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 use 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.

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In contrast to Fuji, almost every other manufacturer is stuck with a system that is outdated.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

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

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 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 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.

Andy Day's picture

Andy Day is a British photographer and writer living in France. He began photographing parkour in 2003 and has been doing weird things in the city and elsewhere ever since. He's addicted to climbing and owns a fairly useless dog. He has an MA in Sociology & Photography which often makes him ponder what all of this really means.

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The Fv function uses physical dials. I'm not sure of your point!

I don't know Canon so I based my comment on the Canon video you provided. It didn't say anything about physical dials, just the LCD screen above and that's how he was adjusting the setting..by tapping and scrolling the settings.

Not to frustrating if you want to let the camera control certain parts of the formula.
for Av freaks try shooting white on white.

Only issue with Auto ISO is when the camera wants to pick a high ISO yes in the Fuji you can limit the ISO to shoot between X and Y but it favors higher ISO then I would usually choose.

PS ISO has no effect on exposure. or does it give you more light!!!!!!

"Maybe we want the ISO to stay the same and we can happily work with a varying shutter speed quite happily to achieve a constant aperture."

You can do that with Fuji ... and with their lovely clicky dials.

Sorry, but you seem to have missed the point somewhat — this is not about whether you would like the camera to keep the sensitivity constant and then choose on a dial what the camera may vary but rather that it is much more convenient that you can change *just what you want to change* to override the camera's choice.

As Simon Thomas says, Fuji cameras do just that.

On my X-T3 I just change the ISO if I want a specific ISO — or leave it on automatic if I want the camera to choose. I change the shutter speed to what I want if I do not like the camera's choice. Ditto for the aperture. I do not have to tell the camera that I would like to choose my own shutter speed first and then change the shutter speed — two operations — I just change the shutter speed, one operation!

I don’t see why this is even an article. Nikon users have been able to use their cameras this way for years.

I have had a few Nikon cameras and they have had individual settings for manual, shutter priority, aperture priority and "program" (essentially "full auto"). Some of them had a setting (I think it was called Program Shift or something like that) which let you change the shutter speed/aperture combination while the camera holds the exposure constant. But in general you had to first select the setting on the mode dial and then select whatever you wanted on another dial, making Nikon's approach more complicated without any gain to anyone (apart maybe with regards to habits for thos that are used to the mode dial). I, for one, do not miss the mode dial and appreciate Fujifilm's direct approach: if you select a specific setting that is what you get, otherwise the camera will choose for you.

The question the article asks is really: Do we need a mode setting when it is so much easier to just directly select what you want as on Fujifilm cameras?

I, like the author, say no, we do not!

Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax,…. What is the big deal? I have been doing this for over a decade.

I do not think it is (or should be) a "big deal" … but it is interesting that an artefact like this is kept — not because it is necessary but because we are used to it — when so many other things are changed from camera model to camera model.

What I meant by that is, “Fujifilm does so-and-so…" what's the big deal? Almost all of them have been doing it for years. Why is it, “Oh, Fuji!”

As for making the buttons obsolete, there is a reason for keeping them. Is called, setting lock.

When is TAv Priority mode, if I tweak the aperture dial, the EI is adjusted. If I accidentally hit the time dial, the EI is again adjusted.

In Av Priority with Auto ISO off, if I hit the aperture dial, Tv is adjusted. If i accidentally hit the time dial, nothing happens. This is the behaviour from the film days.

In Av Priority mode with Auto ISO on, if I hit the Aperture dial, the TV and/or EI is adjusted. If I accidentally hit the time dial, then I am in TAv Priority Hypermode, until I turn the aperture dial, restoring me back to Av Priority.

All three of these modes have their usefulness, and none need to be eliminated.

I appreciate that you and I work differently and I am not trying to change anybody's way of working but rather trying to understand what benefit the extra (to me unnecessary) operation of turning a mode dial provides.

I am not a Fuji fanboi per se but since the X-T3 is my main camera, I naturally use that as a reference. The locking in of any setting bar the exposure compensation (which does nothing in pure manual mode) is achieved by a push-push button (ISO and shutter speed) and a slider for the aperture, so it is possible to lock any setting thus avoiding any accidental changes. I normally have them unlocked as I rarely change settings accidentally.

Looking at the many responses to this article, I do not think any consensus will ever be had — which is actually good, in my opinion, as it helps keep the photography market diverse. We do not need "One camera to rule them all", do we?

I, on the other hand, have a Pentax reference, never really owned a Fujifilm DSLR. (Owned a bridge camera, but it totally lacked manual mode).

Well, everything is a compromise. In your case, you have removed the mode dial, and replaced it with lock buttons. Additionally, (based on the image in the article), only have full stop adjustments for exposure times and aperture.

Pentax, back in the day, that it the same way, with an “A” setting on the aperture ring, and the exposure time dial. New they offer adjustments in other full, half, or ⅓ stop increments. Therefore the traditional dials and rings will not suffice.

So the mode dial becomes a necessity for rapid mode change, as opposed to spinning a dial through 40 to 80 detents to get to “A”.

Hypermode became a semi-necessity, (a.k.a., compromise), to bring back the feel of the old way. (Spin the dial, no more auto).

My only problem with my Nikons is that I have to go into the menu system to change to and from Auto ISO manual mode. I sure wish it was on a dial on top of the camera.

You can assign a function button to ISO, it let’s you choose Auto or manual value with the dials once the button is pressed.

Thanks Michael. It's things like this that demonstrate what I was trying to put across. 😊

Well, I use the dedicated ISO-Button (D800E, D4) and the front dial to switch back and forth between AUTO ISO and not.

Same method for me and the D750. Maybe this article is just asking for something Nikon have already had for years?

Which Nikon are you using? My D750 I can just hold the ISO button and move the front "aperture" dial to switch between auto/manual ISO without needing to go into menus.

Yup, I was just instructed (again) by another nice photographer how to do this on my D850 while photographing pelicans in La Jolla.

You should give Pentax's TAv mode a try....

I shoot in Manual mode most of the time and bulb sometimes and never use any of the other modes. Would be nice if manufacturers would think about pushing ISO in the opposite direction, ie ISO 50 rather and 128,000.

Nikon will be looking at you and be like "But, but, we already have that covered! You just don't want us!"

So I ought to add Nikon to the list, then this article looks even more skewed. Is that right?

Kodak once made an ISO 1.6 film. I won't hold my breath for that capability on a digital camera, but an ISO equivalent of 25 or 50 would be wonderful for long exposures.

I think it's an unfortunate title and it is creating confusion as to what Fuji and Canon have actually implemented.

Aperture and shutter priority mode are not dead on either of those cameras. And neither should they be. The pertinent question is whether those modes need a dedicated setting or whether they only need a single combined mode such as the EOS R and EOS RPs' Fv mode.

My RP is permanently in Fv mode, but with shutter speed and ISO both set to auto. So, while my camera is in Fv mode, by default I set it up to be identical to Av mode. However, if I want to move to shutter priority or manual, I can do that from within Fv mode and without taking my eye away from the viewfinder.

The reason that I find it more desirable is that the two controls that I need to change parameter and parameter value are both on the right-hand side of the camera. I change parameter with my thumb and parameter value with my forefinger. On my Canon 5D4, the dial to change parameter is on the left-hand side. It's a small thing, but I find it far more intuitive and far quicker to make the change on my RP than I have on any of my Canon DSLRs.

IHMO I don’t think the way Fuji way of switching between the modes was the first. It requires a two hand operation to adjust the settings unless you set via custom mode. Your left hand is always needed to adjust aperture and your right hand is for shutter.
In 1978 canon came out with the Canon A-1 it had one of the best implementation of the mode switching and you still can use one hand to operate the camera when in A, S or P mode.
The Eos R implementation is in a step in the right direction. It will need some time for canon to improve the usability. I think they should look to their A-1 for inspiration. do check out the canon A-1 video to see the mode changes compared to what’s shown here https://youtu.be/44UISxmQywM

All ive gained from this is more knowledge that people on the internet read the title of an article then comment on said article without actually taking notice of the content.

It's too long to read. So we react to the click bait title. And now we are having a different discussion in the comments.

“It’s too long to read”

My advice, don’t ever buy a book. And no you aren’t having a ‘different discussion’, you lazily read the title then dove into the comments section and made an irrelevant comment to the point he was making.

Yes. That's what I have just said.

It's taken a long time to get down shooting manually. Although it's all that I have ever done. I'm actually more confused about the auto settings than changing them individually.

Honestly though, cameras are not very intuitive. And on top of that, everyone's doing something a little different. It can be discouraging when you can literally just press one button on your phone.

i'm not changing cause i don't have the means for it now, but i'm considering it for the future.
I've done Canon 5DIII to Fujifilm and owned a few cameras. but the quality of the new RF lenses plus this EOS R are slowly creeping into my GAS ... shit.

I left Canon for Fuji, as an immediate consequence of the R mount system. When they released that 28-70 f2, I was impressed, but I also thought "that thing weighs three pounds and costs 3000 euros." If they ever relese a semi-professional body (mirrorless 5D mk IV, more or less), it will be 6000 euros together with that lens. At least.

You can go red badge all the way from (equivalent) 24mm to 600mm for less money than that with Fuji.

Seriously. As a seascape photographer, my A7RIV is always set to Aperture Priority, aperture to f10 or f11 and I vary the shutter speed via the circular ISO dial on the back to suit the light/water flow. Easy as. I'll usually bracket for the shadows and brightest sky with the ISO at 50 and then adjust ISO (usually with the aid of ND's) to capture the water movement I'm after.

Since you asked what we think ... Stick with your iPhone !

If your point is that Fuji has made Shutter / Aperture / ISO priority more logical, I agree. But setting your ISO and Shutter on Auto while dialling in Aperture is still Aperture priority.... so yes, Canon, Nikon, Sony listen up. But no, Aperture/Shutter priority aren’t dead at all. Quite the opposite

The article mentions the aperture and shutter priority *modes* and does not say that aperture or shutter priority are not needed — it should just not be necessary to select it as a mode.

Fair enough... I tend to agree Fuji nailed it. I‘m surprised none of the big three have seen the light! Bring back the Aperture ring Nikon, put in a dial for Iso and another for Shutter and exposure compensation. You know you can do it! :)

I understand your point sir and agree somewhat, but...as a landscape photographer...I use either A or M (M mostly). So it really doesn't matter to me, but for others it may apply very well.

I think this guy don't know what to post on fstoppers.

This is Dead! That is Dead! I think some people are Brain Dead that make all these foolish proclamations!
And it's called Film, not Analog. Chemical if you want to be exact.

Someone should write an article titled: Analog is dead, Chemical is the new Digital Film

Good one!!!! :-)

I agree the Fuji way of handling the controls makes more sense.

I tried a Fuji X100f for a bit to compare with my RX1r ii that I had, and I certainly preferred the controls (though sadly image quality sucked in comparison).

Simply having a physical control for ISO, shutter speed and aperture, and only set the ones you don't want to be on auto is great & seems obvious.

I'd have liked to add an Iso/shutter speed dial to the top of the RX1r, but I don't think Sony have an API that allows for that kind of hardware mod?

And to do time lapse, what should be my setting now?

Since you ask, I think you should go for triple-bracketing where you bracket seven stops (in 1/10th stop increments) on either side of your aperture, shutter speed and ISO setting in all possible combinations.

Alternatively choose Native, Object-Orientated Bracketing mode (NOOB mode), which takes the subject (i.e. the objects you want to take pictures of) into account and apparently achieves very good results according to the Super-Hyperbolic Apparatus Marketing people.

*Wink Wink*

Sorry, I need a fixed aperture and variable shutter sped based on condition.
Yes, I can do bracketing on top, but still don't want the aperture to change at any point.
ISO bracketing is useless as I'm shooting raw.

I read the article and I'm trying to understand what the complaint is that led to its title. It seems it's not so much that the author thinks setting a priority mode is no longer needed. Rather, it's the user-interface to get to these modes. If the author thinks a single auto-ISO button is needed, just say so. And as for his example of checking if the ISO is 400 or 800, how does setting auto fix that? Now ISO is changing on the fly, so either you're still keeping an eye on it, or you don't care what it is. What's the improvement? Maybe I'm at a disadvantage never having shot with the described Fuji layout. But, the article title tells me the author's position. And his descriptions do little to justify that.

Dont agree at all and its the first time I hear these options are obsolete. Shooting Manual on moving subjects with clouds and sun and time of day, makes absolutely no sense. Its like using it to say "im such a pro, i do it all in M". For studio sure but even then A priority is a blessing.

Also you photos dont really support your description. All i see is totally underexposed photos with vignette set to an almost maximum. Its not moody, just looks stupid and amateurish. Makes me think you just started out with both photography and Lightroom id say. Also these last 2 photos, can they even be called a "portrait" when shot like that.

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