Skip to main content

10 camera settings you need to learn to master your Nikon

Get to grips with your Nikon DSLR

Essential Nikon camera settings: 5. Burst mode

Essential Nikon camera settings: 05 Burst mode

You can choose whether your Nikon takes a single shot or a burst of images when you press the shutter release. Here's when and why to use the different drive modes

What is it in a nutshell?
Most Nikons have two main drive modes, single and continuous. In single shot drive mode, your camera will take one shot when you fully press the shutter release, but won't take another until you lift your finger off the release and press it again.

This is perfect if you only want to take one shot at a time, but for moving subjects it's often better to switch to continuous shooting mode, as this enables you to fire off a burst of images when you hold down the shutter release.

Why is it so important?
Capturing the decisive moment when shooting action or movement is partly about timing, but you can increase your chances of getting that special shot by selecting continuous mode and taking a sequence of images one after the other.

You can use continuous mode when shooting static subjects, but it's best to stick to single shot drive mode; in continuous mode it's very easy to leave your finger on the shutter and fire off a burst of identical images unnecessarily, using up both time and space on your memory card.

How do you use it?
Once you've set continuous drive mode it's not just a case of keeping your finger on the shutter release and hoping you'll get the shot. The best way to use this mode is to shoot in short bursts, normally of around three to five images, at the height of the action.

This will help prevent you simply taking loads of unnecessary images, and also keep the camera's image buffer as clear as possible, so it's always ready to capture a shot.

What you can ignore: Custom frame rates
Many Nikon DSLRs allow you to set custom frame rates, but this isn't necessary for most situations. They might help you to keep shooting for longer without filling the image buffer, but you will normally want the fastest frame rate possible to ensure that you can capture the height of the action. In general, it's far better to shoot in short bursts than to lower the frame rate.

Taking it further: Continuous mode for macro
Burst shooting is a great way of ensuring you get pin-sharp shots when focusing is critical, such as with macros, particularly when shooting handheld. By shooting in a short burst just as the subject comes into focus in the viewfinder, or on the LCD in Live View mode, you can increase your chances of getting one sharp shot. This technique is invaluable if the subject is moving.

Essential Nikon camera settings: 6. Vibration Reduction

Getting sharp results isn't just about focusing - you also need to avoid camera shake, as that may blur your shots

What is it in a nutshell?
Blurred images due to camera shake are caused by your camera moving during the exposure. This is most common when you're holding your camera to shoot, and using a shutter speed that's too slow to 'freeze' any camera movement.

The longer the focal length of the lens, the more any movement is magnified, so the faster the shutter speed you need to freeze the movement of the camera.

Many Nikon lenses have a feature called Vibration Reduction (VR) that will reduce the effects of camera shake by moving the elements within the lens itself to compensate for any movement of the camera.

Why is it so important?
Vibration Reduction essentially enables you to use shutter speeds much slower than would normally be possible and still get sharp results, so it's ideal in low light, for example.

There is a limit to how much vibration reduction systems can do, though, so if you're planning to use very long shutter speeds, or very long lenses, then it's still worth using a tripod (or monopod) to maximise your chances of getting sharp results.

How do you use it?
The VR system is activated by a switch on the lens. Once it's switched on the system uses 'floating' elements within the lens to compensate for any camera movement.

The shutter speed needed for avoiding camera shake without VR will vary according to the focal length of the lens you're using.

With an FX (full-frame) camera like the D750, the rule of thumb is that you need a shutter speed of 1/focal length to prevent camera shake; so for a 200mm lens you should use 1/200 sec or faster. But with a DX model like the D3400, it's best to use an even faster shutter speed, as the effective focal length will be 1.5 times longer (in other words, 300mm rather than 200mm).

Once you've activated the VR system you can use slower shutter speeds, but there's still going to be a limit to how slow you can go. VR systems will usually allow you to shoot around three stops slower than normal, so if you would normally need to shoot at 1/250 sec to get sharp results, then you should be able to shoot at 1/30 sec with VR.

What you can ignore: VR when using a tripod
Vibration reduction becomes completely redundant once you've fixed your camera to a tripod. Even though the systems in many modern lenses are designed to switch off automatically when they don't sense any movement, it's still worth turning them off when you are using a tripod.

This will prevent the VR from activating if there's a small movement, such as when you adjust the settings or reframe your shot, which can potentially cause your shot to be blurred, as the VR will move the elements inside the lens.

Taking it further: Mirror lock-up
Even when your camera is on a tripod and you're using a remote release, the movement of the mirror when you fire the shutter can create enough vibration to blur the image. Many Nikons have a mirror lock-up feature to prevent this.

To use this, select mirror lock-up mode, press the shutter release to lock the mirror out of the way, and then press the shutter release to take your shot.