Beware the Sony Auto-mode in low-light! (Or: don't make my mistake)

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Some kind of person New Member • Posts: 10
Beware the Sony Auto-mode in low-light! (Or: don't make my mistake)

So, I had a little get-together the other night, and since I'd be lending my camera (an A6500) to others now and again (I wanted to be in some of the photos too), I had the brilliant idea of just putting it on complete Auto the whole night, figuring that surely Sony's engineers would know their stuff when it comes to the basics of exposure (a reasonable assumption, given that Program mode normally works just fine). That turns out to have been a major mistake.

Looking at the photos afterwards, most/all of them are considerably noisy, having invariably been shot at ISO 6400, at f-stops as high as f/3.5, and never below f/2 (the Sigma 30mm f1.4 was used the whole night), with shutter speeds staying consistently at 1/160. This, despite the fact that we were all adults who have no problems sitting still in front of the camera to have our pictures taken, and the camera having IBIS, and thus shutter speeds of around 1/30 would've been perfectly fine.

I've done some testing afterwards, and my impression is that it's almost as if Sony's Auto-mode prioritises high shutter speeds and apertures over low ISO, choosing to crank up the ISO to 6400 before relenting on aperture, and then finally relenting on shutter speed (preferring a shutter speed of at least 1/160, and an f-stop of at least f/2). Strangely, my RX100VA seems much more reasonable, going low on the shutter speed before really cranking up the ISO, so it's obviously not something that's consistent across the range of Sony products, and may just be something unique to the A6500.

In any case, I guess I should consider this a lesson learned: if I'm gonna be handing my camera over to someone else to take a couple of shots with, I'll be setting it to Program mode from now on.

Sony a6500
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SonyOB Senior Member • Posts: 1,314
Re: Beware the Sony Auto-mode in low-light! (Or: don't make my mistake)

I do darkness photos M with shutter 1/125 auto ISO and f-stop as needed.
I decide, not my LIttle Sony.
Fill flash at -1.5 comes handy at times as does a baby tripod.

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BrentSchumer
BrentSchumer Senior Member • Posts: 2,596
Re: Beware the Sony Auto-mode in low-light! (Or: don't make my mistake)

I haven't shot auto in a while but noticed this behavior with my RX100M3: It seemed to like to crank the ISO to 3200 as a first resort, then used that "extra" light for oddly high shutter speeds.  My theory is that Sony prioritizes motion crispness in auto mode to make the camera "usable" for people shooting kids indoors or those with poor hand steadiness.

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davect01
davect01 Veteran Member • Posts: 9,205
Re: Beware the Sony Auto-mode in low-light! (Or: don't make my mistake)

I suppose that the Auto setting would rather crank up the ISO than make a slow shutter speed and have blur all over.

If I have someone else use my camera I usually set it to the P setting or one of the other preset modes like Portrait or Action.

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OP Some kind of person New Member • Posts: 10
Re: Beware the Sony Auto-mode in low-light! (Or: don't make my mistake)

Yeah, faster shutter speeds to avoid camera shake makes sense, though in this case, I feel as though they're doing the calculations entirely without taking into account that the camera has in-body image stabilisation, as well as with a bit too strong of an emphasis on using smaller apertures.

One of the shots was at 1/160 f/3.5 ISO 6400, and in that case I just feel that surely it could've opened up the lens a stop (or maybe even two, since it was an f/1.4 prime), and maybe halved the shutter speed to 1/80, which is very reasonable for a 45mm equivalent lens, even without stabilisation if you consider the 1/focal-length rule of thumb. That way, it could've taken the shot at ISO 1600, which would've made a huge difference.

In any case, I'll be doing what you're doing from now on, so that this kind of stuff doesn't happen again. And I'm certainly never trusting the Auto-mode of any camera ever again, no matter how tempting it would be to just "set it and forget it" once in a while.

GaryW Veteran Member • Posts: 9,556
Re: Beware the Sony Auto-mode in low-light! (Or: don't make my mistake)
1

Some kind of person wrote:

Yeah, faster shutter speeds to avoid camera shake makes sense, though in this case, I feel as though they're doing the calculations entirely without taking into account that the camera has in-body image stabilisation, as well as with a bit too strong of an emphasis on using smaller apertures.

One of the shots was at 1/160 f/3.5 ISO 6400, and in that case I just feel that surely it could've opened up the lens a stop (or maybe even two, since it was an f/1.4 prime), and maybe halved the shutter speed to 1/80, which is very reasonable for a 45mm equivalent lens, even without stabilisation if you consider the 1/focal-length rule of thumb. That way, it could've taken the shot at ISO 1600, which would've made a huge difference.

In any case, I'll be doing what you're doing from now on, so that this kind of stuff doesn't happen again. And I'm certainly never trusting the Auto-mode of any camera ever again, no matter how tempting it would be to just "set it and forget it" once in a while.

What setting is "ISO AUTO Min. SS"?  On my A6500, it's set to "Fast".  I imagine if you set it lower, it'll force the shutter speed lower before raising ISO?
Another thing you could try is just force the ISO to be what you want.  (If it's that dark, you still might want to stick to 3200 or at least 1600.)  I'm surprised there isn't a "Maximum ISO" setting.

You can use P mode, but it'll still try to use 1/160 (well, does for me) unless you turn the dial.   Handing the camera to another person (as was mentioned earlier) won't work, as others won't want to fiddle with the settings, so you'll have to set them ahead-of-time.

One thing that is really handy sometimes is using Manual mode and leaving it at "Auto ISO", but forcing the shutter and aperture to be what you want.  Then, if it STILL hits ISO 6400 with a slow shutter and wide aperture, then at least you know it HAD to.  
So, yeah, use manual and force the shutter to 1/80, the aperture to maybe f2, and go for it.  Let us know if that works. 

Having said all of that... I don't think high ISO is that much of a problem anymore.  First, we see through noise pretty well; I think it's less objectionable in actual use.  Second, software does a really good job of noise-reduction from RAW, and there are a lot of options there.

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Gary W.

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expressivecanvas
expressivecanvas Contributing Member • Posts: 917
Re: Beware the Sony Auto-mode in low-light! (Or: don't make my mistake)

I think Sony has resorted to using higher ISOs in Auto mode because of two reasons.

The first has to do with the fact that very few people can hold a camera steadily while pressing the shutter button.  It truly boggles my mind how much difficulty people have with this.  I notice it every single time someone else handles one of my cameras to get me in the photo.

The next thing is that if the auto-focus system is noticing a larger depth of field being necessary (ie, two faces being the 'main subject' but they are not the exact same distance from the camera) then the camera will stop down a bit.  If it stops down, then you need either a slower shutter speed (not advisable in auto for the above reason) or a higher ISO.

With today's ability for cameras to jump into higher than usual ISOs without the noise we used to see a decade ago, I don't see a problem with this.  I'd certainly rather have a bit of noise as opposed to camera shake.

Patrick

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BrentSchumer
BrentSchumer Senior Member • Posts: 2,596
Re: Beware the Sony Auto-mode in low-light! (Or: don't make my mistake)

expressivecanvas wrote:

It truly boggles my mind how much difficulty people have with this. I notice it every single time someone else handles one of my cameras to get me in the photo.

I'm guessing that most people don't understand that they need to care, as their phones do tons of magic to defeat sloppy shots (or directly prompt them to stay stable in night mode).

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expressivecanvas
expressivecanvas Contributing Member • Posts: 917
Re: Beware the Sony Auto-mode in low-light! (Or: don't make my mistake)
1

BrentSchumer wrote:

expressivecanvas wrote:

It truly boggles my mind how much difficulty people have with this. I notice it every single time someone else handles one of my cameras to get me in the photo.

I'm guessing that most people don't understand that they need to care, as their phones do tons of magic to defeat sloppy shots (or directly prompt them to stay stable in night mode).

Oh, these same people can't shoot a crisp photo with a cellphone either.  I don't know about your FB Newsfeed but my FB Newsfeed is filled with blurry, motion blurred cellphone photos.  Occasionally, I see a halfway decent cellphone photo.  It doesn't matter what they use to capture a photo, they can't press anything while holding a camera steady.

Patrick

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OP Some kind of person New Member • Posts: 10
Re: Beware the Sony Auto-mode in low-light! (Or: don't make my mistake)

GaryW wrote:

Some kind of person wrote:

*snip*

What setting is "ISO AUTO Min. SS"? On my A6500, it's set to "Fast". I imagine if you set it lower, it'll force the shutter speed lower before raising ISO?
Another thing you could try is just force the ISO to be what you want. (If it's that dark, you still might want to stick to 3200 or at least 1600.) I'm surprised there isn't a "Maximum ISO" setting.

You can use P mode, but it'll still try to use 1/160 (well, does for me) unless you turn the dial. Handing the camera to another person (as was mentioned earlier) won't work, as others won't want to fiddle with the settings, so you'll have to set them ahead-of-time.

One thing that is really handy sometimes is using Manual mode and leaving it at "Auto ISO", but forcing the shutter and aperture to be what you want. Then, if it STILL hits ISO 6400 with a slow shutter and wide aperture, then at least you know it HAD to.
So, yeah, use manual and force the shutter to 1/80, the aperture to maybe f2, and go for it. Let us know if that works.

Having said all of that... I don't think high ISO is that much of a problem anymore. First, we see through noise pretty well; I think it's less objectionable in actual use. Second, software does a really good job of noise-reduction from RAW, and there are a lot of options there.

Well, I have adjusted the ISO AUTO Min. SS setting, as well as the Maximum ISO setting (which does exist), though even at their standard settings, Program mode still chooses more reasonable shutter speeds for me (around 1/60 under similar conditions to when I had it in Auto), but in Auto mode, those settings are unavailable/greyed out (along with most other settings). Basically, in Auto-mode, there is zero opportunity to make any manual adjustments (as far as I can tell).

You're right, though, software has gotten really good at doing noise reduction, and the photos were far from unsalvageable (Topaz Labs Denoise AI did a wonderful job, as usual).

OP Some kind of person New Member • Posts: 10
Re: Beware the Sony Auto-mode in low-light! (Or: don't make my mistake)

expressivecanvas wrote:

I think Sony has resorted to using higher ISOs in Auto mode because of two reasons.

The first has to do with the fact that very few people can hold a camera steadily while pressing the shutter button. It truly boggles my mind how much difficulty people have with this. I notice it every single time someone else handles one of my cameras to get me in the photo.

The next thing is that if the auto-focus system is noticing a larger depth of field being necessary (ie, two faces being the 'main subject' but they are not the exact same distance from the camera) then the camera will stop down a bit. If it stops down, then you need either a slower shutter speed (not advisable in auto for the above reason) or a higher ISO.

With today's ability for cameras to jump into higher than usual ISOs without the noise we used to see a decade ago, I don't see a problem with this. I'd certainly rather have a bit of noise as opposed to camera shake.

Patrick

This makes sense. I guess I hadn't considered the problem of most people not being familiar with techniques for holding the camera steady, and the Auto-mode being deliberately set-up for such users. Looking closer at how it behaves, I believe it chooses shutter speeds similar to a "ISO Auto Min. SS"-setting of "Fast" instead of "Standard" (which is the default the moment you leave Auto-mode), which I guess is based on the assumption that people who choose to opt for at least Program mode are more likely to know proper technique.

And you're right, while the noise level in the images was greater than I would like as a starting point, I was still able to get a satisfactory result using my usual noise reduction software. Still, if the shots had been done with my usual settings, I might not have needed to do any additional work at all, and that just vexed me a little. Though I guess the additional work is preferable to images with camera shake.

GaryW Veteran Member • Posts: 9,556
Re: Beware the Sony Auto-mode in low-light! (Or: don't make my mistake)

Some kind of person wrote:

GaryW wrote:

Some kind of person wrote:

*snip*

What setting is "ISO AUTO Min. SS"? On my A6500, it's set to "Fast". I imagine if you set it lower, it'll force the shutter speed lower before raising ISO?
Another thing you could try is just force the ISO to be what you want. (If it's that dark, you still might want to stick to 3200 or at least 1600.) I'm surprised there isn't a "Maximum ISO" setting.

You can use P mode, but it'll still try to use 1/160 (well, does for me) unless you turn the dial. Handing the camera to another person (as was mentioned earlier) won't work, as others won't want to fiddle with the settings, so you'll have to set them ahead-of-time.

One thing that is really handy sometimes is using Manual mode and leaving it at "Auto ISO", but forcing the shutter and aperture to be what you want. Then, if it STILL hits ISO 6400 with a slow shutter and wide aperture, then at least you know it HAD to.
So, yeah, use manual and force the shutter to 1/80, the aperture to maybe f2, and go for it. Let us know if that works.

Having said all of that... I don't think high ISO is that much of a problem anymore. First, we see through noise pretty well; I think it's less objectionable in actual use. Second, software does a really good job of noise-reduction from RAW, and there are a lot of options there.

Well, I have adjusted the ISO AUTO Min. SS setting, as well as the Maximum ISO setting (which does exist), though even at their standard settings, Program mode still chooses more reasonable shutter speeds for me (around 1/60 under similar conditions to when I had it in Auto), but in Auto mode, those settings are unavailable/greyed out (along with most other settings). Basically, in Auto-mode, there is zero opportunity to make any manual adjustments (as far as I can tell).

Yeah, I don't think that's really the fault of Auto mode, though -- it's there when you want to just go to some default settings in a hurry.  I set my Auto mode to the "smart" one so that it at least tries to make somewhat intelligent choices (in low-light, for example), but I only use Auto mode when I'm not sure what state the camera is in and don't have the time to go through the settings.
For normal shooting, I use P mode (and occasionally A, S, or M, depending on the situation).  But P is like auto, except for being able to control all of the settings, plus you have the ability to rotate the top dial to change the shutter/aperture combination, so I would favor that unless you have reasons to use something else.

You're right, though, software has gotten really good at doing noise reduction, and the photos were far from unsalvageable (Topaz Labs Denoise AI did a wonderful job, as usual).

That seems like great software.  I have not had much of an opportunity/need to use it, though.

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Gary W.

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