/ Technology

Is your camera crammed with needless settings?

Digital camera mode dial

Do all of those modes on your digital camera complicate things for your point-and-shoot purposes? Or are you happy to use them for some added creative possibilities?

When I first heard of a digital camera setting that would recognise my pet, I thought the photographic trade was pulling my leg. Useful as it is to have pre-sets for night shots, and portraits, I thought other specialist settings, like a ‘food mode’, were taking things a bit too far.

Now I own a camera with all of these settings. In fact, I have two pre-sets for babies. I just don’t have any babies.

And although manufacturers seem to have run out of modes, there are a number of new innovations on the way. These include ‘superimposition‘, which takes several pictures of the same scene at different exposures to create a single image that’s supposedly better quality. And yes, 3D lenses are already out in the wild as well. But is all this really necessary?

Is the camera industry trying too hard?

The camera industry seems hard stretched when it comes to re-inventing itself. Maybe this is because the idea behind it – making still photographs – is so straightforward.

I had my last camera for eight years, and the one before that for 20. So maybe it’s because of people like me that manufacturers are trying so hard to find new directions that’ll force me into another purchase.

But maybe you find all of these camera modes useful? Even with all the added features, every single camera out there still has a straightforward automatic setting, and most of the features are designed to get better photos without having to do anything other than press ‘shoot’.

What’s the future of cameras?

Many of these ‘new’ modes have been spotted by technology researchers Rich Parris and Ben Stevens during their time at Cologne’s camera show, Photokina. Both of them will be talking about all the new camera modes, models and trends in this week’s Tech Podcast (up on Thursday 30 September).

I might be proved wrong about all this. I remember not too long ago hearing a radio comedy sketch about a ‘futuristic shaving razor with five blades’. Not long after, the comedians were laughing on the other side of their well-shaved faces, and five-blade razors are nothing new. So perhaps ‘4D’ cameras will be next big thing? Who am I to say?

Do you find your preset camera modes useful?

Sometimes, but I don't need all of them (56%, 85 Votes)

No, they're too complicated (24%, 36 Votes)

Yes, they help me get a good picture (20%, 30 Votes)

Total Voters: 151

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I have a Leica D-Lux3 camera. It cost about £500 so it is certainly not a beginners camera, and it has a superb Leica lense. I also shoots in RAW mode which enables preofessional standard post-camera manipulation in Photoshop. However, the scene mode includes “soft skin mode”, plus food, party, candle, starry sky, baby mode etc which are more at home on a very cheap snappers camera. I almost sent it back at that stage, but decided to keep it and ignore the silly settings. All they do is basically exaggerate the colours etc. Advanced settings to adjust the white balance, picture quality, and triple shots at +/-1exposure at useful, but the silly settings I find rather patronising. I wonder if anyone ever bothers to use them, especially as they require delving deep into the menu system to adjust?

I have a Canon EOS 1000D and usually only use the full auto setting, on occasions I will use the sports and night mode, but I do find altering on computer difficult

I have a professional Nikon DSLR and it has many settings – gives superb PHOTOGRAPHS – not snapshots – the purpose of the settings so that I decide the effect I want – not what the camera wants.

Somehow I doubt if snapshot cameras have as many – I know my IXUS hasn’t – but the vast majority on my camera can be easily adjusted. – and – it has an auto too for those few times I need snapshots..

Gerard Phelan says:
1 October 2010

I agree there seem to be too many unnecessary options. I recently bought the Panasonic FZ38 whose electronic manual is over 200 pages of dense material. A issue related to the profusion of options is the lack of descriptions about them. My manual is or tries to be good on describing HOW to set the options and use them, but is weak in explaining WHY they are any better than – ah that is is one of the issues – than whatever default it came with out of the box.

I have just returned from a Mediterranean cruise with 1700 pictures taken with the FZ38, despite not getting past page 80 in the manual. Most are great, but one problem is that I have not yet worked out how to force it to focus on something that the autofocus does not want to focus on. Similarly to change the exposure away from the auto value. My manual film camera was easy, it had an exposure lock button you could press when pointing at your reference object and then repoint at your actual object.

It has all become silly with users spending more time fiddling with numerous settings rather than looking at what they are taking a picture of. The worst feature is the screen which gets used rather like a Polariod with with numerous retakes and much changing and snaping rather than carefully considering, through a good view finder, and then taking one or two pictures.
I have a Canon G9 and a Canon S90 both are stuffed full of software and each require a 200 page manual. Worse they are both auto focus with very crude manual focus options. I am fortunate I have a 35mm film camera with a great view finder plus manual zoom, manual focus and manual exposure so I set the aperture and thus can use a depth of field scale – all very simple.
The latest Lieca M9 sounds nice and very simple but at a terrible price. Surely Cannon or Nikon could make a similar digital camera with a good short range manual zoom for about £1500.

You mean idiot settings?

That’s what Ford called dashboard lights when they removed gauges, because customers worried about the readings.

Some are a sales gimmick – this is true and only found on low -end cameras.
On the mid-to high range – Aperture and Shutter priority are brilliant; but only 1-10 users understand what they mean.

Mention an f-stop to anyone under 40 and they are clueless, so you need the idiot settings on the ‘family’ models.

Derek V says:
25 March 2011

The most highly acclaimed photographs are rated so because of the subject matter. The variations of light on a landscape, a fleeting expression or twinkle of the eyes in a portrait, the careful placement and lighting of the subject in the composition of a still life study, the impression of movement in an action shot. ” Idiot settings” are not for the making of “great” photographs

Chris Nation says:
6 July 2011

I agree. I had my 35mm Nikon cameras for 30 years. There was auto and manual. There was exposure compensation. That was it. The same goes for the Mamiya 645. My Hasselblad had nothing but shutter speeds and f-stops – no metering at all. As for the 5″x 4″, that was simply a squeezy box with a lens on a panel at one end and a place to slide a film holder into at the other. No controls at all

When I started looking around at all the bells and whistles on my toe-in-the-digital-water Nikon D60, I got close to exasperation and going back to film. These cameras are computers that happen to be able to take photographs. Because computers can me made to do a great many things, the camera makers have indeed programmed them to perform all these tricks. Almost all are irrelevant – in fact I would say they get in the way of making good photographs.

Because my blasted camera has buttons and dials that control shutter speed and aperture in manual mode and one or other of those [I can never remember which] requires a second button to be held down whilst twiddling the dial, I usually give up because I’ve missed the shot or I go onto some other, more automated mode, in frustration.

Cameras do a simple job. Line up on a subject and get the correct amount of light onto whatever captures the image. Fantastic images have been made for 100 years by wonderful photographers on cameras with only three changeable parameters. More in this case is indisputably less.