When you get a new camera, in most cases, the factory settings will serve you well until you gain some experience with the particular camera body. However, there are a few things I feel should be changed from the outset.

This isn’t a ‘must do’ list – it merely details my preferences – but you might find the ideas helpful.

Date / Time

Chances are, this setting will be wrong when you first get your new – or new to you – camera body. A new camera from the factory will likely not be set at all. And the new-to-you camera, even if you buy it locally, may have lost its setting or be set to a different time zone.

Just as important, remember to set your camera’s clock during the two Daylight Saving Time changes each year, if that applies to the state / country where you live.

One advantage of having the date and time set correctly – beyond tagging the correct information for your photos – is that a location program such as MyTracks depends on correlating photo time with GPS locator information captured by your phone.

Diopter

Few of us are blessed with perfect vision. Modern cameras have a degree of adjustment to compensate for our vision, but it must be set manually. The diopter control is usually a small knob on the side of the viewfinder. Most likely, you will have to pull it out to change the setting – it’s not something you have to worry about in most cases after it’s set, so the control isn’t easily jostled off of its setting.

When setting the diopter, bring the numbers at the bottom of the viewfinder into focus

To set the diopter, pull the knob out and then rotate it to change the setting. Look through the viewfinder with the eye you usually use to shoot. If you wear glasses, be sure to have them on when making the adjustment. Rotate the knob in either direction to adjust the focus for your eye.

But what do you look at when you are focusing? Many people try to adjust the diopter setting using some object they see through the viewfinder. But a few years ago, I learned a simple adjustment trick. Rotate the knob until the letters and numbers visible in your viewfinder are clear to you. It doesn’t matter what you are looking at through the viewfinder – adjust for the information visible in your particular view setup and the outside view will be in focus.

Shutter Release

All cameras come from the factory with the shutter release set to take a single photo when the shutter button is pressed. Personally, I almost always shoot in a burst mode, even when taking outdoor or natural light portraits.

The advantage of burst mode is that you get several shots in a very short period of time. My camera, for example, can shoot as high as 14 frames per second. By using one of the burst modes, you can often alleviate problems such as a subject blinking or a slight camera shake during a landscape or architectural shot. It is also especially useful in street photography when you are often pulling the camera up to your eye and shooting quickly to catch a fleeting moment.

For most applications, I use low burst more – 5 frames per second on my camera. For sports, where I am trying to grab fast action, I shoot at the full 14 frames per second.

The lone exception is when I’m taking photos in a studio setting using flash. Since it takes a strobe a short period of time to recharge – usually less than a second but still slower than the slowest burst mode – there is no advantage to using other than single frame capture in this situation.

File Format

Many cameras come from the factory with the file format set to JPG. Even if the setting is JPG+, you are still letting the camera handle a significant part of post-processing with limited opportunity to recover the original shot.

I almost always set my default format to RAW1. While this generates considerably larger files for each shot, the RAW format gives you much more flexibility with what you can do in post-processing.

Some people advocate shooting in RAW+JPG+. This generates two images, one of each format. That way, you have a JPG file to quickly share on social media or for client or subject review but still have the RAW file for final editing.

If you choose this format, be sure to set your processing software to display both files. Doing this will give you a RAW file with its JPG version adjacent in the file view. If you make this setup adjustment, the JPG version is still there but is hidden from view. Depending on your software, it can sometimes be difficult to locate.

One thing I sometimes do is to set my camera’s primary card to capture the RAW file and the secondary card to capture the companion JPG file. That way, I have all the JPGs in one location by themselves which makes it easy to share them. But I still have the RAW files for editing. In this case – I often use this is some types of sports shooting with the JPG card itself going to the client – I usually don’t keep the JPG file versions.

File Naming

This is really more of a preference, but I don’t like having my photo files named the same as everyone else’s. With my Nikon, the camera defaults to a file name beginning with DSC. I immediately change this prefix to MWP (Mike Worley Photos). Once I import my photos into my editing program, I change the file name generated by my camera to reflect the subject of the photo or photo group, such as Lyndon Football 2022.

But I like having a camera prefix other than the standard DSC to indicate my photos until they are processed in post. That way, I can readily locate my shots even if they get mixed in with photos taken by other people. This can happen most often if you are one of several photographers shooting for a single client, such as for a sporting event or a wedding.

Back Button Focus

Once I learned about Back Button Focus, I was sold. This change separates the focusing function from the shutter function, so you no longer have to ‘hold the shutter button halfway down to focus’ – and to maintain that focus point.

I go into more detail on Back Button Focus and the settings for Nikon and Canon cameras in another article.

Set Autofocus to Continuous

Virtually all cameras come with the autofocus mode set to single. This means that the camera only looks for one focus point and then stops. In the past, single (AF-S) was preferred because it was sharper than could usually be achieved by continuous autofocus (AF-C).

However, modern cameras, including all the new mirrorless cameras, have very reliable continuous autofocus, so it doesn’t hurt to leave the camera in AF-C mode all the time. That way, you aren’t switching back and forth depending on whether a subject is still or moving2.

Block the Beep

This is definitely a preference, but I find that having the camera beep every time I focus or move a dial to be quite annoying. I turn the beep off. On my camera, the only beeping noise that can’t be turned off is the countdown beep of the delayed shutter activation. I rarely use delayed shutter except for a photo where I want to be a part of the scene. In that case, the beep is actually helpful.

Copyright Information

Sure, you can add copyright information when you import your photos into Lightroom, Capture One, Luminar, or whatever editing program you use. But since I sometimes share my SD card directly with a client without loading the photos into my editor, I like having my copyright attached by the camera.

I actually change and expand upon the copyright information when I import into my editor, but I still want the basic information to be placed in the metadata by the camera at the time the shot is taken.

Change the Camera Strap

This may seem like a simple thing, but it’s a nice way to personalize your camera. When I was using a standard strap, I looked for a nice leather strap with secure connections and adjustments. After trying several, I settled on a strap from Pegai. While I no longer use a standard strap in most cases, I still have my Pegai strap. I occasionally switch to it for things like photographing family holiday celebrations.

Black Rapid cross-body camera strap

There are implications for safety in your choice of camera strap. Your camera probably came with a manufacturer’s strap that is emblazoned with the camera type – Nikon Z6, for example. That’s great marketing for the camera manufacturer, but thieves also know which camera models are higher-end.

So if your camera strap advertises that you are carrying a Nikon D850, which even with a relatively inexpensive lens attached could easily be worth $4500, a thief will likely target that over a strap that advertises a cheaper camera. But even the loss of a more inexpensive camera can be devastating.

In my case, I changed to a cross-body strap – made by Black Rapid. With this strap, the camera normally hangs upside down at my side, but I can easily pull it up to my eye for a shot. The cross-body design makes it much harder for a would-be thief to relieve me of my camera, and the strap itself holds no indication of the value of my gear.


What About Your Choices?

Are there other settings that you prefer to always have set in your camera? Let me know in the comments section. Also, I’d like to hear your thoughts about the settings I list here.


Footnotes:

  1. The principal exception to this is when I’m shooting action sports. In most cases, I’m okay with the JPG+ version of the file and shooting only in JPG allows me to get more shots on my card, and more quickly than if I was working with the larger RAW files. It’s really a choice between speed and post-processing capabilities.
  2. Since my Nikon mirrorless camera has eye detection focus, I even use AF-C in the studio. That way, my camera is always looking for my subject’s closest eye and locking focus on it.

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