Auto Is Better?

Isn’t “Fully Automatic” Better than all this manual stuff?


Oh, that was simple. Just “No”?


OK, ok… let me explain. It is natural to think that a camera knows better than you: after all, it has all those chips and computers and clever algorithms built in, and besides, you don’t know anything about photography (yet—that will change with the reading of this blog). It is natural to think that, but it is wrong. Every time the camera does something automatically, there’s a good chance it may get it wrong.

The camera tries to set many things automatically. Like your picture’s focus point (where it is sharpest). The picture’s exposure (how bright or how dark it is). The picture’s colour balance (does an evening picture or a sunset look reddish warm, for instance, or is the colour more neutral). The sensor’s sensitivity (high sensitivity is good when it’s dark, for instance, or when you are shooting fast-moving things like sports, but it does give you a more “grainy” picture).

The problem is: the camera does not actually know whether it is night-time or daytime. Or whether you are shooting something dark or light. Or even whether you want it to look darker or lighter. Nor does it know where in a photo you want it to be sharpest: the person closest to you, the one farther away, or the one in the distance? Nor does it know whether you want neutral colour or, in the case of a sunset, extra warm colour. Or whether you are shooting sports, or handheld nighttime scenes.

It’s not that the computers aren’t good enough. It’s just that the computers aren’t you. So they cannot possibly know what you have in mind. And that is why, after you learn simple “snapshot camera” use, you should unlearn that, and you will learn to take control—first by slightly fine-tuning what the camera does; then by increasingly doing it all yourself.


These words are from my next e-book, “Mastering Your Camera-The Ultimate No-Jargon Guide to Using Any DSLR”, which will be released in the next couple of weeks.

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