Although iPhone cameras today are really impressive, the same cannot be said for the Camera app. In true Apple form, the camera is as simple as possible and forces you to go from third party to pro-level features. With iOS 14, however, Apple adds a little extra professionalism, allowing you to lock focus and exposure separately.
How focus and exposure worked before iOS 14
Controlling focus and exposure on an iPhone has not changed much over the years. Both settings change automatically when you move the camera. If you take a portrait or group photo, face detection balances everything between ten faces. To choose your own focus and exposure, press anywhere in the frame to disable face detection. Afterwards, or if there are no faces at all, tap a location to change focus and exposure for that area specifically. Press and hold to lock AE / AF so that the elements do not change when you move the camera away.
The camera program also has an exposure control next to the focus box, where you can adjust the shutter speed and f-stop manually. Just drag the sun icon up or down to make a picture brighter or darker quickly, and it stays true in iOS 14 for iPhone.
However, the exposure control is a little sensitive; if you adjust it without locking AE / AF, your settings will simply change as you move the camera. You cannot lock the desired exposure setting without locking the focus, but you can refine the exposure levels after AE / AF is locked. The big problem is that when you press anywhere else in the viewfinder, your settings, locked or unlocked, will change.
How iOS 14 makes focus and exposure control better
Apple added one exposure compensation value (ECV) control for the new camera. You can think of it as “master” exposure. Any changes you make to the exposure compensation value will affect all photos throughout the camera session – not just for a photo or a small group of photos – until you manually change it again.
The Vertical Exposure Value (EV) slider can still be used to brighten and darken an image beyond what you set the exposure compensation value to, but it can be reset with the camera’s automatic controls or after tapping elsewhere in the viewfinder. The exposure compensation value cannot be changed as easily. This is what makes it possible to lock the exposure setting separately from your focus.
Not every iPhone applies
Although iOS 14 covers a wide range of iPhone models, not all iPhones get every iOS 14 feature. The Exposure Compensation tool is the perfect example. According to Apple, it’s just the iPhone XS, XS Max, XR, 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max are compatible.
If there is any consolation, it does not seem to work for all compatible iPhones at this time. Although it works perfectly on our 11 Pro, it does not appear on our iPhone XR. We expect Apple to stabilize things as it continues to update iOS 14.
Open the exposure adjustment tool
Drag up the new ECV control by dragging up the displayed image in all shooting modes except Pano. In Photo mode, you can also tap the chevron in the main toolbar.
When using Time-Lapse mode, the exposure compensation control automatically appears, ready to adjust. In other shooting modes, click the plus / minus (±) button that appears in the hidden toolbar to access it.
A horizontal control is displayed so that you can control camera shutter speed and f-stop from –2 to +2 EV. Moving toward –2 darkens the image, and moving the slider toward +2 brightens the image. Move the slider back to zero to disable the adjustment.
The setting you select remains throughout the Camera session. You will notice that Apple adds a small histogram to the main toolbar when using ECV. The yellow markers say where the ECV value is set, with –2 being at the far left and +2 at the far right. With the secondary toolbar hidden again, the numeric value is also represented. You can press this histogram to pull up or hide the ECV slider when in use.
AE has full effect when using the ECV option. If you set ECV to –2, for example, pressing or moving to a light area on the screen will still darken, while pressing or moving to a darker area will lighten. To prevent iOS from automatically adjusting exposure further, you must lock AE / AF as well, as you will see next.
Lock focus & AE with exposure adjustment
To lock ECV and EV too, you need to use the same AE / EF lock gesture that has been around in iOS since it seems to be forever. Long press on the area of the viewfinder you want to lock AE / AF to (if there were people in the shot, first press somewhere to disable face detection). From here you can fine-tune the total exposure with the vertical EV slider. Simple and simple.
When using both the ECV and EV controls, you can see some red bars in the histogram in the main toolbar. If it shows red on the left side you are underexposed (it is too dark) and you are overexposed if it is red on the right side (it is too light). When you see red, you lose data in the dark and light areas, respectively.
Preserve the exposure compensation value
The ECV locks wherever you set it, but only for the current camera session. When the app is updated, it resets the slider to zero, which in turn disables the feature. If you want Apple to save your exposure compensation value every time you power up the camera, it’s easy to achieve.
Just go to Settings -> Camera -> Preserve settings and then tap “Exposure Adjustment.” From now on, iOS will remember your latest ECV setting. In addition, the histogram option adds to the top menu of your camera app all the time, even when the ECV slider is 0.
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