Thanks Allan for setting me up to write this posting on the best way to set up the S95 to handle most situations – for beginners! One is pretty easy and the other is a little more involved.
First of all I was going to write a very short answer to Allan saying that he should go with the green “AUTO” setting and then forget it – like in “set and forget” but thinking more about it I thought that he deserved a proper answer – even if it has taken some time … This posting will be kind of like a reasoning about advantages and disadvantages with picking certain settings – and telling my favorite setting that handles everything …well almost! Some of the settings are particular to the S95 but the general reasoning applies to most compact cameras!
Green “Auto” is the obvious and first candidate – after all the camera maker has put some effort into making this setting for people who want to “set and forget”. This is one type of setting that every (well almost every) camera has. Sometimes on extremely simple cameras this is the only setting – even if it isn’t green!
Picking this setting will let the camera handle almost all settings – actually stopping you from changing some settings! The idea being that you should not be allowed to mess things up! This setting has a lot going for it! The camera evaluates the photo motif in front of it and tries to set up the camera to best handle that motif; it selects the photo mode: landscape, portrait etc – and thereby changing a lot of different parameters like shutter time, f-stop, saturation, color balance; it also selects focus setting normal or macro or face recognition. On the S95 you are allowed some freedom with the flash setting: to select flash auto or flash off – good if you don’t want to spoil the nice lighting on the restaurant with the cold flash light. Generally – the more you help the camera to “understand” what kind of picture you want to take the better pictures you will get! Without going through all the good this setting does we will instead see if there is any real drawbacks with this “green” setting?
Well the first drawback that I see is that the camera will select focus point(s) itself. So is this something to be worried about? Usually it will select the nearest object for focus – this works reasonably well and as the selected focus points are shown (as green rectangles) you can always try to trick the camera (by moving it around) to focus on the objects that you would prefer! In the wide-angle setting the large depth of field will make the focus point less of an issue – most of the picture will be sharp anyhow. Even if the works most of the time, as a keen photographer (with some slight ambitions) this is not what I would like to have. I want to tell the camera what I want to use as the focal point! This is especially important when you use the tele setting where some parts of the picture actually will be out of focus.
The next drawback is the you can not change the white balance – the camera will select what it thinks is the best white balance setting! It might be argued that this is not a setting for a “set and forget” type of photographer to bother about anyhow… Still it is something a lot of cameras will not do very well – especially in shadow situations. Look at the two sample pictures where the left one was taken with Automatic White Balance (AWB) and it would on its own look OK – especially if you were not the photographer so you had not seen it with your own eyes. I was there (Nice in France) and when I saw the cold “blueish” first picture I changed white balance to “Shade” and took the second picture – on the right – and that was much more like it actually looked! This is by far – according to what I think – the most severe drawback with the green setting!
Tip: Set up the “P” mode to have “shade” white balance – the camera will remember this. Then use the normal “green” setting for most pictures but switch over to “P” mode when you have a shaded scene that you want to photograph. This way you get the benefit of all the “artificial intelligence” built into the “green” setting but still get beautiful pictures in the shade – without going chasing into the menus. Only two simple settings to use: Green for everything except shade scenes! … and maybe flash on if you want a clear well lit picture in the restaurant or flash off if you want to capture the restaurant atmosphere.
If you don’t mind the “blueish” pictures in the shade then you need only to use the “green” setting and you can really practically “set and forget”!
The second contender – the “P” setting for the “set and forget” is requiring the photographer to do more than in the “green” setting above – but also gives a better control over the pictures. Here you will have to do more – thereby distancing you from the typical “set and forget” and this might therefore be a good second step when you have outgrown the above “green auto” setting.
First of all you should go into the menu and set AF Frame to “center” and AF Frame Size to “small” . These are the two first settings that you will see after you have pressed the menu button. This will require you to be more active when you take your pictures: You will have to set the small white focus rectangle (in the middle of the screen) to where you want the focus to be on the motif and then (while holding the shutter button halfway down) recompose the picture to your (artistic) liking and then pressing the shutter button full down – taking the picture. I used the word “require” but I actually see this as I get the ability to set focus where I want it! A little more involved – but very good I think! This will definitely develop you as a photographer – especially that you recompose the picture after focusing!
The “P” setting gives you the ability to change the white balance – but to simplify this you should go into the menu and program the shortcut button to give access to the white balance settings. Then you will have direct access to the white balance by just pressing the shortcut button – much simpler and quicker than through the menu! You will have access to many different settings for white balance but AWB and Shade are the two I use most!
With the “P” setting you get a lot more settings that are available to you – settings that you initially can skip over untill (if ever) you feel ready to use them!
This “P” setting is very popular with many photographers because it gives a lot och set up options – but you should not be intimidated by this – you will not have to use them all! 😉
The most “set and forget” like setting is by far the “green auto” setting which will handle most situation in a reasonable way. Combine this with the “P” setting for pictures in the shade and you will get beautiful pictures in most situations!
If you want more of a challenge – go for the “P” setting!