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Manual mode on digital cameras?

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by jamespetts, Oct 13, 2012.

  1. jamespetts

    jamespetts Mu-43 Top Veteran

    May 21, 2011
    London, England
    I wonder - how useful is the fully manual exposure mode on modern digital cameras?

    When I used to use film cameras, I had a selenium cell meter and a grey card, and would always set the shutter speed and aperture manually, both on my very old and completely manual Canon FX and on my less old and somewhat more automatic Canon T70. The metering options on the T70 were centre weighted average and partial, and it had manual, program and shutter priority modes. Despite the relative ease of the program or shutter priority modes, I almost always used the manual mode to get accurate exposure with the slide film that I used. This I found worked well, and I rarely had a poorly exposed photograph.

    Now, I use an E-P3, and almost always use RAW mode, processing in Lightroom. I can see the photograph that I am about to take and the photograph that I have just taken on the OLED screen on the back of the camera (or in my VF-2 if I am minded to use it). The E-P3 has a sophisticated evaluative metering system that gets accurate exposure much more often than the centre-weighted average of the even the best 1980s cameras. I have my thumb wheel set to the exposure compensation feature, and I can at the press of a button see the image's histogram. If the in-built metering has got it wrong, I can see the error on the live preview and/or the histogram and correct it with the exposure compensation wheel. If I want a particular aperture/shutter speed for depth of field or motion blur related reasons, I can either use aperture or shutter priority mode, or adjust the aperture/shutter ratio with the jog wheel in program mode. I no longer use a selenium cell meter and grey card.

    Why, then, do many people still use fully manual exposure on modern digital cameras when using live view and not an optical viewfinder? I am not trying to criticise, I should add: I am just curious as to whether I am missing some useful technique. I presume that even those who use manual exposure do not use a hand-held light meter (not least because the ISO is not calibrated accurately on digital cameras, except internally)?

    Also, on the subject of auto exposure and metering, does anyone use the centre weighted average or spot metering modes of Micro Four Thirds cameras? I have never found a situation in which I might need to do so.
  2. billy_pilgrim

    billy_pilgrim Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 6, 2011
    The only times I use manual mode are when shooting time lapses or panoramas, when I want to make sure the exposure won't change across several shots. Otherwise I'll just use P or A mode together with exposure compensation, as necessary.

    I never use center-weighted metering but I do use spot metering reasonably often, generally with backlit subjects, and together with exposure lock once I have found the right spot.
  3. Kiwi Paul

    Kiwi Paul Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Aug 15, 2011
    Aberdeen Scotland
    I use manual mode when I want to use a specific shutter speed AND aperture and are less concerned about the ISO value.
    It may be that I want to maximise DOF but still keep the shutter speed up etc. I don't use M mode often but it can be useful.

  4. meyerweb

    meyerweb Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Sep 5, 2011
    Ditto to what Billy said. If the lighting is tricky, I do exposure bracketing. If I'm just walking around with a camera, I leave it in program mode, so if I take a grab shot I know the exposure will be in the ball park. If I'm shooting something specific, and know I want particular aperture or shutter speed, I'll switch to one of those modes. Other than shooting panoramas, I can't remember the last time I used manual exposure.
  5. MajorMagee

    MajorMagee Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2011
    Dayton, OH
    I'm pretty much always in spot metering mode. I use back button focusing and just shift the camera around until I get the exposure I'm looking for and then lock it in with the shutter button, frame the composition, focus and shoot. It's perhaps the not the most efficient, but it works to give me more immediate control than I seem to get with the exposure compensation dial (which is always set for the last shot I took). It also forces me to look at several different composition options as I'm scanning around the scene for the exposure level I want.
    • Like Like x 1
  6. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    While digital cameras are more advanced, with advance/sophisticated metering, but (the big but), meters still calculate to 18% gray (generally), as they have for generations. Granted, meters are now capable of mixing various metering mode for a better average of 'keepers', but it is still 18% gray.

    Meters, because they all turn what you're metering into a medium gray, are guides not cut-in-stone laws. I use manual because I rarely shoot at the readings provided by the meter. I use spot metering and depending on the shade of what I meter, I will adjust my settings accordingly, (if I meter on something brighter than medium gray I will let more light in, and if the subject I meter off is darker than medium gray I'll adjust my settings to allow let light in).

    I will, on rare occasion, I will use MajorMagee's methodology, when I'm not in a hurry. Using the Exposure Compensation is similar to using Manual, but in Manual you decided which setting to adjust.


    PS- I love manual with the EVF, allows me to totally ignore the meter when on the fly.
  7. f64

    f64 Mu-43 Regular

    Mar 6, 2010
    I also shot for many years with manual film cameras, a lightmeter, and a grey card. But even with the modern electronic marvels, I don't think that I could bring myself to buy a camera that didn't have full manual settings.:tongue:

    However, I shoot in aperture priority 99% of the time and love all the in-camera electronic aids to exposure, and post-processing capability.
    I occasionally use spot metering (an old habit) just to practice the skill, and to remind myself not to let the camera decide the "best" exposure.

    Over the past few years I have only used full manual exposure for panoramas, to teach my niece some photographic fundamentals, and while attending a photographic workshop. I am thinking about getting back into astrophotography with :43:, and I would use manual settings for that.
  8. marcl

    marcl Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 8, 2012
    I often use manual mode when shooting with one or more speed lights.
  9. David

    David Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 22, 2011
    I use manual mode when I am doing sunset. otherwise mostly Aperture mode.
  10. With_Eyes_Unclouded

    With_Eyes_Unclouded Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 17, 2012
    This, plus when doing long exposures and bulb.
  11. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    I tend to regard Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes as equivalent to manual since I'm setting one of the 2 parameters and deciding whether or not to accept the camera's metering recommendation or use exposure compensation for the other. Basically those modes give me total control over the exposure parameters other than ISO which I set separately anyway. Like MajorMagee I also use exposure lock a bit or occasionally use Manual mode for a similar purpose.

    Metering modes are a different question. I often use centre weighted, basically because it falls somewhere between the standard matrix mode and spot mode. I find myself using spot mode more and more often, and basing my exposure on zone system principles. Caucasion skin requires +1 stop exposure compensation, dark skins no exposure compensation to -1 stop exposure compensation. Highlights in which you want to keep detail require +2 stops exposure compensation.

    Spot metering is indispensable in my view when you have a scene with a wide lighting range and significantly more bright or dark areas in the frame so you know your meter is going to be pulled too far in one direction or the other. If you know what you're interested in and expose for that you get better results in that sort of situation. An example is shooting in the street at night with people lit by street and/or shop lights. Expose for the person's face using spot metering and just let the shadows fall where they will, let the light sources blow out if that happens and they're in the frame, and you'll get a very nice result that actually looks like a night scene. Add to that, you can get away using a lower ISO setting than you think if you set your exposure this way. I've photographed people in an inner city street setting at F/1.4, 1/25 sec at ISO 200 using the E-M5 and PL25mm using that technique and got good exposures for the faces. Sure, a lot more of the scene goes dark than if I used matrix mode and a higher ISO setting but this is a nighttime scene with dark shadow areas in real life and that's how the photo comes out, plus you get less noise than you would if you start raising the ISO setting. You may be surprised just how low an ISO setting you can get away with for many low light scenes provided you use spot metering, meter the skin or highlight tones and set your exposure based on where you want the brightness of those things to fall in your image.
  12. With_Eyes_Unclouded

    With_Eyes_Unclouded Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 17, 2012
    On the subject of metering, I'd like to (again) bring up an issue that I haven't seen discussed more often and IMHO would be very useful for any type of photography. It is multi-spot metering.

    AFAIK, only Canon 1D cameras have this feature today. Please correct me if I'm wrong. Considering that my "ancient" OM-4 has this feature built in, it is one of on top of my wish list for a future Oly :43: camera. And, obviously, a modern implementation would be much more presice than an "analog-age" one.
  13. MajorMagee

    MajorMagee Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2011
    Dayton, OH
    Isn't matrix metering the modern equivalent?
  14. With_Eyes_Unclouded

    With_Eyes_Unclouded Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 17, 2012
    It's still an automatic mode. Multi spot metering relies in user input (although the actual evaluation is also automated).
  15. Just Jim

    Just Jim Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Oct 20, 2011
    I still "expose for shadows"... Manual is used quite often for me. In fact the range of my G2 seems tighter and less forgiving then alot of the films I use. Not sure if that's the truth, but it's cerainly easy to get noisy shadows or blow highlights. Evalutive metering may will leave me out of the exposure I wanted in tricky lighting. That and I use a ton of other crap when I shoot to shrink the the overall exposure range of a scene, I know my spot meter, I know my camera, and manual gets it done in tricky spots. For me I shoot, Av #1 Manual #2, Tv #3.
  16. MajorMagee

    MajorMagee Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2011
    Dayton, OH
    I tried to use a P&S camera this morning to catch a fall tree that was being lit up for a few moments by a shaft of sunlight sneaking in under the cloud deck with a very dark grey (not blue) sky behind it. Boy was I reminded how little control you have with a P&S to get the image you're really after.

    Olympus Stylus Tough 8010 at 25mm, f5.9, 1/15 sec, ISO 400

    I really missed being able to quickly control the exposure separately from auto-focusing.
  17. kinlau

    kinlau Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 29, 2012
    When shooting wildlife/birds, I'm almost always in manual mode, same thing when shooting weddings.
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