Camera Modes


You paid a lot of  money for your digital camera and it has a lot of capabilities. It can do everything for you, or it can do nothing for you. The choice is yours and it's decided here. So what are the different modes and why might you choose it?

The inner dial above sets the camera mode on a Canon G11.

:  means fully automatic and that means the camera decides EVERYTHING for you. This is the "snapshot mode". Don't get me wrong, today's cameras are very smart and the camera can give excellent results in Auto mode, but we can do better.

P: means "Program Mode". In program mode (and all of the "letter modes") the base exposure is decided for you but you still have some control. Many cameras will let you change one setting to get a "different" combination of settings for a proper exposure. Other settings like exposure compensation still work.

TV or S: TV is Canon speak for "Time Value" and S is Nikon speak for "Shutter Priority". This is typically called "shutter priority" in both cases. In this mode YOU choose the shutter speed. The camera ONLY chooses the corresponding Aperture and ISO for the exposure. Nikon will change the Aperture first and then the ISO.
TV/S mode is generally selected for moving subjects where the most important consideration is having a fast enough shutter speed to prevent subject motion blur.

Assignment: Take several pictures of different scenes while in Shutter priority. Observe how your camera behaves, does it trade ISO or aperture first, or does it change both at the same time? (Auto ISO will need to be enabled)

Av or A: These mean Aperture Value or Aperture. Usually called "Aperture Priority" in both cases. In this mode you choose the Aperture and the camera chooses the ISO and Shutter Speed for proper exposure. Nikon will change ISO first and then change the SS. 
This mode is generally selected when the aperture is the most important factor. Either for controlling the depth of field (how much is in focus) or to maximize image sharpness.

Assignment: Take several pictures of different scenes while in Aperture priority. Observe how your camera behaves, does it trade ISO or shutter speed first, or does it change both at the same time?

M: This stands for "Manual Mode". In this mode you decide EVERYTHING. It is possible to have your ISO set to auto while in manual mode. In that case you set the aperture and shutter speed and the camera chooses the ISO.

Assignment: When you're ready, go thru the section on Exposure and do the assignments there.

C1/C2 or U1/U2: These stand for "Custom" or "User" settings. These are stored settings from any of the previous "letter modes". They will usually also store settings such as image quality/format, exposure compensation etc. These modes are useful for quickly switching between your favorite settings for different subjects such as sports and portraits.

The remaining modes are camera specific (Canon G11 in this case) and only available on certain models. 


: Represents video recording.

: Means "Quick Shot".  I don't really know what it does.

: Means "Low Light". In this mode the camera will choose a higher shutter speed and ISO than it would in Auto in order to minimize camera shake blur.

SCN: Means "Scene modes". You are telling the camera to do everything for you, but to also optimize the settings for a particular subject. Scene modes are the "better and smarter auto".

These are the scene modes for the Canon G11. (Your options may be different)

Portrait - Produces a soft effect when photographing people.

Landscape - Lets you shoot majestic landscapes.

Night Snapshot - Lets you take beautiful snapshots of people against city nightscapes or night backgrounds. If you hold the camera firmly you can take pictures with reduced camera shake, even without a tripod.

Kids&Pets - Lets you capture subjects that move around, such as children and pets, without missing photo opportunities.

Indoor - Lets you shoot indoors with natural colors. Sports - Shoots continuous images while focusing automatically.

Sunset - Lets you take shots of sunsets in vivid colors.

Night Scene - Lets you take beautifully lit city nightscapes or night backgrounds. You can also take beautifully lit pictures of people along with the backgrounds due to the slower shutter speed.

Fireworks - Lets you take shots of fireworks in vivid colors.

Beach - Lets you take bright shots of people on sandy beaches where the reflected sunlight is strong.

Shoot Underwater - While using the waterproof case Canon WP-DC34 , you can shoot underwater landscapes and creatures with natural tones.

Aquarium - Lets you take natural-colored shots of aquatic life in indoor aquariums.

Foliage - Lets you shoot trees and leaves, such as new growth, autumn leaves or blossoms, in vivid colors.

Snow - Lets you take bright, natural-colored shots of people against snowy backgrounds.

Assignment: RTM

Different cameras will have more or fewer choices available. Consumer level point and shoots may only have Auto and scene modes which leaves you with little control. Enthusiast cameras such as the G11 tend to have the most options. And pro bodies eliminate the scene and auto modes so they have fewer options as well.

Cameras are smart and you paid good money for that smartness. It's "ok" to let the camera make some choices for you if you want, but if you want to be "a photographer" then you don't really want to be dependent on the camera. You have to decide what control to give up and when.  I do not believe you have to use full manual mode to be a photographer and "in control", but you should be able to.

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