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Metering Modes: What they are and how to use them

by | Learn

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All modern DSLR cameras have something we call metering. You’ll find it referred to as metering mode, camera metering, or exposure metering. Whatever the case, all these terms mean the same thing. If you’re keen to learn more about metering and the various metering modes available on your camera, this article is for you. We’ll discuss all the common metering modes, their use cases and recommend a general-purpose mode that most people can use.

What is metering?

Metering refers to the process of reading the light in an image and determining the shutter speed and aperture settings for your camera. In order to capture as much detail as possible, metering ensures that the light in the image is well balanced.

Before digital cameras, photographers used hand-held light metres to determine optimal exposure. Thankfully, the modern DSLR has an integrated light meter that measures light in the image to help determine the best exposure. We’ll go through the most common metering modes you’ll find on leading camera brands.

Metering Modes

Centre-weighted average

With centre-weighted metering, the focus is on evaluating light in the middle of the frame and its surroundings and ignores the peripheries. This metering mode is ideal when you want to prioritise the centre of the frame. Centre-weighted average metering is suitable for taking close-up portraits or relatively large subjects in the middle of a frame.

Spot

Spot metering puts emphasis on only your point of focus and ignores everything else in the frame. The image’s exposure is calculated based on the lighting at the point of focus. This metering mode is ideal for shooting subjects that take up a tiny area in the frame. One of the most popular use cases for spot metering is bird photography.

Partial

With this mode, metering is weighted at the centre of the viewfinder. Partial metering can be looked at as an expanded version of spot metering. It essentially focuses on a relatively larger section of the frame than spot metering. It is ideal for taking photos with highly lit backgrounds, for example, taking a picture of someone with the sun behind them.

Evaluative/matrix

This is the default metering mode on all DSLR cameras. With this mode, the frame is divided into several zones, and each of them is analysed for dark and light tones. After getting information from all the zones, the metering system puts more emphasis on the area around your point of focus.

Which is the best general-purpose mode?

The general-purpose metering mode among the four is Evaluative/matrix. That is why it is the default on most DSLR cameras. Analysing the whole frame and putting more emphasis on the point of focus makes this mode ideal for most shooting scenarios. 

Conclusion

Now that you know all the common metering modes for DSLR cameras, it should be pretty easy to choose one. It all depends on the lighting conditions and the size of the subject you want to shoot. For close-up portraits, go with centre-weighted. Spot and partial are ideal for shooting relatively small subjects at a distance, while Evaluative/matrix is the go-to mode for most use cases.

That’s it from us this week. Be sure to follow our social channels on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Youtube, and sign up to our newsletter, where we send a periodic round-up of articles and sneak in updates exclusively for our subscribers.

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