Camera modes P, A, S, M

Usually, after getting bored with all the camera's 'Auto' modes, a lot of people start using the special semi-automatic modes. M, A, S, P. These modes can be found on the camera control wheel, as shown in the image below. Usually mode M, A, S, P stand out in a separate set, for example, in the photo below, these modes are highlighted by a special arc that combines them. Can be found instead of naming 'M, A, S, P' another name -  'P, A, S, M' or 'M, AV, TV, P' - they are all the same. I will try to talk about these modes in this article.

Camera Modes

Camera Modes

All camera modes are aimed at creating optimal exposure. Any mode selects the shooting parameters in such a way as to obtain the most correct picture in terms of the amount of light needed to transmit the exposed scene.

Important: modes P, A, S, M give additional access to many menu itemsthat are not available in automatic modes. In these modes, you can configure any functions to your liking, for example, control ISO, choose the format of pictures, etc.

To understand how these modes P, A, S, M work, I highly recommend that you familiarize yourself with such basic concepts in photography as:


The simplest special mode is 'P' (Programmed) - flexible program mode.

It is very similar to the automatic mode of the camera 'Auto', but in this mode you can change exposure within certain limits. Exposure varies in a range that allows extreme aperture values ​​of the lens. Shutter speed can be changed using the control wheels of the camera. If a excerpt changed by the photographer, “*” is added to the mode name. The shortest excerpt in mode 'P' available with the smallest number F, and the longest excerpt available at the largest number F. There is a golden rule of interchangeability of aperture values ​​and excerpts, it is precisely on this rule that the work of this regime is built. For example, if you increase the shutter speed, for example, 2 times, then the aperture closes one step.

Example:  if you increase the shutter speed from 1/200 second to 1/100 second, this will enable the matrix to absorb more light and get overexposure, because the camera should reduce the amount of light by covering the aperture, and the aperture will close one step. For example, if at 1 / 200s it was F4.0, then at 1 / 100s it will become F5.6. I do not like this mode in that it constantly tries to set the value excerpts and apertures that are convenient to the camera itself. With each new scene with a different exposure, camera selects shutter speed / aperture again and the exposure value has to be changed over and over again to suit your needs.

What the 'P' mode is used for: it’s convenient to use the mode when switching from the green zone (fully automatic camera mode) to class modes M, A, S, P... You can be sure that the camera will help you get the normal settings. In this mode, you can take pictures of almost everything without worrying about the correct settings. It is very easy to achieve the fastest shutter speed available with the lens and the current ISO, and you can have complete confidence in the correct exposure. This can be used for 'stopping time'. If you turn on the auto-iso mode, then the program mode works a little differently.

Snapshot in one of the PASM modes

Snapshot in one of the PASM modes

A (or Av)

A very useful mode is 'A' (Aperture Priority), or 'Av' (Aperture value) - aperture priority

This is one of my favorite camera modes. It is quite convenient, as it allows you to control the aperture, and with it the depth of field. In this mode, you can simply set the desired aperture value, and the camera itself will recalculate and select the shutter speed. The larger the aperture, the slower the shutter speed. Conversely, the smaller the aperture, the longer the shutter speed. The shutter maneuver is much wider than the aperture maneuver. Usually the shutter speed varies from 30 seconds to 1/8000 of a second, that is, the shutter speed limits are very long and the camera is almost can always find the right shutter speed for almost any aperture value on the camera.

For example: for a lens with aperture limits from F3.5 to F36, the camera will almost always select the desired shutter speed for any value of F. So, for F3.5, a relatively short shutter speed will be selected, and for F / 36 a long shutter speed will be selected.

If for a certain value of the number F the camera cannot find the desired shutter speed, then the camera, in the field that is responsible for shutter speed, will display the value HiGH or LOW.

What is the 'A' mode used for: in this mode it is very convenient to control image depth of field. Using aperture priority mode makes it easy taking photos with blurry background. Typically, aperture (iris control) can seriously improve image quality, since most lenses give maximum image quality only in a certain range of F. So, aperture greatly affects vignetting and chromatic aberration. Using this mode, you can easily control the bokeh intensity, which is sometimes important for photographing portraits. And with the closed aperture in mode 'AND' you can achieve long exposure photographs, for example, such. You can get various interesting effects, for example such. This mode works very effectively when enabled ISO auto sensitivity functions.

Snapshot in one of the PASM modes

Snapshot in one of the PASM modes

S (or Tv)

Mode 'S' - (Shutter Priority), or 'Tv' (Time value) - shutter priority

Here, the opposite is true - this mode allows you to control the shutter speed, in contrast to the program mode, the shutter priority mode allows you to set any shutter speed that the camera can use. If you set a certain shutter speed on the camera, then the camera will automatically select the desired aperture value. The mode works similarly to the aperture priority mode, only instead of the aperture value, you need to set the shutter speed here. The aperture travel is quite limited, and you can often find that the camera is unable to set the desired aperture for a certain shutter speed.

If, at a certain shutter speed, the camera cannot find the desired aperture value, then the HiGH or LOW value will be displayed on the camera in the field that is responsible for the aperture.

What the 'S' mode is used for: using this mode is very easy to achieve motion stop effect. This is very useful when shooting sports and fast-moving objects. In order to freeze something in the photo, it is enough to take a picture at a fast shutter speed, for example, for 1/2000 second, while the camera itself will select the desired aperture value for a shutter speed of 1/2000 second. Also, in this mode it is convenient take off without grease pictures. This mode works very well when the auto ISO function is on.

Snapshot in one of the PASM modes

Snapshot in one of the PASM modes


'M' (Manual) - manual mode.

In this mode, the camera will have to set both shutter speed and aperture manually, in fact, that's why the regime is called 'manual camera control'. Of course, the manual mode can be a little automated, about this in more detail here.

Usually mode 'M' used in difficult shooting conditions when exposure metering cannot cope with the determination of the desired exposure. When working in 'M' helps a lot to get right exposure scale exposure in the viewfinder as well, use bar charts. Mode 'M' considered truly a creative mode and allows you to control all the available parameters that are responsible for the exposure. Interesting effect in mode 'M' obtained when using external flash, you can read in more detail here.


Creative semi-automatic camera control modes are very useful in a number of situations and can very easily get the camera to do what the photographer wants. I recommend doing your own experiments. And a short video on the topic:

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Material prepared Arkady Shapoval... Look for me on Youtube | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter.

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Comments: 163, on the topic: Camera modes P, A, S, M

  • andi

    Good article for beginners! thanks

  • Vadim

    Thanks! Very helpful article.

  • Verna

    Thank you!!
    the main thing: "I advise you to just experiment!"

    but, during experiments, I will mentally thank you ...

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Without practice, it is very difficult to know something. Good luck in your photo work.


    thank you very much!!!

  • Thank you very much, Arkady, so many shitty letters were dug up ... but here everything is quickly clear, and without stories about Lomels and so on ....
    Thanks again!!!

  • Tamada

    Thank you for the article! HUGE !!!

  • Ayrat

    thank you!

  • Konstantin

    “For example, for a kit lens 18-55mm F3.5-36, the Camera will select a fast shutter speed for F3.5 and a slow one (even a few seconds) for F36.”
    one-piece or whale has a minimum aperture of 36?
    A mode is good for everyone, only sometimes a pig puts even more than S mode :)
    somehow I was shooting at fifty dollars in aperture priority - I set about 3 (2,8-3,2 I don't remember exactly), then I changed the lens (I set the zoom and it is darker), forgot to change the mode - well, he set me a shutter speed of 1/15 and 1/10 and this is from the hands - 10-15 photos of successful composition went to the basket.
    concluded that autoiso useful thing, if limited to 400 units. - often helps out and up to 400 noise tolerant.
    P * -flexible program mode I do not understand why it is needed at all, the correction I made is not fixed like mercury - I re-framed it slightly - the exposure coupler changed, if the element that was being corrected would not move it would be much more convenient - there would have been A and S modes in one bottle ...
    In a room with an external flash, A S M modes are easier to use, - if the settings are missed, the flash will pull out.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      There is no typo. The Nikon 18-55mm f / 3.5-5.6G ED II AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor whale lens at 55mm focal length can close the aperture to F / 36. I also do not like P mode)

  • Konstantin

    another question: let's say in A mode we set the aperture and turn the shutter speed with the second wheel, it’s the same if we pressed the exposure compensation button and made an amendment, those for mode A exposure compensation is a change
    excerpts. and vice versa for S.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      In the camera settings, the ability to adjust the exposure without pressing the + - button is set, the correction is just performed by the second selector in modes A, S.

  • Alexey

    All articles are super thank you, here's an article about manual and autofocus.)))

    • Arkady Shapoval

      I will do as free time appears.


    I hate mode P, it’s kind of stupid, now I’m sitting in a dark room holding a camera in my hands, and the shutter speed and aperture value change spontaneously, I don’t understand what is happening in this mode :(

  • Artyom

    in mode A, with the built-in flash open, the shutter speed becomes 1/60 and does not change in any way, is this camera so designed or am I twisting something wrong? Nikon d3000

    • Arkady Shapoval

      This is the standard minimum value for flash in dark environments. Almost always in dark conditions, it will be 1/60 - this is a kind of standard that is sewn into the camera. On junior Nikon cameras (including your Nikon D3000) there is no possibility to change the shutter speed when the flash is 1 \ 60s, on more advanced cameras, for example, on Nikon D80, you can set 1/30, 1 \ 15s, etc. But shorter than 1 \ 60 will not work.
      At the same time, in good light, for example, on a sunny day, the shutter speed during flash in mode A will automatically be shortened to 1 \ 200, 1 \ 200 is the limit for your D3000.

  • Artyom

    thanks, very good answer!

  • Marina

    But it was weak to write HOW to adjust shutter speed and aperture? Well, what needs to be pressed ?? A pointless article.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Not weak :) This article is intended for people who have grown up with auto mode. Given that each camera has its own specific ergonomics unique to it, writing a manual for each camera will be incorrect. Therefore, with the help of which buttons on your camera to change the values, you need to look in the instructions in your camera :) Weakly open the instruction :)?

  • Lera pavlov

    Good day, Arkady. Overboard +37, my brains melt and thoughts I wanted to write come up. More often I shoot in M ​​mode, because I noticed some peculiarity of my Nikon. When I shoot in A mode, the automaton sets the maximum shutter speed at which the correctly exposed frame is obtained. Without changing the settings, go to M mode, take a shot but at shorter shutter speeds. it is possible to set the shutter speed more finely on the resulting exposure compensation scale. This allows you to take, for example, in poor lighting conditions with a shutter speed of not 1 / 20sec set by the automatics in mode A and at 1 / 50-1 / 60sec in mode M, thereby moving away from shaking while correct overexposed. I assume that there is a certain min. shutter speed corridor that automatic controls do not take into account setting the maximum shutter speed so that the frame is correctly exposed. Mode M makes it possible to fine-tune it more accurately. When the subject is well lit, mode A gives 1/250 sec to M but the automatics of mode A do not produce what can be taken even 1 \ 1000 or shorter and the picture will be correctly exposed especially well if you urgently need to take the dynamics. In this case, the ISO is automatic. It will be interesting to read your opinion. Regards.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      It's very simple - turn off auto ISO, and you won't have the same exposure. In the auto ISO setting menu, the maximum shutter speed is set. In this case, you are simply sacrificing noise. More details in the Exposition section.

  • Fancy something ??

    Hello everyone! Have you heard about the TI FINE project?

  • Sasha

    Hello! I’m new, the other day I took a camera, I found a lot of things on the Internet about photos, but your articles, the best I have found, are very grateful to you, thank you very much, I read you with pleasure!

    • Arkady Shapoval

      It's my pleasure. Do not forget about helping the project.

  • Oleg Monst

    I stumbled upon your articles on the internet. Thank you very much Arkady for taking the time to share knowledge with other people.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Not at all.

  • Maksim

    I’m recently in photography, but much of what you write is familiar to me, but I read it all the same because it is written in a fascinating way, you Arkady is a master of words. Yes, but although something that is written in the article is not familiar, there are little things that complement my signs. Sincerely, Maxim. Thanks for the site.

  • *****

    Good morning, Arkady, I’ll fly over the weekend in a balloon, how to set up the Nikon D 3100 so that my face is clearly and clearly visible and the whole view is at the bottom and the landscape in general?

    • Arkady Shapoval

      It will require a wide viewing angle on the lens and a closed aperture. More details in the landscape section.

  • Dmitriy

    Arkady, many thanks for the article. A simple, accessible exposition, which I missed.


  • Bui-com

    I have a D5100: in M ​​mode, I can’t compensate for the exposure (I go into the settings by pressing the info button and adjust the values ​​from -5 to +5, BUT this does not work in practice, the camera sets the values, but in reality does not apply them :(), but in mode A I can! (holding the +/- button and adjusting the wheel well or in the info menu and everything works)
    Is it really impossible to do this in M ​​mode, or am I misunderstanding something !?

  • Bui-com

    I was mistaken a little: I held the +/- button, not info!
    Thank you for the very useful link!

  • anonym

    Arkady, how to set the correct settings with the external flash of the SB 90 in the Nikon D700? I will photograph in the club.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Settings are set on the flash itself. To get started, try using the standard TTL + BL mode, different angles of tilt of the flash and a diffuser card.

  • Nata.

    Arkady, how to set the correct settings with the external flash of the SB 90 in the Nikon D700? I will photograph in the club.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Settings are set on the flash itself. To get started, try using the standard TTL + BL mode, different flash angles and a diffuser card

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