Workaround for highlight blinkies in stills mode
Nov 13, 2021

Inspired by beatboxa's posts regarding innovative uses of custom picture controls, I have created one that allows me to have a workaround for the missing highlight blinkies in stills mode on the Z cameras.

The picture control is linear from 0 to 254, and at 255, drops back to 0. The result is that when a pixel saturates, it becomes black in the viewfinder. This makes it very easy to not just see that there is highlight clipping going on, but exactly where it is in the image. I couple the use of this picture control with exposure compensation on the lens control ring. With this combination, I can quickly, easily and accurately ETTR.

Here's a JPEG (extracted unprocessed from the NEF via NX Studio), showing what this particular image looked like in the viewfinder as I pressed the shutter button.

The blown hightlights are clearly evident.

As you can see, the blown lightlights are immediately obvious. Being able to see the blown highlights in realtime, and not just a spike at the right edge of the histogram, allows me to quickly adjust the image until the pixels that I want to save are evident. I'm finally confident that I'm exposing properly: not too bright where I'd be losing detail that I want to keep, and not too dark where I'd be unnecessarily sacrificing DR. I can quickly assess the trade-offs between blown hightlights and lost DR in the shadows and set the exposure accordingly.

As I said above, I have assigned EC to the lens control ring. I had tried this before and given up on it because, as with many others on this forum, I found the dial to be too sensitive. Now though, with the immediate contextual feedback, I find that it works very nicely.

You can make the same picture control in the free Nikon Picture Control Utility, or if you want to save some work, here's a link to a folder with mine.

Oh, and if you're interested, here's the processed version of the same image.

There is a caveat. The blacked-out blown hightlights get recorded that way in the JPEG preview in the NEF and in SOOC JPEGs. If you shoot raw only, this isn't much of an issue because the preview gets discarded when you process the NEF. Clearly, this approach wouldn't work for shooting JPEG or RAW+JPEG.