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Author Topic: Why is auto exposure so useless?  (Read 87582 times)

Justinr

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #20 on: August 26, 2015, 05:14:06 am »

So what really is the problem? No camera is perfect and no photographer is perfect and you have learned a valuable lesson. I try to get the "best" exposure but as long as I don't over expose by 2 stops or underexpose by 2 stops then I know the exposure can be balanced out by processing. The problem is that some photographers are unwilling/unable to process their images and want a "perfect" exposure from their cameras. This won't happen for a long time to come. Hopefully you will be able to accept this and move on?

It's not me that needs to move on but all those who would pretend that cameras are in fact perfect. It is an argument as old as digital photography itself and I have long been a critic of this unquestioning loyalty to the camera manufactures and have suffered on here as well as other forums for pointing to the emperor's semi nakedness before.

Anyway, it's good to see admissions that in fact camera craft is not actually redundant despite the protestations of camera vendors to the contrary over the previous decade.
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pegelli

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #21 on: August 26, 2015, 05:16:07 am »

When using modern "iso-less sensors" which have low noise, a large dynamic range and shooting shooting raw exposure hardly matters any more.
Some purist might cringe but in practice for me auto exposure always gets close enough and a few Lightroom adjustments do the rest.

There was even a reviewer who praised the new A7Rii as the camera to use when you're too drunk to expose properly  ;)
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pieter, aka pegelli

Justinr

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #22 on: August 26, 2015, 05:31:46 am »

When using modern "iso-less sensors" which have low noise, a large dynamic range and shooting shooting raw exposure hardly matters any more.
Some purist might cringe but in practice for me auto exposure always gets close enough and a few Lightroom adjustments do the rest.

There was even a reviewer who praised the new A7Rii as the camera to use when you're too drunk to expose properly  ;)

If only customers would pay enough to cover the cost of all that extra time required at the computer to render images acceptable. I do a certain amount but it is a blessing when the post production workload is minimised. I usually need to send a selection of 15 - 20 images in with an article of which  5 or 6 will be used, but I still needed to polish those 10-15 that weren't.

Altering the light levels of images whether in RAW or JPEG can rapidly lead to colour variations and artificial tones that can look quite horrible when printed, so once again there is no substitute for a good original file just as there was none for a well exposed negative in the days of film. 
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spidermike

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #23 on: August 26, 2015, 05:34:02 am »

It's not me that needs to move on but all those who would pretend that cameras are in fact perfect. ...
Anyway, it's good to see admissions that in fact camera craft is not actually redundant despite the protestations of camera vendors to the contrary over the previous decade.

Can you point me to anyone (user or vendor) who says the camera is perfect? Or anyone who says that camera craft is redundant? If they thought so then why would they put a manual option on the mode dial?

What I do read from reviews is to the effect of 'the AE program produces images that I can use'. Now you clearly have very exacting standards but that is your choice - I don't see how you can extrapolate that to mean that other people who find AE acceptable think it is perfect.
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Tony Jay

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #24 on: August 26, 2015, 05:47:23 am »

Would you kindly explain why?
The point is that digital cameras in general and light meters in particular perform exactly as advertised.

Whether one is spot metering or using a metering mode that looks at most of frame all the meter is doing is comparing what it is metering to middle grey (18% grey). If one allows the camera to calculate exposure automatically based on this it is unlikely to consistently get the exposure correct. This is because the light meter and the camera overall has no idea whether the metered area should be middle grey or not, merely whether it is, or not. I.E. the light meter is just a one-trick-pony.

Thus, to get the best results out of a camera, and by extension the light meter, requires human judgement.
If the area metered is really required to be middle grey - all well and good.
If the area metered needs to darker, or lighter, then human judgement is required to notice this and expose accordingly. The camera will not, and cannot, do this by itself.

Sometimes an incident light meter might give one better information about how to expose than TTL metering that relies on light reflected from one's photographic subject. But again, how to expose is as much a creative decision as it is a technical one, so one may choose to under or overexpose compared to the meter's recommendations according to what is desired

Again, if one is shooting raw images according to ETTR principles then all one is trying to do is not to blow the highlights while allowing as much exposure as possible. No camera that I am aware of will do this automatically. Most of the time the camera will tell you that you are overexposing, sometimes by many stops of light. Some newer models can help one out here by dynamically showing areas that are blown at the current exposure settings prior to taking the images via live view. One resets exposure settings as appropriate to just reduce the blown areas to a non-clipping level of exposure. This functionality, termed zebra stripes, has been borrowed from video camera technology and is very useful for those who like to shoot ETTR.

While camera manufacturers do talk up the ability of their cameras to shoot in auto everything mode in reality there are so many exceptions and quid pro quo's that the likelihood of the shooting conditions actually confronting one conforming to their best-case scenario is vanishing small. For many individuals the result may be "good enough". For someone who does know how to expose and is shooting raw then the camera's automatic way of doing things is usually significantly suboptimal.

I sometimes use spot metering to quickly meter the brightest and darkest parts of the potential scene that need detail in them, especially if I am concerned that the dynamic range of the scene might be bigger than the dynamic range of the sensor. This is much less of an issue than it used to be and generally now all that concerns me is how bright the brightest parts of the scene are and to subsequently expose such as not to blow the highlights.

From a couple of your posts it appears that you are aware of the shortcomings of the camera but seem to believe that a camera automatically determining exposure should generally deliver the correct exposure. Nobody that I am aware of who understands how metering systems work and how they instruct the camera believes this however.
Light meters and cameras work according to specific principles but cannot, by themselves, consistently deliver the perfect exposure, howsoever defined.

Tony Jay
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Justinr

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #25 on: August 26, 2015, 05:57:25 am »

Can you point me to anyone (user or vendor) who says the camera is perfect? Or anyone who says that camera craft is redundant? If they thought so then why would they put a manual option on the mode dial?

What I do read from reviews is to the effect of 'the AE program produces images that I can use'. Now you clearly have very exacting standards but that is your choice - I don't see how you can extrapolate that to mean that other people who find AE acceptable think it is perfect.

You obviously haven't been around during the great digital revolution, or weren't paying attention as the manufacturers insisted that all was wonderfully rosy in the garden.  

Now I know it's bad form to answer one question with another but can you point to a review where a camera's consistency in exposure under varying conditions is actually tested?

Here's a DPreview of the Nikon D3

http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/NIKOND3/22

Could you point out where the AE is assessed or even mentioned? I must admit I missed the relevant paragraphs when skimming through it.

As I have already noted, it's interesting to see the emerging narrative that users are expecting far too much from their poor little cameras despite the marketing hype and great cost.
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spidermike

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #26 on: August 26, 2015, 06:07:56 am »

You obviously haven't been around during the great digital revolution, or weren't paying attention as the manufacturers insisted that all was wonderfully rosy in the garden.  

Now I know it's bad form to answer one question with another but can you point to a review where a camera's consistency in exposure under varying conditions is actually tested?

Here's a DPreview of the Nikon D3

http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/NIKOND3/22

Could you point out where the AE is assessed or even mentioned? I must admit I missed the relevant paragraphs when skimming through it.



I've been using cameras for 35 years through film and digital so the idea that because I disagree with you I "obviously haven't been around during the great digital revolution," is nonsensical and patronising.

That article does not test AE program but equally nowhere does it say the AE is perfect as in your original claim.


I could even argue the other side and say that you have failed to spend time to understand how your camera meters a scene because if you got used to the way it meters and applied exposure compensation you would get the same result as using fully manual.

As I have already mentioned it's interesting to note the emerging narrative that users are expecting far too much from their poor little cameras despite the marketing hype and great cost.
I am sure why this 'emerging narrative' is a surprise. If people 'expect' a 'good enough' picture then where are they 'expecting too much'?

« Last Edit: August 26, 2015, 06:27:30 am by spidermike »
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Justinr

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #27 on: August 26, 2015, 06:23:50 am »

The point is that digital cameras in general and light meters in particular perform exactly as advertised.

Whether one is spot metering or using a metering mode that looks at most of frame all the meter is doing is comparing what it is metering to middle grey (18% grey). If one allows the camera to calculate exposure automatically based on this it is unlikely to consistently get the exposure correct. This is because the light meter and the camera overall has no idea whether the metered area should be middle grey or not, merely whether it is, or not. I.E. the light meter is just a one-trick-pony.

Thus, to get the best results out of a camera, and by extension the light meter, requires human judgement.
If the area metered is really required to be middle grey - all well and good.
If the area metered needs to darker, or lighter, then human judgement is required to notice this and expose accordingly. The camera will not, and cannot, do this by itself.

Sometimes an incident light meter might give one better information about how to expose than TTL metering that relies on light reflected from one's photographic subject. But again, how to expose is as much a creative decision as it is a technical one, so one may choose to under or overexpose compared to the meter's recommendations according to what is desired

Again, if one is shooting raw images according to ETTR principles then all one is trying to do is not to blow the highlights while allowing as much exposure as possible. No camera that I am aware of will do this automatically. Most of the time the camera will tell you that you are overexposing, sometimes by many stops of light. Some newer models can help one out here by dynamically showing areas that are blown at the current exposure settings prior to taking the images via live view. One resets exposure settings as appropriate to just reduce the blown areas to a non-clipping level of exposure. This functionality, termed zebra stripes, has been borrowed from video camera technology and is very useful for those who like to shoot ETTR.

While camera manufacturers do talk up the ability of their cameras to shoot in auto everything mode in reality there are so many exceptions and quid pro quo's that the likelihood of the shooting conditions actually confronting one conforming to their best-case scenario is vanishing small. For many individuals the result may be "good enough". For someone who does know how to expose and is shooting raw then the camera's automatic way of doing things is usually significantly suboptimal.

I sometimes use spot metering to quickly meter the brightest and darkest parts of the potential scene that need detail in them, especially if I am concerned that the dynamic range of the scene might be bigger than the dynamic range of the sensor. This is much less of an issue than it used to be and generally now all that concerns me is how bright the brightest parts of the scene are and to subsequently expose such as not to blow the highlights.

From a couple of your posts it appears that you are aware of the shortcomings of the camera but seem to believe that a camera automatically determining exposure should generally deliver the correct exposure. Nobody that I am aware of who understands how metering systems work and how they instruct the camera believes this however.
Light meters and cameras work according to specific principles but cannot, by themselves, consistently deliver the perfect exposure, howsoever defined.

Tony Jay

Yes but no but.

a camera automatically determining exposure should generally deliver the correct exposure

But shouldn't it if it is sold as an feature of the camera? Where is there any disclaimer published by any vendor?

Of course there are so many variables involved in exposure and in my general field of machinery photography the decision has to be what particular aspects of a machine or its context needs to be featured the most strongly. But constant and incorrect exposure as experienced by three press photographers using three different cameras in the field should not be acceptable when there is an implied promise that AE will produce images that require little further adjustment back at base. We are not talking about minor faults but a correction of two or three stops being required. Neither are we talking about the ability to correct RAW files by spending hours fiddling around with them, that is simply not economically viable for much magazine work, what we, as professional users in the field, require are cameras that are consistent in their metering and will require only tweaking in the computer rather than wholesale adjustment. If that is not possible then let us be honest about it, especially the vendors who tend to avoid the subject altogether.

My point about the variation in sensor response being a possible reason for the difficulties experienced is as yet unaddressed.
« Last Edit: August 26, 2015, 06:26:01 am by Justinr »
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Justinr

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #28 on: August 26, 2015, 06:34:42 am »

As I have already mentioned it's interesting to note the emerging narrative that users are expecting far too much from their poor little cameras despite the marketing hype and great cost.



I've been using cameras for 35 years through film and digital so the idea that because I disagree with you I "obviously haven't been around during the great digital revolution," is nonsensical and patronising.

That article does not test AE program but equally nowhere does it say the AE is perfect as in your original claim.


I could even argue the other side and say that you have failed to spend time to understand how your camera meters a scene because if you got used to the way it meters and applied exposure compensation you would get the same result as using fully manual.
I am sure why this 'emerging narrative' is a surprise. If people 'expect' a 'good enough' picture then where are they 'expecting too much'?



It would be lovely to have all that time to set up the perfect shot in the field, but life isn't always that convenient. At the event mentioned there were over 100 machines operating and we had around three hours to capture a good record of the day, and it wasn't just a question of getting a static snap of each as the machines were working and so presenting a constantly changing range of scenarios in which to capture them.

Again it is sad to note that you have fallen back to being disparaging about the user as is the usual response when the loveliness of modern cameras is at all questioned.

BTW, where did I claim that AE was perfect?
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spidermike

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #29 on: August 26, 2015, 06:35:18 am »

But constant and incorrect exposure....We are not talking about minor faults but a correction of two or three stops being required.  

Can you show an example?


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Justinr

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #30 on: August 26, 2015, 06:42:08 am »

Can you show an example?




Err... No, because I have deleted them.
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spidermike

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #31 on: August 26, 2015, 06:49:48 am »


Again it is sad to note that you have fallen back to being disparaging about the user as is the usual response when the loveliness of modern cameras is at all questioned.

I had no intention to be disparaging at all - I am going off many articles and books advising get to know how your camera meters a specific scene and apply relevant compensation. It was just a question phrased admittedly too inquisitorially.
If you know a gun pulls to the left when fired you compensate. If a car understeers you compensate when gong round corners. If the camera manufacturer has set a camera up to (what you consider) overexposure you compensate depending on the conditions. The camera is a tool like a car or a gun.

The human visual system is a marvellous thing and it corrects so many problems which corrects for glare, hot spots and colour shifts - cameras cannot do this and I thought this had been known virtually since the
camera had been invented.

BTW, where did I claim that AE was perfect?


Using phrases like 'far form perfect' certainly give the impression that is what you are after. And if you aren't expecting perfection then I am even more unsure what your problem is.
 
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Justinr

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #32 on: August 26, 2015, 06:54:38 am »

I had no intention to be disparaging at all - I am going off many articles and books advising get to know how your camera meters a specific scene and apply relevant compensation. It was just a question phrased admittedly too inquisitorially.
If you know a gun pulls to the left when fired you compensate. If a car understeers you compensate when gong round corners. If the camera manufacturer has set a camera up to (what you consider) overexposure you compensate depending on the conditions. The camera is a tool like a car or a gun.

The human visual system is a marvellous thing and it corrects so many problems which corrects for glare, hot spots and colour shifts - cameras cannot do this and I thought this had been known virtually since the
camera had been invented.

Using phrases like 'far form perfect' certainly give the impression that is what you are after. And if you aren't expecting perfection then I am even more unsure what your problem is.
 


Going back to my OP you will see that I mention trying all sorts of combination none of which worked. I am not the total novice that people would wish to pretend I am when confronted by a situation that is not a agreeable to their beliefs or prejudices.

I am looking for something nearer to perfection than it would seem is available or generally advertised. As mentioned, the Mamiya is a lot better but not the camera for field work, so it is possible.
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Tony Jay

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #33 on: August 26, 2015, 07:01:58 am »

Yes but no but.

a camera automatically determining exposure should generally deliver the correct exposure

But shouldn't it if it is sold as an feature of the camera? Where is there any disclaimer published by any vendor?

Of course there are so many variables involved in exposure and in my general field of machinery photography the decision has to be what particular aspects of a machine or its context needs to be featured the most strongly. But constant and incorrect exposure as experienced by three press photographers using three different cameras in the field should not be acceptable when there is an implied promise that AE will produce images that require little further adjustment back at base. We are not talking about minor faults but a correction of two or three stops being required. Neither are we talking about the ability to correct RAW files by spending hours fiddling around with them, that is simply not economically viable for much magazine work, what we, as professional users in the field, require are cameras that are consistent in their metering and will require only tweaking in the computer rather than wholesale adjustment. If that is not possible then let us be honest about it, especially the vendors who tend to avoid the subject altogether.

My point about the variation in sensor response being a possible reason for the difficulties experienced is as yet unaddressed.
I am pretty sure that different sensors on different cameras behave slightly differently especially when the signal-to-noise ratios are low. SNR has a relationship to the native ISO of that sensor as well as the dynamic range of that sensor. However there cannot be major differences where three cameras shooting at the same ISO and the same aperture and shutter speed with the same lens (say three different Canon models) will expose a middle grey target radically differently.

The problem is that few of us, for any purpose, shoot grey cards and real world exposure is worlds apart from that.
Left to its own devices my camera will often change both exposure settings and white balance when I am shooting multi-shot panoramas where the light quality is not changing. Just point the camera 15 degrees to the left or right of the previous shot fools the light meter and the camera's interpretation of white balance. The camera is not at fault - it is behaving exactly as designed.
I just flick to M mode and set a specific white balance and exposure.

If one's shooting environment is even more chaotic such as press, street, sports, or wildlife photography, then it is hard to get exposure and white balance exactly correct in camera either by letting the camera do it or by manual settings. My experience is that manual settings do a better job overall but sometimes letting the camera set exposure is perfectly adequate.

My experience with every camera that I have owned (several Canon as well as a few Sony models) is that it takes time to learn how to optimally expose with it. The problem is never exposing middle grey tonality to middle grey in a captured image but rather how the sensor behaves at its upper and lower limits.

Tony Jay
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stamper

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #34 on: August 26, 2015, 07:05:40 am »

This is turning into a rant against manufacturers and members of the forum. It is obvious that your mind is made up and despite what several well informed members have stated you are obviously not going to change your mind? It is naive to believe all that manufacturers state because they will paint a rosy picture - short of telling lies - because they want to maximise profits. What about a long cold bath with a long cold beer and think again?

Justinr

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #35 on: August 26, 2015, 07:09:15 am »

This is turning into a rant against manufacturers and members of the forum. It is obvious that your mind is made up and despite what several well informed members have stated you are obviously not going to change your mind? It is naive to believe all that manufacturers state because they will paint a rosy picture - short of telling lies - because they want to maximise profits. What about a long cold bath with a long cold beer and think again?

Er... no, once again, although you would seem to wish it to appear so.
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Petrus

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #36 on: August 26, 2015, 07:09:23 am »

there is an implied promise that AE will produce images that require little further adjustment back at base.

I work as a press photographer, I show RAW with Nikon D4 and D800e (sometimes also with Fujifilm X-Pro1 and X-T1), and adjusting a RAW file in LR for proper exposure takes less than 15 seconds extra per frame, maybe just 5 seconds, as I go through all the frames to choose the ones worth developing and tweaking in LR anyway. I would say I need less than 30 seconds per frame to adjust exposure, WB, clarity and add some vignetting maybe, on the average, after I have chosen the frames to give to the picture editor. It is very seldom I need to adjust the general exposure more than 0.5 stop using AE, but I also quite often open shadows a bit also with the shadow slider. Modern RW files are so robust that they can take +2 stop brightening without anybody noticing, also same amount of darkening if the highlights are not blown. So why worry?

Hard to imagine an assignment where one does not have 5 minutes extra post processing time to adjust exposures for 20 frames (maybe 3-6 will be used, what a waste of time?). Never so busy even in a weekly news magazine.
« Last Edit: August 26, 2015, 07:14:57 am by Petrus »
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Justinr

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #37 on: August 26, 2015, 07:09:40 am »

I am pretty sure that different sensors on different cameras behave slightly differently especially when the signal-to-noise ratios are low. SNR has a relationship to the native ISO of that sensor as well as the dynamic range of that sensor. However there cannot be major differences where three cameras shooting at the same ISO and the same aperture and shutter speed with the same lens (say three different Canon models) will expose a middle grey target radically differently.

The problem is that few of us, for any purpose, shoot grey cards and real world exposure is worlds apart from that.
Left to its own devices my camera will often change both exposure settings and white balance when I am shooting multi-shot panoramas where the light quality is not changing. Just point the camera 15 degrees to the left or right of the previous shot fools the light meter and the camera's interpretation of white balance. The camera is not at fault - it is behaving exactly as designed.
I just flick to M mode and set a specific white balance and exposure.

If one's shooting environment is even more chaotic such as press, street, sports, or wildlife photography, then it is hard to get exposure and white balance exactly correct in camera either by letting the camera do it or by manual settings. My experience is that manual settings do a better job overall but sometimes letting the camera set exposure is perfectly adequate.

My experience with every camera that I have owned (several Canon as well as a few Sony models) is that it takes time to learn how to optimally expose with it. The problem is never exposing middle grey tonality to middle grey in a captured image but rather how the sensor behaves at its upper and lower limits.

Tony Jay

Admittedly it's going back a few years but the experience of the school photo company that I worked for was that senors on identical cameras could vary quite considerably and they had to label them all with a necessary exposure adjustment as well as assign specific lighting outfits to each camera. Sensor performance may now be more predictable (I would hope it is anyway) but can we sure that the problem has been eliminated?

As I have already mentioned, I'm not looking for perfection, just a more consistent result overall.
« Last Edit: August 26, 2015, 07:18:38 am by Justinr »
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Justinr

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #38 on: August 26, 2015, 07:25:39 am »

I work as a press photographer, I show RAW with Nikon D4 and D800e (sometimes also with Fujifilm X-Pro1 and X-T1), and adjusting a RAW file in LR for proper exposure takes less than 15 seconds extra per frame, maybe just 5 seconds, as I go through all the frames to choose the ones worth developing and tweaking in LR anyway. I would say I need less than 30 seconds per frame to adjust exposure, WB, clarity and add some vignetting maybe, on the average, after I have chosen the frames to give to the picture editor. It is very seldom I need to adjust the general exposure more than 0.5 stop using AE, but I also quite often open shadows a bit also with the shadow slider. Modern RW files are so robust that they can take +2 stop brightening without anybody noticing, also same amount of darkening if the highlights are not blown. So why worry?

Hard to imagine an assignment where one does not have 5 minutes extra post processing time to adjust exposures for 20 frames (maybe 3-6 will be used, what a waste of time?). Never so busy even in a weekly news magazine.

3-5 minutes is my average for adjusting an image but that will also include cropping and one or two other items I use to freshen it up.  In the world of magazines where I operate there are many factors that can influence the final choice of images ranging from layout to 'political considerations' to which I am not privy. Overall though printers tend to reduce the quality of image considerably so I need to make it as good as possible to begin with.
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stamper

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Re: Why is auto exposure so useless?
« Reply #39 on: August 26, 2015, 07:33:42 am »



As I have already mentioned, I'm not looking for perfection, just a more consistent result overall.
[/quote]

Stick to the one camera/sensor and you will learn to get consistent results?
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