Auto Everything? Not Quite…

The school, Merzouga, Morocco. Stitched from three originals
Camera: Panasonic DMC-GX7 | Date: 17-11-2013 11:11 | Resolution: 1920 x 1280 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/500s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 24.0mm (~49.0mm) | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO PZ 14-42/F3.5-5.6

A friend asked me a few weeks ago about how I get such depth of colour in my images, and whether it was related to using automatic modes on my cameras. I had to explain about shooting RAW and correcting exposure and colour during development of the final image. That’s most of the answer, but as always it’s not quite as simple as that…
Most of the time I do trust my cameras to do most of the work. Well over 95% of the time I shoot in either aperture priority mode (if the subject is not moving much) or shutter priority (if it is). I also use auto focus almost exclusively. I may move the focus point around a bit, but more often I tend to use the old SLR trick of focusing with the subject centred and the shutter button half pressed, and then recomposing.

I do adjust the camera’s auto exposure if necessary, usually by dialling in some exposure compensation, or adjusting the metering mode if the conditions are tricky (such as a concert), but I only worry if the automatic exposure is at least a stop out, assuming I can correct anything less in RAW development. However I’m finding that the metering of the latest Panasonics is accurate enough and the development latitude sufficient that the requirement to meddle is reducing. That said it’s very important to me to have a quick and easy adjustment Indepedent of the primary exposure controls, and annoying that Canon have inexplicably complicated this on the S120 compared with the S95.

I usually leave the camera to decide the ISO setting and white balance. With the latter it’s easy to correct the rare mistakes in RAW development, and too easy to get it wrong manually.

Very rarely I go manual, typically when I’m planning some sort of multi shot technique such as a stitched panorama and I need to be sure of consistent behaviour across the source images. It’s no longer required for HDR as all my cameras now do accurate, fast auto bracketing, but it can be required for panoramics or focus blending.

So on my Canon 7D and the 40D before it I had custom mode 3 set to “manual everything”, which worked well for panoramas from Italy to Iceland. It was perfectly possible to replicate the same on the Panasonic GX7 and GH4, so I did. Gotcha! Whereas “sunny” white balance is a good default for most outdoor photos on the Canons, for reasons I don’t entirely understand it’s not a good default choice on the Panasonics, and can produce some downright weird results. The above shot from Morocco required a lot of correction from an almost blue starting point, even though it was a bright sunny day.. The only thing I can think of is that the cameras are thrown by the effect of the polarising filter, but that’s not something I’ve seen before.

It looks like the best approach is to set auto white balance, but then apply a fixed manual value when generating the JPEGs to stitch. I may not yet be using “auto everything”, but it’s just come a step closer.

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