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Canon 5D Camera Settings

Part One - Menu Settings
Jim Doty, Jr.

I have received several requests for an article on how I set up digital cameras for photography. Although this article is specific to the 5D, it is applicable to more than one model or brand of camera.

I change the menu items less often than the top deck controls. I will cover some menu settings with more depth than others.

QUALITY. This is almost always set to RAW+Large Fine Jpeg or to simply LARGE FINE JPEG (the highest jpeg setting). When I shoot in RAW mode I want to capture a Large Fine Jpeg at the same time. I covered the differences between RAW and JPEG settings in my RAW vs JPEG article which I won't repeat here. The points I make are still valid and the article is worth reading. There are several articles on the internet that imply or state that "serious" shooters always shoot in RAW mode. I don't agree. There are good reasons to set your camera to the highest JPEG setting. If you choose to use jpeg, then enjoy it and don't feel guilty because you read somewhere you should always shoot in RAW mode.

BEEP.  Off. I do a lot of natural light shooting in religious ceremonies and the beep would be intrusive.


AEB. (Automatic Exposure Bracketing) Sometimes I use bracketing at plus and minus 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, or one full stop. I usually bracket in manual mode by setting the aperture (f-stop) for the depth of field that I want and bracket by changing shutter speeds. If your camera is tripod mounted (and it should be as much of the time as possible), this will give you images you can combine later in the computer when the tonal range of the scene is greater than your imaging sensor can handle.

WB SHIFT/BKT. I don't usually shift or bracket the white balance.

CUSTOM WB. I use custom white balance occasionally in tricky lighting situations when shooting in jpeg mode. Check your camera manual to see how to do this. In RAW mode I usually leave the camera on AWB (auto white balance) and set the color balance after the fact with Adobe Camera Raw on the computer.

COLOR TEMP. Usually at 5200K.  Sometimes I dial this up or down as a digital version of a color compensating filter.

COLOR SPACE. This is always set to ADOBE RGB. This gives me the maximum color gamut when I open the images in a color aware program like Photoshop Elements or Photoshop CS (the "working space" in both programs is also set to ADOBE RGB). I do my own printing so the larger color gamut is important. If you shoot only for the web, or have all of your images printed by someone else, ADOBE RGB may not be as important to you.

PICTURE STYLE. Almost always set to "FAITHFUL." This setting replaces "Parameters" on the Canon 10D/20D. Faithful gives me a more neutral output than the other settings. The Standard, Portrait, Landscape, and Monochrome settings all use a "Type 1" (more contrast) tone curve. It is easy to add contrast to a photo after the fact, it isn't so easy to take away contrast. Type 1 can lead to clipping of the highlights (washed out). The Type 1 tone curve can cost you photo information that you can't recapture later in your computer. Only Neutral and Faithful use the Type 2 (flatter, less contrasty) tone curve.  Standard, Portrait, and Landscape all boost the saturation from a small to large amount. I prefer settings that won't cost me in quality. I can always add saturation in the computer. After experimenting with both the Neutral and Faithful settings, I decided I liked Neutral best.  I don't use the Monochrome setting since I prefer creating a B&W image by converting a color image after the fact on the computer. There is a good explanation of Picture Styles at DP Review.

You also have the option of three "User Defined" settings that you can create yourself for specific situations. Check the manual.

If you want to use your images "right out of the camera" without taking time to adjust them later in the computer, you might be happier with one of the enhanced settings with more contrast and saturation. The potential of a minor loss in quality may not be worth the time you save by not editing your images later.


REVIEW TIME.   4 seconds. A quick look at the image tells me if I am getting what I want compositionally. The histogram is a very valuable tool in quickly judging the exposure. I want to see both.  I don't check the review after every image, especially in fast moving situations like sports, but I do check it periodically.

AF POINTS. DISPLAY. When you review images on the LCD, a small red square shows the auto focus point that was used. If you find this helpful, leave this on DISPLAY. If you find it annoying, choose NOT DISPLAY.

HISTOGRAM. RGB. I prefer to see the histogram for all three channels (Red, Green, Blue), rather than having them combined into one as in the BRIGHT setting. That way I can see if one channel is blown out even if the others are ok.

AUTO POWER OFF.  2 minutes. The 5D (like the 20D) is so fast to wake up from the sleep mode (unlike the 10D) that it is almost instantly on when I touch the shutter button so I won't miss a grab shot. 2 minutes is plenty of time before the auto shut down. With the 10D I set this to 30 minutes. The 10D is too slow to wake up (2 seconds) if a grab shot occurs and it has gone to sleep.


LCD BRIGHTNESS. Set according to conditions.

DATE TIME. Set to where I live. I do not reset when crossing time zones since this happens too often to try and keep up. This is simply a personal preference.

FILE NUMBERING.  Continuous.

SELECT FOLDER. All of your initial images will go in folder 100 (100EOS5D) until you create a new folder (i.e. 102). Your first photo will be 100-0001. A single folder can hold up to 9999 images. The Canon 10D and 20D both create a new folder after every 100 images. With the 5D, you can create a new folder whenever you want (by day, job, month, set number of images or whatever). Files names have the folder number, followed by the 4 digit photo number (101-1287). The photo number goes up to 9999 and then starts over (if you set FILE NUMBERING to continuos), no matter what the preceding folder number is.


VIDEO SYSTEM. NTSC (I live in the U.S.)

COMMUNICATION. I haven't used this yet so it is set to the default.

FORMAT.  Once I have downloaded my memory card to my computer and AFTER I have burned all images to a back up CD or DVD, I FORMAT the card before using it again. Don't ERASE all the images on the card or you could have problems down the road with the card and its file system. It is always best to FORMAT rather than ERASE all the images. I do erase some  individual images as I go along, but that is a different situation.

CUSTOM FUNCTIONS. See the link below to the Custom Functions page.

CLEAR SETTINGS. I have never needed to use this to reset everything back to default, but it is there if I need to.

REGISTER CAMERA SETTINGS. If you choose this menu item and click OK, all current camera settings (AF, mode, AF autofocus points, ISO, Drive mode, Exposure compensation, White Balance, and Menu settings that are currently in use will be saved to the " C" mode in the Mode Dial (top left).  Why do this?  You can set up your camera for a specific shooting situation and save all settings to "C". Then you can switch to other settings, but instantly go back at any time to your saved settings anytime you need to by switching the Mode Dial to "C".  You can save a new set of settings to "C" any time you want.

SENSOR CLEAN. Cleaning the digital sensor is a fact of life for almost all digital SLRs. Read the camera manual for instructions. Use a blower bulb, NEVER use canned air. Do this only after you have fully recharged the battery.

Part Two - 5D Custom Functions
Part Three - 5D Top Deck Controls

January 31, 2006

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