How To Set Exposure Compensation on Canon Rebel and 5D

I have shot mostly with my Canon 400D/Rebel XTi since I bought it new in early 2007. A couple of years ago I picked up a used Canon 5D classic after the Canon 5Dmk2 came out, and have used it casually, but never mastered it’s buttons for changing camera settings as well as on my Rebel. For example, I just realized recently that I could not find the button to change Exposure Compensation! I dug through the menus, custom functions, and scrutinized every button on the camera to no avail. I even asked a Canon 5DmkII user how he changes it… but he uses a newer LCD settings view or the menu — not from the top LCD view and buttons.

Rebel vs 5D Exposure Compensation

Rebel vs 5D Exposure Compensation

So after all else failed, I consulted the instruction manual and found on page 92 what I needed to do: Adjust the power switch to change exposure compensation. Seriously!?!?! How intuitive is that to flip the power switch in order to change exposure compensation? I am curious as to what the historical legacy is behind this design decision… I presume this is to prevent someone from accidentally turning the quick control dial/wheel while shooting and not noticing their EV changed.

Canon 5D Manual - Exposure Compensation

Canon 5D Manual - Exposure Compensation

The power switch needs to change from “ON” to “/-” mode which then enables the quick control dial/wheel to change settings… apparently only the Exposure Compensation setting that I can determine. All of the other settings require just a touch of a top button then scrolling the back quick control dial/wheel or top main dial/wheel. Apparently this Exposure Compensation setting is the same on all Canon cameras other than the entry-level Rebel/xxxD series, and it takes three steps:

  1. Turn camera ON to special power on mode “/-“ (not “ON”)
  2. Half-press the shutter button to engage focus and an exposure reading
  3. Turn the back control dial/wheel to adjust Exposure Compensation

On the Canon xxxD/Rebel series, I think it is much more ergonomic and intuitive to simply*:

  1. Press “Av” button with thumb and turn front main dial/wheel


Even after a couple of years of off-and-on usage with my 5D, I still find the Rebel series to be more ergonomic… especially when changing 5 camera settings easily with my thumb:

  1. up = ISO
  2. down = White Balance (WB)
  3. left = Metering mode
  4. right = Auto Focus (AF)
  5. SET = Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC) (custom function #1)

Then the other 4 thumb buttons (drive mode, exposure compensation, exposure lock, and auto-focus point selection) are easily and distinctly accessible with the thumb. I just have trouble counting and memorizing the 4 buttons on top with my pointer finger (backlight light, AF/WB, Drive/ISO, Meter/FEC) and then trying to remember if I rotate the top front main dial or back quick control wheel to make the change. This just does not seem very intuitive for me, at least coming from the Rebel/xxxD line.

*UPDATE: There is a Custom Function C.Fn-13 “AF point selection method” on the 5D that in mode “2: Quick Control Dial Direct” sets the Quick Control Dial/back wheel to select the AF points fulltime, and then pressing the AF button and main dial adjusts exposure compensation (similar to the Rebel/xxxD series) however the camera still needs to be in the “/-” mode instead of ON. I prefer mode “1: Multi-controller direct” so I can use the MCD/joy stick to instantly pick an AF point.

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