Many people have asked me what custom function settings I use with my Canon 7D for birds in flight photography and wildlife photography in general. A recent request prompted me to do this blog post, even though it is almost a certainty than we will see a new Canon 7D II sometime next year – Plenty of people will still use the 7D for many years to come and I will be one of them!
As a general rule my custom function settings for birds in flight photography and general wildlife photography are the same. My settings in the two genres actually only differ at the basic settings, i.e. the relationship between aperture, shutterspeed and ISO.
So here are my custom settings which can be found in the menu as shown in the image below…
CUSTOM FUNCTION GROUP I – EXPOSURE
1 – Exposure level increments: Here you can alter in which increments you can change the exposure with adjustments to shutter speed and aperture. This is a personal choice, but no need to change the default 1/3 stop setting to the 1/2 stop setting (you will make a 1/3 or 2/3 exposure adjustment more than you think!).
2 – ISO speed setting increments: This setting is similar than 1 above, but allows you to choose whether ISO adjustments are made in 1/3 stop or 1 stop increments. Again, leave it at the 1/3 setting.
3 – ISO expansion: Here you can change the maximum ISO from 6400 to 12800 by switching this setting to Option 1. This setting should however never affect you, as you will rarely (if ever) use an ISO setting of more than 6400. Do would you want here, because you will always have control of the ISO, right?!
4 – Bracketing auto cancel: This function becomes relevant if you use the exposure bracketing or white balance bracketing functions, which are more frequently used in landscape photography. I leave my setting here on 1 for “Off”, as I have too often pressed the shutter thinking I am taking a bracketed shot when I am not.
5 – Bracketing sequence: This function also deals with exposure bracketing and white balance bracketing and determines the order in which bracketed images are taken. Once again not a setting really relevant for our purposes, so just leave it at 0, the default setting.
6 – Safety shift: This setting allows the camera to automatically adjust the exposure values before an image is taken. An example is where you have exposed for a lion in the shade and he suddenly moves out of the shade – with option 1 selected the camera will adjust the exposure incrementally to achieve the correct exposure (this setting has no effect in manual or program mode). Needless to say, I selected option 1.
7 – Flash sync speed in Av mode: Once again not really a setting relevant for our purposes, as you will most probably only use a flash in wildlife photography when you shoot in manual mode. I left my setting at the default of 0 and only consider other settings if the situation demands it.
CUSTOM FUNCTION GROUP II – IMAGE
1 – Long exposure Noise Reduction: Here you choose how noise reduction for long exposures is performed. I left my setting at the default of 0, as I only shoot in RAW format and will only apply noise reduction selectively and if necessary in post processing.
2 – High ISO noise reduction: I selected the default of 0 for as far as it might by relevant, for reasons similar to 1 above.
3 – Highlight Tone Priority: If Highlight Tone Priority is enabled the camera basically concentrates on the highlight areas of your image and ensures that it is not overexposed. This comes in really handy when you need to expose for a bride’s wedding dress the whole day, but for wildlife photography I leave it disabled and rather make use of exposure compensation if the situation calls for it.
CUSTOM FUNCTION GROUP III – AUTOFOCUS/DRIVE
This is the most important group of settings and you will see why…
1 – AI Servo tracking sensitivity: This setting has 5 levels from slow to fast. These levels can be summarized as follows:
0 – Standard: AF (auto focus) will momentarily pause if the AF point sees another subject while tracking;
-2 – Slow: tracking will pause for a longer period when AF is disrupted to allow you to find the subject with the AF point;
-1 – Moderately slow. Pause length will be between -2 and 0;
+1 – Moderately fast. The AF system will react faster to changes;
+2 – Fast. AF system will not pause and when the subject escapes the AF point, the camera will instantly re-focus on the new area.
I prefer the slowest setting to the far left, for the simple reason that I always want to follow my subject and do not want the camera to “pick out” other sobjects. In addition to the aforesaid I would rather trust my own ability to keep the AF point on my subject. However, circumstances might dictate another setting, but from my experience it always appears to be on the left side of the slider, i.e. from slow to standard.
2 – AI Servo first/second image priority: When you shoot in AI Servo mode, as you should, you can adjust the priority for the first shot or the second and subsequent shots. The different settings are as follows:-
0 – AF priority/Tracking priority – more time to achieve focus before releasing the shutter and during continuous shooting, focus tracking will be given priority to keep accurate focus;
1 – AF Priority/Drive speed priority – as in setting 0, the first shot will prioritise focusing, but after that the camera will try to maintain the maximum shooting speed;
2 – Release/Drive speed priority – this will fire the shutter as quickly as possible for the first shot, not giving as much time to finding focus, and for subsequent shots, the camera will continue to fire at the maximum frame rate;
3 – Release/Tracking priority – this is like option 2 above, in that priority is given to releasing the shutter, but for thereafter the camera will give priority to focus tracking.
I use setting 0, for obvious reasons!
3 – AI Servo AF tracking method: In this setting you select how the camera handles a second subject in and around the focusing point area. The options are:-
0 – Main focus point priority – the camera will focus on any subject that appears under the main focus point, even if it is closer than the subject being tracked.
1 – Continuous AF track priority – as long as one of the expanded AF points can still detect the subject, the camera will continue to focus on it, even if there is a different subject covering the main selected focus point.I prefer setting 0 as a use single point AF 99% of the time, but if I use AF point expansion I will use option 1 to enable me to keep track of my subject in difficult situations.
4 – Lens drive when AF impossible: Sometimes it is difficult for the lens to focus in situations of low contrast like in low light or where the selected AF point drifts off the subject like from a bird to the blue sky.This setting allows you to choose whether the camera attempts to focus or not. If focus search is set to ON, setting 0, the lens may hunt and attempt to find the subject to focus. With it set to OFF, setting 1, the lens will not try to acquire focus until there is something to focus on.I leave my setting on 1, OFF, as I trust my lens and my own ability to find the subject and focus on it. A “hunting” lens trying to focus can be quite irritating.
Just remember that you use this setting, as in very low light, the camera may simply decide there is nothing to focus on and it will not try.
5 – AF Microadjustment: With this setting you van manually adjust the focus of a specific lens IF THERE APPEARS TO BE A REAL PROBLEM WITH THE FOCUS (YOU DROPPED YOUR CAMERA AND LENS FOR EXAMPLE) AND YOU CANNOT REQUEST A REPUTABLE PROFESSIONAL TO FIX IT.Needless to say, I do not use this at all (or should I say I have been lucky enough thus far not to be forced to attempt and use this setting).
6 – Select AF area selection method: This Custom Function allows you to choose which of the five AF point selection methods are available to you. The five methods are Spot AF, Zone AF, AF point expansion, Auto AF point selection, or Single AF point selection.I only use those methods that gives me optimal control and they are Spot AF, AF point expansion and Single AF point, so I only select them and NEVER change this setting again.
7 – Manual AF point selection pattern: This Custom Function allows you to decide whether the AF point selection stops at the edges or continues to rotate around the points to the opposite side.With option 0, the AF point selection stops at the edges and with option 1 it is continuous.I set my camera to option 0 as I only use a single AF point (and sometimes AF point expansion).
8 – VF display illumination: This Custom Function allows you to choose how and when the AF points are illuminated in red.This is a personal choice, but mine is set to auto and it illuminates in low light.
9 – Display all AF points: With this setting you can choose whether all AF points are shown in the viewfinder either when shooting or during AF point selection.I set mine to 0 (disable) as I only need to see all AF points when I make my selection.
10 – Focus display in AI Servo/MF: If you shoot in AI Servo or manual focus, this Custom Function will allow you to decide when the AF point and focus confirmation light will show.I leave this on the default setting of 0 (enabled) to help me keep track of my AF point.
11 – AF assist beam firing: This function is relevant if you are using an external Speedlite – you can choose whether to have the AF assist beam fire to help with focusing in low light or not.The setting can be over-ridden by the Custom Function on the Speedlite and remains a personal choice.Mine is set to ON.
12 – Orientation linked AF point: This Custom Function is designed to make it faster for you to switch AF points when you change from shooting horizontally to vertically.Once again this is a personal choice, but mine set to the default of 0 (same for both vertical and horizontal).13 – Mirror lockup: Mirror lockup is basically only used in low light conditions at slow shutterspeeds, in an attempt to prevent camera shake even further.As such I only use this setting in rare situations when taking landscapes.
CUSTOM FUNCTION GROUP IV – OPERATION/OTHER
1 – Custom controls: Here you can change the functions of different buttons on the camera.
The most common use for this is to set the camera to back-button focus AND IT IS SOMETHING YOU MUST DO AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. This is done by setting the function of the shutter button to either ‘Metering Start’ or ‘AE Lock’, and either the AF-On button or AE Lock button to ‘Metering and AF Start’.
I have set my shutter button to ‘Metering Start’, i.e. when pressed half way it just measures the exposure and if pressed down completely it takes the image (duhhh!). Then I set my AF-On button to ‘Metering and AF Start’, i.e. auto focus (and exposure metering) starts when pressed.
Why do I set the camera to back-button focus? Well, it enables you to use One Shot and AI Servo modes interchangeably, without changing a single setting on the camera and needless to say, the shutter releases much quicker when pressed.
I will write a separate block post in which I will amongst others deal with this setting.
2 – Dial direction during Tv/Av: Now this is a personal choice if there ever has been one!!
4 – Add aspect ratio information: If you are shooting images to fit a particular aspect ratio, you can have guides displayed during Live View and movie shooting, and the data appended to captured images for automatic cropping in Digital Photo Professional.
Needless to say, I leave mine on 0 (off).
A SUMMARY OF MY CUSTOM FUNCTION SETTINGS
Here is a summary of my settings:-
C.Fn I – 1 : 0 C.Fn II – 1 : 0
C.Fn I – 2 : 0 C.Fn II – 2 : 0
C.Fn I – 3 : 1 C.Fn II – 3 : 0
C.Fn I – 4 : 1
C.Fn I – 5 : 0
C.Fn I – 6 : 1
C.Fn I – 7 : 0
C.Fn III – 1 : -2 (slowest) C.Fn IV – 1 : set up rear-button focus
C.Fn III – 2 : 0 C.Fn IV – 2 : 0
C.Fn III – 3 : 0 C.Fn IV – 3 : 0
C.Fn III – 4 : 1 C.Fn IV – 4 : 0
C.Fn III – 5 : 0
C.Fn III – 6 : Spot AF, AF Expansion & Single AF
C.Fn III – 7 : 0
C.Fn III – 8 : 0
C.Fn III – 9 : 0
C.Fn III – 10 : 0
C.Fn III – 11 : 0
C.Fn III – 12 : 0
C.Fn III – 13 : 0
Hope this post was helpful!
I will also suggest that you read my post on GENERAL DSLR SETUP FOR WILDLIFE AND BIRDS IN FLIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY.