If you have a camera made anytime in the last few decades, it likely has customizable buttons that you can program. Many forego this, understandably. It proposes to make shooting life easier, but between programming it and then remembering what you’ve put there, the juice often doesn’t seem worth the squeeze.
Most of you who’ve been shooting for a while already know about programming the rear button, near where your thumb rests, for focusing and then disabling that function on the shutter release button. This is known as back focusing and some swear by it while others think it much ado about nothing. But because it’s already so well-covered, I’m leaving that one alone, and choosing to offer up the other two menu items I nearly always allocate to a function (Fn) button somewhere on the camera. They may surprise you, but I’ll get into why I do it and how it helps my photography, too.
Quick Access Menu vs Function Buttons
Before understanding my top two programmable button items, you’d need to understand my overall menu strategy. All digital cameras these days have some kind of quick-access menu, which is in essence a shortlist of one’s most-accessed menu items.
My choices for a quick access menu are the standard ones: White balance, shooting modes (high speed, low speed, timed, etc.), metering options, wifi, noise reduction, image quality options and focusing options. I also have an option for in-camera stabilization, for some tricky handheld shots in low light.
The nice thing about my Nikon is that these menu options change if I’m doing video. So, by switching over to video, I’m suddenly offered up frame rates, resolution sizes, sound options, stabilization and focus tracking features.
This is all great, but also means that a function button should do something different, and not act as a spillover for quick access menu items. Here is my take on the two things that a programmed button should do for you:
The greatest benefit of a hard button that you can function is to help your shot be better while you’re shooting. If by pressing it, you get some added benefit with your eye against the viewfinder, well okay then, that’s helpful. And different than what you do with a quick access menu.
And the other benefit of a programmed button is to offer up something creative into your shoot that, without the button, you probably wouldn’t do. It’s very hard to break your flow during a shoot to try to fiddle with your camera and set it up for something different. By programming something creative to a place right where your finger is resting, you can spice up a shoot without losing time or concentration.
My Top Quality Function: Focus Zoom
My favorite quality-oriented thing to program into my primary Fn button is focus zoom — a feature that is nearly impossible to find or access otherwise. There are a lot of occasions for manual focus for me — especially when doing video. By programming a Fn button to zoom in, I give myself that much more control over the accuracy of my focusing in manual mode. And I don’t have to ever take my eye off the camera to do it.
In fact, when you’ve allocated your focus to a back button (not the shutter release), using focus zoom to focus in essence switches you over to a manual focus mindset without making any changes to your camera settings at all. And in most cameras, you can choose how much you want to zoom. In the Nikon, the choices are 50%, 100% or 200%.
My Top Creativity Function: Multi-Exposure
And my other favorite, but creative-oriented, thing to program into my secondary Fn button is multiple exposures. It’s one of those things that I probably would do far less of if there wasn’t an easy option to access it. In fact, doing a multiple exposure shot in a digital camera is pretty sophisticated — you need to choose how many images you want for it and whether it’s a one-time thing or ongoing. But creating a hard button to access all of this, I can do this all without ever taking my eye off the viewfinder.
Also, with my Nikon Z6ii, in multiple exposure mode, I can actually see my first shot semi-translucently overlaid on my live view, offering me total control over my double exposures. Double exposure shooting is my favorite way to take a normal scene and do something different with it. Having it programmed into a hard button means I always have the feature available to me without ever breaking my concentration or focus.
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