Archive for August, 2022

Old school photographers from deep back into the film era will likely say yes! And frankly, if you are shooting a camera that was made prior to modern evaluative metering the answer is YES! Modern evaluative metering is primarily an AF era development. Although early examples included Nikon’s “Matrix” system that began with the Nikon FA camera body in 1983, real evaluative metering with an ability to deliver consistent properly exposed images arrived in the mid 1990s from all the major camera makers. Nikon was a pioneer however and for a decade had an edge on the competition.

What is evaluative metering and why should you care? Well let’s start with those old timers and their insistence on using manual exposure. Old school cameras mostly used center weighted exposure meters that took light from the entire frame and measured it with a 60% weighting towards the center of the image. Although a well lit subject with even tones and front lighting would typically be metered properly, any kind of side or back lighting or super strong contrast scenes would often fool the meter, leading to terrible exposure. Auto exposure was more likely to ruin your pictures than make them better, and so old timers relied on manual exposure modes and compensating for challenging lighting by simply over or under exposing appropriately. The classic example is the snow scene or beach scene in which subjects are sharply backlit by all the white sand or snow behind them. Old auto exposure systems would tend to under expose these horrifically, often beyond repair. These early auto exposure cameras often had crude and clumsy “compensation” systems that made things slower rather than faster. Manual was king for serious photographers and pros.

Other times to use manual exposure were unusual things like time exposures, astro photography and such. These are still ideal manual mode cases today. But the advent of modern evaluative metering has changed the dynamic and made manual exposure a rarity rather than the norm. What is evaluative metering? Modern cameras have dozens of zones each independently metered in the scene. The camera’s built-in computer literally evaluates the scene and determines the exposure based on the actual subject matter, what’s in focus, colors and tones, as well as luminance. Sandy beach photos often come out perfect. The photographer can easily make micro adjustments using modern compensation with a wheel or dial on the camera moving exposure plus or minus as needed or preferred. The camera does make some assumptions about the subject based on 18% grey reflectivity. So a black crow flying against a snowy background will still need some photographer input. But relying on the speed of the camera’s computer to give you your instant base exposure and settings, then allows the photographer to make a quick compensation for the actual exposure and that means less fumbling and more shooting.

I find the best metering mode to be aperture priority. There are two primary reasons I say this. First is the old mechanical lenses part of my photography. I tend to shoot with a lot of old manual focus era lenses. These have an aperture dial on the lens that I simply turn to the desired aperture and allow the camera body to select the appropriate shutter speed for that setting. It is fast and instant and very intuitive for the user. Most modern cameras then allow for easy ± compensation. I have always preferred Canon’s dial on the back of the camera for this task. For modern lenses it is simply easier as aperture will in part determine the ‘mood’ of the image in terms of background separation and such. In this mode the photographer does have to be aware of the shutter speeds as they display in the viewfinder, make sure they don’t drag too slow to hand hold. Modern cameras do a great job of nailing exposure and when using a mirrorless camera you get real time compensation in the viewfinder so exposure is fast and accurate even when you make adjustments with the compensation dial.

With todays techno-genius cameras, auto exposure is the best go to mode with manual being reserved for highly specialized shots or for use with other equipment such as studio strobes or computers. Aperture priority gives the photographer control of both speed and aperture by using the aperture ring or dial to drive the speed up or down as needed or desired, and it seamlessly flows into using vintage glass.

So the answer to the question above is simply “Yes” when shooting old cameras pre-1990s and “No” when shooting modern cameras.

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