The Nikon D780 is a complex camera with plenty of menu options that may leave new D780 owners confused. So, I’ve created this guide to explain the camera’s most important settings, including how I set everything on my own D780. Keep in mind that these are just personal preferences – there’s a reason why Nikon has so many options on the D780, and the settings I use won’t always be optimal for your photography. That said, the information below is a great place to start if you are feeling confused about the settings and menu options on the D780, and I hope you find it useful.
Table of Contents
Before diving into the menu, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the main buttons, switches, and dials on the Nikon D780. Ideally, you wouldn’t even have to open the menu except on rare occasions – instead, you’ll set as much as possible using these external controls to speed up the process.
To start, let’s take a look at the front of the camera, where you’ll find a number of important buttons: Pv, Fn, flash, BKT, and AF/M, as well as a command dial at the top and an unlabeled lens release button. You can see all those in the diagram below:
What do each of these settings do? I’ll cover each one briefly:
- The dial (called the “Sub Command Dial”) does a huge range of tasks. It can alternate between manual and Auto ISO, change exposure compensation, and change shutter speed in manual mode. Chances are good that you’ll be adjusting this a lot.
- The Pv (“preview”) button is completely programmable. I set it to open the top item in MY MENU, as covered below.
- The Fn (“function”) button is another completely programmable button. I set it to adjust Exposure Delay Mode.
- The flash button adjusts your flash settings (such as exposure compensation) when you have a speedlight attached to the D780.
- The BKT button stands for “bracketing,” which means that a series of photos you take will be (intentionally) metered differently. People use this so they can automatically take a series of photos from dark to bright, either to combine into an HDR or make sure that they are capturing good exposures. Press this button and rotate the command dials to change your bracketing settings. Personally, I leave this turned off; I typically adjust exposures manually if I need to bracket a series of shots. But if you do a lot of bracketing, you’ll probably find it useful.
- The large, unlabeled button is what you use to switch lenses. Press this button and turn the lens to the left (looking down on it) to remove and swap with another.
- The autofocus vs manual focus switch does exactly what it sounds: It’s a way to switch from one to the other on your camera. There’s usually no reason to switch this to manual focus, since you can do the same thing on the lens itself – but if you prefer to switch via the camera, there’s nothing wrong with that. Also, the button within the AF/M switch is an important one. By pressing this button and rotating one of the two dials on the D780, you can switch between different autofocus modes and AF area modes. This is a very common adjustment to make. (We have a whole article explaining autofocus modes and the best ones to use.)
Nikon D780 Back
You’ll find most of the D780’s main buttons and options on the back. Many of these are intuitive, and you can find the answers in the Nikon D780 manual if you are unsure what each one does. Still, I will cover the most important of these below:
- The AF-On button focuses when you press it. This is also known as back button focus, and it’s a very useful tool to have at your disposal.
- The AE-L / AF-L button locks exposure when you press it, though it can be customized extensively in the Nikon D780’s “Controls” menu.
- The direction pad with OK in the middle is how you’ll select everything from menu options to focus points. Most of the time, you can click the right-hand arrow rather than the OK button itself to select something, which is very useful if you are wearing gloves.
- The switch around the direction pad, which goes between “L” and “•,” will lock your autofocus point in place so that you don’t accidentally move it. Although this can be useful in certain conditions, it’s also the first setting you should look at if your autofocus points are stuck and can’t move!
- The dial on the back is the main Command Dial. It’s extremely useful, since you’ll spin it to adjust nearly every setting on the D780. Often, you’ll press down a button on the camera and spin this dial to change something quickly rather than resorting to a menu.
- The LV button at the top opens live view, which switches from the viewfinder to showing everything on the camera’s rear LCD screen. The benefit of live view is that you have a better idea of what your sensor is seeing, but the downside is that it takes up more battery and makes autofocus slower. I tend to use live view for landscape photography, and I use the viewfinder for things like wildlife and portraits.
- The switch around the LV button changes you from stills to video mode. It only impacts things when you’re in live view; you can’t film video while looking through the D780’s viewfinder.
- The “i” button pulls up different menus whether you are in video live view, photo live view, or the viewfinder. It is just a small menu to do brief tasks; for example, in movie mode, you can use it to adjust your microphone settings. I typically don’t use the “i” button very often, though, because I’ve set my D780 to have direct button access to the settings I need.
- The magnifying glass buttons will magnify your live view screen or zoom in on images you’ve already taken. The negative magnifying glass button lets you change your metering settings if you hold it down.
All the other buttons are self explanatory or less important day to day. If you need additional info, you can find it all in your D780’s user manual. At this point, it’s time to look at the buttons on the top.
Now let’s move to the top of the camera. On the left-hand side, you can see that the D780 has a double-layered dial. To rotate the top dial, press down on the center button. To rotate the bottom dial, press down on the button to the bottom-left side of the dial. The remaining buttons on the right of the D780 are also quite useful. I’ll cover all those here.
- The shutter button is what you press to take a photo. If you half-press this button, you will wake up your camera’s meter as well as activate vibration reduction. Also, by default, half-pressing will autofocus, although I recommend turning this off, since there are situations where it isn’t ideal to have autofocus coupled to the button that takes a photo.
- The switch around the shutter button turns the D780 on and off.
- The +/- button with the dot next to it will adjust your exposure compensation Press it down and spin the main command dial. This is a very important way to help avoid overexposure or underexposure in your images when shooting in a semi-automatic mode (in manual mode with manual ISO, this won’t change your exposure, since you’re taking control of all the variables the D780 could use for that purpose).
- The ISO button adjusts your ISO when you hold it down and spin the main command dial. Also, hold it down and spin the sub command dial to turn Auto ISO on and off.
- The button with the red dot will start recording video when you’re in live view video mode. It also can be programmed to perform a few other functions in photo mode if you so choose, such as changing your metering settings.
- Going back to the left-hand side, the top dial is how you change between your various camera modes. You’ll end up doing this a lot, especially if you use the power of U1 and U2 modes to save a full bank of your settings. For advanced photography, you’ll likely stick to the A, M, U1, and U2 modes.
- The lower dial on the left lets you change the camera’s firing behavior. It includes things like switching from single-shot to continuous-shot modes (where the camera just takes one photo if you press the shutter button, or it takes a burst as you hold it down). This also is where you’ll go if you want to use the D780’s quiet shutter mode, self-timer, or mirror lockup mode.
Next, I’ll cover the menu settings that you will find most useful on the D780, starting from the top of the menu (the Playback options) to the bottom. Note that you also can press the “?” key on the back of the D780 to learn more about certain settings in your menu, although this isn’t available for all of them.
Most of these are personal preferences dealing with how images look when you review them on the D780. You can leave most of them at their defaults if you like, but here is how I set up my D780:
- Playback display options
- Focus point: Not checked
- Exposure info: Not checked
- Highlights: Checked
- RGB histogram: Checked
- Shooting data: Not checked
- Overview: Checked
- None (image only): Checked
- Image review: ON (this determines whether or not your photo pops up immediately after you take it)
- After delete: Show next
- Rotate tall: OFF
These are the playback settings that matter, or at least the ones that aren’t one-time things (like creating a slide show).
The “Payback display options” are useful, because they enable you to scroll through a few different pieces of information about a photo when you review it and press Up on the direction pad. It’s a personal preference which information you care to see, but I at least recommend turning on “RGB histogram” so you can get an accurate graph of how bright your photo is, and “None (image only)” so you can get a clear view of your composition.
However, the only really critical setting here is Rotate Tall. This is pretty important to turn OFF. Otherwise, when you take a vertical photo, it will rotate on the LCD screen and appear quite small – very hard to analyze, and even worse when you shoot vertical photos on a tripod, because you have to dismount and flip your camera horizontally to preview them (or turn your head sideways uncomfortably).
Next up is the Photo Shooting Menu, which has several options. I’ll start by listing the settings I use, and then afterwards I’ll explain why I made those decisions:
- Reset photo shooting menu: —
- Storage folder: default, don’t change
- File naming: D78 or 780 (rather than default DSC) to immediately tag photos from this camera
- Roll played by card in Slot 2: Backup
- Image area
- Choose image area: FX
- Auto DX crop: On
- Viewfinder mask display: On
- Image quality: NEF (RAW)
- Image size: grayed out when shooting RAW
- NEF (RAW) recording
- Type: Lossless compressed
- NEF (RAW) bit depth: 14-bit
- ISO sensitivity settings
- ISO sensitivity: 100
- Auto ISO sensitivity control: ON
- Maximum sensitivity: 6400
- Maximum sensitivity with flash: 6400
- Minimum shutter speed: Auto -> Center option
- White balance: AUTO -> AUTO0 Keep white (reduce warm colors)
- Set Picture Control: SD (Standard), Default values
- Manage Picture Control: —
- Color space: Adobe RGB
- Active D-Lighting: OFF
- Long Exposure NR: OFF (grayed out if you’re in live view and have turned on “silent live view photography” below; you cannot do long exposure noise reduction when using the electronic shutter)
- High ISO NR: OFF
- Vignette control: OFF
- Diffraction compensation: OFF
- Auto distortion control: OFF
- Flicker reduction
- Flicker reduction setting: OFF
- Flicker reduction indicator: ON
- Flash control: grayed out unless you are using an external flash
- Auto bracketing
- Auto bracketing set: AE & flash bracketing
- Number of shots: 0F
- Increment: 1.0
- Multiple exposure: OFF
- HDR (high dynamic range): OFF
- Interval timer shooting: OFF
- Time-lapse movie: OFF
- Focus shift shooting: OFF
- Silent live view photography: ON
That’s a decent number of options, but the good news is that you will not change most of these very often at all.
You will almost certainly want to shoot your photos in RAW for most situations (see RAW vs JPEG), which renders many of the other settings irrelevant, since they are specific to JPEG (see “Which Camera Settings Affect RAW Photos?”). However, your selections here do still affect your “JPEG preview,” i.e., the way your photos look when you review them in your camera. This is the reason I recommend leaving most of these settings turned OFF. One exception is color space, which I have set to Adobe RGB. It still only affects JPEGs, but it can make the preview on the back of your camera slightly more accurate, since it displays a wider range of colors than when set to sRGB.
On occasion, I will enable “Long Exposure Noise Reduction” if I am taking a picture with a multi-minute shutter speed and I am worried about the digital noise my sensor might generate during that time. Unlike many of the other options here, long exposure NR does affect RAW photos. However, it will double the length of time it takes to capture a photo, since the camera takes two images in succession. If I have the time, that’s fine, but I leave it off by default because of the extra time it takes. (Also note that it is grayed out if you’re in live view with silent live view photography turned on, since you cannot shoot long exposure NR images with the D780’s electronic shutter.)
The last setting I’ll mention is something I change quite frequently: ISO Sensitivity Settings. The settings I listed above are good for handheld photos if your subject isn’t moving too quickly (i.e. not sports). The reason I recommend putting the minimum shutter speed to “Auto” and keep it in the center is to make sure the D780 doesn’t use shutter speeds that are too long and cause blurry photos. This way, the D780 will avoid using a shutter speed longer than 1/(twice your focal length). So if you have a 50mm lens on the D780, the camera will never set a shutter speed longer than 1/100 second unless your ISO goes over 6400. You’ll need to be stricter for sports (putting the dial all the way to the right for “faster”). And when you’re on a tripod, I recommend leaving Auto ISO turned off and selecting your ISO manually (usually base ISO 100 on the D780). If all of this seems unfamiliar, I recommend reading our guides to ISO and Auto ISO.
Because of the importance of the ISO Sensitivity Settings option, I chose to put this as the top item in My Menu, and (as I’ll cover later) I also set one of the Custom Function buttons on the front of the D780 to access the top item in My Menu. So, I can change these ISO settings very quickly rather than hunting back through the menu to find them each time.
The Nikon D780 has a separate menu for shooting video, and although many of these options are similar to the ones I just explained, these only affect videos you film and not photos you take.
- Reset movie shooting menu: —
- File naming: 78V, or something similar to label these as videos from the D780
- Choose image area: FX (though switched to DX when I need extra crop; it doesn’t reduce video resolution to do so)
- Destination: Memory Card Slot 1
- Frame size/frame rate: 3840×2160; 24p
- Movie quality: grayed out because I’m shooting 4K videos, but left at HIGH when I shoot 1080p videos
- Movie file type: MOV
- ISO sensitivity settings
- Maximum sensitivity: 12,800
- Auto ISO control (mode M): OFF
- ISO sensitivity (mode M): 100 in good light, but changes frequently via the ISO button on the camera
- White balance: Same as photo settings (AUTO0)
- Set picture control: Usually, “same as photo settings,” but FLAT if I plan to do a lot of editing to the video
- Manage picture control: —
- Active D-Lighting: Off
- High ISO noise reduction: High
- Diffraction compensation: On
- Flicker reduction: Auto
- Electronic VR: OFF when shooting from a tripod (crops the video); ON when shooting handheld
- Microphone sensitivity: Manual sensitivity > Auto (if shooting audio from the D780); anywhere 1-8 if shooting with external mic (and then boost gain on external mic)
- Attenuator: ON
- Frequency response: Wide range in general; vocal range if only speaking
- Wind noise reduction: ON
- Headphone volume: Whatever is comfortable with your headphones
- Timecode: —
Many of these settings are simply the default values. However, keep in mind that shooting video is like shooting a rapid succession of JPEGs. All your JPEG settings apply now, from High ISO Noise Reduction to Picture Control. I pick the settings above because they make for video that looks good without much post-processing needed. If you want to do heavy post-processing, you will probably want less aggressive settings (especially for your Picture Control).
As for ISO sensitivity settings, I leave them so that Auto ISO will be off by default in manual mode, and I will set the ISO manually. I film almost all my videos in manual mode and generally don’t want the camera changing brightness throughout the course of a shot. However, if you do, I recommend turning Auto ISO on.
Next up is the custom setting menu (the pencil icon) which covers everything from autofocus settings to button assignments. This is an important section of the menu, and it’s where you’ll be most likely to change things from their default values.
- AF-C priority selection: Release
- AF-S priority selection: Release
- Focus tracking with lock-on: AF 3 (Normal)
- 3D-tracking face detection: On
- Auto-area AF face/eye detection: Face and eye detection on
- Focus points used: ALL
- Store points by orientation: OFF
- AF activation: OFF (AF-ON only)
- Focus point wrap-around: OFF
- Focus point options
- Focus point illumination: ON
- Manual focus mode: ON
- Dynamic-area AF assist: ON
- Low Light AF: ON
- EV steps for exposure cntrl: 1/3
- Easy exposure compensation: ON
- Matrix metering: Face detection on
- Center-weighted area: 12mm
- Fine-tune optimal exposure: —
- Timers/AE lock
- Shutter-release button AE-L: OFF
- Standby timer: 30s
- Self-timer delay: 5s
- Number of shots: 1
- Interval between shots: 0.5s
- Monitor off delay: 1m, 1m, 5m, 1m, 5m
- CL mode shooting speed: 4 fps
- Max. continuous release: 100
- Sync. release mode options: Sync
- Exposure delay mode: OFF
- Electronic front-curtain shutter: OFF
- Extended shutter speeds: ON
- File number sequence: ON
- Save original (EFFECTS): OFF
- Exposure preview (Lv): ON
- Framing grid display: OFF
- Peaking highlights
- Peaking level: OFF
- Peaking highlight color: Red
- LCD illumination: OFF
- Live view in continuous mode: ON
- Flash sync speed: 1/200
- Flash shutter speed: 1/60
- Exposure comp. for flash: Entire frame
- Auto flash ISO sensitivity control: Subject only
- Modeling flash: ON
- Bracketing order: MTR > under > over
- Customize i menu
- Personal preference on your most-used settings; I don’t use the “i” menu except in video mode, because all my common settings are accessible directly by buttons instead
- Customize i menu (Lv)
- Same – I don’t use this; if there are any settings you want to access quickly but can’t assign to a specific button, this is the fastest way to do it
- Custom control assignment
- Preview button: Access top item in MY MENU
- Fn button: Exposure delay mode
- AE-L / AF-L button: AE lock (Reset on release)
- AF-On button: AF-On
- BKT button: Auto bracketing
- Movie record button: Metering
- OK button
- Viewfinder photography: RESET
- Live view: RESET
- Playback mode: Zoom on/off
- 1:1 (100%)
- Customize command dials
- Reverse rotation
- Exposure compensation: unchecked
- Shutter speed/aperture: checked
- Change main/sub
- Exposure setting: ON
- Autofocus setting: OFF
- Aperture setting: Sub-command dial
- Menus and playback: ON
- Sub-dial frame advance: 50 frames
- Reverse rotation
- Release button to use dial: OFF
- Reverse indicators: Bottom option, with negative values on the left and positive on the right
- Lightbulb switch: LCD backlight
- Customize i menu
- Custom i menu
- Customize as you see fit; I make sure to add at least Picture Control, highlight display, electronic VR, and peaking highlights
- Custom controls
- Preview button: Exposure compensation +
- Function button: Exposure compensation –
- AE-L/AF-L button: AE lock (Hold)
- AF-On button: AF-On
- Shutter-release button: Take photos
- Custom i menu
That is a huge number of options, so I will not go over everything individually, but it’s safe to say that you also have a lot of individual choice for these things, and some (say, “Monitor off delay,” which simply determines how long your camera waits before turning off the LCD) are entirely down to personal preference. However, there are a few things I’ll mention because they are relevant for many photographers who use the Nikon D780.
First, I strongly encourage you to switch “AF activation” (under “Autofocus”) to be AF-ON only. This decouples your autofocus from the shutter button, meaning that your D780 doesn’t refocus every time you take a photo. Once a photographer tries AF-ON, also known as back button focusing, they rarely go back! However, it takes a couple days to get used to this, because you no longer focus when you half-press the shutter button. It’s worth the learning curve.
Aside from that, I’ve found it useful to assign the preview button on the front of the D780 to access the top item in MY MENU. This is useful because, with a single button press, you are already at your most-used menu item (I pick ISO sensitivity settings) and have quick access to everything else in MY MENU. This speeds things up significantly in practice, although you do need to take the time to set up your MY MENU ahead of time to encompass your commonly used menu settings.
Personally, I set AF-C and AF-S (the first two options in “Autofocus”) both to be release priority. The benefit here is that the camera takes a photo every time I press the shutter button rather than only when my subject is in focus and I’ve pressed the button. Some people prefer to set one or both of these to be focus priority, which works fine, but be aware that your camera may not take photos when you press the shutter button under this setting, if it thinks your subject is out of focus.
One setting that I noted as OFF above, but which can be useful for landscape photography, is Exposure Delay Mode (under Shooting/display). In this case, the D780 will raise its mirror, wait the specified amount of time, and then take a photo, minimizing blur from mirror slap. However, because this adds a 1-3 second delay to each photo, I only recommend it when you are photographing something from a tripod. I find this setting so useful that I added it to the Function button on the front of the D780, so now I can press that button and rotate whenever I want to use Exposure Delay Mode.
One of the most exciting new features on the Nikon D780 is the native ability to shoot exposures up to 900 seconds (15 minutes) long. In order to enable this option, you need to turn ON “Extended shutter speeds” under the shooting/display part of the custom menu. I definitely recommend doing this!
Beyond that, if you have any specific questions about the other settings, feel free to ask in the comments. Given the sheer number of settings, I don’t have room to explain all of them in detail here. If anything is confusing to you still, Nikon’s online D780 manual does a pretty good job explaining what the various options do (and why they may be grayed-out).
A lot of the items in this menu are not things you’ll touch after setting them for the first time, such as date and time. However, there still are a few settings within the setup menu that are worth covering, and I’ll go into them here.
- Format memory card: Only click “YES” when you are fine with all the photos on your memory card being deleted (or that is your goal). This is irreversible, but it is good to do when you switch the memory card into the D780 from another camera, or you’ve finished offloading all your images onto the computer and you want a clear card.
- Save user settings: This is a very useful option that will save all your current settings – including things like PASM mode, shutter speed, RAW settings, focus settings, and so on – to the U1 or U2 options on the top Mode Dial. For example, you may want to save your go-to family snapshot settings to U1 and your tripod-based landscape settings to U2 to switch between them easily.
- Reset user settings: —
- Language: Personal preference
- Time zone and date: Personal preference
- Monitor brightness: 0
- Monitor color balance: —
- Virtual horizon: —
- Information display: Manual > Dark on light
- AF fine-tuning options: If you have consistently front-focused or back-focused images with one particular lens, and you know how to test your lens for focusing issues, this is where you can recalibrate it
- Non-CPU lens data: Miniature menu for categorizing your old or third-party manual focus lenses so their EXIF data is correct
- Clean image sensor: Clean at startup/shutdown
- Lock mirror up for cleaning: Used for manual dry or wet cleaning your camera sensor; not recommended without proper knowledge and practice (grayed out if your battery is low)
- Image dust off reference photo: —
- Pixel mapping: —
- Image comment: OFF
- Beep options: OFF
- Touch controls: I turn them OFF, since I often trigger them inadvertently and prefer buttons I can feel, but many photographers will keep them ON.
- Output resolution: Auto
- Advanced: Defaults
- Location data: Defaults
- Wireless remote options: Defaults (can customize if you are using a remote shutter release)
- Assign remote (WR) Fn button: Used if your remote shutter release has a custom function button; entirely personal preference
- Airplane mode: OFF
- Connect to smart device: OFF
- Connect to PC: OFF
- Wireless transmitter (WT-7): Grayed out unless you have a Nikon WT-7 transmitter
- Conformity marking: —
- Battery info: —
- Slot empty release lock: LOCK – Release locked
- Save/load menu settings: —
- Reset all settings: —
- Firmware version: —
Very few of these are things you’ll need to access frequently. For the most part, I only open this menu when I need to format my memory card or lock up my mirror for cleaning the camera sensor.
That covers everything! Again, all of the settings above are what I personally use in my own Nikon D780. It’s not the perfect configuration for every photographer, and it varies based on the types of subjects you like to shoot. But it’s still a good starting point. So, if you have any questions about how to set the D780 properly, or why I recommended certain settings rather than others, feel free to leave a comment and ask below.