Recently I bought a Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 2/28 ZF2 lens. It’s a fantastic lens, I’ll write more about the lens itself some other time. But what it’s really done for me is change the way I take pictures. I think that others have commented effectively on the uses of Auto Focus (AF) versus Manual Focus (MF), but I think I’ve returned to where I used to be when I took pictures with a film camera. I’ve taken to constantly adjusting the settings of my camera based on the light, pre-setting the focus for the scene I’m about to shoot. Recent camera viewfinders are all optimized for use with auto-focus and are all but useless for manual work. The D800 Nikon badly needs a split-screen so that proper manual focus can be done without relying on LiveView which is great for tripod work (things which don’t move) but not so useful otherwise. Back to our subject, which is how I’ve changed the way I take pictures.
Camera metering is better than it’s ever been, but I’ve stopped using it. It’s almost always wrong for getting the results that I want. Matrix metering has always been a compromise, trying to balance out the picture. Spot metering has never worked for me, since in focussing the light on one small part of your picture is almost always to the detriment of the overall composition. So I’m back to doing what I used to do with film, using my brain. I first noticed that I was ignoring the camera meter when I was taking pictures at a concert (X-Hall, Nagoya) a few months ago. As an experiment, I was playing with the camera meter settings to find which one was most accurate as to the final result that I wanted. I quickly noticed that all of them would give a result that was at best satisfactory. I then threw metering out the window and started to use settings that I remembered last using in university, almost 20 years ago. What my meter was telling me, particularly when using all the programmed settings, was quite simply wrong. That’s not a hard sell when you’re taking pictures under extreme contrast, in the dark, with a subject that is moving a lot.
A few days ago I was prowling the streets around Shibuya and noticed the same thing while using my newly acquired Zeiss 28mm: using the camera’s meter wasn’t getting me what I wanted from a given scene. I started using my own settings from my brain, and then compared it to adjusting using the camera EV dial. The result was fairly simple: I didn’t like the photos taken with what the camera meter was telling me. In order to get what I wanted I had to underexpose by an Exposure Value of between -0.33 to -1.0. As soon as I did this, I was able to start using the meter again. I started getting a higher percentage of what I wanted, but it was still no substitute for my own judgement. The viewfinder has become just a means of checking my composition, all the other information in it has become a lot less useful.