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I use a Sony NEX-5R, which I'm generally comfortable with -- I generally know what ISO and shutter speed to use, that I should shoot portraits wide open, and I shoot landscapes at the aperture at which my lens is sharpest, etc. I use a tripod with a remote control for low-light landscapes, along with manual focus.

Given that I'm not a beginner, does it help to use one of the scene modes the camera supports? Note that I shoot in RAW.

Unfortunately, what each of the modes does it not precisely defined (such as: "Portrait mode uses the widest aperture available, and focuses on a nearby object").

Pasting from the manual:

  • Portrait: Blurs away backgrounds and sharpens the subject. Accentuate skin tones softly.
  • Landscape: Shoots the entire range of scenery in sharp focus with vivid colors.
  • Macro: Shoots close-ups of the subjects such as flowers, insects, food, or small items.
  • Sports Action: Shoots a moving subject at a fast shutter speed so that the subject looks as if it is standing still. The camera shoots images continuously while the shutter button is pressed. When using the touch shutter, the camera shoots images continuously while you are touching the screen.
  • Sunset: Shoots the red of the sunset beautifully.
  • Night Portrait: Shoots portraits in night scenes. Raise the flash to use this mode.
  • Night Scene: Shoots night scenes without losing the dark atmosphere.
  • Hand-held Twilight: Shoots night scenes with less noise and blur without using a tripod. A burst of shots are taken, and image processing is applied to reduce subject blur, camera-shake, and noise.
  • Anti Motion Blur: Allows you to shoot indoor shots without using the flash and reduces subject blur. The camera shoots burst images and combines them to create the image, reducing subject blur and noise.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate of photo.stackexchange.com/questions/19084/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Hugo
    Jun 11, 2014 at 11:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's not a duplicate at all. This question is not about whether these are just post-processing effects. I know they are not. They adjust aperture, shutter speed, flash, enable continuous shooting, etc. This question is about what the modes do and whether I can do that myself. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 12, 2014 at 4:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ It helps when it is necessary for a person not knowing how to use your camera properly to take a picture with it, like when a family member takes a snapshot of you in a vacation. Instead of explaining anything, just pop in a scene mode. It also prevents from loosing your settings on the manual mode (in most cameras). \$\endgroup\$
    – Jahaziel
    Jun 14, 2014 at 18:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate of What do the scene modes actually do? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Sep 13, 2016 at 21:49

3 Answers 3

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In most cameras the scene modes automatically set the file type to JPEG and apply different processing settings to those files (Landscape mode often boosts greens and blues, sunset mode boosts reds, for example). They also prioritise aperture and/or shutter speed appropriately. However, this comes at the cost of creative freedom - the camera is making all the choices for you. Scene modes are really just narrowed-down Auto, and are similarly aimed at beginners.

Long story short, if you know what you're doing in terms of camera settings, shoot raw and are happy post processing, scene modes are effectively redundant.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ BTW, the scene modes do work with RAW files. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 14, 2014 at 0:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ As I said, I don't know exactly what all I could do. For example, if I were to take a portrait at night, I would set the aperture and shutter speed and ISO appropriately, but I wouldn't have thought of using the flash, and I wouldn't have thought of using manual focus with a focus point close by (the person being photographed). So, the problem is that I may not think of all the settings I can tweak. If I do think of something, I'll set it to the right value, but I may not think of everything until it's too late. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 14, 2014 at 6:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ The scene mode wouldn't think of using manual focus either. That kind of thing just comes with experience, something you won't gain much of if you use scene modes. Just like you wouldn't learn to drive just by being a passenger. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 14, 2014 at 10:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ What I meant to say that if I'm taking a portrait at night, I may not know what all adjustments the night portrait mode makes, to be able to do them myself. But I'll keep your point in mind. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 15, 2014 at 1:58
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The scene modes are simply collections of settings to make 'auto mode' work in a way suited to particular subjects (e.g. the 'portrait' mode will prefer large apertures, the 'landscape' mode will prefer small apertures - to give a simple example). If you're comfortable setting aperture / shutter speed / ISO yourself (and know what to use for different situations) then there's no benefit (other than convenience) of having the camera do it for you.

Also, the output of the Scene mode is usually JPEG-only (because one of the ways the desired effect is achieved is with JPEG processing settings). Some cameras will automatically shoot RAW + JPEG (if you have the camera set to RAW) when you engage Scene mode, but others will only shoot JPEG (so you end up without a RAW file for that shot).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I thought so, too, but if I ask it to shoot RAW, it does shoot RAW. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 14, 2014 at 0:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please also see my comment at ElendilTheTall's answer. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 14, 2014 at 6:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ You're right - I just realised my OM-D (by default anyway) will shoot RAW + JPEG if you're set to Raw and use Art mode. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 14, 2014 at 20:50
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  • Two of those scene modes combine photo bursts in-camera for greater dynamic range, noise reduction, or (in other cameras) zoom range, shallow depth of field, etc. Although you can post-process your own bracketed or burst of photos, the camera might make you trade off pixel depth (in RAW mode) vs. burst speed (in JPEG mode), and you'll need image stacking software. (Lightroom won't do it.)

  • Some cameras put other nifty tricks under "scene modes" like sweep panorama (which could take advantage of continuous accelerometer data), starting image capture then recording video or a burst starting a short time before you pressed the shutter button, smile detection, etc.

Indeed, we could use camera manuals that explain more!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ When I tried the Handheld Twilight mode, I found that it was extremely sensitive to camera shake. I got a blurred photo that was worse than not using this mode at all. I don't know if I did something wrong. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 14, 2014 at 6:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think Handheld Twilight mode reduces the impact of back and forth camera shake (by aligning multiple shots that divvy up the exposure time) but increase the impact of linear subject motion esp. on the foreground subject (by increasing the total elapsed time for picture capture). Yet another tradeoff, also another case for better documentation (in manual or in camera with recent cameras). \$\endgroup\$
    – Jerry101
    Jun 14, 2014 at 17:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Right, but in this case the subject was not moving. Does this mode align images before fusing them, or expect them to be aligned to begin with? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 15, 2014 at 1:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ It must align the images before merging them to get results that are better than a single, longer exposure, but I guess this is only good for a couple stops of improvement. Furthermore, aligning whole images means there'll be additional blur from relative motion between the foreground and background, whether that's because of a moving subject or parallax in camera shake. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jerry101
    Jun 16, 2014 at 3:04

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