Canon EOS-50D Set-up « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Canon EOS-50D Set-up

We have had many requests recently to publish the settings that I use with my two Canon EOS-50D bodies so here goes. Bulletins readers will note that they are almost identical to the settings that I used with my Canon EOS-40D body. I have, however, added explanations here where applicable. While some of these settings are camera specific most are generic and a good read may yield some worthwhile info for Canon users and general and even for Nikon or other brand users as many of the options are similar.

Menu Items

(Shown for the most part only if settings are different from the default settings).

Red Menu 1.

Quality: RAW. All serious photographers should be using RAW capture.
Red-eye: Off. Turn this on only when photographing people in low light situations.
Beep: On. I find the focus confirmation beep helpful.
Shoot w/o card: Off. Setting this to “On” can only lead to disaster. Why not take advantage of idiot-proofing?
Review time: 8 seconds. This is entirely personal preference. As I use the vertical grip with the two batteries battery life is not an issue.
Peripheral illumination correction. I do not concern myself with this at all as it prevents vignetting only with JPEGs and is much more of a problem when using full frame cameras with long lenses and wide open apertures. Various methods of dealing with vignetting in both Photoshop and in ACR (during conversion) are covered–along with tons of other great techniques and info and our complete digital workflow–in our Digital Basics File. Learn more here:

Red Menu 2.

Color Space: Adobe RGB.
Picture Style: Neutral, customized as follows: Sharpness: 3, Contrast: 0, Saturation: -1, Color Tone: +1. With the Sharpness set at 3, I have never encountered a situation where the image is over-sharpened after conversion. The settings for Saturation and Color Tone are brand new changes that I hope will deal with the Red/Magenta cast in some images. the +1 Color Tone setting adds more Yellow (and possibly less Red). Others have had large Red/Magenta color casts; I wonder what there settings here are? Another important point, unless you are using DPP or Breezebrowser to convert, these settings are meaningless as they only affect JPEG images. If you convert with DPP or Breezebrowser the Picture Style settings are applied. If you convert with ACR (or anything else) they are not applied.

Blue Menu 2.

Highlight Alert: Enable. Working without Highlight Alert Enabled is like buying a Corvette without an engine. Your goal should be to have just a very few flashing highlights with each image; this assures that you will be exposing to the right as you should be. JPEGs show more than RAW files and a few apparently overexposed pixels can easily be recovered during the conversion process.
AF Point display: Enable. This is strictly personal preference.
Histogram: RBG. While I use the RGB histogram all the time, it is most important to utilize it when creating images of colorful sunrises and sunsets. At such times, it is easy to over-expose the red channel; you must guard against this and you can do so by taking a good look at the Red channel on the histogram. Of course it would be a lot easier to read and evaluate the histograms on all Canon cameras if they would put a light colored border around the histogram (as I and others have been suggesting for several years at least).

Yellow Menu 1.

Auto Power Off: 30 minutes. Lots of folks set this at 1 minute or 2 minutes thinking that they will save their batteries. Over the course of a lifetime they would save about 2 cents worth of electricity while missing dozens of great images as they wait that fraction of a second for the camera to wake up. Even worse are those who turn the cameras off constantly to save battery power…
File Numbering: Continuous.
Auto Rotate: ON/computer. This allows me to see verticals full frame on the back of the camera but see them rotated (and therefore smaller) on the laptop.

Yellow Menu 2.

LCD Brightness: one notch below the brightest. Folks think that this may make the image look over-exposed. You need to be judging your exposures by looking at the histogram, not at the back of the camera. A bright setting here helps me to view the histogram in sunny conditions. Oh for that yellow box around the histogram…
Date/Time: Make sure that the date and the time are set accurately at all times even when you travel to new time zones. It will make various aspects of your photographic life simpler and easier.
Custom Functions (Shown only if settings are different from the default settings).

C Fn I-group (Exposure).

C Fn I-3/ISO Expansion: 1: On.
C Fn-I-6/Safety Shift: Enable (TvAv). This will keep you in the ballgame when working in Av or Tv mode in rapidly changing lighting conditions.

C Fn II group (Image).

C Fn II-1/Long exposure noise reduction. I leave this on all the time as it will kick in only for the long exposures (that usually only occur when I am creating scenics, bird scapes, or intentional wind or waterfall blurs.
C Fn II-2/High ISO noise reduction. I leave this on Standard because running NR with the higher ISOs does not reduce the size of the buffer anywhere near as much as it does with the EOS-1Ds Mark III. My gut feeling with this and the previous setting (C Fn II-1) is that in-camera NR is to be preferred to any other type of NR, either during or after conversion.
C Fn II-3/Highlight Tone Priority: Enable. As far as I know, there is no reason to leave this off as enabling it increases both highlight detail and dynamic range for tones lighter than a middle tone.

C Fn III group( Autofocus/Drive).

C Fn III-1/Auto focus/Drive/Lens may be helpful to some when photographing birds in flight at a relatively consistent distance. If there are birds flying close by and others at a distance, the lens will not even attempt to focus when switching from the close birds to the more distant subjects, so with C Fn III-1 set to 1: Focus search off, you will need to pre-focus manually in most cases. Why go to all this trouble? Once you have locked focus with C Fn-1:1 set, the AF system is supposed to be less likely to drop the subject and search for a different subject if the sensor momentarily falls off the subject. This was and is an important issue with the EOS-1D MIII bodies, but the 50D does such a good job of focus tracking that I rarely switch from the default setting, C Fn-1: 0.
(Folks interested in the details involved in setting up C-Fn III-1, C Fn IV-1 and C Fn IV-2 are referred to the Mark III User’s Guide:< C Fn III-2/Lens AF stop button function. I only recently began setting C Fn III-2: 2 when I had a problem while handholding my 400mm f/4 IS DO lens (especially for flight or action photography). The index finger of my left hand, which I use to support the lens barrel, would inadvertently press the focus stop button that is located just this side of the lens hood. (Others using this lens may or may not have this problem depending on how exactly how they hold the lens when handholding.) In any case, with C Fn III-2: 2 set, accidentally depressing the AF stop button will lock the exposure rather than stopping focus. C Fn III-6/Mirror Lock which is enabled only when needed, most often with macro work and/or long exposures. C Fn III-7/AF Micro-adjustment. I have been happy with the AF accuracy if my 50D that I have not found it necessary to perform these adjustments. Again, users who would like to learn to do there adjustments are referred to the MIII Users Guide:

C Fn IV group (Operation/Others).

C Fn IV-1/Shutter Button/AF-ON Button: 1 Metering + AF start/AF stop. Inspired by Jim Neiger, I have been using this set-up for quite some time now but still do not have 100% confidence in it. It is sort of the opposite of the old CF-4-3 setting that I used to use on occasion and that some good photographers use full time. With C Fn IV-1 set to 1, I keep AF set to AI Servo AF. The shutter button controls metering and AF, If you press the shutter button you get the exposure data and as long as you keep the shutter button half-way down, AF will be active and the camera will focus track. Now here is the key with these settings: Rather than having to switch to One Shot AF for static subjects when you need to lock focus and recompose, you can focus on the bird’s eye and hold down the star button to lock focus. (Be sure to see the next item so that you understand why you are pressing the star button rather than the AF ON button.) Now you can recompose the image by shifting the lens as need be; the point of focus will not change as long as you keep your thumb on the star button. It takes some practice but can be quite useful.
C Fn IV-2/AE-ON/AE lock button switch: 1: Enable. The functions of the AE-ON button and the star button are switched. Now, whether you are using the star button as AF-ON or as AF-OFF (as with C Fn IV-1 immediately above) you do not have to arch your thumb to reach the AF-ON button. In addition, these functions were always assigned to the star button on previous cameras and the star button was has always been in the same position, just to the left of the AF Grid button.

29 comments to Canon EOS-50D Set-up

  • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Important Note: HTP only affects images that are processed in DPP.

  • Hi Arthur, this is Quazi again, a fan of yours. I’m just an enthusiast nature and wildlife photographer.

    First I tried your lens section for this issue but comments are closed there. So I’ve resorted to this department. Apologies for the infringement. Recently I procured EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM telephoto prime lens to use with my great 50D for close range low light bird/wildlife photography. FYI, I value IS as it helps a lot however, I’m quite comfortable with my 2 non-IS L tele lenses.

    May I know your views in short about my new lens?

    Thank you with regards.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Quazi, Best to subscribe to the blog. I love my 70-200 f/2.8L IS lens and use it often for a variety of purposes. I have posted many images made with it over the past year. If IS is available, I greatly prefer a lens that has it. artie

      • Good Afternoon Arthur. Hope you are fine.

        Are you, by any chance, planning to throw some light on the current hype of mirrorless cameras? I’m little concerned about the impression of some that those might replace the APS-C sensor DSLRs that we are using at present.

        May I request your take on this?

        Thanks in advance.

  • Ben Cvengros

    Hi, I am sort of new to the photography world, and wildlife, especially bird photography, is my passion. I have a canon EOS 50D with a 150-500mm sigma lens. The thing I really struggle with is producing a decent flight shot. I recently changed over to AI Servo mode but haven’t had enough time to fully test the tracking yet. I was wondering if there are any others particular settings I should know about, like what the best metering type is for tracking. If anyone can help me with the focusing while in flight problem, it would be much appreciated. Thanks.


    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Ben, I would recommend getting a copy of ABP II and studying it carefully to learn exposure. There is also lots on flight photography. Also, study the captions on the flight shots in the Bulletins and on the blog. You must be in AI Servo for moving subjects. I would suggest a better lens for most flight photography. And be sure always to be at f/8 with that lens. artie

    • Dear Ben, The best Canon flight photography combo is EOS 50D + EF 400mm f/5.6L USM. Arthur also likes this although he suggests a better but pricey lens like EF 400mm f/4L DO IS USM if possible.

      In any case, the first combo suggested above is the best for enthusiasts like you and me and this is endorsed by most of the gurus. Personally I found it very effective. Here’s a shot of mine:


  • Arthur, as an enthusiast wildlife photographer I have been using Canon EOS 50D that entered its 3rd year, with full satisfaction. Mostly shoot in AV mode and RAW. Process with DPP. My lenses are EF 400mm f/5.6L USM and EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM.

    This great body is aging but don’t find a suitable replacement. My other older body is entry level 450D which gave me excellent service but too old to carry on now. I need an action body as immediate replacement.

    Can anyone kindly suggest which one to buy? Or should I wait for the rumored 70D?

    Thanks is advance.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      The 50D is a great camera. Many prefer the 50D image files to the 7D image files by a large margin. Why not keep the 50D working? If you can stand working with a full frame body, the 5D III is wonderful–I am not sure of the pixel math when comparing the two….

      If the rumored 70D is anything like the 60D I would not hold my breath…. If they make a new 7D with a higher quality sensor you would be in business….

      • Thanks Arthur. I will continue using my beloved 50D. In fact I looked for another 50D body but couldn’t find it. Need 2 bodies for any worthwhile shooting mission.

        Let’s see what the next gen crop bodies hold for us! If they fall short of expectations; will have to think about 5D Mk III reluctantly. Love crop sensors for wildlife shots.

        Thanks again.

  • […] Canon 50D Sigma 150-500mm Bird Photoghraphy Hi Try this site to set your 50D up. Canon EOS-50D Set-up Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART Good Luck __________________ My Zenfolio site […]

  • Vicki Harbour

    I was searching for some information on my 50d and I came across this sight for setting of the 50 d…I thought why not I will set one of my creative modes using the settings above. Just an hour before the sun was looking for a spot to rest I was out shooting…we live on a lake so there are birds everywhere….Suddenly as if in slow motion there it is ….a beautiful White Herring coming straight for me flying low to the ground and rising up just over my head, I wheeled around my camara already at my eye and I heard the motor focus as I set the shots…I was excited but I did my best not to shake while I fired off the shots……The Bird made 2 slow passes …..when I got in I had many shots to pour through ….then I saw it ….the shots were unbelivable and this is the reason the excitement for a photographer… say I got it….I got the shot……Perfectly display light glossing its stretched wings and a super super shot…… Thankyou ….right place right settings and didnt flinch….

  • David

    What about Auto Lighting Optimizer, what do you set that to?


  • Kevin

    I just picked up a 50D as a second camera body to my 1D Mark II and am trying to configure the custom functions. On my Mark II, I press the star button to focus and the shutter to take the picture. This works well in either horizontal or vertical grip. However, I cannot figure out the function to have the 50D do the same. Can you help? Thanks,

    • In order to focus with the star button on the MII, you needed to set a custom function. It is the same with the 50D, but the CFs are different so you need to consult your camera body manual. Good luck.

  • yatin parikh

    I have canon eos 50d with 100mm-400mm l series lens. I am birds lover. But i can’t click flying birds. I use AI servo and selected centre AF point, but the bird is not perfect focus. What should i do. Plz reply me on my email ID. thank you………

  • Sharon

    Thank you to William! I am taking a color photography course and for the life of me could not get my ISO below 200———-thank goodness for coming across this post–helpful, however, the responses were what saved my life!

  • Michelle

    are these settings good for sport shooting? I shoot alot of soccer, majority of my photos come out great, I have problems when the sun goes down and I am shooting with the school field lights. Get way too many blurred shots and I have tried lowering the f-stop number to upping the shutter speed to upping the ISO. Can’t seem to get it right. I know it is quite difficult to do but I know it can be somewhat done. I use the Canon EF 70-200mm L series 2.8 lens

  • Frank Gruber

    I have a question regarding Red Menu 2 and in camera sharpening. Does the setting Sharpness >0 effect the Raw file?
    Thanks in advance!

    • My understanding is that if you are using either DPP or Breezebrowser (which uses the Canon SDK) then the in-cammera sharpening is applied. (I use sharpening: 3.) Otherwise, there is no effect on the RAW.

  • Yes, HTP on eliminates expanded ISOs. As many of you know, I am not at all a techical person. I sent the HTP questions from a BPN thread to Chuck Westfall at Canon. Here is his repsonse:

    “Canon has not publicly disclosed all the details of the method used to achieve Highlight Tone Priority. I can confirm that Canon’s method involves lowering the gain on the image sensor and modifying the image processing algorithm to simulate the ISO speed set by the user, but the details of the algorithm are confidential. Since HTP does involve lower gain than standard camera settings, it affects both RAW data and JPEG images. Although it would be possible for users to come close to simulating the effects of HTP for RAW images by shooting at a lower ISO speed and altering the tone curve of the image during post-processing, this method requires advance planning and furthermore offers no advantages in terms of noise reduction compared to setting HTP on the camera. Finally, as stated in the camera instruction manuals, “noise in the shadow areas may be slightly more than usual” when HTP is activated. Therefore, it’s basically up to users to decide if the benefits of HTP outweigh the potential drawbacks.”

    Best Regards,

    Chuck Westfall
    Technical Advisor/Professional Products Marketing Division

    Lastly, Breezebrowswer does apply the Tone Curve and also follows other RAW instructions as the Brbr converter employs the Canon SDK (software development kit).

  • Highlight Tone Priority, CFII-3-1 enable
    As far as I know this will expose -1 EV, and afterward the in-camera processing (when shooting JPGs) or DPP (when shooting RAWs) will apply a special tone-curve to compensate for the underexposure and extend the dynamic range. If using any other RAW-converter than Canons own DPP this most likely won’t work as expected! Some RAW-converters might simply keep the photo underexposed one step until it is manually corrected, others might default compensate the underexposure but do not apply a special tone-curve (ie. ACR as far as I know). So generally it is not a good idea to use this in RAW mode unless using DPP (or unless you use another RAW converter you know can handle it in an intelligent way – I don’t know about this Breezebrowser mentioned).

  • William Snyder

    Highlight Tone Priority, CFII-3-1 enable, eliminates the 100 ISO choice??

    Yes this is correct. When this custom function is enabled your lowest ISO setting changes to 200.

  • Judy Howle

    I used Highlight Tone Priority for a few white birds on the 40D but decided to turn it off and I haven’t used it at all with the 50D. I might give it a try next time I encounter a white egret but I think that using minus EV accomplishes the same thing.

  • Mike Cristina in CT


    Highlight Tone Priority, CFII-3-1 enable, eliminates the 100 ISO choice??

    Thanks, Mike in CT

  • Artie,

    Thanks for the informative guide. Re: highlight tone priority. On my 40D at least, I’ve encountered some shadow noise issues with highlight tone priority turned on, so I generally leave it off unless I know I’ll be shooting a challenging subject (e.g. white birds in hard light). YMMV.


    P.S. Images ok much better since you changed the format.