From the factory your new Canon DSLR is going to be setup for ease of use and a direct path from the box to shooting. However, there are a few small menu options you can change to make your camera more fool proof when in the heat of a shoot, or for it to simply work better for your style of shooting. The options below are all from my Canon 6D and 5DmkIV. Depending on the model, your camera might not have all the options mentioned, newer models may have additional options, or they may be under different menu headings. I highly recommend flipping through the manual that came with your camera, or looking into an in-depth camera video specific to your camera. KelbyOne has a great line of such videos.
Shooting Menu Options
Image Quality – RAW. I shoot everything in RAW format, gives me the maximum amount of data to work with while processing. Editing of Landscapes, Portraits, and especially Astrophotography will all greatly be improved if you have the RAW files. Occasionally for paid shoots of events time constraints may bring the need for jpgs back, but if you plan to do your own editing of any significance in Lightroom or Photoshop, make this change now. There is also the option to save both, but this will decrease the number of photos that will fit on your memory card as well as further slow down shots per second.
Release shutter without card – OFF. You’ll only forget putting a card in your camera once to wish you had turned this option on. Nothing like catching that perfect sunset, that perfect smile, or the rare bird flying through and not having anything to show for this.
Image Review – set this to the shortest possible length you’re willing to set it. I have mine set to 2 seconds. The longer this is set the shorter time your battery is going to last. Its also a good practice to avoid reviewing every photo you take. Once your exposure is dialed in via your histogram, and you like your composition, trust your eye.
Mirror Lockup – OFF/ON. I set this when shooting any sort of long exposure shots when I’m locked down on the tripod and want to do everything possible to minimize camera shake. Using LiveView also achieves this useful step in ensuring sharp photos.
ISO Speed Settings – depending on the camera, these may be located under different headings. On the 5DmkIV, it’s on the Shoot2 menu. This is where you can enable ISO50 (Low) ISO expansion – which I do on every Landscape camera I have. I do not however typically enable the HIGH ISO expansion. ISO50 is a ‘fake’ ISO, meaning that the camera is actually shooting at its lowest native ISO of 100, and then adjusting the exposure by 1-stop in camera. Highlight dynamic range can be impacted by this LOW setting in some conditions, but when used correctly can generate some very clean landscape images.
Color Space – AdobeRGB. AdobeRGB is a much larger color space than sRGB. Want to know if you’re shooting in AdobeRGB or sRGB, just check the prefix of your photo files. IMG_ = sRGB. _MG_ = AdobeRGB. Just make sure you also setup your Lightroom and other photo editing software to also use the same color space. Update Note: this only affects JPG! If you’re shooting in RAW (see that very first point) it’s your RAW converter that will determine the color space. It took me quite a while to learn this, but I still set every camera I buy up to shoot in AdobeRGB anyways.
Long exp. noise reduction – OFF. Some people might be tempted to turn this on for long exposures over 60 seconds, instead just put your lens cap on and shoot a single dark frame to use in Photoshop for the same effect. Only consider turning it on if you are going to be changing your exposure settings very frequently and don’t mind effectively doubling each exposure time (and missing any shots that come up in the gaps). If you’re planing to shoot star trails, absolutely don’t forget to leave this in the Off position.
Grid Display – 3×3+diag – this is the grid shown on the LCD screen in LiveView. 3×3 will display the rule-of-thirds, I’ve recently added the diagonals to the display which gives an additional visual guide.
Touch Shutter – (5DmkIV) – Off – this enables/disables the touch-screen Live View press to shoot. Tap the screen somewhere, the camera focuses and shoots. Since I’m almost always setup on a tripod, with either the 2-second delay or wired shutter release plugged in for the least amount of camera shake, I leave this off. The Live View touch to focus feature is useful though! Note, just above this setting is ‘Live View Shoot’ – this setting disables Live View functionality from what I can tell, certainly not something I do often!
I generally leave these settings alone as I am primarily a Landscape photographer. I’ll expand my thoughts on these settings after I get some more experience with my 5DmkIV under action shooting conditions.
Highlight alert – Enable. This is a great one, known as the “blinkies”. The best defense against clipping highlights or blacks, a quick glance at the playback to ensure no blinking warnings and you are sure to have all important data in all those pixels across your entire image.
Playback Grid – same options as the Grid Display available here, only for this option I only use the 3×3 grid. The diagonals are more information than I care to have laid over my photos on quick review.
Record func+card/folder sel. – this menu on cameras with dual card slots (7D, 5D series and others) is where you control how the dual slots are used. For the most part, I choose Rec. to Multiple, both saving RAW files to each card. Instant backup of my images. I use 64GB SD and CF cards in my 5DmkIV which usually last me at least 2-3 days of shooting in ‘target rich landscapes’. I will backup my card at night onto my external Hard Drive, and if needed erase the CF card when switching to a new SD card when the first is full. This ensures that there is at least two copies of every image somewhere on me during a trip.
File Numbering – Continuous. This is a must if you are not renaming your files in import into Lightroom or placing each shoot in its own folder.
Auto power off – like review time, set this as low as you are comfortable with. Mine is set at 2 mins typically Shooting all day out on the trail, this can save a lot of battery life.
Viewfinder Display (5DmkIV) – I have both the Electronic level and Grid display set to visible. Both provide good visual feedback while framing shots in the viewfinder.
GPS – ON/OFF. Only use when you need it. Even when the camera is off this option will drain a significant amount of battery. That said, I leave this on more often than not, but I also have a pile of batteries these days that I can throw into a camera if I left the GPS on for a week between uses. The 5DmkIV now has multi-mode GPS, Mode 2 turns the GPS off when the camera is powered off.
These are a situation-by-situation setup. I’ll cover some of my favorites in a future post.