Monday, January 5, 2009

Canon 40D's C1, C2, C3 - Custom Modes I wish I had been using all along!

After spending two weeks drooling over the new Canon 5D Mark II, I started feeling like my 40D was inadequate. Of course it's not, but well, camera envy has its grip on the best of us. Being broke, I decided the best way to upgrade my camera was to pull out the manual and learn all those cool, unnecessary features. I didn't expect that search to get me so giddy!

Many of the newer Canon DSLRs have C1, C2, and some have C3 modes on the mode dial that you can fully customize. I never felt the need to save custom functions - I figured it only applied to a few of the minor features buried in the C.Fn-I through C.Fn-IV menus. Well, that's not the case - it seems that just about every setting on the camera can be mapped into one of these custom mode buckets - even the shooting mode (Av, Tv, M) and the ISO, aperture (in Av or M modes) and shutter speed (in Tv or M modes).

Are you excited yet?

Okay, here's why you should be. You know how you're at a get together and you're flipping back and forth between ambient-only and flash-assisted ambient? Or, when you're shooting fast-action sports one second, and then a portrait of a player as he comes back to the bench the next?

hrm, one more example...

How about you often shoot night shots on a tripod with Live view mode and mirror lock-up, but are tired of switching that setting back and forth every time?

Once you realize how great this feature is, you'll be upset that you only have two or three custom modes to set. You'll have to decide which types of shooting you do the most often, because the goal here is to save all the time that you spend changing the ISO, switching back and forth between Av and Tv modes, and turning on and off the flash. In my case, I take a lot of people shots where I prefer to use ambient, but if I have to, I'll switch to flash. I also like taking my fast lenses outside at night for some real low-light shooting, where I can push every photon as far as possible with this camera.

The following will probably be more info than you'll be interested in reading, but I'm including it because it's something I wish I would have read a year ago. Even if you're not shooting the same types of shots as I am, this should give you an idea of how you can think about these custom shooting modes, and how you can make them work for you.

Here's how I set my modes - your milage may vary:

Common Settings

** Settings common to all modes:
- Quality: RAW - if you're using JPG mode, throw out your DSLR and buy a point and shoot
- Red-eye: off - I never use on-camera flash, so I don't care
- Beep: on - I try not using it, but just can't live without it
- Review time: off - I can hit a button if I really wanna chimp
- Shooting mode: Aperture priority (Av). Most photographers use this mode at all times. I won't go into why, but if you're not using it, you should be.
- White balance: AWB (auto) - I don't care about white balance, because I shoot RAW, I change it later anyway
- Highlight alert: enable - insanely helpful feature - you can always darken a photo, but not when you blow out a section of the photo
- Histogram: brightness - just personal preference
- INFO button: shoot. func - I only use this if the camera's on a tripod and it's more convenient than looking through the viewfinder or on the LCD
- (C. Fn I) ISO expansion: on - I only use ISO3200 if I have to, but I like having the option (yes, I know it's the same thing as ISO1600 -1eV)
- (C. Fn II) - Long exp. noise reduction: off - this is annoying - I can see myself using this, but I'll temporarily switch it if so
- (C. Fn II) - High ISO speed noise reduction: off - no thank you
- (C. Fn II) - Highlight tone priority: disable - no thank you
- (C. Fn III) - Mirror lockup: disable - I use this often, but only on tripod - I have this as one of my quick settings
- (C. Fn III) - Lens drive with AF impossible: focus search on - I can deal with this - I'm capable of letting go of the
- (C. Fn III) - Lens AF stop button function: AF stop - I rarely need to cancel AF when I hit the shutter button halfway, but it's there if I need it
- (C. Fn III) - AF point selection method: Multi-controller direct - I love that joystick - it's great to jump right to the AF point you need
- (C. Fn III) - Superimposed display: On - I need this on to see what I'm focusing on
- (C. Fn III) - AF during Live View shooting: Enable - I rarely use this, but keep it available
- (C. Fn III) - Mirror lockup: Disable - I use this often, but only on tripod - I have this as one of my quick settings
- (C. Fn IV) - None of these are interesting enough to mention


1. Ambient Only
** This is the mode I'm in more often than not. If there's enough ambient light, I'm using it. I only pull out the flashes if I'm looking for a cool effect, or if they're absolutely necessary.
- Drive: low-speed continuous (3fps). This doesn't kick in immediately since there's three shots per second fired, so if I only want one, I can let go of the shutter button. If, however, I'm in low-enough light that I'm afraid of camera shake, I can keep the shutter down and capture a couple shots of the same scene and keep the best one.
- ISO: 1600 - Mainly because I'm usually in lower light
- Aperture: f/2.0 - I find myself shooting people in low light. Even if the lens I'm using at the time is faster than this, it's a good starting point which will get most of a face in focus close in. Note that I set this aperture when my fast f/1.4 50mm was on the camera. If I'm using a slower lens, it'll just use the fastest aperture it has.
- Metering: Spot. I'm a fan of spot mode when people are in the scene in lower light. I usually meter on someone's blurred out face, the exposure lock, focus, reframe, then shoot
- Exposure compensation: +2/3eV - in spot mode, I like to meter off of a person's face. Caucasian skin is about a stop brighter than middle gray, so I have to adjust for this or get dark shots. I'm playing it safe by not going all the way to +1eV, but if I'm shooting a lighter-skinned person or notice my shots coming bright or dark, I'll adjust. Note that this adjustment goes away after I change metering modes
- (Flash Control) Flash firing: disable - this is one of my favorite on-camera settings, because I can have a flash on camera and turned on, but not use it when this setting is disabled. This way, I can bounce between settings very quickly and not have to turn my flash on and off.
- (C. Fn III) AF-assist beam firing: Disable - In this shooting mode, I'd rather not annoy people with the focus beam. I keep this in my quick settings, in case I need it. Again, it's great to be able to turn this mode off in the camera, so I can have a flash on camera and turned on, and not have it fire a focus beam


2. Flash, with ambient dropped two stops
** This is the mode I retreat to if it's too dark for my Custom Mode #1
- Drive: single shot. I'm using a flash here. If I took back-to-back shots with it, everyone in the room will instantly hate me.
- ISO: 1600 - I'm only in this mode because it's too dark for Custom Mode #1, so ISO 1600 is clearly not enough. I will be using a flash in this mode, but rather than rely 100% on flash, I try to get at least some ambient by keeping my ISO high. I'd rather deal with some noise (which is well-controlled on the 40D) than get a shot with zero ambient when I'd really like to have some.
- Aperture: f/2.0 - I was originally going to set this to f/5.6 to get the subject safely in focus, I realized that if it's too dark for Mode #1, I'd be shooting with the same shutter speed as in that mode if I drop the aperture down two stops, then drop the exposure two as well. So, I start this out at f/2 so I can quadruple the shutter speed from Mode #1 by default. I can always override this while shooting. Note that I set this aperture when my fast f/1.4 50mm was on the camera. If I'm using a slower lens, it'll just use the fastest aperture it has.
- Metering Mode: Center-weighted - I figure in this mode, that's appropriate. I'm probably shooting a person standing right in front of me
- Exposure compensation: -2eV - this lets some ambient light fill the background a little darker than the subject, rather than leave black backgrounds, while letting you take a shot four times quicker than in Mode #1
- (Flash control) Flash firing: enable. Again, this is great to set on the camera - I can quickly switch to Mode #1 and not use the flash for a shot or two, then switch back and the flash is still powered up.
- (External flash func. setting) Flash exp. compensation: +2/3eV - I usually find my shots a little dark when using the flash. This might be due to metering on flesh tones that are a little brighter than middle gray. I keep this as a quick setting so I can override it if needed.
- (C. Fn III) AF-assist beam firing: Enable - In this shooting mode, I'm in people's faces with flashes, they can deal with some flash beam to help me focus. I keep this as a quick setting so I can override if needed


3. Low light shooting - get as much out of the lighting as you can without flash
** This is the mode to use when I'm trying to shoot where the average shooter gave up already - perhaps 30-60 minutes past sunset
- Drive: high speed continuous. I usually reserve this mode for fast-action sports shooting. However, the point of this mode is that I'm in such low light that I want to take advantage of my low-light shooting hardware. Most likely, I'm shooting around 1/20 of a second or slower, and there may be some serious camera shake. The best way to deal with camera shake is to take several shots, then throw out all but one.
- ISO: 3200 - this is actually a pushed ISO, which means it's ISO 1600, but taken at -1eV, then brightened by a stop. This brightening is a lossy operation, so more grain is introduced. It's a last-resort method of shooting, which is what this mode calls for.
- Aperture: f/1.4 - again, we're trying to get as much light to the sensor as possible while keeping this hand-holdable. Note that I set this aperture when my fast f/1.4 50mm was on the camera. If I'm using a slower lens, it'll just use the fastest aperture it has.
- Metering Mode: Center-weighted. I figure that there might be some high lighting contrast in this frame as there usually is when I shoot at night. I like sodium vapor, neon, and other lights against the setting sun and deep blue night skies. I rarely frame these shots with the bright lights in the center, and I don't mind if these have to get blown out towards the light source, leaving a nice colored halo around them. The shot is nothing if all you see is the lights - they're less important than the rest of the scene, and since I'll rarely keep them in the center of the frame, I've chosen a center-weighted metering mode which will favor the non-well-lit sections of the shot. If I used evaluative metering, I'd have the problem of the few bright lights in the shot keeping the rest of the shot dark, and the rest of the scene is what I'm after.
- Exposure compensation: +2/3eV - I usually find myself brightening the shot by a little bit, so I'm exposing to the right
- Flash Controls I turned off all flash firing, including for auto focusing. The idea of this shooting mode is to not draw a lot of attention to myself while blinding people with the flash.

I just started using these modes, so I'll have to see how well they work for me. So far, so good. It's really exciting being able to change my ISO, flash settings, exposure compensation, aperture, metering mode, and miscellaneous settings with the turn of the dial. I love being able to _quickly_ jump between flash and ambient shooting, then step outside in the dark and be a little less conspicuous, and make the most of the photons. And, as soon as I'm done using the custom settings, I can go right back to Av, Tv, or M modes, which still remember and share these settings among the three modes as well. I'm sure these custom modes are often overlooked, but if you sit down and think about the few common ways you keep shooting, you can save yourself a lot of time when shooting, and of course we all know that in the time you spend fiddling with the dial, you've just missed the moment.

The hardest part of setting this up for yourself might just be in deciding what two or three shooting modes you find yourself using the most. After that, you'll probably get as excited as I am about this - it kind of feels like you're building your ideal camera when tinkering at this level.


Larry said...

I was so glad to have found your blog, I'm new with my Canon 40D have only shot in the auto mode thus far at least when the shots counted.
I find the info very helpful although it may take me a while to get it right on the setups.
I only have a 70-200mm 2.8 Canon non IS lens. I am mainly taking daytime college soccer pics but then some games are under the lights which I haven't taken as the season won't start until this Fall; but I want to be ready by then for them. I will be doing low light Grand children sports shooting basketball etc. and of course the family pics.
I appreciate your info here, keep it coming as I don't want to be just a point and shooter.
I welcome any help or thoughts you might offer me with my quest for the type shots I'm going to be trying to get.
Your insight into the low light is great.


Blake said...

Larry -

Thanks for the feedback, I'm glad I could help! I remember learning how these settings worked felt like I had just upgraded my camera for free. They're so useful if you're switching back and forth.

Thanks again, and happy shooting. That 70-200mm f/2.8 is awesome. I just got the IS version and can't imagine not having this focal length and light sensitivity.

Jonathan said...

excellent and informative. My hats off, good sir!

I'm still learning all of the settings on my 5DII and the C1, C2, C3 modes were a bit of a puzzle. I didn't find a lot of info about it in the manual, but perhaps I was just looking in the wrong section. I had a hunch that it saved "scenario presets" but still haven't tried it out. Thanks for sharing your insights into your own settings. We shoot similar so your logic will help make my settings much faster. (I'm also picky about having ambient light over flash with my 580EXii.

I'm pretty fast at changing my settings (partly in thanks to the favorites menu) but still, this will really speed things up for me from mirror locked tripod shots to indoor flash... sounds indispensable for wedding work!


Trevor B said...

Just found this blog looking for info very similar- I just recently brought a 40D a few months ago and have the issue of night sports (hockey) under floodlights with the 70-300mm (f4-5.6) lens could not get it to stop blurring just on sports settings, read the book and found C1-3 setting, so increased the iso up but not sure of what else I can do in these setting as the are not clear int he book, yet to test this setting out at hockey.

San Diego Wedding Photographer said...

Hello, thank you for taking the time to write about the custom modes on the 40D.

I was looking for your email to contact you personnally but it just doesn't show anywhere.

A technical question for you:
How do you do to set your custom modes (c1, c2 and c3) in aperture priority? Please explain. That would be very helpful....

Best Regards,

Blake said...

San Diego Wedding Photographer -

Setup the exposure you want in Aperture Priority mode, then register the current setting as a custom mode. It's ridiculous how easy it is - it took me forever to find this. Of course, it's annoying that you can't switch an already setup custom mode from Av to Tv or vice-versa.

Hope this helps!

- Blake

Anonymous said...

Hi Blake, I just found your blog and it's already helpful. I just got a 40d and I'm working my way through the manual.

Will you answer learner questions when you have the chance? Such as,
I had enabled the highlight alert even before I read your blog and figured out what it does. What I want to know is, if the highlights are flashing in the LCD screen but I don't want to change the exposure because I want the rest of the image stopped down, and I wanted to print the image anyway, will the image print?

Also, if I disable the flash, I can override the disable when I want to with that little button?

Finally, so far I haven't been able to make the aperture preview button function the way I thought it would. In my film camera, F1, I can press a lever and see what the stopped down image will look like. From the manual, I'm supposed to be able to do this in the 40D but so far I'm not doing it right, I think.

If you answer any of these, thank you in advance!

Ken Repasi said...

Thank you for this article.It was very informative, I knew this feature existed but could not figure out how to set it from the manual or even from the guys at the camera store. I also enjoyed your recommendations and examples, They got me thinking how I can best utilize the 2 custom modes in my brand new 50D, thanks again.