Author Topic: Moving beyond auto mode - part 1  (Read 2799 times)

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Offline fother

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Moving beyond auto mode - part 1
« on: February 15, 2011, 08:33:02 AM »

One of the more daunting aspects of starting with digital SLR photography is all the controls you’re responsible for, that on most point and shoot compact cameras are taken care of for you. That gives you much more control over the ways your photos appear, but it means you need to control them! A good starting point is the mode dial. Most photographers who make a transition from compact to DSLR cameras leave the mode on AUTO for a while. But it’s very worthwhile to explore the other options available.

This is the first installment of a series of two articles on the mode dial. In this article, I’ll describe the AUTO mode and its variants, and the predefined Scene modes. But first, an overview.

Broadly, the options on the mode dial options fit into four categories:

  • Auto mode (AUTO) as well as No Flash, Program Auto Mode (P) and Auto+
  • Scene modes (icons)
  • Semi-automatic or Priority modes (A, S)
  • Manual mode (M, and programmed modes on advanced bodies – MR, 1, 2, 3)

The Mode Dials on the Sony (and Konica Minolta) DSLRs are a surprisingly varied array. In fact the Mode Dial is one of the primary points of differentiation between different models. Although their complexity and the options they provide vary, they are fundamentally there for the same purpose.

Sony Alpha a55 mode dial
Sony Alpha a33 mode dial
Sony Alpha a700 mode dial
The mode dial (Sony Alpha a350)
Sony Alpha a550 mode dial
Sony Alpha a350 mode dial
Sony Alpha a200 mode dial
Konica Minolta 7D mode dial
Sony Alpha a900 mode dial
KM 7D mode dial
Sony Alpha a850 mode dial

My personal favourite remains the KM 7D mode+drive dial, but that’s just a personal preference…

Auto mode

When your camera is on automatic, all the important settings such as ISO, Aperture and exposure are made for you, taking out the guess work. When your camera is set on automatic, it’s also recommended that your lens is set on automatic focus (AF). In essence, AUTO mode is the equivalent of the normal functioning of a point and shoot camera. It’s a fine starting point for the beginner. Tip for taking a photograph in fully automatic: First press your shutter button half way down, then, once it focuses correctly, press it the rest of the way down.
No Flash. No Flash mode is essentially the same as AUTO mode, except that the flash is disabled. It is for shooting in locations where the use of flash is restricted, such as art galleries.
Auto+ (Available on the Sony Alpha A55) The camera recognizes and evaluates the shooting condition, and appropriate settings are set automatically. The camera saves one appropriate image by combining or separating images, as necessary. There are a range of settings the AUTO+ mode recognises, and adjusts for. This is essentially a more automated version of the scene mode options described below. This is complemented on the A55 with the more traditional scene mode selection (SCN – see below) and menu navigation.
Program Mode (P) In Program mode, nearly all of the camera’s settings are determined automatically. The camera chooses the aperture and the shutter speed, and you are in charge of framing your subject. Examples: You want to concentrate on thoughtfully framing your photographs, so you set your camera to program mode, choose an appropriate ISO and work on your composition techniques without worrying about specific settings.

Scene modes

The Scene modes on KM and Sony Alpha DSLRs vary a bit. Most models include Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports Action, Sunset, and Night Portrait/Night View. Each optimizes the camera’s exposure, white balance, and image processing systems for the particular scenario.

It’s true that there is nothing in the Scene modes that cannot be done manually, but the Scene modes offer a shortcut. More experienced photographers sometimes treat Scene modes with disdain – as the ‘training wheels’ modes or only for ‘point and shoot types’ but there are times when scene modes can be handy. In particular, some of the newer scene modes (such as sweep panorama) offer some very helpful time saving options.

portrait Portrait biases toward wider apertures to defocus the background while capturing warm, soft skin tones. Set your digital camera to portrait mode when your taking photographs of people.
Sports Action maximizes shutter speeds with Continuous Autofocus and Continuous Advance Drive modes. Sports mode should be used when you want to photograph a moving object such as a child or dog running.
Landscape produces sharp, colorful shots of outdoor scenery. Set your camera to this mode when your taking photos of landscapes. For example if your photographing beach or mountain sceneries.
Sunset handles the rich warm palettes of sunsets. In my opinion this is one of the most useful scene modes, and well worth experimenting with.
Macro boosts color in smaller subjects. For example, when you want to photograph small objects so they fill the whole frame as if to appear larger.
Night Portrait balances ambient light with the flash; turning off the flash enters Night View mode, which maintains a dark background when presented with night scenery.
Scene Selection manual scene selection on the Sony Alpha A55, as a complement to AUTO+. Includes most traditional scene modes as well as the following new modes:
Night View (A55). Shoots night scenes at a distance without losing the dark atmosphere of the surroundings. The shutter speed is slower, so using a tripod is recommended. Maynot be suitable for shooting a wholly dark night scene.
Hand held Twilight shoots night scenes with less noise and blur without using a tripod. A burst of shots are taken, and image processing is applied to reduce subject blur, camera shake, and noise. Reducing blur is less effective even when shooting subjects with erratic movement, subjects are too close to the camera, or subjects with little contrast such as skies
Sweep panorama shoots a burst of separate images that are stitched together. Pan or tilt the camera in an arc with a constant velocity and in the same direction as the indication on the screen. Sweep Panorama is better suited for still subjects, rather than moving ones.

Most users of the scene modes will find the portrait mode, landscape mode, sunrise/sunset and sports action mode most appealing. Portrait mode is getting more useful with the development of face recognition functions, while  Sports action is great for tracking small kids who never sit still.  The richness of a colourful sunset can save a lot of post production time. Personally, I’m looking forward to having a model with the Sweep panorama mode!

Part 2 of this series will examine the Semi-Automatic Modes (also known as Priority Modes) and Manual modes.

« Last Edit: February 15, 2011, 08:36:09 AM by fother »