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Understanding Nikon Picture Controls

Darrell Young (DigitalDarrell)

Keywords: nikon, camera, basics, guides, tips

Nikon’s Picture Control system—found under the Set Picture Control setting on the Shooting Menu—lets you control how your image appears in several ways. Each control has a specific effect on the image’s appearance. If you’ve ever shot film, you know that there are distinct looks to each film type. No two films produce color that looks the same.

In today’s digital photography world, Picture Controls give you the ability to impart a specific look to your images. You can use Picture Controls as they are provided from the factory, or you can fine tune Sharpening, Contrast, Brightness, Saturation, and Hue.

The cool thing about Picture Controls is that they are shareable. If you tweak a Nikon Picture Control and save it under a name of your choice, you can then share your control with others. Compatible cameras, collaborative software, and other devices can use these controls to maintain the look you want from the time you press the Shutter-release button until you print the picture with a program like Nikon Capture NX2.

Here are the Shooting Menu screens used to choose a Picture Control:


You can also modify the currently highlighted control by scrolling to the right before you press the OK button (figure 1, images 2 & 3). This will bring you to the fine-tuning screen. You can adjust the Sharpening, Contrast, Brightness, Saturation, and Hue settings by scrolling up or down to select a line and then scrolling right or left (+/-) to change the value of that line item. This is entirely optional.

If you do choose to modify a control, it is not yet a Custom Picture Control because you haven’t saved it under a new name. Instead, it’s merely a modified Nikon Picture Control. To name and save your own Custom Picture Controls you’ll use the Shooting Menu selection called Manage Picture Control.

You can select one of the controls and leave the settings at the factory defaults, or you can modify the settings and completely change how the camera captures the image (figure 1, image 3). If you shoot in one of the NEF (RAW) modes, the camera does not apply these settings to the image permanently; it stores them with the image so you can change them during post-processing in your computer. If you shoot JPEG, the camera applies the settings you’ve chosen immediately and permanently. Let’s examine each of the Picture Controls.


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User on February 23, 2015

Simple but informative, exactly why i contribute to this site.Many thanks. Chris

User on June 9, 2013

Thanks Darrell for the great article. It's been very helpful.

William Fleischaker (fgrths2) on June 6, 2013

Darrell, thank you for providing a digital to film translation of this menu item. It opens a wide range of creativity possibilities w/o post-processing. Saving time is great.

Allen Henderson (AAHNikon) on June 5, 2013

Darrel, Thanks for such an informative article. I have a question - a D2x does not have the exact settings in the same menu location. What are similar settings?

User on June 5, 2013

Thank you Darrel. It's a big help and timesaver for me to be able to see the different effects side by side on one page.

Mark Wagner (socrreferee) on June 4, 2013

Darrell, Great read. I appreciate these articles.

Paul Cassidy (PCassidy) on June 3, 2013

Thanks Darrell, this made complete sense after reading and I appreciate the sample images too.