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How To Read Your Camera’s Menu…..

Updated: May 16, 2019

The menu inside your camera is similar to the menu in a French restaurant or cafe; lots of strange words and with difficult to understand descriptions. This blog is intended to take some of the complexity out of your camera’s menu; the French menu, you are on your own.

 Modern DSLR cameras are like mini-computers with many functions you have to choose and set in a operating “ Menu “. For a novice photographer, it can be quite intimidating, and something to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. But inside that menu are the tools you need to become a better photographer.

   The first step to learning the menu is to download a copy of your camera’s owners manual onto your laptop or desktop. Here are links to the download pages of the 4 most common cameras.

Canon cameras:…/home/support/user-manual-library

Nikon cameras: Sony cameras: Pentax cameras:

Find your camera model, and download it’s manual. Usually, a PDF document pops up on your screen; save it to your “download” folder. If your camera brand is not one of these 4, do a Google search for it’s manual. I recommend this to anyone who just acquired a new to them camera, also.

These teachings are based on the manual of my Canon T6i; there is a lot of commonality of function in the manuals for the different brands. In comparison, using a Nikon menu for the D5500, they both have their menus divided up in common segments. These are Shooting, Playback, Setup, and Custom settings. The Nikon also has a Re-touch group of menu pages. The Sony 7R manual listed Camera Settings ( with the camera icon the others have next to the Shooting menu group), Playback, Setup, Custom Settings, and a Wi-Fi group. Pentax calls the categories Rec.Mode, Playback, Setup and Custom Settings. The Sony and Pentax menus were the easiest to find the information on menu pages; the Canon the hardest, in my opinion.

The 3 controls you will have to be familiar with are the “Menu“ button and the control that Canon calls the “ Cross Keys ” and the “Set” button; Nikon calls it the “ Multi-selector “ and “ OK “ button.  Sony calls it the “Control Wheel” with a black dot in the center as the set button. Pentax calls it the “Four way controller” and the “Ok” button.This control is how you move between selections, and the “Set/OK” button in the center of it is how you lock in the selections. This control is located in the same location on all four cameras, on the backside and on the right of the LCD screen.

This is the Cross key dial that you use to move sideways thru the icons; you use the up/down buttons to move down thru the selections on a page. The set button is how you open a function, and close it after you have made your choice of setting for that function. Your camera might be like mine and have a “ Tap” feature; you just tap on the live screen on the icon you want. A screen icon and finger in the left lower corner of the Live View screen is where you touch to activate/deactivate the Tap function.

I’ve laid out the information above to demonstrate that the most common DSLR camera and their menus, are more alike than different. By following along as I go thru my camera’s menu pages, you can get a feel of how the menus are laid out and how to negotiate your way thru them yours.

Here is a diagram of the layout of the menu pages on my Canon T6i:

 First, notice that these only apply when using M manual, Av aperture, Tv shutter and P program modes, what Canon calls the Creative Zone. Which will be 95% of the time when you become more experienced with your camera.

Note the 4 red camera icons, 2 arrow icons, and 4 wrench icons at the top of the page; these are called tabs and each of these tabs represents a page of functions in the menu. The camera tabs are indicative of pages of functions used during “ Shooting “ mode. With the exception of the last camera tab which is over a page of functions used only during Live View shooting using the LCD screen. The arrow tabs are indicative of pages of functions used only during “Playback “ mode ; it is used after you have taken a photo and want to review the result. And the wrench tabs are indicative of pages dealing with how you set up certain functions that affect your camera’s operation.

This is a photo of menu page #1 taken from my camera:

You see the lines of various functions. To go thru your manual’s Indexes and content guides to find the pages for each function is tedious, boring, and will turn you off. But if you are diligent about searching your manual, you will find diagrams of each menu page with a description of the function choices and what page the information is on. Canon lists these under Menu Settings”.

 I found these diagrams buried on page 362 of 416 pages in my Canon manual. In my humble opinion, these should be right at the front of the manual. I will be using these for the rest of this blog. ( The Pentax manual's menu page descriptions look very much like this, with the page numbers listed where you can find the info you want. In addition to the manual's information, Nikon has a ?Help button located on the backside at the very bottom of the camera that will bring up a description of the menu line you have highlighted. Sony gives a good description of each menu line in its main Menu section.  

This is the Nikon help button

Image quality. There are a number of image formats you can save photos in. JPeg is one. But it is a compressed format, you lose substantial detail in your photo. Always use the RAW format, it captures all the details ( number of pixels) and you can better edit a RAW file.

Beep  It enables a beep when using a self timer shutter or when focus is obtained.   

Image Review  Allows you to set how long a shot photo remains in review before you can shoot again. Adjust for your preference.

Release Shutter without card  Allows you to shoot without the SD card in the camera, using the camera’s limited memory. Disable!

Lens aberration correction  This should be enabled. It corrects for visual flaws in your lens (most lens have these). These can also be corrected in Lightroom editing software.

Red eye reduction . Most beneficial if you take portraits of people. I don’t, so I dis-able it.

Flash Control  Function settings for using your flash.

Exposure Compensation/Automatic Exposure Bracketing.  Allows you to slightly adjust the exposure of your photo before you shoot; AEB is a 3 shot range of exposure, slightly over, slightly under, and one where the Exp.Comp. is set. So important I have included it with my Exposure Triangle discussion on my blog.

Auto Lighting Optimizer  When enabled, automatically compensates for darkness and low contrast. You can diminish  these situations by using the histogram on your Live View screen. They can also be corrected in your editing software.

Custom White Balance  Is something I never adjust. If you look at the picture of the Cross Keys above, the top key is marked WB. Press it and you see 7 choices for adjusting the white balance. I always leave it on Auto, let the camera decide and then adjust it in Lightroom if needed. Same goes for WB Shift/Bk.

Color Space  You have a choice of sRGB or Adobe RGB. It should be set to sRGB for general photography. Adobe RGB is used for commercial printing and industrial uses.

Picture Style  This allows you to adjust the color tone to suit the scene. I shoot landscape primarily, so I have it set to Landscape for vivid colors. You might shoot portraits, then use the Portrait setting for accurate skin tone color. Picture Style can also be brought up and set using the down key on the Cross Key dial.

Metering Mode   It evaluates a scenes brightness for your camera.  It should be set to Evaluative Metering for general use by most photographers. Spot metering is the other primary metering method, used mostly be experienced photographers only.     

Dust Delete Data  This function is used to help remove dust spots from your photos using Canon’s EOS software. Most people don’t use that software.

ISO Auto  When ISO is set to AUTO, this function lets you adjust the maximum ISO the camera will automatically go to. Ranges from 400 to 6400. Limiting ISO is very important to photo quality; too much ISO creates graininess or noise in the photo.

Long Exp. Noise Reduction   This function reduces noise in exposures of 1 sec or longer. The Auto setting is adequate for removing most noise.

High ISO speed NR  Provides further noise reduction with High ISO speeds. Set to Standard for most situations. It is best to use the lowest ISO possible always.  

Aspect Ratio  Ratio of height and width, should always be left at 3:2 since that is required for RAW files. Raw files on my camera are 6,000 pixels x 4,000 pixels, ( this where the 3:2 ratio comes from ) which equals the 24 megapixels of my camera.

Anti-flicker shoot  Detects the blinking of fluorescent lights and reduces the flicker effect. It may be greyed out on your camera’s menu page, meaning another function is enabled that disables it. Push the SET button to see which function is disabling it.

Live View shoot  Allows you to enable or disable the Live View screen. I am a strong believer in using Live View, I wrote an entire blog called “How To Use Your Live View”. Live View is very versatile; learn it, use it…

AF method  Allows you to choose the Auto Focus method from tracking or 2 types of Flex zones. Well described in manual.

Continuous AF  The camera focuses on the subject continuously to achieve rough focus. This makes it faster to achieve final focus when you push the shutter button halfway. Down side is that it runs your battery down fast.

Touch Shutter  When enabled, tapping on the LCD screen will focus and take the photo automatically. Enable/disable by touching the icon on the screen’s lower left.

Grid Display  This function lets you have no grids on your live screen, 2 lines each in the horizontal and vertical planes, or 3 lines horizontal and 5 vertically. I always have mine set with the 2 line setting; this divides the screen into thirds. I use the top line to level the horizon in my shot ( place them parallel ), the lines make it easy to compose to the Rule Of Thirds, and when shooting panoramic photos composed of multitudes of individual shots, it helps gauge the suggested 1/3 overlap between shots.

Metering Timer  This setting determines how long the exposure settings are retained if you push the shutter button 1/2 way and then release it without taking the picture. It is ranges from 4 seconds to 30 minutes.

Protect Images  Protects selected images from being accidentally erased. You can protect/unprotect single images, all images in a folder, and all images on your SD card.

Rotate Images  Allows you to rotate an image for proper orientation. Push Set, it brings up photo in review, push small set icon on screen or use arrows on Cross Key dial until photo is rotated to where you want it.

Erase Images  Just as it says. Choose erase one image, or all images in a folder, or all images on SD card. BE CAREFUL ! Use the Protect Images function to prevent a disaster.

Print Order  This function sets up a connected printer for printing directly from your camera. Most photographers print directly from their editing software after editing a photo. If you want to print from your camera, use this function and consult your manual.

Photobook Set-up  Used for creating a Photobook, allows up to 998 images to be transferred to a folder on your computer. Consult your manual.

Creative Filters  Allows you to add a choice of 7 filters to your photo in-camera. I have played with it , but I don’t use. Would suggest using creative presets in your editing software instead.

Re-size  Allows you to re-size jpeg photos to a smaller pixel count. This is the exact opposite of what you want when striving for high quality photos. Plus, you should always be shooting in Raw format

Cropping  Allows you to crop your photos in reviews. Cannot be used with RAW files. Consult your manual if you want to use on jpeg photos. But I see no reason why you would.

Rating  Allows you to attach a rating from 1-5 to your images. Same can be done in most editing software.

Slide show    Enables you to set up a slide show of your images in camera which can be played back on your TV set. Is somewhat complex, consult your manual.

Image Jump with/dial  Sorts thru your images based on one of 8 choices: date, folder, rating, etc. when you turn the knurled dial near the shutter button.

AF point disp.  It is shows a small red square intended to show the point where the camera focused on, when you are reviewing a photo.

Histogram display  When reviewing a photo, this setting will show a histogram with the typical form which demonstrates lightness or darkness i.e. Brightness. Or you can choose a histogram which shows RGB Red Green Blue data. Whichever you wish to review, you have to push the “Info” button twice to bring it up on the review screen. Histograms are important, learn what they are showing you.                    

Ctrl Over HDMI  This function is for use with TV sets compatible with an HDMI CEC cable. This allows you to use the TV remote to control for playback operations.

Select folder  Allows user to choose which folder the photos will be saved to. The camera automatically creates a folder for you, but you can also create new folders here.        

File numbering  This function allows you to choose continuous numbering of your photo, or Auto reset which start over from 0001 after changing your SD card or the folder, or you can reset the numbering manually.

Auto rotate  This function lets you choose auto rotation of vertical photos. You can enable for rotate on camera’s LCD screen and your computer, or just on your computer, or turn off auto rotate completely.

Format Card  This is where you format new SD cards, or SD cards formatted on another camera, to accept new images. Caution !  Formatting your card will erase all your images.  

Wi-Fi/NFC  This function helps set-up Wi-Fi connections between your camera and Smart Phones, another camera, a Wi-Fi printer, media players, web services, etc. You have to use Canon’s Wi-Fi/NFC manual which I Googled and found easily.

Auto power off  The camera shuts off automatically after a period of idle operation elapses. Used to save battery power.

LCD brightness  Self explanatory. Used to help save battery power while still keeping LCD bright enough to see images.           

LCD off/on btn  You can set the camera so that the shooting settings display turns on and off when you want as you push the shutter 1/2 way down. Well explained on page 270.

Date/Time/Zone  Self explanatory, used to set Time Zone, Date and Time.

Language  Allows the selection of the language you choose to use.

Viewfinder Display  Allows you to turn on or off 2 functions in the Optical Viewfinder. These are Grid lines and Flicker detection. I haven’t used the optical viewfinder since I bought my first camera with the Live View screen.

GPS device settings  Settings are available when separately sold GPS receiver GP-E2 is attached.  

Screen color  Gives you a choice of 5 screen colors and gives a demonstration of how your screen will look in the chosen color.

Feature guide  A brief description pops up on the screen when you change shooting modes, or set a shooting function, etc.

Touch control Sets the sensitivity of the Touch Screen function.

Battery information  Shows battery model number, remaining charge ( there is also an icon shown on the LCD screen ) and charging performance.                      

Sensor cleaning  Gives choices of when your camera will clean the dust particles from your camera’s sensor.

Video System  Instructions on how to show your photos and videos on a TV system.

Certification Logo Display  Displays logos of the camera’s certifications.

Custom Functions  Allows you to customize 13 functions; these are important and I will list them below this section.

Copyright information  Enables you to include your copyright information into the EXIF data that each photo has embedded.

Clear settings  Just as it says, clears all settings from your camera. Another accidental pitfall to avoid.

Camera firmware ver.  I honestly don’t know when or where this is done. ? dealers, ? factory ?

The last icon along the top of the menu is a star, it represents the “Register My Menu” function.  This function allows you to pick 6 functions you frequently change and group them together. You can quickly bring them up by choosing the star icon and and arrow up and down thru the functions.

Custom Functions   Rather than show a screenshot for each of these 13 functions, I will give a title and brief description. Refer to your manual for deeper explanations. The functions  are divided up into 4 groups; Exposure, Image quality, Autofocus/Drive, Operations/Others.

C.Fn I Exposure functions

C.Fn-1  Exposure  Sets 1/2 stop or 1/3 stop increments for adjustments to shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, AEB etc.

C.Fn- 2  ISO expansion  Enables expansion of ISO up to 25,600 for still photos.   

C.Fn II Image Quality

C.Fn- 3  Highlight tone priority   Expands the dynamic range and improves highlight details.

C.Fn III Auto focus/Drive

C.Fn- 4  AF assist beam firing   Enables or dis-ables the autofocus assist beam which is used during flash operations to help the camera focus in low light situations.

C.Fn-5  AF area selection area  You can set the method for changing the AF area selection area.

C.Fn-6  Auto AF point selection: Color Tracking  Use this function to autofocus by recognizing colors equivalent to skin tones.

C.Fn-7  AF point display during focus  You can set whether or not to display the AF point in a variety of 4 situations.

C.Fn-8  VF display illumination  You can set whether or not the AF points in the optical viewfinder will light up in red when focus is achieved.

C.Fn-9  Mirror Lockup   This prevents camera shake when the shutter is pushed, caused by the internal mirror flipping up out of the way of light headed for the sensor. When in Live View, mirror is always locked up out of the way.

C. Fn IV  Operations/other

C.Fn-10  Shutter/AE lock button  These settings allow you to lock the shutter, the exposure or both when the shutter is pushed 1/2 way. 4 choices in settings are offered, well explained in the manual.

C.Fn-11  Assign SET button  You can assign a frequently used function to the SET button. There are 7 choices, you’ll have to read the manual and decide how you want it.

C.Fn-12  LCD display when is on   There are 2 choices here, the second is quite detailed, read the manual to decide.

C.Fn-13  Retract lens on power off  This applies when using a gear driven STM Canon lens.

So, this is all that you have to know about your camera’s menu. Learning your camera’s menu is a tedious but necessary chore; learning it early in your photography career will serve you well. Happy Shooting!