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What Kind Of Exposure Accuracy Should You Expect From A Chimp?

Published: 04/04/2016
By: larry

ChimpBrandon brought up the following issue last week:

I've noticed that most photographers these days seem to prefer "chimping" exposures over using a light meter (Mike Kelley and Scott Hargis both mention their preference for this in their video materials). While this makes sense to me, especially in real estate photography with digital equipment, I have found it extremely difficult to accurately judge exposure from the back of the camera screen (I use a Canon 5D Mark II). I have tried adjusting the LCD brightness and I use the blinking highlight exposure warning. Sometimes I'll take some shots that look great in camera and find out they're over-cooked with flash once I open them up on my desktop. Using the CamRanger helps a bit but it adds a lot of time to each shot, and with basic houses seems a bit overkill. The same problem sometimes occurs when taking daylight exteriors—it's just hard to tell whether I've nailed the exposure based on the LCD. Does anyone else have this problem, and what steps have you taken to address it?

First of all, a word of explanation for readers that may not be familiar with the term "chimping". Chimping is a colloquial term used in digital photography to describe the habit of checking every photo on the camera display (LCD) immediately after capture. Chimp is an acronym of CHeck IMage Preview.

I use Scott's flash technique and I chimp on my Canon 5D Mark II. My take to your question is that I find that if I shoot RAW I can easily use the Highlights, Shadow and Exposure sliders in Lightroom to easily recover from any chimping inaccuracies so not getting the exposure spot-on in the camera doesn't create a disaster I can't recover from. Far easier and faster than fooling around with a light meter. I think you are expecting too much to always nail the exposure by chimping. Chimping is approximate. Doing a little adjustment on a large calibrated screen in Lightroom only takes a few seconds and is the way to get the exposure right on.

What advice do others have for Brandon?

12 comments on “What Kind Of Exposure Accuracy Should You Expect From A Chimp?”

  1. I chimp all the time. Stopped using my light meter years ago. Experience helps a lot.
    When you do though, it is important to check your histogram and, as mentioned, your indicators, as this will give you a far more informative "picture" of the exposure range and accuracy.

  2. I look at the histogram when I'm trying to judge exposure but having blinkys on is a good indicator as well. I know that I can recover from a certain amount of what looks like over exposure and I also check that I'm not losing a bunch of the scene into the left side either. The image on the LCD is mostly used to check for composition.

  3. I just do the same thing I did when shooting transparency film, I bracket. But not just for exposure but for HDR. I don't worry too much about how bright or dark the image is on the back of the camera as long as the highlights are not blasted out and the darks are not dense. I have never paid much attention to histograms, make my eyes roll up in my head and I am moving on to the next shot anyway. I do check the camera screen after I shoot and double check that my brackets are catching the range I want but I have confidence after years of this working with brackets and software, that most of the time, the camera gets it right. If I find that it does not cover enough bracketed exposure values, I either bump up or dial down the upper or lower ends of the exposure range to make sure I have enough exposure in the shadows and enough detail in the highlights before moving the camera to the next shot.

    But I have to qualify this by saying that I am in that small minority who do not use flash and expect to do a lot of time in post using HDR techniques although they are not always necessary due to the fantastic range of today's DSLR's; as long as you shoot in RAW. Nor am I believer in using the most expensive equipment thinking that it will get me better results. I believe in taking each shot in my head before touching my camera. Just know your tools inside and out, know what they will do and have faith in them. Too much fussing with technique means you are not paying enough attention to the shot itself but instead are spending too high a percentage of your time with your tools, not your eye.

    I seldom think through a shot any more; my solutions tend to just flow to my eye and hands without a lot of conscious thought. So the simplest methods are the ones that allow this. Experience develops this. So my advice is to shoot as much as you can and keep your techniques as simple as possible to achieve the result required. You have to really know how to use a light meter to have it provide better and more reliable results that today's camera's will give you which read through the lens system you are using which is something a light meter cannot do.

  4. I chimp all the time. In addition I use the histogram in my viewfinder. I have an EVF using a SONY a7IIr. It gives me an instant preview almost exactly like what I could get in LR. I Chimp on the area I want best using Exposure hold and them move to my center for the shot. Never has to leave my eye. Everything is there. Saves much time.

    An added advantage is it shows me the impact of bad WB due to fluorescent or Halogen lighting mixes with natural lighting. If there is that horrible Florescent flicker that causes alternating blue or orange light, I can see it and set my shutter speed to compensate and all is well with the world again.

  5. In addition to real estate, I spend alot of time outdoors and can attest that it is extremely difficult to accurately judge an image by viewing on the camera back. I use two tools religiously and they have been life (image) savers more than once. The histogram as mentioned above is an amazing resource once you learn to use it accurately. My second go to is the Hoodman Loupe - if my camera goes with me, my Hoodman goes with me. It allows me to view the back of the viewfinder without any interference or bleed over from ambient light that might affect the image on camera back.
    Here's a link -

  6. For exteriors, you just want the brightest small area of the sky to be blinking on your highlights view. That way you know you are getting as much as you can in the shadows and will be able to recover the sky with the raw file in post. I actually think all cameras should have a mode to expose this way, and I think some of the newer ones do? If you're bracketing, it's not an issue. For interiors it's much the same I would say... The brightest small area blinking in highlights mode.

    I personally think the importance of a good, proper exposure like we were all taught in the old days is diminishing in importance. Maybe I am wrong, but you can comfortably push and pull things a good stop nowadays without any ill effects it seems. Maybe if you were shooting for a magazine or large prints you'd want to nail it more perfectly, but 99.9 percent of all usage being a bit liberal with your exposures is no big deal in my opinion.

  7. The blinkies are the best way to see what you have burned out and won't be able to recover. Even without a hoodman or throwing a coat over your head to give you shade, it tells you what you have lost. Its just a matter of practice and an occasional glance at the histogram to see where the overall profile falls but its just too small to accurately judge what is overexposed. And if in doubt on a tricky shot, bracket your exposure by a stop. Quick and effective.

  8. Histogram is your best bet, and RGB histogram if available. "Blinkys" are okay, but I've found that I get highlight warnings WELL before my actual raw files clip. Like 2+ stops before.

  9. I use the DSLR Controller app ( with my Android 8" tablet (vs my 3" camera viewer) which has improved my "chimping" capabilities immensely. DSLR Controller can connect any Canon EOS DSLR to an Android compatible phone or tablet via OTG cable (my choice) or Wi-Fi. It features remote control over most settings including liveview, capture, focus & zoom control, image & video review (including luminosity & RGB histograms), timelapse, HDR/AEB, focus bracketing, display filters etc.

  10. Ever since I've switched to a camera with a EVF, I don't chimp for exposures outside anymore. Shooting inside I switch to black and white to easily see the dynamic range of the room to quickly see where I'll need fill flash. Also being able to use a 14x magnified view, precise focus is easy.

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