I've been a professional photographer for more than a decade now, and I've been using digital SLRs for most of that time. But I still learn new things every day, and although I've been aware of customizable user settings for quite awhile, I've never taken the time—just a few minutes, really—to delve into them, learn about them, and put them to use. Well now I finally did, and I only wish I'd done so sooner. Custom user settings are unbelievably easy to set up, and they can be a huge timesaver when it comes to your most common shooting situations.
Many mid-range and professional D-SLRs offer the capability to create custom camera settings. (On Canon cameras it's called Camera User Settings, while Nikon calls it a customizable Shooting Menu.) The bottom line is simple: you can create one-click presets that allow you to make several changes to your camera settings all at once. These can include everything such as ISO, color balance, JPEG or RAW, aperture, shutter speed, metering mode, even automatic shooting modes—basically any camera adjustment you can make can be programmed into a custom preset.
To be clear, custom camera settings differ from custom functions. Whereas the latter allows you to enable new functions in the camera—such as automatic bracketing, ISO range extension and more—custom camera user settings allow you to create a setting on your camera's mode dial that create a literal one-click adjustment to many image adjustments all at once.
For instance, when I shoot portraits in my studio, I always start with a standard setup that includes similar positioning of lights, subject and camera—and therefore always requires that I set my camera to a particular white balance, ISO, aperture and shutter speed. So instead of navigating all of those menus separately, I've now created a custom setting at the C1 position on my mode dial that's set for ISO100, strobe-specific white balance, at f/8 and 1/125th of a second. One click of the mode dial and I'm instantly ready to shoot.
Similarly, when I shoot events with a flash on the camera, I tend to start at ISO 800, with a shutter speed and aperture of 1/60th at f/5.6 and automatic white balance. Now I'll make all those adjustments to my camera once, then navigate the setup menu to find the custom camera settings entry, select that option, choose the C2 dial position and the camera will confirm that it is going to apply the current camera settings to the C2 camera setting. (Again, this outline is for my Canon D-SLR, but the procedure is very similar with Nikon.) The best part is that now with just one click I can switch from my most-favored studio lighting setup to my preferred starting point for candid shooting. The whole process takes just a few minutes to set up, and while it won't revolutionize my results it's sure to streamline my workflow and take one more task off my mind as I'm setting up for my next shoot.