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Turning Off The Automation
Old 04-22-2016   #1
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Turning Off The Automation

Historically, film cameras were purely manual beasts. For decades, the best SLR cameras offered only manual focus, manual exposure (shutter speed, aperture), and off-camera metering.

Over time, innovations brought automation to film cameras. For the most part, these were seen as good things.

First came in-camera metering. First from the body of the camera and then through the lens (TTL). Various kinds of metering were experimented with, but in general, TTL metering was seen as a very good thing.

Once internal metering was fairly solid, we began to see auto-exposure modes, which allowed either shutter-priority or aperture-priority or both. Some consumer cameras were purely automatic, not allowing the photographer to do anything but focus and trip the shutter, but higher-end SLR cameras typically allowed for manual setting of exposure as one preferred.

Alongside auto-exposure came other innovations such as motor drives and extended film canisters that allowed hundreds of frames of film to be taken before a roll had to be changed. These were typically seen as useful for the people who needed them, like sports photographers and photojournalists, even if they were unnecessary for, say, landscape photographers.

The next innovation was auto-focus. Some loved it, some hated it, but it was popular enough to be adopted by every major manufacturer which survived that turbulent time. Many companies failed at least partially because they failed to adopt to auto-focus quickly enough.

Some companies came out with an entirely new lens mount (Canon, Minolta) and some kept their original mount but modified it (Pentax) and some were a mix of both old and new technologies, with some backward compatibility depending on lenses (Nikon, others).

However, for the photographers who preferred manual focus, there was usually a way to achieve it, either by continuing to use camera bodies and lenses that were purely manual focus, or by keeping their manual focus lenses and just using them on more modern camera bodies if they worked.

Life went on...

I do not recall ever reading a 'letter to the editor' (pre-internet, I am old) ranting about the inability of a photographer to use the mode they preferred on their camera. If they liked manual focus, they focused manually. If they preferred to set their own exposure, they did so. If their camera had motor drive, they shot single-frame if they wanted to do that.

The choices were all there, but no one was forced to use them if they didn't want to.

But now we come to digital cameras. Both SLR and mirrorless and rangefinder and even point-and-shoot cameras offer a dazzling array of automation. In addition to AE and AF, some offer auto-ISO selection, various digital manipulation techniques, color rendition, auto-face-selection (actually there were some film cameras that did that in a rudimentary fashion, believe it or not), and so on.

I understand that it can seem overwhelming. Many photographers simply set their cameras to 'auto' and let it decide everything except where to point the camera, what focal length (zoom) to use, and when to take the actual photo.

I support that if that's what a photographer wants to do. It's not a lot different from the old days of automation in film cameras, where some photographers were really only concerned with composition and framing, not the niceties of exposure and were happy to leave the focus to the camera. I don't think it makes a photographer 'less creative' than a person who demands full manual control. It's just what they prefer, and more power to them.

On the other hand, I sure do read a lot of complaints by people who seem to have serious hatred for digital cameras, and very often, their complaints seem to center around the notion that they can't stand the fact that the camera does everything for them except wipe their butts.

Well, my friends, you can turn that off in most cases. Depending on the camera, you can most certainly choose to set your own exposure, shutter speed, and ISO. You can focus manually through a variety of methods. You can turn off all the fancy-dancy digital processing stuff and just take the raw image or JPEG as it is recorded.

Some cameras allow that more easily than others. Some have old-fashioned knobs and some make you search through menus to set everything up manually. The good news for the menu-averse is that often these only have to be set once, not every time you use the camera.

You do not have to chimp the image every time you take a shot. If you feel that robs your creativity, you can simply turn the LCD off, cover it, or just have some self-discipline and not look at it until you really want to.

You do not have to hold your finger down on the shutter release and bang away like a machine gun - unless you want to. My digital SLR cameras (mostly Pentax but also some Minolta, Sigma, and Canon) allow me to choose a single-frame mode for the shutter, so no machine-gun permitted unless I turn that mode on.

I understand if people prefer to shoot film and develop and enlarge their photographs in a chemical darkroom. It's all good! Nothing wrong with it, and again, more power to them! It's all about personal choice.

The only thing that bugs me is when people who prefer film insist that digital cameras will not permit them to use them manually. Gosh, guys, yes they do. If you feel you cannot resist the temptation to use automation and bang away like a crazy fool and chimp every shot like a talentless poseur, then it's YOUR FAULT. Seriously. You can turn all that stuff off and shoot as manually as you like in most cases. If you refuse to do it, that's cool, but can we stop pretending that the camera has taken over your soul and you simply do what it commands you to do?

It is a little ironic that for decades, as film cameras added more and more automation and features, photographers thought it was mostly great. Each new innovation was greeted by cheers. Then we introduced those exact same innovations to digital cameras, and suddenly digital cameras are straight from Satan's bottom. Come on, guys. If you don't like the automation, turn it off. Amazing, right?
Immanentizing the eschaton since 1987.
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Old 04-22-2016   #2
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Mr. Mattock,

Yes, to all of this. I am still working, sometime along with my husband, (he speak much better English than I) after more than forty years and from the 1970s.

All of this objections to digital and conveniences is nothing but junk in my aggregator. Little baby tantrums from mostly grown men that I have to wade through to find good articles! Hah! It is a distant cousin of "this terrible screwdriver is because it won't put in a nail". But same lack of satisfaction in one's own approach to life.

"Get one," as dear hubby says!!
Thank you for the post.


Mme. Oscuro
From a Levantine kitchen...
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Old 04-22-2016   #3
jolly good dog Robert
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Refreshing. Also sensible, friendly, neighborly (though this thread, with its prominent VS., invites debate, which in U.S. civic life often involves sarcasm and bullying, and ends with shouts, pouts, and worse.)

Maybe you could open the Bill Mattocks Lemonade Stand for Photographers.

Photographers could gather under umbrellas or shade trees to talk about their gear, other people's gear, cell phone cameras, Leicaphilia/phobia, etc. But they'd have to buy lemonade, and they'd have to indicate whether they were in a mood to Enthuse, Gripe, or Be Reasonable. There could be color-coded seating areas for each--R/G/B, or if you prefer, Zones III, VI, X. The Reasonables get the best seating, the perfect balance of lemon juice and sweetness and ice in a glass, and the friendliest price. Enthusiasts get iced sugar water, maybe with a lemon wedge, and pay more; the Gripers pay at least three times as much to get lemon juice (ice extra) and have to drink it all. Oh, and if anyone suddenly Lashes Out, they have to not only buy everyone's lemonade but buy a roll of film or an SD card for everyone.

I know, it'll never work. But fun to imagine. Keep serving your lemonade here. I'm glad to see Mme Oscuro in line here. You can seat us in the Reasonables area.
Robert Hill Long
Eureka California USA

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Old 04-22-2016   #4
He's French, I'm Italian.
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Caro Mr. Oregon,

What a charming sensibility. I think your spouse must love you very much with such equanimity as is yours.
I am Italian and my husband he is French. Though most of our colleagues do not know that we are married, the ones that do would agree that we are conforming to the popular stereotypes of our respective cultures. I am inflamed and he is of the Gallic "shrug". (He is helping me with words over my shoulder.)


Mme. Oscuro
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