Customization is a big trend. From 3D printing to personalizing phones to our face, customization is becoming a requested product feature and a competitive advantage. Cameras also try to provide more and more customizable features to cater to our individual shooting styles. In this article, I will present and compare the Nikon custom modes of the D750 and the D500 including:
- U1/2 and
- Memory banks
A D750 features ‘U1/2’ and a D500 the ‘Memory banks.’ In this article, you will learn ways to set both up. Shooting scenarios showcasing the usefulness of custom settings will be included. Finally, I will share my preferred settings for each one, as well as some thoughts on both methods.
Location and activation of U1/2
Generally a warmly received feature, U1/2 can be found on the top dial of the cameras that include them.
The way to move between them is to push the button next to the dial and spin the dial until the required setting aligns with the white indicator line next to the dial. This then becomes the active combination of preselected settings.
Location and Activation of Memory Banks
On the other hand, Memory Banks are not assigned upfront directly to physical controls. Instead, these are selectable through the menus or are assignable to button and dial press-and-turn combinations.
There are different ways to access and activate banks. The most common are:
- Through the ‘photo shooting’ and ‘custom’ menus shown below. It is the top option on both menus. These switch between the four (A/B/C/D) available photo shooting menu banks (in the photo shooting menu) and the four (A/B/C/D) available custom setting banks (in the custom setting menu). This is the longest way to set banks up, as it resides deeper in the menus.
- Through the ‘info’ button at the back of your camera. Pressing this opens up a menu and the two topmost options are: ‘photo shooting menu banks’ and ‘custom settings banks.’ There is no way to change the order in which they are shown.
- Through the ‘my menu’ tab. With this menu, you assign them in any ranking that suits you. A variation, for quicker access, is to first place either of them (but only one at any time) as the top item in ‘my menu.’ To follow, assign the shortcut ‘access top item in my menu’ to any permissible button. The buttons / / / work for this shortcut (sub-selector press).
- Through the assignable button and dial press-and-turn combinations. This method applies exclusively to ‘photo shooting menu banks.’ The buttons that can be pressed in combination with any command dial rotation are / / (sub-selector press) / (movie record button next to the shutter button). For the combination with the movie record button to work, the live view selector needs to be in rotated to .
A Conceptual Way to Approach Custom Settings
Now you should know how to access and activate both custom settings. I will now discuss the rationale behind them using them.
Firstly, I will talk about useful ‘generic’ concepts:
- Camera settings (core/output/fine-tune)
- Photographic parameters (scene variables/photographic intent/enablers)
These concepts are a framework for you to consider in the use of custom settings. I prefer this framework, rather than simply answering ‘which custom settings are best for portrait, sports, nature or any other photography genre?’ I have intentionally left out perspective (I consider this primarily impacted by lens selection) and composition (as this is the photographer’s prerogative).
1. Camera Settings
Core Settings: Aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and metering. These are at the heart of photography, regardless of genre. Most of these are changeable on the fly while shooting through the dedicated button and/or dial press/turns.
Output Settings: Most of the settings of the ‘photo shooting’ menu. These affect the output file type, size and look, such as file quality (raw and jpeg), picture control system (standard, vivid etc.), and white balance. An exception is the ISO setting, which I consider core.
Fine-tune Settings: The menu options of the ‘custom settings’ menu. These are important adjustments to the way the camera looks at and reacts to the scene/subject.
2. Photographic Parameters
Scene variables: I keep it simple, by including (available) light levels and subject movement only.
Photographic intent: This is the part where you decide what you want to convey or achieve through your photograph. Do you want to freeze or show movement? Go high or low key on the scene? Are you isolating your subject from its surroundings or showing some background detail? These (and many more) are the meaningful aesthetic choices, which make each photographer unique.
Enablers: Out of the many props/modifiers available to photographers, I include here the flash and the tripod. These two (arguably filters as well) make possible, more than anything else, the realization of our vision in diverse genres of photography (e.g. landscape, long exposure, night photography, macro etc.). Additionally, each of them has their own distinct group of settings to maximize their effectiveness.
How Do U1/2 and Memory Banks Approach These Concepts?
Any given scene can be broken down to any pair of variables (marked with x) in the table below.
I argue that superimposing our photographic intent on these sets of variables, assisted by suitable enablers, is the art and technique of photography. In my view, the custom settings number one goal is to facilitate effortless interplay between variables, intent, and enablers.
To achieve this, they should allow a quick switch from one bundle of the core, output and fine-tuning settings to another. U1/2 and Memory Banks do this in different ways, as I will demonstrate below.
Key: U1 (User-defined 1), U2 (User-defined 2), C1 (Core 1), C2 (Core 2), O1 (Output 1), O2 (Output 2), F1 (Fine-tuning 1), F2 (fine-tuning 2)
Memory Bank Table
The tables above summarize the difference in the logic of U1/2 and Memory Banks.
- U1/2 are vertical combinations of selected settings of all types of camera settings.
- Memory Banks is a matrix combination (i.e. mix and match) of primarily ‘Output’ and ‘Fine-tuning’ camera settings. The exception is the inclusion of the core ISO setting on the photo shooting Menu Banks. Turning on the ‘extended photo menu banks’ option in the ‘photo-shooting’ menu allows for the other settings (aperture/shutter/manual priorities, aperture, and shutter values as well as exposure and flash modes) to be embedded in the photo shooting banks.
Applying Custom Settings to Real-Life Shooting Scenarios
Generic Shooting Style
Before I provide some examples of real-life shooting using both custom settings, I will make a few important working assumptions about a ‘generic’ shooting style:
- You shoot various genres of photography regularly in a mixed way (i.e. you would opt for the maximum settings’ range and flexibility within easy reach)
- You do not employ back button focus. I propose you do so. It can increase your focusing and composing options, as well as your speed of shooting considerably.
- You are not a full-time raw or jpeg only shooter. Myself, I shoot raw 95% of the time/shots.
- You do not use auto ISO. I propose you do, as on the field it can make life a little less complicated.
- You have and know how to use a flash and a tripod.
Typical Shooting Situations
Now, I will walk you through one of my typical shooting situations – walking around town or traveling, to show what I ideally expect from my custom settings.
As I am strolling along, I see a nice background for a portrait. I want my camera to be on the ready with pinpoint focus accuracy (AF-S single point) with a nice shallow depth of field. Depending on surrounding light levels and contrast, I may or may not want to add flash-fill or even overpower available light using high-speed sync, so it is handy to be able to quickly access a convenient flash exposure starting point.
Along the road, a cute animal is playing. I’d like to shoot it as it moves, freeze it or do a nice pan. My camera needs to be ready to follow motion (AF-C combined with any preferred focus area mode). Also, I need quick flexibility on my shutter speed selection from a 1/1000th sec (to freeze action) down to around 1/30th sec (to pan).
I enter a beautiful garden. Flowers are perfect to photograph close-up (macro) so I set up my tripod. Here, I require a deeper depth of field and pinpoint focus accuracy again (AF-S single). If the light is not plenty, I may need a longer than usual exposure.
Turning ‘on’ long exposure noise reduction and exposure delay, provides better image quality in these scenarios. To further mitigate shake risk, I also engage mirror lock-up. Unfortunately, mirror lock is not pre-configurable in U1/2 or in Memory Banks.
On any trip, it is great to take a nice landscape photo. In this case, the macro settings above, more or less apply. If there is plenty of light, shooting handheld is not an issue.
Finally, during a town-by-night walk, a nice long exposure is always memorable. Again, the macro scenario settings and my trusty tripod come in handy.
Based on these realistic hypothetical-shooting scenarios, it is evident that settings vary considerably from auto-focus mode to shutter speed and aperture, to flash or no flash etc. You may also want to give your camera to someone for a quick snap, without having the time or inclination to explain focus, recompose or other settings.
If there is an ‘auto’ option on your modes dial then all is good, if not, then resetting to ‘waiter’ or ‘dumbbell’ mode (as full-auto is also known to some) is not quick nor easy without custom settings.
Now, I will briefly show my settings for both modes and a few tips to further increase their flexibility.
My Settings for U1/2
U1 is my ‘General Shooting Mode’ and the settings are shown in the screen below. If you employed back-button focus, then you would use AF-C instead of AF-S
U2 is my ‘Flash Shooting Mode’ and the settings are shown in the screen below.
It is important to mention that you have additional options by customizing M/A/S modes.
The Settings I Use For Memory Banks (Extended Banks ‘ON’)
My photo shooting banks are named A=General B=JPG C=Shutter D=Manual
The custom banks are named A=General B=Flash C=Tripod D=Waiter
I have set banks this way to be able to move from my usual working best quality output (e.g. A/A) to basic point and shoot output (e.g. B/D) within just a few seconds by using the ‘info’ button and changing the ‘custom settings’ banks.
Tips to maximize both methods:
- Create and rank items in ‘my menu’. This will allow quick access and change of settings that are not pre-programmable in any mode (e.g. mirror lock up).
- Especially for Memory Banks, use the ‘save/load settings’ option onto an SD card (one you will not format). Also, store the settings file on any drive for safekeeping. This will give you a quick restore method, in case you forget what your initial Memory Bank settings were after many changes, as banks are not ‘sticky’.
- Read on the net for other ways that users have set their U1/2 and banks. Their needs and style may suit yours.
So Which Method is Best?
After comparing U1/2 with Memory Banks for versatility in the above scenarios, my conclusion is that banks provide me with the highest flexibility thanks to their matrix structure. However, banks demand greater discipline in their set-up and use to remain helpful. This is because U1/2 are ‘sticky’, while banks are not.
Once settings are saved in U1/2, no matter what changes you make while shooting with U1/2 selected, you will not impact the saved settings. Simply reselect U1/2 and you are at your initial settings in a blink, hence ‘sticky’. However, all 8 banks save settings dynamically in real time as you apply them during your shooting. Following is a simplified example to elaborate:
You have U1 set up as A-priority, AF-S at f/5.6 and matrix metering. During your shoot, you move from the matrix to spot and f/8. Do you want to go quickly back to your base settings? Simply turn the dial from U1 to U2 and then back to U1 again, and you are back to f/5.6 and matrix.
In banks (both custom and shooting), if you wanted to keep your selected bank identical to the starting configuration, you would need to manually bring metering and apertures back to their initial values.
So, in the grand scheme of things, I have no complaints from either method in the Nikon Custom Settings. I am glad to have both available. I value the ease of use of U1/2 and I love the greater choice that Memory Banks give me. For example, being tripod-ready for landscape or macro, without having to remember to change many settings makes things easier and quicker.
It would be great to have an option to easily save and restore banks in camera to provide the best of both worlds, or to have the quick recovery of U1/2 with the greater choice of the banks.
Join the discussion and let us know your preferred method and way of programming Nikon Custom Settings on the D750, D500 or any other camera featuring U1/2 or banks.