Setting Function Buttons Like a Spy

When you ask a spy a question they simply know they shouldn’t answer they respond with “I can tell you, but I’ll have to kill you”. That’s kind of how I feel about assigning function buttons because if I’m totally honest, I feel that by giving you a list of assignments, I’ll be killing your creativity and probably causing more problems than what you bargained for.

So you’ve just bought a new camera, fumbled through the manual and discovered a whole new world of customisation. These days, personalising your camera is a huge selling point with many featuring 5, 6 or even 7 customisable function buttons (‘Fn’) assignable to a mass of camera specific and general features, from teleconverters, to HDR modes, to focus peaking. The problem is that many new and even experienced photographers don’t even know 2 or 3 features on their cameras that would be useful on a day to day basis, so where do you start?

It might come as a surprise to some but whilst technology has changed at an exponential pace over the years, the basics of photography have not. Cameras come sporting features that even I as a 30 year old tech junkie can’t immediately make sense of, making promises of amazing images with the click of a button. Though the reality is that as a good photograph requires a touch more than a novelty camera feature to make it stand out from the crowd. So when I am asked the question ‘what should I set my function buttons as’ I tend to ask the question, what do you need them to be? Because ultimately these buttons are designed to give you access to a frequently used feature rather than over complicate your everyday photography.

A great example of over-assigning function buttons comes with the Olympus OM-D E-M1, a camera so jam packed with features I managed to re-write the manual just to help people make sense of it. I love this camera, but the most common issue I resolve for participants on my courses is that they have accidentally engaged a mode they didn’t even know existed.

“Ah, the problem is your teleconverter is on”

“What’s a teleconverter”

“Well, if you press your function 1 button you’ll…”

“My what?”

“Have you set your function buttons up yourself?”

“No but a friend of mine…”

Now I’m not suggesting that function buttons aren’t useful but just like a spy I like to treat my function buttons as a ‘need to have’ basis. When I get a new camera I start with them all switched off, rendering them totally useless minimising the chance of me accidentally engaging a feature I didn’t even know existed. As i come across features and functions I find myself using constantly I slowly assign them starting from most convenient to least. The process of encountering 5-7 frequently used features on your camera can take a long long time but by using this technique you take on features slowly, learning their true potential and ultimately getting better photographs by eliminating un-needed clutter and complication.

By assigning buttons to functions that you don’t yet understand you might think you are doing yourself a favour but ultimately without a thorough understanding of their purpose and use they can create more problems than they solve; engaging HDR mode, manual to auto focus, moving focus points to the bottom of the frame, changing resolution, locking the ISO at a low level, the list goes on.

So when I’m asked the question, what should I set my function buttons to, I say set them to ‘Off’. When you encounter a problem that absolutely needs solving it’s time to set the first button. Problem 2 that you encounter deserves button 2 and so on and so forth. By assigning them on a needs basis rather than on advise of someone else needs you will remember what they are there for and ensure that you can be self-sufficient in solving problems in the long run and you will end up using your cameras features to the fullest. So take my first lesson in spy school; don’t meddle in things you don’t yet need to know, when the time is right… you will know.

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