Basic Nikon D5200 settings


Taking photos with the Nikon D5200 as easily as possible - that's what this guide is all about. The most important camera settings for beginners and those who want to deal as little as possible with the technical side.

In case you're wondering where the selection of settings on this page came from, it's right here:

The easiest way to make friends with your camera

Camera mode

Nikon D5200 Betriebsartenwähler AUTO

For beginners I recommend to start with full auto mode marked in green, you can set it as shown in the picture.

In this camera mode you can't influence many settings and you won't use the full possibilities of the D5200. It is a recommendation for the beginning, to gain experience with the camera without diving into the many buttons and menus. And for those who want to ”just take pictures“.

The advantage of full automatic for beginners is: You can first concentrate on really important aspects, which the camera does not do for you: Finding subjects and image composition.

It's perfectly fine to start with this convenient camera mode at first. And even to stay with it, if you have little inclination for the technical side of photography and your photos meet your expectations.

Resetting your D5200

If you have changed something in the full automatic mode, the common settings of the D5200 can easily be reset to a familiar state:

  • Switch on the camera or briefly tap the shutter release button – the exposure metering must be active.
  • Change the camera mode and turn it back to the green marked full auto.

The D5200 does not reset all settings completely, e.g. the image resolution remains unchanged when turning the camera mode. To be completely safe, you still need to be attentive to what you adjust on the camera and may want to undo later.

It is not enough to turn the D5200 off and on again. E.g. changed autofocus settings survive that.

Nikon D5200 Dioptrien-Einstellung

On the right above the viewfinder is a wheel for adjusting the diopter of the viewfinder. If the viewfinder image is permanently out of focus, it will have turned, e.g. in a crowded bag.

Viewfinder or camera monitor?

This description applies to photography with looking through the camera viewfinder.

You can also shoot with the D5200 by using a live image preview on the camera monitor (”Live View“). However, in my opinion it is better to get used to the viewfinder if you haven't already:

  • You can see much more, especially in bright ambient light, and you can judge the image detail much better in the viewfinder.
  • The D5200 reacts noticeably faster when shooting through the viewfinder.
  • You can hold the camera much more steady and stable because it is closer to your body and also rests against your head.


Der Zoomring an einemm Objektiv einer Spiegelreflex-Kamera

You change the image section by turning an adjustment ring on the lens - unless it has a fixed focal length. The ring has a label with numbers indicating the approximate focal length in mm.

Be sure to keep the camera in a stable position: It is best to have the palm facing up, your left thumb to the left of the lens and the lens resting on the whole hand. You often see people having the thumb under the lens and the palm facing forward.

How you hold your D5200 can be a first difference, that sets you apart from many beginners.


Assure that autofocus is switched on | The autofocus must be switched on at the camera and at the lens.

It will certainly be switched on at the camera if you have freshly turned the camera mode to AUTO as described. You can check this by pressing the info button at the top or the i button on the back; the shooting information then displayed will say AF-A. It doesn't matter whether you see it in yellow or grey.

Your lens probably has a switch labeled M/A or A as well as M. It must be set to A resp. M/A for autofocus to be active.

Where does the D5200 set the focus? | The D5200 focuses when you lightly tap the shutter button until you feel a slight resistance. It has 39 metering points that lie within the mark displayed in the viewfinder and automatically decides which one to use. In most cases, this will result in focusing on the foreground at the shortest distance.

Pay attention to which metering points are highlighted in the viewfinder after you tap the shutter button. If they are on your main subject, or at least at the same distance, all is well. Otherwise, you'll have to tap the shutter button again and possibly slightly change the image frame so that the D5200 hopefully selects the right point.

Focus tracking | If the D5200 does not detect any movement at the moment of focusing, the autofocus locks and will not change as long as you keep the shutter button pressed. A green dot will appear in the lower left of the viewfinder to confirm.

Otherwise, the D5200 will switch to continuous autofocus and constantly adjust focus as long as you hold the shutter button half pressed.

Autofocus behavior can also be controlled in full auto, both where the D5200 focuses and focus tracking. I'll skip that here to keep the settings consistently simple. If you want to get to know it already, feel free to skip ahead to most relevant autofocus settings for advanced users .

Image brightness

In Nikon's default settings, the D5200 measures exposure when you tap the shutter button and will always adjust it when you pan the camera. You can easily observe this by pointing the D5200 at brighter or darker subjects while holding down the shutter button. The aperture and shutter speed numbers displayed at the bottom of the viewfinder will then change.

Nikon D5200 AE-L/AF-L-Taste

The easiest way to control the image brightness yourself is to use the Exposure Lock. You will need it especially with high contrasts in brightness, e.g. when a person is in shadow against a bright background or sky.

Here's how:

  • Point the D5200 at a frame that is about the same brightness as your main subject and at the same distance.
  • Press and hold the AE-L/-AF-L button on the back with your thumb.
  • Compose the final image and release.

Caution: the D5200 will meter and focus simultaneously with Nikon's presets. Hence the recommendation to keep a similar distance as your main subject when pressing AE-L/AF-L. If you point the camera e.g. at the shaded ground directly in front of you to take the exposure there, and then point the camera at a person several meters away, the person will be out of focus.

If you don't like this behavior of the D5200, it's worth a one-time trip to the camera menus to adjust it, there are two options:

You can change the custom settings menu c1 Shutter-release button AE-L to On. Then the D5200 will behave like a simple compact camera and always switch on the exposure and focus lock when you tap the shutter button.

However, I find it better to change the behavior of the AE-L/AF-L button, in the custom settings menu f2 Assign AE-L/AF-L button. There you can set that the button only saves the exposure, with entry AE lock only. Or choose that you don't have to keep the button pressed as long as the exposure lock should be active with entry AE lock (Hold). Then one press will turn the exposure lock on until you press the button again.

Other interventions in the exposure – exposure compensation, other exposure metering method – are not possible with full auto camera mode.

Colour rendering = white balance

You cannot influence the colour rendition with your own white balance settings in the D5200's full automatic mode.


In full auto mode, the D5200 will decide for itself whether to flash or not, and if necessary, pop up the built-in flash.

Nikon D5200 Betriebsartenwähler kein Blitz

You can suppress the flash by switching to the camera mode with the crossed out flash icon. It will not use the flash no matter how dark it is and is otherwise identical to full auto.

Releasing the shutter

Nikon D5200 Auslöser

There is nothing more to say about the shutter release than the standard tips that apply to all cameras:

  • Make sure the camera is in a stable, steady position – left palm is under the lens and facing up.
  • Press the shutter button lightly and watch to see if the focus is at the right distance.
  • Then press the shutter button all the way down with as little finger movement as possible.


Nikon D5200 Nikon D5200 Wiedergabe-Taste

The image playback button displays the last captured resp. viewed image.

Nikon D5200 Richtungstasten

Use the arrow keys to change the display:

⏴ ⏵ scrolls forward/backward in your shots
⏶ ⏷ changes the information displayed with your image.

Nikon D5200 Vergrößerungs-Taste
Nikon D5200 Verkleinerungs-Taste

While an image is displayed, you can zoom in and out of with the two buttons on the right. If the monitor only shows a section, you can use the arrow keys to move it in all directions, including diagonally.

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