PHOTOGRAPHY 101: SETTING UP YOUR CANON, NIKON, OR SONY CAMERA

If you’re new to photography, you’ve probably found that getting to know your camera can be kind of tricky! But don’t worry: with a little patience and practice, you’ll soon get the hang of the different settings and know when and how to use them.

In the previous post, we went over the three main settings of manual mode: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Now let’s go over some basic setup instructions for Canon, Nikon, and Sony cameras and discuss why certain settings might be useful. 

Keep in mind that although the setup should generally be the same across the board, there might be some differences between various camera models. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions, but when all else fails, you can always turn to the all-knowing Google. 

As we get started, make sure your main camera detail is on M (manual mode). Now let’s dive into some of the different settings and talk about why they might be handy.

Continuous Focus

There’s nothing more disappointing than a fuzzy photo, especially when you’re trying to capture a moving object (or kid). Thankfully, continuous focus is incredibly helpful for keeping those moving subjects looking sharp. Here’s how to access this mode on your camera:

Canon

  1. Press [Q] on your camera body.
  2. Scroll over until either [ONE SHOT] or [AL FOCUS] is highlighted. If it already is on [Al Servo], you’re good to go.
  3. Select to open more options.
  4. Select [Al Servo].

Nikon

  1. Press the [i] button on your camera body.
  2. Scroll until [AF-A] is highlighted.
  3. Press [OK] to select and show more options.
  4. Select [AF-C].

Sony

  1. Press [Menu] on your camera body.
  2. Select the camera icon (camera settings).
  3. Select [Focus Mode].
  4. Select [AF-C].

Continuous Shooting

Another handy tool for shooting moving objects is continuous shooting mode. Sometimes called “burst mode,” it’s just what it sounds like: as you hold the shutter button, the camera will take a rapid succession of photos, giving you an even better chance of capturing that perfect shot. Here’s how to activate it:

Canon

  1. Press [Q].
  2. Scroll over until you see that a plain-looking square is highlighted.
  3. Select to open more options.
  4. Select the icon that looks like multiple squares are stacked on top of each other.

Nikon

  1. Press the [i] button on your camera body.
  2. Scroll until [s] is highlighted (Release Mode).
  3. Select to open more options.
  4. Select the icon that looks like multiple squares are stacked on top of each other.

Sony

  1. Press [Menu] on your camera body.
  2. Select the camera icon (camera settings).
  3. Select [Drive Mode].
  4. Select [Cont. Shooting].

Image Quality: RAW

To get the highest-quality images, you’ll want to set your camera to shoot in RAW format rather than JPEG. An image shot in RAW comes with more data, giving you more to work with and the ability to make adjustments to the image in a more seamless way. Here’s how to find this setting:

Canon

  1. Press [Q] on your camera body.
  2. Scroll over until [L] is highlighted. There is a quarter-circle shape next to the L.
  3. Select to open more options.
  4. Select [RAW].

Nikon

  1. Press the [i] button on your camera body.
  2. Scroll until [NORM] is highlighted (image quality).
  3. Press [ok] to select and expand more options.
  4. Select [RAW].

Sony

  1. Press the [i] button on your camera body
  2. Select the camera icon (camera settings)
  3. Select [Image Quality].
  4. Select [RAW].

My tip: I use RAW. For me personally, it makes me feel better to have a better quality photo. Having said that, most cameras capture beautiful jpeg photos, so don’t worry about this too much if you are taking only pictures of your family. 

Single Focus Point

This mode can be especially useful for stationary or slow-moving objects, as your camera will focus on a single point—for instance, the eyes of the subject in your photo—and capture that point with incredible accuracy. Here’s how to find it:

Canon

  1. Press the circular button (usually on the right) next to the square icon with what looks like a grid inside on your camera body. It can be found on the top right corner of the back of your camera body.
  2. Press [ok] to highlight only one focal point.
  3. Make sure the center focal point is highlighted. If it isn’t, use the arrow keys to scroll until the center point is highlighted.
  4. Press [Q] to return to the main menu.

Nikon

  1. Press the [i] button on your camera body.
  2. Scroll until the icon that looks like a dark rectangle surrounded by brackets is highlighted (called AF Area Mode).
  3. Press [ok] to select and expand more options.
  4. Select [Single-Point AF].
  5. Confirm that the center focal point is in brackets. (Look at the bottom right side of the screen and you’ll see a large, dark rectangle. The bracketed focal point should be in the center.) If it isn’t on the center focal point, use the arrow keys to scroll until the center point is bracketed.

Sony

  1. Press [Menu] on your camera body.
  2. Select the camera icon (camera settings) and scroll to the third page.
  3. Select [Focus Area].
  4. Select [Flexible Spot] and rotate the control wheel to select the smallest-size spot.

My tip: I use this setting the most even for a large group. I adjust settings after I focus on the person. Lately, many cameras can automatically catch people’s faces which has been a game changer! 

Back Button Focus

Activating this setting means that you’ll no longer be able to focus by pressing the shutter button halfway. Instead, you’ll focus the camera by hitting a button on the back of the camera, usually the one labeled AF-ON. How is that useful? The answer is that separating the shutter and focus functions will allow you to continuously focus the camera while taking shots whenever the moment’s right, giving you more control and flexibility. Here’s how to enable it:

Canon

  1. Press [Menu] on your camera body
  2. Scroll over to the Custom Controls menu, which will read C.Fal, C.Fall, etc
  3. Select [C.FnIV: Operations/Others]
  4. Scroll down to 1:AE lock/AF and select
  5. Press [Menu] to return to the main screen. Your AF-ON button will now act as the Back Button Focus.

Nikon

First, check to see if you have the AF-ON button on the back of your camera. It will say AF-ON on the button itself.

If you do:

  1. Press the [Menu] button on your camera body.
  2. Scroll over to the pencil icon (Custom Settings Menu).
  3. Scroll down to [f. Controls] and press the right arrow to select.
  4. Select [custom control assignment].
  5. Scroll down to the AF-ON button and make sure it’s assigned to AF-ON.
  6. Go back to your Custom Settings Menu (pencil icon) and scroll up to [a. Autofocus].
  7. Select [ai. AF-C Priority Selection] and put it on [Release].
  8. Go back one page and select [a9. AF Activation].
  9. Set this to [AF-ON Only]. Your AF-ON button will now act as the Back Button Focus.

If you do not:

  1. Press the [Menu] button on your camera body.
  2. Scroll over to the pencil icon (Custom Settings Menu).
  3. Select [Assign AE-L/AF-L button].
  4. Scroll down to AF-ON.
  5. Go back to the Custom Settings Menu (pencil icon) and scroll up to [a. Autofocus].
  6. Select [ai. AF-C Priority Selection] and set it on [Release]. Your AE-L/AF-L Button will now act as the Back Button Focus.

Sony

  1. Press the [Menu] on your camera body.
  2. Select the gear icon (Custom Settings).
  3. Select [AF w/Shutter] found on page 4 and change it to “Off.”
  4. Select [Custom Key Settings], found on page 5.
  5. Select [AEL Button] and switch it to AF On. Your AEL Button will now act as the Back Button Focus.

My tip: A back button focus for life! This is one of my favorite settings! This setting helps to focus much easier and faster than doing it normally. Try it and see what you think! 

If you have managed to make it this far, congrats! Personally, when I started photography, getting these settings down was kind of a struggle, so I really hope you find this information helpful. Don’t forget to be patient with yourself as you figure out what works for you and your camera, and be sure to have fun with the process!

If you want to learn about the three basics of manual mode, read HERE.