Camera basics

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Camera basics: Night Scene 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 Night Scene Mode:
Click to enlarge.

A camera's Night Scene mode is built to take landscape or cityscape shots when there isn't a lot of natural light. It usually demands the use of a tripod: Depending on the camera, the Night Scene mode may use a slower shutter speed, meaning that you'll get a blurry image if you try to steady the camera with just your hands.

We weren't pleased with our Auto-mode results. The camera boosted the ISO to 800, shifted the aperture to a wide-open f/2.0, and used a fairly fast shutter speed of 1/15 of a second. Color accuracy and fine-grain details suffered at those settings. The camera also fired the flash, which illuminated the post in the foreground and caused light to reflect off the mist in the sky back toward the camera.

The results from Night Scene mode were surprisingly disappointing. Although the camera properly adjusted the shutter speed downward to half a second and used a lower ISO of 160, the flash still fired while the aperture stayed at f/2.0. The resulting image closely resembled the one taken in Auto mode.

Our night-landscape manual settings produced some of the most dramatic differences we saw across all of our test shots. We turned the flash off to avoid illuminating the post in the foreground and having the mist reflect light. Next, we tried to improve the detail by dialing down the ISO to 100 and using a very slow shutter speed of 6 seconds. The slow shutter also made the surface of the water look smooth, while the lower ISO made colors seem more accurate. The slow shutter let us close the aperture to f/5.6, deepening the depth of field while still capturing plenty of light for a well-exposed image.

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