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Nikon D3 top controls.
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From left to right:
Advance Mode Dial (S, CL, CH, [Lv], clock and Mup) top
This doesn't turn unless you press the release button.
This sets the frame advance rate, Live View, the self timer, and the mirror lock up. It's just under the BOLT, BKT and [L] buttons.
S: Single Frame
One frame for each press of the shutter button.
CL: Continuous Low
I use this setting. Press the shutter once and you get one photo. Hold it down and the D3 takes pictures continuously at any speed you choose in CFN d2.
Default is 5 FPS. I prefer 3 FPS. You can set this to any integer between 1 FPS and 9 FPS in CFN d2.
If I need one shot I get one shot. If the light is dim and I want a few shots to ensure I get a sharp one, I hold the release down and make several from which I'll pick the sharpest. Faster selections in CFN d2 make it more likely that I'll get two shots when I want just one.
CH: Continuous High
The D3 runs at 9FPS as long as you hold the shutter in FX mode, or at 9, 10, or 11FPS in the piddly DX mode as set in CFN d2 (see that link for details).
I don't use CH because it's so fast that I often get 2 or three shots when just one will do.
[Lv] (Live View)
Unlike Canon, it's easy to use Live View. Set this and press the shutter. Press the shutter again to get out of Live View. I'll explain the various Live View options under the Shooting Menu.
Self Timer (clock icon)
Press the shutter and the D3 takes a picture some seconds afterwards. We can set the delay in CFN c3.
Mup (Mirror Up)
Press the shutter and the mirror flips up. Nothing happens until you press the shutter again, at which time the picture is taken and the mirror flips back down.
Note 1: The Self Timer and Mirror Up modes are defective in design. If you forget to set either back to the other modes (I always forget) you'll still be in these weird modes tomorrow! Worse, the Mirror up mode is still stupid, since just like the D700 you need to buy a $100 cable release to release the shutter after the mirror goes up.
The correct design for these two functions, as done on the Mamiya 7, is to add a dedicated self timer button. Press this button and the shutter fires several seconds later. On an SLR the correct implementation is to have the mirror flip up at the beginning of the self timer interval. You'd get sharper pictures, not have to screw with screwing and unscrewing expensive electronic cable releases, not have to remember a cable release, and not miss tomorrow's shots because you forgot and left the D3 selector in last night's position.
Note 2: If you have no cable release, you can use the Mup mode and wait 30 seconds. 30 seconds after you press the shutter, the mirror flips up the D3 fires the shutter anyway.
Note 3: At default, the D3 needs perfect locked focus to take a picture in S mode, and locked focus to start the Mirror Up or self timer modes. If you don't have perfect focus, the D3 ignores you in these modes. Sometimes bad lenses may not be sharp enough to get good enough focus to let the D3 take a picture in these modes, especially with other than the center AF sensor. You can set the D3 to shoot even if it's not in perfect focus here.
By default, the D3 takes pictures whether or not it's in focus in the AF-C modes.
Flash Bolt Button top
This sets the flash sync mode and the brightness of the flash. Flash brightness is more formally called "flash exposure compensation."
Press and hold the flash bolt button and turn the front dial to change the flash exposure compensation. (Gotcha: doesn't work with the SB-400.) This sets the brightness of the flash. + makes the flash brighter, - makes it dimmer. This setting only changes the brightness of the flash. It leaves the background (ambient) exposure alone. Set it to - if your subjects are getting washed out. If you run out of flash power beyond 10 to 20 feet, then setting it to + can't make the flash any brighter.
If you set flash exposure compensation to anything other than zero, you'll see a little "+/- bolt" icon in the finder and on the top LCD. This resets when you do a green reset.
Press and hold the flash button and turn the rear dial to change the flash sync mode. You'll see the mode shown on the top LCD in the box with the bolt:
Flash Sync Modes top
Select these by holding down the flash button on the side of the flash hump and spinning the rear dial. Your selection is shown on the top LCD in the box with the bolt.
Normal (blank on the top LCD)
This is the default position.
In Program and A exposure modes, the shutter won't stay open longer than about 1/60 second.
You can change this 1/60 minimum speed in Custom Setting Menu option e2, which defaults to 1/60 second. I have mine set to 1/30. Set a longer time, like 1/8, to allow more ambient light in the photo and prevent inky black backgrounds. Set it shorter to prevent subject motion blur.
This is brilliant! In the old days we'd have to use Manual exposure to set this to a reasonable number like 1/8. The problem with using the slow mode, explained below, is that in dark locations the shutter may stay open a stupidly long time and ruin the shot. This Custom Setting lets you have the camera adjust itself automatically and stop at the longest time with which you feel comfortable.
I usually use Normal mode, since if I don't I can get some scary long exposures if I'm not expecting them in the dark.
Red-Eye (eyeball icon)
I never use this. It pops off a series of flashes or shines an obnoxious light in your subject's eyes for a couple of seconds and then releases the shutter after you've already missed the picture. Use this only if you have some people you want to get rid of at a party.
Warning: If I set the Red Eye mode by accident it bugs the heck out of me, because the camera doesn't go off until several seconds after I've pressed the shutter, but I've set no self timer! It doesn't do much to reduce redeye anyway. Skip this mode. You won't know you've set it, since there is no in-camera indication. If for some reason the shutter seems to have a weird delay, check this!
SLOW (called SLOW on the top LCD)
This mode lets the shutter stay open as long as it needs to so dim ambient light can expose properly with flash. These exposure times can get stupid long, in which case you want to use the setting I covered under Normal.
In daylight, SLOW is the same as NORMAL, since exposure times are short. SLOW unlocks the camera in P and A exposure modes to make exposures as long as it wants to in dim light.
Have a look at most issues of National Geographic and you'll see many indoor shots made in this mode. The background exposes correctly, people may be blurred, and a burst of flash freezes them along with the blurry ghost images.
Normal and SLOW do the same thing in S and M exposure modes, since you or the camera may select any shutter speed in these modes regardless of flash sync.
The default apertures and shutter speeds are unchanged in Program mode, unlike in the D70.
Red-Eye SLOW (eye and SLOW icon)
This is the SLOW mode and redeye. I don't use it for the same reason I don't use Redeye mode.
REAR (called REAR on the top LCD)
When you're shooting with flash and long exposures, this makes the blur come from behind moving subjects.
Normally the flash goes off the instant the shutter opens. This makes sense, but looks stupid if you have motion blur because the blurs will be in front of the moving subject. Select REAR mode to have the flash go off as the shutter closes. Now you'll have motion blurring from behind the frozen flash image, which looks great.
Another reason to select REAR is because people presume photos are made the instant a flash fires, then they leave. This wreaks havoc with long exposures, since people will leave at the beginning of the exposure! Use the REAR mode and the flash doesn't go off until the end of the exposure. You'll also want to select flash lock to eliminate the preflash. Read about programming the FUNC button to do that here.
REAR doesn't do anything with short exposures. REAR also engages SLOW, but SLOW doesn't light up on the LCD until you take your finger off the flash mode button.
Trick Flash Exposure Lock Mode: You can set the FUNC button in the Custom Menus here to lock flash exposure and eliminate preflashes which make people blink.
BKT Button (Bracketing) top
A feature left over from beginners who shot film, press and hold the BKT button while spinning the rear dial to set the D3 to make a series of pictures whose brightness varies from darker to lighter.
Ansel Adams never used bracketing because he knew he'd always make the one perfect shot of a series at the wrong exposure. Real photographers get their exposures correct not by letting bracketing guess for them, but by looking at the LCD and changing exposure compensation if needed for the next shot.
[L] Button (lock) top
Hold the [L] button and spin the front or real dial to lock the aperture or shutter. People do this so that their settings don't get knocked accidentally, for instance, shooting all day long in a studio with fixed lighting.
You can't lock a camera-chosen automatic setting in any of the auto exposure modes. You can lock both in Manual, one in A or S modes, and neither in P mode.
Metering Mode Selector (on finder hump) top
This is the rotary switch on the side of the viewfinder hump. Press the center button to release it, otherwise it stays locked so it doesn't get knocked.
It has three positions: Spot, the dot on the left, Matrix, the rectangle in the middle, and Center Weighted, the circle on the right.
I always use Matrix, the center rectangle. Matrix is a magic system which really figures out what you're shooting, even if it's very dark or very bright and white, and just gives the correct exposure. It sees in color, sees depth, it sees in over 1,000 places in the finder, and has an astounding amount of perception in getting exactly the exposure I want. Even with Nikon's first Matrix meter in the FA of 1983, I could point the camera at anything, even right into the sun, and always get perfect exposures.
Sunrise, Mono Lake.
I shot this with a Nikon FA, 600mm f/5.6 ED Nikkor AI-s, Matrix Meter, Program Auto exposure and Fuji Velvia. I just pointed and shot; the Matrix meter does the exposure calculations so I can pay attention to the composition.
The meter in the D3 is many times better.
I never use center weighted, and I certainly never use spot. With the Matrix meter, just shoot. It's smart enough to do all the compensation and locking that you used to have to do in the older modes.
The other positions are left-overs from earlier decades. They are blind to color, blind to absolute luminance, blind to distance, and blind to relative position in the frame. Matrix sees in many dimensions at once, while these blind old meters see in only one dimension. The Center-Weighted (CW) meter was Nikon's most poplar meter in the 1960s and 1970s, and the Spot meter is left over from the 1980s.
The CW meter was useful in its day because it measured just the right area of the finder so you could point the camera at the main subject, set a manual exposure, recompose, and shoot. Unless the subject just happened to be the right tone, you'd always have to use exposure compensation for light and dark subjects. In the 1970s, AE cameras had AE locks, so you'd point, meter, lock, recompose, and shoot. What a pain!
The Spot meter sees only a small spot in the finder. It requires knowing the Zone System to use well, since few scenes actually have any tones at exactly Zone V from which to spot meter. See How to Use the Nikon Spot Meter.
Eyepiece Focuser top
This is the little knob with the +- smiley face on it, nearest the eyepiece.
Pull it out to unlock it. Twiddle with it to clarify the finder, especially if you wear glasses.
Push it back in when you've set it to your vision.
Power Switch (right side) top
Tap it past ON to turn on the LCD illuminators and the meter.
There's no need to turn OFF the D3 except to prevent accidental operation when squashed in a camera bag. The D3 turns off by itself after a few seconds of ignoring it. The only thing the OFF position does is act as a lock against unintended operation.
Exposure Mode Button (MODE, right side) top
Hold it and spin the rear dial to select among P, S, A and M exposure modes.
I use "P" for program auto exposure. In this mode the camera chooses the f/stop and shutter speed for you. If I want different apertures or shutter speeds I rotate the rear command dial, which selects alternate combinations of f/stops and shutter speeds which give the same exposure. Nikon calls this "Program Shift." An asterisk ( * ) shows up next to the P on the top LCD to let you know you've chosen a different combination for exposure. The asterisk doesn't appear in the finder, but you can see the apertures and shutter speeds. The asterisk goes away when you return to the standard combinations. The standard combinations are f/1.4 @ 1/8, f/2 @ 1/15, f/2.8 @ 1/30, f/4 at 1/60, f/5.6 @ 1/125, f/8 @ 1/250, f/11 @ 1/500, etc.
An easy way to return to these standard combinations is to flip to a different mode and back to P, or turn the D3 off and back on.
A, S and M Modes
If you want to use a fixed aperture or shutter speed, then use S or A mode and the camera will automatically pick the other value.
If you want to set both the hard way, use M, manual, mode.
In these three modes you select the aperture with the front dial and the shutter speed with the rear dial. You can reverse which dial does what in the Custom Setting: Controls Menu. Of course in A or S mode you can't set one of the two values because the camera is setting one for you.
A Mode: Aperture Priority
In A mode you choose the Aperture and the D3 chooses the shutter speed.
S Mode: Shutter Priority
In S mode you set the Shutter and the D3 sets the aperture.
If the D3 runs out of good apertures you easily can get under or over exposure in S mode: watch that the D3 can select a correct aperture for your lighting.
M Mode: Manual
You set everything the hard way. Look at the LCD to check exposure. You can use the bar graph in the finder, but why? If you wanted to do that, use another mode and let the D3 do the setting for you.
Hint and Firmware Defect: AUTO ISO doesn't deactivate in Manual mode. I always turn off AUTO ISO when I enter Manual Mode.
Hint: You can see P, S, A and M displayed in the finder, so you can adjust them without taking your eye from the finder.
Hold this along with its brother on the back left rear of the camera (combined with the trash button). You'll get a blinking "For" on the top LCD and the number of the CF card slot about to format will blink. On the rear LCD, just the number of the CF card you're about to format will blink.
You'll almost always format card #1 unless you deliberately release both buttons, then hold just one of them and spin the rear dial to select the other card.
Hold both of these again and you'll completely reformat the memory card that was blinking.
When you use the second CF slot as a running backup, this is elegant because it only formats card #1, which we will presume you just downloaded to your hard drive. Now you have your shots on your drive and on card #2, so you may format card #1 knowing that you're shots are safe even if your laptop is run over by a truck or if you drop your D3 into the pits of Hell.
Professionals reformat a card each and every time a card is put in the camera. This is because files and folder structures are sometimes messed up or changed when read with a card reader, read in-camera by a computer or used in any other camera. Professionals prefer to be safe than sorry. They don't use cards to archive previous photos.
One time I kept saving my winner shots on a card by simply erasing the rest each time. After a few months I started to get errors. These went away as soon as I reformatted the card. Reformatting completely renovates the card. Erasing does not, and may leave the potential for errors.
Exposure Compensation Button (+/-) top
Nikon D3 Exposure Compensation Button.
This is the most important control on the D3, or any other camera.
Hold the button and spin the rear dial. + makes the next picture you take brighter, and - makes it darker. If your photo is too dark or light, just change the setting and try again. Easy!
Remember to set it back to zero when you're done. If you don't, you'll see a big bar graph on the right of the finder and on the top LCD.
See more at How to Set Exposure. Ignore Nikon when they suggest you don't use this with Matrix Metering; I do it all the time.
Hint: You can see the + or minus value displayed in the finder as well as the top LCD, so you can adjust this without taking your eye from the finder. The two displays only read the value when the button is held, otherwise those digits read exposures remaining.
Hint: This changes the setting for the next photos you take. It doesn't change any photos you've already made.
My D3 User's Guide continues below.
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