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One of the advantages of modern digital cameras is that many of them, particularly higher end models, can be customized to suit individual preferences.  Canon bodies are no exception, providing extensive possibilities for user setup.  These features add greatly to camera operability in the field.  A recent and particularly useful Canon addition is the ability to configure some bodies with up to three custom shooting modes, C1, C2 and C3.  These modes can be configured to recall a variety of camera settings.

My approach to defining custom shooting modes is described herein.  The approach avoids the pitfall of trying to specify every possible shooting configuration -- an impossibility with only four settings to chose from -- three custom modes plus whatever settings are present when no custom mode is selected.  If you just want the answer without all the words in between, use the jump below.

Click to jump to Custom Shooting Modes Table

Custom Shooting Modes

Custom shooting modes are available on the 1DX, the Mark II follow-on, and recent 5D bodies, including the 5DS/r and the 5D Mark IV.  If enabled, they can be invoked with successive presses of the M-Fn multi-function button on 1DX bodies or with the mode dial on recent 5D models.

Opinions vary as to the worth of this feature.  Some never use custom modes because there are so many circumstances that three custom shooting modes just aren't adequate -- dozens would be needed.  Given the problem of remembering dozens of custom modes, we tend to agree.  Others identify a few highly specialized circumstances (out of those dozens, perhaps?) and designate the “C” settings for those isolated situations.

But is it an all-or-nothing dilemma?  Custom shooting modes can be set up in two different ways.  The first allows settings to be recalled exactly as they were stored initially, no matter what changes are made once shooting starts.  The second option saves any and all changed settings as they occur.  The latter is certainly more flexible -- negating the need to define dozens or hundreds of cases.

Deciding What to Include

Defining a few general cases, limited to permutations of parameters likely to change only in limited and predictable ways can be a useful way to quickly get camera bodies into an appropriate configuration.  The list below contains the factors I personally find important in initial camera setup.  Others, such as aperture, shutter speed and ISO values, are specific to circumstance and need not be included except in special cases specific to certain applications.  No need to remember dozens of combinations.

  • Shooting mode:  Av, Tv or Manual

  • Metering mode: Evaluative, Center-weighted, Partial or Spot

  • ISO mode: Manual selection or Auto with exposure compensation

  • AF Start:  Shutter button or AF-Start button

  • Autofocus:  One-Shot or Servo

  • Drive:  Single Frame, Low-Speed, High-Speed

Photographic Use Cases

There are a couple of important factors to be taken into account when defining custom mode -- auto ISO and the use of flash.  Recent bodies offer Auto ISO in Manual exposure mode with exposure compensation.  With Auto ISO enabled, manual exposure is no longer truly manual but instead becomes another automatically metered mode.  This is valuable because it is the only automatic mode that allows simultaneous setting of aperture for control of depth of field and shutter speed to stop action or minimize camera shake -- or create pleasing blurs.  ISO adjusts automatically to achieve correct exposure.

Like any automatic exposure mode, this is useful only if exposure compensation is available.  With the Canon bodies mentioned above however, flexibility is limited when flash is used; shutter speed is fixed at 1/400th of a second.  For this reason, use of Manual with Auto ISO is not advisable when flash is used, and either Av or Tv is the preferred choice.  If both depth of field and action stopping shutter speed must be controlled, then one must choose manual mode and select the ISO needed to balance exposure.

The next step is defining relevant photographic use cases.  These are mine.

  • General purpose photography (full range of zoom and short prime lenses)

  • Portraits (short telephoto & telephoto zoom, often with flash-fill)

  • Travel (mostly historical and architecture, zooms and tilt-shift lenses)

  • Landscape & scenic (zooms, low ISO, tripod, live view, remote release, bracket for HDR)

  • Sports, action, bird flight (mid-telephoto, hand-held)

  • Wildlife, especially birds (long telephoto, tripod/gimbal, with or without flash-fill)

  • Macro (tripod-mounted, multi-flash-fill)

  • Studio setups (tripod-mounted, multi-flash with soft-boxes and umbrellas)

Generalize Rather than Specify

No doubt the above is an incomplete list compared to many.  There’s no commmercial or product photography, no fashion, no photojournalism, no stage-lit concerts, no street photography, no abstract art, no weddings, to name a few.  Given that there are only four alternatives to cover the listed possibilities it is little wonder that some throw up their hands and declare the task impossible.  However, after a number of false starts four cases seems to do the job well enough for my unique needs.  Here they are, in table form, and it turns out they are slightly different depending on which body is being used.

 
1DX II Custom Shooting Modes, Camera Settings and Use Cases

Case

Mode

ISO

AFStart

AF

Drive

Metering

Lens FL mm

Flash

Tripod

Use Case

--

Av

Select

Shutter

1-Shot

Sngl/Hi

Evaluative

Zoom11-400

Possible

Possible

Gen Purp, Portrait

C1

Ma

Auto

Shutter

Servo

Sngl/Hi

Evaluative

1-4Z & 400DO

No

Hand

Sports,Action,Flight

C2

Ma

Auto

AF-ON

Servo

High

Evaluative

600 w/TCs

No

Tripod

Long lens, no flash

C3

Av

Select

AF-ON

Servo

High

Evaluative

600 w/TCs

Flash

Tripod

Long lens w/ flash

5D IV Custom Shooting Modes, Camera Settings and Use Cases

Case

Mode

ISO

AFStart

AF

Drive

Metering

Lens FL mm

Flash

Tripod

Use Case

--

Av

Select

Shutter

1-Shot

Single

Evaluative

Zoom 11-400

Possible

Possible

GenPurp, Portrait

C1

Ma

Auto

Shutter

1-Shot

Single

Evaluative

Zoom 11-400

No

Hand

Gen Purp,Travel

C2

M

Select

LiveView

1-Shot

Single

Evaluative

T-SE

No

Possible

Architecture

C3*

M

Sel100

Live/Tch

1-Shot

High/B

Eval/Partl

Zoom 11-400

No

Tripod

ScenicHDR

* HDR bracket: Swap Av & Tv dials (Tv bracket), bracket 5, ISO = 100, touch, live view, manual focus/meter, RS-80N
Note: Macro & Studio are special cases combining tripod, flash, live view, remote release -- C3 with Av & Evaluative set

The table lists zoom lenses for general purpose use cases.  However, fast primes are equally applicable although less often used, mostly due to zoom lens convenience.

Explaining the Details

The non-assigned case employs zooms and fast primes up to 400mm.  It is preferred for portraits since flash-fill is almost always used.  C1 on both cameras is useful where controlling both depth of field and shutter speed is important and flash is not used.  With 1DX II bodies, custom mode C1 is used with either medium telephotos or zooms for birds-in-flight, sports or other hand held action situations.  For the 5D IV, C1 is an all-around non-flash general purpose mode.

Setttings for the final two custom modes, C2 and C3, diverge between body types.  For the 1-series they are specific to the 600mm f/4L IS II, possibly with extenders, operating on a tripod.  The difference is whether or not fill flash is used.  In these final two cases AF start is moved to the AF-ON button and Servo AF is usually enabled.  These cases are used for birds as well as a variety of other wildlife.  When lighting permits imaging without flash-fill, C2, manual with Auto ISO, is preferred.  If fill flash must be used, custom mode C3, which sets shooting mode to Av, allows control of shutter speed by setting of ISO.  Normally, high speed flash sync is set on the flash for all flash-based long lens shooting.

For the 5D IV, C2 is also customized with a specific application in mind, namely the use of tilt-shift lenses.  TS-E lenses are manual focus only, although they do give focus confirmation in-camera.  They are best operated in live view mode.  While results are better when used on a tripod, this isn't always possible when traveling, and one can achieve acceptable image quality hand-held if care is taken.  The key to success is to examine all parts of the image in magnified live view after tilt and/or shift has been applied.  In past years the literature abounded with arcane charts, graphs and tables explaining in gruesome detail how to place the tilted plane of focus where desired using the Scheimpflug principle.  However, with live view there is a straightforward iterative procedure that obviates all that.

C3 is primarily dedicated to landscape and scenic photography and is set up bracketing for a high dynamic range merge in post processing.  To maximize dynamic range out of camera, Manual exposure mode is used, with ISO usually set to 100.  The number of  bracketed shots varies depending on scene.  Partial metering may be used since landscape scenes can vary widely in tonal range.  Since controlling aperture is usually critical for landscapes, exposure compensation is accomplished by changing base shutter speed.  Canon bodies vary shutter speed during brackets only if Av is set on the rear control wheel and Tv is on the front control wheel, which is the opposite of my normal setup.  Therefore I reverse these controls in C3.  A remote release is also used.  Finally, the camera is operated in live view mode with touch screen focusing.

Putting It Together

The summary table below maps my photographic use cases to the custom shooting modes defined above.

Use Cases and Custom Shooting Modes

Use Case

Body

Mode

Flash

Support

General Purpose

1DX II, 5D IV

Av, C1

Av only

Handheld, Tripod

People, family, portraits

5D IV

Av

Fill

Handheld

Travel, Architecture TS-E

5D IV

C2

None

Handheld, Tripod

Landscape & scenic HDR

5D IV

C3

None

Handheld, Tripod

Sports, action, bird flight

1DX II

C1

None

Handheld

Wildlife, especially birds

1DX II

C2, C3

Fill C3

Tripod

Macro with flash fill

5D IV

Av

Multi-flash

Tripod

Multi-flash studio setting

5D IV

Av

Multi-flash, diffusers

Tripod, Backdrop

Throughout, the guiding principle in defining these custom shooting modes has been to avoid overly specific situations and instead to define choices as combinations of parameters that are likely to remain unchanged for a particular use case.  Specific apertures, shutter speeds and ISOs will change, but I've found that certain combinations of AF, drive mode, metering, etc., are flexible enough to cover most of the situations I encounter.  These particular C modes are unique to my own preferences.  But the principle of generalizing rather than over-specifying settings (except as dictated by specific use cass) may work for others as well.

© 2017 Michael W. Masters

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