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by garik

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The question about how programed exposure modes work made me wonder. Are there situations where a program mode is good for some reason, not just as a convenience or because you don't understand exposure?

I've so far been scared of program modes because I don't know what the camera might pick. There are various tradeoffs, so there are various programs, so you have to think and select something anyway. Picking two of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed doesn't seem harder than guessing the right program mode to me. Also, selecting the program mode is usually a lot harder than changing the f-stop. For most things, I select ISO up front for the conditions, then change the aperture on the fly while watching the shutter speed the camera picks.

Am I being a control freak and there are cases where it would be good to let the camera decide, or are program modes for "dummies"? You professionals out there, do you ever use a program mode?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Program exposure mode is there to choose ONE correct exposure. While it is not entirely random, you can consider it that way. Paired with a good multi-segment metering system, you can get a good exposure 90% of times with the press of the shutter-release.

The primary advantage is that it gets you a shot faster than any other mode. This is great for events when things move fast and lighting is uneven. News and journalistic situations are good example where the shot is more important than artistic choices.

You can also combine Program mode with Program-Shift which lets you get both a shot quickly or take the time to prioritize a different exposure. This is like an semi-automatic mode without the commitment. Finally, you can use exposure compensation to adjust the metered and overall get give a good amount of indirect input to Program mode.

That being said, I am not a photojournalist and I take time with my shots, so most of the time (at least 85%) I use Aperture priority. I also know two other professionals who taped their mode dials to the A position! On my camera, I also set the second control dial to control ISO, so the only thing that is left if for shutter-speed to be selected.

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What's wrong with "as a convenience" and "for people who don't understand exposure" as answers to a good use for program mode?

Particulary the first isn't necessarily for "dummies" — there may be times when other aspects of the photograph are simply a greater concern and there's no time to think, so the convenience is worth something.

Likewise, someone who is interested in composition or in capturing moments may not be dumb, but not really interested in controlling the particular aspects of exposure. That's okay too.

Since these are good reasons — not to mention big selling points — I don't think there needs to be more to it than that.

As for whether you're being a "control freak" and should learn to relax and love the full-auto experience, well, maybe, and maybe not. It can be a good excercise to spend a day or a week letting go of something like that. Concentrate on framing, or on color, or on timing. See if it gives you any benefit; maybe you'll find that a useful learning tool, or maybe you'll even decide you do like the convenience sometimes.

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Also, as I noted in my answer to the question you mention, the P mode on my particular camera can be linked to the technically-measured sweet spot of each lens, which is handy and not available in any other way. So that's definitely convenient. –  mattdm Jan 1 '12 at 18:58
    
That's a interseting point. I don't think my particular camera does that though. I figure most of the time f/8 or f/11 is a good bet in the abscence of specific information. –  Olin Lathrop Jan 2 '12 at 18:26

I have never used "Program" mode on a professional assignment. I can't think of a reason I'd want to.

That said, I'm not anal about not using the tools at my disposal. I do use an auto-ISO mode where I set the aperture and min/max shutter speeds, and the camera picks an ISO. That's been great.

I shoot 90% of the time in aperture-priority, with the rest divided into manual, shutter-priority, and bulb.

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Program mode can be found on cameras ranging from the most basic SLR to the "weapon of choice" of the elite photojournalist ... and this isn't the result of an "oversight" by the R&D experts at the likes of Canon and Nikon. It serves as a transitionary tool for the photographer who desires to take things to the next level and possesses/aspires to possess the experience to do so via tweaking in the P mode. Such things as RAW and advancements in software that can compensate tremendously for improper settings, but they are time-consuming. You may find the P mode too time-consuming/cumbersome for your shots as well....but it is there if you change your mind.

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Hi Clinton. I'm not sure I understand this. How does P mode enable tweaking, and in what ways is it cumbersome? –  mattdm Jan 2 '12 at 0:48

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