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01-28-2016, 12:29 PM - 1 Like   #1
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Your Thoughts On "Manual vs Automatic" Mode Photography

I was browsing another forum that has a small photography group and started to read a thread asking people what "mode" they used their digital cameras in. The original poster was basically curious about how much of the camera's automation others used. By the time I started reading the thread (about 8 hours after the original post) it had degenerated into a discussion/argument (mostly argument) between people that:
  1. claimed "anyone using automatic 'anything' was a camera holder and not a photographer, they always used 'manual' modes for everything" - true photographers don't need all the gadgets viewpoint, and
  2. those that "used camera automation as a jumping off point for being creative" - the camera is a tool viewpoint.
So, without getting into a shouting match - Does camera automation make you less of a photographer and you think manual everything is the correct way to go, or do you think automation complements you as a photographer and you use all the tools a modern camera provides to you?


What's the opinion here, and why?


I'll start with my opinion:

To me, the camera is a tool and I use everything I paid for to make my life easier when I take a pictures. It allows me to work on composition first and then the process of how I want to take the picture second. Both are important, but a well composed picture that catches the right moment in time (as I want to present it) takes precedence every time for me. The mood set by exposure is critical as well, and that's where knowing what to expect from the camera in a given circumstance comes in to play but I prefer to use more time on composition and the "moment" than on exposure. Exposure I can work with to a greater extent in post-processing than I can composition so I do rely on exposure automation to a moderate extent. I may make adjustments as I think appropriate for a given scene and how I understand my camera will record that image, or I may not. How much time do I have to do all this before the right "moment" passes?

Here's why I think that way:

To begin with, I don't think anyone really uses a modern camera in truly manual mode anymore. If they did they would be looking at a scene and basing exposure settings on experience or by using a hand held light meter, like I did 50 years ago. I used to be really good at estimating exposure settings by evaluating a scene before even looking through the camera view finder, to me that's "manual" mode. Now I'm not as good at estimating exposure off the cuff as I used to be, you have to keep practicing a skill or it declines, I don't practice it as much as I used to. Today, I think that when people refer to manual mode they usually mean using the integral light meter and adjusting aperture and shutter speed manually to achieve the look they want but still rely on the metering system for proper overall exposure. Maybe this should be referred to as "semi-automatic" shooting. Autofocus is a little different, most people can focus pretty well manually and find autofocus convenient.

As someone who started taking pictures with cameras that had no integral light meter (1940's vintage 120 roll film, 1950's vintage range finder 35mm, and 4x5 view cameras) and moved into 35 mm film cameras with match needle meters then to auto exposure then autofocus film and finally modern DSLRs, I have a very good appreciation for the meaning of manual and automatic camera settings. One of many reasons I changed/upgraded cameras over time has been the improvement in automation and how much more convenient it is. Later, in my 40's, I upgraded because I just can't see well enough to focus properly and autofocus meant I could keep taking pictures. I still use a manual focus 35 mm, the autofocus 35 mm and even the 4x5 view camera (with hand held meter) so I can still appreciate the differences between technologies, it just takes a lot longer to get it done.

With that background, the one thing I learned very early on is that to record a good image you need to understand the whole process of photography. By that I mean you need to know how it all works: film (sensor) selection, how the camera handles, exposure settings, development (post processing) and printing. The same process of understanding how things work together applies just as much with modern digital cameras as they did 50 years ago when I started. So every time I've upgraded my camera I've taken time to learn what it can, and can't, do and how it all works as a system so I can intelligently work with the camera to make it do what I want. I may use the auto exposure settings or I may not, but I rely on them as a starting point. This only addresses post processing and printing by reference, which is another critical part of the whole creative process and is just as contentious as what camera is best discussions.

In the end, when I press the shutter release the image I record is based on my mood at the moment, the vision and experience I bring as a photographer to composition and exposure, and how I present the image to others through post-processing and printing. It's not because I just held the camera and let it do all the work or because I tweaked every possible setting for every image, it's because I decided what I wanted the tool I had in hand to do for me.

And with all that said, sometimes I take a really pleasing picture (to me) and plenty of times I don't, I'm still learning.

So, what does everyone else think?


Last edited by OldPentaxFan; 01-28-2016 at 12:36 PM. Reason: corrected spelling
01-28-2016, 12:38 PM   #2
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The great thing about Pentax is the Hyper Manual mode, with the green button. If you're in a rush to get the shot, press the button and fire!

Usually I find use this hyper manual mode, often use the green button the get my started and I tweak my settings from there - i.e. I know I want a faster shutter speed, or I want a smaller aperture, etc.
For BIF I use TAV mode, with my ISO capped at about 1600 to 2000 on my K-30. This seems to work fairly well, and if the bird is flying against the sky, I can easily switch to manual if I need more precise metering...

---------- Post added 01-28-16 at 02:40 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by OldPentaxFan Quote
To begin with, I don't think anyone really uses a modern camera in truly manual mode anymore. If they did they would be looking at a scene and basing exposure settings on experience or by using a hand held light meter, like I did 50 years ago. I used to be really good at estimating exposure settings by evaluating a scene before even looking through the camera view finder, to me that's "manual" mode.
Being a "Ricoh Baby", I never thought of it like that! I've taken the in-camera metering for granted, not as an "auto" feature
01-28-2016, 12:49 PM - 2 Likes   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by Imp Quote
I've taken the in-camera metering for granted, not as an "auto" feature
I remember when aperture priority was seen as a threat to 'real' photography and as for auto focus...
01-28-2016, 12:51 PM - 3 Likes   #4
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I use the amount of automation appropriate for the image or situation. Sometimes that is manual, sometimes hyper program, sometimes TAv. Default is Av.

Personally, I think anyone arguing that one or the other mode is better is not a photographer but a gear head, (or gear holder) . A photographer (IMHO) is concerned only with getting the best image possible and uses whatever tool or mode does that best. The camera (and modes) are just tools, it is the photographers job to learn those tools and apply them to the situation to achieve the best possible image.

01-28-2016, 12:53 PM - 1 Like   #5
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Original Poster
QuoteOriginally posted by jatrax Quote
I use the amount of automation appropriate for the image or situation. Sometimes that is manual, sometimes hyper program, sometimes TAv. Default is Av.

Personally, I think anyone arguing that one or the other mode is better is not a photographer but a gear head, (or gear holder) . A photographer (IMHO) is concerned only with getting the best image possible and uses whatever tool or mode does that best. The camera (and modes) are just tools, it is the photographers job to learn those tools and apply them to the situation to achieve the best possible image.


This is precisely my feeling. Know what you want the image to look like and know the right technique to record it.

Last edited by OldPentaxFan; 01-28-2016 at 12:55 PM. Reason: formatting
01-28-2016, 12:59 PM - 1 Like   #6
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As long as you are aware of what you are doing, it does not matter if you use manual or automatic settings
It's the images you produce that are important, not how you use the camera to produce them.

In most other professions automated tools are something that professionals adapt to first as it help them produce more reliable result quicker.
But among photographers there seems to quite a few that believe you are a better photographer if you make it harder for yourself.
01-28-2016, 01:23 PM - 2 Likes   #7
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Knowing your way around a camera doesn't make you a 'photographer'.
I know this from personal expereince
01-28-2016, 02:06 PM - 3 Likes   #8
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It's not real photography unless you're using a burnt stick and animal hide!!! 😂😂😂

01-28-2016, 02:09 PM - 2 Likes   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Quartermaster James Quote
It's not real photography unless you're using a burnt stick and animal hide!!! 😂😂😂

I've tried that and I'm really, really bad at it.
01-28-2016, 02:38 PM   #10
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I almost always leave the mode dial to Program, which in Pentax language is hyper program with the ability to adjust both the aperture and the shutter speed, and when using m42 lens, it automatically defaults to Av mode with stop down metering. It's only with the K or M lenses do I need to shift into Manual mode and use the green button to meter.
01-28-2016, 03:23 PM   #11
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Once you know what you're doing, you don't need Automatic or Program anymore.

Just buy a good book (like this one - Nuts and bolts of DSLR photography ) which makes you understand... and enjoy Manual control of your camera. You are the photographer - you decide (camera is nothing more than your tool).
01-28-2016, 03:23 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by OldPentaxFan Quote
To begin with, I don't think anyone really uses a modern camera in truly manual mode anymore. If they did they would be looking at a scene and basing exposure settings on experience or by using a hand held light meter, like I did 50 years ago.

That's the way I still shoot even with my DSLR. Sunny 16 most of the time, and a quick check with my incident light meter if I'm not certain.

Using autofocus and autoexposure is perfectly legitimate too, if you prefer to do things that way. What makes a good photograph isn't the mode the camera is set to -- it's the eye of the photographer.
01-28-2016, 03:34 PM   #13
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I often start in P and work my way to M as necessary. I quite often end up at 1/30 which is below the limit of certainty for me hand-held. When necessary I raise ISO but I try not to do that.

But we're so fortunate today. I think I get frustrated that I can't keep my shutter speed up for a shot that wouldn't have been possible just 10 years ago.

Last edited by monochrome; 01-28-2016 at 05:19 PM.
01-28-2016, 03:57 PM - 1 Like   #14
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A while back I had enjoyable day with PF member smf.
I had my home brew aluminum box camera with its Takumar 90mm leaf shutter lens. Completely manual.
https://app.box.com/s/3vprxp6y439tj2ovgtrn
These photos are with exposure based on sunny 16 ( or whatever stops estimated beyond that) , and scale focus by estimating the best distance setting !
https://app.box.com/s/sz0uffi6d50aqqteff04
This one is close up with the lens opened up to f/4 or so.
https://app.box.com/s/2e8k4l97kf2xly1q33zh
01-28-2016, 04:51 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by OldPentaxFan Quote
To begin with, I don't think anyone really uses a modern camera in truly manual mode anymore. If they did they would be looking at a scene and basing exposure settings on experience or by using a hand held light meter, like I did 50 years ago.
mirrorless made that approach obsolete, because you can now get a very good estimation of what the exposure of the shot will look like, in the evf.

no more need for sunny16, and guessing if your shot will come out right.

you also have magnification in the evf, which means that focus is always perfect, if you have time to focus the shot.

i paid $2300 for the a7r in december of 2013, and i used only legacy manual lenses on it for two full years, before i finally broke down and got an autofocus adapter.

i'm not the only person who does that, either
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