Nikon metering patterns: what are matrix, centre-weighted and spot modes?

Nikon metering patterns: what are matrix, centre-weighted and spot modes (and when should you use them)?

What are Nikon’s matrix, centre-weighted and spot metering modes (and when should you use them)? In this quick tutorial written by our friends at the Nikon magazine N-Photo you’ll find out everything you need to know about Nikon metering patterns.

The light metering systems on modern digital SLRs are complex and sophisticated, but they’re still not foolproof. That’s why your Nikon has a choice of metering patterns for use in different situations.

By default, Nikon DSLRs use so-called ‘matrix’ metering. This splits the scene up into different zones which are measured individually.

The camera then builds up a picture of the distribution of light in the scene and checks this against an internal ‘database’ to try to work out what kind of subject you’re shooting and the exposure that will give the best result.

It sounds really clever – and it is – but ultimately the camera can only guess at your intentions.

Taking control
If you’re just starting out in photography, matrix metering will probably deliver better results than you could work out for yourself, but as you gain experience you will encounter more and more situations where you need to take control.

That’s why your Nikon camera also has centre-weighted and spot metering modes. These are less sophisticated than ‘matrix’ mode, but they make it much easier to interpret the light readings the camera is giving you.

All Nikon digital SLRs give you this choice of metering modes, and in this tutorial we’ll explain how Nikon metering patterns work and when you might use them.

Nikon’s more advanced digital SLRs offer further customisation options, and these are explained in the diagrams opposite. You can also see what metering options your own Nikon provides in the table at the bottom of this page.

SEE MORE: DX format vs FX format – what you need to know about Nikon’s sensor sizes

Do what works!
We can show you how your Nikon’s metering system works, but in the end there are no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways to use your camera’s meter.

The secret is to find a method that works well for you, one where you can easily understand and interpret the readings the camera is giving you and anticipate the situations where you need to take over.

SEE MORE: NEF file types – what effect do bit depth and compression have on file sizes?

Nikon Metering Patterns Explained

Nikon metering patterns: what are matrix, centre-weighted and spot modes (and when should you use them)?

Click on the infographic to see the larger version, or drag and drop to your desktop to save.


  • This is just a representation of the zones in matrix mode. In reality, the scene may be split into hundreds, even thousands of zones.
  • The central area will not necessarily get priority – it depends on the light distribution across the rest of the scene.
  • Matrix mode will often give priority to darker areas to prevent underexposure.


  • This relatively small central area plays the biggest part in the exposure measurement.
  • On more advanced Nikon DSLRs you can change the size of this central area to suit your technique.
  • The outer areas play a smaller part in the exposure measurement, but they are still taken into account.


  • Spot metering measures a very small area of the scene, but needs to be used with care.
  • On amateur models the spot zone is slightly larger to allow more leeway for errors.
  • The spot is not always in the centre of the frame. It’s linked to your manually selected AF point, making it possible to meter off-centre subjects. Keep this in mind when metering.

AVERAGE METERING (not on all bodies)

  • Some Nikon DSLRs offer average metering as well as centre-weighted. The light across the whole frame is averaged into a single reading.
  • Average meter readings are very susceptible to small bright areas in the scene.
  • The advantage of averaged metering is that it’s easy for experienced photographers to interpret the reading and adjust the settings.

What metering modes does your Nikon have?

What metering modes does your Nikon have?

PAGE 1: What are Nikon metering patterns (and when should you use them)?
PAGE 2: How to meter in Live View on your Nikon DSLR


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  • AndersonBetterThanKleberson

    Nice info, but needs an update. I have a d800 and a d810, theres a new metering mode on the 81