will be in focus, but merely gives it more of a chance to find focus.  It generally seems to make more sense to choose Release or Focus based on your priority.

Canon 5D mark III mk 3 custom setting function control multi controller direct autofocus point
AI Servo 1st Image Priority menu to determine if capturing the shot or getting the subject in-focus is the priority.

AI Servo 2nd Image Priority is similar except that it applies to the second and subsequent images in the burst.  Setting for Speed (Shooting speed priority) will prioritize shutter release, or continuing the high speed burst at the possible expense of exact focus.

Setting for Focus will prioritize focus tracking for the following shot(s), ensuring that the subject is in focus as you continue to take the burst of images.  Again, this may cause a brief, perhaps micro-seconds delay while the camera confirms focus before releasing the shutter for each image.

Equal priority again allows a slight pause before each of the subsequent shots to perhaps give the camera time to find focus before releasing the shutter.  This pause may be slightly more pronounced when shooting in low light or low contrast situations.

These 1st Image Priority and 2nd Image Priority settings should be set in conjunction with each other, based on the type of situation you are photographing and thus your priorities.  Generally, it sharp images are your goal, you will want to set both for  Focus Priority.  You may sacrifice the maximum 6 frames per second (fps) continuous shooting speed (if you have the Drive Mode set for High Speed Continuous) as there might be a  couple micro-seconds or more delays as the camera ensures that the subject is in focus before taking the subsequent shots.  If you are capturing a “decisive moment” such as a runner at the finish line or a goal being scored, you will want to set one or both of the settings to Release Priority/ Speed Priority, but ensure somehow that you have pre-focused on the subject distance so the result is not wildly out of focus.  Again, I go into much more detail about the various combinations and when to make use of them in my e-book.

Set the Custom Controls for Multi-Controller Direct.  This will allow you to manually select your AF Point or Zone more quickly by simply toggling the Multi-Controller thumb joystick, without having to first press the AF Point Selection Button.  You have probably noticed, to the dismay of your muscle memory, that the AF Point Selection Button no longer controls image zoom.  This is because there are many more image review options that are now made possible by Comparative Playback (side by side image review), discussed just below.

canon 5d mark iii mk 3 multi controller direct af auto focus autofocus point select

canon 5d mark iii mk 3 auto focus autofocus multi controller direct af point select zone control custom function setting
Set the Multi-Controller for AF Point Direct Selection for ease and speed.

Take Advantage of Comparative Playback (Side by Side Image Review).  Of course you can instantly review the image you just captured on the rear LCD Monitor, but the 5D Mk III now also offers Comparative Image Playback Mode (Two-Image Display) which gives you the ability to simultaneously compare two images or two different sections of the same image.  Whereas before, one would have to “flip” back and forth between two images and navigate around the images, this feature allows for some extremely helpful and flexible image analysis that was previously only possible once you were back at your computer.

To enter Comparative Playback Mode during image playback or review, press the Creative Photo / Comparative Playback Button (at the top of the row on the left of the camera back), which is also indicated by the side-by-side blue squares icon for side-by-side image playback.  Use the SET Button to highlight which of the two image windows you wish to navigate, then use the Quick Control Dial or Main Dial to scroll or jump to the desired image, the Magnify Button followed by the top Main Dial to zoom in or out of the selected image, and the Multi-Controller to navigate around the selected image frame.  You can press the INFO Button repeatedly to change the Shooting Information Display in order to view shooting information and/ or the Histograms.  If you zoom in on a specific area of one image and wish to zoom in on the other image to the same magnification and same area of the image, press the SET Button to switch to the other image window, then press the [Q] Button.  Also, press and hold the Playback Button to view the highlighted image as a single, full-screen image.

canon 5d mark iii mk 3 view image lcd side by side comparative playback review rear screen
Comparative Playback Mode view of two different images, also showing the images’ Histograms.

There are several different viewing options and potential uses for Comparative Playback, whether you are simultaneously viewing two separate images or two areas of the same image.

-Display the active AF point(s).
-Preview alternate cropping guides.
-View the thumbnail plus the Luminance Histogram.
-View the thumbnail plus the RGB Histograms.
-View the thumbnail plus basic exposure information.

For two different images:
-Compare the compositions of two images simultaneously.
-Zoom in and simultaneously compare a specific area for focus or exposure.
-View the thumbnails along with histograms or basic exposure information of both images.

For the same image:
-Zoom in and simultaneously compare two separate areas of the same image to have a closer look at focus or exposure.
-View the entire image for overall composition while also zooming in to view an area of detail for focus or exposure (see Figure 61).

Set the Default Magnification for Image Review.  In order to immediately review your images according to your preferences, you should set the initial magnification and position that you will view an image during image review (Playback) when you press the Magnify Button.  You can set for no magnification (1x) and then use the top Main Dial to zoom in and out.  This can be handy if you have the image review set to initially show the Shooting Information Display with the Histogram.  Since the image in that view is a thumbnail, you can then press the Magnify Button to show the full size image.  After this initial zoom, you can then use the Main Dial to zoom in or out.

Or set for 2x, 4x, 8x, or 10x magnification and it will instantly zoom to that magnification when the Magnify Button is pressed.  Again, after this initial zoom, you can then use the Main Dial to zoom in or out.  Each of these magnifications will zoom from the center of the image.  Or you can set it to quickly zoom in to full size, 100% view of the pixels, zoomed into the AF Point where focus was achieved, using setting Actual size (from selected pt).  This can be useful to quickly check for precise focus, though note that if you focused with a selected AF Point and recomposed, it will zoom into the final position of that AF Point in the composition, not the actual position where you used it to focus on your subject.  But if you only recomposed slightly, it will often be easy to quickly navigate to the actual area of focus.  The setting Same as last magnif. (from ctr) will zoom in at the same magnification that you last viewed an image at, centered at the image center.

canon 5D mark III mk 3 magnify button lcd view zoom
Magnification menu to set how images are initially viewed during Playback when the Magnify Button is pressed.

 

I’m still putting this post together but wanted to share what I had already written.  Next week I will go into more detail about the tips below:

Turn on the Viewfinder Warnings

canon 5D mark III mk 3 viewfinder warning custom function setting

 

Auto Rotate Images in the Camera and on Your Computer

canon 5D mark III mk 3 auto rotate image view lcd

 

Use the Q Button for Quick Access to a Variety of Features for Still Images

canon 5d mark iii mk 3 q button control edit image view lcd

 

Make Use of the Silent Control Touch Pad and Q Button for Movie Shooting

canon 5d mark iii mk 3 movie video silent control touch pad q button menu

 

canon 5d mark iii mk 3 movie video silent control touch pad q button menu

 

All of the above information – and much, much more – can be found in Canon 5D Mark III Experience, my latest Full Stop dSLR user’s guide e book, which goes beyond the manual to help you learn the features, settings, and controls of the powerful and highly customizable EOS 5D Mk III, plus most importantly how, when, and why to use the functions, settings, and controls in your photography.

Written in the clear, concise, and comprehensive style of all Full Stop guides, Canon 5D Mark III Experience will help you learn to use your Canon 5D Mk 3 quickly and competently, to consistently create the types of images you want to capture. The e-book is available in either PDF, EPUB, or MOBI format for reading on any device.

Learn more about it, preview it, and purchase it here:
http://www.dojoklo.com/Full_Stop/Canon_5DMkIII_Experience.htm

As one Canon user has said about Full Stop guides, “I don’t know how I could fully take advantage of all the features the camera has to offer without this publication! It’s well-organized, easy to understand, and succinct enough to keep your attention while still containing a wealth of information to get the most out of your camera.”

Take control of your 5D Mk III, the image taking process, and the photos you create!

Canon 5D Mark III mk 3 book ebook manual guide tutorial instruction bible how to dummies field EOS

 

Taking Advantage of the Canon 5D Mark III / IV Autofocus System

The autofocus systems of the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 5D Mark IV are incredibly powerful and versatile, with their 61 AF Points, various pre-set AF “Cases,” and its Custom Function settings and redesigned menus to help photographers take advantage of its features.  The AF systems are designed to better enable you to lock onto and track moving subjects, so that when you take the shot the subject is ideally in focus, even when using Continuous Shooting to capture multiple shots.

For the basics of the Canon AF system, including the AF Modes, please see this other post first: Taking Control of Your Canon Autofocus System.  This post here will then address the additional features and options of the 5D3 and 5D4 AF system.  Most of the text below is excerpted from my e-book guides Canon 5D Mark III Experience and Canon 5D Mark IV Experience, where I write extensively about the 5D3  and 5D4 autofocus systems, including the numerous and important Auto Area Selection Modes.

Please note that some of the menu numbers, names, and options may vary slightly between the two cameras.

Canon 5D Mark III mk 3 autofocus auto-focus auto focus manual guide book
Antigua, Guatemala – simulated view of Canon 5D Mark III viewfinder and AF Points

All of these settings will apply when working in AI Servo Autofocus Mode.

First you will need to set the Autofocus (AF) Menu AF2: AI Servo settings to match your priorities:

AI Servo 1st Image Priority and AI Servo 1st Image Priority:  

Setting for Release priority will prioritize shutter release, or immediately capturing the initial shot and subsequent shots at the possible expense of exact focus.  Generally when taking a photo, you are supposed to half-press the Shutter Button, allow the camera to focus, then continue the full-press of the Shutter Button to take the image.  If you simply “mash” down the Shutter Button, this setting will cause the camera to take the photo without bothering to focus first.  Sometimes when photographing sports, news, or events, capturing the “decisive moment” may take priority over exact focus.

Setting for Focus priority will prioritize focus for the first shot and subsequent shots, ensuring that the subject is in focus before the picture is taken.  So when you fully press (or hold) the Shutter Button, this setting may cause a brief, perhaps micro-seconds delay while the camera confirms focus before actually releasing the shutter.

Equal priority is a slight compromise between Release and Focus priorities.  It allows a brief (perhaps micro-seconds) pause for the camera to possibly find focus before releasing the shutter.  It does not guarantee that the image will be in focus, but merely gives it more of a chance to find focus.  It generally seems to make more sense to choose Release or Focus based on your priority.

Then choose the AF Area Selection Mode that will best enable you to keep track of your subject.  Choose the some that is most accurate yet allows for the proper amount of lee-way if you are unable to keep the subject under your selected initial point at all times.  These settings include Single Point AF, AF Point Expansion 4 or 8 surrounding points, etc.  I will not go into detail about them here, but they are fully discussed in my guide.

Then find a “Case” setting which closely matches your needs

Case 1 – Versatile multi purpose setting

Tracking sensitivity:  0
Acceleration/deceleration tracking:  0
AF point auto switching:  0

Case 2 – Continue to track subjects, ignoring possible obstacles

Tracking sensitivity:  -1
Acceleration/deceleration tracking:  0
AF point auto switching:  0

Case 3 – Instantly focus on subjects suddenly entering AF points

Tracking sensitivity:  +1
Acceleration/deceleration tracking:  1
AF point auto switching:  0

Case 4 – For subjects that accelerate or decelerate quickly

Tracking sensitivity:  0
Acceleration/deceleration tracking:  1
AF point auto switching:  0

Case 5 – For erratic subjects moving quickly in any direction

Tracking sensitivity:  0
Acceleration/deceleration tracking:  0
AF point auto switching:  1

Case 6 – For subjects that change speed and move erratically

Tracking sensitivity:  0
Acceleration/deceleration tracking:  1
AF point auto switching:  1

These are the various options of these Cases which you can tweak for your specific needs:

Tracking sensitivity – This is the speed at which the AF system will switch from the initial subject to another subject when a new subject enters the focusing field of view or passes in front of the initial subject, or if you momentarily lose the subject that you are trying to keep positioned under a selected AF point. If you wish for it to quickly lock onto a new subject that enters the area you are focusing on, or rapidly switch intentionally between subjects at various distances, set for +2. If you wish to retain focus tracking on the same subject and ignore new or obstructing subjects set for -2. If your objective is somewhere in between, set accordingly at +1, 0, or -1.

Acceleration/deceleration tracking – AI Servo Autofocus Mode works in part by predicting the potential location of a subject based on the subject’s current speed and direction. In order to make these predictions more accurate, use this setting to tell the camera if the subject is accelerating/ decelerating at a steady pace, or if it is changing its speed more erratically. For subjects that move smoothly set for 0. If the subject moves erratically and may very suddenly speed up, slow down, start, or stop set for 2. Or set for 1 if the subject’s movements are somewhere in between these other options.

AF point auto switching – When you are using Auto Selection – 61 AF Point, Zone AF, or AF Point Expansion Autofocus Area Selection Modes this setting will adjust the speed at which the AF Points change to track a moving subject as it travels across the frame. Setting 0 is for a slow, gradual speed at which the surrounding AF Points will pick up and start tracking the subject if it moves away from the initially selected AF Point. Setting 1 will somewhat rapidly switch to a different AF Point, and setting 2 will most rapidly switch to a different AF Point. So for example, if you began tracking a subject with a selected point and the subject was quickly moving between it and the surrounding eight points, setting 0 would retain focus at the initial point expecting the subject to soon return to that primary point. Setting 2 would mean the surrounding points would immediately activate, pick up the moving subject as it entered their area of focus, and be used to focus on it.

Again, there is much more to the AF System and its Autofocus Modes, Autofocus Area Selection Modes, and Menu and Custom Function settings.  Please have a look at my e-book guides Canon 5D Mark III Experience and Canon 5D Mark IV Experience to learn more!

Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography

Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography is an e-book guide to help digital SLR photographers take control of their camera and the images they create.

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

Capturing great images with your dSLR should not be the occasional result of chance and luck.  By taking control of your camera, its functions, and its settings you can begin to work with consistency and intention and take the photos you desire.

Readers of my popular dSLR camera guides such as Nikon D5100 Experience and Your World 60D have benefited from the clear and concise explanations of digital SLR photography functions and concepts. With Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography all photographers can learn these essential elements necessary for taking full advantage of a dSLR including how, when and why to use the camera’s various functions and settings.

With this guide you will learn:

  • Controlling Your Autofocus System – focus where you want for sharp photos of still and moving subjects.
  • Understanding Apertures and using Aperture Priority Mode to capture dramatic depth of field.
  • Understanding Shutter Speed and using Shutter Priority Mode to freeze or express action.
  • Choosing the Metering Mode, Adjusting Exposure Compensation, and Using the Histogram for proper exposure in all lighting situations.
  • Determining proper ISO Settings and White Balance Settings.
  • Selecting JPEG or RAW image file format to save your images.
  • Improving Image Composition.
  • The Image Taking Process – a tutorial making use of all the steps learned.
  • …and more!

These are not simply photography “tips and tricks” but rather clear, concise, and useful explanations and examples of the fundamental functions, settings, and concepts of digital SLR photography. This 54 page illustrated PDF guide can help the novice or intermediate photographer better understand their camera and how to use it to its full capabilities to consistently capture better images, whether you shoot with a Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony, or Olympus dSLR camera.

Author:  Douglas Klostermann
Format:  PDF – Instant Download
Page Count:  54 pages, illustrated
ISBN:  978-1-4524-4764-3
Price: $8.99 new release sale!  $6.99
secure payment with PayPal or Credit card (via PayPal)
(plus 6.25% sales tax for residents of Massachusetts)

Buy Now with PayPal  or  Buy Now with your Visa/MC

 

Other versions of Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography are available:

The Kindle edition is available on Amazon
The Nook version is available at BarnesandNoble.com
The iPad and iBooks version is available through iTunes or through the iBooks App on your iPhone/iPad

Take control of your dSLR camera and the images you create!

.

.

New E-Book Camera Guide for the Canon 7D

I have completed an e-book camera user’s guide for the Canon EOS 7D called Canon 7D Experience.

Like all my previous Full Stop camera guides, Canon 7D Experience explains not only the features, functions, settings, and controls of the camera, but also – and more importantly – when and why to use them in your photography.  This includes metering modes, aperture and shutter priority modes (Av and Tv), advanced autofocus use, and more.  It also describes all the Menu settings and Custom Function settings – with recommended settings.  The guide also thoroughly explains the versatile and sophisticated autofocus system, which helps to make this such a unique and powerful camera.

Take control of your camera and the images you create!

Click on the cover image below or click here to learn more, preview, and purchase Canon 7D Experience.

Canon 7D EOS firmware 2 v 2.0 book ebook e-book manual how to instruction learn tutorial use tips tricks for dummies

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!

Ten Tips and Tricks for the Nikon D5100 / D5200

edit 3012-05-07: While this post was originally written for the Nikon D5100, all of these tips also apply to the D5200.  So while I work on an updated Nikon D5200 Tips and Tricks post, start out by making use of these tips.  And of course, they all still apply to the D5100.

nikon d5100 autofocus af system use learn tips tricks how to
Detail of the Nikon D5100

nikon d5200 autofocus af system use learn tips tricks how to dummies guide manual instruction tips tricks
Detail of the Nikon D5200

I’ve spent quite a bit of time with the Nikon D5100 as I researched and wrote my eBook user’s guide Nikon D5100 Experience (and now Nikon D5200 Experience also!), and here are some of the handy “tips and tricks” I’ve learned that may prove useful for you as you set up and use your D5100.  This camera has many features, Menu settings and Custom Settings you can use to make it operate how you want it to and to match your needs and shooting style, so it is worth-while to learn them and/ or to set them up according to your preferences.  For example, in no particular order:

1. Change the Flash Mode and Flash Exposure Compensation Quickly: You can quickly set your desired Flash Mode and then adjust the amount of Flash Exposure Compensation with the press of a button or two and the Command Dial.  Press the Flash Mode Button to raise the flash in P, A, S, or M mode, then press and hold it and turn the Command Dial to change the Flash Mode (Fill Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, Rear-Curtain Sync, etc.).  Press the Flash Mode Button (also the Flash Compensation Button) and the Exposure Compensation Button and turn the Command Dial, and you can quickly change the Flash Compensation as you view it on the Information Display Screen.

Nikon D5100 tips tricks book guide manual instruction user guide for dummies experience
Top of the Nikon D5100 with flash settings controls

2. Assign the Function (Fn) Button: You can use Custom Setting f2 to assign a different function to the Function (Fn) Button than the default Self-Timer setting.  Figure out which setting you change most often or need handy at your fingertips.  Some that I think are most useful are ISO Sensitivity, White Balance, or Auto Bracketing. You can also assign it to +RAW so that if you are shooting in JPEG but have a great image you want an NEF(RAW) copy of also, press the Fn Button first then take the photo, and you will save a copy of the image in both formats.

3. Adjust the Auto Off Timers: Use Custom Setting c2 to set how long the various displays stay visible on the rear LCD Monitor.  Though it may be convenient for them to stay on a long while, that will drain your battery more quickly.  But if they turn off too soon, it is annoying and could affect your shooting in a demanding situation.  So find a happy compromise.  You can set them all to stay on for a reasonable length by setting for NORM, or you can adjust them individually.  My preference is Playback/ menus 20s or 1min; Image review 4s or 8s; Live View 3 min or 5 min; Auto meter-off 20s or 1 min.  The first person to leave a comment on this post correctly telling the difference between Playback and Image Review will get a FREE copy of my latest eBook user’s guide for the Nikon D5100 called Nikon D5100 Experience! See later in this post for more info on this user’s guide – the only guide currently available for the Nikon D5100!

Custom Setting c2 – Auto-off timers

4. See if You Have Over-Exposed Your Highlights: You have to tell the camera which playback views you would like the option of seeing when you look at your images on the rear LCD Monitor, and thus be able to view your histograms and over-exposed highlights.  In the Playback Menu under Playback Display Options, check the ones you want to be able to view.  Two of the most important ones are Highlights and Overview.  These two will let you know if you’ve blown-out (over-exposed) your highlights.  The Highlights view will do this by having those areas of your image blink.  The Overview view will show you by displaying the histogram, which 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.

Overview playback view showing the histogram – (note you should set your JPEGs for FINE not NORMAL as I realized the camera default is set at)

5. Set a Precise Fluorescent White Balance: When you change the White Balance (WB) setting using the i Button and Information Display Screen, you can choose from several white balance options including Fluorescent White Balance.  However, there are several types of fluorescent light bulbs ranging in temperature from perhaps 3,000K to 6,5000K.  To tell the camera which one to adjust for, you have to go behind the scenes to the WB options in the Shooting Menu.  There you can set which fluorescent option to use, such as Warm-white or Cool-white.  You can also access this menu item to set your own custom Preset White Balance using a couple different methods.

6. 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, such as the White Balance settings just described, 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.  Some possible items to add could be perhaps auto bracketing or HDR if you often make use of those.

Brief Commercial Interruption: How did I learn all these useful and convenient settings?  I just completed an eBook user’s guide for the Nikon D5100 called Nikon D5100 Experience. (and now Nikon D5200 Experience also). Following in the footsteps of my bestselling Nikon D7000 Experience, these guides cover all the Menus, Custom  Settings, functions and controls of the Nikon D5100 and D5200, focusing modes, exposure modes, shooting modes, white balance, etc., PLUS when and why you want to use them when shooting.  As one reader has said of my previous D7000 guide, “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 them, preview them, and purchase, see my Full Stop bookstore website here!

Nikon D5100 tips tricks book guide manual instruction "for dummies" Experience Douglas Klostermann     Nikon D5200 tips tricks book guide manual instruction dummies Experience Douglas Klostermann
Nikon D5100 Experience eBook user’s guide

7. Lock Your Focus and/ or Your Exposure Settings Before Recomposing Your Shot: When you press and hold the Shutter-Release Button, the focus distance is locked (or you start tracking the subject in AF-C and AF-A modes), but the exposure is determined when the photo is taken. You can customize how this button and the AE-L/AF-L button function so that you can do back-button focusing, lock the exposure, swap the function of the two buttons, or several other options dealing with focus and exposure.

8. Create Images with More Impact Without Photoshop, Using Picture Controls: If you are not going to be processing all your images in Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, etc, you can set or create a Picture Control so that your JPEG images (and videos) have the look you want.  Boost the contrast and saturation, or sharpen them a bit.  You can even shoot in black and white or sepia (though it is best to shoot in color and capture an image with all the original information first).  You can save your custom Picture Controls, create your own with the included software, or find ones online then load them on your camera.  Some available online include Picture Controls that mimic the look of roll films such as Kodachrome or Velvia.  But be careful with setting or adjusting Picture Controls if shooting in RAW.  Find out why in my user’s guide!

Adjusting the Picture Control settings

9. Set the ISO Sensitivity Control to Help you out in Difficult Situations: Of course you can adjust the ISO setting on the fly, but you can also set up the camera to automatically adjust some settings if you are in a situation where the lighting changes and the camera determines you will not be able to get the shot without some adjustments to the ISO and/ or shutter speed.   You can set this in the Shooting Menu under ISO Sensitivity Settings, where you can turn this option on, then tell the camera the maximum ISO and minimum shutter speed to use in these situations.  I suggest you set the ISO no higher than 3200 or 6400 if you are willing to accept some noise, and the minimum shutter speed for around 1/30, which you can still hand-hold if careful.  However, if you are carefully metering and adjusting your settings and you don’t like the camera making these types of settings changes without your expressed permission, be sure to turn this setting off.

Setting the ISO Sensitivity Settings

10. Have the Camera Assist You with Manual Focusing: Although digital SLR cameras are designed to be used with their sophisticated autofocus systems, some users prefer to manually focus or are using older manual focus lenses.  And situations such as close up and macro photography sometimes require precise manual focusing.  If you are going to be turning off the autofocus on your camera and lens, you can have the camera assist you in focusing with the Rangefinder.  The camera uses the exposure indicator in the viewfinder to tell you if you are focusing in front of or behind your subject, or if you are in focus.

There are numerous other cool settings you can take advantage of with your D5100 or D5200, including things like Auto Bracketing for Exposure, in-camera HDR, reversing the direction of your Command Dial or exposure indicator, changing the format and color of your Information Display, adjusting your file sizes and types to maximize your maximum continuous burst rate, and determining your best settings for video shooting.  All of these and more are discussed in my e-book user’s guides, Nikon D5100 Experience and Nikon D5200 Experience, both available now.  Learn more about the books, preview them, and purchase at my Full Stop website here. 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.

I put together a video and a more in-depth article to introduce and further explain the D5100 autofocus system:

For more detailed information read the article Taking Advantage of the Nikon D5100 Autofocus System.

Still haven’t purchased your Nikon D5100, or need a better lens? Check them out on Amazon below.  I appreciate it if you use these referral links to make your purchase – Amazon will give me a small referral bonus which helps support this blog!  Or use the other camera store links on the left side of this page.  Thanks!

See and buy the Nikon D5100 with 18-55mm Lens on Amazon

See and buy the Nikon D5100 – Body Only on Amazon

Look for a new Nikon Lens on Amazon – I suggest considering the high quality, versatile, all-purpose
Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G VR

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!