Talking about the Camera Mode Dial

A mode dial is a device used on digital cameras for setting modes of camera operation. Most digital cameras, including DSLR and SLR-like cameras, have modes that are selectable either by a dial or from a menu. Point-and-shoot cameras that have modes, offer a range of scene types. On DSLR cameras and SLR-like cameras, mode dials usually provide access to manual settings. The more compact point-and-shoot cameras, and cameras offering a great many modes, do not have mode dials, using menus instead. Some SLR lenses themselves offer control over things such as aperture, reducing the need for mode support in the camera body.

Mode Dial
Generic mode dial for showing some of the most common modes. (Actual mode dials can vary from camera to camera. For example, point-and-shoot cameras don't often have manual modes.) Manual modes: Manual (M), Program (P), Shutter priority (S), Aperture priority (A). Automatic modes: Auto, Action, Portrait, Night portrait, Landscape, Macro.
Nikon D3 dSLR mode dial
A Nikon D3 dSLR with the mode dial located near the flash/viewfinder hump.

Location of the dial

On most DSLRs and SLR-like cameras, the mode dial is located at the top of the camera, to one side of the flash/viewfinder hump. On point-and-shoot cameras, however, the mode dial's location is less standard. On many models, it is found on top like DSLRs. On other point-and-shoots, the dial is found on the front of the camera, often coupled with a menu-navigation button.


Main article: List of digital camera modes

Various camera types and specific cameras have different modes. On DSLRs, these usually contain manual settings and a small sample of automatic modes. SLR-like cameras usually have manual modes and several automatic scene modes. On point-and-shoot cameras, all manual control may be condensed into one mode (e.g. ASP, for Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Program) or completely absent. Compact cameras also generally have a large array of scene modes. Point-and-shoot and SLR-like digital cameras usually have a movie mode to capture videos, though the design of dSLRs prevents these cameras from having movie modes as well.

Detailed in formation found by users on the modes supported by digital cameras are to be found in the ongoing list of digital camera modes.

Manual modes

Manual modes include:

  • P: Program mode offers partial control over shutter speed and aperture.
  • Tv or S: Shutter priority controls the shutter speed, and aperture is calculated by the camera.
  • Av or A: Aperture priority controls the aperture, and the shutter is calculated by the camera.
  • M: Manual mode controls shutter speed and aperture independently.

Automatic scene modes

In automatic scene modes the camera determines all aspects of exposure, choosing exposure parameters according to the application within the constraints of correct exposure, including exposure, aperture, focussing, light metering, white balance, and equivalent sensitivity. For example in portrait mode the camera would use a wider aperture to render the background out of focus, and would seek out and focus on a human face rather than other image content. In the same light conditions a smaller aperture would be used for a landscape, and recognition of faces would not be enabled for focussing.

Some cameras have tens of modes. Many cameras do not document exactly what their many modes do; for full mastery of the camera one must experiment with them.

In general:

  • Action or sport mode increases ISO and uses a fast shutter speed to capture action.
  • Landscape mode uses a small aperture to gain depth of field.
  • Portrait mode widens the aperture to throw the background out of focus. The camera may recognize and focus on a human face.
  • Night portrait mode uses an exposure long enough to capture background detail, with fill-in flash to illuminate a nearby subject.
  • Other scene modes found on many cameras include Fireworks, Snow, Natural light/Night snapshot, Macro/Close-up, and Movie mode.

See also

Suggested Reading