Why use Manual mode instead of Shutter or Aperture Priority?

Discussion in 'Beginner Questions' started by justinweiss, Apr 29, 2009.

  1. What is the benefit of shooting in Manual mode instead of Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority? If all you do in Manual is match the shutter speed to the aperture to get a "correct" exposure, why not choose one and let the camera automatically match the other to it?
    I tried shooting in Manual yesterday and while I was diligent about dialing in "correct" exposures, the results just didn't measure up to when I use Aperture Priority mode. Maybe this is because I was paying more attention to the camera dials than to the composition of my photos. But I am wondering whether the camera is simply more accurate at matching shutter speed to aperture than I am when doing it by hand.
    So, why go Manual? And what can I do to improve my results in Manual mode?
  2. Have you ever taken a shot in Shutter or Aperture priority and it didn't come out right ? Maybe the wrong thing was exposed properly or the amount of things in focus was not what you hoped ? If you say , "Yes", then you have a taste of why you may need to use the manual mode.
    The camera only guesses. It may guess wrong. It's knowing when it may be off base, and what you need to do to over ride it, that makes things better.
  3. I asked myself this just last week. I'm sure someone else will provide better answers, but a few reasons I go manual mode is:
    1. You need the same exposure between multiple shots. For example when you plan on stitching together a panorama.
    2. When using TTL (or manual flash) you can afford to let the flash balance out the exposure while setting the shutter speed and aperature that you want.
    3. You want to control shutter / aperature at the expense of ISO (since auto ISO will default to lowest ISO and slowest shutter / smallest aperature). However that can be handled the same way in shutter / aperature mode by simply disabling auto ISO and manually setting ISO to control the third automatic option.
    4. You're taking multiple shots while needing a constant exposure for a highly dynamic setting (e.g. person's face with a setting sun behind him/her). The alternative would be constantly spot metering off the face which may or may not be preferable or consistently accurate.
    5. You can dial in the exposure adjustment using + or - EV, but you may prefer gaining or losing that stop through aperature, shutter speed, or ISO instead of letting the camera decide.

    To be fair, I shoot in aperature mode 90% of the time, shutter mode 5% of the time, and manual 5% of the time. I don't have any automatic modes on my D200, but I'll use program + auto ISO when handing off the camera to someone else to play around with the camera (unless it's for a specific shot, in which case I'm setting up the camera for them to use).
  4. Justin,since you posted this in Beginners forum,I will guess that you are new to photography,is that correct?
    If so,shooting in manual mode will help you a LOT in learning the basics of photography,for example in this case,depth of field,when to make it very short and when very large,depending in the results you want,same point for shutter speed,when you need it fast and when you need it slow,when to use it slow for special effects or when to make it fast to freeze all movement.It all depends in the situation,the subject you are shooting,the lighting,the speed of moving person(s) or object(s) and the effect you want.
    Sure, it will be more convenient to program it on aperture or shutter priority modes and you will have a correct exposed picture and maybe the photo you wanted,but this will lack creativity and you will will be forcing yourself into a non thinker that will rely in camera automation for your pictures,certainly not the best way to learn photography these days with digital photography,auto focus,aperture priority,shutter priority and some other combination that will make you relay in the camera and not in your brain.
    Call me old fashioned but these days I find more and more interested in film rather than digital-but that is flame for another war-manual focus,manual settings and sometimes when a quick decision is necessary I rely on aperture or shutter priority,everything has its moment and place,and of course, I already know my ABC of photography.
    Stick to manual for a while and you will learn your ropes on photo,then you can use aperture or shutter priority at your convenience.
    Just my honest and humble opinion and advance, my 2 cents.
    Good luck
  5. In studio shoot type of situation it makes no sense to meter all the time. Set lights, exposure and WB (doesn't matter with RAW but makes preview more pleasant) --> shoot away.
    Sometimes correct metering is very difficult and manual override comes handy. You can use exposure compensation but if you want many shots in same kind of light it's far easier to just shoot than meter all the time.
    Or perhaps you don't want "correct" metering but prefer overexposure as an effect, you can basically do it in post but certain kind of flaring / glowing is just easier to do in exposure stage (I'm a film shooter too and there it matters even more).
    Metering in low light is tricky and perhaps you want to keep certain minimum shutter speed to stop even some movement and handhold steadily. Set values that you need and shoot... and hope most shots come out ok. (Yes, I've done this.)
    But if you don't have a reason to shoot in M then don't. I stay in Av most of the time.
  6. Control !
    Shooting in any auto modes allows camera to make desicions. However you the viewer/photographer is the one who found something exciting about the and and you're the one who is setting it up. Camera only see colors and their brightness and only cares to give you "proper" exposures but it doesn't know what you want to show.
    Proper exposure though, isn't always proper; For example: if you're shooting at friend's wedding on any of the automodes, and most men are wearing black suits, your camera see DARKS, it will try to expose the pic accordingly. So if you're in Aperture, it'll slow your shutter, give you MORE on flash, etc etc (similar goes for shutter mode). So when you look at the faces, you're MORE likely to have faces overexposed. Opposite goes for when you're shooting someone in light/white colors.
    If you only take pics of your family outdoors or family dinners, then auto mode is quick and easy and no need there but again, manual gives you control and lets you, the user, select what you want to represent.
    Personally, when anyone uses my camera, or me taking a snapshot of my kid running around the house I do in Program mode. But anything other then that, I play with Manual and correct the exposure if needs be. Also in manual b/c I compensate expose with the camera setting rather then flash power, I don't drain the betteries as much, flash gets to recycle faster and is ready for the next job faster.
    Hope that helps, good luck
  7. Use Manual if you want the same exposure, shot after shot. If you don't want the camera's exposure "wandering off", if you want to stay on top of what the camera is using, if the light is tricky or any time you're fighting with the camera's auto exposure.
    Also, when using Auto Exposure, consider just using Program. If you don't really care about using a particular aperture of shutter speed, Program will just juggle the two and give a decent balance. And, if you're finding your shots consistantly over/under exposed, you can dial in negative/positive exposure compensation.
  8. If you drive with hand over hand turning, follow the speed limit sign and step on one paddle at a time, yes, P, A, or S is better. If not, the goodness of Manual mode is that it combine all the sub menus of, metering modes(ie: spot, matric), explosure lock, compensation, fill flash control, background light control, focus depth, mood changes and all the icons of that mode control dial into your index finger and thumb :)
  9. Camera Auto systems these days are very good but they still get fooled, especially in extreme lighting situation. Backlight, stage lighting, arena lighting, extreme contrast and studio lighting is just a few of the situations you need a manual control.
  10. Using manual is how you LEARN photography. You have to be aware of all the variables when using manual. If you learn using manual, you will know why the auto functions work the way they do. You will know when to use auto exposure compensation (you can do "exposure compensation" manually also, by increasing/decreasing the shutter speed or aperture). If you don't learn using manual, you will not know how to use manual when you need to.
  11. I use manual and bulb on my digital camera most frequently. I have been making pictures on and off for several years; and, simply understand and "think" in manual. There is nothing wrong with the automatic functions built into cameras, I just don't like to use them. For example, it is common for me to carry two different camera bodies at one time; not all will have those features, particularly since I shoot a fair amount of film. I have taken my equipment out to setups where I might use as many as five different types of cameras and a mix of three to five forms of recording media in one day. It is simply easier to get the equipment to do what I think, rather than accept the way each model processes the logic problems of making the images.
    Light meter matching in camera is helpful; I admit that LCD feedback on artificial lighting problems is a great way to run a quick check. Other than that, any kind of thinking the camera does for me is cumbersome.
    Generally, I feel the opposite way: I would probably remove, disable or simply not use most automatic functions. That's just my preference. I don't like having to remember what a given camera wants or needs; I prefer to get it to record what I want.
    There are situations where automatic functions can excel, or at least greatly improve efficiency; but, again, it will go back to how the photographer prefers to think and interact with his equipment and situation. It's all good, but I am sure there are automatic functions on my DSLR that I have never used to make a single picture.
    To each his own; whatever works, works.
  12. I have found that anything automatic is never as good as doing it yourself. If you get yourself using manual 100% of the time, there is never any need for Av.
  13. "I have found that anything automatic is never as good as doing it yourself. If you get yourself using manual 100% of the time, there is never any need for Av."
    Well, "never" is a tough word. There are lots of times I use Av, a few I use Tv, and some I use Manual. I have an automatic transmission in my car too, and it works fine. There are a few times that a manual transmission would have been nice - fun too - but I would never say never to automatic anything.
    The only problem with auto exposures is that you must be smarter than the camera so you can go manual when it is making mistakes. The rest of the time, I think it is actually faster for me to use Av with occasional exposure compensation or exposure locking than it is to go manual.
  14. manual mode allows you to fool the meter at times. that us useful.
  15. It can also lead to some fully blown or pitch black results if you're normally shooting in an auto exposure mode and have inadvertantly left it in Manual ;)
  16. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    "I tried shooting in Manual yesterday and while I was diligent about dialing in "correct" exposures, the results just didn't measure up to when I use Aperture Priority mode."
    If you mean the exposure was incorrect, this experience could be due to differing scenes requiring different metering modes to make the optimum exposure and not that you weren't accurate, matching the Aperture and Shutter speed when using Manual Mode.
    "What is the benefit of shooting in Manual mode instead of Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority?"
    For me, the main benefit is the ease of control of the exposure and the choice of the three elements of that exposure (Shutter Speed, Aperture and Sensitivity). Aperture Priority Mode, Shutter Priority Mode and Programme Mode can all be controlled, (i.e. the camera’s selection overridden), but for me it is easier to control Manual Mode. The next easiest for me to control is Programme Mode.
    Mostly, I want this manual control over all three elements of exposure: but there are times when I would choose to let the camera take some control of one aspect. As one simplified example, if I were shooting at an hockey field and it was full sun one end of the field, but because of the Grandstand’s position, it was full shadow the other end of the field and because I know that very few of my images come from the centre of the field, where the camera’s light meter would be reading a shot half sunlit half shade, I might select Tv = 1/1250 (Shutter Priority) and let the camera change the Aperture. That would mean less work for me, in this particular circumstance.
    "And what can I do to improve my results in Manual mode?"
    It is important to understand the three elements of exposure, and how the change to any one will affect the image.
    And it is also important to understand how your camera's light meter works, in all its different modes, and for what each mode is best suited. I suspect that not knowing how these different metering modes work, is the greater element of your dissatisfaction with some of you photographs
  17. Hi Justin, here is an example of manual:
    I shoot and teach CU-Macro nearly exclusively with with a 105 macro lens, I shoot these almost exclusively with manual flash a large flash bracket with the flash and lens at the same distance and on axis. With macro you focus for image size only, I normally set everything else at f22, flash sync speed, 200 ISO, and Vivitar flash at 1/4 power. If I need to change exposure, I can change either flash power or ISO.
    I have become lazy as many other have and often set up for Program, VHQ, and auto focus. However, there are timeswhen the auto focus won't work (spider webs?) andthe focusis in the wrong place, then I focus manually. One of the things I do is to manually overide the exposures to 1/3 to 1/2 stop under exposure sine in digital we constantly have the problem of the whites being to high up on the scale. If you approach 255, you get no highlight detail.
  18. Larry--- Automatic transmissions may 'work fine' but you can never do in them what you can in a manual. :)
  19. Here's my take. Correct exposure depends (largely) on the light incident on the subject, not on the light coming back to the camera. A dark object reflects less light than a light object but the lightmeter in the camera doesn't know the colour of the subject - so it's easy to fool a camera on an auto mode into overexposing a frame with a dark subject, and/or underexposing a frame with a light subject.
    Obviously camera manufacturers build in a lot of fancy-shmancy metering modes with fancy-shmancy names (spot, centre-weighted averaging etc) but they're not perfect, by any means. If you're shooting in conditions where the light is relatively constant but the subjects are varying a lot you get better results by metering the incident light - and setting the camera to manual.
    You can use the Auto mode to do the metering for you, if you fill the frame with an "18% grey card" or, approximately similar in light/darkness, human flesh - like the back of your hand held out in front of the camera - and make a note of the meter settings.
  20. It is also very useful to shoot in Manual if you are shooting sports in low light and need the fast shutter to freeze action. Many times, there is not enough light to get a correct exposure at the speed required, so you'd have to shoot manually to keep the speed, and then brighten in post. Otherwise, the camera will slow the shutter to compensate, resulting in blurred shots.
  21. "Larry--- Automatic transmissions may 'work fine' but you can never do in them what you can in a manual. :)"
    I said as much in my post. The point being made was that even though that is true, most of the time the automatic transmission does everything I need. To extend the metaphor, I now own an automatic transmission that has the ability to shift manually almost as well as if it was manual. (Not as good, I admit, but really quite well) so now it is even easier to let it work as it wants, and take more control when I want to. Sort of like Av, or Tv along with EC in a camera.
    Manual has it's uses. What I was commenting on was the idea that "If you get yourself using manual 100% of the time, there is never any need for Av." That is just being a Luddite.
  22. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Most of this is just posturing, "real man" talk. The fact is that you have as much control with Av mode and exposure compensation in virtually any situation. What manual mode can give you that other modes can't is consistency . This is important if you are shooting in an environment where moving the camera can give you a completely different meter reading and you want the same setting for all the shots. Otherwise, put it in Av mode and just ride exposure compensation to deal with the metering differences.

    The other situation where it can be very useful is with flash, especially in a darkened environment. If you want some sense of either background or motion, manual mode is useful for controlling the results with flash.
  23. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Yes, a lot of posturing: I agree, nicely put, and all modes have control - as I mentioned previously.

    I think that, (as this is a beginner's thread), it is good to suggest using all the automated modes, to understand what they all do and how they do it - just as I suggested experiencing the differences in the metering modes.

    Experimenting in the field with Digital is cheap - cheaper than when I learnt with film – and it also provides quicker answers.

  24. Manual can actually be quicker than automatic. If you calculate the correct manual exposure, then it should work for constant lighting conditions. As long as the light doesn't change, or you don't move between light and shadow, you can use the same exposure for quite some time - especially if you are shooting RAW.
    If you use on of the auto modes, then more or less, the light-meter will react to the colour and tone of the subject on a shot by shot basis. In order to achieve a correct exposure, you may find yourself having to continually set the auto exposure compensation, which will take longer!
  25. I'll admit I used Av more than any other mode, but here is an instance when I need to use manual mode ..... I like working with a 10 stop ND filter, and once I have composed my shot and calculated my exposure, manual is the only place where I get adjust the setting to where my camera doesn't go nuts!
  26. I've found that using spot metering with any of the programmed, shutter or aperture modes is dangerous while using autofocus. You go to focus on some point either by choosing the focus point or by recomposing and then exposure changes as you move around to compose. Therefore, I try to avoid spot metering when using autofocus in any of the P, S, A modes.
    Most of the times, I prefer to use spot metering first in manual mode to set the exposure and then once that's done, I can concentrate on focusing, sometimes picking a point and autofocusing, then turning of auto focus on the lens and now I'm completely free to compose without fear of things changing on me.
    Having said that, you could see that if I don't have time to do the manual set up, like when things change rapidly as in sports shooting, then I'd go into matrix or center weighted metering, then choose one P, S or A depending on what's going on.
    I have no idea how this would work with non-Nikon cameras though but I guess the point is that if you use spot metering, things might change on you if don't use manual mode.
  27. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    "I've found that using spot metering with any of the programmed, shutter or aperture modes is dangerous while using autofocus. You go to focus on some point either by choosing the focus point or by recomposing and then exposure changes as you move around to compose. Therefore, I try to avoid spot metering when using autofocus in any of the P, S, A modes."

    You should not necessarily avoid Spot Metering because of this reason

    Whatever METERING MODE one chooses (i.e Spot, Average or Centre weighted as some examples) - as the Photographer moves the camera about the scene, it is likely that the exposure will change. Spot Metering will likely show the most variances.

    Using AE lock allows the Photographer to take a TTL meter reading and then recompose: thus allowing more easy use of any automated CAMERA MODE (i.e Tv, Av or P, as some examples)

    If you have a Canon Camera, this link should assist, but most modern DSLR's have this AE lock functionality:

    I use Spot Metering more often than not, and if I change Camera Mode from Manual “M”, which I usually use, to for example Av; I would rarely change my Metering Mode as a simple consequence of that.
    This thread might be interesting for you, also:

Share This Page