I'm not exactly sure how to use the metering function which comes along with my SLR. How much different is it if I used the following functions such as Full Manual, Priority Function & Auto?
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The metering function of a camera usually has two modes which depend on the model of the camera and the features. The first mode of the light meter is an average reading. It will take and meter light from nearly every light source in the view finder. It covers about 25-35% of the view finder's total area. This doesn't affect the outcome of the picture except in scenarios where there is a strong contrast of light and dark hues and tones. For example: if you are taking a picture of a dark tree line as a foreground, a bright overcast or blue sky as a background, and you are using the averaging meter mode, then the result would be a middle gray tone. The sky would be slightly underexposed and the tree line would be slightly overexposed.
The second mode for metering is the spot metering mode. This covers about 5-10% of the viewfinder and allows for much more precise metering on a scene which has multiple levels of light intensity. For instance, using the spot mode you'll be able to get a pure reading for the tree line (which is what would most likely want get the correct exposure on) and it won't be interfered with by readings from the sky.
To answer your other question about priority, manual, or auto, there
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is a huge difference. Full manual is for those who are VERY experienced in recognizing what scenes or portraits require which exposure settings. Auto-focus would also be disabled. When all auto is disabled, there is no point in having an expensive automatic system when you could have a manual camera for only $100-$200. Full auto can be the same way. It's quicker and easier, but you have less control. You might as well own a point-and-shoot. Priority mode is probably the most useful mode there is on a camera. There are usually two of these. First is shutter priority. By controlling the shutter and letting the F-stop automatically adjust, you can reduce or eliminate any motion in sports, waterfalls, rivers, birds in flight, etc. The second priority is aperture priority. I use this all the time and it works incredibly. Being able to control the aperture is the most important aspect of the camera to control in most situations. A good photo depends on what depth-of-field suits it best. In a portrait, you want to blur the background by making out of focus (use the lowest number F-stop you can. This creates a shallow depth-of-field). In a landscape, you want your foreground and background to be in focus so use the highest F-stop numb
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