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Nikon D5300 User's Guide
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Nikon D5300

Nikon D5300 and 35/1.8 DX. enlarge.

 

April 2014      Nikon D5300 Review    Nikon Reviews   Nikon Lens Reviews

How to Set and Use the D5300's Autofocus System

D5300 Guide Page Index

 

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Introduction       top

Adorama pays top dollar for your used gear.

B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

I use these stores. I can't vouch for ads below.

Want free live phone support? In the USA, call (800) NIKON-UX.

Looking for a specific control? Use my Search page and mention the D5300.

This article will make you an expert with the Nikon D5300's controls and menus. It also includes a lot of tips, tricks, and the settings I prefer to use.

However, making great photos involves a lot more than knowing how to use your camera. You need to get yourself to the right place at the right time and point the camera in the right direction, which is a lot harder than simply mastering the D5300. Right out of the box at default settings, the D5300 does a great job all by itself. Making a great photo involves timing, FARTing and much more explained at How to Take Better Pictures.

For great pictures, you need to master the art underlying all this. To learn the art behind great photos, the best book ever written is Bruce Barnbaum's "The Art of Photography." If you read it, understand it and learn from it, you'll be able to take great pictures with any camera, but if you don't understand the critical art required, you'll only get good photos occasionally by chance. Be warned, it's a very tough book, but I find it to be the best if you're serious. More Books.

Below are the basics of how to use the Nikon D5300. Explicit details follow in later pages linked at the bottom.

Many other tricks are in the detail pages at the bottom, like inserting your copyright and contact info automatically into every file, how to get RGB Histograms, how to set the self-timer duration or how to tell the D5300 to use a remote control for photos or for movies.

 

Free Live Help (USA only)

Want free live phone support?

In the USA, call (800) NIKON-UX.

 

Camera Settings       top

I leave most settings at their defaults.

I shoot with the top mode dial in P, Program Exposure mode.

Many of the menu options explained this guide are deactivated in anything except the P, S, A and M modes.

I never use the AUTO, EFFECTS, SCENE, or other fluff modes. I usually only use P mode.

My standard operating setting is only a few clicks different from the defaults.

Here is how I set up my D5300:

 

Format       top

I format cards every time I put one in my D5300. It completely erases the memory card and formats it for perfect compatibility.

If you've connected the card to a computer and don't reformat, there is always the tiny, but real, possibility that there may have been something altered on your card.

Formatting essentially erases your card, so be sure you have all your pictures downloaded first. Formatting isn't mandatory, but it ensures that data and compatibility problems will only happen to other people, not to you.

 

To Format:

Press MENU > WRENCH > Format memory card > YES > OK.

If you're not familiar with how to do this in a menu system, here's a click-by-click explanation:

Press the MENU button on the back of your D5300.

Click left until the left-hand icons light up.

Click up or down to highlight the wrench icon (the SETUP MENU).

Press OK (or click right) to light-up the actual menu line items.

Click up or down to highlight "Format memory card."

Press OK (or click right) to get to a gray screen asking YES or NO.

Click up to YES.

Press OK.

This level of detail makes it seem even more complex, so I'm only going to give the simple directions for the rest of this guide. If you're a total beginner like most people, it's the same idea each time: you have to hit OK or click to the right each time to get it to go to the next selection.

 

Image Quality       top

I use BASIC JPG.

To set this, use:

MENU > CAMERA icon > Image quality > JPEG basic > OK.

The default of JPEG Normal wastes twice as much space in your computer, lets fewer photos fit on a memory card, and makes the data take twice as long to transfer or email.

Since the pictures look the same at BASIC, I use it so more pictures fit on my card, and more importantly, I don't clog up my computer and everything transfers, copies and sends twice as fast. FINE is twice as big again as NORMAL.

The D5300 can't make a bad image even at it's lowest setting. The NORMAL, FINE and NEF RAW modes are for people who don't mind fitting only 12 images on a card. The pictures really do look the same; try it and see if you're curious. I did, which is why I shoot JPG BASIC.

This also can be set at the INFO screen using the < i > button.

More details at the SHOOTING Menu.

 

Image Size       top

I use LARGE (24MP) or MEDIUM (13MP) for landscapes, and SMALL (6MP) for family photos.

Large is the default, but unless you want to print everything twenty feet (6m) wide, the small setting also lets you make prints of any size (20 x 30" or 50 x 75cm is easy) and saves even more room on your computer and memory cards.

I'm serious: even at the Small setting you've got 6 very sharp megapixels, which is more than enough to print at any size if your photo is in focus in the first place.

To set this, use:

MENU > CAMERA icon > Image size > Large, Medium or Small.

This also can be set at the INFO screen using the < i > button.

More details at the SHOOTING Menu.

 

White Balance        top

I use AUTO.

If you prefer a slightly warmer (more orange) image, set A2 (amber 2) by pressing:

MENU > CAMERA icon > White balance > Auto > clicking two clicks to the right to A2 > OK.

You can set any color offset you like. Simply move the controller around in this menu for any combination of amber/blue and green/magenta fine-tuning adjustments.

I explain all the White Balance settings under the SHOOTING Menu. See How to Set White Balance and White Balance Examples to learn when and why you'd want to use these settings.

The basic WB settings can also be set at the INFO screen using the < i > button.

More details at the SHOOTING Menu.

 

Picture Control       top

This is where you set the look of your images. Do you want more or less vibrant colors, or more or less contrast, or maybe black-and-white? This is where you set it.

The D5300 has the same look with any given setting of the Picture Controls as every other Nikon since the D300, thank goodness. What looks good on one Nikon will look the same on other Nikons: these are all interchangeable between cameras.

 

For People

I use STANDARD with

Sharpening set to 6 and

Saturation set to 0, +1 or +2.

 

For Places and Things

I use VIVID with

Sharpening set to 6 and

Saturation set to +3.

 

Play around and see what you prefer. I'm always changing my preferences depending on the subject and the look I want. This is how I get award-winning images right out of my camera as JPGs with no other twiddling needed.

 

To set these, press:

MENU > SHOOTING (camera icon) > Set Picture Control.

Click it and you'll see a menu of Standard, Neutral, Vivid, etc.

You can alter any one of these starting points by selecting them, and then clicking to the right. Now you can click up and down to select different parameters and left and right to change them. Be sure to click OK to save the setting.

You can save and recall these as well.

More at Picture Controls.

 

ISO       top

ISO, pronounced "eye ess oh," sets the D5300's sensitivity to light. 100 is normal, and 6,400 or 12,800 is much more sensitive for very low light.

Unlike film, the D5300 can be set to adjust itself to the light conditions all by itself. I never set the actual ISO; I program Auto ISO to set this for me.

Auto ISO increases the ISO automatically as it gets darker so I don't have to stop and set it myself. It shoots at ISO 100 in good light, and at 1/15 of a second (or at any speed you choose) it starts ramping up the ISO to a maximum of 6,400 (or any ISO you choose) as it gets darker. Only if it gets much darker will it let the shutter speed go below 1/15 at ISO 6,400, exactly as I'd do manually.

To set this, press:

MENU > CAMERA icon > ISO sensitivity settings > ISO sensitivity > 100 (This also can be set from the INFO screen) as well as in the SHOOTING MENU. This sets the minimum ISO used in good light.

and

MENU > CAMERA icon > ISO sensitivity settings > Auto ISO sensitivity control > ON.

Just below this, Maximum sensitivity and Minimum shutter speed to taste. I set ISO 12,800 as the maximum because the D5300 still looks great at ISO 12,800 if you need it. If you set a lower speed, the D5300 will start shooting at slower speeds when it could have kept the speed up at a higher (and still clean) ISO.

I set the Minimum shutter speed depending on my lens and subject.

For family, people, action and kids, I set it to 1/125. For sports you might want to set 1/250 or 1/500. This is the speed the D5300 will try to hold by increasing the ISO, and below which the D5300 will shoot at the highest ISO you set above.

For shots of still subjects, I set this to the slowest speed at which I can hand-hold sharply. For me, that's 1/8 with VR wide-angle lenses, and 1/30 for VR telephotos.

The D5300 is so advanced that there is an AUTO setting for the lowest shutter speed within the AUTO ISO mode!

In AUTO minimum speed, the D5300 sets the slowest shutter speed before the ISO starts increasing based on the lens' focal length setting. For instance, with a 35mm lens, the D5300 uses about 1/30, and with a 135mm lens, uses about 1/125.

Even better, you can shift the automatically-selected slowest shutter speed in AUTO ISO by a stop or two in either direction. To set this:

MENU > CAMERA icon > ISO sensitivity settings > Minimum Shutter Speed > AUTO > Slower or Faster.

I set this to SLOWER with VR lenses, and leave it in the middle with regular lenses.

More at the SHOOTING Menu.

 

Advance Mode       top

I use Continuous Low (L). This means that the D5300 takes one picture when I press the button, and if I keep the button held down, it keeps taking pictures at about 3 frames per second.

You set this by holding the bearded rectangle button near the bottom of the lens mount and pressing the Multi Selector, or by pressing:

MENU > CAMERA > Release mode > Continuous L > OK.

This is also where you set the self timer, arm the remote or select the quiet mode.

This also can be set at the INFO screen using the < i > button.

Continuous High (H) lets the D5300 run at up to 5 frames per second, but for general use, this too often takes two shots before I get my finger off the release.

More details at the SHOOTING Menu and at the advance mode button.

 

Autofocus       top

See my separate Nikon D5300 Autofocus Settings page.

 

Info Display Format       top

I set these to classic.

If you leave them at default ("graphic"), they look really screwy.

 

Auto Shooting Info       top

Turn this off.

If you leave Auto Shooting Info ON, the INFO screen keeps lighting up on the back of the D5300 just about all the time, even when you hold it to your eye!

 

Lens Settings        top

See Nikon D5300 Autofocus Settings.

 

Lenses

For the D5300, as with all DX cameras, I love my 35mm f/1.8 DX and don't use the 18-55mm VR kit zoom. I'd get a D5300 body-only and the 35mm f/1.8 DX separately.

If you need a telephoto to get closer, I use the 55-200mm VR. The 55-300 VR gets even closer, but costs more.

Ultrawide lenses are expensive. If I need to get wider than the 18-55mm VR, I use my Nikon 10-24mm DX.

Suggested Nikon DX lenses for the D5300.

More Nikon lens reviews and recommendations.

 

Flash

The built-in flash is excellent.

If you need something better, the small but discontinued SB-400 is what I use. They're easy to get on eBay or at Amazon. You don't need bigger flashes unless you're trying to shoot sports at long distances and at high frame rates, which you probably aren't doing with a D5300.

 

Movies       top

To shoot movies, pull the Live View lever towards yourself, and then tap the Red Dot Button to start and stop.

Change the image resolution and audio in Movie settings in the SHOOTING Menu

I shoot at the lowest 424p setting. It looks fine, and takes up much less space than the other settings. Use whichever you prefer.

 

Metering       top

Meter selection is only settable at the INFO screen, just below the HDR icon. Use the the < i > button to get there.

This lets you select the long obsolete center-weighted or spot metering modes.

Center weighted dates from the 1960s, and spot from the 1980s.

Matrix, the default shown by four quarters lit inside the rectangle, works wonders. Use it. It's the only meter I ever use, which is why my exposures are always perfect. Use the older meters like SPOT or CENTER WEIGHT, and you'll almost never get good exposure.

 

Bracketing       top

Bracketing is engaged only from the INFO screen via the < i > button under BKT, the third item along the top.

What is bracketed is set in option e2 Auto bracketing  in the CUSTOM SETTINGS MENU.

 

Details       top

These are the basics. You've got 99% of what you need; go shoot and have fun!

Keep reading for explicit details.

 

KNOBS, BUTTONS and CONTROLS < NEXT

Autofocus System

 

MENUS

     PLAYBACK MENU  

     SHOOTING MENU

     CUSTOM SETTING MENU

     SETUP MENU

     RETOUCH MENU

     RECENT SETTINGS MENU

 

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