Exposure Mode Control: Dial vs Button

Nikon's professional-level cameras control exposure mode by pushing the "mode" button and turning the command dial, selection P, A, S, or M, and resulting in an exposure mode than can't be accidentally changed. Next to it is exposure compensation (+ and -) which is one of the controls I use most often in my daily shooting.
Nikon’s professional-level cameras control exposure mode by pushing the “mode” button and turning the command dial, selection P, A, S, or M, and resulting in an exposure mode than can’t be accidentally changed. Next to it is exposure compensation (+ and -) which is one of the controls I use most often in my daily shooting.

I was shooting with a friend the other day. I was using my Fuji HS30EXR, and he was switching back and forth between his waterproof Nikon Coolpix AW100 and his bigger, heavier Nikon D7000. The HS30EXR and the D7000 both use an exposure mode dial on top of the camera to select the various methods for making exposures. (See The PASM for more details on these modes.)

During a break in our shoot, my friend said to me, “At some point, the mode dial on my D7000 got switched to manual, so some of that last stuff didn’t come out.”

Another potential lock problem: if the aperture ring on a Nikkor AF lens comes unlocked from its smallest aperture setting, the camera will display "fEE" on the top display and won't shoot. The tab at the upper right is the lock, but I've never gone a month without one coming unlocked.
Another potential lock problem: if the aperture ring on a Nikkor AF lens comes unlocked from its smallest aperture setting, the camera will display “fEE” on the top display and won’t shoot. The tab at the upper right is the lock, but I’ve never gone a month without one coming unlocked.

This is one of my gripes about the exposure mode dial: if you use your camera as actively as I do, it will probably, at some point, get dialed to some setting you didn’t intend. I’ve found this is especially common when I am going back and forth between two cameras aggressively, one with a wide angle and one with a telephoto. When I shoulder one to shoot with the other, friction against my body, the camera strap, or even the other camera has the potential to move the dial.

Many years ago, during the film era, I remember going to big-time college football games and seeing photographers from agencies like Sports Illustrated, The Miami Herald, and The Los Angeles Times, who had taken meter readings, set their aperture and shutter speed, then used gaffer tape to secure the shutter dial and aperture ring so they couldn’t be bumped off the correct setting.

Some of the newest Canon DSLRs, like the 70d, feature a button in the center of the dial that must be pressed in order to unlock the dial, but in my opinion, this is a bandage on a bandage. The exposure mode dial is a toy. Professional cameras, like the ones I use every day in my job, don’t have them, because professionals don’t need what they offer: scene modes and “green box” (all-auto) mode. Professional photographers need control of the exposure method and nothing else.

Ideally, no savvy photographer needs a camera to think for them in any of their iterations: scene modes, in-camera image editing, on-screen guides, and so on. In fact, I’d go a step further and say that those modes are really there just to make cameras seem like they would be more fun to use. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, since most people buy technology, and by extension cameras, as toys.

These are the exposure mode dials on the Fuji S200EXR and the Nikon D80. Both are in the open on top of the camera, and neither lock.
These are the exposure mode dials on the Fuji S200EXR and the Nikon D80. Both are in the open on top of the camera, and neither lock.
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1 Comment

  1. “Some of the newest Canon DSLRs, like the 70d, feature a button in the center of the dial that must be pressed in order to unlock the dial”

    The 60D has this. It’s irritating. I’d never once accidentally switched modes in the past. It took almost a year to develop the habit of pressing the button to turn the dial (and my thick fingers make it difficult to do both at the same time).

    Note: Canon’s higher-level cameras, like the 5D, and the 1D series, don’t have all the scene modes:
    http://1.static.img-dpreview.com/reviews/canon-eos-5d-mark-iii/images/topleftcontrols.jpg

    Like you, I see no point in the dial, if a mode button (+ control dial) would do the trick.

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