Camera basics

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Camera basics: Macro mode

For this series on camera modes, we picked six common shooting scenarios, some of which require tricky manual adjustments to capture the ideal shot, and took pictures in each scenario: one using the Auto setting, one using the appropriate scene mode, and one on which we manually adjusted the settings. Here's a look at the power of the Macro Mode:

In Macro mode, the camera uses its minimum focus distance to keep small objects or details that are close to the lens in sharp focus. Our test pictures provide some clear-cut examples of why you should delve deeper into your camera's settings when taking up-close shots. We used a tripod for all of our macro photos.

Click to enlarge.
In Auto mode, the camera keyed in on the clasp and band behind the watch face instead of focusing on the watch face in the extreme foreground. As a result, much of the image's foreground detail was out of focus. Auto mode also boosted the ISO equivalency to 640, used an aperture setting of f/4.9, and set the shutter speed to 1/250 of a second. The mode boosted the ISO in order to use a faster shutter speed, which would have come in handy if we hadn't been using a tripod or had been trying to shoot a moving subject. The faster shutter and higher ISO also meant, however, that we would see less detail in our shot if we tried to crop and resize it.

The camera's Macro mode improved the shot dramatically. Our S90 adjusted its focus properly and kept the same aperture setting, but it reduced the ISO setting to 320 and slowed the shutter speed to 1/125 of a second. The results looked far better than what we saw in the shot taken in Auto mode.

We then attempted to outdo the Macro mode results using manual settings. In our full-manual shot, we used the focus controls to lock in more sharply on the brushed-metal faceplate. We were able to close the aperture to f/8.0 and shoot with a much lower ISO sensitivity setting of 80; that allowed us to slow our shutter speed to 1/13 of a second.

The combination of a low ISO setting, a narrow aperture, and a slow shutter speed let us capture a more detailed, evenly exposed shot with less visible noise in case we wanted to resize the image. It's important to note, though, that the manual settings we used here are appropriate only for still-life macro shots. Since we used a relatively slow shutter speed, any objects in motion would have appeared blurry. If we had been shooting a moving subject, the Macro mode's settings would have done a better job than our manual choices.

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