The “Chris Lee button”

Let me start off by saying this is a techy and camera-specific post for shooters.

Chris Lee is an excellent sports photographer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Apparently, he is also excellent at reading the owner’s manual to his Canon 1D.

Many professional photographers shoot their camera in a full manual mode to ensure they have the most control of the exposure. This works great until the subject you’re tracking runs into a shadow and your settings are now three stops off.

For years, I’ve just quickly spun my camera’s dials to compensate. But usually by then, the action is over or the exposure isn’t right on.

That was until I read about the “Chris Lee button.” What a wonderful discovery.

To get to the point, on the back of the Canon 1D series cameras (original & MarkII), there is a button third from the right at the top. Most shooters use the button with the asterisk ( * ) as the focus button. It is the one to the left of that. It is labeled WB, +/-, and an X-shaped box. That button can be programmed to switch camera modes while pressed.

For example, I could be shooting in manual when my subject runs into a shadow. I am already pressing the ( * ) button so I move my thumb left less than an inch onto the WB, +/-, X button. That switches my camera instantly into AV (aperture priority) mode and adjusts the shutter speed to match my preset f-stop setting.

With the press of one button, your camera will continue following focus and get an accurate exposure in AV mode. As soon as you release the button, it goes back to the manual settings you last had.


So, how do you do it?

You must have a computer with the Canon Utilities program installed and the camera connected via Firewire. In that program, you can activate the personal functions of the camera.

  1. Enable personal function #6. This is the only step you have to do on the computer.
  2. Go to the personal functions menu on the camera and turn on #6.
  3. Set your desired exposure settings for when you hit the WB, +/-, X button. For me, that’s AV mode and f/2.8. The ISO wont change from manual your exposure.
  4. Press and hold the +/- (exposure compensation) button on the top of the camera next to the backlight button.
  5. Simultaneously press the WB, +/-, X button.
  6. Press the WB, +/-, X button to select.

This didn’t entirely make sense for me. That is because you have to make sure some other settings are in order.

If you have custom function #11 set to 2, then you have to press and hold the magnify/AF point select button and the WB, +/-, X button simultaneously.

You will also need custom function #18 set to 0.

When you do this properly, you will see a small square appear in the top right hand corner of the top LCD screen. You’re exposure settings have been saved to that button.

While this setting was discussed on SportsShooter a few years ago, I am just now coming across it. I find that many shooters don’t know their cameras have this setting.

Chris Lee revisited the topic recently when he got his 1D Mark IV. Apparently it is now a stand-alone custom function.

Thanks for sharing this Chris. It is a great tool to have a thumbs length away.

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