Exposure Control / Shooting Modes

Here at Photoxels, we mostly feature cameras that provide scene modes. Scene modes are simply preset exposure/shutter speed combinations (together with white balance and exposure compensation) to account for most of the common picture-taking situations, such as portraits, indoor fluorescent lighting, landscape, and night scene. Scene modes save you from having to fidget around with the aperture, shutter speed, white balance and exposure compensation to obtain proper exposure.

A note of caution is in order when talking about scene modes. The fact that a digital camera offers a particular scene mode does not necessarily mean that you will be able to capture good images with that scene mode. Let me elaborate in more detail, with the following examples, what I mean:

Let's say a digital camera offers a Sports or Action scene mode. You might think that this means you will be able to capture great action shots with this digital camera, right? Maybe. It all depends on what the digital camera offers technically.

To understand this completely, let's review what are the necessary technical requirements for being able to successfully freeze a fast action shot: 1) a fast shutter speed (say, 1/1,000 sec.); 2) a wide aperture (say, F1.8); 3) a powerful flash; 4) ISO of 400 and above; 5) white balance for fluorescent and tungsten lighting; 6) a small shutter lag (you'll never catch the action if the shutter clicks 2 sec. after you press the shutter release).

Let's assume your digital camera offers a shutter speed of 1/1,000 sec. -- fast enough to stop action. It has a maximum aperture of F2.8 -- OK for outdoors action shots in bright sunlight, OK for indoors action shots using a powerful enough flash, but not quite wide enough for indoors action shots where flash is not permitted. In the latter case, you've got no recourse but to increase the film equivalent sensitivity to ISO 400 or above. Now, there are not too many digital cameras, except for the very expensive digital Single Lens Reflexes (dSLRs), that deal well with the increase in noise level at the higher ISOs. And if your digital camera only offers a film equivalent of ISO 100, you're stuck! The Sports or Action scene mode on your digital camera is, for all practical purposes, useless to you if indoors action shots without flash is what you're after.

Similarly, Night Scene mode is really useful if a digital camera provides a shutter speed of 1 sec. and slower, and perhaps even bulb (where the shutter remains open as long as you depress the shutter release). But if the slowest shutter speed is 1/30 sec., ummm... not much is possible as far as night pictures are concerned even though the camera offers a Night Scene mode.

[Not exactly a scene mode, but also consider the case of a digital camera that offers ISO sensitivity of 100, 200, 400 and 800. But, if the noise level at ISO 200 and higher is unacceptable, then, for all practical purposes, the higher ISOs are useless (unless a 'noisy' picture is the 'image effect' you're after). So, when comparing digital cameras, do not trust 100% the features on paper -- it pays to read actual users' opinions to ensure whether a particular feature is usable in practice.]

Ensure that the camera can technically fulfill whatever requirements are necessary to capture the shots you're after. Review our tutorial for further details about the technical requirements for scene modes.