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What advantages does manual mode have over aperture priority mode?

I tend to use Program mode on my camera, and try to avoid using the "easy" options, particularly Auto. I should probably at least get familiar with the other options - Manual, Aperture, and Shutter. On that line of thought, I'd like to hear what other photographers prefer, and why.


10 Answers 10


I do my bulk of shooting in the aperture priority mode, since I like to have control over the depth of field. Second most common mode is manual for full control, and after that shutter priority mode for the few cases when I want a particular effect based on shutter speed (typically some panning shot with motion blur). Not seldom I actually stick to aperture priority also for such shots, just setting a smaller aperture, leading to the shutter speed I want.

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    I shoot exactly the same way. Aperture Priority for most shots with exceptions for panned shots (most of the time I use Shutter Priority, but if it's a one-off I'll stay on Aperture Priority and just use a smaller aperture to get the shutter speed I want) and Manual for insect macros with flash or for scenes where the lighting is changing or with subjects of varying color under constant lighting where the exposure might meter differently from one shot to the next. Jul 21 '10 at 23:55

My important pictures are all shot in (M) manual mode, because I either shoot in very difficult lighting conditions, where the cam can't read my mind which part of the image I want properly exposed (think person in spot on dark stage) or I use remote flash, where auto modes don't work since my flash remotes don't do TTL.

If I make a simple fast picture of something for twitpic or facebook I mostly use Av, sometimes P - depends on which auto mode first crosses my fingers.

Most important thing about shooting in (M): the light will be consistent from picture to picture to picture. With auto modes it will change, depending on your framing or the subject moving in the frame.


My default is Program (P), for several reasons:

  • I want to shoot RAW (Not possible in automatic/preset modes on my Canon)
  • I want to decide when to use my flash (also not easily configurable in auto/preset)
  • I typically want to use mostly automatic settings.

I often switch to Shutter-Priority when using a telephoto or shooting action, or Aperture-Priority when doing portrait or macro.

  • I don't shoot in RAW (I don't want to spend my time in post processing.) but I agree with everything else you said. Jul 28 '10 at 14:00
  • I second this. I'm not experienced enough to shoot on full manual mode (most of the shots I did in this mode got over or underexposed)...
    – Carles
    Aug 8 '10 at 11:26

It depends on how much time you have to set up the shot. I would leave the camera in Program mode by default to catch shots where I don't have time to modify any settings.

If I have a little more time I would go for one of the scene modes as most cameras will do a pretty good job, e.g. landscape mode should give teh AF system a head start to focus in the distance, preferring a small aperture but not at the expense of a shutter speed that is too slow to eliminate handheld blur.

If I have some time to set the shot up I will go for aperture or shutter speed priority depending on the situation, and time allowing use exposure compensation based on the histogram information to get the image I want.

When using an external flash I will use aperture priority to control the ambient light/flash balance.

Only in very low light conditions (where exposure compensation doesn't have enough reach and the meter gets confused) will I use manual mode.


If a camera has a good auto-iso mode (which most don't, they limit the max ISO in certain modes like manual to as little as ISO 400) then I prefer to shoot in manual so that I can control my depth of field (via aperture) with and shutter speed (to eliminate or insure motion blur - depending on the scenario). However, for most cameras your best bet will be to use Aperture priority for most scenarios, but be very careful as your camera can be too aggressive in reducing the shutter speed to unacceptable levels so you may need to manually adjust your ISO or make compromises with your aperture to get the results you want.


I used to use Aperture Priority (AV) mode on my Canon most of the time. It gives me control over depth of field and the sharpness/clarity of my shots. However, since I got some ND/NDGrad filters, I've been using manual mode more often. The in-camera meter does not seem to be quite as accurate with ND or even Polarizer filters on, so I have noticed the need to manually adjust my shutter more when I'm using one. I generally start with AV without a filter, meter bright highlights and dark shades to determine my contrast range, meter where I want my focus to be, add the necessary filter(s), meter again, then switch to manual and adjust my shutter by 1/3 - 2/3 of a stop + the stop-values of the filter(s) and take the shot.


Shutter priority for shots that I want to control how much the action is frozen or blurred (panning). This used to include hand shake on cameras with weaker Auto-ISO, but Pentax's (not sure if other brands have followed suit) Auto-ISO aims for shutter speeds dependent on current focal length, so that function has moved to:

Aperture priority for controlling depth of field (or MTF sharpness).

Manual mode for controlling both motion and depth of field.


I tend to stick to aperture priority (Av) mode, as it gives me control over the depth of field.


I have my camera on P by default and switch to aperture priority when I care about depth of field. When I'm in the fixed-light environment (like events lit by theatrical lights or dark places where I mostly use flash) I switch to manual mode, mostly to eliminate surprises.

My reason is that there are times when I just want to snap a picture, and don't really care about aperture settings.


With Pentax, I have the option of a TAv which is shutter/aperture priority, so I pick shutter for motion control and aperture for depth of field and the camera chooses ISO in a range that I set. Very handy mode that is usually where I have the camera set when shooting outside.

For indoor stuff, I usually switch to manual mode because I'm often doing things like macro work and want more precise control over all the elements.

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