One Month One Camera – Jan 2020 (III) – How Auto Do You Go?

This month I’ve been using my Panasonic Lumix FX10 digital compact as my only camera.

You can read the first two posts and see some photographs made with it here and here.

As with any camera new to me (I bought the FX10 a while back, but aside from checking it works, had not explored its modes and features before this month), I like to run through the menus and see what options are available.

And, also as with any camera I’ve not used extensively, I like to find the best way(s) to set it up so I can get on with shooting, unhindered by excessive adjustments and fiddling out in the field.

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Here are the basics of how I’ve set up the FX10, and why.

White Balance – Auto. Same with every camera I use, it just works for me!

ISO Limit – 400. This ties in with the FX10’s Intelligent ISO Mode, more on which below. Choose Intelligent ISO on the main mode dial, and the camera will choose the appropriate ISO up to the maximum you set here in the ISO limit.

I’ve chosen ISO400, and in practice the Lumix always seems to choose the lowest possible ISO (starting at 100) and only ups it if the shutter speed drops too low for hand held photography then it goes to the next ISO step. I haven’t gone higher than 400 (1250 is the max) as typically images from cameras of this age at high ISOs become a bit too noisy, even for my tastes.

Aspect Ratio4:3. Just what I’m used to with digital compacts. I can fill the screen exactly with my composition, and it’s the same aspect ratio as the 8×6 inch prints I sometimes make, so no cropping is required.

Picture Size – 6MP. The maximum the little FX10’s CCD sensor can produce.

Quality – Maximum. No point using anything else with a lower res camera, and even at this maximum quality and 6MP, the image files are still pretty small.

AF Mode – Spot AF. Again, same as every digital camera I use, I like to know where the lens has focused, then lock and recompose as necessary, rather than having the camera think it knows best and focus on something I don’t want it to.

Burst Mode – Off. Just one considered shot at a time for me.

AF Assist Lamp – Off. I just prefer to be discrete.

D(igital) Zoom – Off. I don’t even use the optical zoom, and a digital zoom typically means image quality deteriorates fast.

Colour Mode – B/W. I only really use any digital compact in b/w mode these days, and my Pentax CCD DSLRs for colour.

Mode dial – Intelligent ISO. As explained above this is an auto exposure mode where you can limit the maximum ISO. Previously I was setting the ISO manually at ISO100, but then upping it manually when the light was too low, the aperture wide open (f/2.8, which the FX10 seems to use as often as possible) and the shutter speed too slow to hand hold.

So the Intelligent ISO mode just does the same thing, but automatically, using ISO100 as often as possible, then dropping to 200, and if need be 400, when the light is less. Seems to work – and optimise the FX10’s capabilities – very well.

Exposure Compensation – Zero. Many digital compacts I set at -1/3 or -2/3 by default as they blow highlights too often otherwise, but all of my Lumix cameras have/had excellent metering and rarely need any manual intervention.

The only time I might use exposure compensation of -1/3, -2/3 or even -1 is to deliberately force the shadows to be deeper and darker, like in the photograph below.

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Flash – Forced off. I never use flash with any camera, I just prefer natural light, even if there isn’t much of it.

Stabilizer – Mode 1. Which means the camera “compensates for jitter” while you’re composing, and it’s the more subtle of the two available image stabilization modes on the FX10. I haven’t had any real issues as long as I stick to around 1/4s and above.

That’s about it.

Oh and as I mentioned regarding the digital zoom, I don’t use the optical zoom either, just fire up the camera and use it as a fixed lens at its widest 35mm focal length, my preferred field of view with digital compacts.

So in practice, once all of the above is set up (and you only need do it once really), I can concentrate on just composition and shooting.

I have the display on its most uncluttered setting, with all icons off whilst composing, then when you squeeze the shutter button to lock focus, the aperture value appears, and turns red if the light is too low to get an accurate exposure within the camera’s (and my own preset ISO) limitations. Very simple.

One last aspect to mention, unlike more sophisticated cameras, the FX10 doesn’t have a distinct button to lock exposure.

It’s done with a half press of the shutter button, the same as the focus lock.

Which means if you have a high contrast scene and want to lock focus on one part, but exposure on another, you have to think creatively.

What I usually do is try to find scenes where there is something at both the right distance and brightness, lock on that, then recompose before pressing the shutter button all the way down to capture the shot.

But there are a few situations this doesn’t work so I concentrate on locking focus, then use the exposure compensation function to force the exposure up or down as required.

With these two in combination, there aren’t many (in fact I can’t think of any I’ve come across) where the camera either won’t expose or won’t focus how I want it to.

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The question in all of this then becomes “how auto should we go?”.

The Lumix FX10 is a fairly simple camera, but as outlined above, there are enough functions to give me the control I need for my type of photography.

It does have a super simple mode on the dial (a red heart icon!) where everything is even more straightforward.

All you can change on the main screen is Picture Mode (Enlarge, 4×6″ or email), Auto Review (on or off), Beep (off, low, high) and set the clock.

Everything else is automated and even with the icons on screen all you get is flash status (auto or forced off), battery life, shots remaining and where it’s saving images to (ie internal memory or SD card).

Switch the display to its even more uncluttered mode, and you get nothing but a green focus confirm square and a constant dot to say focus is locked, or a flashing dot to say it isn’t.

Genuinely a very pure and simple mode, and something I’m sure would be useful for many who aren’t at all into photography but just want a very easy to use P&S that still reliably delivers good quality images.

But I like a little more influence over my cameras, hence the set up explained before.

And this set up is key, and for me the difference between someone having some kind of artistic plan and intention for their photography, and someone purely interested in capturing a good, accurate record of what’s in front of them, like their kids, or an animal at the zoo, or the new spring blooms in their garden.

So even though after this initial set up I alter very little, the way I program the camera with my own preferences does dictate the kind of images it makes.

Shot by shot, I’m all auto, pointing and shooting.

But it’s the choices I’ve made with each of the camera’s settings that give me this freedom to focus only on composition, rather than me using the camera on its super simple mode and not controlling anything.

How about you? How auto do you go, and does it vary depending on what/where you’re photographing?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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11 thoughts on “One Month One Camera – Jan 2020 (III) – How Auto Do You Go?”

  1. You and I have similar approaches to photography. The exceptions being that I mostly shoot colour and desaturate later if I think the image would be better in B&W, and I use the zoom because much of what I shoot is far away – and often should be kept there.
    I still haven’t got the ZS60 producing decent shots, but there are few more things to fiddle with. The saddest part is that the lens obvious is not sharp, and that spoils many shots. I also think they’ve tried to cram too many features in it, and your FX10 is probably the better for being simpler.
    Now if I get some sun around here again I’ll be out trying those last few adjustments. I have to admit I’ve played with the settings on this camera more so than any other, it’s that poor at taking pictures.

    1. That’s disappointing Marc, and quite surprising, about the Lumix ZS60. I guess I’ve been fortunate with the Lumix models I’ve used.

      The FX10 doesn’t have a stunning lens, but then it’s only a 6MP consumer compact, I wasn’t expecting to come anywhere near to the lens on the LX3, which is pretty special.

      But the FX10 certainly doesn’t shame itself and punches above its weight I’d suggest, at low ISO and in good light. The best photographs I’ve made with it are sharper than I would have expected before I’d used it.

      I think there was a kind of golden era of digital compacts, once the sensors were large and high quality enough to match the lenses that many manufacturers had of course been making for decades, so this part of the camera was already highly optimised.

      From perhaps 2006-2011 seems to be where most of my favourites fall in, and then most of them are CCD sensors, 6-10MP.

      After that, CMOS started to dominate, sensor MP began reaching silly numbers, and yes the manufacturers were offering more and more features and gimmicks that are superfluous to most of us, in an effort to sell more cameras and force us to upgrade.

      I know seems a bit premature perhaps to be talking about a golden or vintage age of digital cameras, but with fewer selling by the day with the rise of smart phones, and the reasons just mentioned, I think the best models are in that 2006-11 half decade.

  2. Dear Dan,
    impressive B/W images from this cam.

    I bougt 7-8 old digi-cams for only 1 €. My plan is to test their quality to show, that pixelmania is not the most important point to consider in photography.

    I will publish the results in my blog.

    Best regards
    Bernhard

    1. Thanks Bernhard!

      Do you mean the whole batch of 7-8 was €1, or that was the price of each of them?

      Either way, super cheap, and I’m sure you’ll get some rewarding results and experiences.

      I’ve done very similar things with a number of old digital cameras. For under £5 you can get something plenty capable. Extend this even just £20-30 and the capability increases significantly.

      Both of my Pentax CCD DSLRs were between £25 and £30 for example.

      1. Dear Dan,

        no, each of them are bought for 1 €. I offer 1€ and waiting …. (fire and forget).

        Digicams from 2.5 MPix up to 12 Mpix are the results. I was inspired to start this project when i reactivated my old Canon PowerShot S40 (4 Mpix, 17 years old). Some results could be seen here: https://deramateurphotograph.de/category/digitale-kameras-digital-cams/canon-powershot-s40/
        Sorry, the text is in German, but you can translate the page with Google translator (upper right in the side bar).

        I like to reuse old digital cams and especially old analog lenses,

        Best Regards and a nice Sunday
        Bernhard

  3. As with all things… it just depends.
    If I’m just doing my own thing and trying to create artistic pictures, I basically set the ISO depending on the light and use a manual lens, setting the aperture the way I like it and then work on the shutter speed accordingly. All manual, in other words, but easy manual – ignoring all other kinds of settings that cameras have these days…
    If I’m taking pictures on family outings, P is usually best, set to my custom JPEG modes or the Pentax Portrait setting which works pretty well for me.

    1. Chris, with the artistic pictures, do you usually start with the same base aperture and then set the shutter speed? Or do you choose aperture shot by shot?

      Program mode is often derided as being for amateurs, but I use it plenty. Especially with cameras where I know how they tend to choose aperture and shutter speed, for example most of my favourite digital compacts I’ve used stick to the max aperture wherever possible and then choose an appropriate shutter speed.

      With a DSLR this is not the optimum, and usually results in too shallow depth of field, and too much softness as the majority of (D)SLR lenses tend to be at their best a few stops down.

      With a digital compact though, they seem to have their lenses optimised for being shot wide open, and the much smaller sensors mean there’s a shallower depth of field than shooting at say f/8, but it’s nowhere near as paper thin as with a much larger sensor camera like an APS-C DSLR.

      So Program mode most of the time with these compacts is in effect aperture priority at the max aperture, then if the scene is especially bright they start to stop the aperture down a little.

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