"This movie was quite a beast to make," said cinematographer Claudio Miranda, who shot dazzling images for the story of a youth adrift on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.
Miranda's win marked another round of Oscar futility for revered cinematographer Roger Deakins, who was nominated for the James Bond adventure "Skyfall." Deakins has been nominated 10 times but has yet to win.
Halle Berry introduced a tribute to the James Bond franchise in which she has co-starred as the British super-spy celebrated his 50th anniversary on the big-screen last year with the latest adventure "Skyfall." Shirley Bassey sang her theme song to the 1960s Bond tale "Goldfinger."
Fans have pondered how far MacFarlane the impudent creator of "Family Guy," might push the normally prim and proper Oscars. An hour into the show, the answer was, not that far. MacFarlane was generally polite and respectful, showcasing his charm, wit and vocal gifts.
MacFarlane may be a wild card, but as for the show itself, predictability could be the Academy Awards' middle name. This time looks the same, with clear favorites in the main categories.
Affleck's "Argo" looks like it will be an uncommon film to claim best picture without a directing nomination, while "Lincoln" filmmaker Steven Spielberg and star Daniel Day-Lewis are favored to join exclusive lists of three-time Oscar winners.
Affleck was not counting on anything, though.
"We don't expect to depart with anything but our integrity," Affleck said on the Oscar red carpet before the show.
"Argo" has won winning practically every top prize at earlier honors. Hollywood was shocked that Affleck was snubbed for a directing nomination, possibly earning the film some sympathy votes, particularly from actors, who love it when one of their own succeeds behind the camera.
The story of how Hollywood, Canada and the CIA teamed up to rescue six Americans during the Iranian hostage crisis, "Argo" would become just the fourth film in 85 years to claim the top prize without a best-directing nomination and the first since 1989's "Driving Miss Daisy."
The best-picture prize typically ends the Oscar show, but this time, MacFarlane and Kristin Chenoweth will perform a closing number on the Dolby Theatre stage that producers Zadan and Meron called a "'can't miss' moment."
AP writers Christy Lemire, Sandy Cohen, Beth Harris and Anthony McCartney contributed to this report.