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Digital Camera Metering Modes

Updated on January 16, 2015

Metering samples

Used by permission
Used by permission | Source

Matrix metering

CC BY 2.0 Digitally edited to comply with TOS. You may see original by following link
CC BY 2.0 Digitally edited to comply with TOS. You may see original by following link | Source

"In photography, the metering mode refers to the way in which a camera determines the exposure.

Cameras generally allow the user to select between spot, center-weighted average, or multi-zone metering modes.

Various metering modes are provided to allow the user to select the most appropriate one for use in a variety of lighting conditions." Wikipedia

Canon metering mode icons. 1 - center weighted; 2 - spot metering; 3 - partial metering; 4 - matrix (evaluative) metering

CC BY-SA 3.0
CC BY-SA 3.0 | Source

Metering modes explained

Not many photographers pay attention to their camera's metering modes but they should.

Each metering mode is slightly different from the rest and if you understand each, you can make a good picture a better one.

Remember that each metering mode was designed with one main scene in mind . If metering modes were not important then all camera manufacturers would simply just use one and move on.

The most widely used mode by professionals, in my opinion, is the spot metering.

This setting mainly focuses on the central portion of the image (the center of wherever is in the middle of the viewfinder.

The reading (the amount of light) measurement is taken from that spot and the rest of the image or light is calculated/averaged by the computer's sensor.

For a more complete control of the final image, use spot metering by keeping in mind that instead of taking several readings all over the subject, your camera’s spot meter takes one from a small area of the subject.

This does not mean that it has to be the exact center. You can take a spot meter reading from a part of the scene that you really want to be exposed accurately and manually lock this setting.

The entire image will then be "read" and exposed with this measurement as a bias.

This mode works best for difficult lighting situations like when the main light source is behind the subject and or is very strong. It's main purpose is to expose an image correctly where there is a high degree of contrast.

Bear in mind that all metering modes will use a "bias" and apply this "bias" to the rest of the image.

Next you have the matrix mode, also called honeycomb, and it is the default setting for the majority of professional and advanced DSLR (digital single lens reflex) or SLR (single lens reflex) cameras.

It takes a measurement from the center and uses it as the starting point. The rest of the image is then balanced or "feathered" out as the elements within the scene expand away from the center.

It basically divides the entire scene into zones, which are analyzed for light and dark tones. After reading and analyzing the information from all individual zones, the metering system looks at where you focused within the frame and marks it as the main zone or most important one. It works great for the vast majority of situations.

Partial metering is similar to spot metering but instead of using the exact center it uses a larger area around the center of the scene and adjusts the settings accordingly. Good for many situations when you want mode details around the main focusing point.

Center weighted metering. This mode measures the entire area which makes up the scene but gives a strong bias to whatever element is the one that comprises the center of the photo.

This mode is considered to be the most consistent form of metering, because most subjects are usually found in the center of a photograph. If you want to pay attention to the main subject, when you compose the shot and it is found mainly in the middle of the scene, then this is the best metering mode for you.

But remember that it works best with average lighting situations and not so much for difficult ones like high contrast compositions.

Center weighted metering is the default metering system used by the vast majority of the point and shoot cameras or where the photographer has no control over the metering modes.

Evaluative metering

CC BY-SA 4.0
CC BY-SA 4.0 | Source

Multizone metering (matrix, evaluative)

Public Domain
Public Domain | Source

Does this help you understand metering modes better?

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Bottom line...

Bottom line is that if you are looking for 100% of the scene to be exposed correctly (equally is a much better term to use) then the matrix mode is probably best for you.

Be mindful that if there are bright spots these will show as bright spots and may cause hot spots which have a tendency to distract the eye of the beholder or in extreme cases, to ruin an otherwise perfectly good photographic composition.

If you want the main focus point to be exposed perfectly the spot metering works best.

If you want the main focus point and some elements around the main focus point to be exposed correctly then partial metering may be your best option.

Everything depends on the scene and what you want to be exposed perfectly and what you choose to be the principle focus of the photograph as well as the light source and its strength.

There are other things that may determine what your best mode may be.

Instruct yourself and take various samples of static subjects to judge how each mode works and what best suits your style.

Spot metering

CC BY 2.0
CC BY 2.0 | Source

Partial metering

CC BY-SA 3.0
CC BY-SA 3.0 | Source

Useful video tutorial

Multi segment (evaluative,matrix) and partial

CC BY 2.0 Matrix
CC BY 2.0 Matrix | Source
CC BY-SA 3.0 Partial
CC BY-SA 3.0 Partial | Source

One more thing...

One more thing to mention and it is important to know; no matter what metering mode or camera model you choose to use in your photography, all cameras and all metering modes try to capture about a 50% brightness balance across the entire scene.

To the photographer this means that some areas will show as slightly brighter than other areas withing the composition depending on the metering zone that was used.

Although you can use any metering mode with an expectancy of achieving good results, when it comes to special situations you may end up with underexposed/overexposed as well as correctly exposed areas/elements all within the photograph.

© 2014 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 3 years ago from Miami, Florida

      teaches12345: Thank you.One day you will!!!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      Thanks for the education on metering modes. It is something I will keep on file for future reference. One day I hope to upgrade to a camera that features these types of options.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 3 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Blackspaniel1: most SLR and DSLR cameras allow this and used ones run about $279.00 or so

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 3 years ago

      Interesting, but my camera is not that sophisticated.