For many photographers, especially first-time DSLR users, the menu settings on the Nikon D3500 can be confusing and overwhelming. Even though the Nikon D3500 is easier to understand than some other advanced cameras, it still has dozens of menu options to work through. How do you even begin to set everything correctly?
Hopefully, this article will give you a good place to start. Below, I’ve explained every single important camera setting on the Nikon D3500, including my recommendations as to how to set this camera. Keep in mind that there is more than one good way to set the Nikon D3500. These are simply the settings that have worked great for me. Hopefully, you find them useful in clearing up any confusion you may have.
Playback Menu Settings
Some of the D3500’s playback settings are quite important when you are reviewing images:
- Playback folder: ALL (because it lets you review every photo you’ve taken on the D3500’s memory card, not just the recent ones from the same folder)
- Playback display options
- None (image only): Checked
- Highlights: Checked (enables the ability to have overexposed regions of a photo blink black and white)
- RGB histogram: Checked
- Shooting data: Not checked
- Overview: Checked
- Image review: ON (this determines whether or not your photo pops up immediately after you take it)
- Auto image rotation: ON (signals to rotate vertical photos when you’ve opened them on a computer)
- Rotate tall: OFF (otherwise, vertical photos will be too narrow on your camera, and you’ll have to turn your head to review vertical photos when you’re using a tripod)
The playback settings I skipped are one-time things that don’t matter for setting up the Nikon D3500, such as creating a slideshow.
Photo Shooting Menu
Next up is the Photo Shooting Menu, which includes many of the D3500’s most important settings. I’ve made sure to add notes to clarify why I pick some of the more complex settings below:
- Image quality: NEF (RAW) will give you better image quality than JPEG, but also result in larger files that don’t look as good straight out-of-camera (they’re too dull before post-processing). See our article on RAW vs JPEG if you aren’t sure, since a number of D3500 users may prefer JPEGs
- Image size: Grayed out when shooting RAW; pick “L” for best quality when shooting JPEG, or “M” or “S” for lower resolution and smaller file sizes.
- ISO sensitivity settings
- ISO sensitivity: 100 (this simply matches whatever ISO you’re using)
- Auto ISO sensitivity control: ON (though turn it OFF for tripod-based work where you always want the same ISO; see our article on Auto ISO)
- Maximum sensitivity: 3200
- Minimum shutter speed: Auto for regular handheld photography (but select a manual shutter speed that will freeze action if you are shooting fast motion)
- White balance: AUTO
- Set Picture Control: SD (Standard), Default values, unless you already know you have a specific reason to change it (doesn’t affect the photo itself if you’re a RAW shooter)
- Color space: sRGB if you ever shoot JPEG. Adobe RGB if you only shoot RAW, since it doesn’t affect the photo itself and provides a slightly more accurate in-camera histogram
- Active D-Lighting: OFF, especially important if you shoot RAW, since it affects how your camera meters a scene (see a list of all the settings which affect RAW photos)
- Noise reduction: ON for JPEG (OFF for RAW, because it doesn’t affect RAW photos)
- Vignette control: ON for JPEG (OFF for RAW, because it doesn’t affect RAW photos)
- Auto distortion control: ON for JPEG (OFF for RAW, because it doesn’t affect RAW photos)
- Focus mode: Matches your chosen settings from the “i” button. Usually, I do AF-C for photographing action through the viewfinder, and AF-S for photographing stationary subjects in live view.
- AF Area Mode: Also matches your chosen “i” button settings. I prefer Dynamic-area AF most of the time in the viewfinder (3D tracking often fails, and Auto-area AF tells the camera to guess your subject). For live view/movie mode, I prefer Normal-area AF because the autofocus point is the smallest.
- Built-in AF-assist illuminator: Fires a beam of light to help autofocus in especially dark conditions. This one is a personal preference (and it will be grayed-out if you are shooting in live view); I tend to leave it off because it can annoy the subject, but many photographers prefer to keep it on.
- Metering: Matches your chosen settings from the “i” button. I prefer matrix metering 99% of the time.
- Flash control for built-in flash: TTL
- Movie Settings
- Frame size/frame rate: 1920×1080; 24p (though use 60p if you want slow motion)
- Movie quality: High quality
- Microphone: Auto (this only affects the in-camera microphone)
- Wind noise reduction: ON (also only affects the in-camera microphone)
- Manual movie settings: ON (enables the ability to adjust shutter speed and ISO manually for videos when in manual mode)
Setup Menu (Wrench Icon)
Most of this menu is a set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing. For example, you probably won’t change your copyright information very often. Still, it is an important menu, so I will cover the main settings below. If I don’t list something, it is because it’s irrelevant to setting up your camera, or too personal to make a recommendation (like language and time zone):
- Format memory card: Only click “YES” when you want all the photos on your memory card to be deleted. This is irreversible. It’s a good idea to format a memory card when you switch it to the D3500 for the first time, or you’ve finished offloading all your images onto the computer and you want a clear card.
- Date stamp: OFF
- Monitor brightness: Default of 0 – unless it is annoyingly bright indoors, or difficult to see outdoors.
- Info display format: For both the “Auto/Scene/Effects” and “P/S/A/M” options, I like the look of the second graphic (black text, white background), but that’s a personal preference.
- Auto info display: OFF (can pop up annoyingly when you half-press the shutter button, and you can turn it on/off anyway by just pressing the “INFO” button)
- Auto off timers: I prefer “Normal” on this, but it’s totally personal preference, and you can customize each option individually
- Self-timer delay: 5s (may change depending upon your needs for the photo, if you want a longer or shorter delay after pressing the shutter button)
- Number of shots: 1 (also may change, if you want the camera to take multiple images in a row when self timer shooting is enabled)
- Lock mirror up for cleaning: — (grayed out when you don’t have enough battery life. This locks up the mirror for manual sensor cleaning.)
- Image Dust Off ref photo: May be grayed out; no need to create one here unless you use Capture NX as your photo editing program and have experienced troubles with dust on your camera sensor.
- Image comment: OFF, unless there’s a note you want to attach in the metadata of your photos. I simply use the next section, “Copyright information,” to add all the info I need
- Copyright information: Put your name in – I do it under “Copyright” rather than “Artist,” but the result is the same – to tag your photos with your name. This can also be helpful in case you lose one of your memory cards, increasing the chances that someone figures out who it belongs to.
- Beep: Off (it’s annoying)
- Flicker reduction: AUTO
- Assign AE-L/AF-L button: AF-On (this is a highly recommended setting – it decouples autofocus from your shutter button. So, you’ll focus by pressing the AE-L/AF-L button instead, also known as back-button focusing. This may seem strange at first, but once you try it, I doubt you will go back!)
- Shutter-release button AE-L: OFF (locks your exposure when you half-press the shutter button; I rarely want that, personally, but some photographers may prefer it On)
- AF activation: OFF (highly recommended so that you fully switch over to back-button focusing, rather than having both the AE-L/AF-L button and the shutter button trigger autofocus.
- You will no longer be able to focus by half-pressing the shutter button once you implement the two “highly recommended” camera settings. Instead, you must focus by pressing the AE-L/AF-L button.
- Rangefinder: OFF (this puts a dot in the viewfinder to help you use manual focus, but I personally have never found it helpful; other photographers differ)
- File number sequence: ON (though it doesn’t really matter either way. This is simply about which file name the D3500 uses for photos after you format a memory card. I personally like it to continue the previous number sequence (i.e., DSC_1249 to DSC_1250, rather than restarting at DSC_0001) – but this is a really specific setting that has no impact on the quality of your photos.)
- Storage folder: Don’t touch. The D3500 will create new folders on the memory card when each one fills with 999 photos.
- File naming: I change it from DSC to a custom string of three digits, just to differentiate my D3500 images from photos I’ve taken with other cameras.
- Output resolution: AUTO
- Device control: ON
- Airplane mode: This is only relevant for disabling image transfer connections to a smartphone. If you haven’t set up these connections or are not actively using them, OFF does the same thing as ON
- Connect to a smart device: Only use when you want to access SnapBridge (used for transferring JPEGs from the D3500 to your phone, or to control the D3500 with your phone – see more on Nikon’s page for SnapBridge)
- Send to smart device (auto): ON if you want your photos to transfer to your phone in the background; OFF if you don’t want the photos you take to transfer to your phone. ON does nothing until you use the prior menu option to connect the D3500 to your phone.
- Bluetooth: ON when you want to transfer photos to your phone or control the D3500 via SnapBridge. OFF saves battery when you aren’t doing either of these things.
- Slot empty release lock: Release Locked (so that you don’t accidentally take photos without a memory card)
Hopefully, the settings above gave you a good idea of how to use the Nikon D3500 and set everything correctly. Again, the specific recommendations above are simply what work for me, and your own needs may be different – which is why so many settings exist in the first place.
Lastly, note that the settings you most recently adjusted will appear in the “Recent Settings” menu, which is good for adjusting things like Auto ISO settings more quickly than finding them within the larger menu.
I hope these recommendations will help you get the best results out of your Nikon D3500! If you have any questions about why I suggested some of these particular camera settings instead of others, please feel free to ask in the comments below.