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Camera Scene modes are for amateurs!

Robert Watcher

Well-known member
Camera Scene modes are for amateurs!

That’s OK by me. I’m a pro and I have always tried to think like an amateur by pushing boundaries, exploring, trying techniques and gear that others label as unbefitting a serious/real photographer.

And so I am beginning to delve into camera settings on my Olympus gear, that all authorities overlook and belittle. I am talking about the numerous Scene presets that are on every one of my camera bodies. I too have been guilty of just spinning past the Auto and SCN words on the dial on the top of my cameras - to the PASM side of the dial.

I have to be honest, the only reason that I finally looked to see what that Scene setting contained, was a mention in a YouTube video I was watching today - about a few of the settings - in particular one that would take a sequence of nighttime images at 12,800 ISO and combine them together. The video was referring to the newer (than I have) E-M10 II, and so I was sure that my older first generation model didn’t have it. SO I JUST HAD TO CHECK, AND SURE ENOUGH.

Well as life would have it, I was laying down in a very dark room. I turned the dial to SCN > selected Hand-held Starlight > held the shutter on my E-M10 I with 14-42 kit lens, and 8 shots fired in rapid sequence. The settings being used were clear. 12,800 ISO at 1/10’th second exposure. I was amazing to look at the screen and find a recognizable image

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Robert Watcher

Well-known member
Well, I wanted to compare to a shot taken using normal Program or Aperture Priority modes with Auto ISO set (max is 6400). Besides the obvious that the shutter speed would be much slower for handholding as I was, there wasn’t a lot to choose between the two settings.​

There is one fact related to exposure and cleaner images and that is nailing the proper exposure. This 6400 image where I set the exposure compensation to +1 (I should have even gone to +1-1/2 exp comp) is clearly a superior image to the 6400 image shot without exposure compensation and brightened up in post. That one is far worse than the 12,800 shot with the Scene mode.



Robert Watcher

Well-known member
So the interesting side effect with the 12,800 ISO Hand-held Starlight image, is the way the stacking of 8 shots has balanced the scene and highlights (look at the curtain and highlights on the plaid shirt), besides lowering overall noise. So there may be a place for me to use this setting and have fun with my photography.

The downside is that there are no adjustments that can be made on the Scene (SCN) settings - no exposure compensation, no saturation adjustments. But that is what is intriguing to me. I can make all of the custom settings I want in the normal modes. Now I want to try all the other Scene modes as well and familiarize myself as to where I can make use of them —— set a dial and just focus on the scene and composition.

BTW - I took this image to simulate roughly what the room I was in looked liked to my eye. It may even have appeared a little darker as I could barely see the GLOBAL badge on the front of the fan:

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Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
The Olympus engineers know what compromises to make and do it automatically. Impressive isn’t it!

It could be that only the darkest areas are collected from all the shots to cut the noise. The brightest areas are likely the registers for everything else. It would be fascinating to learn howcit works!


Doug Kerr

Well-known member
Hi, Robert,

Thanks for that very interesting study.

Throughout history, "experts" have tended to belittle technical advances admittedly motivated by interest in making the product or service more attractive to the "ordinary" user. In photography, we've notably had that with such things as exposure meters, and then automatic exposure and autofocus - and in recent times, with regard to cameras built into telephones.. Elsewhere this has happened with automatic transmissions in automobiles, and of course now with "semi-autonomous" automobiles.

Of course the true professional will remain open to the role that new innovations can play in his work, not embracing them mindlessly, but neither rejecting them out of hand equally mindlessly for the sake of "tradition", or perhasp a form of machismo. "We don't need no stinking exposure meters".

You have done us a great service by "opening up" the matter of the specialized scene processing modes many of our cameras now have (and that I admit I never use, or even consider).

Best regards,