On my Canon EOS 700D, I have a couple of possibilities for portraits (ditto landscapes etc.):

  1. Portrait Mode Dial / "Basic Zone mode"

    explained as blur background (so equiv. to Av with large aperture), and softer hair and skin tones.

  2. "Creative Zone" mode (P/Av/Tv/M) + Portrait-based Picture Style

    this picture style is explained as "nice skin tones. The image looks softer."

Apart from the preference for large aperture, is there any difference in the processing here? Is the dial mode just using the portrait picture style on its default settings?

Edit 1

OK, here's a test shot. I did it using landscape mode / landscape picture style because a standard subject was a lot easier to find.

Note that the Manual mode photo was taken ~20s after the first, but not much happened weather/lighting wise, even though the latter looks under exposed compared to the first.

The greens are about the same, but the blues are way off. I've repeated this a couple of times - it's alwasy the blues that are different. So the 'basic' landscape mode is NOT the same as the default 'landscape picture style' available in the 'creative' modes.

comparison of landscape modes

I must admit, at the moment I can't really be bothered with either of these "features" as to understand what they're likely to do to a photo I'd have to do an enormous trial and study and commit to memory effort, and that effort is better put in to processing raw images. But if anyone can answer specifically about these I'm still very interested in an answer.

Edit 2

Kids in front of TV, pretty much a controlled scene! I can also confirm that Portrait Basic Mode is quite different to Creative mode with Portrait Picture Style. The latter goes mad for the reds, lifting them out of shadows and generally looking quite lurid when they appear on clothes. So far, the "picture style" approach seems to introduce some pretty heavy handed colour tweaks whereas the "basic" modes are much more subtle.


2 Answers 2


The first key to understand here is the difference between "Basic" zone and "Creative" zone. In the case of Basic zone, the camera is expecting that the photographer has little to no knowledge of photography. It takes over almost all features of the camera and adjusts based on the intent of the user (as set by the given mode).

While I don't know exactly what the basic mode does (I never use it), it most likely does things such as locking the aperture full open (to ensure the smallest depth of field and most background blur) and probably applies the Portrait profile since it specifically mentions altering skin tones (which is a processing step). The Basic modes I have seen almost always simply consist of presets that can be achieved using the "Creative modes" so while I can't guarantee it, it sounds accurate based on the little description the manual gives.

"Creative zone" on the other hand, is the "advanced" shooting mode, or as I like to call it, the non-point and shoot mode. This mode assumes that you have at least a basic understanding of photographic principles, such as metering and the exposure triangle and its elements. It allows the photographer to take control of all the features of the camera. There is often still an automatic mode in this zone where the camera will adjust for exposure based on an exposure compensation, but more features of the camera are still enabled to tweak.

In this zone, aperture is at the control of the user, as is the picture style, so a "Portrait mode" isn't possible, however setting the camera to Av (aperture priority) and locking it at wide open and setting the Portrait image processing preset should give similar color tone and depth of field to what the Portrait mode in the Basic zone did. Also note this only applies to taking JPEG images, not RAW shots (though the preview image for the RAW will be affected.) The image presets are simply adjustments for contrast, sharpness and saturation that the image processing follows when creating a JPEG from the raw image data.

Certainly the best bet to prove there aren't other changes is to setup a controlled test, with consistent lighting, consistent subject and a tripod and try both settings and see if there is a noticeable difference, however I highly doubt there will be anything seriously significant.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Yep, thanks, you've outlined my hunch that these things are the same. I understand these don't affect the images saved raw. I understand what the standard ("creative" if you're Canon) modes do, it's the non-standard magic point and shoot ones I don't understand. Also, assuming that the "basic" modes are applying the same processing functions as available in "creative" modes, it's a shame there isn't a more technical explanation of what it's actually doing - this would help in choosing what to use. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 16, 2013 at 14:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @artfulrobot - the key with the basic modes is that they will never do as good of a job as someone who knows what they are doing manually. If it is a question of which mode to use, if you are familiar with how to shoot in "creative zone" do so, it isn't going to do anything with the basic modes that you can't do yourself, particularly if you handle your own post from RAW (which sounds like you are familiar with at least.) The basic modes are only intended for inexperienced users who wouldn't otherwise be able to get a quality result with the camera. They don't offer any special features. \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Henderson
    Commented Sep 16, 2013 at 15:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ And just to clarify, the manuals in every Canon camera I have used has been sparse on details of exactly what they do in the basic modes, but has been clear that it is simply locking the full settings down to presets. I have not seen any camera (out of the 3 I have had or used extensively) that has not had specific indication in the manual that the basic modes were just presets of the features available to you in the fully unlocked modes. They are basically the same thing as a C(custom) mode if you have that on your camera, but the settings are locked in the software. \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Henderson
    Commented Sep 16, 2013 at 15:30

Short answer: surprisingly, the portrait mode and portrait picture style use different processing.

Long answer

This is easy to test:

  1. Take a random picture in "Portrait Mode"

  2. Then set the camera to M mode and select the same aperture/shutter speed/ISO and select the portrait picture style, take the same picture again

  3. If you can't tell the difference between the two pictures than from a practical standpoint the processing is the same in both options.

Here are (as promised) the results from my 550D, I took 3 photos of my of my kid's toys - a stuffed animal that is sort of skin tone-is in color (couldn't get anyone to pose for me).

All photos taken with the same camera settings under the same lights - ISO400,f/5.6,1/60,Auto White Balance,Popup flash fired (couldn't disable flash or change WB in portrait mode).

One photo in portrait mode, one in Manual mode with portrait picture style and one in manual mode with standard picture style.

I fully expected the portrait mode and portrait picture style pictures to be the same - but as @artfulrobot discovered when he did it with the 700D the result are different.

Not extremely different but the portrait mode seems to be in the middle between the portrait and the standard picture style, even closer to standard.

Full photo (portrait mode version, scaled down 25%): Full image

Same part from all image for easy comparison: Comparison image

  • \$\begingroup\$ Hey, who voted this down without a comment as to why?! (I can see without my vote it would be at -1) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 16, 2013 at 13:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @artfulrobot - I guess that downvote is for this answer is not answering the question. I have not voted at all yet, waiting for the promised update.. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 16, 2013 at 15:25

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