When Your Camera Knows Best

I needed a new direction with my Pentax K-30, the camera I love to overanalyse.

So I decided to do what I often do when things get over complicated.

Go back to basics.

And with a DSLR, what could me more basic than using it like a point and shoot?

Albeit a point and shoot with lovely handling, and a more capable sensor and lens.

So I went with Auto ISO limited between 100-400, attached my criminally underused Pentax-DA 50/1.8 and set off around the garden.


Aside from an initial tweak of the exposure compensation of +1/3 stop, I just composed, shot and let the camera do the heavy lifting.

Oh aside from very minor focus adjustment, where the lens would focus on a slightly different part of the composition than what I wanted in focus, so I used the old rocking focus trick to shift it.

Turns out, after all my fiddling and deliberating in recent photo walks, the K-30 is pretty great when left to its own devices.

The DA 50/1.8, whilst perfectly decent, isn’t a lens that wows me.

For some reason I prefer the results from its 35/2.4 sibling better, and my A series 50/1.7 seems to make more pleasing, perhaps warmer, photographs if I want that specific focal length.

Plus it feels much better in the hand than the DA 50, especially focusing manually.

On my next outing I expect I’ll take either of those two lenses, and try the all Auto approach again.

Later, on a very local walk, I tried the trusty F series 35-70mm.

I think it did even better than the DA 50/1.8 on full auto.


Who’d have thought a company like Pentax with decades of experience developing wonderful cameras could make one that worked so well on full Auto mode.

Oh, hang on…

How about you? How often do you just go with all auto, and point and shoot?

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).

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23 thoughts on “When Your Camera Knows Best”

  1. Not often for me Dan. There’s always some tweaking and adjusting to the light in the moment. Mind you, I go full auto on my phone haha
    That’s a gorgeous leaf by the way!

    1. Thanks Yuri. I think fully auto suits phones perfectly, partly because they’re supposed to be the ultimate spontaneous grab and shoot cameras, and partly because it’s so fiddly trying to adjust any parameters without “proper” buttons and dials! The one thing I wish mine had was the ability to save the focal length you choose. I zoom to 1.4x (so approx 35mm) on my phone for 99% of shots, because they’re usual of my family and shooting at the widest 25mm distorts everyone too much.

  2. ALLthe time now. I use a panasonic TZ80 point and shoot so I just Point and Shoot. I have a couplle of DSLR’s but am to old and feeble plus I am in a wheelchair, the big cameras are just too big. Its horses for courses. I just enjoy snapping and the smaller camera suits me. Don

    1. Thanks for your comments Don.

      I go through cycles between DSLRs and compacts. Whilst I’m heavily into DSLRs right now, there will come a point again, probably in the autumn, where they just feel too bulky and fiddly again (even though I have some of the smallest and simplest made) and I go back to the simplicity and pocketability of compact cameras like the Ricoh GRD III, Lumix LX3 and XS1.

  3. I do it once in a while. In P mode my K10D is set up to shoot RAW. I don’t always want RAW and at those times I put the K10D in full auto mode. The photos are all usable right out of the camera. I still tweak some of them a little in Photoshop, usually to boost contrast and adjust color temperature, but that’s just preference; the images don’t require it.

    1. Thanks Jim. I think it’s just refreshing sometimes to worry only about composition and let the camera do the heavy lifting and decision making.

      1. This is what I like about old box cameras. Choose a film that works with its aperture and shutter speed and then, except for composition, put your brain in park.

        Ooh, that might be an Americanism, because we all drive cars with automatic transmissions here.

      2. It’s funny how “Auto” was invented with cameras so long ago, arguably by Kodak – “You press the button, we do the rest” – apparently in 1888!

        We have automatic cars here – and now all kinds of semi automatic ones with paddles on the sterring wheel to go up and down the gears. But I think the majority of cars are still manual. We like the control!

  4. I rarely have to intervene with my Nikon D750 DSLR. I will occasionally add a stop to compensate for backlighting. I shoot on using the A setting so I can adjust the f-stop as I like. The camera does the rest. Oh, and I like to use back button focusing.
    Lightroom or Cameras Raw has improved the auto setting for processing. I use that to batch process all of the RAW files, then sometimes pull down the white a little, and remove some noise (needed using 600 mm under trees).

    1. Thanks Sherry, yes I mostly use Av too, I just got fed up always having to adjust exposure for virtually every shot with the K-30 and wanted less decision making! Sometimes I use Program, but then find I’m adjusting the combo the camera has chosen anayway, so it becomes in effect the same as shooting Av, as I am adjusting until I have the aperture I want (based on depth of field required). An all Auto mode I just relinquish all setting choices to the camera. What is “back button focusing”?

      1. Back button focusing is assigning a rear button such as the unused AE-L, AF-L button to do the focusing instead of the shot button. Good for shooting numerous times in the same plane without refocusing. Great for birds. Takes a short time to get used to. Many nature photographers use it.

      2. Ah yes, I see, thank you for explaining. I was reading about this elsewhere just the other day actually. I can do it on my Pentax K-30, for example set the main OK button to focus rather than a half press of the shutter button. I was wondering why this would be an advantage. I’ll have to try it out next time I’m out.

  5. Generally full manual with my Canon SL1 but every so often I too like to mix things up. An occasional go to for me is aperture priority , center weighted metering, generally down one half stop and like you iso between 100/400. I toggle between three EFS lenses from one day to another, kit zoom, 24 and 50. I find the primes make me work that little bit harder and provide a more satisfying experience. Thanks for this post, as much as like to fiddle with the variables it is good to know that I have a go to set up that guarantees a high keeper count. And I thought it was just me that gets bored on occasion.

    1. I think for all of us it’s about finding that balance between manual enough that it’s satisfying and rewarding but not so manual that we’re constantly adjusting and it ruins the flow and frustrates us.

      And of course this state of balance varies depending on where we’re going to photograph, perhaps climate conditions, what our end goal is, our mood, and so on. I think we can all find that range of automation and options that we stick within to make photography enjoyable.

  6. I use Program mode most of the time. If you have a camera you can trust to get the scene right, trust the camera. If the scene requires some special handling that you know the camera isn’t good at, take control yourself. Even if the automatic setting comes out a little but off you can tweak it afterward. Relying on the automatic mode frees the photographer to concentrate on the framing and composition, which are the more difficult aspects (and the ones even pros habitually screw up).
    If the camera is no good at automatic shooting a typical scene on a day with good light – you need a different camera.

    1. Yes, I do think cameras these days should be good enough to give a decent image on fully auto, then as you say we can focus on composition. I’m still a bit confused as to why my K-30 seems to need such nurturing to get the exposures correct – especially with manual aperture lenses. Perhaps it has a fault.

  7. Not a whole lot… I’m usually on Av or full manual. With the K10D it’s always RAW and full manual.
    If I buy a point and shoot again I’m sure I’ll go back to full auto on that…
    Every once in a while I get lazy when taking pictures of my boys doing sports and I’ll use the Pentax “action” setting which is actually not that bad at all.

    1. I’ve also hated those scene settings like fireworks, macro, food etc, mostly because the very few occasions I’ve tried using them the camera has skittered between different ones as I’ve moved it only fractionally. In other words I don’t trust that they work. But the K-30’s auto everything seems pretty decent. I have used the continuous shooting a little the last week too, to get some pictures of my rather active 11 month old son, and if you’re happy to discard about nine of out 10 shots it works well. Just not like the usual more considered and immersive photography I favour!

      1. The Action setting (renamed to moving object or something like that in newer bodies…) turns on continuous shooting and continuous autofocus when you keep the shutter button half pressed – quite easier than having to do all that through menus. It might make you end up keeping that DA 50 1.8…

      2. Thanks Chris, I’ll try this at the weekend when the kids are racing about! The trouble with the DA 50/1.8 is the other two lenses I have that it falls between. The A 50/1.7 just feels better (I like manual focus now and again, and the quietness of it compared to AF), and the images I prefer, somehow warmer, with smoother bokeh. Then I have the DA 35/2.4 which is a little cracker, fast enough (and plenty sharp enough even wide open at f/2.4) plus it’s smaller, and focuses considerably more quickly and accurately than the 50/1.8. So the DA 50/1.8, whilst perfectly good in its own right, ends up second best to both of those other two, for the reasons outlined above. But I will try it out with AFC and continuous and see how I get on.

      3. I agree with you on those lenses… not having had the DA 50 1.8 but seeing pictures from it, it never really impressed me. I have an M 50 1.7 that I’m much happier with. So one day I found a cheap SMC-F 50 1.7 (an autofocus version of the 50 1.7 design) and it’s the best of both worlds 🙂 So I would look into switching your DA for an F or FA version.
        On the DA 35 2.4 I also agree… it’s a great lens that always surprises me with how nicely it renders things. I don’t understand how people are negative about it – and now I have a DA 35 2.8 Macro that is supposedly so much better – and it’s a great lens – but I need to do some side by side comparisons to see if it’s really better – because as it stands right now, I think I might just trade it for a DA 21. I’ve been saving for a DA 21 and if I trade the DA 35, I could use those savings to get a Tamron 90 2.8 Macro instead and fulfill my macro needs that way.

      4. Strangely I’ve never considered – or really been aware of – the F 50/1.7. Because I’m very familiar with the M and A versions from my film days, and have had multiple copies, when I bought a Pentax DSLR again (the K100D) I immediately sourced an A 50/1.7. It gives me the convenience of changing aperture in camera over the M version, with the same (excellent!) optics. I don’t mind manual focus, so didn’t look beyond an A series.

        I already had the DA 35/2.4 from a few years back when I had my K10D, and was curious about its sibling, the DA 50/1.8, so bought one. So I bypassed the F and FA era. But yes it would make sense to have an F 50/1.7 rather than the A 50/1.7 and DA 50/1.8.

        Trouble is now I’m reluctant to pay three or four times what I paid for my A 50/1.7, just to have the auto focus, when I don’t mind MF anyway. I’ll try the DA again, but will most likely sell it on for something that gives me a different option, rather than another 50, or at least another Pentax 50 that’s going to be optical very similar, if not identical.

        I was looking at an F 70-210. I like the idea of the DA 16-45, but in practice I’m far more interested in getting up close than wide angles. What I should do is give me neglected Jupiter-37A a run on the K-30 next time I go out, and see how I feel about that kind of focal length these days. It’s capable of lovely images, and the preset aperture makes it easier to use on a DSLR than a standard click stop aperture ring.

        I’d be interested to see your direct comparison of the 35/2.4 and the 35/2.8 macro. I’m always curious about macro lenses, as I photograph up close more often than not. I had an M 50/4 in the past which was amazing, and I shouldn’t have sold it. The max aperture of f/4 was limiting sometimes, especially focusing accurately, compared with a 50/1.7 or even 50/2. But I still consider getting another, or even better the A series 50/2.8 macro.

        I think I’ve looked into that Tamron 90/2.8 Macro before and had one or two on my Watch List!

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