Technology can be a help

Ever had one of those moments when your camera doesn't behave as expected? That was me a few moments ago.

I have customised menu sets on my camera and can change from the settings I use for landscapes to the ones for wildlife and the one for studio portraits. It’s a useful feature that is worth setting up. It saves lots of time fiddling around at the start of a shoot.

Historically, on custom set 2, I had spot metering tied to the focus points and the camera set to continuous autofocus. This was really useful for shooting pictures of wildlife. As animals or birds moved closer to me, the camera continued to focus on them and the spot metering stayed on them too.

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I had forgotten that on my newest camera I had experimented with the custom set and enabled focus tracking. Instead of adjusting the focus as the subject’s distance changes, tracking allows the camera to follow the subject as it moves position. However, the spot metering stayed in one place so as the camera tracked the subject it sometimes ended up metering the background, not the creature.

I had to make a choice which feature I wanted to use. One option was to switch off the tracking and rely on my ability to move the camera to follow the subject, something I am not bad at.

Alternatively, I could lock the metering when I first acquired focus. This would be fine in most circumstances as light on a flying bird, my most frequently shot wildlife subject, does not change greatly.

My third option was to manually adjust the metering to expose the shot correctly; this is what I did in the past.

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Camera reviewers would jump up and down now and create a fuss about this very small limitation. Ideally, the metering should follow a subject as it is tracked around the viewfinder. Actually, it is not that important.

I cut my photography teeth on manual focus and average TTL metering. Having spot metering tied to the focus point would be a novel feature, but it’s not essential. So I reverted back to manually adjusting exposure.

There’s a lot to be said for going back to basics. Understanding how focussing and metering work are the cornerstone of creative photography. Automation, though doing a reasonable job of recording a scene, provides neither selective focus nor selective metering with the same versatility and control as manual adjustments.

However, one of the big disadvantages of modern DSLRs is that the manufacturers put much smaller viewfinders in their cameras than the old film SLRs, making manual focus harder. I like to manual focus. When I am using vintage lenses, I have no choice.

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My mirrorless cameras have large, bright electronic viewfinders. Bigger than the viewfinder in most DSLRs, they are one of the many reasons why mirrorless sales are now outstripping DSLRs.

Mine have two extra functions that assist with manual focus. I can zoom the viewfinder to check focus accuracy, and I have a custom button so that the sharp, in-focus edges are outlined with a coloured line.

Versatility of techniques and skills helps us improve our photography. Though a fan of manually creating an image, getting assistance from technology can really help.