Ever since I took my Canon EOS 20D in for a cleaning all my pictures, when set in auto mode, are really dark, even in bright sunlight. I am new to photography and have no idea what could cause this problem.
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It sounds like the aperture is getting set very high. If the aperture is a high number, the lens opening is very small which lets less light in and would cause a dark image. This would also show any dust that is in or on the lens or image sensor. The dust doesn't usually show on apertures with a larger opening (smaller number). Make sure your aperture is being set to a reasonable number, probably no higher than 8 or so.
If the camera is working properly with other lenses, then you have a problem with that lens. In M, you can set the aperture yourself, and the photos come out properly exposed. When the lens is set to auto, apparently it is going to minimum aperture and not responding to the camera's 'instructions'. The thing that makes me think so is that you say everything looks dark through the optical viewfinder. Normally the aperture stays full open so you can see and compose your shot, and only stops down to the correct aperture when you actually take the shot. I would suggest having the lens checked by an appropriate camera service shop.
I had the same problem before. Did you check to make sure your exposure compensation wasn't set at a negative number? half press the shutter and rotate the large dial on the back of the camera to change the exposure to 0. If this just changes your auto focus points, you have to change your custom function 13 from a value of 2 to 0 and then try half pressing the shutter and rotating the large dial in the back again. This fixed my problem with shooting in P mode (which I only used when absolutely necessary) and I hope it helps you.
learning to use light metering correctly can have its challenge. the manual will guide you on how to set up to read light from the subject. spot metering a dark area will cause general overexposure, or a washed out look. spot metering a bright area will cause a dark image. if you are on spot meter and shoot two people standing together against a bright lit background, your meter will see between them if they are centered, and read all that bright background, setting the camera to a less sensitive combination of aperture / shutter speed, resulting in a dark image. use field averaging meter setting and be sure you are metering the subject and not the background. try shooting a wall that is fairly clear of other colors and uniform it light hitting it, you should have a correctly exposed image. since it works in other modes (at least 1, anyway) then it is unlikely you have an exposure compensation issue. that is the only other non defect issue that would cause your problem. once you confirm that you have these settings correct and still get a dark image, its time to have it serviced. good luck mark