The scene mode selecting dial on my old compact camera is highly sensitive now, it could easily switch the mode even I don't touch it. Unfortunately there is no spare part left on this model, so I either have to get used to it or buy a new camera. However a repair shop told me that for compact, non-DSLR cameras, those buttons are not really giving you any significantly better images; the auto mode alone is much better than phone's cameras, and is enough for non-professional uses like capturing friends moments, photo sharing, etc.

Is this correct? Why is that? Can you give me some comments about other scenes: beach, landscape, snow, portrait, etc?

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Scene modes are particularly important on small cameras. In fact high end DSLRs do not have any scene modes because they give complete control over the camera.

Scene modes basically abstract the underlying controls which are not reachable on a camera like the one you show. Notice there is no M, A, S or P mode on the camera, so you have no control on any of the exposure parameter save for ISO which is usually selectable in the menu system.

The camera itself has a certain range of ISO, Shutter-Speed, Aperture, Focus-Distance and White-Balance which Scene modes set. Most compact cameras for example will use a limited shutter-speed range, say 1/1600-1/8s in Auto mode but will take longer exposures when shooting in Night, Fireworks or Starry-Sky modes. When using portrait mode, a wider aperture will be chosen, when shooting snow or beach in the right mode, exposure and color will be adjusted accordingly. A Macro scene mode tells the camera to focus closer while it may normally only attempt to focus further in an effort to speed AF. These are just some examples but there are cameras with over 20 scene modes that set parameters in ways that the user cannot otherwise.

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  • Why can't the auto mode take longer exposures when the light is low? – Ooker Mar 7 '18 at 16:23
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    Different cameras behave differently but most assume that you are taking a handheld snapshot in auto mode, so they set a shutter-speed limit to avoid extremely blurry images and boost the ISO as much as possible to compensate. If you put the camera in Starry Sky mode for example, some Panasonic cameras will take 60s exposures which requires a tripod. Fujifilm for example usually has both a Night mode and a Night Tripod mode, one boosts the ISO, the other shutter-speed. Use of the flash is particularly dependent on the mode too, most Auto modes deploy flash instead of a long exposure. – Itai Mar 7 '18 at 16:27
  • So it depends on how the environments affect the required shutter-speed, right? Because that's the only thing I see that handheld snapshot could affect the results despite how accurate the auto mode detects the environment. I mean, why can't the auto mode detect the beach or portrait or macro scene? – Ooker Mar 7 '18 at 16:38
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    @Ooker- It can only go so far but some do. If you have used the Auto EXR mode on Fuji cameras, you would see that it actually tells you if it will go into portrait, landscape, night mode or a few others. It will even reduce resolution in different ways to improve signal-to-noise ratio or dynamic-range. This is as close to magic as I've seen from a camera! For things like the beach or snow, the problem is that the camera does not know how bright the scene should be, so they tend to underexpose in those cases because that makes it more often right than wrong in other cases. – Itai Mar 7 '18 at 17:27
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    Do see the example of the white bear in a blizzard vs the black cat in a cave. The camera is good at measuring brightness but it cannot know how bright the resulting image should be as all cameras have a limited latitude. – Itai Mar 8 '18 at 14:35

Scene modes as they are typically referred to are very useful in basic compact cameras. They allow the user to hint to the camera what type of image settings to use. For example a common scene mode is macro mode, typically selected with a flower icon. A macro scene mode can limit the camera to a focusing distance of something like 2-10cm for example, where the camera may only start at 10cm if left in Auto. This is just one example but I'm sure you can think of more based on the other scene modes.

In lieu of fully manual settings for aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and even things like focus and burst speed - scene modes can help put the user in more control then they otherwise would be given in the Auto mode.

The bottom line is that the scene modes don't necessarily give you better images, but they do give you more control which could result in better images if used appropriately.

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  • Would the goodness be significant enough in non-professional, daily activities like photo sharing? Can you give me some comments about some modes: night, beach, landscape, portrait? Thank you. – Ooker Mar 7 '18 at 3:11
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    @Ooker It’s like having one mode on a blender or rice cooker or multiple modes. This isn’t a professional camera and to benefit from the additional scene modes one only really has to understand the purpose and right use. – dpollitt Mar 7 '18 at 3:13
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    Taking the camera out of auto with no knowledge of what you are doing involves a certain amount my of risk. You could make worse images by not understanding what you are doing. Similarly the benefits of scene modes will be difficult to realize without understanding them. – dpollitt Mar 7 '18 at 4:12
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    @Ooker it's not whether amateurs should stay away or use it, but every scene does something to the settings, which those users should more-or-less understand how it will affect the result. A quick googling returned an article on scene modes. Also, just as already mentioned, even using scene mode in the proper scene won't automatically improve the image quality because there are still other factors, e.g. hand stability. Using "night mode" with shaky hand won't certainly be better than "auto"... – Andrew T. Mar 7 '18 at 9:32
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    @Ooker "so that even if I select the modes in the proper scenes, if I don't have much knowledge on photography, this wouldn't increase the quality of the images much, is that correct?" If you are able to select the right mode, you have at least some of that knowledge. – Michael C Mar 7 '18 at 16:14

I suspect the "seller"¹ told you what they did to entice you to buy the camera. What the seller told you isn't exactly true and correct.

¹ Which, as it turns out, is not a seller of this camera at all. Rather, that person described as the "seller" was advising the existing owner of the camera that the scene modes aren't that important anyway. Possibly to minimize the fact that the "seller's" shop couldn't fix the problem.

In fact, it is pretty much the opposite case: scene modes are a way of the non-professional telling the camera what the conditions of the photo are so that the camera can use the appropriate settings to maximize the chances of a successful photo.

One example: Snow or beach scene.

The professional photographer understands that a camera doesn't know if we are photographing a black cat in a coal mine or a white cat in a blizzard. The professional knows how to alter the camera's settings to make the scene look bright without totally overexposing the image or dark without totally underexposing the image. The amateur does not usually know how to do this.

Unless we tell the camera to do differently, the camera will try and make everything a medium brightness. So if the camera is set on full "Auto", a picture of the snow will look bleak and gray because the camera will expose bright white snow as medium gray!

"Snow/Beach" scene mode to the rescue!

We don't have to know how to adjust exposure for snow or bright sand at the beach, we just have to know to tell the camera we're taking a picture of a very bright scene by turning the mode dial to "Snow" and the programming in the camera will do the rest!

The same is true of the many other scene modes. It gives the amateur a way to tell the camera what kind of scene they are shooting and the camera will attempt to pick the best combination of shutter duration, aperture, and ISO to use for that particular kind of scene. The amateur doesn't really need to know what the camera does to get there. They just need to be able to recognize the difference between a bright sunny day at the beach (Snow/Beach scene mode) and a night out on the town (Night portrait scene mode). They just need to be able to tell the camera they are shooting a running subject (Sports scene mode) or a static nature scene (Landscape scene mode). This allows the camera to emphasize what is most important for a particular type of shot. If conditions are less than ideal, the camera will use one of the other, less important factors for a particular type of photo to compromise and keep the most important thing as optimal as possible.

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  • If the seller wanted to cheat me, they would have addressed the importance of the scenes, right? And why can't the auto mode just detect the scenes? Is it because of not enough detectors in the camera? Would professional cameras have them? – Ooker Mar 7 '18 at 16:51
  • @Ooker If the camera needs to be left in "Auto" to prevent the scene modes from randomly malfunctioning or being accidentally selected, why would the seller address the importance of features you can no longer reliably use? The seller want to convince you that staying in "Auto' all of the time won't be that big of a deal so that you'll buy the camera. – Michael C Mar 7 '18 at 16:57
  • but I didn't buy any thing. This is my camera and I just asked them to fix it, and they simply ran out of spare part... – Ooker Mar 8 '18 at 1:42
  • If the shop was trying to avoid having to repair your camera, then they are not "the seller." They are the "repair shop." – Michael C Mar 8 '18 at 1:50
  • well yes, but the person talked to me was the seller of the shop, not the technician behind. – Ooker Mar 8 '18 at 3:48

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