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Old Sep 3, 2010, 8:37 AM   #11
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Just one more thing get the camera take loads of pis and when you get back you look at them on a big screen you will have the exif data you can the learn by both success and failure. have a good time with the camera
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Old Sep 3, 2010, 8:43 AM   #12
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I think everyone who has answered already is a more accomplished photographer than I am, so take this as a "view from the bottom," if you will. I keep my camera in P mode when I'm walking around, in case I need to shoot before I can think (a process that just keeps taking longer as the years march on). I have a D5000, which has limited ready access to one-button controls. In particular, the metering mode is not a one-button choice. So I am stuck deciding how I would want the scene to be metered without knowing what I'll be shooting. This is my biggest dissatisfaction with the D5000, a camera that I am very fond of otherwise. If I leave it in matrix, I end up wanting the metering to have been set for center-weighted, and vice verse. It is pretty rare for me to want spot metering on a shoot-from-the-hip shot, but the other two are pretty much 50-50.

As to focusing, I leave the camera in spot focusing mode. But I am still really awkward at using those stupid directional buttons for setting focus point while I half-press the shutter button. It just feels like rubbing my stomach while patting my head. But I hope to become less of a klutz in time. And focus is one of those things that you know in an instant where you want it, the camera provides the tools for putting it there, but it's just hard for me to get right in a rush.

I have been toying with the idea of getting a KatzEye for my camera, because I never had a problem with focusing on my film cameras. I am a bit worried about that because the KatzEye literature mentions that it may screw up your metering a bit, and the dislocation varies with lens. Also, the current crop of lenses are less manual-focus friendly than old lenses used to be -- the focus rings are kind of small and the "throw" of the focal adjustments seem to be smaller than in the old days, so focus is a bit touchier than it used to be and the touch is degraded. So I'm not really sure that it will help, and I'm afraid that it will hurt in the metering department. Thus, conscience doth make cowards of us all...

I leave ISO set to something that makes sense to me. I like higher ISO than a lot of people are comfortable with. I honestly can't tell the difference in noise beween ISO 200 and ISO 800 on this camera. On a sunny day, I typically set my ISO to 400 or 500, and adjust if I have the time to get the kind of settings I'm looking for. But, in my experience, the lenses that I have (Tokina 12-24, Nikon 35 f/1.8, and Nikon 55-200) do not have problems with very small apertures. So I am happy for them to stop down to f/22 or so if that is what P calls for with that ISO. Some folks are a lot more sensitive to softening at that end than I am. I am aware of it on the wide-open end (especially on the 55-200), but not stopped down. YMMV, of course. BTW, I have mapped ISO into the function button on the D5000, so I can adjust it without traversing the menu.

I had normally used A for my setting when I had the time. But I'm starting to gravitate toward S with this camera. I'm not really sure why, but it feels like I am making the adjustment that makes the most sense to me for the scenes that I am shooting. I pay attention to both aperture and shutter speed, and adjust ISO to get what I want. But I find it easier to use one of the semi-auto settings than M for doing that. And I use the meter in Rangefinder mode for manual focusing often, which is not available if you are set to M on the D5000.

I generally review the photos using the blown highlights mode on the LCD, and also zooming in on the portion of the image that is the center of focus. If exposure is wrong on either of those places, I adjust with the EV compensation control. I don't normally find the histogram particularly interesting during a photo review. The LCD on my camera does a pretty good job of reflecting the color and exposure reality, and I often adjust exposure that shows no problem with either of these things based on exposure "fidelity" -- in low light situations, the camera tends to make the exposure look too well-lit. That is, if the average image really should be dark, the meter will make it look more normally-lit. So I often adjust based on capturing what I am looking at for exposure level, rather than trying to recall what the lighting was like when I am sitting at my computer later.

Much of this is pretty specific to using the D5000, and may more reflect my idiosynchracies than anything real, but FWIW.
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Old Sep 3, 2010, 9:06 AM   #13
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If you're just getting comfortable with a dSLR, P (Programmed Auto) Mode that tclune suggested, is a good, safe bet. I prefer A (Aperture Priority) Mode because, for the past several years, all the zoom lenses I've had were constant aperture zooms (they had a constant maximum aperture throughout their zoom ranges.) For me at least, A Mode with a variable maximum aperture zoom lens can be a little disorienting.
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Old Sep 3, 2010, 9:29 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by TCav View Post
For me at least, A Mode with a variable maximum aperture zoom lens can be a little disorienting.
That makes perfect sense -- that's probably why I've been moving away from A.
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Old Sep 4, 2010, 9:43 AM   #15
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As mentioned, you'd best start out in Automatic mode. You'll likely have the AutoFocus kit zoom, so the camera+lens will do much of your work for you. To cite a Tom Lehrer song: You just stand there looking cute / And if something moves, you shoot! Normally, you just concentrate on a subject, get the exposure and focus and framing right for what's important in the image, and don't worry about the rest. Get out there, play with the camera+lens, gain familiarity and comfort; it becomes automatic.

With my Pentax K20D, I have some options for handling exposure and focus issues in any of the automatic modes.

* In P(rogram) mode, I can vary the aperture or shutter, and the other will change to compensate. So if I stop-down or open-up the aperture to change depth-of-field (DOF), the shutter automatically changes so the exposure stays the same. And if I tweak the shutter for more or less time-stopping, the aperture changes accordingly.

* The camera has a Program Line option, that lets me set my automation priority: greater shutter speed, greater DOF, or best quality. Set that for a shooting situation and/or style.

* In any Automatic mode, if I chimp the picture and the exposure is too dark or light, I can tweak the ISO directly to a better level, or I can adjust the EV compensation for over- or under-exposure effects.

* Some shooting situations preclude taking an exposure reading off the subject. A trick from my unautomated film days: take a center-weighted reading off something that's a similar brightness shade as the subject, like the ground or my hand or sleeve. This works amazingly well. In M(anual) mode, hit the Green button; in an Auto mode, hit the AE-Lock button. Just remember that the camera is going to render that exposure point as a Middle Gray equivalent. Try it and see for yourself.

* Then there's the safety net: bracket, bracket, bracket. And then: chimp, chimp, chimp. And then: delete, delete, delete. Kiss enough frogs and you'll eventually find a prince(ss).

You should know generally what happens when you tweak your exposure settings. Raising ISO means being able to shoot in less light or with faster shutter, but introduces more noise. Opening the aperture thins-out the DOF and lets you shoot in less light; stopping-down does the opposite. A faster shutter stops time better; etc. Every shot is a problem you attempt to solve by getting those settings where you want them.

One thing that's hard to control with AF lenses, especially zooms, is DOF. That's why the vast majority of the 80+ lenses I can put on my K20D are old manual primes, with DOF charts inscribed on them. For street shooting, I can mount an old Tokina 21/3.8, set it to f/11 and prefocus to 2m, and everything from 1m to infinity will be in focus. For portraits, I can use an 85/2 wide open and know that the DOF will be minimal and the fore- and back-grounds will be nicely blurred. Et cetera.

There's much to learn. You have time. As JS Bach said to an admirer, "Look, if you play organ for 50 years, even YOU can sound good!"
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