Testing the Nikon D4: Backwards Thinking?

A Brief Journey Into Madness

I’m still extremely pleased with my Nikon D4, but for reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger on (pun intended), I was having brain-lock in the field using EV compensation. It seemed like every time I went to dial in (-) EV, I was dialing in (+) EV. Surely, it must have been my imagination, as I’ve been using Nikon DSLRs for years and most of the ergonomics are hard-wired into my brain. I figured I was just nuts (a reasonable assumption, just ask my wife).

Am I nuts?

Upon checking my D300s and D700 bodies, I noticed that the meter display in the top LCD has (+) on the left and (-) on the right. If I use EV compensation, rotating the Main Command Dial to the right dials in -EV and rotating it to the left dialed in +EV. This all makes sense; you turn the wheel in the direction of the desired compensation. Back to the D4. It was totally backwards. (+) on the right, and (-) on the left. If I wanted to dial in EV compensation, I had to turn the Main Command dial in the direction opposite the indicator in the LCD and viewfinder. Backwards!

Default Meter view on the Nikon D4
Default Meter view on the Nikon D700


I then dug out the manuals (sometimes, even seasoned photographers need to RTFM), and sure enough, the default settings for the D4 are completely opposite those of the D3s, D300s, and D700. Fortunately, there is a solution that doesn’t involve re-training my feeble mind.

Custom Settings to the Rescue

With all high-end Nikon DSLRs, you have the ability to go into the custom settings and change the behavior of the dials and displays to suit your liking. Never before, however, have I needed to change the controls to get me back to what is standard with other Nikon DSLRs, but at least this is an easy fix.

Step 1: Set Custom Setting f13 (Reverse Indicators) to put the meter back the way I’m used to seeing it: (+) on the Left, and (-) on the Right. This gets the display right, but the EV compensation dial is still backwards in that you rotate the dial in the opposite direction of the meter.

Step 2: Set Custom Setting f10 (Customize Command Dials) to reverse the rotation for Exposure Compensation. Now, when I turn the dial in the direction of the (-) sign, I get -EV, and vice-versa.


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22 thoughts on “Testing the Nikon D4: Backwards Thinking?”

  1. I’ll have to check that out while acquainting myself with the D800 (should it ever arrive). This sort of thing can drive one nuts! I wonder if this reverse is a Japanese standard??

  2. I looked at all my other cameras and manuals (don’t have a D800 yet) and this is the first one I’ve used that is reversed like that.

  3. Funny you should bring that up. As a D300 and now ex-D700 owner I always thought that they should have been configured with “+” to the right and “-” to the left as the D4 now is.
    Any idea if the D800 will follow the D4 configuration?
    Still no info from B&H on my D800.

  4. Follow-up…

    Just checked the D800 manual PDF a friend sent me last night and the EV compensation indicator is “+” to the left and “-” to the right. Go figure!

  5. The backward +0- default arrangement of the indicators on older cameras was used to agree with the direction that the aperture ring of lenses was turned to change exposure. Now that all current lenses do not have aperture rings (and even if an AF lens has an aperture ring most people don’t use it) switching the default to the more normal -0+ indication makes sense to most users. As you have noted the default rotation of the man and sub-command dials has reversed to match the new indicator default.

    Yes thanks to the CFM settings for us dinosaurs who grew up with the backward meter indications.

  6. The D800 manual I downloaded from nikonusa.com shows the default meter to be the same as the D4, i.e. -0+

  7. I just got my D800 today and the meter was reversed like your D4. It took several minutes to figure out what was wrong and how to fix it. It is addressed in custom menu item f12 (Reverse Indicators); the command dial does not have to be re-programed as it did on your D4.

  8. The D4 is logical to me… (Canon user here). I would have hated to have my brain wired in a “backwards” way due to a manufacturer’s legacy!

  9. Excellent timing on this post. I just finished photographing an event with a D800 and a D7000. Everytime I adjusted the EV compensation on the D800, the exposure would be opposite of what I wanted. Then I realized Nikon must have reversed the dial’s direction for EV compensation. All through the event I had to remind myself that one camera’s dial goes this way, and the other camera’s dial goes that way. It was very frustrating. I was about to search the web for similar experiences, but then I saw this post on FB. Whew!! Thanks, Jason.

  10. That’s funny, I am completely the opposite! It never made sense to me that to the right was (-) compensation? So I found the setting in my D90 and was the first thing I changed on my D7000! In my mind, it aligns with the histogram where to the right is toward over exposure, so looks like if I ever get a D4, I will be set!! 😉

  11. I noticed this last week as well, on my D4. I am used to my D300 configuration and assumed I must have changed my D300 and forgotten about it. However, I am torn about chaning the setting on my D4 because the D4’s default setting actually seems more logical to me. So, do I retrain my brain to use the D4’s current setting (and likely the D5 in several years) or stay lazy and customize it to match the D300….hmmm.

  12. Given that you can customize it, it’s not a huge deal. I agree that for the engineering inclined, the -0+ meter makes more sense (from a mathematical number line perspective). I can use it either way, but if you use different cameras, you’ll want to make sure they’re all set up similarly.

  13. Funny, I found this post today after making the exact same two changes to my D800 setup last night. I think I could get used to -0+, but what was really throwing me was the exposure comp was working the opposite of manual exposure adjustment. I.e., in A mode, turning the Main Command Dial left dialed in negative exposure comp, while in M mode, turning the MCD left dialed in additional exposure (longer shutter). Having this behavior as a default seems crazy to me. But thankfully it’s a highly customizable tool with a 450 page manual! 😉

    Now I just need to check if the ISO adjustment now works the way I always thought it “should” – left dial gives more exposure just like shutter and aperture (on older cameras and on D4/800 with the adjustments mentioned). It never made sense to me that ISO worked the opposite of shutter and aperture on my D200.

  14. Thanks for the tip on custom settings. However I am confused by how the meter in my D800 viewfinder reflects the adjustment. If you compensate with a -EV adjustment the meter shows that the exposure is increasing and if you compensate with a +EV adjustment the meter shows that the exposure is decreasing. What’s up with that?

  15. It appears as though the D800 and D4 do not share the same degree of customization. My article is specific to the D4; I’ll need to do further research on the D800.

  16. G’day Jason – thanks so much for this post!! I’m glad I could reverse the default setting on my new D4, as I could not get used to it after using other Nikons for years! Appreciate you taking the time to post this blog.

  17. THANK YOU so, so much for this! I’ve got the 800, and man was it messing with my head. I shoot on the 700 a lot, and going back and forth was impossible for my brain. 🙂

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