Program Mode


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Program Mode

16 Feb 2021 8:56PM   Views : 343 Unique : 241

Aperture and Shutter priority modes require some thought from the photographer, so why not take the easy route and let the camera make both of those decisions for you?


When I first came across the Program mode I didn't understand how the camera could possibly 'choose' both a shutter speed and aperture. After all, Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority require user input. You choose one of those values for a reason, the camera calculates the other value for you. The camera is just a machine, it's not clever or capable of creative thought.

There is one variable that can influence the choice of both settings. The amount of light available. Program mode is just that, a simple algorithm that in bright light sets a reasonable shutter speed (say 1/250) and reasonable aperture (say f/8). Both will give good results in decent light with 'non-demanding subjects'. As the light drops, the aperture is slowly opened and the shutter speed slowly reduced until the lens can go no wider and then it's just shutter speed that's increased. Sounds reasonable? The conundrum is solved, at least as far as the mathematics are concerned.


That's fine for the 'non-demanding subjects' or where creative decisions aren't required. That begs the question what do you want from your photography if you don't want to have creative input? Or know when the settings chosen by the camera are going to give a poor result?

Program Mode reminds me of a line in Porridge, the 1970s prison sitcom starring Ronnie Barker. At lunchtime, the question was asked about the food. 'What sort of meat?' The reply was 'just meat, that's what it says on the tin'. You don't have a choice of what you're getting. As with Program mode. Some cameras may have a Program Shift capability where by turning the control wheel you can adjust the settings to obtain the aperture or shutter speed you require. A neat idea but it won't replace Aperture or Shutter Priority modes.


However, Program mode does have something going for it. It allows beginners who aren't familiar with shutter speeds and apertures to achieve some results. Even for experienced photographers it an be useful to put the camera into 'P' when you've finished for the day so that if you need to grab a shot later the camera will do a fair job without you having to think or shoot away with an inappropriate combination of settings. For example 1/125 at f/5.6 may well be chosen which on balance is more likely to be suitable in terms of taking a passable image than 1/15 at f/16 if you were last using small apertures in Aperture Priority.

Next time I'll look at the clever variations on this mode.


These are typical images that in average daylight light levels Program mode does a reasonable job.

All text and images Keith Rowley 2021

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