Getting Used to Auto

Something that I’ve noticed in certain photographic forums is a bit of a snobbery when it comes to the preferred mode a person’s camera is in. There seems to be a prevailing notion that Manual is the One True Mode for a camera, and everything else is for “noobs”.

I used to feel this way, but in my own recent work, I have started to use Aperture priority and even Auto-ISO more and more, and have been incredibly happy with the results. In fact, when I’m not shooting with flash, or in dim lighting, In fact, you could state that I’m getting close to using the easy settings all of the time.

I will make this claim though: if you are a beginner- if you just dropped $799 on a new DSLR and don’t know what you are doing, you would benefit much more by sticking with Manual mode. Manual forces you to learn the relationship between ISO and Aperture and Shutter. It really makes you really think before pressing the button. I’ve said before, if you don’t want to know this stuff, then all you have is an expensive point and shoot camera with removable lenses.

Further, most entry level cameras will lack sophisticated technology that makes the other modes more attractive. My first camera, the Nikon D50, only had five auto-focus points, and a sort of bad matrix metering system. I kept it set on Manual most of the time and spot metered my exposure manually too.

These days, I’m not a rank beginner anymore1. Now, I shoot with a Nikon D300. The auto-focus and metering system on that thing are awesome (and they should be considering the price). The camera is incredibly adept at figuring out a good exposure when kept on matrix metering. And in the 1% of the time it cannot, I have a custom function button that puts it into spot metering when it is held down.

Using Aperture priority mode does not mean I have no control over anything else either. By default any non-manual setting will aim at an even, middle of the road exposure. But, with the twist of a dial I can tell it to go brighter or darker. I typically range it from +.3 to +1.0 to expose to the right.

Most recently, I’ve been using Auto-ISO as well. This was pretty limited on my D50, and I imagine this is still the case on newer amateur oriented cameras as well. But, on the D300, this works swimmingly because it can be configured in detail. I can set the minimum shutter speed I want to use, and tell it to not go higher than ISO 1600. Thus when it is detecting that I’m not getting the shutter speed I need, it bumps the ISO up just a little bit. It’s not uncommon to see an ISO of something like 250 or 900 in this range. 

With these settings I can pull the camera up to my eye and start shooting immediately in most situations. And yes, if I need to really fine tune an image, I can still quickly jump to M mode and tweak away.

Photography is about capturing moments, and if I’m fiddling with dials I might miss that moment.

1. Nor am I a pro, but I do know a few things.

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