A bit of history about Modes, for those who might be new to the foregoing discussion of the Exposure Compensation dial on the Fuji X-T1.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, cameras had two variable exposure controls, the shutter speed and the aperture (a third, the ASA dial, was set according to the film that was loaded, and generally not changed thereafter. When I used Plus-X, I probably went several years without ever once shifting the ASA dial off 80. Yes, 80—and we wore animal skins and conked our women over the head with clubs prior to dragging them off to the cave by their hair*). Photographers metered with a separate device. This was originally called a "light meter" and later, as a back-formation after in-camera meters arrived, a "hand-held meter." And the camera gods looked upon this and declared it was good**.
Presently, camera manufacturers began building the light meter into the camera. This was received as an abomination and an outrage by the people, at first; no one saw the problem with using a proper light meter. Some declared that the built-in, in-camera light meters were not to be trusted.
For a time, you still adjusted the two variable controls, only now the camera was helping by suggesting how to set those things.
Then the cameramakers got the bright idea of letting the camera set one of the parameters based on where you'd set the other one, and "Modes" were born. In the early days this was called "AE," for auto-exposure. The idea was that you'd set the shutter speed and the aperture would set itself! A radical notion, and again, some of the people were upset, and resisted the new order.
This was where I came in, at age 16 or so. My first camera, a Konica Autoreflex T3, had shutter-priority AE. A professional photographer friend of my father's said it was too complicated to explain what the aperture numbers meant, and just suggested that I turn the shutter speed dial until the needle in the viewfinder pointed to "one of the middle" aperture numbers, avoiding the numbers at either end.
Konica T3 viewfinder (from butkus.org). I was advised to make the needle point to one of the middle numbers, avoiding the "2" and the "16."
Then the cry arose from the land: why should we have to select the shutter speed? What about those of us to whom aperture is more important? So there were cameras that worked the other way around from my T3—you picked the aperture and the shutter speed was set by the camera.
I cannot tell you when, or with what cameras, these innovations were first introduced. Hopefully some more knowledgable camera historian will chime in and help out here.
But to return to our story. Eventually, a bright idea was had: why not let the camera select both settings? This was eventually popular for newbies and tyros who had no idea what shutter speed and aperture were, or why you'd want any one over any other. And Program mode was born. And again the beardy grumpy guys grumbled across the land!
Note that there was a time, long ago, when you picked what camera to buy based on what mode you wanted its AE to work in. It was assumed that you had a preference and you needed only one mode, the one you liked.
Canon, for instance, had a popular camera called the AE-1 (1976) that had shutter-priority AE. Canon also helpfully supplied variants with other modes. The full manual AT-1 (1976) was for export only; the AV-1 (1979) featured Aperture-priority AE. These three cameras were essentially identical—same size and shape, used the same accessories, etc. Exposure mode was the difference.
Canon created a sensation with the A-1 (1978), a premium camera that included all modes. I believe it was the first camera with full Program mode, although Program mode was added to the AE-1 in 1981.
Later in the '80s a wet-behind-the-ears photo-writer came along, and his name was Mike, and he was a beardy grumpy guy long before he had a beard and even back when he was cheerful and friendly toward all, as he still mostly is. And he said, why all this confusion? Why not just have an "A" on the aperture ring and an "A" on the shutter speed dial and let that control all four modes? Put the aperture ring on A and set a shutter speed, and you're in Shutter-priority AE. Put the shutter-speed dial on A and set an aperture, and you're in Aperture-priority mode. Put neither in A but select a value for both, and you're in Manual mode. Put both on A and let the camera do everything and you're in Program mode. Simple. Clean. Beautiful. Elegant.
Alas the camera makers putteth their fingers in their ears and went "wah-wah-wah-wah-wah we're not listening," and they did not do this thing, but continued to gum up their cameras unnecessarily with less elegant methods of implementing modes. Except a few of them did not, but did as the wet-behind-the-ears photo-writer said, albeit most probably coincidentally, and this pleaseth him and maketh his heart less grumpy.
And that's exactly what FujiFilm has done on the X-T1 and that's another reason why his heart is swelled with happiness by the X-T1 which yea verily is a wonderful little camera and that, none shall gainsay! (Ahem, I seem to be getting a little carried away here. Restraining my enthusiasm for the X-T1 is a task that is proving not to be trivial.)
Okay, but here's the thing ye must remembereth: just because a camera has all sorts of controls doesn't mean you need to use all of them. The reason there are nineteen bazillion ways to set exposure on every camera is not so you'll use all nineteen bazillion, it's so you can customize the camera and use it the way you like it.
And indeed this was the rap against the old A-1 back in 1978 by the guys who were then old, beardy and grumpy (and who are now, alas, dead): who needs all four modes, fer Pete's sake? You don't know how you like to shoot? And lo, they called it preposterous.
And the marketers saith, then as now: features sell, so shut up. But then, our story is already done, and I'm late for a haircut, so okay, exeunt.
**Well, actually, what they said was "good enough," and then they were heard grumbling something about how photo enthusiasts never leave well enough alone, but that's making our story too fine-grained.
Original contents copyright 2014 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Dave Levingston: "I started out in the days before cameras had meters built in...a Nikon F and Gossen LunaPro meter were my kit back then. I've embraced every advance that made it easier to concentrate on the photo rather than the camera (well, with the exception of auto-focus which I'm still not all that happy with). Back when they started putting that awful 'A' setting on the shutter speed dial many resisted it saying, 'No professional photographer would ever use auto exposure.' A good friend, John Allee, had the best comment I heard on that subject, 'The way I see it you have a choice. You can let the camera set the wrong exposure automatically, or you can manually set the wrong exposure.' These days I often tell people 'P' is for 'Professional.'"
Mike replies: I love it....
Bill Mitchell: "Some 'AUTO's are excellent; for example Canon and Pentax SLRs come very close to the parameters which I've settled on after 60 years of photography. Some 'AUTO's are terrible; my SONY RX10 and RX100 set both shutter speeds and ISO too low, giving a lot of grainless but shaky images."
Mark Cotter: "I don't think it possible to restrain enthusiasm for the X-T1: don't try to."
Stefan Bieschewski: "I always liked how the Minolta CLE and the Zeiss ZM solved this problem: They have a single knob for shutter speed, autoexposure adjust, and ISO. It looks nice and simple and leaves no room for doubt about which knob is active and which is not."
Mike replies: Yes, that was very elegant. I'm pretty sure I read at the time that the Zeiss camera copied that feature from the CLE. Or maybe Stephen Gandy told me that; I can't remember now.
Steve Rosenblum: "To those who question the utility of Shutter Priority mode I will say that while I usually start in Aperture Priority mode, Shutter Priority can be quite useful for street shooters.
"I learned this from Peter Turnley at one of his workshops. In shutter priority mode you set the shutter speed to 250, the goal being to have enough speed to freeze most action on the street. You then adjust the ISO so that you end up with an aperture that will generally provide you with adequate depth of field for the distance you are generally shooting from. As light conditions change you adjust the ISO to maintain that aperture—the ISO is all you work with as the day goes on.
"I have to say that this technique works brilliantly for this kind of work. Obviously, this technique is dependent upon using a digital camera with good high ISO performance such that you don't care whether the ISO is set at 100 or 1600."