The Problem With Using the Lens Control Ring for Exposure Compensation on Nikon Z Cameras

If you find that your Nikon Z8’s exposure compensation isn’t resetting, this might be why.

Screenshot of Nikon Z8 menu system for Lens Control Ring Exposure Compensation
Text & Photos By David Coleman
Last Revised & Updated:
Topics: Nikon, Nikon Z8

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So I’ll say upfront that I recognize that this is an extremely narrow issue, and it’s something that maybe no one else will ever run into. But on the off-chance that someone else might and that this might help save them the frustration I had in troubleshooting it, I’ll post it here.

The issue was that every time I turned the camera on, the exposure compensation was down a stop or two. So I kept risking underexposed images.

At first, I thought changing the Easy Exposure Compensation to Reset would fix it. But it didn’t.

The cause, it turns out, is that I had assigned the Lens control ring to exposure compensation as well. And that version of exposure compensation isn’t compatible with automatic resetting.

NB: I encountered this on the Z8. I know that this occurs on other Nikon Z cameras, but I don’t know whether it’s all of them or some of them.

Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S Lens. Photo by David Coleman "
On this Nikon Z 50mm ƒ/1.2 S lens, you can see the narrow control ring closest to the mount point, close to where you’d traditionally expect an aperture ring on older lenses (and a handful of newer ones). Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

Assign Exposure Compensation to Lens Control Ring

I like using the rear dial for exposure compensation. That’s the default place for it. And I don’t want to remove that. But I thought it would be useful to use a lens control ring for it, for quick and smooth adjustments. I use exposure compensation a lot, especially in trickier lighting conditions with high contrast.

It’s easy to set up the lens control ring with exposure compensation. You can just go into:

Custom Settings Menu > f2 Custom controls (shooting)

Then scroll down to the bottom right of the options until you find the lens control ring option and change that to exposure compensation.

Screenshot of Nikon Z8 menu system for Lens Control Ring Exposure Compensation

But I’ve found there’s a catch, and it took me a while to figure out.

Easy Exposure Compensation Reset

It has to do with automatically resetting the exposure compensation when the camera goes into standby.

I prefer to have it set to that behavior so that I’m starting with a clean slate between scenes. Because chances are, I’ll want different exposure compensation options (or maybe none at all) when I change the scene I’m shooting.

There’s an option for that on the Z8. You can find it under:

Custom Settings Menu > b3 Easy exposure compensation

You can set it there to On (Auto reset). (And if you prefer the exposure compensation to remain sticky, in which case you’d prefer the standard On option, then this post isn’t really relevant to you, because that’s what the lens control ring version does.)

Screenshot of Nikon Z8 menu system for easy exposure compensation settings

But the catch that’s relevant here is that it seems there’s a distinction between Easy exposure compensation (back dial) and plain old exposure compensation (lens control ring).

Easy exposure compensation apparently only applies to the back dial. So the exposure compensation option assigned to the lens control ring isn’t affected by the reset option.

Only after fiddling with several settings did I realize that the cause was the lens control ring. It turns out it doesn’t reset and will, in fact, stay where the last setting was.

Now, I don’t know if this is deliberate or a bug. It seems odd to me that it would have this distinction. After all, these lens control rings aren’t the type of limited-rotation rings that you have on old-school aperture rings. These control rings are free-flowing unlimited rings, so they’re not the type of rings that you rotate to a fixed position to a finite point.

But whatever the reason, it’s the behavior I’ve run into. I could, of course, just live with it and make sure to manually reset the exposure compensation for every scene. But that’s just adding one more thing to do before I can take the shot. And I’d rather focus more on the scene in front of me.

So I’ve deactivated the lens control ring functionality for exposure compensation and go back to the default rear dial.

No, it’s not a big deal. But I thought I’d mention it here in case someone else ran into this problem. After all, when I tried to find any other mentions of exposure compensation not resetting, I couldn’t find any. So maybe this might save someone some troubleshooting frustration.

Profile photo of David Coleman | Have Camera Will Travel | Washington DC-based Professional Photographer

David Coleman

I'm a professional photographer based in Washington, DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and many places in between. I've been shooting for 30+ years, and my photos and time-lapse videos have appeared in a bunch of different publications, from major newspapers to magazines and books, billboards, TV shows, professional sports stadiums, museums, and even massive architectural scrims covering world-famous buildings while they're being renovated. You can see some of my travel photography here and here.


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