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. MORE P. These modes can be found on the camera control wheel, as shown in the image below. Usually mode MORE 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 MORE 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. Training/Consultations | Youtube | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Telegram

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Comments: 164, on the topic: Camera modes P, A, S, M

  • Tasha

    I have not yet met a more accessible explanation. Somewhere, something was always misunderstood and confusion began.
    Everything is laid out here on the shelves. All clear. Many things fell into place.


  • Roman K.

    Good article. Everything is accessible and understandable. thanks

  • Nicholas

    M mode - when turned on, turn the gear selector; the shutter speed changes and the aperture value does not change, why 7

    • B. R. P.

      What camera? If the camera has one “gear selector”, then to change the aperture, you need to hold down the + \ - button (next to the image of this same diaphragm) and turn the selector while holding the button.

    • Irina

      Hold the button on top of the wheel and rotate it. So the diaphragm changes.

  • igor

    why do we need the position “x250” in exposure settings

    • Arkady Shapoval

      This is the maximum allowable flash sync speed. For convenience, especially with old flashes.

  • Alexander

    Hello Arkady, are you shooting in (sport) mode? It seems to me that automation is doing fine, just for sports.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      I don’t take pictures. Mainly due to the fact that there are no amateur modes on professional cameras. And the concept “for sports” is a long one and in each case it will work worse than the optimal settings set in advance.

    • Valery A.

      Good evening. If you don’t know with what shutter speed, with what aperture (depth of field) and at what ISO acceptable for your device it’s preferable to shoot this sports episode, then yes, automation is better to handle.

      • Igor

        not “do better” but “do better”. What will it do? No soft sign !!!

        • Valery A.

          I repent.

  • Marina

    Very interesting article, thanks! I also read about shooting modes
    here suddenly come in handy for someone

  • Vladimir

    Sensibly. Respect.

    • Igor

      not “suddenly it will be useful to someone”, but “suddenly it will be useful to someone”. What will it do? No soft sign !!!

      • Nicholas

        Are you a retired TEACHER? find fault with the person constantly.

  • Michael

    Finally found what I need.
    It became clear in what mode I want to shoot.
    Thank you so much for the work.

  • Sergei

    Arkady, you write: (usually the M mode is used in difficult shooting conditions), etc. I think it is relevant if you have manual optics. And modes A and S do just fine. There is hardly a photographer who can accurately determine with an eye exponometer exposure. How automation will do it. On film machines, shutter speeds were fixed and no intermediate, but here any. You still have to refer to the meter readings after you set them. And this is a waste of time. I see no reason.

    • Onotole

      In vain you think so.
      I would say this - it is unlikely that there will be and in the foreseeable future there will be an automation that will set the exposure as the photographer needs it (based on the plot, idea, etc.). And especially - in constantly and rapidly changing conditions, for example: I shoot a person in the shadow of a building, at first the shadow wall of the house will be the background, and the next moment it will move and the background will be a sunlit courtyard. Guess how the automation will set the exposure. And in M ​​mode, you don't even need to do anything - the background, of course, will go partially into overexposure, but the main element of the frame will remain exposed just as perfectly, and will not become a black silhouette. And there are many similar examples - many can be cited, and in no way they are all related to manual optics.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      In real conditions, the M mode is extremely useful, it is not obvious if you just have a theoretical basis.
      1. Mode M is the only one possible for normal and comfortable shooting in the studio. All 100% of shots in the studio of any photographer are performed in this mode. Only recently in very advanced studios appeared equipment that allows you to work in mode A, but it will not reach our countries soon and I do not think that it will be popular.
      2. Mode M and Auto-ISO is very, very convenient mode when shooting in low light conditions, such as indoors. It is especially convenient to use with this function and zoom lenses. For example, in temples I always use this combination. It's not obvious, but on some cameras it helps to manually adjust the shutter speed (aperture itself) depending on the focal length. If at 17mm I can afford to shoot at 1/10 s, then at 50mm I try to shoot at 1/60 s. In this case, the auto iso function will select the minimum ISO value, and, as a result, the maximum image quality. It is not difficult for me to turn the control selector a couple of times. At the same time, auto ISO always makes the exposure correct and you do not need to adjust anything.
      3. M mode is extremely useful when using flash. I perform every single shooting indoors with a flash in this mode. Not because M mode is cool, but because it is very convenient. At any moment I can use the shutter speed and aperture to "illuminate" the distant shot using a flash. The flash always makes the exposure correct. The ISO, shutter speed and aperture parameters adjust the tonal curve of the picture.
      But all of this comes with experience, and gaining experience is not an easy task. Also, please note that I am not a fan of any one mode. I really appreciate all of the modes P, A, S, M, I consider them the embodiment of the genius of camera developers and use them periodically, depending on the photo tasks.
      The authors and commentators who promote only one of the modes, most often it is A or M, I want to ask you to refrain from this, or to better understand the possibilities of their use.

    • Onotole

      And in practice - even in the most sterile conditions, an exposure accuracy of more than 1/3 of a stop is never required. And in most cases, everyday, reportage, sports, street, etc. photography - even this is not required, up to +/- 1 stop, and no one will see a lack without instrumental measurements. For the reasons described in your message, no one is able to determine this exactly by eye, so why do we need this accuracy?

    • Igor

      “On film cameras, the shutter speeds were fixed and no intermediate ones, but here, any” And on digital - fixed! Not "any"!

    • Igor

      Sergei, your phrase “Arkady, you are writing” is great !!! 99% of the so-called "Russians" would write - WRITE! Yes, I'm off topic, I'm a literacy champion! Oh, just don't have to answer - like, this is the Internet, everything is possible here. FOR FOOLS EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE !!!

      • Valentine

        Igor, are you sure? Correct, for example, “You write well” and “Write letters, friends”. This time literacy has let you down. And in capital letters with three exclamation marks, advocates of the language usually do not favor.

  • Sergei

    Please forgive my lack of experience. Thanks for the clarification.

  • Sergei

    I will supplement it. I wrote it from the point of view of an amateur, and you are a professional. I just do not present SUCH requirements for pictures. They are for themselves. And learning is not harmful. Thanks.

  • anonym

    Good day! Tell the amateur: I choose the PSAM modes, I set everything up as indicated in the recommendations, I press the shutter button, the display just shows a black screen. So in each of these modes. Could this be a marriage? Or am I doing something wrong? Nikon d5300

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Attach here a link to those “black” photos that the camera creates. Let's diagnose them :)

    • Gennady

      Is the lens cap removed? :)

  • Alice

    Thank you very much!

  • Michael

    I do not quite understand the difference between the P-semiautomatic mode. What is the difference with the shutter priority mode-by P the shutter speed can also be changed?

    • Michael

      On P, it is not the shutter speed that is changed, but the exposure couple, which is initially offered by the ph. And in S mode, the shutter speed is fixed, and the aperture (and, if specified, ISO) is set depending on the scene illumination

  • Michael

    Also, does P mode differ from Avto mode except manually adjusting shutter speed?

    • Michael

      In addition to the availability of all the fine adjustments and settings of the camera

  • anonym

    Everything is clearly laid out, thanks!

  • Daria

    Thank you very much, they helped me understand and understand what's what).

  • R'RёS,R ° F "RёR№

    Hello. Nowhere can I find information about the "lens priority" mode. What is its advantage or benefit over other modes?

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Tell me, please, where did you see such a regime?

      • Oleg

        Probably talking about aperture priority?

  • Sergei

    In theory, everything is clear. Thanks for the detailed explanation. I'm new to photography but film photography. And with a relatively dark lens starting at F-4,0 on the Canon 200D, the ISO is constantly striving for maximum in semi-automatic modes. At higher ISO, there is more noise. And overexposed frames at high ISO are significantly worse processed than underexposed ones. Plus, in overexposure, details are lost after processing and noise can be seen. I can't choose the optimal normal shooting mode for myself yet. With a standard lens 18-55 F4-5,6 in a room illuminated by two LED "decent" ISO lamps in auto mode from 1600 up to the maximum it turns out. But if instead of a standard lens under the same conditions I simply attach a 90 mm cinema lens to the carcass with 1: 1,8, then the image quality is better (significantly) and ISO can be set to 800 or less. But the depth of field is too small 0,5 cm, or maybe less, the shaking of the hands makes the blur. And the desire to buy a lens for Canon with lenses is no better, for $ 1000-2000, although with auto focus and stabilization, no. The idea of ​​any decent lens in the highest possible transmission aperture. And none of the concepts “each lens for its own tasks”, introduced by hucksters / capitalists in order to split the necessary consumer property into small pieces and sell each piece at the highest possible price, in 2020 does not stand up to criticism. This concept “each for its own task ”. Just manufacturers with the entire chain of sales of goons. Hang on to make something durable and worthwhile. I do not think that I am wrong in the basis.

    • Seladir

      If you stop taking pictures of flour and go out into the streets / nature, it turns out that you can create a lot of interesting things with a complete lens. For many years they have not been some kind of “plugs for the bayonet” at Canon, but quite sharp ones, at least since the first 18-55 IS. If you still talk about indoor subject shooting, then you need a tripod and light. In any case, it makes sense to make an exposure compensation, control the ISO - just try it and it will become familiar and unobtrusive.
      The passage about the damned capitalists is not very incomprehensible. To create a business and sell at any stage of the chain is all work, no matter what the radical left-wing ideologues tell you. Different lenses exist because people need them, since 10-600 1.8, weighing 500g and costing $ 100 have not yet been invented, and not even because of a conspiracy. I can do with three.

  • Sergei

    From the regular canon. Although everything is sharp here, but with a live cinema lens with F-1,8, the picture is much better. I just couldn't take it off without shaking my hands.

  • Sergei

    This shot originally weighs 6,7MB in JPEG from a movie lens. This one has been cut down to two. And from a lens with a Canon 1,7 MB.

    • Victor

      Seeds from a cinema lens are fire, and you can immediately see the flour of a worthy grade, probably the highest.

      Not like canon.

  • spanapgiusarehot

    Or Aperture is my favorite mode in 90% of cases, in which you determine the aperture and the camera's shutter speed. So you can easily control the depth of field, and look at the shutter speed with your other eye.

  • Galia

    Arkady, please tell me why there are no video settings in the Nikon D5100 in the “M” zone? Or something I do not understand ..

    • Arkady Shapoval

      The camera is not designed to shoot video in this mode.

  • Still

    I don’t know who and why invented the P mode, but it’s a disaster.) It’s not controllable. However, like a car.

    • Ivan

      And don't speak! Only idiots could have come up with autofocus and auto white balance. Those were the glorious times before, all manual controls, divine film ...

  • Still

    Semi-automatic A and S are also so-so pleasure with a lack of light.

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