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In contrast to Fuji, almost every other manufacturer is stuck with a system that is outdated.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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Good questions. The main problem I have experienced is that the camera seems to choose an unnecessarily high ISO on auto. I do raise the ISO as needed. However, it is only one of the 3 variables and I believe that a better compromise using all 3 variables can be made by me rather than by allowing the camera to compensate by ISO alone. I compromise a little bit on each variable which seems to produce much better results than compromising with one variable alone. If you are only looking at your images on instagram or small digital screen then a high ISO will rarely matter. However, if like me you print images up to 96 inches then yes noise absolutely matters. I use the Canon 5D IV and even a shift from ISO 100 to 200 in a landscape sky is noticeable. I have experience shooting the Sony A7R IV and love the sensor’s dynamic range and quality. However, to my eyes it still suffers from unacceptable noise at higher ISO’s. I also prefer Canon’s noise pattern to that of Sony’s.

Pretty obnoxious how you write a deliberately misleading title that is absolutely misworded to get knee-jerk reactions.. then you clutch your pearls in the comments like "gawsh did you even read the article??"

Definitely not the way to act if you want to be taken seriously.

I share your opinion, Josh. Titles are not supposed to be written to grab a reader and draw him in. Rather, a title should accurately summarize the contents of the article in a single phrase. Sensationalism is a miserable tactic for writers to employ.

"Do priority modes need a complete overhaul? Should manufacturers put some energy into rethinking how we operate our cameras?"

No and No.... Photographers just need to be photographers.... By the way, meters have never been a panacea. My camera meter is just a recommendation. Understanding how light works in a scene with a given camera and making use of the histogram is far more precise than just plain metering... Again, just learn photography, and all of these issues just go away. By the way, skilled photographers who tend to work in specific mediums, manage controls through experience and muscle memory. I don't think hardware, software and firmware solutions are as important as learning the craft and then applying skill sets to the tools. As in golf, a good swing is better than a new club.

I shoot mostly manual. There are times that I throw it in aperture priority mode when I just can't seem to get what I need fast enough. I rarely use shutter priority. But, when my wife uses my camera, she uses everything but manual. She mostly uses the P mode. She's not a photographer so she cares less about manual control.

The photo at the very top of this article, the one of the top of a camera showing the mode dial, is quite noisy. To me, that amount of noise grain is unacceptable. I guess that by noticing that, I realized why the author seems to think that ISO doesn't matter that much, and that letting the camera pick ISO is oaky to do. he's not concerned about having some grain in his images. But I most certainy am. I'm afraid that if I ever let my camera pick what ISO value to use, I would end up with a grainy image like the one the author used to start the article. Aint gonna happen on my watch.

You can set an upper ISO limit to prevent "unacceptable" levels of grain.

Clickbait title and confusing article for anyone who never shoot Fuji.
But i got the point while reading about the Fv on the Canon R.

There is still one point i do not understand.
If the Fuji has 2 physical dials, how the camera by pass it when both are a set?
The camera turn them?
They go out of sync, like f/2.8 on the EVF but f4.0 in the dial?

The dials are physical, yes, but don't mechanically control either shutter speed or aperture. AFAIK the only time the values can be overridden is when shooting remotely with the Fuji smartphone app (shutter speed can also be finetuned in 1/3 stops from the value shown on the dial with the rear commend dial).

The modes are not dead. They are just accessed differently in different cameras. Fuji (I don't own one, so looked up the manual) is just a little easier.

However, the Av mode on Fuji isn't new. You set the shutter dial to A (auto), set the aperture switch to manual on the lens and turn the aperture ring on the lens to set desired aperture. Big, freaking deal. On my old Olympus OM-2n, I set the switch on top of the camera to Auto and turn the aperture ring on the lens. AND, I don't have to fiddle with an auto/manual switch on the lens.

Great, so you put up a title that everyone is going "wtf..." (i.e 'clickbait') and you got all those comments.

I don't know if you are aware of the fact that most (smart, not silly purists) photographers shoot outdoors events almost always using AP.

yes, I know, crazy eh? They are more focused on the people and the scene in front of them instead of trying to match shutter speed as scene changes.

As often the title is misleading. The point is not to remove the Av or Tv modes but to change the way you access them. To some extent, I understand the logic but I'm not sure this is right. As the UX designer, I tend to analyse those types of user behaviours and then apply the solution, but of top of my head, What I would rather like to see is to make mode dial totally customizable. Now in most cases, this dial contains C1, C2, C3, B, M, Av, Tv, P Auto. I would like to see all the modes to be a custom one. With small screen next to dial or on the dial that shows custom names of those modes. Each mode should have separate settings for photo and video (dedicated photo/video switch - like on canon or sigma cameras - should switch the dial between photo/video saved settings). This way you can have different ISO, WB or shutter speed for photo mode and for video. The user should be able to save almost any setting into those modes.

As addition I would like to see custom screen layout for each mode. Maybe I want to see the histogram as default on one mode but not on others...

What do you think?

It (almost) sounds like you want a Pentax.

I have nothing against the Pentax. :-) I just want all of the cameras to have it like that :-)

Nikon has a "Fv" mode since forever? It's called P mode and it's full automatic untill you move one of the wheels in the body, manually changing shutter speed od aperature - the P mode then gets and asterix next to it, indicating you are no longer in pure auto P mode.

How low can you go ?

What do I think?

"Look ma! I'm writing a clickbait article without understanding the topic!"

This article is a great reminder that I should get off my lazy, Av-ass, and move gently into Manual mode with Auto ISO. It's the reason we have two dials.

Ugh, the number of commenters who clearly didnt read the article is disappointing. I love the way fuji handles the modes. Its elegant and will teach new users how to shoot. I also didnt know canon allows you to switch to auto so easily. I wish my sonys had something similar. Its a bit annoying to go into my menu or function menu. It would be faster with some dials like a fuji.

Thank you for the article Andy. In particular I liked the fact that you pointed out people don't have to commit to using the same ISO for 24 or 36 exposures anymore. I love shooting in "manual" mode with Auto ISO enabled on my Sony's.

Andy Day given the amount of confusion in the comments regarding whether you meant the dial settings or the actual functionality, I second the comment about changing or adding to the title that it's the PASM dial you're talking about. Seems most are caught up in how they use the functionality, and happily listing the 10 easy steps they take to use Av or Tv ;).

Noted! Thanks for your thoughts. 😊

Yeah can't remember the last time I was on anything other than full manual mode. Even for weddings.
Maybe the first three or six months that I was learning photography stuff. but probably if I was doing random tourist/street shooing then I would put it on Aperture mode with an Auto ISO

A bit of black gaffers tape could solve your problem eh?

I've been using [ P ] [ Professional ] mode -f-o-r-e-v-e-r-.

Why miss a shot while second guessing the photographic engineers who designed and built my camera - that's why I chose this camera, and not that camera.

I think I know at least 400 people who never get their camera off of the Shutterspeed setting. And they won't do so in the future as well.

For me, manual is the only mode.

Aperture adjustment belongs on the lens. Aperture ring. Camera to the eye never to leave while shooting. Shutter dial next to shutter release button. So simple.

"Chunky" dial? I'll take that over a touch screen every time. You can pry my cold dead hands away from the aperture mode on that "chunky" dial. I love it for outdoor shooting. Indoors is always manual. As for "auto ISO" thank you so much, but I prefer to know what ISO my camera is set to when shooting. I'll decide not the camera.

I also like dials. I do not like controls that are activated by touching them. I would much rather have a physical button or dial or switch - something that you physically switch from one position into another position. I like them because they are RIGHT THERE and able to be seen at all times, even when the camera is off. I sure don't want to have to waste two or three precious seconds to get to an item in the menu .... would much rather it just be on an external switch or dial instead.

Tom: Exactly right. If the scene you are trying to capture is fleeting you may only have a few moments to make what adjustments you need to. It's easy with dials and buttons that you can find without taking your eye off the viewfinder - you know where they are from memory. Not so with a touch screen.

I shoot portraits and have resorted to shoot manual but there are times when I don't have time to start chimping away. Aperture priority is my go to when in those circumstances. I wouldn't think of buying a camera without it.

Never used a Fuji till date. I use Nikon and Sony cameras.
I completely agree with the author. I never knew Fuji cameras could do this. I wish my Nikon and Sony had similar controls as the Fujis as described by the author. Though to be fair you can tinker with Auto ISO Min settings in Sony and similar settings in Nikon cameras to get close to the functionality that the author mentioned. But I agree it is complicated and not seamless.

Auto ISO would be great on my Sony a7iii if I could cap it between 100 and 3200 so that all the photographs are useable. I don't know of any way to do this. If there is a way and somebody lets me know, I'll send them a Blue Peter Badge.

Blue Peter badge has been mailed out...

I trust that Peter Duncan will be delivering it in person.

You may also want to research Auto ISO min shutter speed. This allows you to set a fixed min s/s or a variable parameter based on focal length of lens (longer lenses will have higher min s/s) which is a really powerful tool when combined with auto iso and aperture priority. This allows you to set a defined range for 2 of 3 exposure factors while only controlling aperture.

I have an A9 but you can program 'Auto iso Min S/S' to a custom key (C1 button for example) and change it on the fly if your s/s is too low for fast moving action or raise it to drop your iso & keep noise suppressed.

Mark Galer has some great explainers on his website/youtube that covers all this in detail.

Pentax thought ahead on this decades ago - Hyper Program mode and Hypermanual mode with floating ISO as a choice. https://www.pentaxuser.com/forum/topic/hyper-program--mode---p-34618 and https://neilvn.com/tangents/pentax-hyper-manual-and-hyper-program-exposu...

I would miss it. The A and S priority modes are the modes I use the most. Since I mostly shoot stationary objects, I use the A mode the most.
A mode combine with Auto-Iso. There is also an option to bias the shutter speed (normal, slow, fast etc).
This gives me maximum flexibility.

I never want the camera to pick an ISO for me. Never, ever, ever!

I ALWAYS want to select the aperture myself.

About 50% of the time, I want to have absolute control over shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, and not let the camera pick any of them for me.

The other 50% of the time, I want to select a specific aperture and ISO, and allow the camera to select the shutter speed.

I regularly want to WAY overexpose or WAY underexpose an image, when looking to make an image with an alternative look.

I hate menus and electronically selected adjustments, and LOVE to use physical dials, buttons, and switches.

So, given all of that, how well would this Fuji system work for ME?

Using the family dog scenario from this article, where if the dog suddenly starts chasing the kids around the garden and you want to freeze the moment, on a Canon RF Fv mode @ F4 + Auto [SS + ISO], you do a one click (1), put the aperture back to auto (2) and then scroll to set the shutter speed to 1/1000th of a second (3).

On a Sony A7III (at least), you can setup your Custom Holds for specific combinations of settings (10 total), in this scenario, I'd setup: Manual + 1/1000th shutter speed + Auto ISO + AF On. Then, bind it to a button like the AEL button. No matter what mode you're in, when the need arises, just hold down the AEL button (instead of pressing the shutter) to get a SS boost. Very quick. Release to go back to your previous mode and settings. No need to fiddle with other settings.

If we believed all the is blank dead articles on this site anything besides mirrorless with three card slots,ibis and 8k video is dead

Yes, the headline was intriguing, but I guess this is more about the dials than aperture or shutter priority modes, which I think need to stay intact somehow. I shoot Fuji and Nikon, and I admit that the Fuji layout hides PASM nicely, but the concept is still there with "A" on the aperture ring and shutter dial. I also shoot in manual mode and auto ISO on my D600 (which came out in 2012). It's a nice alternative mode, and something interesting for beginners that the author brought out. Well done !

... I tried reading this story a couple of times... I don't think the problem is with the concept of ditching the Av Tv options... more Andy Day's writing style... starting with that very first sentence.

Yeah, he has a very odd way of looking at things. Some people's brains are just wired differently than most of ours are.

After reading and re-reading the article, I began to realize that what he was talking about isn't an end of aperture and shutter priority modes. Rather, it's just using different controls to access those settings, as well as using them in conjunction with Auto ISO.

So, nothing new or different at all, really. The same old thing we've always been doing, just taking a slightly different course to get there. Yet, somehow, Andy seems to think that this is some new, revolutionary way of shooting ...... which of course it is not, at all.

No, shutter and aperture priority are not dead. Maybe for the autor, but not for the majority of photographers.

I do use manual mode with Auto-ISO, but only for certain things. There are times when I want -- nay, NEED a certain ISO setting (usually a low setting) for a specific purpose. There are times when I want to keep my aperture set to a certain setting, but I want my shutter to slow way down, such as when shooting waterfalls, or other very slow shutter speed. Can't do that if your ISO is all over the place, jacking itself sky high. Se the ISO, set the aperture, screw on the ND filter, and let the shutter speed do its thing.

The majority of my shooting is in Aperture priority.

No, these modes aren't dead. Unless you the author. And in that case, who cares?

Fujifilm dials are similar to old film cameras, you set the shutter dial to "A" for aperture priority, and dial the aperture ring. Canon FD lenses & cameras from the 1970s had an "A" in the aperture ring, when you set it to "A" if you want the camera to pick the aperture value, and when you set the shutter dial to "PROGRAM" both shutter & aperture are chosen by the camera.

Anything thing to get clicks. Why don't ya start that DSLR vs Mirrorless thing again too.

No matter how one looks at this, there are still three settings that affect exposure, and we still decide which ones we want to control ourselves and which ones we will allow the camera to select.

It really is, and has always been, that simple. Just because someone thinks about it differently does not mean that anything has actually changed.

I finally got what Andy Day is saying. He is not speaking of the existence of Hypermode, nor the ability of being able to seemlessly move from one mode to another. He is speaking of HOW one moves seamlessly from one mode to another.

Back in the day, Pentax systems had an “A” setting on the aperture ring. To have it controlled by the camera, turn it to “A”. To control manually, turn it to anything but A. Likewise, the exposure time dial went down to ⅛s, ¼s, ½s, 1s, “B”, and “A”, (indicated as, [ 1000 500 250 125x 60 30 15 8 4 2 1 B A] . To automate the value, turn the dial to “A”. To get manual control, turn the dial to any other setting. (X-sync was on the same dial, usually at ¹/60s or ¹/125s, indicated as, “60x” or “125x”.

To get “Program” mode, set both to “A”. So there was no mode dial at all. Just an aperture dial on the lens, (with about nine detents), and an exposure time dial on the top, with about 13 detents).

The problem is now that Pentax has totally removed the Aperture ring completely, (now controlled by the thumb, which used to control the film advance lever), and moved the exposure time dial down, (but still controlled with the index finger).

The other issues include, (1) the exposure time starts as short as ¹/8000s, (or shorter), and goes as long as 30s, adding the need for more detents, (2) exposure time is now in ⅓ stop increments, tripling the needed about of detents, (3) aperture control is now in ⅓ stop increments, tripling the amount of needed detents, (4) aperture settings can go as narrow as f/45, (and possibly more narrow), and as wide as f/1.2 (and possibly wider), (5 & 6) EI settings also are in ⅓ stop increments and also go from ISO 100/21° to as high as ISO 125,000/???°, (and possibly lower/higher values).

All this means is that it is a lot of rolling of the thumb/index fingers to go from a typical setting to the extreme to reach “A", or “A/A", or “A/A/A”.

So, by adding the mode dial where the exposure time dial use the be, and putting the [ G P Tv Av TAv Sv X B M U1 U2 U3 U4] settings there, (thirteen detents), it is still a fast and easy access to these modes, with Hypermode making it fairly easy to get out of these modes.

An easy way around this problem is to limit TV, Av, and Sv to full stop increments, limit manual options to a smaller range, (automatic modes can still be ⅓ or infinite increments, and full range), and putting the “A” options back on those dials. Of course, this is a compromise.

One has to pick their poison. I chose to keep the mode dial and full manual options.

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