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May 31, 2010

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Oh, I dunno. Just to take this line of argument on a notch...

I've spent a lot of the last two years shooting using a Canon G9, and so hold it up here as an example of what you've been saying, done right.

On my dSLR, I would have to remember to reset speed, aperture, exposure metering system, focussing algorithm and bracketing all separately. If you change shooting situation from one where you want 1/125th (jobbing daylight landscape) to 1/15th (motion-blur panning sports-cars), just *how many* parameters are involved in the resultant knock-on dominos effect?

On the G9, these are tied into the shooting mode so all I had to do was flip into P and I'd have trustworthy semi-auto with wide AiAF mode for walking the dogs, M for manual with fill flash, or the C1 preset mode for 3-shot bracketing for HDR, or C2 for all-manual with b&w preview and default exposure 1/250th at f/4 with centre-point AF only. Changed flash? Changed motor settings? Just flip out of the mode and back in and the previously saved settings return to the fore.

Critically, the various modes became suitable for different situations or genres in my photography and I never once had a use for the conventional semi-automated modes Tv or Av. And so my attitude to technical parameters has totally changed. With my D200, I had to use centre-point AF, spot-metering and manual exposure as the most flexible and only trustworthy method - all manual. Experiments with "matrix metering" rapidly led to frustration. Sure I got good results, but that doesn't make it the best experience to get them.

Post-G9, I now find it quite annoying when I read articles in magazines about "liberate yourself from auto mode and start using manual". Rubbish. Rather, liberate yourself from the slavish tendency to think in terms of camera settings and think foremost about the desired image, and use the camera as tool to get it and if that means you know a given (semi-)automated mode will achieve it for you, go for it. An image should be rated according to the bits you see, not the entrails of the EXIF lurking behind it!

I see that's a Best Buy shopping cart in the photo. I'm guessing that we only think about the friend or foe question after we've made our purchase and left the store. I don't like to consider these philosophical questions before the purchase. That takes all the fun out of it. :)

I don't disagree with you. Just keep in mind that your argument is focused almost exclusively on automatic exposure. What I find troublesome--and perhaps I didn't express it as clearly as I could have--is not autoexposure per se; it's cameras that overwhelm the typical user with programmable features they can barely comprehend and that serve only to distract and confuse. It can be difficult to "liberate" yourself from such features and settings if you feel obliged to understand and use them.

"I see that's a Best Buy shopping cart in the photo."

Surely you didn't think it was a coincidence. ;-)

My first camera was a Kodak Pony 135. It cost me $20.

I now own a Nikon D40X. I had to read the manual several times before I felt I kinda understood most of the camera controls. This camera is called an advanced amateur camera.

And just think I used several Nikon F for decades. They were all manual everything and were considered advanced professional cameras.

Go figure.

John Krill: "I have gone and figured about the idea of what constitutes a "professional" camera recently."

I used to use a D200 with Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 lens as my primary shooting gear. Then the G9 started getting me usable photographs. Now I've bought a 550D which "isn't a 5D MkII or 7D" and "isn't a D700"... so not a professional camera, by some measures.

But what do I care about the designation? My interests are primarily in having a good bit of glass (now a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8) and an improved sensor and, secondarily, having usable ergonomics in between the two. That's applying a large-format mentality to dSLRs, which seems interesting.

Gordon scripsit: It can be difficult to "liberate" yourself from such features and settings if you feel obliged to understand and use them.

As stated, yes. The process whereby I shifted to trusting the G9 was fairly prolonged, but it seems to help that the parameters that could be memorized per mode extended beyond just exposure; I could build a "scale" (express all the photos I wanted to take) from my own home-grown "chords", in musical terms.

It's all about spanning sets in algebra. One can imagine a space wherein every photograph a large customer-base desires to take can be represented as a combination of parameter axes. The obvious classical combination - as canonical as X,Y,Z in cartesian axes - is ISO, speed, aperture. However, if you were to name your axes "noisiness", "motion blur", "DoF" instead, you would see the same space but from a different perspective - "effects-priority".

I never use "landscape", "back-lit night-time underwater portrait" and all those other canned modes on a camera, ever. Embarrassingly, however, the previous paragraph justifies their existence to the extent that I now see the point in their inclusion as an extension of effects- or situation-priority "mode" - if that's what you're taking, then why not? Hmmm...

Tim:

So would it be safe to say that you consider automation your friend? If so, I'm happy for you.

Friend or foe? Foe!

Hmmm. Perhaps my conclusion requires some balance for the sake of context and then I need to focus on the issues that highlight my argument.

Then again, the question was "Automation:Friend or Foe?" Friend: If it is expeditiously efficient. Foe: If it is not a friend, as defined above.

Posted by another Tim:
I'm very pleased that camera makers now include programmable custom modes whereby one can save favorite settings. I very much think auto ISO particularly in manual mode and auto focus and IS are my friends. On my Canon DSLR, I simply programmed C1 for shots of the kids and C2 for Landscapes. C3 is setup for the rare video opportunity where something moving won't overly challenge my manual focusing skills. Once in these custom modes, I believe one can more or less just concentrate on the basics and fine tune quickly according to the prevailing conditions.

More importantly, what did you pick up at Best Buy? Did you buy an Olympus for your vacation or just more printer cartridges?

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