Canon EOS 40D “user modes”

On Saturday, I got to try out my most anticipated new feature of the EOS 40D – the three “user modes”. Yes, I know that for most people there are infinitely many other new features on the 40D to get excited about, and in fact everyone seems to have pretty much overlooked the addition of these three user-definable modes, but for me they were the killer feature of this camera.

A user mode is a completely user-definable setup for your camera: in the same way that most cameras come with pre-set modes for portrait, landscape, blah blah blah, user modes lets you define your own. And it lets you set virtually every single adjustable feature of the camera, from ISO, exposure and aperture to obscure custom functions, and save those under an easily accessible dial setting.

What’s even better is that on the 40D there is a menu setting which allows you to turn off flash firing (the 20D probably had this too, but I didn’t think to look). This means that, with my 580 EX flash mounted on the side of the camera, I could define my three settings thus:

  1. 1600 ISO, 1/80th at f/2.2, flash turned off – used for shooting candid shots throughout the nightclub.
  2. 250ISO, 1/20th at f/7.1, flash turned on – used for flash portraits with a bit of ambient fill-in light.
  3. 400ISO, 1/25th at f/7.1, flash turned off – used for soft & atmospheric photos of the spotlit performers on-stage.

The settings are easily changeable – for example, if the club is very dark, and setting number 1 still isn’t getting me decent photos, then I can just dial in a new ISO, exposure or aperture, go into the menu’s “camera user setting” mode (easily accessible because of the new user-definable menu) and “register setting”. Or if I just want to change the setting for a few shots, but retain the saved setting, I just dial in the new numbers as I would when shooting in manual mode – it will retain those settings until I switch to another mode or turn the camera off.

So I took the camera down to Stardust bar and (with a bit of assistance from Mozaz) shot lots of photos. Here are the results (they get better towards the end, as I was getting finding my groove with the camera settings).

9 thoughts on “Canon EOS 40D “user modes”

  1. >>The settings are easily changeable – for example, if the club is very dark, and setting number 1 still isn’t getting me decent photos, then I can just dial in a new ISO, exposure or aperture, go into the menu’s “camera user setting” mode (easily accessible because of the new user-definable menu) and “register setting”.

    What makes me worry is that this overruling of the C-mode is lost when the camera shuts of by it’s timer. I am used never switching my camera off (old body 350D has a terrible flimsy switch) and expect to continue shooting with the same settings. However according some review I read, it will return to the ‘clean’ preset of the Custom settings.

    Any experience with that? could be annoying right?

    thanks for thinking alike and blogging about it!


  2. Thanks Lawrence. Yes, I think you’re right, in that the new “manual” settings are over-ruled by camera auto switch-off: I can’t say this with 100% certainly, but I know there where a couple of times when I thought “hang on, I changed that setting”. That’s why I tried to get into the habit of re-programming the C-mode using “register setting” whenever I made a change, unless it was a change which I really only needed for one or two shots. It’s a bit of a pain having to go into the menu settings for this, but then again it’s not something I tend to do nearly as often as switching from flash to no-flash, and even with going to Menu -> Camera User Setting -> Register -> C3 (or whatever) it’s a lot less twiddling and button-pushing than switching settings in fully manual mode.

  3. Hi Dan,

    I saw your response in the fickr group for Canon 40D users. This post was really, really helpful as I’m trying to figure out what everyone uses the custom settings, the picture styles, and various other features on the camera for. Thanks!

  4. i dont know how to use the c functions… i dont understand how its supposed to help me… if you have shoot indoors, you have your own settings in mind already isnt it? High iso etc etc… i guess the best custom settings is ur brain… not all indoor photo ops are alike, in fact every photo op cannot be exactly the same… so i dont get the custom settings… isnt that why you have knobs in the 40d? to make changing settings without taking your eyes of the finder?

  5. @tmomedrano:

    you have your own settings in mind already isnt it?

    I don’t know about your camera, but on mine it’s not good enough just to have the functions in one’s mind, you also have to set them on the camera. My 40D doesn’t have a mind-reading function yet.

    isnt that why you have knobs in the 40d?

    That’s exactly my point. On the 20D, every time I wanted to switch from flash to no-flash, or vice-versa, I had to do the following (not always in this exact order):

    1. Turn the flash off.
    2. Press the button to set ISO.
    3. Turn a knob by approximately 4 notches to re-set ISO.
    4. Press the button to turn off ISO setting.
    5. Turn a knob by approximately 10 notches to re-set shutter speed.
    6. Turn a knob by approximately 12 notches to re-set aperture.
    7. Take the photo.

    With custom settings, this procedure is simplified to:

    1. Turn a knob by one notch, to move from C2 to C1.
    2. Take the photo

    The former procedure used to take me the best part of half-a-minute, even though I was very familiar with the 20D’s layout and already had the settings “in mind”. The latter procedure takes me less than a second. If you shoot any kind of events, you should understand that you can rarely spare half a minute to get a shot.

    not all indoor photo ops are alike

    No, and that is why I have 3 different settings, and why the settings themselves are infinitely adjustable: I suggest you re-read the original post if you still don’t understand this.

    i dont understand how its supposed to help me…

    That’s OK, nobody’s making you use the custom functions. But like I said, for me they’re the single most 40D’s single most useful improvement over the 20D.

  6. well i guess you have a point… most of the time i tried the custom settings function, which was a lot like what you have, (i shoot events too) i ended up changing everything again anyway… i guess i just found it easier to shoot fluidly knowing what shutter speed i came from and at what aperture i was the previous shot than having the custom settings reset it… and in events, i rarely blast people with flash using iso 250 os 400. i keep it at 1000-1600 which the 40d i so good at hiding the noise. or better yet, in events where its relatively well lit and has enough daylight coming in, i think its better to use the auto iso.

  7. I think depends largely on what kind of events you are shooting – for outdoor events, the light will probably change so much from time-to-time and place-to-place that I would probably leave it in manual mode and work from there, perhaps flicking onto a user mode on the odd occasions when I want to use flash. But most of the events I shoot are in darkened nightclubs or similar venues, where I take a combination of atmospheric shots using the club’s lighting (and usually 1600 or 3200ISO) and portraits using bright flash combined with long exposure for background-fill (usually at around 160-400 ISO).

  8. Looks like I might be able to get some help here. Got my 40D on Friday (upgrade from a 350D) and played around with the custom settings. After I changed everything the way I wanted/needed, I registered the changes to one of the 3 free custom dial settings. That however didn’t work, nothing was saved. Maybe I missed something in the manual (think this is a bit useless for the interesting bits to be honest), but couldn’t figure out how to get it to work.

    Any help is welcome!

  9. hello im using a 40d with 150 ex flashguns
    is it passable to turn off inbuilt flash on the camera but still be able to trigger the flashguns?
    the 40d does trigger the flashguns if the inbuilt flash in turned on but it leaves my subjects with a shadow

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *