Words and pictures by Carl Weese
For more than four years now, most of the time I have my digital cameras set to a “custom mode,” not the the usual M/A/S/P modes on the dial. Most references I’ve seen recommend this feature—which many digital cameras now have in some form—for managing groups of different in-camera JPEG settings. I’m sure it's useful for that too, but I always shoot RAW captures and yet I still find custom modes extremely useful.
Back in 2011 on a shooting expedition, for the second time in a couple of days I grabbed the camera from the car seat, jumped out and began shooting, only to find the ISO had switched to 3200, which was not an acceptable level for the Lumix G3 I was using. I got the settings back where I wanted them, made some pictures, found nothing I wanted to shoot with my large format cameras, so got back in the car and decided to figure out what had gone wrong. It didn’t take long. The camera’s control buttons were softer touch than I’d like. If you pick up the camera and hit the ‘right arrow’ button on the controller, it opens the ISO dialog. You see that in the finder as you raise the camera and can quickly dismiss it. But if you bump the right arrow button twice, the second hit sets ISO 3200. When I got to my hotel room that night, I called up the PDF of the instruction manual on my MacBook and looked up the custom mode function. I’ve been using it ever since.
A custom mode memorizes a whole suite of camera function settings. If an accidental button push sends ISO through the roof, just move the mode dial from C1 to C2 and back again, and your whole custom suite of settings is restored in a split second. You don’t have to figure out exactly what got changed. You don’t have to remember what your favorite settings are, or what menus to find them on. So having custom settings can bail you out on an accidental button push. Also, what if you are trying to work with a situation and decide, first that you need to dial in –.66 exposure compensation, then realize it would be better to switch to single-point AF, etc. When you move on, flip the dial, or turn the power off and when you actuate the camera again it will be at your custom settings.
There’s much more. I just want to give an idea of how useful this is, not tell everyone how to set up their cameras, and I can’t address the many camera-specific variations out there, but here are a couple of examples. The Lumix GX7 cameras I’m using now have three “custom” positions on the mode dial, and number three can open to a menu with three choices, for a total of five suites of custom settings. I won’t bore you with all five of my suites, but I’ll illustrate how useful they are by detailing my most and least often used sets.
C1 is my default for walkabout shooting, which is what I do the most with a handheld digital camera. AE is set to aperture priority; ISO is auto, top-limited to 3200; in-body stabilization is active; AF is multi-point with touch screen AF disabled (too easy to actuate accidentally with a camera over my shoulder); drive is single frame; and all the other functions that I never change are sitting at default.
When a subject calls for a tripod, for me it’s usually also calling for a large format film camera. When I actually want to use a tripod for digital capture, the camera will perform better with a very different suite of settings. So, in C3-3, aperture priority AE remains, but ISO is locked to base level; in-body stabilization is switched off (important, and oh so easy to overlook); AF is switched to single point, with touch screen AF active; drive is two-second delay.
Even though it requires a menu call and tap, switching from C1 to C3-3 doesn’t take two seconds, and I can do it while I’m mounting the camera to the tripod head, so it really doesn’t take any time at all. I’m not always in a rush, but anything that speeds up camera handling is helpful when speed is important. When the tripod shot is done, it also takes effectively no time at all to return to C1 (or C2, C3-1, C3-2) without having to locate and execute half a dozen settings scattered across four or more menus buried multiple levels deep—or having to remember what all those settings and menu positions are anyway.
Spending the time to work out a group of custom setting suites that work well for the ways you make pictures simply makes your camera a better tool. I recommend it.
TOP Contributing Editor Carl Weese is a photographer, writer, and workshop teacher based in Connecticut. There are many online galleries of his pictures at his website, and he publishes a daily picture blog.
©2015 by Carl Weese, all rights reserved
Original contents copyright 2015 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
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Featured Comments from:
Michael Matthews: "This could be the most helpful suggestion I've run across in years. We know the custom settings option is available, but how many use them in this way? I'd always thought of custom settings to mean unusual combinations for very precise needs. It's finally clear to me that this may offer the cure for my ham-handed mishandling of Micro 4/3 cameras which seem to keep changing their settings spontaneously. At last—the 'lock all' button which has eluded me."
Tim Wilson: "Carl, I have used this extensively on the OM-D E-M1. You can assign any of the mode dial positions to a custom function set. My two main configurations are for hand-held aperture preferred (Image stabilizer on, plus other stuff) and one for tripod shooting (IS off, two-second delay from exposure). I have put the tripod mode dial name on labels on the top of my tripod to remind me to reset. Works great."