Question: After using a point-and shoot camera for a few years, I finally bought a DSLR again, the Nikon D5100. This camera has 16 Scene modes plus AUTO, as well as Program, Shutter Priority and Aperture Priority modes. Why do manufacturers provide so many automatic modes for snapshooting in cameras intended for serious photography? Don't experienced photographers use the fully Manual mode?
Answer: The answer to this question is simple. All but the pro-oriented DSLRs tend to target a wide range of buyers from families to more experienced photo enthusiasts. Hence, the manufacturers provide modes to satisfy every type of user. It's true that the AUTO and Scene modes are primarily intended for novices; my wife and my daughters certainly appreciate those options.
I agree that the fully manual (M) operating mode is fine, since it does provide full user control over depth of field, the depiction of motion as well as exposure. But it is a somewhat slow and tedious method of camera adjustment. That's not a problem at all in landscape or portrait photography but other modes are preferable for sports, for candid people pictures or whenever you want to capture just the right instant.
Frankly, I never use M mode. The Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes are quicker to use and more convenient but they also allow the photographer to maintain full control of all aspects of an image. These modes are actually semi-automatic. Set the desired f/stop for the intended depth of field or the shutter speed that's necessary for "freezing" or for blurring a moving subject. The camera will then set the other aspect, with Matrix light metering often providing a good exposure. When a photo is too dark or too bright, simply set plus or minus exposure compensation and take the shot again.
When the depth of field is the most important consideration, use Aperture Priority mode, and set a wide aperture (such as f/2.8 to f/5.6) or a small aperture (such as f/16). You can also set the desired ISO, any exposure compensation that's necessary as well as the suitable WB, exposure compensation, picture style, etc. for full control. (f/16; ISO 100)
(c) 2011 Peter K. Burian
The semi-automatic modes can help to prevent the serious exposure errors that can occur while budding enthusiasts experiment with the fully manual M mode. In addition to exposure compensation, all other camera overrides are available too, so it's possible to achieve any desired white balance, contrast, sharpness and saturation level. All of that ensures full versatility, making Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority mode useful options even for the most experienced photographer.
In situations where you want to depict motion as frozen or as blurred, Shutter Priority mode can be very useful. Again, any of the camera's overrides can also be used to achieve exactly the desired effect. (1/15 sec. shutter speed and panning of the camera during the exposure)
(c) 2011 Peter K. Burian
Notes from the Editor:
- Peter Burian teaches two terrific online photo workshops - Mastering the Digital Camera and Photography and Mastering the Canon EOS Digital Rebels - at BetterPhoto's online digital photography school.
- In addition, Peter is a contributor to two new books: the just-published The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography and the upcoming The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light (due out in April 2012). Both are co-authored by Jim Miotke and Kerry Drager.