My Nikon D300 has no “auto” setting, but I’ve always felt I could simulate a point-and-shoot camera with something I call Drunk Mode. In Drunk Mode, I set the camera to matrix metering, Program exposure mode (wherein the camera sets both shutter speed and aperture), auto ISO, and Auto-Area focusing (the “big white rectangle”). With these settings, I could hand the camera to anyone – waiter or drunken passerby – and he or she could get a pretty good picture. A real point-and-shoot camera would also choose when to use flash, but you know I would never give up control of my flash.
This week in Las Vegas, I had no specific photographic objective, so I decided to roam Caesar’s Palace with the camera in Drunk Mode to see how well it would perform in regular use. I got pretty good snapshots, but each with flaws I would have avoided with my regular shooting practices (manual exposure, 9-pt focusing using AF-ON button).
Drunk Mode let me shove the wide-angle-mounted camera into unusual spots, but in this case the camera chose the wrong point of focus. Had I chosen the focus point myself, the Pegasus's foreground-filling face would be the sharpest thing in the picture. The camera SHOULD have chosen the face, but was probably distracted by the greater contrast of the more brightly lit creature under its wing.
In this case, I would have chosen to expose a little hotter to pick up more detail in the statue. The skylight is going to burn out in any reasonable exposure, but the color and detail of the rest of the ceiling could likely be recovered even with another one to two stops of exposure.
As a snapshot, I have no complaints about this one. But really, there's no reason to take this picture at all, unless you are the sculptor or interior designer, or your high school sweetheart was the model.
I puzzled over this when I uploaded images to my computer, but then I remembered hearing the camera fire as it bounced on my hip as I rode an escalator. Although this is more attractive as puzzle than photograph (it's a compositional mess; where's the subject?), it's far more interesting than the version below. But I have to admit, the exposure and focus are petty good.
The camera fired while hanging upside down over my shoulder. Turning the image upside-down makes it look right-side-up. It also makes it look like a crooked, accidental exposure. I prefer the right-side-up version of the upside-down world.
For the record, I was sober while shooting in Drunk Mode, so I guess I’ll have to arrange a more comprehensive test at some point. I think anyone with a recent vintage digital camera gets consistently excellent results in AUTO mode, but this experiment reminds me that the camera cannot know my preferences, and can still be fooled by complex scenes. Whew! I still bring something to the party!