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Using the ASUS ZenFone 3 in Manual mode — when Auto just doesn’t cut it

Using the ASUS ZenFone 3 in Manual mode — when Auto just doesn’t cut it

by Vyncent ChanOctober 24, 2016
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Sure, I have been preaching about how much smartphone cameras should be point-and-shoot. But there will always be a place for manual controls in cameras. Shooting in auto essentially allows the device to decide everything about the result image, not you. To fully take advantage of any camera, taking over the reins is a must. Today, we will talk about how you can get the most out of the ASUS ZenFone 3’s manual camera mode.


Not all smartphones offer a manual mode, but the ASUS ZenFone 3 has a rather comprehensive one, and it is really easily accessible, with a shortcut just above the shutter key. In manual mode you get quick shortcuts along the side, with a histogram and even an EV meter to gauge your image’s exposure.



As a short introduction, EV should be something that is quite familiar for all users of recent smartphones. It automatically adjust parameters to increase or decrease the overall exposure of the image. Adjusting the exposure is an easy way to tweak the overall brightness of the image without, as you can see in the tabs below.

Using the ASUS ZenFone 3 in Manual mode — when Auto just doesn't cut it 28

ZF3 EV Auto

The ASUS ZenFone 3 does a pretty good job in auto mode, allowing for a nice blue sky, but sacrifices some details in the shaded areas. We know we can do better with manual EV compensation, so let's see what we can do.

ZF3 EV (Shutter Speed 1/261)

Adjusting the EV to compensate for the darker areas, we actually blew out the sky. This is actually an overexposed image, and we do not want this. This is more of an demonstration of how adjusting the EV can change your image.

ZF3 EV (Shutter Speed 1/445)

Tweaking the EV further, this image gives us what I consider a perfectly exposed image. The sky isn't too blown out, and the darker regions are visible as well. Everything in the shot is visible, and that is what I want.



White balance, or WB in the manual mode of the ASUS ZenFone 3 is pretty interesting, as it offers actual Kelvin temperatures instead of the usual white balance presets. You do not need to know what value is best for which environment, as the live preview feature allows you to see in real-time how does your white balance setting affect the image. However the ASUS ZenFone 3’s auto WB is pretty much as good as it gets, so you will rarely, if ever, have to adjust the WB.

Using the ASUS ZenFone 3 in Manual mode — when Auto just doesn't cut it 28

WB Auto

This is what the ASUS ZenFone 3 considers to be the appropriate color temperature. As I have mentioned before, it does a pretty good job, but what if I find the colors are a bit too neutral to reflect what I want to convey to the world?

WB 2600K

Going for a cool temperature, the image takes on a bluish hue. Of course, it may look quite unreal, but if I wanted to share with the world my Monday blues, this is one way to show it. After all, doesn't it just look very cold and uninviting to you?

WB 6400K

This is what I think is perfect for this shot. As it was a hot day out there and I was sweating, I felt that a warmer temperature allows this shot to better represent the actual view there. I also prefer the overall "feel" of this shot. The most important thing to note here is that there is no "wrong" white balance, as everyone's has a right to let the world know what they like the world to look like.



ISO is the sensitivity of the sensor towards light, with 50 being the lowest value and 3200 the highest on the ASUS ZenFone 3. The rule of thumb when adjusting ISO is the higher the ISO, the brighter the image, allowing you to shoot in dimmer conditions. However higher ISOs introduce more noise to your shot resulting in lower image quality, which can be avoided simply by picking the optimal ISO for the current lighting condition.

Using the ASUS ZenFone 3 in Manual mode — when Auto just doesn't cut it 30

ISO Auto

This is what the ZenFone 3 thinks is a well exposed image. By default, a camera will try to adjust the exposure to expose what it thinks is the subject of the shot. Here, it adjusts the exposure really well for the bright flowers at i-City, but fails to get a good balance for the dark areas which are pitch black here.

ISO 800

Switching to manual, at ISO 800 we manage to see more details in the darker regions, and noise was very well controlled. It still looks quite underexposed, so let's go even higher.

ISO 1600

Going up to ISO 1600 gives what I think is a great looking shot. The trade off is more noise, but it is still very well controlled and is virtually invisible if you are just going to upload the images to social media.

ISO 3200

Pushing into ISO 3200, we get an even brighter shot. Noise is still well controlled, which shows that ASUS did quite a good job with the noise reduction algorithms in the ASUS ZenFone 3. If you really need to take a photo in a dim environment, and lowering the shutter speed is not an option, increasing the ISO on the ASUS ZenFone 3 may just be the key to get a well exposed image, without sacrificing on too much image quality either.



Shutter speed, indicated with an S on the ASUS ZenFone 3, allows you to pull off light trail effects, or just to get the sharpest image possible with as low an ISO setting as possible by picking a slow shutter speed. A faster shutter speed may help you freeze motion, useful when capturing images of moving objects, or if you just have shaky hands. You get a wide range of shutter speeds from as slow as 32 seconds to 1/50000. With the 4 stop OIS technology available, slower shutter speeds are a lot more feasible on the ASUS ZenFone 3.

Using the ASUS ZenFone 3 in Manual mode — when Auto just doesn't cut it 30

Shutter Speed Auto (1/24)

In auto mode, almost no camera will go for a slow shutter speed. This is because even with OIS, an unsteady hand will definitely ruin a shot taken with a slow shutter speed. For ease of use, the ASUS ZenFone 3 decides to go with a reasonable shutter speed like 1/24 in the above image. As you can see, the tachometer's needle features just the slightest bit of a trail, but 1/24 isn't slow enough for a nice light trail effect even when flooring the pedal.

Shutter speed 1.6 secs

With a shutter speed of 1.6 seconds, there was enough time for the needle to swing across the tachometer, leaving a trail of light. The longer the shutter speed, the nicer the light trail effects you can produce. Any moving object will leave a trail, so the ASUS ZenFone 3 which offers long exposures up to 32 seconds really allows you to try every kind of light trail possible.



Last but not least, manual focus. It really helps if you are trying to focus on an object that the device fails to focus on properly. So far, I have not encountered such an issue, as ASUS’ TriTech AF is really effective to help me get everything I want in focus. With that said, if I ever have to take a picture of something that even the TriTech AF fails to focus on, at least I can immediately take over focusing and get the shot.

I am no photography expert, but I do appreciate nice camera features in my smartphones. The ASUS ZenFone 3 offers a great manual mode, aside from a list of other great features like auto HDR, Super Resolution, Low Light, Depth of Field, and many more. And if you think my results with the ASUS ZenFone 3 aren’t impressive, wait till you see what the pros can do with it. What will you do with the smartphone built for photography?


Here’s some sushi, sorry for the long post!

About The Author
Vyncent Chan
Technology enthusiast, casual gamer, pharmacy graduate. Strongly opposes proprietary standards and always on the look out for incredible bang-for-buck.
  • November 24, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    Tq for this blogpost. Ive been trying to use ths manual mode. This helps a lot with my Zenfone 3.

  • Daniel
    April 2, 2017 at 10:05 am

    Man, this post is awesome, i was loking for this type of content(manual x auto) with the Zoom and, finally, when i get it, is more complete and more informative that i could expect, and all this with objectivity. Great job and thanks, bro.

  • juz
    April 24, 2017 at 9:23 pm

    This post is super helpful to somebody with 0 photography background…the samples made the functions easier to understand,too! Excited to try more manual settings on my phone now. :)

    • April 25, 2017 at 2:07 pm

      Cheers mate. Knowledge is for sharing afterall :) We’ll be bringing even more educational content in the future for various technology platforms. Do subscribe to the Pokdelerts to get notified ^_^

  • Curious Guy
    September 7, 2017 at 6:49 pm

    This post really helps me see how to use the manual mode of my zenfone 3 as i have no clue in photography but is slightly interested in it. Thank you

    • Vyncent Chan
      September 7, 2017 at 8:08 pm

      Hi, congrats on making the most of the powerful camera on the ZenFone 3! Enjoy your photography pursuits!

  • Daryl Linn
    October 17, 2017 at 11:52 am

    Thank you so much for shedding some light!
    I’ve had my Asus Zf3 since December 2016, but I haven’t yet fully enjoyed the perks of it’s camera. I mainly bought if for gaming and photography purposes, and my self-learning for the manual mode was just lacking. xD
    At least now, I fully understand on which to adjust at a certain moment. :D

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