Aperture and Shutter Priority Modes Are Dead: It's Time to Get Rid of Them

Aperture and Shutter Priority Modes Are Dead: It's Time to Get Rid of Them

For most manufacturers, one of the hangovers from analog cameras is the chunky dial that sits on top. Two of the modes — shutter priority (often S or Tv) and aperture priority (often A or Av) — are becoming increasingly obsolete. Cameras have changed, and so has how we used them, and manufacturers need to keep up.

Every Fuji shooter will now be screaming at their screens in frustration, and yes, Fuji cameras have always been ahead of the game, not simply in terms of usability, but in mystically anticipating a while back that ISO would not always be fixed for a minimum of 24 or 36 exposures. Fuji photographers wanting to shoot at a specific aperture while letting their camera calculate the exposure simply dial that aperture in — leaving their shutter and ISO settings on auto — and get on with the job. If they suddenly want a specific shutter speed as well, they dial that in and continue to let the camera choose the exposure, thanks to auto ISO.

Fuji X-T3

Every Fuji own reading this article is almost certainly saying "Well, duh" by this stage.

Sliding between different priority modes is seamless, as if these “modes” don’t exist. Instead, the mindset is reversed: instead of deciding which variable is given “priority,” you are choosing which ones to take back from the camera’s automation. For anyone trying to learn digital photography, this surely makes a lot more sense, and given that cameras are now incredibly sophisticated when it comes to metering, it’s not just beginners who can take advantage.

In contrast to Fuji, almost every other manufacturer is stuck with a system that is outdated. As the photography world slowly became accustomed to digital, auto ISO took a little while to appear, becoming much more useful when the ability to set a minimum shutter speed was introduced.

As someone who once shot almost exclusively in manual mode, using auto ISO has been something of a revelation. I now use it as part of manual mode (can you still call it “manual” if the camera is choosing the exposure?) when shooting events or in aperture priority when photographing people. If you’re not sure of the advantages, check out these two articles: Why Auto ISO and Minimum Shutter Speed Will Change the Way You Shoot, and How to Start Using Aperture Priority.

A Brief History Lesson

Pentax K10D

The humble Pentax K10D: 10.2 megapixels of visionary technology, thanks to its largely ignored TAv mode, which is still a prophecy of what is yet to come. Or something.

Both released in 2009, the Canon 1D Mark IV and the original Canon 7D were among the first to give photographers the option of allowing the camera to choose the ISO, but it’s possible that Pentax was one step ahead of them. In 2006, Pentax released the K10D and sneaked in a new setting that may have seemed a little bizarre back then, but now makes perfect sense: TAv. This blended shutter and aperture priority, but still left the camera to decide the exposure — through auto ISO. (Hat tip to Fstoppers community member John Cavan for this delightful little nugget of information.)

Today, 20 years after Canon released its first digital SLR in the shape of the D30, the vast majority of cameras still haven’t properly managed to accommodate the arrival of ISO as something that is as important as shutter speed and aperture when it comes to creating an image. However, there are signs that things are beginning to change. Last year, Canon released the EOS R and sneaked in a feature that hasn’t drawn a huge amount of attention: Fv.

Flexible Priority Auto Exposure

Canon EOS R Fv mode

No doubt prompting much eye-rolling from Fuji shooters, the Canon EOS R has Fv mode — flexible priority auto exposure. Image from canon-europe.com.

EOS R owners reading this article will already have noticed that Canon made some changes in how this camera is controlled. And notably, in the list of modes that the R presents you with when choosing your settings, Fv is listed second after full automation.

Humorously dubbed “Fuji Verbatim” by photographer and YouTuber Omar Gonzalez, this “flexible priority auto exposure” mode (if you have a better idea for the name, leave a comment below) goes some way to replicating the mindset (though not the dials) of choosing the settings on, say, a Fuji X-T3. Your three variables — shutter speed, aperture, and ISO — are all set to automatic until you decide to override one of them. Returning a variable to automatic can be achieved at the touch of a button. For example, on my Sony a7 III, if I choose to switch out of auto ISO and set it manually, to go back to auto ISO, I have to scroll all the way past ISO 50 to “AUTO.” On the EOS R, returning it to auto can be done with a single button press.

Imagine yourself as a relative newcomer to photography, in your backyard, attempting to capture the family dog. If it's sitting in front of you, Fv with everything on auto will be fine. If you’ve heard about wide apertures, you might even choose to set the aperture to f/4, the widest on your RF 24-105mm f/4L kit lens. If the dog suddenly starts chasing the kids around the garden, you’ll want to freeze that movement, so with one click, you put the aperture back to auto and then scroll to set the shutter speed to 1/1000th of a second. Easy.

Anyone who has taught photography will appreciate how much easier it is to explain this to a beginner. Being able to say “this will give you control over the aperture” is a lot simpler than saying “this will give you control over the aperture but at the same time check what this ISO thing is doing and if it’s set to a number like 400 or 800, be sure to scroll past all of those numbers until you get to auto.”

This also gets past the confusion of having a mode called "manual" where one of the variables — i.e., ISO — can be set to auto. Of course, this is a subtle point, but it's another sign that the traditional approach to operating a camera is stuck in the past.

This isn’t a shift in mindset and dials that only affects beginners, however. On my Sony a7 III, I rarely use anything other than the two stored settings set up on my mode dial. The first is set for shooting events where I’m capturing fast, often unpredictable movements with greatly varying amounts of light entering the lens. This means manual mode but with auto ISO, an aperture of f/5.6, and the shutter speed dialed to 1/1000th. From there, I can tweak, depending on what’s happening in front of me. (If I’m choreographing action myself, I’ll shoot fully manual, as I will have the time to keep checking my histogram and tweak my ISO myself. At an event, it’s better to let the camera do the decision-making.)

Parkour photography by Andy Day

Parkour events: fast-moving bodies and lighting conditions that can change almost as rapidly. 1/1250, f/5, ISO 1000.

My second stored setup is ready for shooting candid portraits: aperture priority with auto ISO, the aperture set to its widest for any given lens, and the minimum shutter speed set to 1/250th of a second — a variable that is easily tweaked by having this quickly changed via a custom key.
Moody portraits in paris.

Moody portraits in central Paris. 1/2500 (left) and 1/400 (right), f/1.8, ISO 100.

With these two saved modes as my foundation, I can usually then adjust to a wide range of situations. In a sense, I'm still using aperture priority, but not as it was originally intended. The workarounds are effective, but as Canon has suggested with its new Fv mode, there might be better ways of approaching the design of a camera's controls, means that properly accommodate the fact that ISO is no longer stuck until you change your roll of film.

What Do You Think?

Do priority modes need a complete overhaul? Should manufacturers put some energy into rethinking how we operate our cameras? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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215 Comments

Rocco Zoccoli's picture

Im not sure if you are an actual photographer or not but aperture priority is my best friend at weddings... semi-cloudy days when at any moment a cloud can cover the sun and drop the exposure of the frame by -2ev would kill me. AV with good metering is a blessing.

David Pavlich's picture

I've accepted a lot of changes, but this one would not make me happy. I use Av most of the time for the reason that you noted; quick changing light and it works very well for me. Change is good, but not always.

Since none of that goes away, i think you didn't understand. This just allows you to make changes more quickly.

David Pavlich's picture

I was reacting to the title of the article. Perhaps the title was purposely misleading? The term is 'click bait' I believe. Besides, as a Canon shooter, the ergonomic package is one of the reasons I've not switched. I can make a lot of the changes without hunting and the menu system is tops.

You now need dedicated aperture, shutter speed, and ISO dials, so you can skip the A and S mode selections. You still need the mode dial, though, for the other modes it offers, like memory modes, video, etc. So you didn't save much there. Then, if you are in A = 5.6, S = Auto, I = Auto and want to switch to "S mode", you need to turn the A dial several clicks to Auto, and then turn the S dial to wherever you want that set. That's not easier than one click from A to S mode, which will have remembered your last shutter speed setting. In short, your suggestion is different, but not obviously better.

Nicolas KIEFFER's picture

The guy is missing the most obvious point about the fuji retro design : it has direct access to the dials with obvious A positon. Twiddling a touch screen to set back aperture or speed or iso to auto is absolutly not faster nor simplier than switching the usual mode dial.

I own a X100, shutter speed dial almost always on A, iso as good as it can in auto too and using the aperture ring. Yeah, it is nice and obvious, like my S2pro, my S3pro and my D810 in aperture mode.
But switching to a specific shutter speed and putting aperture ring is not faster not more convenient than switching my nikon bodies (oldest designa as newest one) into Shutter priority.

The OP may be amazed how much amazing Fuji X cameras are without that mode dial, but frankly, he should stop taking something to go back on earth and use its camera properly.

Andy Day's picture

Hey Rocco. Did you read the article? 😊

At least a honest answer.

Rocco Zoccoli's picture

Just read it, nothing is wrong with the dial... did the dial hurt you? why does it bother you.

And why does it bother you that Andy Day suggests an actual improvement to how we operate many a camera?

Pierre Dasnoy's picture

Shooting fuji with auto shutter speed is basically aperture priority. It's just got via an other way.

The main difference being that Fuji's aperture priority is achieved by just turning the aperture dial (one operation) and not by having to select the mode first and then the aperture (two operations).

Pierre Dasnoy's picture

Don't you need to turn your shutter speed dial to auto, too, to get your camera in aperture priority ?
(I never shot with a fuji)
An other question : What setting gets auto when selecting manually aperture, shutter speed, iso and exposure, on fuji ?
(Let's say, I put f/8, 1/500s, 400 iso, expo of +1, but it's blue hour. One of these settings must be changed, which ?)

Yes, you do, but I do not see that as aperture priority but rather as automatic shutter speed — a subtle difference, I know, but really the essence of the difference between mode dials and just setting what you want. And until we get AI cameras that can guess what we really, really want, we have to tell the camera what we want to control and what it should control, so it is unavoidable to have to make a choice.

On my Fujis I have everything on auto unless I want to override something. So for your example, if I wanted the exact setting I would dial in F/8, 1/500 and ISO 400 (not the +1 here as it should make no difference with the other choices made), and depending on the situation I would choose one or more setting(s) to go on automatic. My first choice for automation is normally the ISO, otherwise aperture or shutter speed depending on what I want to achieve, bokeh/depth of field, long exposures/landscape/portraiture/action. Oh, and the exposure compensation would need to be dialled in as soon as you choose any automation.

As always, the camera is a tool and the better you know the tool and the trade, the better your results. That goes for photography as well as for carpentry.

Pierre Dasnoy's picture

Thank you for the clear explanation.
For me, automatic shutter with set aperture, or A mode, are basically the same. You just reach the result via an other way.
Whatever, as long as we can get what we want, that's good enough for me.

Fuji still has aperture and shutter priority modes, it's just that the interface is different.
The concept of aperture priority and shutter priority still makes teaching photography incredibly easy for both the teacher and the student.
Perhaps this article should have more accurately been titled "the exposure mode dial is dead," but that wouldn't have generated as many clicks, so I get it.

Pierre Dasnoy's picture

3 parameters give the 4th, depending on the mode. Aperture, shutter speed, iso, exposure. That's not told enough. And you can see it better with the fuji interface, as a beginner who wants to understand.

"The PASM dial is dead" would've had me clicking pretty fast!

In case of the X-T3 - yes, and I say unfortunately, as these modes contradict the dials, which does not improve the UX.

The X100F does not have PASM dials in contrast, just aperture, shutterspeed, ISO and exposure compensation dials and it is everything I need and straightforward to use.

I could not agree more.

Coming from a Voigtländer Bessamatic via Minolta and Nikon, I have now settled on Fujifilm (anybody want to buy some overpriced Nikon gear?) and absolutely love these beauties and their ease of use with the nifty dials that I do not have to think about.

In essence: Change the setting(s) you want to override, just that and nothing else.

Andy Day's picture

11 people have commented so far. You are one of two that have actually read the article. Thank you. 😊

I read the article. I get the impression that others have, also.
The point is that Hypermode does not make priority mode obsolete. They are for different purposes.

I rarely use Av/Tv modes, myself, but I see their purpose. I tend to use either manual mode, Programed mode, [ “P” is for professional, LOL ], or Sv mode, (where I pretty much set the EI, and the camera takes care of the rest). In Programmed or Sv mode, switching to Av/Tv mode is as simple as adjusting one of the dials (on the right, with the thumb or index finger), and getting back to Programmed/Sv, is as simple as pressing the green button, (on the right, with the thumb).

Likewise, in manual mode, pressing the green button gives me an Sv reading, which I can then manipulate with the dials as needed. However, that does not eliminate a need, (or rather, a purpose) for Tv, Av, or any other Priority mode.

Tony Northrup's picture

If we invented a camera UI from scratch today, would you design the P/A/S/M UI to configure *two* settings?? Only the X-T3 gets it right.

Stuart Carver's picture

If this article is simply saying that the mode dial is antiquated then i agree, Fuji's way of setting priority is so much more logical and easy to understand for beginners.

if you are saying the actual modes are dead then thats simply not the case.

Too bad Fuji doesn't actually agree since their "beginner" cameras have PASM dials not the shutter speed dials and aperture rings being discussed here!

That's always puzzled me. You want to get newcomers invested in your ecosystem by offering entry-level cameras a control scheme the same as competitors and not the higher-end models? News flash fuji: nobody finds PASM dials intuitive (although many will find it familiar)

Unfortunately the X-T3 counts as "beginner" as well then. They should just remove the second dial below the ISO dial as soon as possible and get to a clean interface similar like the X100F here as well.

That's the drive dial, for burst mode, bracketing, panorama, etc. Nothing to do with PASM (fortunately)

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