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I have a couple of digital cameras which have in common a setting dial that includes such modes as AUTO, P (program mode), T (shutter priority), A (aperture priority), and M (manual). My more sophisticated camera also has a SUPERIOR AUTO mode.

When I view images on either of these cameras (while using the camera itself), the full display clearly shows which mode was used to capture the image. But once the images are uploaded to my computer, I am having trouble finding out where this information is stored in the EXIF data. I am starting to suspect that maybe there is not a single answer and maybe I have to consult multiple fields to recover the main setting or mode the camera was in?

So my question: How can I use EXIF data to learn what mode the camera was in when it took the picture? In particular, how can I distinguish P from AUTO when both appear to have Exposure Program of Program AE?

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There is an EXIF field called "Exposure program" which does exactly what you want: Show what was the mode in which camera worked.

However for older, (cheaper?) cameras (for example Nikon Coolpix D7000) this field can simply have "Unidentified (0)" or "Manual (1)" even if the camera was in one of the automatic exposure modes.

For professional dSLRs (eg. Canon 5D Mk3) the field is limited (of course) to the classical "Normal (2)", "Aperture priority (3)" etc. while for newer middle-range/consumer cameras can have the values of the different other programs which camera (eg. Olympus VH410) implements: "Creative (slow) (5)" etc.

The numbers are the actual values which are stored in this field in EXIF metadata space.

The above values where checked with XnView MP which has also the advantage to display the EXIF data in-line and side-by-side with the ExifTool which is the mother of any EXIF processing program. Just launch the program, and see the Exif data in the 'Exif' tab in the Info Pane (lower left corner by default). If you want the full Exif analysis/display just switch to 'ExifTool' tab (beware, ExifTool is rather slow).

  • Using ExifTool (which is indeed rather slow), it does not seem to be able to distinguish between 'P' and 'Auto' on the Sony RX-100M3. Both are labeled in EXIF as Program AE. – Norman Ramsey Aug 26 '14 at 16:28
  • ExifTool is slow because the tool is a convoluted command line utility (at least for me is a nightmare to use it outside of XnView MP) and written in Perl. However, hat tip for Phil Harvey (ExifTool's author) for writing the best-on-earth EXIF digging engine. – John Thomas Aug 27 '14 at 9:38
  • The slowness is not so much a problem for me---I can wait. But the inability to distinguish between P and AUTO is a problem. Any ideas? Is there another field I should be looking at? – Norman Ramsey Aug 28 '14 at 14:41
  • @NormanRamsey: I'm afraid not. Because the exposure program is basically the same. Auto just makes other things 'automatic': auto-focus, flash, resolution - things like this. But the exposure program remains the same: Program (IOW the standard Av/Tv curve of the Program mode) – John Thomas Aug 30 '14 at 6:28

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