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:

Comments on this post do not require registration. Anyone can leave a comment. A wide variety of photographic equipment can be found on AliExpress, The Amazon и B&H Photo.

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

Add a comment:



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

  • Vladimir

    Arkady, good day. I recently bought a Nikon D90 with an 18-105 mm lens. I want to learn how to take long exposure shots. What modes do you recommend for day and night photography (long exposure)? and tell me the approximate parameters of shutter speed, aperture, ISO. For instance; night mode -…; exposure -…; diaphragm - ...; ISO - ...; This will serve as a basic impetus for me and for people like me samovars (((:, and We will start from these parameters by slightly changing them.

  • Anton

    Arkady, I would like to add 2-3 to the existing photo examples, and not only in this article. Examples are valuable when talking about the characteristics of photography modes, choosing a WB, setting up a WB. I shoot 85% of shots in semi-auto modes, and most often in a jeep, I do not spend time on Photoshop. I love high-quality reportage photos.

  • flngvybLet

    I agree, but partially.

  • Victoria

    Good evening ... I have a nikon d 3200 camera, and an external flash nikon sb 700 .. please tell me where to find the settings for rear curtain synchronization ... cut off all the instructions, apparently blind .. save !!!

  • Alexey

    Victoria, I don’t know about the D3200, but for the D3300, you need to press the “i” button in the lower left corner of the back panel of the device, then use the joystick to go to the flash point (shown by lightning), enter by pressing the “ok” button of the joystick and select the mode with the inscription “ slow ”. Very simple and fast, you don't even need to enter the main menu. Most likely, your D3200 is exactly the same. The SB-700's external flash will accept this setting from the camera.

  • Alexey

    Oh, wrong. “Slow” is a slow sync mode, on the rear curtain it is a mode named “Rear”, it can be combined with the “Slow” mode.

  • Alexey P.

    Mode M is very convenient to use with Auto-ISO. In this case, the shutter speed and aperture are set by the photographer, and ISO is set by automation. The difference between A + Auto-ISO mode is small, but there is:
    1. Exposure is set not in the Auto-ISO menu, but by a wheel on the case.
    2. Overexposures / oversights will have to be adjusted manually, shortening / lengthening the shutter speed.

  • KalekseyG

    Today I noticed a wild villainy on the part of NIKON, I own 5200, so this bastard, with Soviet lenses, measures exposure, but writes that there is no lens. On the screen, the circle with shutter speed itself shows the optimal shutter speed at the set sensitivity, but naturally refuses to take pictures. It turns out pure marketing, younger cameras can work as pros but are prohibited by software. So?

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Yes, this has already been described -

      • KalekseyG

        Yes, it’s like I don’t support what it does, measure it, it measures it, even in auto mode it turns the disks on the screen with shutter speed and iso (it selects the exposure when the lighting changes), it means it can work, but the program (there is interesting firmware to fix this dirty tricks, unofficial naturally). And in M ​​mode, I’ve been living since the purchase of the camera.

        • Arkady Shapoval

          Well, of course, this is a software limitation.

    • Gennady

      Yes, the 5100 also believes that there is no lens.

  • Volodimir

    With Novim Rock you, Pan Arkadin and come Rizdvom of Christ! I take pictures with Sony A 6000 camera and my favorite mode is aperture priority mode. Ale vinykla is such a problem. Having bought sob system sleeper HVL-F43M. If the camera is in A mode, the camera will switch to sleep-AUTO mode (only the “shutdown” mode), but it is not possible to know the sleep mode in TTL mode. I can’t know, can you help us? With the leader Volodymyr.

  • Victoria

    Tell me how to enable iso auto on nikon 3100?

    • Igor

      Icon menu with fotikom-sensitivity settings ISO-auto. Exercise ISO.
      Set ISO 1600, shutter speed to maximum focal length if zoom !!! Something like this !!!

  • Rita

    All real estate of our city,

  • Marya

    Thank you very much, very useful and accessible article for beginners.

  • Svetlana

    Hello, please tell me, here is an example of a photo, I am fond of animals, how to do the same? to catch ... in what mode and with what settings?

  • Dmitriy

    Arkady, I have one very important question, which, I think, will be of interest to many! Background:
    I have a wonderful Nikkor AF 70-210 f4 lens and a D7000 camera, and a friend has a similar kit from Sony a57 + beercan 70-210. And having taken this bunch of Sony as a test, I was pleasantly surprised: the camera itself chooses the minimum shutter speed according to the formula 1 / focal length (to exclude shake), and only then reaches the exposure using autoISO (mode A). I have to shoot in M ​​+ autoISO when there is a lack of lighting, constantly controlling the shutter speed depending on the focal one - it's very inconvenient! And then I accidentally read in one source that the D600 has such a feature.
    Question: Does Nikon have a feature that allows the camera to choose the minimum shutter speed depending on the focal length of the lens? Thanks.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Yes there is. In new cameras, this is a sub-function of auto-iso.

  • anonym

    Thank you very much !! A very necessary article for beginners !!!

  • Alice

    Arkady, thank you very much for the article. I rummaged through many sites, but only you found an answer that is understandable to a teapot like me.

  • anonym

    Please tell me how to change the shutter speed in the Nikon Coolpix L840, otherwise when photographing moving objects everything turns out to be blurry ... ???

  • Haimel

    Thanks for the information. I shoot on Canon 500d. I want to go to the full frame Nikon. I rent a lot indoors and weddings. Your advice Arkady?

    • Arkady Shapoval

      nikon d5, since there is no budget

  • Alyona

    Thank you, everything is clear.

  • anonym

    For me, a beginner, everything is written in an accessible, understandable language. The necessary information is well disclosed. Thanks.

  • Eugene

    An article test, and many thanks I read more than one article and bought a camera based on your recommendations, but I have a question for a Nikon d5300 + kit 18-140mm camera how to catch what you see when shooting an "incandescent lamp" so that you can see the spiral. Mode S and choose a shutter speed from a minimum of 1/4000 in the direction of increasing? And more other options, enlighten the amateur, please!

  • Б

    Thank you for the article! She was very helpful to me.

  • Sergei

    Simple, intelligible, concise, brilliant

  • Emil

    Good afternoon, Arkady. I have a nikon d3300 / tell me, when shooting in M ​​mode, why does the photo turn out completely dark, what is the reason for this? Thanks in advance

    • B. R. P.

      Shutter speed-aperture-iso.

  • anonym

    Thank you for the helpful information!

Add a comment

Copyright © Blog author - Photographer in Kiev Arkady Shapoval. 2009-2022

English-version of this article

Version en español de este artículo