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Nikon D80 Custom Settings
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Nikon D80

Nikon D80. enlarge

I bought mine here. Also see here (body only, about $999), here or here (with 18 - 55mm lens, about $1,099) or here or here (with new 18-135mm lens, about $1,299).


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(Pencil icon)

Want free live phone support? In the USA, call (800) NIKON-UX, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Many of these menu options are shown only after you select the FULL MENUS option in the Setup Menu and are often deactivated in anything except the P, S, A and M modes.

This menu really should be called the camera menu and shown with an icon of a camera, except that Nikon used the Camera icon for the shooting menu, which really should be called the Film menu. Camera settings, like focus, flash and timers, are set here in the Custom Settings Menu, shown by a pencil. This is Nikon's mistake; don't penalize yourself if it makes little sense at face value.

How to Get Here

Press MENU, go to the left and select up and down to the pencil icon. You'll see CUSTOM SETTING MENU on the top of the color LCD.

What it Does

This menu sets many things related to the camera and taking pictures, like autofocus, exposure, timers, flash and more.

What I Change

I change a lot here, read on.

[R] Reset

This resets everything in this menu to its defaults. I don't use this.

01 Beep

Turn this OFF!!!

This is the idiotic and annoying focus confirmation beep. Turn it off!

The beep annoys others and is very rude. Focus confirmation is indicated by a dot in the lower left of the finder.

02 AF-Area Mode

This selects how the D80 uses its numerous AF sensors.

You'll want to change this for action, still subjects or handing your camera to a non-photographer. I wish the D80 had a dedicated switch as the D200 does. On the D80 we need to go into this menu every time our subject changes.

[ o ] Single Area is used for still subjects. I use this most of the time. The D80 uses whichever area you select with the rear Up/Down/Left/Right selector.

[ x ] Dynamic Area lets the D80 automatically select which sensor to use as a subject moves around the frame. It really works! I use this for sports, running animals and birds in flight.

The D80 first uses whichever area you select with the rear Up/Down/Left/Right selector, and proceeds to select other areas automatically if the subject moves. You won't see which area is selected in the finder, but you can see it on playback if you use the right software.

[xxx] Auto-Area AF selects AF areas by magic, usually the closest one. Use this when you hand your camera to a non-photographer, or if things are moving too fast for you to do your own AF selection. This feature works great. I'm always surprised at the great results I get in this mode.

TRICK: You can program the FUNC button to change this setting, which would be great except I prefer to use my FUNC button for Flash Exposure Lock.

03 Center AF Area

This selects your choice of a small or large central AF area.

I've always left mine on the default of Normal.

You can program the FUNC button to change this.

04 AF Assist

I leave this at ON.

Turning this OFF disables the bright white light that shines in the dark to help you focus. I turn this off if I'm shooting where I don't want to disturb people, or be identified as photographing.

05 No Memory Card?

I leave mine at LOCK. If I have no memory card it won't let me take pictures.

Don't set it to OK. If you do, you could have no memory card and be shooting all day, thinking you're making pictures when you really aren't. Shoot one wedding without a card and this set to OK and you'll see how stupid you'll feel.

Only set this to OK if you want to demonstrate the D80 in a camera store with no card.

06 Image Review

ON plays the picture after you take it. OFF leaves the screen dark.

When the image pops on the screen, even if the D80 is still at your eye, spinning the command dials will change the playback, not the shooting settings like apertures. While shooting you might want not to use this, or remember that you must wait a moment and tap the shutter release to reset the D80 to interpret the command dials for changing shooting settings instead of playback screens.

07 ISO Auto

This is one of the strongest reasons I prefer my Nikons to my Canons, which lack this critical feature.

ISO Auto Increases sensitivity (ISO) in dim light automatically to prevent blur from slow shutter speeds.

I use this all of the time, unless I'm using manual exposure mode. Auto ISO is a crucial component of Modern Exposure Technique.

Today I adjust the Auto ISO's minimum shutter speed as I change lenses and conditions. I no longer adjust ISO directly, as we did in the old days before 2004. This is a time-saving step towards the future, just as program exposure was a step ahead of aperture priority in the 1970s.

You can choose the highest ISO to which the Auto ISO will go (Max sensitivity). I let my D80 go all the way to to ISO 1,600, since it looks fine at ISO 1,600 and any small amount of grain is better than a blurry photo. If you prefer blur to grain, feel free to limit the D80 to ISO 800 or 400. Try ISO 1,600: the D80 is better at high ISOs than film ever was, and far better than any compact digital camera at these speeds.

You also may set the minimum shutter speed (Min Shutter Speed) below which the D80 starts raising the ISO. Select the slowest shutter speed at which you'll get sharp images under your present shooting conditions.

I wish this function was smart enough to recognize which lens I'm using and adjust accordingly, but it's not.

HINT: If you've selected Auto ISO then you cannot set a manual ISO higher than the maximum ISO set as part of Auto ISO. To get to ISO 3,200 (cryptically called H1.0 by Nikon) you must turn off Auto ISO.

HINT: You set the lowest ISO used in Auto ISO with the ISO button, of course.

Firmware Defect: Nikon's firmware leaves Auto ISO active even in manual exposure mode. This makes the D80 change the ISO automatically and defeat the purpose of manual exposure. Remember to deactivate Auto ISO when using Manual exposure mode.

08 Grid Display

This activates hairlines in the finder. I leave them ON to help me keep everything straight and level.

You can program the FUNC button to set this more directly.

09 Viewfinder Warning

This superimposes warnings directly on top of the image in the finder if you do anything bone-headed like have no memory card, have the D80 set to B/W or if the battery is low.

I leave these ON. I want to know these things!

10 EV Step

This lets you adjust settings in your choice of third stops or half stops.

I leave it in the default of third stops. I prefer full stops, however that option isn't in the D80. It is in the D200.

11 Exposure Comp

This is more correctly is called "Easy Exposure Compensation" on other Nikons. Setting this ON lets the rear dial alter the exposure compensation at any time, without pressing the +/- button near the shutter.

I leave this off, its default. I don't mind pressing the +/- button to adjust this, and don't want to alter this critical setting accidentally.

12 Center-Weighted

This selects the diameter of the center weighted metering area.

I leave this at its default of 8mm. I never use center weighted metering, which is a throwback to the 1970s.

13 Auto BKT Set

This selects what changes if you use bracketing. I never change this, because I never use bracketing, and you shouldn't use bracketing either. Look at your LCD and histogram and set the correct exposure in the first place.

Bracketing usually ensures that the best shot among many is made at the wrong exposure. Bracketing is for wimps.

14 Auto BKT order

This selects the order in which the bracketed exposures are made.

15 Command Dials

This lets you reverse the functions of the front and rear command dials.

I leave this at default.

16 FUNC Button

This selects what the FUNC button does. The FUNC button is the one on the front of the camera, between the lens mount and the shutter button.

The FUNC button is so slick that I wish the D80 had more than one. Tricks like each of these are why I prefer my Nikons to my Canons.

Here are your options:

ISO Display (default) shows the ISO in the finder when pressed. Slicker still, if you use ISO Auto as I do, it shows the magically selected ISO about to be used.

Framing Grid: press and hold the FUNC button and spin the rear dial to turn the compositional grid lines on and off.

AF-Area Mode: press and hold the FUNC button and spin the rear dial to select among the three AF Area Modes as explained above. You have to look at the top LCD to see which is selected:

One teeny rectangle: Single AF area, used for still subjects.

11 teeny crosses with one teeny rectangle: Dynamic AF Area, used for sports, motion and action

11 teeny crosses with no teeny rectangle: Auto Area AF, used for handing your D80 to a non-photographer.

Center AF Area: press and hold the FUNC button and spin the rear dial to select between normal and wide sensitivity for the center AF sensor.

FV Lock: This is the setting I use.

Press it once to fire a pre-flash to measure and lock the flash exposure. You'll see a pip of flash, and then a lighting bolt + L icon lit on the lower left of the viewfinder to let you know the lock is set and active. Now for every photo you take, the flash doesn't fire before the photo is taken.

This prevents people and pets from blinking, which they almost always do in the regular flash mode. In the regular mode the D80 fires a little bit of flash before the photo is taken to measure the flash exposure This starts people blinking, who then usually have their eyes almost completely closed a tenth of a second later when the picture is taken.

Preflash - Eyes Closed
No preflash - eyes open
Normal Flash: Blinking
FV (Flash) Lock: No Blinking

Be sure to cancel this by pressing the FUNC button a second time if you want to return to the normal mode, or if you change your distance and need to save a new flash exposure (FV Lock) value.

Flash Off: Another slick feature, in this setting the flash won't fire if you hold the FUNC button.

Matrix Metering forces Matrix Metering regardless of the selected mode.

Center Weighted forces Center Weighted Metering regardless of the selected mode.

Spot Metering forces Spot Metering regardless of the selected mode.

17 Illumination

This lets you have the top LCD illumination turn on any time the meter is on. It saves you from having to twist the power switch.

18 AE-L/AF-L

This selects the function of the AE-L/AF-L button.

AE/AF lock (default) locks both for as long as you hold the button. You'll see AE-L in the finder when it's locked. There is no AF-L finder indication.

AE Lock only holds the measured exposure for as long as I hold the button. I use this setting. You'll see AE-L in the finder when it's locked. I usually shoot in Single AF mode, which locks the focus separately.

AF Lock only locks the autofocus. This is handy if you want the lens to stop focusing, for instance, if reframing a portrait or if you're panning while a target goes behind a tree. There is no AF-L finder indication.

AE Lock Hold requires just a tap, after which the D80 holds the exposure until you tap it again. This eliminates the need to hold the button, but also requires you to remember to press the button again to unlock, and press a third time to lock again.

AF ON focuses the D80 when the AE-L/AF-L button is pressed. This deactivates the normal AF action of the shutter button. The only way to autofocus with this selection is to press the AE-L AF-L button.

FV Lock locks flash exposure, exactly as you can set the FUNC button. This lets you use the FUNC button for something else.

Focus Area Selection lets you press the AE-L/AF-L button and spin the rear dial to select the AF areas. This is similar to Canon's [+] button. I never use this; I use the Up/Down/Left/Right button. The selections below this combine other functions explained above with the Focus Area Selection via knob.

19 AE Lock

This lets you lock the exposure when the shutter is pressed.

The default is off, which I use. The shutter button doesn't lock exposure.

I prefer to use the AE-L button to lock exposure.

20 Focus Area

This allows one to click one past the end of the constellation of AF areas and return (wrap around) to an area on the opposite side.

I leave this at its default of No Wrap, which means once I get all the way to one side, it stops.

21 AF Area Illumination

This allows you to force the red illumination of the selected AF areas ON or OFF.

I leave this in its default of AUTO, which turns them on as needed in the dark.

22 Built In Flash

This lets you set the function of the very flexible built-in flash.

Hint: Be sure to hit OK after changing anything, otherwise the D80 ignores what you think you changed!

TTL (default) lets the flash work normally and give great exposures all by itself.

M (manual) lets you force the flash to one brightness value. It adjusts in full stops from full power down to seven stops below, shown as 1/128 power.

I use this if I'm using the built-in flash to trigger my studio strobes or if I'm trying to set up something tricky which isn't working in the usually perfect TTL mode.

Repeating Flash is a gimmick. It lets the flash fire manually many times in fast succession. You might play with this in a dark room with a long exposure to make a stroboscopic image of something in motion.

Commander Mode is how you can control one or many SB-600 and SB-800 flashes remotely from the D80. Leave it on the default of channel 3, which is the default channel for the flashes. If you figure someone was screwing with your D80 and reset it to channel 1, it won't work!

I don't often use this, but it's easier than it seems, and it works GREAT, unlike the old flash slaves. It's reliable, and your remote flashes don't even have to be visible to get the signals! I've hid them around corners, out of the picture, and they fire and expose perfectly. Nikon is the world's leader in flash technology, and it's all inside your D80, for free.

I explain how to set your SB-600 and SB-800 flashes to work in this mode at Nikon Wireless Flash.

The D80's commander mode menu offers a lot of flexibility.

Built-In Flash setting in Commander Mode

"Built-in Flash" is also the title of a setting inside the Commander Mode menu. The Commander Mode menu is an option inside the Built-in Flash Custom Setting 22. My apologies for Nikon using this twice, making written descriptions of the menu structure clumsy. It's not confusing at all in actual use.

You can leave the built-in flash at TTL, in which case it lights the subject along with the remote flashes. Turn this to "--" to prevent the built-in flash from contributing light to the picture. It will still fire to control everything else.

You can leave the built-in flash in TTL and alter its lighting ratio with its Comp(ensation) setting.


Comp(ensation) lets you alter the brightness of each flash or flashes. 0 is normal, + is brighter and - is darker.

Group A and B

Group A and Group B allow you to control remote flashes as two banks, presuming you set each flash to A or B. By default the Nikon flashes are group A. You can use many flashes, all set to group A. You'd want to set some to group B if you wanted to control their light output separately in the Comp(ensation) part of the menu.


From the D80's Commander mode menu, you can set each flash's exposure mode.

TTL, through-the-lens automatic exposure, is the most elegant and what I use. You can fine-tune the light level of each group in third stops.

M: You may set their outputs (brightness) manually in full-stop increments.

AA: You may run remote SB-800s in the old Auto Aperture mode. This mode uses a sensor in the SB-800.

--: Turn that flash or group off.


Leave the channel on 3, the default of the SB-600 and SB-800 flashes. I have no idea why default is three; I guess it helps keep you in the dark and having to pay for flash seminars.

You'd only reset channels if another photographer wanted to setup his flashes in the same place and control them separately.

Read more at Nikon Wireless Flash.

23 Flash Warning

This lets you turn off the flash reminder bolt in the finder.

I leave this on. The flash reminder is much more than an idiot light. The D80 analyzes the dynamic range of the scene, and if it's too great, reminds you to use flash to fill the dark areas. It is the world's smartest idiot light.

24 Flash Shutter Speed

This is another world-class trick easy to use on Nikon, and nonexistent on Canon.

This lets you chose the slowest shutter speed used in the normal flash sync mode in the P and A exposure modes. I explain flash sync modes here.

This lets you get much more natural images that include more ambient light with flash. Use this well and your photos won't look as if they're shot on a black cyc in Hell, lit only by car headlights, as do most flash shots indoors.

I leave mine set to 1/8. Set it slower to get more ambient light if needed, but it leaves more likelihood of blur if you or the subject moves.

Set it higher to lessen the possibility of blur, but this reduces the amount of ambient light that can be captured.

This is much better than using the SLOW flash sync mode which can lead to very long (30 second) exposures in very dim light.

25 Auto FP

This lets you shoot above 1/200 second with an SB-600 or SB-800 flash. I've never used this, but leave it on in case I do. It doesn't do anything at slower speeds.

See also FP Sync.

26 Modeling Flash OUCH! TURN THIS OFF!

In its default on mode, when you press the depth-of-field preview, it fires off a long burst of all your flashes.

Safety Defect: The first time I did this I was looking at my camera, and almost blinded. With all the stupid warnings in the instruction books, I'm surprised that Nikon has left this dangerous firmware flaw unresolved. Default should be off!

I hear that v1.01 of firmware has this corrected. I haven't checked.

27 Monitor Off

This selects how long the monitor stays lit after you ignore it. This works in the menus and on playback.

Firmware Defect: Sadly this doesn't affect the length of the Image Review after you make a shot. When I was making our Christmas Card photo of my family with a remote control, the monitor always shut off the same second I managed to run back over to my D80.

28 Auto Meter Off

This selects how long the meter stay active after you start ignoring it. I leave this at the default of 6 seconds.

28 Self Timer

This selects the time, presuming you have the self timer active, between pressing the shutter and the shutter firing.

I leave this at 2 seconds, since I use the self timer only if I forgot my ML-L3 remote control.

I use my ML-L3 remote, not the self timer, if I'm taking pictures of myself.

30 Remote On Duration

This selects how long the D80 stays awake waiting to be released by the ML-L3 remote control, presuming you've set it to work via remote control.

The default is one minute, which is silly, since when I'm using my remote I don't want to have to take a picture every minute or have to reset my D80 to pay attention again.

I set mine to 15 minutes.

You set the D80 to pay attention to the remote with the Shutter Release Mode button.

31 Exp(osure) Delay Mode

This is a flimsy excuse for a mirror lock-up.

In this mode the shutter fires 4/10s of a second after the mirror flips up.

It's better than nothing, but I still wish it had a 1970s style default mirror-up at the beginning of the self timer interval. The best is the self timer of Mamiya cameras, which have a dedicated self-timer button. Press the self timer button, and the camera goes off a few seconds later. Nothing to set, nothing to remember to reset.

32 MB-D80 Batteries

This allows you to tell the D80 what kind of AA batteries you're using in the optional MB-D80 hand grip. If you do, you'll be rewarded with a more accurate battery gauge.


My D80 User's Guide continues below.

No one pays me anything to write all this. I do it because I love to help. If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you might have had to take, please help me share more.



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