While most photos will come out perfectly fine in the cameraâ€™s Auto mode, there are times when the user would like to take control over how the camera takes he picture. For example, when taking a photo of a river, the user may want to reduce the shutter speed to gives a smooth motion look to the water. On a night-time shot of a city, the user may want to have the minimal amount of noise in the picture.
Mode dial on Nikon D60 DSLR
The following are the various dial modes found on most digital cameras:
Auto (â€˜Aâ€™ or camera symbol, sometimes coloured)
As the mode suggests, the camera takes care of exposing the picture, so all you need to do is press the shutter. In this mode, it is usually possible to set the resolution and flash mode.
If you are new to photography or would like to have someone take photos who is not familiar with the camera, this mode lets the camera choose the settings automatically. As mentioned earlier, it is important to check that the Megapixel/Quality setting (if available) is set to its highest mode, unless you do not have adequate memory cards or free space available.
Macro (flower icon)
On some cameras, this is present as a button or switch, while on others it is present as a model dial setting. When enabled, it unlocks extra focus range to allow the camera to focus on close-up items.
Most cameras will allow distant shots to be taken with the Macro mode enabled, but with the drawback of significantly longer focusing times. On some cameras such as DSLRs, the Macro mode gives priority to close-up objects over more distant objects, thus reducing the focusing time of close-up items or preventing the camera focusing on a distant object when the intended object is nearby.
Portrait (person icon)
In this mode the camera gives priority to close-up subjects with face detection enabled (if available) and sets the flash to Red-eye reduction.
P â€“ Programmed.
This is another auto mode, but with a few features unlocked to give the user some control over the settings. In this mode, the ISO and white balance can usually be adjusted or left in â€œAutoâ€. On some cameras where the flash is automatic in the â€œAutoâ€ mode, it can be forced to â€œOffâ€ in this mode.
On some higher end cameras including DSLRs, this mode allows the user to adjust the balance between aperture and shutter, where when the user increases the shutter, the camera opens the aperture to compensate and vice versa.
S â€“ Shutter priority (Tv on some models)
This is like the programmed mode, but with the ability to specify the shutter speed. The camera will take care of the aperture and ISO (if auto) to correct the exposure.
A low shutter speed allows the user to capture a motion effect in the picture, while a higher shutter speed allows the user to freeze action.
Another but less common use for setting the shutter speed is to match the shutter speed to the speed of something updating at the same speed, such as a CRT monitor or electronic LED display. For a CRT monitor, setting the shutter speed to 1/50s (for PAL) or 1/60s (for NTSC) or twice as long preferably with a tripod will reduce the partial picture exposure issue. Some electronic LED displays rapidly turn on/off the LEDs 50 or more times per second to control the brightness, so if the cameraâ€™s shutter speed is fast enough to take the photo during the very brief interval where the LEDs are off, the LED board will appear like it has been switched off. A slow shutter speed such as 1/25s will ensure the writing comes out.
Note: Many compacts, especially entry level models do not have this setting.
Tip: If a slower shutter speed is required and the camera does not have shutter or aperture priority, try setting the camera to its â€˜Pâ€™ programme mode and set the ISO setting to a low value such as â€˜100â€™. If you are carrying a pair of sun glasses, try taking a photo through one of the sunglasses lenses. If the low shutter speed is required for a night-time shot, check if there is a â€˜Nightâ€™ mode in the cameraâ€™s scenic mode selection.
A â€“ Aperture priority (Av on some models)
Functions like the shutter priority mode, but with the ability to specify the aperture speed instead. The camera will take care of the shutter speed and ISO (if auto) to compensate.
Photographers usually set the aperture to control depth of field, where a larger aperture setting (lower F-stop number) reduces the depth of field. The lower the depth of field, the more the background and foreground will be out of focus, while keeping the subject in sharp focus. The larger the sensor in the camera, the more effect the aperture has on depth of field, so this is an important setting for DSLR users.
Note: Many compacts, especially entry level models do not have this setting.
Tip: If a shallow depth of field is required and the camera does not have an aperture priority mode, try setting the camera to its â€˜Pâ€™ programme mode and set the ISO setting to a low value such as â€˜100â€™. This will cause the camera to use a wider aperture to compensate. Then set the camera to â€œMacroâ€ and fully zoom to the cameraâ€™s most telephoto setting. Finally move the camera to as close as possible to the subject where the camera can still focus on it when the shutter is half pressed down.
M â€“ Manual
This mode gives the user full control over the shutter and aperture. If the ISO setting is set to auto, the camera will adjust this to control exposure.
Note: On some cameras such as certain Fuji models, the manufacturer uses â€˜Mâ€™ instead of â€˜Pâ€™ to mean some manual functionality. In this case, the â€˜Mâ€™ mode is little different to the â€˜Pâ€™ mode of other cameras.
No Flash (No flash symbol)
On some cameras where the flash cannot be turned off in the â€˜Autoâ€™ mode, this setting is effectively the same as the â€˜Autoâ€™ mode but with the flash disabled.
Anti-shake (â€˜DISâ€™ on some models)
On cameras without physical optical image stabilisation, this feature pushes up the ISO setting to increase the shutter speed to reduce blurring from potential handshake.
On cameras with optical image stabilisation, this dial mode usually means â€œDual Image Stabilisationâ€, which is where the camera uses optical stabilisation to compensate for hand shake and increases the ISO setting to reduce motion blur when the motion is in motion.
Note: Unlike optical image stabilisation, this feature can lead to a grainer image, even if the user manages to keep the camera perfectly still for the shot. On the other hand, it does help reduce blur when the subject is in motion, something which optical image stabilisation on its own cannot do.
No Stabilisation (left), Digital Image Stabilisation (Centre), Optical Image Stabilisation (right)
Video (Camcorder icon)
As the mode suggests, this is for taking video clips. On most cameras in this mode, the user must first zoom in/out to the required zoom, then set the recording quality and finally press the shutter button to begin recording. The recording usually continues until the shutter button is pushed again. The footage will also automatically end after a certain time period (3 to 15 minutes depending on manufacturer) or when the card has filled up.
Note: Unlike a dedicated camcorder, the video mode has some limitations. With most digital cameras, these limitations include no-zooming while filming, low quality mono sound and weaker light sensitivity. Camcorders typically have much larger sensor pixels than digital cameras due to the sensor being of much lower resolution, even in Full HD models. Even on digital cameras with zoom capability while filming, the motor noise is usually audible. Most digital cameras have very few video editing capabilities and are typically limited to 15 minutes maximum recording time per clip.
Got a symbol on your camera that you're unsure about, just ask here.