Nikon D810 Front

Nikon D810 Setup and Configuration

Nikon D810 Front

The Nikon D800/D800 Setup and Configuration post I made a few years ago has been one of my most popular.  Now that I have the Nikon D810, I decided to create a new list of my settings (and a new setup file for download).  If you want more info on why I upgraded to the D810, you can read about that here.

The menu banks are not great because they don't save all of the settings you need to change, but they are better than nothing.  The U1/U2 settings of the D750, D610, and D7100 are superior to the menu banks both in terms of features and ease of use.  I have no idea why Nikon has decided to leave out such a fantastic function on their high-end cameras.  Neither the D800/D810 nor the D4/D4s have the U1/U2 settings.  Nice work Nikon.

Here are the four menu banks I created:

  • Landscape & HDR - sets up the camera for landscape or high dynamic range shooting.  I usually use a tripod and have time for manual focus, etc.
  • Action - I usually use this setting when chasing my young kids, but also for my dogs or any other moving subject.
  • Portrait - useful not just for portraits but for any stationary or slow moving targets.
  • Point & Shoot - Since I use the "AF-ON" focusing technique (*1), it makes it difficult for my wife or friend to use my camera.  Rather than try to explain the technique, I just change the settings and let them shoot.  Since my wife often just wants a couple of quick photos to post online, this is the only bank where I also shoot JPEG.

The settings for all four modes are outlined below.  Note that the settings just make the starting point for configuration easier.  It doesn't mean these are always the settings I use when shooting.  I may not use ISO64 for all situations nor the same AF settings.  If you want to use them as a starting point for your own custom settings it is easiest to just download my config file here.  Choose the right file for your firmware (check your firmware SETUP MENU -> Firmware version).

C: 1.02, L:2.005 : Download Nikon D810 custom settings file 1.02.

C: 1.11, L: 2.013 : Download Nikon D810 custom settings file 1.11.

To use the custom settings file, copy it to the root folder of your media card using your computer, insert the media card into your camera and navigate to SETUP MENU -> Save/load settings -> Load settings. This will copy the settings over to your camera.  You may want to save your own settings before you copy mine to your camera in case you need to revert back.

Note the [change this] in the settings below, these are things you will want to change in your own camera before you start shooting.  At the bottom of this post, you can also see what I put in "MY MENU" to access some controls I often change on the fly.

To switch between the various menu banks, you have several options:

  • The slow way:
    • Shooting menu bank: go to menu -> shooting menu -> shooting menu bank -> select your bank.
    • Custom settings menu: go to custom setting menu -> custom settings bank -> select your bank.
  • The fast way:
    • Press the "i" button on the back of the camera (no idea why Nikon gave us yet another button, sigh). "SHOOT" should be selected, press the center button in the multi-selector, pick your setting.  Do the same for custom settings bank ("CUSTOM").

If you have questions, or a suggestion feel free to leave them in the comments at the bottom of the page.  If you want more detail on the settings below download Nikon's D810 manual (free).

Landscape & HDRActionPortraitPoint & Shoot
Exposure ModeA (Aperture Priority)A (Aperture Priority)A (Aperture Priority)P (Program)
Metering Mode3D Matrix Metering3D Matrix MeteringCenter Weighted Metering3D Matrix Metering
BracketingAs needed (usually 3 frames +/-2 EV)OffOffOff
Shooting ModeSingle, Timer, or MUPCH (continuous high)CH (continuous high)CH (continuous high)
Autofocus Mode *1Manual or AF-C, single pointAF-C, groupAF-C, single point or groupAF-S, Auto

Playback folderND810 (default)
Hide imageDefault
Playback display optionsHighlights, RGB histogram, Overview
Copy image(s)N/A
Image reviewOff
After deleteShow next
Rotate tallOff
Slide showN/A
DPOF print orderN/A

Landscape & HDRActionPortraitPoint & Shoot
Shooting menu bankABCD
Extended menu banksONONONON
Storage folderDefaultDefaultDefaultDefault
File NamingMKH [change this]MKH [change this]MKH [change this]MKH [change this]
Primary slot selectionCF card slotCF card slotCF card slotCF card slot
Secondary slot functionBackupBackupBackupRAW primary - JPEG secondary
Image qualityRAWRAWRAWRAW + JPEG fine
JPEG/TIFF recording
- Image sizeN/AN/AN/ASmall
- JPEG compressionN/AN/AN/AOptimal quality
NEF (RAW) recording
- Image sizeLargeLargeLargeLarge
- NEF (RAW) compressionLossless compressedLossless compressedLossless compressedLossless compressed
- NEF (RAW) bit depth14-bit14-bit14-bit14-bit
Image area
- Choose image areaFX1.2xFXFX
- Auto DX cropOnOnOnOn
White BalanceAuto1Auto1Auto1Auto1 (change as needed)
Set Picture ControlSD (Standard)SD (Standard)PT (Portrait)SD (Standard)
Manage Picture ControlDefaultDefaultDefaultDefault
Color SpaceAdobeRGBAdobeRGBAdobeRGBsRGB
Active D-LightingOffOffOffH (High)
HDR (high dyn. range)N/A (disabled when shooting RAW)N/A (disabled when shooting RAW)N/A (disabled when shooting RAW)Off
Vignette controlNormalNormalNormalHigh
Auto distortion controlOnOnOnOn
Long Exposure NROffOffOffOff
High ISO NROffOffOffNormal
ISO Sensitivity Settings
ISO sensitivity6464 (adjust as needed)64 (adjust as needed)100 (adjust as needed)
Auto ISO sensitivity controlOffOn (Max ISO: 6400,Min shutter: auto, auto, max fasteraster)OffOn (Max ISO: 6400,Min shutter: auto, auto, max faster)
Multiple exposureOffOffOffOff
Interval timer shootingOffOffOffOff
Time-lapse photographyOffOffOffOff
Movie settings
Frame size/rate1920x1080; 60fps1920x1080; 60fps1920x1080; 60fps1920x1080; 60fps
Movie qualityHighHighHighHigh
Microphone sensitivityAuto sensitivityAuto sensitivityAuto sensitivityAuto sensitivity
Frequency responseWideWideWideWide
Wind noise reductionOffOffOffOff
Movie ISO sensitivity settings
- ISO sensitivity (mode M)100100100100
- Auto ISO control (mode M)OnOnOnOn
- Maximum sensitivity6400640064006400

Landscape & HDRActionPortraitPoint & Shoot
Custom settings bankABCD
a1 AF-C priority selectionReleaseReleaseReleaseFocus
a2 AF-S priority selectionFocusFocusFocusFocus
a3 Focus tracking with lock-onLongOffNormalOff
a4 AF activationOff (AF-ON focus technique)Off (AF-ON focus technique)Off (AF-ON focus technique)On
a5 Focus point display
- Manual focus modeOffOffOffOff
- Dynamic-area AF displayOnOnOnOn
- Group-area AF illuminationBoxesBoxesBoxesBoxes
a6 AF point illuminationAutoAutoAutoAuto
a7 Focus point wrap-aroundOn - WrapOn - WrapOn - WrapOn - Wrap
a8 Number of focus pointsAF 51 (51 points)AF11 (11 points)AF 51 (51 points)AF11 (11 points)
a9 Store by orientationOffOffOffOff
a10 Built-in AF-assist illuminatorOffOffOffOff
a11 Limit AF-area mode selectionAll checkedAll checkedAll checkedAll checked
a12 Autofocus mode restrictionsOffOffOffOff
b1 ISO sensitivity step value1/31/31/31/3
b2 EV steps for exposure cntrl1/31/31/31/3
b3 Exp./flash comp step value1/31/31/31/3
b4 Easy exposure compensationOffOffOffOff
b5 Matrix meteringOffOnOnOn
b6 Center-weighted area12mm12mm8mm12mm
b7 Fine-tune optimal exposure0 (for all)0 (for all)0 (for all)0 (for all)
c1 Shutter-release AE-LOffOffOffOff
c2 Standby timer10s10s10s10s
c3 Self-timer
- Self-timer delay2s10s10s10s
- Number of shots2 (N/A if bracket enabled)111
- Interval between shots0.5s0.5s0.5s0.5s
c4 Monitor off delay
- Playback10s10s10s10s
- Menus1m1m1m1m
- Information display10s10s10s10s
- Image review10s10s10s10s
- Live view10m10m10m10m
d1 BeepOffOffOffOff
d2 CL mode shoot speed2fps2fps2fps2fps
d3 Max continuous release100100100100
d4 Exposure delay mode3sOffOffOff
d5 Electronic front-curtain shutterOnOffOffOff
d6 File number sequenceOnOnOnOn
d7 Viewfinder grid displayOnOnOffOff
d8 ISO display adjustmentOffOffOffOff
d9 Screen tipsOnOnOnOn
d10 Information displayAutoAutoAutoAuto
d11 LCD illuminationOnOnOnOn
d12 MB-D12 battery typeLR6LR6LR6LR6
d13 Battery orderMB-D12MB-D12MB-D12MB-D12
e1 Flash Sync Speed1/2501/2501/2501/250
e2 Flash shutter speed1/601/601/601/60
e3 Flash cntrl for built-in flashTTLTTLTTLTTL
e4 Exposure comp. for flashEntire frameEntire frameEntire frameEntire frame
e5 Modeling flashOnOnOnOn
e6 Auto bracketing setAEAEAEAE
e7 Auto bracket (Mode M)Flash/speedFlash/speedFlash/speedFlash/speed
e8 Bracketing orderUnder > MTR > overUnder > MTR > overUnder > MTR > overUnder > MTR > over
f1 switchLCD Backlight and info displayLCD Backlight and info displayLCD Backlight and info displayLCD Backlight and info display
f2 Multiselect center button
- Shooting modeResetResetResetReset
- Playback modeZoom, 1:1 (100%)cZoom, 1:1 (100%)Zoom, 1:1 (100%)Zoom, 1:1 (100%)
- Live viewZoom, 1:1 (100%)Zoom, 1:1 (100%)Zoom, 1:1 (100%)Zoom, 1:1 (100%)
f3 Multi selectorOffOffOffOff
f4 Assign Fn button
- Fn button pressViewfinder virtual horizonViewfinder virtual horizonViewfinder virtual horizonViewfinder virtual horizon
- Fn button + command dialsOffOffOffOff
f5 Assign preview button
- Preview button pressPreviewPreviewPreviewPreview
- Preview button + command dialsOffOffOffOff
f6 Assign AE-L/AF-L button
- AE-L/AF-L button pressAE/AF lockAE/AF lockAE/AF lockAE/AF lock
- AE-L/AF-L + command dialsOffOffOffOff
f7 Shutter spd & aperture lockOffOffOffOff
f9 Customize command dialsDefault (Off, on, off)Default (Off, on, off)Default (Off, on, off)Default (Off, on, off)
f10 Release button to use  dialOffOffOffOff
f11 Slot empty release lockLockLockLockLock
f12 Reverse indicators- 0 +- 0 +- 0 +- 0 +
f13 Assign movie record buttonChoose image areaChoose image areaChoose image areaChoose image area
f14 Live view button optionsOnOnOnOn
f16 Assign remote (WR) Fn buttonOffOffOffOff
f17 Lens focus function buttonsAF lock onlyAF lock onlyAF lock onlyAF lock only
g1 Assign Fn buttonPower aperture (open)Power aperture (open)Power aperture (open)Power aperture (open)
g2 Assign preview buttonPower aperture (close)Power aperture (close)Power aperture (close)Power aperture (close)
g3 Assign AE-L/AF-LAE LockAE LockAE LockAE Lock
g4 Assign shutter buttonRecord moviesRecord moviesRecord moviesRecord movies

Format memory cardAs needed
Monitor brightnessManual (0)
Monitor color balanceDefault
Clean image sensorClean at shutdown (no sense delaying startup)
Lock mirror up cleaningAs needed
Image Dust Off ref photoAs needed
Flicker reductionAuto
Time zone and dateSet to local time
Auto image rotationOn
Battery infoN/A
Image comment *2None
Copyright InformationOn [change this]
Save/load settingsAs needed
Virtual horizonN/A
Non-CPU lens dataN/A
AF fine tuneSet for your lenses if needed
Location dataN/A
Firmware versionN/A

Never use it

c3 Self-timer
d4 Exposure delay mode
d5 Electronic front-curtain shutter
Time zone and date
Long exposure NR
Active D-Lighting


*1 - Autofocus : I use the "AF-ON" technique (for lack of a better term) to focus my camera. You can read more about the technique here. You will see that in my settings, I primarily use AF-C as the default focus mode when I use the camera. With the AF-ON technique, you decouple the focusing of the camera from the shutter press. The nice thing is that you can have both continuous and static autofocus at the same time. Focus and recompose is also easier as you don't have to keep the shutter half-pressed, just release the AF-ON button and the camera stops focusing. It works very well, but takes a bit of getting used to. This technique works on both Nikon and Canon cameras (likely other brands as well but I haven't checked into it).

*2 - Image comment : There are two spots to put your personal info into the file EXIF data: "Image comment" and "Copyright information". Some people use both, but there isn't really a reason to do so. I have found one reason not to use the 'image comment' field, and that is because the comment shows up in the description field when you post images online (facebook for example). At times, I post images to facebook and I don't want the description for each one to say "copyright Mike Heller Photography", blah, blah, blah. My friends want to see something about the image, not a copyright notice. For me, it just makes the upload process more time consuming and it doesn't add any value. You may want to use it, so feel free to use the field if that fits into your workflow.

Nikon D800 to D810 Logo

Why I upgraded my Nikon D800 to a D810

  Nikon D800 to D810 Logo

Why I Upgraded

In this section I list the main reasons I upgraded my Nikon D800 to a Nikon D810.  There wasn't anything wrong with the D800, it was an amazing camera capable of fantastic results.  There were a few things that made the difference though.  In general, Nikon took an already great camera and made it better.

  1. No anti-alias filter.  Also known as Optical Low Pass Filter, Blur Filter, and probably a few other names.  When the D800 and D800E were released, it created a lot of speculation about the potential moire and false color problems that the D800E would face.  I had actually planned to get a D800E but my local shop had the D800 first and said I'm facing a 4+ month wait for an E model.  I decided to get the D800 and start shooting.  In the end, the fears around no AA filter in the D800E were unfounded, the vast majority of shooters have never had a problem.   Given the lack of issues, Nikon didn't even bother with a filtered version of the D810.  In fact, it improved on the D800E even further.  Where the D800E had an AA filter that cancelled itself out, the D810 has no AA filter at all in the stack.  The sharpness benefits are not drastic, but there are there and I'm happy to have the best possible starting image.
  2. Frame rate.  5fps in full frame mode (36 megapixels) with full AF and metering.  Drop it down to 1.2X crop and you get 6fps and 24 megapixels.  Plenty of resolution, plenty of speed, and no battery grip needed.  I really don't need more than 6fps, when I shoot bursts it's often chasing my kids so the 1.2x crop suits me just fine.  The rest of the time I'm shooting landscapes or architecture. The D810 feels like both an action cam and a landscape cam in one body.  Perfect.
  3. Improved autofocus. I had plenty of problems with my D800 autofocus.  It was plagued with the 'left focus problem' and went to Nikon three times before it finally came back fixed.  The D810 seems to work great out of the box and now has group AF mode and better face detection.
  4. Improved bracketing.  The D800 was limited to +/- 1 EV between exposures, the D810 extends that to +/- 3 EV (it can also do 1 and 2 EV).   To get a standard -2/0/+2 exposure for HDR I had to take 5 shots with the D800 and then throw away two of them.  With the D810, I can take the 3 I need and call it a day.  More flexibility, more options, and solved something that always bugged me about the D800.  Worse still that this would have been a simple firmware fix for Nikon.
  5. Electronic front curtain shutter.  The D800 had mirror up (MUP) and exposure delay modes to reduce the vibration effects of the mirror.  The D810 takes it a step further by also eliminating the vibration effects of the shutter.  Well done Nikon.
  6. ISO 64.  Base ISO is now 64 (instead of 100 in the D800).  Gives me options for long exposures and bright light with fast lenses.
  7. ISO 12,800.  I'm unlikely to shoot at the upper end of the ISO range often, but noise performance has been improved at 3200 and 6400 as well, which is a bonus.
  8. Live View improved.  Nikon made great improvements in Live View over the D800.  Not only is the LCD a higher resolution screen, but the nasty artifacts that plagued the D800 are now gone.  I use LV frequently, especially at 100% zoom, for critical focus work so the D810 is a joy to use.
  9. Hand grip improved.  I have large hands, and the D800 never felt that comfortable in my hands.  The D810 brings some much welcome changes here, the grip is noticeably improved and the camera feels much more secure in my hand.

Nice To Have Extras

Here are some of the added benefits of the D810 that didn't have a big impact on my decision but I'm happy to have them.

  1. Highlight weighted metering.  An extra metering mode useful in some tricky situations.
  2. Metering and bracketing selection improved.  I'm usually not a fan of buttons getting moved around, but the new layout is actually easier to use.  The ring around the AF-ON wasn't the easiest way to select the metering mode, the button/wheel method is better.
  3. Quiet mirror/shutter.  Not Q (quiet) mode, but the operation of the mirror and shutter are much softer and better dampened than in the D800.  This likely improves sharpness but also makes the camera more pleasant to use.
  4. Split screen live view.  Limited usefulness, but I have used it a couple of times when leveling a horizon.  I think it would be more useful with tilt-shift lenses (which I don't have), to ensure critical focus in multiple areas of the image.
  5. Improved battery life.  1200 shots in the D810, only 900 in the D800.  Battery life was never a big problem for me, but I'll take more.
  6. Double the buffer size.  With the improved frame rates, this is an added bonus.   I don't often hit the limit with the D810.
  7. Timer function improved.  Just set up the number of bracketed shots you want to take, switch the camera into timer mode, and hit the shutter release once.  The D810 will take the full bracket sequence for you.  Easy.

Added To D810, But I Don't Care

Here are a few things added to the D810 that are of no use to me.  I'm not saying they are useless, some of you may put them in your own "this is why I upgraded" list.  For me, they are things I'm unlikely to use or gain any benefit from.

  1. Zebras in movie mode.  Shows you highlight clipping.  I almost never shoot movies with my DSLR so don't care if it shows dancing hippos.
  2. Two info buttons.  "i" and "info", why Nikon?  You had one button that you could click twice.  Now I have two buttons, and I usually press the wrong one.
  3. Flat picture control, clarity adjustment.  This only makes a difference for jpeg shooting, but I shoot 98% of my shots in RAW (NEF).  Which leads me to...
  4. sRAW.  Not real RAW, I don't care.
  5. 1080p 60p (full HD).  Again, I don't shoot video.  Even if it shot 8K... yawn.
  6. There are a few more, but I have forgotten about them already.

What Didn't Make It Into The D810 But Should Have

Nikon had the opportunity to fix some things in the D810 but chose not to.  Here are a few things which I would have liked to see (some could even be implemented with a firmware upgrade I suspect).

  1. EFC in timer mode.  Why only in MUP?  Give me a firmware fix for this please.   I want a 2-second timer, 3 second exposure delay, and EFC.
  2. User preset modes (U1/U2).  The memory banks suck, I use them but I would much prefer the preset modes present on other cameras in Nikon's lineup.
  3. WiFi.  It's 2015 Nikon, get in the game.  Give me wifi and the ability to use my iPhone as a remote trigger.  Even better, give me an app for the Apple Watch!
  4. Exposures longer than 30 seconds.  Why is this still a limitation?  I need my remote trigger with me at all times, and it would need it at all if I could set my exposure to any value.  Another firmware fix please. UPDATE (June 1, 2015): The Nikon D810A camera (targeted at astrophotography) has a new M* mode (Long Exposure Manual Mode) that allows you to set the exposure time between 4 and 900 seconds.  Would be great if Nikon made this available via firmware on the D810.


Data Backup Image 1

Home Computer Backup Strategy

Updated May 5, 2015

Since I work in the IT industry, several of my friends have asked me how I back up my home computer.  Rather than repeat the same thing over and over, I decided to create this post to try and outline how I do things.   I'll also tell you what you should do as a minimum to ensure the safety of your data.

If you don't currently back up your data, you should.  That is of course if you would experience any grief if you lost all of your photos, documents, email, calendar, etc.  Personally, I have a TON of photos that I simply can't get back if I lost all of my data.  I can re-write my resume if needed, download some music, but I can't go back in time to capture an image I took on vacation five years ago.  I make sure I have several copies of ALL of my photos as I never want to lose any of them.  Beyond my photos, I treat most of my data in the same way, I ensure it is safe.

Some people think their data is safe because they back up to DVD or an external hard drive.  This is better than doing nothing, but ineffective for two main reasons.  First, no one I know keeps up with a regular schedule of burning DVDs.  Their most recent backup is from 8 months ago and they don't even know where the discs are.  Also, the sheer volume of data we have these days makes DVD backup cumbersome.  If I had to back up all of my data I would need 181 DVDs!  No thanks.  Second, local media like external hard drives are typically plugged into or stored right next to the computer.  If you have a fire, flood, experience a theft, or some other major issue, your computer and backup are both gone.  If you can maintain a rigorous schedule of rotating hard drives off-site, more power to you, but I like to do things the easy way.  In the words of Ron Popeil, I need to "set it and forget it".

Most people I know don't back up their data, they never had a major failure and assume it will never happen to them.  It will happen to you sooner or later, no sense sticking your head in the sand.  Others think that is part of the risk in owning a computer, it just happens or it's too hard to keep data safe.  Below are a few quick and easy things you can do to immediately improve your situation.  There really is no excuse not to do this.

With that rambling out of the way I'll cover what I consider the minimum effort needed to ensure that your data is safe.  I'll also cover what I do with my data which is beyond the minimum but that is what IT guys do.

Data Backup Image 1


  • Data backup needs to be easy and automated.  I'm lazy and don't want to be constantly doing something, it should "just work".
  • I assume you have a broadband internet connection.  If you are on dial-up or some back-woods connection this will likely not be helpful for you.
  • I'm running Windows but this applies equally to Mac (though I don't provide links).


  • First, ensure you have some kind of anti-virus software running on your computer and keep it up to date.  If your Norton subscription expired two years ago it's not doing much to protect you.  You are unlikely to be infected by a virus from a few years back, and much more likely to get something released yesterday.  There are good options out there for free, so please install one.  Avast is the one I use, it's FREE and scores very well on the various tests conducted by third parties.  If you use Microsoft Security Essentials, I suggest you stop and get Avast.  The Microsoft tools are just crap.
  • Turn on Windows Update and ensure it installs updates automatically.  Lack of updates is a primary infection vector.
  • Turn on your Windows Firewall, it helps.
  • Ensure the safety of your data by installing and running Backblaze (or another cloud based backup solution).  This is the most important part and the part that ensures the safety of your data.  I have tried several online backup options: Mozy, Carbonite, Dropbox, Google Drive, and some cobbled together software sending data to Amazon S3.  Needless to say, Backblaze is very easy to install and set up, and cheap considering the alternatives.  It will cost you $50 per year, which is under $5 per month.  It is money well spent.  Once your data is gone, that $50 will seem like peanuts as most people would be willing to spends hundreds to get their data back.  In many data loss cases, it's too late.  The nice thing about Backblaze is that allows you to log into the web site and download individual files if you accidentally delete something or they will send you a DVD or hard drive with ALL of your data if you have a bigger problem. NOTE: If you have a lot of data to back up, this may take some time even on a high speed connection.  It took several weeks to complete my backup, but after that only your new files need to be stored so it is typically not an issue.

That's it, most of you probably have the first three done already as computers often come with anti-virus software installed and the Windows Firewall and updates are turned on by default.  Just install Backblaze and sleep well tonight.  I suggest you double check now and then to ensure it's running and sending your data to Backblaze.  You can probably complete all of the above steps in under an hour, even if you are not a computer pro.


  • Same four things as with the minimum strategy, that is a given.
  • I subscribe to the 3-2-1 data protection strategy, which means for all of my critical data I have:
    • 3 copies of the data
    • on at least 2 different types of media
    • with at least 1 copy being off-site (physically in a different location).
  • If you only do the steps listed above for my 'minimum' strategy you are likely to have just a 2/2/1 data protection strategy (2 copies, 2 media, 1 off-site) but that is still vastly superior to what most people have, no backups (1/0/0).
  • Install an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) to prevent incorrect shutdown during power outages.  A UPS is essentially a battery that will keep your computer running during a power outage.  It gives you time to shut down properly or it can even do it for you if you are not present.  This helps prevent corruption of data if your computer suddenly loses power.  I like APC and Rocketfish brands for home use.
  • Install an internet router, which is a device you install between the device your internet provider gives you (such as a cable modem) and your computer(s).  Many people have one already, they are often used to provide wireless access (WiFi) for devices. I'm not going to cover how to do this, but it adds a layer of security to any computer running behind it as you create a private network inside your house that is not as easily accessed form the outside.
  • Turn on Windows Previous Versions for your data (formerly referred to as Shadow Copy).  Essentially what you are doing is reserving a portion of your hard drive to making backups of your data.  This is good for one major reason: version control.  Windows will create multiple copies of the same file which you can access relatively easily.   This is very handy if you need to revert back to a previous version and is faster than going to backup.  Also, your backup is unlikely to maintain many versions of the same file.  Windows does this in a very space-efficient manner and if you are not cramped for space on your drive you should turn this on.  More info on this at Wikipedia.
  • Use RAID if your computer supports it.  Most laptops don't since they only have one hard drive, but many desktop computers have the ability to run hard drives in various RAID levels.  Currently all of my data is stored on a RAID-5 set (more info on RAID levels at Wikipedia), which means I have three hard drives in my computer and data is written to all at the same time. This allows one of the hard drives to fail and my computer continues to operate without issue.  I can replace the failed hard drive, and carry on like nothing happened.  RAID-1, or a mirrored set, is also a good option for data security.
  • Use external storage, ideally network attached storage (NAS), to keep a copy of your data locally.  I have a Synology 5-bay NAS running in RAID-5 mode which keeps a backup copy of all of my data.  The RAID-5 configuration allows for one drive to fail with no impact on my data.  The NAS is also handy for sharing files between multiple computers on your home network.This is the third copy of my data in the 3-2-1 strategy (one copy on my computer, one on my NAS, one at Backblaze).  I use software called SyncBack (free) to make a copy of all my data from my computer to my NAS every night.  It only copies changed files, so once you have it up and running backups are fast.  I no longer use SyncBack, but instead use the awesome Synology Cloud Station.  Cloud Station enables me to sync my files from my computer to my NAS.  It has a a few benefits:
    • Agent on my computer that is easy to set up and manages all of my file copies to the NAS.  It scans my folders and immediately copies any new files to the Synology.
    • It has an overlay on my synced folders, showing me what is synced and what still needs to be copied.
    • It manages versions on the NAS, so I can roll back files to a previous state in time.
    • There is an iOS client that allows me to securely access all of my files via my iPhone.  Handy if I'm not at home and I need to pull down a file.

That's it, extra safety from several layers of security.  Hardware keeps my computer and network safe (UPS, router).  Within my computer, software prevents data corruption (anti-virus, firewall, updates).  If I accidentally delete a file or even part of a file, I can go to my previous versions or the backup on my NAS.  If I have a hard drive fails within my computer, my data is unaffected.  If a hard drive fails in my external storage (NAS), there is also no issue.  This will cover the most frequent problems and allow me to keep working and keep my data safe.  If I experience a bigger problem, such as a fire, all of my data is also off-site at Backblaze which constantly runs in the background and ensures new files are backed up and kept safe.

There are certainly things you can do beyond this, though there are diminishing returns as my strategy covers most contingencies.  Also, this covers data backup but some like to create a full image of their computer so they can restore their operating system and software in case of a problem.  I don't think that is necessary, I have no issue re-installing Windows and my associated software if I have a complete failure.  Those things are relatively easy to get back up and running, it's the data you can't get back that you need to protect.


Whatever backup strategy you choose to employ, it's important to periodically check things to ensure they are still working.  Services like Backblaze will send you emails letting you know how many files you have stored with them.  Compare this to your previous numbers to ensure new files are getting added to the backup.  Also, test your backups by restoring files.  I do this four or five times per year, less frequent than that and there is potential for loss beyond my comfort level.  Choose a few random files (I usually choose one old file and one recently created) and restore it to your computer from your backups (if you have more than one backup like I do, restore from all of them).  This ensures your backups are working and that you can get the files back if you need to.  Monitoring and sample restores are a critical part of the process.  There are many reasons backups can stop working, so keep an eye on things to ensure your data is safe in case you ever need it.

Feel free to post in the comments if you have questions or would like to add to the items listed here.