Rookie Mistake: Conflating Focus Points and Spot Metering

Until the Maxxum 7000i, I had never used a camera with focus areas, and my metering knowledge was limited to the SR-T 101. With the SR-T 101, I knew to get the circle and needle aligned before I snapped. I never had a flash, so shutter and aperture were determined by ISO and light.  

In “Program Mode,” the 7000i worked perfectly. But soon, I decided I wanted to try aperture priority and manual mode—then the problems started. I read (skimmed) the manual and knew about spot metering and wide and central focus areas. Somehow I conflated focus areas and metering modes. Since film development had a 7-10 day turnaround, I couldn’t connect my actions to the images, so I was left wondering why my pictures didn’t look quite as expected. Program Mode stuff looked fine; others were slightly off. When I started using the Maxxum 70, my second camera, things only got worse. The Maxxum 70 had nine focus points along with three metering modes. 

Eventually, I realized that the spot metering button on the 7000i was checking for light only, not selecting a focus area and vice-versa. This may sound boneheaded, but the idea of being able to choose an area to focus on, other than by pointing the camera at it, was completely foreign. 

Maxxum 70 Viewfinder

The Maxxum 70 had “eye start,” which added to my troubles. I had been through maybe two rolls of film before I connected eye start and the viewfinder’s red lights to my out-of-focus shots. I would have my finger on the shutter button while lifting the camera to my eye, and before I could decide exactly where to focus, the shutter would fire. Of course, I could have read the manual, but I was thinking, “It’s a camera; how hard could it be?” I went back to the safety of program mode to test cameras, vowing to read the manual later. “Later” arrived with my Maxxum 7, about two months into my plunge into photography. The eBay seller sent a printed copy of the manual, which was 192 pages. That’s when it hit me that maybe things had changed much more than I thought since my SR-T101 (I never had a manual for it); I had learned entirely by trial and error.  

After perusing the Maxxum 7 manual, I loaded batteries and went outside, excited to be shooting the most advanced film camera Minolta ever made. It only took about half an hour or so of being befuddled before I came inside, removed the batteries, and decided I needed to read a manual. But not the one for the Maxxum 7—I put that camera away. I was obviously in way over my head, so back to the 7000i. 

I made progress after returning to the 7000i and carefully reading the manual. I read the sections on metering and focusing, over and over, until I got it–spot referred to light measurement and central focus area only to what I was aiming at. 

Program mode makes autofocus cameras so easy to use that anyone can take a decent photograph. But leaving program mode hands control of image creation over to the user, and that level of control I had never experienced nor dreamed of. With great control comes a steep learning curve. I’ve learned my lesson. 

4 Comments

  1. The manual was only four pages for the Noblex Pro 6/150U and I thought I had read it and understood it. After my first four rolls of film came back from the lab I had focus issues and dropped shots because of improper film advancing. Upon closer examination I realized that there were multiple focus zones (duh)and film loading and advancing required me to pay close attention to how the film tension felt as I loaded and advanced the film. I eventually got my six shots per 120 roll of film and once I understood the focus settings I can honestly say this camera is at the top of my love list. Even simplicity can have a level of complexity.

    One of the first photographers I worked for and assisted liked to use the quote ” A man who never made a mistake never made anything”. Yes I’m disappointed those first shots weren’t sharp but I learned from my mistakes and was better for it. Keep up the good work and keep shooting.

    1. Author

      Bill, thanks for the anecdote and the encouragement! After the incident described in the post, I adopted a more structured approach to learning. Now, I read-test-adjust and see what happens. I have plenty of film and I’ve started developing color and B&W at home, so I’m having plenty of fun learning!

  2. I’ve had to build up to the more complicated cameras little by little. I remember my first SLR, a Minolta X-700, and it stymied me. I couldn’t even figure out how to turn it on without the manual! I had a much easier time with my next SLR, a Pentax ME — much more obvious in use. Over time I built enough knowledge of these cameras that most new-to-me old cameras are easy to figure out or need me to look up just one or two functions in the manual.

    1. Author

      Now I don’t feel so bad!
      The spot button conundrum ended up being a blessing in disguise because it made me want to know why all those features existed, which led to more study and experimentation.

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