Here are some custom functions, af configurations and general settings I like to use when setting up my Canon 5D mark III camera. The 1DX shares a lot of DNA with the 5D3, therefore a lot of these options can also be found on the 1DX. Other Canon cameras may also have some of these features though they may be called something slightly different.
These are very much personal preferences, there is no right or wrong but taking the time to explore these options allows you to think about how to configure your camera in the best way possible for your own personal situations, on the most part it will save you time and allows the camera to behave in a predictable manner.
So let’s get started in no particular order…
This is especially useful when using two or more cameras. In my case I have a 1DX and the 5D3 so I prefix all 5D3 files with ’5D3′ and all 1DX files with ’1DX’ so I instantly know which files came from which camera at a glance.
I use the second option here so that images shot vertically are properly rotated on the computer but not in camera. This is because I prefer seeing as much of vertically shot images as possible in camera at a glance.
VF Grid display
This is one of the huge benefits of an transmissive LCD focusing screen. Gone are the days when you had to buy a separate focusing screen with grid lines to help you perfectly line up and compose shots. You can now enable a grid overlay in the viewfinder via this menu.
Rate button function
Though I can see how rating images in-camera can be useful, I rarely use it and much prefer to use the ‘rate’ button to mark images as ‘protect’. I mostly use this for sport; after taking several bursts of images I’ll quickly review images I want to keep. I use the rate button to protect images I want to keep then later when there is a pause in the action, I go back and use the ‘Erase Images’ menu option to delete all images but it will not delete protected images. I find this workflow when shooting lots of bursts a quicker way to ‘chimp’ and keep the in-camera image count low so I don’t have a lot of images to edit later.
I covered this on my 5D mark II Custom Functions post here http://corleve.com/2010/5d-mark-ii-custom-functions, I enable this on every Canon camera where this feature is available.
Number of bracketed shots
Very much a personal preference but I mostly use between 5 to 7 shots for HDR depending on the dynamic range of the scene. Having said this, on average, more shots will almost always give more smoother transitions and gradients within high contrast areas of images when HDR processing.
Shutter release half-press and AF-ON button assignment
I use the combination of the above two configurations so that a half-press of the shutter only performs metering whilst auto-focus is performed strictly by the AF-ON button on the back of the camera, usually where your thumb is. At times I may assign the shutter release half-press to the auto-exposure lock (AE lock) option indicated by the asterisk ‘*’ in the first menu, which allows me to lock exposure.
Moving the auto-focus operation away from the shutter release button and assigning it to a separate button not only allows you to focus on one area, lock exposure from another area and recompose but also allows you to be creative in continuous focus modes.
Another example when this configuration comes in handy is when shooting in conditions where focus lock is not always needed. If you know a subject is going to be exactly X distance away and they don’t move too much, you can simply use the shutter to take the images and in continuous shooting mode the camera will be faster because it doesn’t have to focus on the subject thereby maximising the continuous shooting speed.
DOF Preview button assignment
I rarely use the depth of field preview button for what it was built for. I configure the DOF preview button so it allows me to instantly switch between One-Shot and AI-Servo auto-focus modes. This has saved me many times, especially at weddings. You no longer have to take your eye off the action to look at the camera and switch between auto-focus modes, you simply hold down the DOF preview button and AI-Servo mode automatically kicks in, then let go if you want to go back to One-Shot focus mode. Brilliant!!
Default Erase option
When deleting an individual image, by default the highlighted option is “Cancel”. To actually delete an image you have to move across to “Delete” and press Enter. In fleeting situations these are too many steps. By enabling this option it reduces the number of actions to delete an image to 2 actions; simply press the delete button then hit Enter.
This has existed on many Canon cameras for many generations but it’s worth mentioning if you have not used it before. It’s simply a great way of collecting some of your most used options on a one-page menu so you don’t have to hunt around for your most commonly used options. You could set this up in-camera but the easiest way I find is to connect the camera to the PC and use Canon’s software, it’s a lot quicker and easier to find the menu options you want to assign to the ‘My Menu’ page.
AI-Servo 1st and 2nd image priority
This changes how the camera behaves by favouring a faster shutter release with less lag or more processing time devoted to acquiring proper focus. Changing these options will come down to the kinds of situations you find yourself in. If you’re a paparazzi snapper, you’ll probably want to change the 1st image priority to be shutter release to ensure you get the shot, no matter how finely out of focus your shot may be.
If time and a patient subject is on your side, you can balance the camera more toward taking better focused images – keep in mind these settings only affect AI-Servo mode, there is a separate setting you can use for One-Shot focus mode. In general situations however, I prefer to set my camera up so that the 1st image is balanced between quick release and acquiring focus whilst in subsequent images I prefer to have well focused images as opposed to a quick release as the camera is relatively quick anyway.
AF-assist beam firing
This option has been around on Canon for many years. I enable this option so that only the infra-red beam from external Canon flash units is emitted when trying to achieve focus, especially in dark environments. If you leave this option on ‘Enable’ and you are in dark conditions where the infra-red beam is still not enough for the camera to achieve focus, the flash will emit a series of stroboscopic flashes and it’s blindingly annoying – not a good way to treat guests but fine for inanimate objects.
One-Shot AF release prior
This will change depending on the kinds of subjects and environments you shoot in but generally I prefer well focused images instead of a faster shutter release as the focusing time of the camera is fairly fast anyway. If you are a paparazzi snapper, you probably want to select ‘Release’ as this will get you that all important shot without any lag whilst sacrificing some focus, but who cares when a slightly out of focus shot can still potentially earn you thousands right?
Lens drive when AF impossible
When the camera comes across difficult situations to achieve focus such as opaque surfaces, dark lit subjects or shooting on or through glass, by default the camera will start to ‘hunt’ for focus. Should the camera begin to hunt it’s a sign that something isn’t right and you should change your technique in trying to achieve focus rather than praying that the camera will eventually catch onto something.
For example, when shooting a human subject at low light and the camera starts endlessly hunting, your subject begins to grow tired of waiting for you to take a shot. By changing this option to ‘Stop focus search’, the camera will first try to focus but if it can’t, it will stop focusing. Knowing that the camera can’t get focus means you can now quickly try a number of other techniques to try and achieve focus such as focusing on something else along the focal plane next to the subject then recomposing, among other things.
By not changing this option, should you let the camera continue to hunt for focus, it will be a long time before you realise you cannot actually get focus and it leaves your subject a little frustrated.
Selectable AF point
Canon have done an excellent job here of now allowing you to select only cross-type AF points to use for focusing. Cross-type AF points are a significantly more reliable type of focus point than the horizontal or vertical only sensitive AF points. It will help land focus quicker and easier because cross type points are sensitive to horizontal and vertical patterns on subjects. Focus points tend to look for edges in patterns as they usually have some contrast that helps achieve focus.
AF area selection method
I prefer using the main dial to switch between AF methods. When using the main dial, as you cycle through AF methods and go too fast past an option you can easily dial backward whereas using the single Mf-n button means you have to keep cycling through until you land back at the selection method you missed.
Orientation linked AF point
This is an awesome feature! I first saw this feature on the Canon 1D mark IV. This feature enables the camera to remember which AF point you selected in either horizontal or vertical held camera positions. I like to use this at fashion catwalk shows where usually I’d pick the top-most AF point for models when the camera is held vertically but use the left-most or right-most AF point for focusing on guests when the camera is held horizontally. I capture the model as they walk down the catwalk then once they turn I can quickly switch to a horizontal position to catch guests’ reactions instead of fiddling with AF points or focus-recomposing. Many more uses for this feature but this is just one example of how I like to use it.
Manual AF pt. selection pattern
Say you’re at the left most edge of the AF point grid and you quickly need to get over to the right-most AF point, by having this enabled, instead of moving the joystick many times to the right, you only need to move it to the left and the AF point selection will move across to the other side of the screen. Having this option enabled makes it very fast if you tend to use the outer most AF points of the AF grid and switch between the extreme edges a lot. You can press down on the middle of the joystick to return to the center AF point at any time.
AF point display during focus
This changes when AF points are made visible during the auto-focus operation. I like to view all AF points at all times so I know where potentially useful AF points are landing on the subject. It not only quickly helps frame subjects but can also help in immediately determining which AF point is the best to use for a particular situation then switch to that AF point.
VF display illumination
I prefer having the viewfinder display illuminated at all times. On ‘Auto’ the camera will know if it’s a dark environment and will automatically turn on illumination. However, I have found even when shooting during the day or in bright conditions, if you have an AF point trained on dark/black objects, you actually can’t make out the AF point properly so having this illumination on all the time allows you to still see it.
AF config. tool
If you’ve ever used Canon’s 1D cameras prior to the 1DX you will greatly appreciate this newly designed AF menu. This menu only applies when using AI-Servo. Canon have done a fantastic job here of simplifying the configuration of the AF system. I won’t go into detail of what each case does and what each sub-option does but all I’ll say is for general shooting, I prefer using Case 2. 90% of the time, I prefer tracking a subject without letting obstacles between myself and the subject get in the way and the sensitivity of this is mainly dictated by the ‘Tracking sensitivity’ sub-option. Other options like ‘Accel./decel tracking’ and ‘AF pt auto switching’ are options I then fine tune depending on the situation but on the most part, Case 2 is my favourite for most situations.
The beep that’s referred to here is the focus confirmation beep that sounds whenever you’ve achieved focus on a subject. It might be reassuring to hear but when you already have a focus confirmation indicator in the viewfinder, it’s just a double-up of information. Not to mention, it annoys guests at weddings and quiet gatherings. Turn it off.
Shutter release without card
Ever been in a situation when you start taking images, everything is cocher only to realise you haven’t inserted a memory card and you only just saw the warning on the back of the camera at the end of a shoot? Well that’s where this feature comes in. When enabled the camera will not let you take an image unless a memory card is inserted – this will save you some day.
This will be a controversial decision. Unless you’re working with high-end calibrated monitors and delivering images to clients that use high end calibrated printers or viewing on high-end calibrated equipment, save yourself the heartache and go with sRGB. This will open a can of worms for sure but there is a common misconception that shooting AdobeRGB will automatically grant you the largest colour gammut and best editing possibilities. Well yes, it does but you also have to have a monitor that can actually view 100% of the AdobeRGB gammut.
Even if you do have a monitor that can view 100% AdobeRGB, you have to think about your clients and how they will use the images. If the images simply end up being used on a website (which for me is 90% of the time), the majority of the world’s monitors still only view ~ 72% of sRGB. In addition to this you’d better hope they use either Safari or Firefox because they are the only browsers that can read embedded colour profiles. There is so much going on on this mix that you have to think of the target client, what their use is and the lowest common denominator. If the image is for the masses and will most likely be viewed on monitors all over the world, sRGB is your best bet to render images to your intent without any outside colours being lost or incorrectly translated to a lower colour space.
Do not underestimate the power of creating your own picture styles, it will shave hours off your editing workflow especially when shooting JPEG and give you better results when shooting video. Creating and uploading picture styles can be done via Canon’s own picture style software that comes with the camera. Using the software you can tweak a lot of variables such as curves, hues, luminescence, tone, etc.
For example, I know with fashion catwalk I prefer to shift certain narrow hues to achieve good skin tones. This would probably suit editorial/agency photographers where you need to turn around images very quickly with minimal to zero editing. The CineStyle picturestyle can be downloaded free from the Technicolor website and is a must if you’re shooting video – it’s a very flat contrast and neutral colour style suited for post production video editing.