One of our readers recently asked me to provide my settings from the Nikon D600 / D610 cameras that I use for my photography needs. While at first I thought that it was an odd request, it got me into thinking that many photographers probably get lost trying to dig through the many menu options. Since I have been shooting with Nikon for a number of years now, those settings are very easy for me to understand and I apply them over and over again for each camera that I work with. In this article, I want to provide some information on what settings I use and shortly explain what some of the important settings do. Please do keep in mind that while these work for me, it does not mean that everyone else should be shooting with exactly the same settings. The below information is provided as a guide for those that struggle and just want to get started with a basic understanding of menu settings.
Before going into the camera menu, let’s first get started on the exterior controls. The D600 / D610 have a lot of menu options, but there are some things that you can only control with the external controls.
Autofocus Modes, Bracketing and Flash
On the front left of the camera, you will find a lever that goes from AF to M, with a button in the middle (big red circle in the image below). Make sure to keep that lever on “AF”, or your lens will not autofocus. If for some reason your lens stops focusing, this is what need to check first. Pressing the button in the middle of the lever allows to choose between different focus modes.
To activate this change, you need to press and hold the button, then rotate the rear dial with your thumb. As you do this, look at the top LCD and the camera will switch between AF-A, AF-S and AF-C. I won’t go into too much detail about each focus mode, since it is all explained in detail in this article that I wrote a while ago. Here is a quick recap:
- AF-S – this mode is called “Single-servo AF” and it is used only for stationary subjects that do not move. When you half-press the shutter button, autofocus lock on the subject and if the subject moves, the focus will not change, resulting in a blurry picture. Only use this mode for photographing stationary subjects (landscapes, architecture, etc).
- AF-C – known as “Continuous-servo AF” in Nikon’s lingo, this setting is used for photographing moving subjects. When you half-press the shutter button and your subject moves, the camera will re-acquire focus. I usually keep my camera in AF-C autofocus mode when photographing people, especially my kids running around.
- AF-A – this mode is only present on lower-end cameras to make it easier for beginners. Basically, it is a combination of the above two modes in one setting. The camera evaluates the subject/scene and automatically switches between the above two modes depending on what you are photographing.
If you don’t know where to start, keep the setting on AF-A, which will let the camera decide on how to focus in different situations.
Now if you rotate the front dial with your index finger while holding the same button, you will get many different options like “S”, “D 9”, “D 21”, “D 39”, “3D” and “Auto”. These settings are there for controlling the focus points that you see inside the viewfinder. Once again, most of these are already explained in detail in my autofocus modes explained article, so I won’t go into too much detail here. If you don’t know where to start, keep it on “S” (Single), which lets you choose one single focus point that the camera will use for focusing. Let’s move on to other external controls.
Right above the AF / M lever, you will find two buttons: “BKT” (Bracketing) and Flash. These should only be used in some situations such as when shooting HDR images or working with flash. Just make sure that when you press the BKT button it shows “0F” on the left side of the top LCD – this means that bracketing is turned off (and it should be by default). The flash settings don’t really matter, but for now just make sure that everything is turned off and shows “0.0” when you press and hold it.
Camera Mode and Shooting Mode Dials
On the top left side of the camera you will find a double dial – the top portion allows switching between different camera modes (often referred to as the “PASM” dial), while the bottom part allows switching between different shooting modes. I have my top dial set to “A” (Aperture Priority Mode) 90% of the time, because the camera does a great job in giving me good exposures. Once you get to know the camera better, I would recommend to explore the “U1” / “U2” settings (more on this below under Setup Menu), because they could save you time when switching between different shooting environments (say when switching between photographing landscapes to running kids).
The lower dial has a bunch of shooting modes like “S” (Single), “Cl, Ch” (Continuous low and Continuous High), “Q” (Quiet), Timer, Remote and Mup (Mirror lock-up). Mine is usually set to “S” which only fires a single shot when I press the shutter release button. If I want the camera to fire multiple shots when shooting action, I switch to “Ch”. I rarely use other settings, but those can be useful as well, particularly the timer feature that I use when shooting landscapes to reduce vibrations (more on this below).
Aside from the above, don’t worry about any other buttons on the camera. Now let’s move to the camera settings menu.
I rarely ever touch anything in the Playback menu, since that’s only used for displaying pictures on the rear LCD. The only two settings that I ever mess with are “Playback display options” and “Rotate tall”. The “Playback display options” can be useful when reviewing images. When you press the playback button on the back of the camera, you can press up/down buttons and you will be able to see different types of information. To keep the clutter out, I have three things turned on: “Focus point”, which allows me to see where I focused, “Highlights” to show overexposure in shots (a.k.a. “blinkies”) and “Overview”, which gives me a summary of my exposure (shutter speed, aperture, ISO, focal length, etc). I always turn the “Rotate tall” setting off, because I do not want my camera to change vertical images to horizontal when I review them – it is much easier to rotate the camera to see a vertical image, rather than having to zoom in every single time. Everything else is default.
Let’s now go through the Shooting Menu, which is the first place that I usually go to when checking my settings. I will first provide my values, then talk about the important settings:
- Reset shooting menu: —
- Storage folder: default, don’t change
- File naming: DSC (default), don’t change
- Role played by card in Slot 2: Overflow
- Image quality: NEF (RAW)
- Image size: grayed out
- Image area
- Auto DX crop: ON
- Choose image area: FX
- JPEG compression: Optimal quality
- NEF (RAW) recording:
- Type: Lossless compressed
- NEF (RAW) bit depth: 14-bit
- White balance: AUTO (AUTO1 Normal)
- Set Picture Control: SD (Standard), Default values
- Manage Picture Control: —
- Auto distortion control: OFF
- Color space: Adobe RGB
- Active D-Lighting: OFF
- HDR (high dynamic range): OFF (grayed out)
- Vignette control: OFF
- Long Exposure NR: OFF
- High ISO NR: OFF
- ISO sensitivity settings
- ISO sensitivity: 100
- Auto ISO sensitivity control: ON
- Maximum sensitivity: 3200
- Minimum shutter speed: Auto -> Middle of the scale
- Remote control mode: 2s
- Multiple exposure: OFF
- Interval timer shooting: OFF
- Time-lapse photography: OFF
- Movie settings
- Frame size/frame rate: 1080p 30
- Movie quality: HIGH
- Microphone: Auto sensitivity
- Destination: Slot 1
While there are a lot of different settings here, do not worry – you won’t be changing many settings very often. Let’s go through some of the important settings. The first one is “Role played by card in Slot 2”, which allows you to choose what you want to do with the dual card slots of your camera. If you shoot with multiple cards, you can set the camera to save images in three different ways. You can set it to “Overflow”, which basically saves images to the first card, then when the space runs out, the camera starts saving to the second card. I usually set mine to Overflow, unless I am working on something really important and need to backup images. And speaking of backup/redundancy, that’s what you use the second setting “Backup” for. Once selected, the camera will save photos to both memory cards at the same time. The last setting allows you to save RAW files to one card and JPEG files to another. For your day to day shooting, just leave it on “Overflow” and if you really need to make sure that your photos are not lost if one of the cards fails, then choose “Backup”.
“Image quality” is obviously set to RAW, since I only shoot RAW. “NEF (RAW) recording” is always set on mine to 14-bit Lossless compressed, since I want the best image quality the camera can provide. “White Balance” is Auto and all other settings like Picture Controls, Active D-Lighting, HDR, etc. are turned off, since none of them (with the exception of “Long Exposure NR”) affect RAW images. Remember, RAW files contain non-manipulated data and require post-processing, so the above settings only impact two things: images displayed by your camera’s LCD screen (each RAW file contains a full-size JPEG image, which is what is used to display images) and if you use Nikon’s proprietary software like Capture NX, those settings can be applied to RAW images automatically. Since I use Lightroom to store and process my images, the second part does not apply to me. And I also do not care for how images are displayed on the camera’s LCD, so I leave everything turned off.
Although color space does not matter for RAW files, I now use AdobeRGB because it gives a slightly more accurate histogram to determine the correct exposure (since the camera shows histogram based on camera-rendered JPEG image, even if you shoot exclusively in RAW).
The big menu setting that I frequently change is “ISO sensitivity settings”. Most of the time, I use Auto ISO, because it is a great feature that saves me a lot of time. Instead of specifying ISO for every shot, I just have it set on Auto, with its base ISO set to 100, Maximum sensitivity set to 3200 (my personal limit for “acceptable” noise levels) and Minimum shutter speed set to “Auto”, which automatically changes the minimum shutter speed to match the focal length I am using. When using a VR lens, I might lower the “Auto” minimum shutter speed to “Slower” and if I shoot with a prime lens and want to have faster shutter speeds (say when photographing wildlife), I move the slider towards “Faster”. When photographing landscapes or architecture with the camera mounted on a tripod, I turn Auto ISO off and use ISO 100 for the highest dynamic range and lowest noise levels.
Custom Setting Menu
This is where a lot of people get lost, since there are so many different settings. Here are the settings that I personally use:
- AF-C priority selection: Release
- AF-S priority selection: Focus
- Focus tracking with lock-on: AF 3 (Normal)
- AF point illumination: Auto
- Focus point wrap-around: OFF
- Number of focus points: AF39
- Built-in AF-assist illuminator: ON
- ISO sensitivity step value: 1/3
- EV steps for exposure cntrl: 1/3
- Easy exposure compensation: OFF
- Center-weighted area: 12mm
- Fine-tune optimal exposure: —
- Timers/AE lock
- Shutter-release button AE-L: OFF
- Standby timer: 6s
- Self-timer delay: 5s
- Number of shots: 1
- Interval between shots: 0.5s
- Monitor off delay: 10s, 1m, 10s, 4s, 10m
- Remote on duration: 1m
- Volume: OFF
- Pitch: Low
- Viewfinder grid display: ON
- ISO display and adjustment: OFF
- Screen tips: ON
- CL mode shooting speed: 3 fps
- Max. continuous release: 100
- File number sequence: ON
- Information display: AUTO
- LCD illumination: OFF
- Exposure delay mode: OFF
- Flash warning: ON
- MB-D14 battery type: LR6
- Battery order: MB-D14
- Flash sync speed: 1/250*
- Flash shutter speed: 1/60
- Flash cntrl for built-in flash: TTL
- Exposure comp. for flash: Entire frame
- Modeling flash: ON
- Auto bracketing set: AE & flash
- Bracketing order: Under > MTR > over
- OK button (shooting mode): RESET
- Assign Fn button: Access top item in MY MENU
- Assign preview button: Preview
- Assign AE-L/AF-L button: AF-ON (read on this below please!)
- Customize command dials: All default
- Release button to use dial: OFF
- Slot empty release lock: LOCK
- Reverse indicators: – 0 +
- Assign MB-D14 AE-L / AF-L button: AF-ON
- Assign Fn button: View photo shooting info
- Assign preview button: Index marking
- Assign AE-L/AF-L button: AE/AF lock
- Assign shutter button: Take photos
That’s a lot of options! Once again, I won’t go into details about each setting, so let me just go over the most important ones that you should know about. The “Autofocus” section is pretty important, because it controls the way your camera autofocus is configured. The first two settings “AF-C priority selection” and “AF-S priority selection” are there to assist in shooting in Single or Continuous modes. By setting it to “Release” in AF-C mode, you are telling the camera that it should still go ahead and take the shot even if it thinks that the image is not in focus. While the camera will do its best to acquire focus, it will not refuse to fire when you press that shutter release button. The “Focus” setting in the “AF-S priority selection” selection forces the camera to acquire focus before taking the shot. Unlike earlier DSLRs like Nikon D700, the D600/D610 will still let you take a shot if you “focus and recompose” in AF-S mode.
The next setting is “Focus tracking with lock-on”, which I normally keep at the default setting of “3”. This setting controls how quickly your autofocus will re-engage when it detects focus errors. When shooting birds in flight, I tend to reduce that setting to short delays, because I want autofocus to re-engage even with smaller changes. The rest of the time, I keep it in normal and almost never go up to long waits.
“AF point illumination” is used to light up the viewfinder focus point(s) and different grids in red color when you half-press the shutter button. I usually keep this on “Auto”, which does not light up in very bright conditions where I can clearly see everything in the viewfinder, and only does it in darker environments (which helps with identifying my focus point location).
I do not like when my focus points roll over to the other side of the screen when I am in the corners and I like to shoot with all focus points enabled, so my “Focus point wrap-around” is turned off and the number of focus points is set to 39.
The “Built-in AF-assist illuminator” is that lamp on the front of the camera that is engaged when shooting in AF-A or AF-S focus modes. If the subject is dark, the front light will turn on and illuminate the subject you are photographing, which will help the autofocus system to acquire proper focus. I find the light to be helpful in low-light situations, so I keep that setting turned on.
I never mess with any of the “Metering/exposure” settings, so I would just recommend to leave them at default values. I would also skip the whole “Timers/AE lock” sub-section.
Under “Shooting/display”, the first thing I always do is turn off the focus confirmation beep. I often re-acquire focus many times and I would hate to annoy anyone with the beeps coming from my camera.
The “Viewfinder grid display” is a neat feature that creates vertical and horizontal lines inside the viewfinder. I use those grids all the time when composing my shots – they are great tools for aligning the horizon horizontally or vertically and having a better visual look at my framing / composition.
The big setting that I often rely on when photographing landscapes is “Exposure delay mode”. This feature is a gem on the latest Nikon DSLRs, because it first lifts the camera mirror (which generates a lot of vibrations), then waits a specified amount of time and only then opens up the shutter to capture the image. The nice thing is, you can specify up to 3 seconds of delay, which can completely eliminate the dreaded “mirror slap”. When I conduct my landscape photography workshops, I often walk around the participants and check how they trigger their cameras. Those who do not have camera remotes (remote cable release) initially feel frustrated, but once they discover this neat feature, they don’t regret that they did not bring remote triggers anymore. The best part about this particular feature is that you can actually use it in conjunction with the camera timer! If you set the secondary dial on the top of the camera to Timer, then set the “Self-timer delay” to something like 5 seconds, you can completely eliminate camera shake. Basically, the initial 5-second timer is for the camera to settle after you press the shutter release. After it waits for 5 seconds, the “Exposure delay mode” feature kicks in and the mirror is raised. The camera waits 3 more seconds before the shutter finally opens up and the image is captured. This is a great feature that I highly recommend to use when photographing landscapes and architecture in low light conditions / very slow shutter speeds.
I won’t go into Bracketing/flash sections, because that’s a big topic on its own. The only thing that I usually change here is Bracketing order – I like to have my frames underexposed, normal, then overexposed, so I set “Bracketing order” to “Under > MTR > over”.
The “Controls” section is something I always change, because there are some time-saving features there. Let’s first start with the “Assign Fn button” menu option that allows programming the “Fn” (Function) button on the front of the camera. Since I shoot in different environments a lot, I like to be able to change my Auto ISO settings quickly. Unfortunately, Auto ISO is buried in the “Shooting Menu” and takes too long to get to. I love being able to access Auto ISO with just pressing the Fn button and that’s something you can set up very easily. First, go to “My Menu” section of the menu. Then go to “Add items” -> “Shooting menu”. Find “ISO sensitivity settings” and instead of getting into this menu, simply press the “OK” button. The next screen should say “Choose position” and you will see “ISO sensitivity settings” there. Just press “OK” one more time and you will see this on the top of the “My Menu” window. If you already have some favorites saved, make sure to move this one to the very top. Once you do this, go to the “Custom Setting Menu” again and navigate to “Controls” -> “Assign Fn button”. From there, pick “Access top item in MY MENU” and press OK. Now test it out – close the menu, then press the “Fn” button on the front of the camera. If you did everything right, the back LCD should get you right into ISO sensitivity settings! Pretty neat and saves a lot of time!
If you don’t particularly care for the depth of field “Preview” button, you can program your D600 / D610 to do the same thing from that button instead.
Now let’s talk about another important menu setting, which is “Assign AE-L/AF-L button”. If you have not read my article on the Focus and Recompose technique, now is a good time to do it, because it explains this feature in detail. Basically, you switch the autofocus function from your shutter release (half-press) to the AE-L / AF-L button on the back of the camera, as shown below:
Once you do this, your camera will no longer autofocus by half-pressing the shutter and will only respond to you depressing the rear AE-L / AF-L button. It is a neat feature that I always use by default on all of my cameras (higher-end DSLRs have a dedicated AF-ON button), so I would recommend to explore this feature on your D600 / D610 as well.
Aside from these, I would leave the rest of the settings alone.
Not much to go over here, because this is the area that you will only use for particular tasks like setting time/date, adding image comments, adjusting LCD brightness, formatting memory card, etc. Once you learn your way around the camera menu system, I would highly recommend to play with the “User settings”, which allow you to save different settings for two different scenarios (U1 and U2). For example, I have mine set up for two different roles – landscapes and people. When photographing landscapes, I want my camera mode to be Manual. I want “Exposure delay mode” turned on by default and set to 3 seconds. I want my Auto ISO turned off, with ISO set to ISO 100 by default. So I set all those settings on the camera, then go to “Save user settings” -> “Save to U1”. For photographing people, I want my camera to be in Aperture Priority mode, I want “Exposure delay mode” turned off, because I will be shooting hand-held and I want Auto ISO turned on. I then save those settings to the “U2” slot. Once everything is set up, I can simply switch back and forth between the two using the top camera PASM dial and it saves me a lot of time, since I do not have to remember which settings I need to change. I love this feature on the D600/D610 and really wish Nikon implemented the same system on high-end DSLRs like D800/D4 as well! While Nikon does have a way to store custom settings on the D800 and the D4, you have to do it for each menu item separately, which is just stupid and inefficient. Plus, those cameras do not have an external setting on the dial to be able to change modes quickly.
Other than the above, the only other thing I would do is set an “Image comment”. Basically, it is just text that gets embedded into each photograph. If you ever happen to lose your memory card somewhere (which I personally have in the past) and someone finds it (let’s just assume that you have no labels on the card with your info) leaving your Copyright or Name could help big time in finding/locating you. Plus, you are writing data into RAW files, so if you ever needed to prove that you are the author of a photograph, the RAW file along with your contact info could make for great evidence.
I hope you found this article useful. Once again, these are settings that work for me and they might not necessarily suit your needs. It is best that you explore your camera and learn about each setting as much as you can in order to take advantage of all the available features and customizations!
Man…. just set the camera up with back button focus and go with a small focus area. 90% of the time this is all you need. Just focus then recompose. Don’t let the camera decide. I tend to use spot or a very tight metering area as well, again metering the area I want then recomposing. I feel the FN button as an iso button is a waste as well, as the iso button is right on the back not buried in the menus. … back button focusing people find out why you need this from Steve Perry YouTube
Can you please tell where to find my ‘i’ button (so to speak)in/on my D600 so that I may display my histogram in my LiveView ? i’ve gone through my book and search the internet and haven’t found it yet.
Thank you so much for this really helpful article! I’ve been shooting with my D610 for years and thought I knew it fairly well but you explained quite a few features that were new and very helpful to me!
I just purchased the Nikon d600 as my first DSLR and am very new to photography. I honestly didn’t know where to begin and this article was immensely helpful in getting me started with a basic understanding as well as the settings to take a decent photo right off the bat. Nasim, I can’t thank you enough for your shared knowledge. I am always so humbled by people like you who are willing to share their knowledge for free to others and hope to some day pay it forward in the same way. I hope you read this comment, so you know that even 6 years later it’s still incredibly helpful!
What settings would you use when doing astro photography with a f3.5 lens?
You didn’t say what you are trying to photograph. Below assumes it does not include a “full moon”. If the moon is the subject then the recommendations may be quite different. For example, in photographing the recent moon eclipse, the full moon part was shot at f9,1/160 sec, ISO 100 and 280mm. The fully eclipsed moon was shot at f9, 1/5 sec, ISO 1600 and 280mm. It was possible to focus on the moon. After the initial focus, autofocus was turned off, as recommended below.
Focusing: If you can pre-focus the camera in the daytime on something very far away that is the easiest method, and then turn off auto-focus off. One way to focus in the dark is to use a bright flashlight and shine it on something out, say, 30-40 feet. This suggestion is based on using the hyperfocal distance, a shorter focal point at which “infinity” will still be in focus. The actual hyperfocal distance is dependent on the focal length of the lens and the f-stop being used. Focus as far out as practical, after focusing, turn off autofocus then reframe to take the picture you desire. Auto focus lenses actually will go past infinity, so you can’t just trust the markings on the lens.
Some other general considerations when there is very little light:
• Shoot Raw file format.
• Set the camera to manual exposure mode.
• Set camera lens to widest aperture (f/2.8 is better than f/4 or f/5.6).
• Set the shutter to the 5 seconds. Try different exposures. Experiment!
• Set the ISO to at least 1600.
• Set the White Balance to Daylight or Sunny or use a Custom White Balance. Auto White Balance seems to work OK as well.
• Focus on infinity and then lock the focus (See above.)
• Use a tripod.
• Use the self-timer or a remote release to open the shutter. (The Nikon remote release is an $18 bargain. You need one.)
• Using the long exposure noise reduction is a help in getting a “cleaner” image, but it does double the time it takes to make long exposures.
To prevent “star trails” the 500 Rule is a great starting place. The 500 Rule: 500 Divided By the Focal Length of Your Lens = The Longest Exposure (in Seconds) Before Stars Start to “Trail”. For example; let’s say you’re taking a shot with a 24mm lens on a full frame camera. 500 / 24 = 21 seconds, which you can round to 20 seconds.
Hope this helps getting you started. Happy shooting!
Actually if you push the info button in the back of the camera, you can hold down the ISO button and change it back and forth from “AUTO” using the front dial wheel, and the ISO value using the back dial wheel, without going into the menu every time
well done article congratulations are recently in possession of a Nikon D600 and I found his settings very useful.
just followed all your instructions tonight and i’m happy to say i already see improvement.. its night time now so i took a photo inside and to my surprise my photos are not orange lol!! they are now the right color!! Will try it outside tomorrow again and hopefully things have improved there too!!
Thanks a bunch..
As a test, try setting your lens to manual focus. Under your lighting conditions it may be having trouble focusing. With auto focus if it can’t focus it won’t take a picture. Another of my favorite mistakes is to have the camera set to remote release and then trying to use the release button. Or vice versa. It’s a swell camera. I hope this helps you to get started.
This is my first full frame body, and so I used your settings as a guide to get started for myself. I’ve noticed, after matching your settings, I went to take a test picture and it will not allow me to take the photo. I am in fairly dim lighting, but even when I switched over to AUTO from A, it still would not take the photo. It was working before your settings, so which ones could possibly be putting this restriction on me? I went over it again and turned things off to see if it fixed but it did not…