By Noah | January 31, 2010
One of the first things that bothered me when I got my Nikon D300 a couple of years ago was: it’s got all sorts of interesting settings to try, but how can you get back to your usual settings after you’re done experimenting, or after adjusting the camera for some unusual situation? After trying various tricks, I’ve found a way of doing it that works pretty well. It’s right there in the manual if you bother to read to page 325 (there’s nothing in this posting that will be new to experts) but otherwise it’s easy to miss, and there are some subtleties to using it well.
In fact, many novices are discouraged from experimenting with exotic D300 settings for fear that they won’t be able to get the camera back the way they want it. Once you’re comfortable that you can, you’ll find that some of the fancier modes of the camera (like AF-ON only for focusing) can be really useful, and playing with them can be a wonderful way to learn.
Why resetting the D300 is difficult (and why you don’t want to anyway)
This section updated, May 1, 2010: The D300 does have options to reset each shooting menu or each control menu: you can find them near the top of the “SHOOTING MENU” and the “CUSTOM SETTING MENU”. Use these and most of your settings will go back to the factory defaults. There’s also something called a “two-button reset” that you get by holding down the QUAL and the +/- buttons; this resets things like Exposure Mode and Exposure Compensation that aren’t in the shooting banks, plus a few things like Image Quality that are. So, with a bit of work, these techniques can get you back to the original factory defaults, at least for most D300 settings (note, however, that Nikon doesn’t provide at all for the D300 the sorts of hard reset capability that’s documented for the D100, D40, D40X, D50, D60, D70 or D80).
One problem is that to reset all the banks plus the non-bank settings takes nine separate steps, but a bigger concern is that these techniques only help if you want to go back to the the factory default settings. A lot of the power of the D300 can be tapped only by using the many different settings that it offers. So, you’ll almost surely want to figure out your own favorite settings, and you’ll want to get those back easily.
How to save and restore your favorite settings
There is a feature on the D300 that comes quite close to saving all of your settings, whether they’re the ones from the factory or ones you’ve chosen: it’s in the Setup Menu and it’s called Save / Load Settings. I’ve found that it’s the key to quickly saving and recalling your favorite settings. If you don’t want to read this posting for all the details, just skip ahead to the section below titled: Putting it all together.
The important thing to remember is: Save Settings saves your settings into a file on your memory card; Load Settings restores them from there. So, you can spend as long as you want choosing settings that you like. You can set up more than one shooting bank if you like and more than one control bank (if you don’t know what that means, don’t worry about it.) You can set ISOs, white balances, quality settings, oddball focus control settings, etc. Whenever you have a combination you don’t want to lose, go to the Setup Menu and select Save Settings, and everything will be written to a hidden file on your memory card.
Now you can start changing things. Work with different ISOs or white balances, experiment with all those autofocus modes like a2, set up for some unusual shooting situation like shooting at night, etc.. When you’re done, go back to to the Setup Menu and select Load Settings. Bingo. All your settings banks, for both shooting settings and custom settings are back the way they were.
Watching out for things that don’t get restored
It would be nice if absolutely everything got restored, but it’s not that simple. First of all, there are the settings like metering pattern, focus mode (AF-S, AF-C, Manual), etc., that are controlled by switches on the outside of the camera. Obviously, you have to check those individually. Furthermore, things like exposure compensation, flash exposure compensation, etc. are not saved or restored.
To find out exactly what’s saved for you, check the manual. Here’s a rough rule of thumb that I think is close:
- If the setting is available only in a menu, like a3 Dynamic AF area, it’s saved and restored
- If the setting is available from a button on the camera but can also be set by a menu, it’s saved and restored. Examples of this are QUAL, ISO, and White Balance. Whether you’ve used the menus or the buttons to set them, they’re saved/restored.
- Settings that are available only from external buttons, regardless of the shape of the button, are not saved or restored. That’s why, as best I can tell, things like exposure compensation, P/A/S/M metering modes, and flash compensation aren’t saved. Note that these can be restored to factory defaults using the two-button reset mentioned above.
Putting it all together: how to actually do this conveniently
If you’re new to the D300, that still probably sounds quite complicated. In fact, most of what I’ve written above is just so you have details. Actually using these tricks is very, very simple. Here’s the routine I use:
Just play with the camera until you have settings you think you’ll want to use most of the time, and then use the Setup / Save Settings function. An extra copy of them will be stored on your memory card, and it will stay there until you save again. You can save whenever you want.
Experimenting or shooting in unusual situations
Change any settings you like; you’ll be able to get back to your favorites anytime.
Restoring your favorites from the memory card
Because not everything is restored automatically, this is just a bit trickier. Here’s what I do every time I get ready to use the camera:
- Use Setup / Load Settings to restore most of my defaults — I’ve put it on My Menu (see below) so it’s easy to find
- Look around the camera, front, top and back, to make sure the focus mode selector, meter pattern selector (spot, center, matrix), and AF-area mode selector are where I want them. Don’t forget the Release Mode ring on the top left (the one that sets Single Frame/Continuous/Live/Self-timer) — it’s easy to miss.
- Look at the LED control panel on the top. Make sure the exposure mode (P/A/S/M) is what I want, check apertures and shutter speeds (if not in P mode), and especially, make sure that there’s no +/- exposure compensation, or flash compensation, unless I want it. (This third step can be done using the 2 button reset if the factory defaults happen to be what I need.)
Practice it just a bit and you can do it in under 10 seconds, and it’s an easy routine to remember.
(optional) Put Save/Load Settings on My Menu
The D300 has a feature called My Menu that you can use for easy access to the menu items you use most often. Since I use Save / Load Settings almost every day, I put it on My Menu. Doing this is optional: it just saves you from working through the slightly longer Setup Menu. If you want to do this:
- Go to My Menu
- Select “Add Items”
- Select “Setup menu”
- Select “Save / Load settings”
Now you’ll be able to find the Save / Load function in both the Setup menu and in My Menu.
Advanced technique: Using multiple memory cards
As I said above, the settings you save go onto your memory card. If you only use one card, well no problem, but if you have multiple memory cards, then you have some choices.
I have two cards, and what works well for me is to be sure I keep the same settings saved on both of them. Whenever I switch cards, I first Load Settings to get my defaults back into the camera, switch cards, and then Save Settings onto the new card.
A different trick that many pros use is to keep different cards for different purposes. So, you might have a card labeled “Weddings” with all the settings you use for weddings. Pop that one in, and use Load Settings, and you’ve got the settings you like for weddings. Use another card for sports (all those tracking autofocus modes), etc.
In principle, if you’re lucky enough to own more than one D300, you should also be able to pass settings from one to another using memory cards. I don’t know what the limitations are on this; for example, I don’t know whether it’s important that all the microcodes be at the same level. I also wouldn’t try it between different camera models (D300 to D300s) without checking with Nikon first; I suspect it won’t work, and there’s some chance it will leave your camera in a bad state.
Also: be careful about formatting memory cards. Just using Delete All to delete your pictures won’t affect the saved settings, but formatting the card will wipe them out. So, before you format a card, do Load Settings to get your settings into the camera, then format the card, then use Save Settings to get the settings back onto the newly formatted card.
Advanced technique: Saving multiple profiles on your computer
Each memory card can hold only one set of saved settings at a time, but Nikon documents the name of the file, which is: NCSETUP1.BIN (actually, the manual mistakenly leaves out the .BIN extension, but you’ll see it there on the card). If you’re comfortable enough with computers to read the filesystem on your memory card directly, you can copy that file to your computer. That will give you a backup if you accidentally format your memory card. Better still, by renaming your computer files you can keep multiple files, one with settings for night shooting, another for weddings, etc. Just be sure before you copy the file back to a memory card for use that you change the name to NCSETUP1.BIN (yes, all uppercase), or the camera will ignore it.
What about other Nikon DSLRs?
Though I have only checked using the D300, I would expect that this same technique would work at least on the D300s, the D700, D3, D3X, D3S and other high-end Nikons that offer the Save / Load menu item.
A few closing notes on D300-related postings
A few weeks ago I made my first posting relating to the D300. To my surprise, it’s been one of the most widely read postings of the past year. So, I’ll be trying to post a bit more on the D300 and photography from time to time. My day job relates to computing software and the Web, and much of this blog focuses on that. If you use a feed reader and you prefer to just see photo-related entries, you can just subscribe to the photography category of this blog.
Also, I understand there has recently been some sensitivity regarding bloggers who fail to disclose business relationships with the vendors of the products they discuss. For the record, my only business relationship with Nikon to date has been that I’ve spent too much of my money on their cameras, lenses and flashes. I have not received any free equipment or other such consideration from Nikon (though, if they were to offer, I wouldn’t necessarily turn them down!)
Oct 2010 update: now that you know how to get your favorite settings back after experimenting, you might be interested in the new posting: DSLR hint: what’s that AF-ON button for anyway?