How To Read Your Camera Manual (and why you really, really should!)

The post How To Read Your Camera Manual (and why you really, really should!) appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Camera manuals are notoriously difficult to read and understand. Often they are not read as much, or as well, as they should be. You need to read your camera manual because it contains vital information that will help you to become a better photographer.

How To Read Your Camera Manual Night Camera

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Just as we need to learn the alphabet before we can learn to read and write, we must learn the basics of operating our cameras in order to take the best photos we can.

Reading it from cover to cover is not necessary. There will not be a test on how much you can remember.

The best way to use your camera manual

Begin to skim with your camera in your hands. Look through the contents and take note of what’s covered. Mark which items you think may be of particular interest to you. Some you will be able to just glance over. Others may be just painfully obvious, like this from the Nikon D800 manual;

“When operating the viewfinder diopter adjustment control with your eye to the viewfinder, care should be taken not to put your finger in your eye accidentally.”

I would add that it’s always a good idea not to put your finger in your eye, even when you are not adjusting your diopter.

If you’ve just bought a new camera and it’s a model you’re not familiar with, you’ll need to pay more attention to the manual. For camera users who are upgrading you will be best to scan the book for what’s been upgraded since your previous model. Sometimes these may be highlighted.

How To Read Your Camera Manual Camera In Hand

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Break your reading down into bite-size chunks. Don’t attempt to read and understand everything you need to know about your camera in one sitting. It’s a complex piece of equipment. Spread your reading out over a few days or a week.

Give yourself time to practice what you are reading about. Getting hands-on experience will help you retain what you’re learning about and make it much more relatable.

Do not read it all

Choose to learn the essentials first. Find out how to focus it and set the exposure well. There will be various options available to you. Start reading about the ones most applicable to the way you like to photograph.

If you are completely new to photography and not yet sure which exposure mode you prefer, take some time to read through all the options.

How To Read Your Camera Manual Happy Photographer

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Getting a good start by understanding the basics of your camera leaves you freer to concentrate on photography. Don’t be filling your mind with more than you need to know. At the start you are not likely to need information about producing video, making multiple exposures or how to adjust the customs settings on your camera. These things can wait until you can find your way around your camera comfortably.

Carry your manual with you

Download a PDF of your camera manual to your phone. Take it with you everywhere so you can refer to it when you get stuck with a camera setting.

How To Read Your Camera Manual Chinese Woman Photographer

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Practical application of the information contained in this little book will help you get to know your camera better. But only if you use it well. Hands on is best.

Once it’s on your phone you can take a few minutes to read a little more on the bus or train or whenever you have a few minutes to spare.

Consider buying a book specifically about your camera (that’s not the manual)

I have purchased books and resources about cameras I own by Thom Hogan. Thom is well known for his incredibly detailed writing about Nikon cameras. I find he’s much easier to read than the camera manuals.

How To Read Your Camera Manual Learning Photography

©Pansa Landwer-Johan

His books are well laid out and the information is broken down so it’s readily consumed.

This may be beyond the needs or wants of many photographers, but for those who have the time and want the resources, picking up a book, other than your camera manual will help advance you towards better picture taking.

Aim to be able to forget it all

As you become more confident and competent with your camera, you will have little need for your camera manual. Well, I would hope that before long you have put what you’ve read to good use and can remember it effortlessly.

How To Read Your Camera Manual Camera In Hand 2

©Pansa Landwer-Johan

Having the ability to pick up your camera and have it ready to take photos in any situation is well worth aiming for. The more you can concentrate on what’s happening in front of you the better photos you’ll obtain.

Gazing down at the camera in your hands as you try and figure out which settings you want to use leads to you missing out. You may be able to take your best photos when you are focused more on what you are making photographs about than what you are making them with.

The post How To Read Your Camera Manual (and why you really, really should!) appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Gear Review – Fikaz Sony E-Mount Lens Adapters

The post Gear Review – Fikaz Sony E-Mount Lens Adapters appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Not too many years ago, in a sad and dark time, there weren’t many ways for us adventurous types to branch out in ways we used our photography gear. Namely, our camera lenses weren’t easily usable across platforms. It was possible, but adapters and converters weren’t plentiful or easy to find.

1 - Gear Review - Fikaz Sony E-Mount Lens Adapters

Today, mirrorless, full-frame, and crop-sensor cameras are essentially pairable with many lenses. Adapters for these lenses are relatively easy to find too. So much so, that there is an over-saturation of the lens conversion market making most lens mount adapters affordable for any budget.

Unfortunately, not all lens adapters are created equal. So when Fikaz, a company I had never heard of, approached me to test out some of their new Sony E-Mount (NEX) adapters, I was open-minded but still cautious of yet another lens adapter-maker.

Luckily, all of my reservations about the Fikaz Sony E-Mount lens adapters were unfounded. As it turns out, the two adapters I received were pleasantly high-quality pieces of kit. Let me explain to you what I thought about these nifty little adapters from one of the newest kids on the lens converter block.

As I said, the lens adapter world is a hot commodity right now and being able to use your lenses (especially manual vintage lenses) is currently in vogue. The two adapters I evaluated were the Nikon F (G) to Sony E-Mount and M42 to Sony E-Mount. Both adapters were high quality in both aesthetics and their build.

Nikon F (G) Adapter

Until their recent leap into the full-frame mirrorless realm, and since the late 1950s, all of Nikon’s lens mounts have been variations of the “F” mount. So technically, virtually all Nikon lenses should be compatible with a Nikon F-mount adapter.

The caveat is that later “G” series lenses (read as modern) don’t sport a physical aperture ring on the lens itself. This missing aperture ring means that while the lens is physically shootable with most F-mount lens adapters, there is nowhere for the photographer to change the aperture. A dedicated G-mount adapter comes in handy because the shooter can use the aperture ring on the adapter to physically control the amount of light entering the camera via the lens.

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The Nikon F (G) adapter is solidly built and feels extremely substantial in the hand. The aperture controller ring is a nicely contrasting silver against the black frame of the adapter.

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The Nikon F (G) adapter was tested using my relatively ancient Nikkor 70-300mm F/4-5.6 lens. Both the lens and camera sides of the adapter fit extremely snug…but not too snug…to the lens bayonet and the camera mount. Absolutely no play or movement was observed.

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A well placed and crisply-springy release slider is also present on the adapter which is, again, in the visually pleasing contrasting silver tone. Fikaz has also included a highly visible red bead for easy mating of both the lens and camera with the adapter.

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From what I would approximate, the aperture ring, or rather more accurately, the “aperture approximator” ring works in full stop increments with six stops of adjustment. Basing my lens at 70mm and F/4, the apertures provided from the adapter should be approximately F/4, F/5.6, F/8, and so on. The adapter has a visual representation to aid you in selecting aperture size.

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Aperture control using the Fikaz Nikon F (G) to Sony E-mount adapter

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Aperture control using the Fikaz Nikon F (G) to Sony E-mount adapter


M42 Adapter

I had intended to test the Fikaz M42 to Sony E-mount adapter using a fan-favorite lens, the Helios 44-2. Unfortunately, I realized far too late that my Helios was not in my bag. Seeing as I’m currently 3,000 miles from my test lens, this portion of the review shows my impressions of the build and appearance of the M42 adapter only. Which I must say, is extremely impressive for its price tag.

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The M42 adapter from Fikaz is incredibly Spartan in its appearance. The majority of the converter is mostly flat black with accenting bare aluminum areas which cut an understated yet classical form. Like the Nikon adapter, the markings are well executed and quite clean. The threads on the M42 side are very uniform and smooth with no burrs or metal shavings present.

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This same level of craftsmanship also holds through for the Sony bayonet end of the adapter which shows no flaws in the cutting or finish of the mount. The perimeter of the M42 adapter sports deep cut serrations offering a superb grip even with gloved hands.

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Final Thoughts on the Fikaz Sony E-mount Adapters for Nikon F(G) and M42

In the grand scope of things, both the construction quality and thoughtfulness of design displayed with Fikaz’s first entries into the world of mirrorless adapters impressed me. Hopefully, both the build and looks of the adapters hint at great things to come too.

The Nikon F (G) adapter worked extremely well to allow a large measure of aperture control with newer Nikon lenses and mated perfectly to my 70-300mm test lens. However, I wasn’t able to test the M42 mount with a lens, the build and precision left little doubt that it would also perform well.

That said, there are some things to keep in mind about the M42 (and any other non-AF adapters). Essentially, all that is needed is a mount conversion. There is no real need for the relatively large size of the adapter which can affect infinity focus. While the M42 adapter has an excellent build, it may be beneficial to search for a slimmer “ring” adapter if you are worried about focusing issues.

On that note, the Fikaz adapters both feature black paint on their interior but no flocking to eliminate possible reflections. This shouldn’t be a problem, but maybe a concern for those seeking complete security for lengthy exposures.

Currently, the Fikaz Sony E-mount adapters are available for the following lens mounts: Nikon F (G), M42, Pentax K, and Fuji X mount. I have been informed that Canon EF mount will be available in the future. At the time this review, these adapters have a selling price of around US$24, making them a bargain. There are plenty of choices for lens adapters and converters today. Some are high quality and others, well, not so much.

I feel as if Fikaz can now join the ranks of some of the better budget adapters currently on the market. A bonus for those who are looking at a cost-effective way to use their lenses across a wide range of camera systems.

The post Gear Review – Fikaz Sony E-Mount Lens Adapters appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Win One of Two Lenses from Tamron!

The post Win One of Two Lenses from Tamron! appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

Win a Tamron Grand Prize 100-400mm (model A035) in winner’s choice of Canon or Nikon mount, and a Tamron 45mm (model F013) in winner’s choice of Canon, Nikon or Sony-A mount.

Over the last several years, here at dPS, we’ve run some very popular competitions with our partners to give away some of their great photographic products to lucky dPS readers. We are fortunate enough to be able to do it again this month. For this competition, Tamron is giving away TWO lenses.

Win one of two lenses from Tamron

These two unique prizes are designed to help every level of photographer create BETTER pictures. Tamron is the world’s most awarded photographic lens line. Each prize will be won by a different dPS reader.

Here’s what you could win:

Grand Prize

100-400mm F/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD

Our Grand Prize Winner will receive a Tamron 100-400mm F/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD Ultra Telephoto Zoom Lens. 100-400mm Di VC USD Ultra Telephoto Zoom – Value $799. Winner’s choice of Canon or Nikon Mount. No Substitutions.

2nd Prize

SP 45mm F/1.8DiVC USD

The 2nd Prize Winner will receive a Tamron SP 45mm F/1.8 Di VC USD with Hi-Resolution and image stabilization – Value $599. Winner’s choice of Canon, Nikon or Sony-A mount. Sony Mount Model with VC. No substitutions.

Learn a little more about Tamron here.

How to win

To win this competition you’ll need to:

  • Visit the above lens’ information pages and learn more about the lens’ and their core use.
  • Leave a comment below and tell us why you’d like to win and HOW you would you utilize your chosen lens. Please note: there is a limit of ONE entry per person.
  • Deadline to enter is January 3, 2019, 11:59 p.m. PST (UTC-8). Comments left after the deadline will not be considered. Do this in the next 21 days, and on January 7, 2019, the team will choose the best two answers and we will announce the winners in the following days.
  • The winner is responsible for any taxes, tariffs, etc.

By “best” – we’re looking for you to show an understanding of the lenses and how they will best suit your needs. So, you’ll need to check out the product pages to put yourself in the best position to win. There’s no need to write essay-length comments – but we’re looking to hear what you like about the lens and how it would help your development as a photographer.

This contest is open to everyone, no matter where you live – but there is only one entry per person. To enter – simply leave your comment below.

Focal length: 300mm Exposure: F/8.0 1/500sec ISO: 200
Tamron Stock Photo


Focal length: 45mm Exposure: F/1.8 1/320sec
Tamron Stock Photo


About Tamron

Disclaimer: Tamron is a paid partner of dPS.

The post Win One of Two Lenses from Tamron! appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

Going Back to Basics – My Week With a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Lens

The post Going Back to Basics – My Week With a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Lens appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.

The demise of my first Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens was an unfortunate one.

First, I dropped it – which is OK.

It happens. Still recoverable, I know.

Until, clumsily, I stood on it too.

And, just to be sure it was finished, what was left of the lens then rolled down a small hill. When I caught up, I scooped it up in my hands, all scratches and broken glass. It was my first, and I was gutted.

Nevertheless, after what seemed like an appropriate period of mourning, I did what any photographer would. I bought something newer, and shinier.

I decided to graduate to a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. From there it was all systems go, zooming in and out of those hard to reach spots and enjoying the freedom that a versatile medium-range workhorse affords. And despite the occasional bashing here and there, its been my go-to lens ever since.

Recently, however, I acquired another Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II. Just like my old one, but much less crunched. So I decided to see what going back to a prime lens would be like. Especially after relying so heavily on the reach of the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. Here’s a quick rundown on my week with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II and why a break from your old favorite can be surprisingly beneficial.

Suddenly lighter

The first difference I noticed after clicking the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II into place was the weight, or should I say, the lack thereof? The bulk of the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM was enormous compared to the little ‘plastic fantastic’ (as the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II has come to be known). Photographing with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, I had a lot less neck pain, which meant I could stay out shooting for longer without needing some painkillers.

Ditching the weight of the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM had another benefit too. Without swinging around a heavy lens, I was able to move a lot more freely. I could crouch, jump up and down, do some parkour…

Okay, I’m not that athletic.

However, being able to move allowed me to line up shots with more ease.

A lighter lens meant I could easily sneak my camera under this umbrella for a photograph

Slowing it down

The technical differences between Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, and the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II took some getting used to – zoom being one of the most pronounced. Instead of getting closer to a subject in-camera, I needed to reassess what I wanted to achieve. This meant strategically positioning my body to get the shot. Sure, I walk around seeking out subjects to photograph all the time. But, with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, I needed to be just a little more active to get the image I was after.

Sticking with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II got me thinking about the physical and mental elements that come together to create a successful shot. It made me slow down and appreciate the machinations of photography and the tactility of the image-making process.

Lots of light

One of the biggest differences between the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM and the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is written in the name of the lenses themselves. It’s aperture. While the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM can manage a valiant F/4, it doesn’t quite cut the mustard compared to the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, opening up to an aperture of f/1.8.

What does this all mean? Basically, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II can allow a lot more light to pass through to the camera’s sensor. That’s a big deal in low lighting conditions. For example, shooting at night with the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM may require a much slower shutter speed or higher ISO value to achieve the same exposure the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II can at a faster shutter speed and a lower ISO. This means that the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II can produce much better image quality in low light.

Photographing in darker environments can be challenging. But the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II allowed me to experiment at different times of the day without having to worry about available light. Of course, its a consideration when calculating exposure, but I was a lot less concerned about clogging up my images with insane amounts of noise than I would be with the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM in the same conditions.

The f/1.8 aperture of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II allowed me to take this shot with a lot less noise and a faster shutter speed

Extension tubes

Another benefit of the ample aperture of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is its versatility when coupled with a set of extension tubes. Extension tubes physically move your lens away from the focal plane. This makes the minimum focusing distance (the shortest distance at which a lens can focus) smaller, meaning you can get closer to your subject while still maintaining focus. It’s a way to shoot macro photography without an expensive dedicated lens.

However, extension tubes do have their drawbacks. One of them being diminishing the available light in a scene. With the addition of each extension tube, less light is able to reach the camera sensor. This drop in light can be difficult to contend with if you don’t have a tripod and a perfectly still subject. A fast lens like the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is ideal in this situation. Even on a terribly overcast day, I was able to get some nice, sharp shots at a decent shutter speed. It meant that I could hand-hold my camera to take macro shots that may have required a tripod with the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM.


One aspect of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens that I was eager to experiment with was its capacity for bokeh. A Japanese word meaning ‘blur’or ‘blurry’, bokeh refers to the quality of the out of focus parts of an image. The term is often used to describe how unfocused bright points in a scene are rendered as disks of light in a photograph.

While all lenses are capable of bokeh effects, zoom lenses tend to smooth a background over rather than shape it. Prime lenses, on the other hand, deliver a more defined disk-like bokeh result. In addition, bokeh requires the lowest possible aperture value to take full effect. This makes the maximum f/1.8 aperture of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II ideal for some sweet bokeh magic.

Seeking out opportunities for bokeh made me re-evaluate my surroundings. I had to quickly develop an eye for points of light that I could use to disperse into globes of color. But with the ease that a small camera lens affords, the little ‘nifty fifty’ produced some really fascinating results with little effort on my part.

Testing bokeh out on a rainy night in the city


There are plenty of other comparisons to explore between the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II and the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. I know, a week isn’t a very long time to truly get accustomed to a new piece of equipment, but challenging myself to a week of prime-lens-only photography was a lot less difficult than I thought it would be.

In fact, it was pretty fun!

Up until now, I’ve been a one-camera-one-lens kinda gal.

But playing around with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II made me think twice about my equipment repertoire. And with the weight and maneuverability of a small mammal, captivating bokeh and such a tight performance in low light conditions, I think I might just add it to the camera bag too. Just in case.

Without stepping on it this time.


Do you use the nifty fifty? What are your thoughts?

The post Going Back to Basics – My Week With a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Lens appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.

Gear: DJI Mavic Air Drone Review – Better than the Mavic Pro?

The post Gear: DJI Mavic Air Drone Review – Better than the Mavic Pro? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

1 - Gear: DJI Mavic Air Drone Review - Better than the Mavic Pro?

Slowly but surely I’ve begun to set my sights higher when it comes to my photography. Literally. I got my first real taste of aerial photography/videography a few months ago when I used the DJI Mavic Pro drone for the first time. A whole new world opened up with a brilliant “aha” moment when I realized that a bird’s eye perspective can lend itself to an incredible expansion of creative ideas.

So when the good folks at DJI asked me to have a go at their Mavic Air drone…it was difficult to say no.

Being primarily a landscape and wilderness photographer, the super-small size of the Mavic Air made it immediately appealing, as did the fact that the imaging performance was rumored to be on par with that of its larger cousin, the Mavic Pro and Mavic 2 Pro.

Sit back, relax, and let’s have a look at the incredibly capable, incredibly small Mavic Air drone from DJI.

Out of the box

Opening up the package for the DJI Mavic Air Drone proved to be an exercise true to the drone’s namesake. The Air is surprisingly small and most of all, lightweight. I was honestly taken aback at just how minute of a profile the aircraft presented; easily fitting in the palm of my hand.

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In fact, the AIR isn’t much larger than the provided radio controller.

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Visually, the drone is beautiful. My test model came in “Alpine White” color but red and black flavors are also available.

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The Mavic Air is simply a great looking drone in this color scheme. Of course, form should always follow function.

Here’s a list of the key aircraft specifications for the Mavic Air:

  • Folded Dimensions(L×W×H): 6.6″x 3.3″x1.9″(168×83×49mm)
  • UnfoldedmDimensions(L×W×H): 6.6″x 7.2″x 2.5″(168×184×64mm)
  • Flight Vision Senors: Downward, Forward, Backward
  • Controllable Gimbal Range: Tilt: -90° to 0° (default setting),-90° to +17° (extended)

Build quality

Even though the Mavic AIR is admittedly small, the build quality is extremely sturdy. The drone does not feel flimsy at all. Throughout my tests and a couple of crashes (sorry DJI), this little drone sustained little more than a few scrapes and scratches.

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In terms of build quality, the Mavic Air feels less substantial than it’s big brother, the Mavic Pro (and 2 Pro). The overall quality is apparent. I would not worry about the Mavic Air being capable of surviving extended (and turbulent) fly time.

Flight performance and handling

If you’re like me, anything that has a “Sport Mode” function makes you extremely excited. More on that fun little feature in just minute, but first let’s discuss how the Mavic Air handles…well…in the air.

The DJI Mavic Air Drone has a maximum horizontal flight speed of 17.9mph (28.8kph) which is just a tad slower than the DJI’s new Mavic 2 Pro, which clocks a blistering 44.7mph (72kph) and is even more sluggish than the 31mph (50kph) speed of the DJI Spark. These numbers, however, are slightly deceptive as the relatively sloth-like horizontal speeds of the Air are all in “P-Mode”, which could be considered the mode best for general flight.

Where the Mavic Air really earns it’s wings (haha drone humor) is when it’s Sport Mode is engaged. This kicks the Mavic Air’s top horizontal speed up to a hearty 42.5mph (68.4kph). Here’s a quick video of the Mavic Air in Sport Mode. To be honest, the acceleration when in Sport Mode would make the Millennium Falcon a little bit jealous.

I absolutely love the Sport Mode of the Air because it allowed me to use P-Mode for the majority of my flying time to conserve battery life. At the same time, I knew that I could really stomp the gas to fly into or out of trouble extremely quickly.

Overall, the handling of the Air was responsive and accurate during radio control although not as snappy as the Mavic Pro.

Speaking of radio control, I want to take a moment to give the remote control of the Mavic Air a little bit of love. Not only does the controller feel great both with and without my mobile device mounted but it also features removal joysticks. This makes the controller even more packable.

A small feature but one that speaks volumes to the amount of thought DJI put into making the Mavic Air truly user-friendly.

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The ascent speed of 9.84fts (3ms) was actually more comfortable and controllable for my personal tastes when compared to the meteoric 16.4fts (5ms) of the Mavic Pro.

Here are a few more important performance specifications for the Mavic Air:

  • Maximum Descent Speed: 6.56 ft/s / 2 m/s
  • Maximum Wind Resistance: 23.61 mph / 38 km/h
  • Flight Ceiling: 16,404′ / 5000 m
  • Maximum Flight Time: 21 Minutes
  • Maximum Hover Time: 20 Minutes

Camera performance

The proof is in the pudding as they say and the Mavic Air produced some beautiful video and stills with its 12MP camera. Some useful specs of the Mavic Air camera are as follows (provided by DJI):

  • Sensor: 1/2.3” CMOS
  • Lens FOV: 85°
  • 35 mm Format Equivalent: 24 mm
  • Aperture: f/2.8
  • Shooting Range: 0.5m to infinity
  • ISO Range Video: 100 – 3200 (auto),100 – 3200 (manual)
  • Photo ISO Range: 100 – 1600 (auto),100 – 3200 (manual)
  • Shutter Speed Electronic Shutter: 8 – 1/8000s
  • Still Image Size: 4:3(4056×3040),16:9:(4056×2280)
  • Burst shooting: 3/5/7 frames
  • Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB): 3/5 bracketed frames at 0.7EV Bias


  • Video Resolution 4K Ultra HD: 3840×2160 24/25/30p
  • 2.7K: 2720×1530 24/25/30/48/50/60p
  • FHD: 1920×1080 24/25/30/48/50/60/120p
  • HD: 1280×720 24/25/30/48/50/60/120p
  • Max Video Bitrate 100Mbps
  • Supported File System FAT32
  • Photo Format JPEG/DNG (RAW)
  • Video Format MP4/MOV (H.264/MPEG-4 AVC)

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Here’s a quick video short made using the Mavic Air. Shot in 1080P at 30fps:

Another extremely convenient feature that bears mentioning about the Mavic Air is the inclusion of an 8GB internal “last ditch” memory storage. This bit of built-in memory is an incredibly practical way to ensure that you aren’t completely immobilized by either a forgotten or full memory card. During one of my flights, I managed to fill up my micro SD card, and the 8GB of internal storage really saved the day. Especially if it had been crucial that I finished shooting the scene at the time.

Final thoughts on the DJI Mavic Air

How to best characterize the Mavic Air?

I will admit that before I received the Air I was under the impression that it was going to be a step down from the Mavic Pro I had tested previously.

This is simply not the case.

In fact, I can confidently say that I prefer the Mavic Air to the Mavic Pro based on my testing.

The Mavic Air is extremely compact while still packing in the imaging power of it’s larger cousins. It looks great and can hold its own while in flight.

And that Sport Mode….sheesh.

If you’re looking for an extremely portable yet powerful drone for your aerial photography and videography needs that won’t break the bank, I strongly suggest you have a look at the DJI Mavic Air Drone. It seems great things truly can come in small packages.

Have you used the DJI Mavic Air Drone? If so, share with us your thoughts in the comments below.

The post Gear: DJI Mavic Air Drone Review – Better than the Mavic Pro? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Photography Equipment Tips for an Africa Photo Safari

The post Photography Equipment Tips for an Africa Photo Safari appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Andrew Sproule.

There’s no doubt that booking and planning for an Africa photo safari is an exciting time, especially if it’s your very first venture. As a photo safari tour leader, I’m used to the process. Nevertheless, I still behave very much like a child in anticipation of what Christmas brings. As your departure date draws nearer, your thoughts move to packing for your trip. Although the appropriate clothing is essential, these trips are really about amazing wildlife encounters, shared experiences and capturing memories. It’s time to think about your photography equipment, – your gear.

It’s time to pack your camera bag!

Author’s Note

Before I dive in, I would like to state that this article represents my tips for maximizing your experience while on an Africa photo safari. It’s a guide with a mix of opinion and facts based on my on-location, in-the-field experience. It’s a summary, an introduction and not a laboratory review and therefore should be treated as such.

Secondly, I always recommend photography enthusiasts choose a safari designed explicitly with photographers in mind. General ‘tourist’ safaris have their place, but they’re much more likely to be governed by a species timetable. Lion, check. Move on. Buffalo, check. Move on. You get the picture. On a dedicated Africa photo safari trip, not only will you share a vehicle (often customized for photographers) with liked minded people, you’ll also benefit from being able to spend much more time with an individual animal or group of animals. You’ll be able to witness unusual behaviors and explore different angles and lighting situations. Explicit and invaluable guidance and advice are also on tap.

Thirdly, you’ll notice that I’ve included my camera settings below a number of the images. These settings worked for me in those particular situations, under certain conditions to produce the type of image I was after. I suggest you use these posted settings as a guide only. Instead, think about how these images might look if you were to adjust the shutter speed, aperture or ISO. Then, take that information into the field with you. The relationship between these elements can create widely different outcomes and also help you to define your style.

Leopard, Botswana. Canon 1DX, Canon 70-200mm(at 105mm), f/2.8, ISO 400, 1/125th sec handheld. Image © Andrew Sproule

Cameras for an Africa Photo Safari

Notice I have stated ‘cameras’ in the title and not ‘camera.’ I recommend you take at least two camera bodies with you. On the surface, this may seem like overkill or even a touch extravagant, but there are valid reasons why.

Firstly, it’s peace of mind. Imagine the heart-sinking moment if your camera fails. That emotion is tenfold if it happens on day one of a two-week photo safari! Whether you take two DSLRs, two mirrorless cameras, a combination of both, or an alternative solution, possessing a backup prevents any unnecessary anxiety. Before I purchased a second camera body, I used to hire one for my Africa trips. I still do this on occasion. It’s a great way of testing and trialing gear in the field beforehand and working out what works best for you.

Secondly, Africa is an extraordinarily harsh and dusty environment. Sand and dust particles are the enemies of sensitive camera sensors. Consequently, eliminating the need to swap lenses while on location can be a huge plus.

Furthermore, having two cameras armed with different lenses (for example a telephoto lens and a mid-range zoom), you’ll find it easy to switch between them. Switching between them is useful when wildlife comes too close, or if you are pulling away for a wide shot of wildlife in context of its habitat. Being able to adapt to shifting conditions can mean the difference between capturing, or not capturing the shot.

Not everyone is in a position to take two cameras. It also doesn’t matter whether your camera is full-frame, crop-sensor or another type, as there are pros and cons to all. What is fundamental is that you know your camera intimately. Practice on your dog, your cat or deer in a local park. Whatever you can. The more familiar you are with your camera’s features, the quicker you’ll be able to adjust to conditions that unfold in front of you with confidence.

Lenses for an Africa Photo Safari

Super-telephoto lenses with a focal length of 300mm plus are the staple for most Africa photo safaris. For crop-sensor cameras, 300mm should be ideal. If you intend to photograph birds as well as large game, the longer the focal length, the better. Full-frame cameras usually need lenses of 400m+.

Wild dog, Botswana. Canon 1DX, Canon 500mm, f/5.6, ISO 200, +2/3 EV, 1/160th sec, monopod. Image © Andrew Sproule

Although my go-to lens is a 500mm, I believe the versatility of zoom lenses make them ideal for African safaris. There’s such a wide variety of birds and mammals of a degree of varying sizes and distances that a good lens option would be something like the 100-400mm.

A short-zoom lens in the range of 24-70mm is also a great option as it provides the flexibility to pull away to present wildlife within its environment, adding real context to an image. Because I’m also a landscape photographer, I also favor super-wide lenses in the range of 16-35mm or 14-24mm.

Much of Africa’s wildlife is active in the early mornings and late evenings meaning you’ll be battling low levels of light. Lenses with larger apertures, such as f/2.8, allow more available light into the camera, so you’ll be able to use a reasonably high shutter speed for much longer. These lenses are a luxury item though, so an alternative solution is to increase the ISO. Doing so most certainly increases noise, but most photographers would rather have a sharp shot with an acceptable amount of noise than an out of focus shot with no noise. In many cases, you can eradicate most noise in post-production.

Filters for an Africa Photo Safari

I often use filters when composing landscape images, and on an Africa photo safari there are most certainly circumstances when the use of a filter is advantageous. For filters that reduce glare, saturate colors and darken skies, I recommend using a polariser filter.
If you need help to correctly expose bright skies, while preserving exposure detail in the foreground, then I recommend an ND filter.

Camera Support on an Africa Photo Safari

Burchell’s Zebra, Kenya. Canon 1DX, Canon 500mm, f/4, ISO 200, 1/50th sec, bean bag. Image © Andrew Sproule

Bean Bags

Bean bags are my go-to support, especially in East Africa. They are a simple, yet extremely effective support for your camera. Bean bags can be used to rest your lens on a vehicle’s doorsills, window frames, roof rails and the actual roof itself. Also, wildlife is often on the move, so you’re not limited to one position within the vehicle. Many reputable Africa photo safari tour operators provide beanbags. However, that said, it is always worthwhile double-checking beforehand. Bean bags can pack light and get filled with rice or beans on arrival. Some photographers prefer to fill their beanbags with lightweight polystyrene balls before they leave. It’s bulkier but a lightweight alternative. I’ve been using a couple of Kinesis SafariSacks 4.2™ for a while. As well as being a great support, the quick release straps secure the bags in place, so you never lose them in the bush.

A typical East Africa safari vehicle. Image courtesy of Governors Camp, Maasai Mara, Kenya

Unfortunately, bean bags are not a universal solution, contrary to what you may have read in certain books or magazine articles. Although they’re a fantastic solution in East Africa, they’re not as useful in Southern Africa (including South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe). The reason is that the vehicles there are radically different. Safaris in Southern Africa use open Land Rovers and Land Cruisers with no sides at all – often there isn’t even a windshield! So, there is nothing on which to rest the beanbag. In Namibia, both open Land Rovers and closed vehicles are in common use.

A typical Southern Africa safari vehicle. Image courtesy of Motswari Private Game Reserve, South Africa


If a bean bag is not an option, a monopod offers a lightweight and more practical alternative to use within the confines of a safari vehicle. Especially in Southern Africa. You don’t need to extend it entirely, and it takes the strain from your arms and shoulders while seated. It’s surprising how effective it can be. I have tested many monopods over the years and have found that Gitzo Monopods™ best suit my needs. I also use a Really Right Stuff™ lever-style, quick release that makes the process of taking lenses on and off the monopod very fast.


A tripod is useful or even an essential piece of kit for evening photography, longer exposures or for around the camp. Although, the wide-spread tripod legs make them impractical and ill-advised for most safari vehicles. However, if you’re in an open vehicle on your own, or perhaps with one other, a tripod can be rigged to provide an excellent platform for larger lenses. To avoid badly damaging your camera from vehicle shake, always remove your camera from the tripod while on the move.

Some airlines take a dim view of tripods, and you may find it difficult to persuade them to let you take it in the cabin as part of your hand luggage. If it’s going in the hold, it can take up more of your baggage weight allowance.


I often use a ball head or gimbal head on a Manfrotto® Superclamp that can be bolted almost anywhere, including a vehicle’s roof bars. If I’m on my own, or part of a tiny group, I may even have several of these clamps placed in strategic points around the vehicle making it extremely easy to switch from side to side and back to front.

Manfrotto 035 Superclamp. Image courtesy of Manfrotto®

Storing Images while on an Africa Photo Safari


You could easily take 300-500 images a day. Trigger-happy photographers may even have over 1,000, so a small laptop with external hard drives are useful for securely backing up your photographs. If weight restrictions allow, two hard drives that mirror each other is a great solution. Remember to pack essential items such as connecting cables, chargers and memory card readers.

Memory Cards

An alternative solution to external hard drives is to bring extra memory cards. You can file these away at the end of each day. That way, you are safe in the knowledge that your data remains untouched until you arrive home. If you don’t like the idea of swapping out memory cards too often, go for larger capacity ones such as 32GB. That said, I don’t like to put all my eggs in one basket, and therefore I opt for 2 or 3 smaller cards in favor of one larger one.

Accessories for an Africa Photo Safari


Get to know what you can expect out of your camera with regards to battery life and take enough spares to get you through each day. Cold is a battery’s nemesis, so make sure they’re not getting too cold overnight. I have two spare batteries for each camera body, and that’s always been more than adequate for my purposes.

Lens Cleaning Cloth

Remember lens cleaning cloths. I would also recommend a camera and lens cover that helps protect your camera in the event of a rain shower and for protecting your gear against the dust mentioned above.


Don’t forget your smartphone, binoculars, head torch, notepad and pen, personal medication, malaria medication, toiletries, money, your passport, and visa.

For detailed, up-to-date information on vaccinations and more, you are best to consult an official website.

Packing for an Africa Photo Safari

I recommend packing high-value items like cameras, lenses, and laptops in your hand luggage. Some airline safety requirements require you to pack batteries in your hand luggage, so ensure you charge your items, as airport security often requires you to demonstrate that laptops and cameras are all in full working order. A simple rule of thumb is to pack items essential to your photography, travel, and health in your hand luggage.

Pack your gear very carefully with disruption in mind. Some Africa photo tours can consist of two or three successive flights to get to various destinations in Africa. There may be two or even three layers of airport security on each of these flights. You may be required to unpack large cameras, lenses, and laptops. If you can, avoid placing smaller accessories on top of larger items that you may need to take out repeatedly and re-pack. Pack cables and batteries together in small pouches rather than loose in your bag.

Your camera bag should be large enough for your gear but small and light enough for all cabin limits. When packed you should be able to safely lift your bag in and out of the overhead lockers without assistance. Check the maximum sizes and weights for all the airlines and be aware that different flights often have different rules.

For small internal charter flights within Africa, total baggage allowance (hand luggage plus hold luggage) can be as little as 20kg and bags must be soft and pliable.

Typical Southern Africa internal charter flight. Image courtesy of Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana

Final Thoughts on an Africa Photo Safari

An Africa Photo Safari is an incredible experience. For many, it is a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity both to experience incredible scenery and wildlife and to take amazing photographs.

There’s no doubt that it can be a daunting experience packing expensive and essential photography equipment for a safari. Even for seasoned photographers. Just remember to seek out advice. If you are booked on a photographer-specific tour, you can request support from your guides and or Africa safari tour facilitator. They have the experience and knowledge to help you make it the through this process with as little stress as possible.

The post Photography Equipment Tips for an Africa Photo Safari appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Andrew Sproule.

Full Frame VS Crop Sensor VS Micro Four Thirds: Camera Sensors Explained

The post Full Frame VS Crop Sensor VS Micro Four Thirds: Camera Sensors Explained appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kunal Malhotra.

1 - Full Frame VS Crop Sensor VS Micro Four Thirds: Camera Sensors Explained

‘DSLR Camera, Full-Frame, Crop Sensor’- Just 3 terms which are prevalent in virtually every discussion involving photography. The two terms in use to classify sensor sizes of a DSLR camera are ‘Full-Frame’ and ‘Crop-Sensor.’ A Full-Frame camera contains a sensor size equivalent to a 35mm film format whereas a Crop-Sensor camera has a sensor size smaller than a full-frame sensor or a 35mm film format.

Micro-Four-Thirds (4/3) is a relatively new format (and term). First introduced around 2008, this sensor is slightly smaller and compact in nature. However, owing to a variety of factors, this format is now considered almost equal to, if not better than, the Crop Sensor format.

Apart from the physical size difference, there are several other points of difference between a full-frame sensor, a crop-sensor, and a micro-four-thirds sensor. Let’s take a look at a comparison between them under the following characteristics, to get an accurate understanding of their differences.

Crop Factor

As mentioned above, a full-frame camera has a 35mm sensor based on the old film-format concept. Whereas, a crop-sensor (also called APS-C) has a crop factor of 1.5x (Nikon) or 1.6x (Canon). Micro-Four-Thirds are even smaller sensors having a crop factor of 2x.

This crop factor also directly affects our field of view. Simply put, an APS-C sensor would show us a cropped (tighter) view of the same frame as compared to a full-frame sensor, and a Micro-Four-Thirds sensor would show an even tighter (more cropped) output of the same frame.

2 - Full Frame VS Crop Sensor VS Micro Four Thirds: Camera Sensors Explained

LEFT: Photo clicked using a Full-Frame camera. CENTER: Photo clicked using a Crop-Sensor camera. RIGHT: Photo clicked using a Micro-Four-Thirds camera.

Focal Length

The focal length obtained by different sensors is also directly associated with crop-factor. The focal length measurement of any given lens is based on the standard 35mm film format. Whenever we use any crop-sensor camera, its sensor crops out the edges of the frame, which effectively increases the focal length. However, this is not the case with any full-frame sensor, as there is no cropping involved with a full-frame field of view.

For example, in the Nikon eco-system, a crop-sensor camera such as the D5600 has a ‘multiplier factor’ of 1.5x. Thus, if I mount a 35mm f/1.8 lens on my Nikon D5600, it would multiply the focal length by 1.5x, thus effectively giving me a focal length output of around 52.5mm. If you mount the same lens on a full-frame Nikon body such as the D850, it gives an output of 35mm.

Similarly, if you mount a 35mm lens on a Micro-Four-Thirds sensor, which has a crop factor of 2x, it effectively doubles the focal length obtained to around 70mm.

3 - Full Frame VS Crop Sensor VS Micro Four Thirds: Camera Sensors Explained

LEFT: Photo clicked at 35mm on a Full-Frame camera. CENTER: Photo clicked at 35mm on a Crop-Sensor camera. RIGHT: Photo clicked at 35mm on a Micro-Four-Thirds camera.

Depth of Field

Similar to focal length, the aperture or f-stop measurement of a lens is based on the full-frame 35mm format. Similar to focal length, a ‘multiplier effect’ gets applied to the f-stop when using crop-sensors. As we know, the f-stop or aperture is the singular most important factor that affects the Depth of Field.

Thus, a Micro-Four-Thirds camera gives us less (shallow) Depth of Field at similar focal lengths when compared with a full-frame camera. For example, an image shot at f/1.8 on a Micro-Four-Thirds camera would give an output similar to an image shot at f/3.6 on a full-frame camera, and f/2.7 on a crop sensor camera. This is assuming that the effective focal length, and other shooting conditions, are the same.

Low Light Performance

Generally, full-frame cameras provide not only better low light & high ISO performance, but a better dynamic range. These factors combined eventually produces a much better image output than any crop-sensor camera can achieve.

Full-frame cameras are capable of capturing the most light and will almost always out-perform an APS-C or Micro-Four-Thirds camera body under low-light conditions. Micro-Four-Thirds sensors don’t perform well under low-light conditions where the ISO needs to be cranked up to say, above 2000.

For these reasons, despite full-frame camera kits being expensive, bulky and heavy to carry around, they are still industry-standard and the preferred cameras for virtually all professional photography work.


Thus, while full-frame DSLR’s remaining the industry standard even today, we cannot ignore the undeniable advantages of the Micro-Four-Thirds cameras. Micro-Four-Third cameras, such as the Olympus EP-5 & the Panasonic GH5, are affordable and easy to carry around. Thus, enabling a much larger group of people (who are hobbyists and enthusiasts but not professionals) to have access to DSLR-like shooting conditions at a fraction of the price.

Ultimately, factors such as your budget, use and other criteria define whether you choose either Full-Frame, Crop-Sensor, or Micro-Four-Thirds cameras.

Read more info on sensors here.

The post Full Frame VS Crop Sensor VS Micro Four Thirds: Camera Sensors Explained appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kunal Malhotra.

The (Almost) Perfect Autofocus of the Sony a7R III: a Hands-On Review

The post The (Almost) Perfect Autofocus of the Sony a7R III: a Hands-On Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Anabel DFlux.

Focus is one of the most important concepts for a photographer. It can make or break an image. Whether you’re a pixel peeper like me who always looks for technical critical focus or an image maker who uses specific focus points to tell a story,  how the camera focuses is everything.

That’s why the newest addition to the Sony Alpha series is so conversation-worthy. With the 399 focus points on the Sony a7R III, and its ability to track focus like no other, the company touts it’s hard to get a shot that’s out of focus. This camera is like an artificially intelligent robot – it can predict and figure out exactly what you want in focus on.

With the thumb joystick on the back of the camera, you can quickly and easily change your focus point. And its AI Servo is out of this world. It could figure out the entire outline of a subject and hold on to it for dear life.

I take varying images – shooting animal action sports, live concerts, and everything in between. So I took all the boasting I’ve heard about this camera and put it to the ultimate test.

About the Sony a7R III

The a7R III is one of Sony’s newest and flashiest addition to its impressive mirrorless line of cameras. According to its website, the Sony a7R III sports the following drool-worthy perks:

  • 42.4 MP 35mm full-frame Exmor R™ CMOS and enhanced processing system
  • Standard ISO 100-32000 range (upper limit expandable to 1024005, with a lower limit of 50)
  • Fast Hybrid AF with 399-point focal-plane phase-detection AF and 425-point contrast-detection AF. The focus modes include:
    • AF-A (Automatic AF)
    • AF-S (Single-shot AF)
    • AF-C ( Continuous AF)
    • DMF (Direct Manual Focus)
    • Manual Focus
  • Face detection, with Modes:
    • Face Priority in AF (On/Off)
    • Face Priority in Multi Metering (On/Off)
    • Regist. Faces Priority (On/Off)
    • Face registration (max. number detectable: 8)
  • High-speed continuous shooting of up to 10fps (12fps with AF/AE tracking)
  • 5-axis image stabilization with 5.5-stop exposure advantage
  • 4K video recording
  • Dual card slots with simultaneous or consecutive recording
  • Silent Shooting Mode

The camera is compatible solely with Sony E-mount lenses, including G-Master and Zeiss lenses (sought after in the Sony world). The aspect ratio is 3:2, and the camera can record still images in JPEG, (DCF Ver. 2.0, Exif Ver.2.31, MPF Baseline compliant) and RAW (Sony ARW 2.3 format). The images are quite large: a 35mm full-frame image is 42MP (7,952 x 5,304 pixels), which in uncompressed RAW format takes up about 80MB of storage.

The camera also has built-in noise reduction software you can turn on or off as needed.

But what really set this camera apart (and why I fell in love with it) is the autofocus.

The Sony a7R III Autofocus Features

The a7R III allows for silent shooting at up to 10fps with AF/AE tracking – great for those who do wildlife photography. Shooting at 10 FPS yields up to 76 images at a time (when shooting JPEG).

Its phase-detect points cover around 47% of the sensor area. When you combine that with the contrast-detect sensor areas, the total AF coverage is nearly 68% of the frame.

Advanced algorithms provide high AF precision down to light levels as low as -3 EV for more reliable autofocus in dark scenes. The enhanced Fast Hybrid AF speeds up AF approximately two times faster under dim lighting conditions. The camera’s infrared technology allows it to autofocus even in extremely low or difficult lighting situations.

The camera also has an ‘eye autofocus’ setting. You read that right: it can find eyes on your subject and lock focus on them with the push of a button. This is photographic witchcraft and I love it. The a7R III’s Eye AF evolves with twice the effective eye detection and tracking, even when shooting a moving portrait subject. It’s touted by the company to work when:

  • the subject’s face is partially hidden
  • the subject is looking down or wearing glasses
  • the subject is backlit
  • the lighting is dim or low
  • the subject is far away.

The a7R III includes a touchscreen that provides touch AF, focus point dragging and focus racking features. The AF-C (continuous autofocus) option feature is extraordinary. The camera can keep tracking the subject even if it’s changing direction erratically or an object gets in the way.

Tip: The ‘Expand Flexible Spot’ mode is a good one to start from, and works well with the AF joystick for quick adjustments to the preferred focus area.

Real Life Use

This camera is fast and accurate. With my DSLRs, I usually have to refocus multiple times. But I didn’t have to do it once on the Sony a7R III. I think mirrorless cameras really outshine most DSLRs in the autofocus department.

Here’s how it did in various scenarios:

Action and Sports

I photograph a lot of action, and when I first bought this camera I took it to a Frisbee dog competition to test it out. I was absolutely blown away by the autofocus. The camera even recognized a dog’s face with its facial tracking autofocus and maintained focus on the dog’s face throughout its trick-induced performance. When the dog moved further away the focus changed to the animal’s entire body, which I appreciated.

Regardless of how spontaneously the dog moved, the focus remained locked.

I typically use my Canon 7D Mark II for animal sports photography due to its speed and the fact the body is intended for action. But I now prefer the a7R III due to its superb tracking. The 7D tends to get lost when there isn’t much contrast between the subject and the other objects in the frame, such as photographing in the fog. (Many of these dog sporting events happen around 7am when the fog rolls onto the field.)

The Sony mirrorless clearly identified the subject despite the lack of contrast. It can even refocus on dogs running at me without needing any prompting or additional technique.


Portraits are an absolute breeze with this camera. From face tracking to eye tracking, it’s almost impossible to take an out-of-focus image unless you have your settings wrong. As I mentioned earlier, the eye tracking feature is said to work in problematic scenarios (the face is partially hidden, the subject is looking down, etc.)

Well, I can confirm that what Sony promises is true. It works in all of those scenarios. Even when I shot a model wearing unnatural contacts and bright glittery makeup, the camera had no issue.

Dimly-Lit and Golden Hour Portraits

Much like the camera’s success with well-lit portraits, the Sony a7R III can focus on portraits in dim light as if they were lit to perfection. I’m happy to say there was absolutely no difference between the two. Night portraits were a breeze.

The golden hour portraits were just as easy (not to mention exquisite). My other cameras have focusing issues when the sun is low and hitting the lens at an angle. But the a7R III breezed through and held focus on the subject no matter how the sun was hitting the lens glass.

Live Concerts

Dogs may wake me up in the mornings, but it’s the rock stars who keep me awake at night. In the evenings you’ll probably find me shooting a live concert with an arsenal of camera equipment to get me through the job.

Live concerts are extremely difficult focusing situations. In fact, they’re like a low-light sports situation. For the most part, you’ll have limited lighting, and have to deal with colored bulbs that can paint the subject with a very saturated color (such as the dreaded red hue).

Live concerts are also high-energy and filled with action as the guitarists swing their guitars and the drummer pounds away. You may not always have enough contrast to work with, and plenty of annoying obstacles to get in the way of whatever musicians you’re photographing.

Much like I found success in dog sports photography, the Sony a7R III does mighty well at maintaining focus on the subject despite erratic movement or instruments getting in the way. If the light is low but even, the camera does a splendid job of finding the subject thanks to its Advanced AF algorithms.

Unfortunately, live concerts are also where we hit a bit of a snag. As venue goers know, most music venues (especially small indie ones) don’t have consistent lighting on the stage. It can be uneven, sporadic, and wild. Some genres of music (e.g. metal and rock) really love using strobe lights on the stage as well.

And this is where the Sony a7R III flops terribly.

The moment strobes are used, the camera completely loses its ability to focus or find the subject. It’s a negative I haven’t seen covered in other reviews and one that keeps me from bringing this camera to a live concert (after having a particularly bad experience at a recent show).

When strobes were involved, none of the autofocus settings or adjustments worked. The camera began to hunt and then failed to focus at all. This happened with other native and non-native lenses. My guess is the infrared technology is affected by the strobing effects, but that’s just an assumption.

Non-Native Lens with an Adapter

As an avid 16-year Canon user with an army of L lenses, I have no plans on switching brands anytime soon. When I added the Sony a7R III to my kit, I immediately looked for ways to adapt my L glass to the Sony camera. (That way I’d need to buy only buy one native lens for the Sony and use the rest of my existing kit.)

After testing out several adapters I found that the Metabones Smart Adapter worked best.

Now it was time to test the autofocus on a non-native lens.

Although some of the autofocus features (e.g. eye-tracking) are disabled on non-native lenses, the facial recognition and AF-C (continuous autofocus) features worked like a charm. Once I’d calibrated the adapter to my lenses I didn’t experience any lag, searching or loss of focus. And despite certain features being unavailable, the camera was just as fast with non-native lenses as it was with native ones – even in low light. (I took this set up out for a spin during a club event.)

But the strobing issue was still there, which is why I’m convinced it’s a camera issue rather than a lens issue.

Final Thoughts

I have no regrets investing top dollar in this mirrorless camera. I find myself using it as much as my DSLRs, and I have three of them. I’ll often pick the mirrorless for more complex shoots simply because of its exquisite face tracking with autofocus.

Have I got you salivating? Think the Sony a7R III might be your next camera? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

The post The (Almost) Perfect Autofocus of the Sony a7R III: a Hands-On Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Anabel DFlux.

Gear Review: The Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera

The post Gear Review: The Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by David Shaw.

1 - Gear Review - Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera

The Lumix G9 – a 20.3mp, micro 4/3rds, mirrorless camera.

When I bought my first full-frame DSLR many years ago (an original Canon 5D), I thought I’d discovered the pinnacle of camera technology. Because a bigger sensor is better right?

Well, not necessarily.

Sensor sizes are like film sizes- they are different formats, not different quality. Each has advantages and disadvantages, and some will fit your needs while some won’t.

2 - Gear Review - Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera

Flying in small planes is how I reach many of my photo locations. A light camera system is vital.

The Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera

Bigger sensors, for all their benefits, also mean bulkier and heavier lenses. A smaller sensor, such as the micro 4/3rds system, is compact, and light. That’s why, as an outdoor pro who specializes in shooting in remote areas, I’ve recently begun shooting the Lumix m4/3rds system. Specifically, my primary camera is now the Lumix G9 mirrorless camera, the flagship of Lumix still cameras.

Body Quality

3 - Gear Review - Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera

The Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera from the top.

The Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera is of a similar size to other pro-level mirrorless camera bodies. For me, this is the appropriate size. If the body were much smaller the controls would become too small and cumbersome for rapid use in the field, and impossible while wearing gloves. The G9, in my opinion, is a good compromise between size and functionality.

The build is sturdy with a die-cast magnesium chassis and is environmentally sealed. A textured rubber coating covers most of the body providing a confident grip, even when wet. The body weighs in 658g, more or less typical of this size mirrorless camera. I’ve used mine in temperatures varying from -25F, to +100F in the snow, rain, and salt spray. I’ve banged it around inside bush planes, safari vehicles, rafts, and canoes, and have yet to have an issue with durability.

4 - Gear Review - Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera

Bush planes. I’ve gotten used to flying in them, but I never get tired of photographing them. (De Havilland Otter reflected in an Alaskan lake).


The 20.3mp micro four-thirds sensor has an excellent dynamic range for a sensor of this size and extremely low noise below about 1600 ISO. At higher ISOs, the noise does increase noticeably, which is a drawback for night photography. However, the files can handle substantial pushes in post-processing. Adding two or even three stops of light seems to have little impact on image quality.


5 - Gear Review - Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera

Handheld, at 1/15th second. Easy.

Lumix advertises a whopping 6.5 stops of stabilization built into the camera; a system that works seamlessly with lens-integrated stabilization. This impressive number isn’t just marketing hyperbole. I’ve found I can handhold images, even while using a long lens, to speeds as low as 1/8th of a second. Blurred water shots no longer require a tripod and video capture is smooth and almost vibration free. This is unquestionably the best camera I’ve ever used when it comes to image stabilization.

6 - Gear Review - Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera

Still Photography Performance

Frame Rate

Mirrorless cameras are not subject to the same limitations of shutter speeds as their DSLR counterparts. The electronic shutter of the Lumix G9 reaches a whopping 20 frames per second, far more than is needed except in all but the most extreme, fast-paced shooting situations. Even when using the standard frame rate, it still manages 9 frames per second, which is competitive with just about any camera on the market.

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At 20fps in the high burst mode, or 9fps in regular, the G9 makes quick work of moving subjects.


The autofocus is perhaps the one point, where the G9 does fall a bit short of high-end DSLRs. Lumix has applied a contrast detection system combined with Panasonic’s Depth from Defocus technology (DFD). In bright conditions with few obstacles, I found the autofocus to be exceptionally fast with a high hit rate. However, in tangled environments, or in low light, it occasionally struggles to grab my subject.

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The DFD system is an active autofocus that perpetually pushes and pulls the focus just a hair back and forth as it determines the focus point. It’s fast, but slightly distracting and often lead me to think that the camera hadn’t settled on my subject. It had, and the resulting images show a high hit rate, but the constant push-pull is a bit distracting.

Image Quality

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While overall image quality is excellent, night photography is the one place where the G9 falls short. This image, captured at ISO 3200, required substantial noise reduction.

In most lighting situations, the 20.3mp images are excellent. RAW format files have a competitive dynamic range which allows substantial pushing of exposure in post-processing. If you are jpeg shooter, the camera exports colorful, but not unnatural files ready for sharing on social media. I like the jpeg outputs so much that I’ve set the camera to write both small jpegs and RAW files which allows for quick shares without post-processing.

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Contrasting the previous image, this image captured at 800 ISO is nearly clean and required no noise reduction, despite the dim conditions. There seems to be a big reduction in image quality between ISO1600 and ISO 3200.

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High contrast scenes like this, the G9 handles admirably well.

High-Resolution Images

One of my favorite features of the Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera is the high-resolution setting. The 20.3mp sensor is plenty for general use, however, as a landscape photographer, I often desire files that can be printed very large. The high-resolution image setting on the G9 takes 8 images in a row, each offset by 1/2 pixel. This produces a final file that is over 80 megapixels! For best results, a tripod is required, but for landscape work, I’m almost always using one anyway. The quality of the final image is, quite frankly, amazing.

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This image was captured using the high-resolution setting on the Lumix G9. The original file is a whopping 10368x7776px.

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The above image, cropped nearly in half, is still enormous by almost any standard.



Wifi connectivity when combined with Lumix’s intuitive app for phone or tablet, allows quick exporting of files for sharing from the field. Additionally, the app allows full remote operation of the camera. Once your image is composed, you can use the app to adjust exposure, aperture, shutter speed or ISO, then click the shutter from a 100m away.


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With a wide variety of lenses in the Lumix (and Olympus) lines. There is no shortage of options for all kinds of photography from wildlife to portraits and landscapes.

Advanced shooters will appreciate the extensive customization options on the G9. You can program in multiple preset modes, accessible from the main function dial atop the camera. But I’ve come to like even more, a separate switch on the front of the camera at the lower left, which allows you to switch between two types of shooting modes. I have one set for my standard landscape settings, and one to my favorites for wildlife. With a quick flick of a finger, I can move back and forth between the two as my shooting situation changes. Nifty.


Lumix has always been associated with video capture, even more than still photography. And while the G9 was definitely designed with still images in mind, it has inherited many video features of the other Lumix cameras. 4k video capture up to 60fps is possible with the G9, something few other still cameras can achieve. With the excellent integrated stabilization, high-quality video is a breeze. As many of my clients are now requesting video clips in addition to stills, the excellent moving image capture of the G9 means I no longer have to carry a second, video-specific camera when I’m shooting on assignment. For a still shooter who likes to capture some video or a film-maker who also wants high-quality stills, the G9 may be the perfect compromise.

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From the back, the camera’s controls are straight forward.

But What’s it Like to Use?

All the tech specs in the world won’t tell you what it actually feels like to use the camera. And in that case, I think the Lumix has really won the race. The controls are intuitive, with buttons conveniently located and ergonomics that allow you to determine buttons easily by feel, and without searching around. I moved from Canon to Lumix and found it didn’t take long to feel at home from the new system. I also shoot a Sony mirrorless, and moving back and forth between the two is not challenging.

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It was intermittently snowing hard and blowing cold wind when I made this image in Alaska’s western Arctic. The G9 handled the conditions without issue.

But it’s in the field that I really love the Lumix G9. The m4/3rd system means that not only the sensor is smaller, but the lenses too. Everything is much smaller and compact, even with fast, high-end lenses. My kit has shrunk substantially with my switch to Lumix. While full-frame mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter than pro-level DSLRs, the lenses are not, which puts a limiter on how much weight and space you can really save by switching to full-frame mirrorless. With micro 4/3rds however, everything is smaller.

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As a wilderness photographer, this is a HUGE advantage for me. I can carry a body and multiple lenses for the same weight and size as a single DSLR and mid-range zoom lens. I can’t tell you how much this has meant to me on the many occasions I’ve had to weigh out every ounce to make my kit fit in a bush plane. Size matters to a backcountry photographer, and when it comes to cameras, smaller is better.

A Note on Lenses

While this isn’t a review of the Lumix lenses, I do want to offer a quick hat-tip to the Lumix-Leica lens systems. The glass is compact, light, and extremely sharp. The Leica glass elements are impeccable, and while not cheap, the sharpness is in every way comparable to the best Nikon, Canon, and Sony lenses. Secondarily, the m4/3rds lenses are compatible across brands meaning that Olympus equipment works seamlessly on Lumix bodies. (My current long lens is the Olympus 300mm f4 PRO, and it works perfectly on the G9).

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Final Thoughts

Lumix has been a go-to manufacturer for videographers and film-makers looking for a compact, high-quality system for many years, while Olympus has led the m4/3rds still photography market. That has all changed with the Lumix G9. While I look forward to a few improvements in the next generation, the G9 has almost everything a serious photographer could want: great image quality, excellent choices in lenses, ability to shoot 4k video, abundant customization options, and intuitive controls.

It looks like the Lumix system has found a permanent place in my camera bag.

Have you used the Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

The post Gear Review: The Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by David Shaw.

Nikon Custom Modes of the D750 and D500. Which mode is best?

Customization is a big trend. From 3D printing to personalizing phones to our face, customization is becoming a requested product feature and a competitive advantage. Cameras also try to provide more and more customizable features to cater to our individual shooting styles. In this article, I will present and compare the Nikon custom modes of the D750 and the D500 including:

  • U1/2 and
  • Memory banks

A D750 features ‘U1/2’ and a D500 the ‘Memory banks.’ In this article, you will learn ways to set both up. Shooting scenarios showcasing the usefulness of custom settings will be included. Finally, I will share my preferred settings for each one, as well as some thoughts on both methods.

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The location of U1/2 on the D750

Location and activation of U1/2

Generally a warmly received feature, U1/2 can be found on the top dial of the cameras that include them.

The way to move between them is to push the button next to the dial and spin the dial until the required setting aligns with the white indicator line next to the dial. This then becomes the active combination of preselected settings.

Location and Activation of Memory Banks

On the other hand, Memory Banks are not assigned upfront directly to physical controls. Instead, these are selectable through the menus or are assignable to button and dial press-and-turn combinations.

There are different ways to access and activate banks. The most common are:

  • Through the ‘photo shooting’  and ‘custom’  menus shown below. It is the top option on both menus. These switch between the four (A/B/C/D) available photo shooting menu banks (in the photo shooting menu) and the four (A/B/C/D) available custom setting banks (in the custom setting menu). This is the longest way to set banks up, as it resides deeper in the menus.
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Screen of photo shooting menu on the D500

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Screen of custom setting menu on the D500


  • Through the ‘info’  button at the back of your camera. Pressing this opens up a menu and the two topmost options are: ‘photo shooting menu banks’ and ‘custom settings banks.’ There is no way to change the order in which they are shown.
  • Through the ‘my menu’  tab. With this menu, you assign them in any ranking that suits you. A variation, for quicker access, is to first place either of them (but only one at any time) as the top item in ‘my menu.’ To follow, assign the shortcut ‘access top item in my menu’ to any permissible button. The buttons / / / work for this shortcut (sub-selector press).
  • Through the assignable button and dial press-and-turn combinations. This method applies exclusively to ‘photo shooting menu banks.’ The buttons that can be pressed in combination with any command dial rotation are / (sub-selector press) / (movie record button next to the shutter button). For the combination with the movie record button to work, the live view selector needs to be in rotated to .
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Live view selector to photography mode position on the D500

A Conceptual Way to Approach Custom Settings

Now you should know how to access and activate both custom settings. I will now discuss the rationale behind them using them.

Firstly, I will talk about useful ‘generic’ concepts:

  1. Camera settings (core/output/fine-tune)
  2. Photographic parameters (scene variables/photographic intent/enablers)

These concepts are a framework for you to consider in the use of custom settings. I prefer this framework, rather than simply answering ‘which custom settings are best for portrait, sports, nature or any other photography genre?’ I have intentionally left out perspective (I consider this primarily impacted by lens selection) and composition (as this is the photographer’s prerogative).

1. Camera Settings

Core Settings: Aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and metering. These are at the heart of photography, regardless of genre. Most of these are changeable on the fly while shooting through the dedicated button and/or dial press/turns.

Output Settings: Most of the settings of the ‘photo shooting’ menu. These affect the output file type, size and look, such as file quality (raw and jpeg), picture control system (standard, vivid etc.), and white balance. An exception is the ISO setting, which I consider core.

Fine-tune Settings: The menu options of the ‘custom settings’ menu. These are important adjustments to the way the camera looks at and reacts to the scene/subject.

2. Photographic Parameters

Scene variables: I keep it simple, by including (available) light levels and subject movement only.

Photographic intent: This is the part where you decide what you want to convey or achieve through your photograph. Do you want to freeze or show movement? Go high or low key on the scene? Are you isolating your subject from its surroundings or showing some background detail? These (and many more) are the meaningful aesthetic choices, which make each photographer unique.

Enablers: Out of the many props/modifiers available to photographers, I include here the flash and the tripod. These two (arguably filters as well) make possible, more than anything else, the realization of our vision in diverse genres of photography (e.g. landscape, long exposure, night photography, macro etc.). Additionally, each of them has their own distinct group of settings to maximize their effectiveness. 

How Do U1/2 and Memory Banks Approach These Concepts?

Any given scene can be broken down to any pair of variables (marked with x) in the table below.

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I argue that superimposing our photographic intent on these sets of variables, assisted by suitable enablers, is the art and technique of photography. In my view, the custom settings number one goal is to facilitate effortless interplay between variables, intent, and enablers.

To achieve this, they should allow a quick switch from one bundle of the core, output and fine-tuning settings to another. U1/2 and Memory Banks do this in different ways, as I will demonstrate below.

U1/2 Table

Key: U1 (User-defined 1), U2 (User-defined 2), C1 (Core 1), C2 (Core 2), O1 (Output 1), O2 (Output 2), F1 (Fine-tuning 1), F2 (fine-tuning 2)

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Memory Bank Table

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The tables above summarize the difference in the logic of U1/2 and Memory Banks.

  • U1/2 are vertical combinations of selected settings of all types of camera settings.
  • Memory Banks is a matrix combination (i.e. mix and match) of primarily ‘Output’ and ‘Fine-tuning’ camera settings. The exception is the inclusion of the core ISO setting on the photo shooting Menu Banks. Turning on the ‘extended photo menu banks’ option in the ‘photo-shooting’ menu allows for the other settings (aperture/shutter/manual priorities, aperture, and shutter values as well as exposure and flash modes) to be embedded in the photo shooting banks.

Applying Custom Settings to Real-Life Shooting Scenarios

Generic Shooting Style

Before I provide some examples of real-life shooting using both custom settings, I will make a few important working assumptions about a ‘generic’ shooting style:

  • You shoot various genres of photography regularly in a mixed way (i.e. you would opt for the maximum settings’ range and flexibility within easy reach)
  • You do not employ back button focus. I propose you do so. It can increase your focusing and composing options, as well as your speed of shooting considerably.
  • You are not a full-time raw or jpeg only shooter. Myself, I shoot raw 95% of the time/shots.
  • You do not use auto ISO. I propose you do, as on the field it can make life a little less complicated.
  • You have and know how to use a flash and a tripod.

Typical Shooting Situations

Now, I will walk you through one of my typical shooting situations – walking around town or traveling, to show what I ideally expect from my custom settings.

Scenario One:

As I am strolling along, I see a nice background for a portrait. I want my camera to be on the ready with pinpoint focus accuracy (AF-S single point) with a nice shallow depth of field. Depending on surrounding light levels and contrast, I may or may not want to add flash-fill or even overpower available light using high-speed sync, so it is handy to be able to quickly access a convenient flash exposure starting point.

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Portrait of a friend taken with the D750

Scenario Two:

Along the road, a cute animal is playing. I’d like to shoot it as it moves, freeze it or do a nice pan. My camera needs to be ready to follow motion (AF-C combined with any preferred focus area mode). Also, I need quick flexibility on my shutter speed selection from a 1/1000th sec (to freeze action) down to around 1/30th sec (to pan).

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A portrait of a dog taken with the D500

Scenario Three:

I enter a beautiful garden. Flowers are perfect to photograph close-up (macro) so I set up my tripod. Here, I require a deeper depth of field and pinpoint focus accuracy again (AF-S single). If the light is not plenty, I may need a longer than usual exposure.

Turning ‘on’ long exposure noise reduction and exposure delay, provides better image quality in these scenarios. To further mitigate shake risk, I also engage mirror lock-up. Unfortunately, mirror lock is not pre-configurable in U1/2 or in Memory Banks.

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A Flower close-up taken with the D750

Scenario Four:

On any trip, it is great to take a nice landscape photo. In this case, the macro settings above, more or less apply. If there is plenty of light, shooting handheld is not an issue.

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A landscape taken with the D750

Scenario Five:

Finally, during a town-by-night walk, a nice long exposure is always memorable. Again, the macro scenario settings and my trusty tripod come in handy.

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A long exposure taken with the D500

Based on these realistic hypothetical-shooting scenarios, it is evident that settings vary considerably from auto-focus mode to shutter speed and aperture, to flash or no flash etc. You may also want to give your camera to someone for a quick snap, without having the time or inclination to explain focus, recompose or other settings.

If there is an ‘auto’ option on your modes dial then all is good, if not, then resetting to ‘waiter’ or ‘dumbbell’ mode (as full-auto is also known to some) is not quick nor easy without custom settings.

Now, I will briefly show my settings for both modes and a few tips to further increase their flexibility.

My Settings for U1/2

U1 is my ‘General Shooting Mode’ and the settings are shown in the screen below. If you employed back-button focus, then you would use AF-C instead of AF-S

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My U1 settings in D750

U2 is my ‘Flash Shooting Mode’ and the settings are shown in the screen below.

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My U2 settings in D750

It is important to mention that you have additional options by customizing M/A/S modes.

The Settings I Use For Memory Banks (Extended Banks ‘ON’)

My photo shooting banks are named A=General B=JPG C=Shutter D=Manual

The custom banks are named A=General B=Flash C=Tripod D=Waiter

I have set banks this way to be able to move from my usual working best quality output (e.g. A/A) to basic point and shoot output (e.g. B/D) within just a few seconds by using the ‘info’  button and changing the ‘custom settings’  banks.

Tips to maximize both methods:

  1. Create and rank items in ‘my menu’. This will allow quick access and change of settings that are not pre-programmable in any mode (e.g. mirror lock up).
  2. Especially for Memory Banks, use the ‘save/load settings’ option onto an SD card (one you will not format). Also, store the settings file on any drive for safekeeping. This will give you a quick restore method, in case you forget what your initial Memory Bank settings were after many changes, as banks are not ‘sticky’.
  3. Read on the net for other ways that users have set their U1/2 and banks. Their needs and style may suit yours. 

So Which Method is Best?

After comparing U1/2 with Memory Banks for versatility in the above scenarios, my conclusion is that banks provide me with the highest flexibility thanks to their matrix structure. However, banks demand greater discipline in their set-up and use to remain helpful. This is because U1/2 are ‘sticky’, while banks are not.

Once settings are saved in U1/2, no matter what changes you make while shooting with U1/2 selected, you will not impact the saved settings. Simply reselect U1/2 and you are at your initial settings in a blink, hence ‘sticky’. However, all 8 banks save settings dynamically in real time as you apply them during your shooting. Following is a simplified example to elaborate:

You have U1 set up as A-priority, AF-S at f/5.6 and matrix metering. During your shoot, you move from the matrix to spot and f/8. Do you want to go quickly back to your base settings? Simply turn the dial from U1 to U2 and then back to U1 again, and you are back to f/5.6 and matrix.

In banks (both custom and shooting), if you wanted to keep your selected bank identical to the starting configuration, you would need to manually bring metering and apertures back to their initial values.


So, in the grand scheme of things, I have no complaints from either method in the Nikon Custom Settings. I am glad to have both available. I value the ease of use of U1/2 and I love the greater choice that Memory Banks give me. For example, being tripod-ready for landscape or macro, without having to remember to change many settings makes things easier and quicker.

It would be great to have an option to easily save and restore banks in camera to provide the best of both worlds, or to have the quick recovery of U1/2 with the greater choice of the banks.

Join the discussion and let us know your preferred method and way of programming Nikon Custom Settings on the D750, D500 or any other camera featuring U1/2 or banks.

The post Nikon Custom Modes of the D750 and D500. Which mode is best? appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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