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