Manual Exposure vs Automatic Exposure


What does exposure mean?

When planning a shooting, one needs to make sure that the picture is not too bright or dark. Exposure adjusts the amount of light in the image. It defines the amount of light that will be captured by the camera. As a director and photographer, proper exposure is the key to create the desired mood.

The Exposure tool

Most digital cameras will offer a built-in tool to control the exposure, among other digital features, and they work the same way as our eye works – Our pupil (the black dot in your eye) is controlled by the iris, which adjusts the amount of light that will go into the eye. When facing a bright light, the iris will constrain the pupil, and the iris will enlarge our pupil in a dark room. The camera’s exposure tool will affect all the items in the images. We can’t make only the table lighter in the image or only make a wall darker. 

The only way to make an object in an image lighter or darker is in the color correction stage of post-production. Play with exposure in your camera before you start shooting with it. When you play with the exposure tool, you will also notice the different effects you can create with it. For example, you will see that the more exposure you’ll allow in the image, the more focused it will be, and when you reduce the amount of light in an image, you’ll be able to create a selective focus, which will help you in creating a depth of field ( having something in the foreground of your picture in focus and everything beyond that out of focus)

What is auto exposure (AE) in-camera?

The Aperture, the shutter speed, and ISO determine the exposure. Automatic exposure mode is a feature that allows the camera to control these three variables and decide what is the right combination for your image. That’s why it’s called “automatic” – you don’t have to think about these things. In automatic mode, you can concentrate on composition and framing rather than worrying about exposure settings. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t manually change any of these values – you have to press a button or turn a dial. In other words, in automatic mode, you can be creative in terms of composition and framing but not with exposure. If the scene is too dark or too bright, then there is nothing you can do about it other than changing your position or waiting for the light conditions to change (which may take hours).

This can be useful when you need more time to fiddle with manual settings. You can also use auto exposure with manual settings to get your desired look. If the camera does not measure the amount of light correctly, you need to use manual exposure.

What is manual exposure, and how to use it?

Manual exposure is a feature that allows the photographer to manually set the Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to determine the image’s brightness. Most professional photographers use it to have more creative control over the image. Manual mode lets you create the image as you imagine it -sometimes, a darker image is the right, artistic choice, and sometimes a lighter image is in order. The computer in your camera can’t make these artistic decisions.

How to adjust camera exposure?

To understand how to handle manual exposure, I recommend understanding the shutter speed, Aperture, and IOS. Let’s talk about it. As said before, the shutter speed, Aperture, and IOS determine the exposure and the overall brightness of the image, but it can also affect the sharpness and the depth of field of the image.

If you set the shutter speed to 1/500, the Aperture to f/5.6, and the IOS to 100, you’ll get a correct exposure of a middle-bright scene (for example, if you are shooting on a sunny day). If you want to overexpose it, you need to increase the shutter speed, decrease the Aperture, or lower the IOS (or even lower all of them). If you want to underexpose it, do just the opposite.

Now let’s talk about shutter speed, Aperture, and IOS. The Shutter Speed is how long light can hit your sensor while taking a picture. It’s measured in seconds and looks like “1/200”, “1/1000,” etc., or in time like “0.5

  • The shutter speed controls how long the camera’s shutter stays open. The longer it stays open, the more light enters the camera, creating a brighter image. You can get blurry images with a slow shutter speed because it takes too long for one image to capture all your movements.
  • The ISO affects how sensitive the camera will be to the light in the room. When the camera is set to manual exposure, you can increase the camera’s light sensitivity.
  • The Aperture determines how much to open the lens. The more we open the lens, the more light will get in and create a lighter image.

The aperture opening also determines the depth of field. When we open the lens to a wider aperture, the depth of field becomes smaller, and there will be more things in focus. The smaller Aperture will have a more significant depth of field, so there will be fewer things in focus.

To adjust your camera exposure, you need to take these steps:

  1. Turn your camera into manual mode.
  2. Play with all the controls you got. Usually, they will be Aperture, Shutter speed, and ISO. Start with the Aperture to create a depth of field and the Shutter speed to have a more focused image.
  3. After the first adjustment, please look at your monitor, and see how it looks. 
  4. You might want to zoom in to see the details.
  5. Keep adjusting until you are satisfied with the picture.

When shooting your first film exercise, you will want to use the auto-exposure a lot, but that is a habit you’ll need to lose as you move along. Most cameras’ auto-exposure features will create the world 18 percent grey. In many images, you will see that it turned a solid white wall into a grey one.

To get the best auto-exposure setting, you need first to test it in a different location (with different amounts of lights) and see how it handles the 

What is the AEL button on the camera?

The AEL means AE lock, and it’s a function that allows you to reframe the scene while keeping the exposure the same. In most cameras, there will be two options: Hold – which means you need to hold it while shooting and Toggle, you simply need to push the AEL button.

What’s important to remember is that everyone works differently. With time, you’ll learn when to use the AE button and when to go manual. The truth is that Whether a manual mode is valid or not is primarily dependent on the photographer.

Which camera should you buy?

That’s a tricky question. Vintage cameras have an undeniable appeal among photography enthusiasts, and each model carries its unique features and qualities. Now, we will explore and compare my favorite cameras, the Canon AE-1, Yashica FX-103, Pentax K1000, Nikon F100, and Minolta X-570/X-700 cameras individually, focusing on their key features, image quality, usability, and performance.

Canon AE-1 and AE-1 Program

The Canon AE-1 offers photographers aperture priority mode, allowing them to set the desired Aperture while the camera selects the appropriate shutter speed. The AE-1 Program expands on this by introducing a program mode that automatically sets both the Aperture and shutter speed. With a range of Canon FD mount lenses available, photographers can choose from various focal lengths and lens qualities.

Yashica FX-103 Program

The Yashica FX-103 Program features aperture priority mode, enabling photographers to set the desired Aperture while the camera determines the appropriate shutter speed. It supports Yashica/Contax lenses, providing a decent selection of lenses.

Pentax K1000

The Pentax K1000 is a fully manual camera, relying on photographers to manually set the aperture and shutter speed. Its simplicity and durability have made it a popular choice among photography purists. Compatible with Pentax K mount lenses, users have a wide range of options for lens selection.

Nikon F100

The Nikon F100 is a versatile camera that caters to various shooting preferences and offers aperture priority, shutter priority, and program modes. Its advanced autofocus system, with multiple focus points, ensures fast and accurate focusing. Photographers can access exceptional lens quality and compatibility with a vast array of Nikon F mount lenses.

Minolta X-570 and X-700

The Minolta X-570 and X-700 models provide aperture priority and program modes, allowing photographers to focus on composition while the camera determines the optimal exposure settings. With both manual focus and autofocus capabilities, these cameras offer versatility to accommodate different shooting styles. Compatible with Minolta MD and MC mount lenses, users have a range of options to choose from.

More factors to consider when buying cameras with auto-exposure

Regarding image quality, it’s important to note that lens selection plays a significant role. Each camera’s respective lens mount determines the compatibility and availability of lenses, and photographers can select from various focal lengths and qualities within their respective systems.

Usability is a crucial factor when selecting a camera. The Canon AE-1, Yashica FX-103, Pentax K1000, Nikon F100, and Minolta X-570/X-700 models are all well-built and durable. However, individual preferences for ergonomics, weight, and size may vary. Handling the cameras personally is recommended to determine which feels most comfortable and intuitive to use.

The viewfinders and displays of these cameras also differ in size, brightness, and coverage. A clear and accurate viewfinder or LCD is essential for composing and reviewing images effectively. Additionally, battery life and availability of replacement batteries should be considered, as they can affect the overall usability and convenience of the camera.

When it comes to performance, each camera offers specific features and capabilities. Shutter speed ranges and high-speed shooting capabilities differ among the models. Moreover, exposure accuracy and consistency can vary, with some cameras excelling in challenging lighting conditions and others providing more reliable results.

Here are all the factors we talked about in a nice, nee table:

Feature CategoryCanon AE-1 or AE-1 ProgramYashica FX-103 ProgramPentax K1000Nikon F100Minolta X-570 or X-700
Exposure ModesAperture priority, program mode (AE-1 Program), exposure compensation (AE-1 Program)Aperture priorityFully manualAperture priority, shutter priority, program mode, exposure compensation, bracketingAperture priority, program mode, exposure compensation, shutter priority (X-700)
Focusing SystemManual focusManual focusManual focusAutofocus, multiple focus points (5-8)Manual focus, autofocus, phase detection autofocus system with multiple focus points (5-7)
Metering SystemsCenter-weighted meteringCenter-weighted meteringCenter-weighted meteringMatrix metering, center-weighted metering, spot meteringCenter-weighted metering, spot metering
Image Quality: Lens SelectionCanon FD mount lensesYashica/Contax lensesPentax K mount lensesNikon F mount lensesMinolta MD and MC mount lenses
Image Quality: Film Formats35mm film formats (ISO/ASA)35mm film formats (ISO/ASA)35mm film formats (ISO/ASA)35mm film formats (ISO/ASA)35mm film formats (ISO/ASA)
Image Quality: Dynamic Range and Color AccuracyVaries based on camera body, lens, and film stockVaries based on camera body, lens, and film stockVaries based on camera body, lens, and film stockVaries based on camera body, lens, and film stockVaries based on camera body, lens,
Usability: Ergonomics and Build QualityVaries based on personal preferences and shooting styleVaries based on personal preferences and shooting styleVaries based on personal preferences and shooting styleVaries based on personal preferences and shooting styleVaries based on personal preferences and shooting style
Usability: Viewfinders and DisplaysVariesVariesVariesVariesVaries
Usability: Battery Life and MaintenanceDepends on model and usageDepends on model and usageDepends on model and usageDepends on model and usageDepends on model and usage
Performance: Shutter Speed and Burst ModeVaries based on model and useVaries based on model and useVaries based on model and useVaries based on model and useVaries based on model and use
Performance: Exposure Accuracy and ConsistencyDepends on metering system and exposure control mechanismsDepends on metering system and exposure control mechanismsDepends on metering system and exposure control mechanismsDepends on metering system and exposure control mechanismsDepends on metering system and exposure control mechanisms
Performance: Film Loading and RewindingVariesVariesVariesVariesVaries

The Canon AE-1, Yashica FX-103, Pentax K1000, Nikon F100, and Minolta X-570/X-700 are all remarkable vintage cameras with their own strengths and characteristics. The choice ultimately depends on personal preferences, shooting style, and desired features.

Photographers seeking automation and convenience may find the Canon AE-1 Program or Nikon F100 appealing, with their advanced exposure modes and autofocus capabilities. On the other hand, those who prefer a fully manual experience and simplicity might gravitate towards the Pentax K1000 or Yashica FX-103.

Lens selection is a crucial consideration for image quality, and photographers can choose from a wide range of compatible lenses for each camera system.

Usability factors, such as ergonomics, build quality, and viewfinder quality, should be evaluated based on individual preferences and shooting needs.

Lastly, performance aspects such as shutter speed, exposure accuracy, and film-loading mechanisms can influence the overall shooting experience and desired results.