Different cameras provide different levels of control, ranging from very basic to highly sophisticated. More sophisticated cameras have external mode dials, although the functions that can be accessed via these dials can vary between simple and highly automated and professional standard.


Very slow shutter speeds ““ in this case six seconds ““ are required to produce sufficient blurring with moving water.

Cameras that lack dials may provide the ‘professional’ P, A, S and M shooting modes but they are accessed via the menu. Snapshooters’ cameras are largely automated.  

The P, A, S and M shooting modes provide different degrees of control and are used in the following ways.

The Programmed auto exposure (P) mode sets the aperture and shutter speed automatically, while allowing users to over-ride everything else. In this mode you can set ISO sensitivity, adjust exposure compensation (to control overall scene brightness) and white balance (to control colour reproduction), and select the appropriate metering pattern for different lighting situations. You can also adjust some flash settings and use manual focusing.

Many cameras include ‘program shift’ or ‘flexible program’ settings that allow users to re-adjust either the aperture or the shutter speed if they find the automatic choice unacceptable. The remaining parameter is set automatically to produce the same exposure level.


The mode dial on the Olympus OM-D E-M5.) The ‘professional’ P, A, S and M shooting modes are accessed directly from the mode dial, which also carries the Movie mode, plus some automated settings. (Source: Olympus.)

Aperture settings are adjusted in the A (aperture-priority auto exposure) mode, which lets you control the opening through which the light travels to reach the sensor. Wide apertures are indicated by lower f-numbers. They let in more light and produce background blurring. Small aperture settings have higher numbers and let in less light. They are used when you want as much of the scene to appear sharp as possible.  

Be sure to monitor the shutter speed setting when using the A mode as large apertures in bright conditions may allow more light to enter the camera than the fastest shutter speed can accommodate, causing shots to be over-exposed.  

Small apertures can be associated with slow shutter speeds and there’s a risk of camera shake. You may need to increase the ISO value to compensate and use a faster shutter speed when hand-holding the camera ““ or mount the camera on a tripod.


A wide lens aperture ““ in this case f/1.2 ““ produces a restricted plane of focus that results in blurring of both background and foreground.

Shutter Speeds are set in the S mode, which lets you control how long the light is allowed to reach the sensor. The camera automatically adjusts the lens aperture.  

Use this mode to set a fast shutter speed for action shots in order to ‘freeze’ movement. It’s also useful when shooting with long telephoto lenses because you can set a fast enough shutter speed to minimise camera shake.


Fast shutter speeds ““ in this case 1/800 second ““ can ‘freeze’ rapid motion.

Slow shutter speeds allow you to create intentional blurring in shots of moving subjects, such as flowing water. The camera should be tripod-mounted in such situations.


Shutter speeds of between 1/30 and 1/60 second are ideal for panning, when you move the camera in synchronisation with the subject’s movement. This blurs the background (and stationary objects in the foreground), effectively isolating the subject.

The Manual (M) mode lets you adjust aperture and shutter speed settings independently, giving you complete control of exposures. It’s the best mode for shooting fireworks. Check the exposure values in the viewfinder display when using this mode to ensure your shots aren’t over- or under-exposed.

Selecting any of the Auto modes puts the camera into ‘point-and-shoot’ operation, effectively handing control to the camera’s microprocessor. Most Auto modes include scene recognition algorithms that can produce correctly-exposed photos in a variety of situations. But, they’re never perfect and at times you must control one or more parameters to obtain the shot you want.  

Additional Mode Dial Settings

Scene selection (SCN) pre-sets are designed to help novice users to choose the appropriate camera settings for different subject types. They can be handy when you have to decide quickly how to configure a camera to photograph a specific type of subject.  

Popular settings include portrait, landscape, sports, close-up and night portrait. Some cameras include fireworks, sunset/sunrise, night scene, beach & snow, food, documents, candlelight and children & pets.


Most cameras include a ‘Night Scene’ pre-set that uses a longer exposure time for photographing scenes after dark.

The main problem with using scene pre-sets is that you can’t adjust most camera settings. They’re useful back-ups when you can’t decide which controls to adjust.

Many cameras include digital filter effects (e.g. Art Filters), which make it easy to achieve particular adjustments in-camera without requiring editing software. These effects can only be applied to JPEGs and some are quite extreme.

Popular effects filters include Toy Camera, PopArt (Vivid), Miniature, Grainy B&W Film, Monochrome, Sepia, Pinhole, Light Tone and Cross Process. Soft Focus, Key Line, Watercolour, Star, Frame and Edge effects may also be available. Different manufacturers provide different levels of adjustment for these effects.


The 12 Art Filters provided by Olympus in its latest CSCs. (Source: Olympus.)

Custom User (C) modes allow users to register a collection of preferred camera settings for different shooting situations. They are handy time-savers for photographers who shoot a lot of pictures, such as portraits or landscapes, in similar conditions. Selecting the pre-configured custom mode means the camera will require only minimal re-configuration.  

The Movie mode is often included on the mode dial. With the popularity of direct movie recording buttons on modern cameras, this setting is largely irrelevant on a mode dial, although it can provide a quick way to configure movie formats and frame rates.

Quick Access to Controls

Many cameras include a quick control panel that provides one-touch access to the most frequently-used camera adjustments. For cameras with touch screens, users simply tap on the relevant icon to open the sub-menu.

In some cameras, the quick control panel is accessed via a dedicated button; in others it must be selected in the camera’s set-up (spanner) or custom (gear wheels) menu. Once selected, pressing the OK button on the arrow pad brings up the display.

Once the function you want has been selected, it’s easy to toggle through the sub-menu by turning the command dial. Individual settings are selected via the arrow pad buttons.


The Super Control Panel in the Olympus OM-D E-M10 camera provides quick, one-touch access to 16 different camera functions.


A simpler live guide display enables users to view the subject and selected control functions at the same time. The functions covered are listed vertically on the right side of the screen with sub-menu settings along the bottom. Selections are made with the arrow pad and dial controls.

Exposure Metering

Metering is the process by which the camera measures the brightness of the scene. Aside from the M shooting mode, exposure determination is largely automated. Most cameras offer a choice of three metering patterns: multi-pattern evaluative, centre-weighted average and spot. Selecting the correct pattern for the subject makes it easier to obtain the correct exposure settings.

Multi-pattern metering divides the subject area and individually evaluates the light levels within each segment.


This illustration shows a very basic multi-pattern metering system with five separate measurement areas. Most CSCs divide the frame into many more segments.


Centre-weighted average metering works best with subjects that are evenly-lit, where the main area of interest is central.

Some cameras can integrate colour and/or distance information from the image sensor to improve the accuracy of measurements. Multi-pattern metering is ideal for landscape photography as it can account for differences in brightness between the sky and the land.

Centre-weighted average metering integrates readings from all over the field of view, placing more emphasis on the centre of the field. It’s effective for subjects with an average brightness range where the main area of interest is central. Under ¬exposure may occur in bright conditions, while poorly-lit subjects are often over-exposed.  

Spot metering takes a single reading from a small section of the field of view; in most cases between 1% and about 4%. Because areas outside the selected spot are ignored, it’s ideal for backlit subjects. To use a spot meter, simply centre the spot on the area you want to measure and press the shutter release half way down. This locks the exposure (and focus), allowing you to re-compose and take the shot by pressing the shutter all the way down.


Spot metering is ideal for obtaining correct exposures when subjects are strongly backlit and also where there is a significant difference in brightness between the subject and the background.

Exposure Compensation and Bracketing

Exposure compensation lets you increase or decrease overall brightness when the metering system fails to provide correct exposure levels. The camera responds by automatically adjusting the shutter speed and aperture values. (Flash exposure compensation provides similar adjustments for flash output levels.)

Bracketing involves taking a series of shots with slightly different camera settings from those determined by the camera’s automatic measurements. Auto exposure bracketing (AEB) changes the exposure from between one and three f-stops of under-exposure to the same amount of over-exposure.  

Most cameras take three to five shots, with the middle shot at the metered value and the others above and below it. At least one should be correctly exposed.


A typical exposure bracketing sequence of five shots.

Bracketing is useful for bright beach and snow scenes, where the camera’s metering system can be overwhelmed and may under-expose shots, often quite severely.  

Other functions that can be bracketed include white balance, flash exposure and focus. White balance bracketing uses in-camera processing to change the colour balance across two axes: amber/blue and magenta/green.  

Flash bracketing is like exposure bracketing for flash but normally adjusts the flash output without changing the camera’s exposure settings. Focus bracketing involves making small changes to the focus position. Some cameras provide ISO bracketing and bracketing of effects filters.

Dynamic Range Adjustments

While people can see a very wide range of tones, cameras have difficulty recording subjects with an extremely wide brightness range. In-camera dynamic range compensation compresses both the brightest and darkest tones in the scene until they fit within the sensor’s recording range.  

These systems work best on images with modest brightness ranges. Images with very wide brightness ranges can end up looking unnatural and over-processed. Dynamic range adjustments are only applied to JPEGs. Raw files record more image data and provide greater scope for ‘developing’ highlights and shadows in images.


The top picture was taken with dynamic range adjustment switched off, while it was switched on for the lower picture. Note the differences in the mid-tones.

HDR Modes

High-dynamic range (HDR) modes capture a sequence of exposures at different brightness levels and combine them to produce optimal exposures for both highlight (bright) areas and shadows (dark areas). These settings only work with JPEG files and are best for subjects with very wide tonal ranges that are beyond the ability of the sensor to record.

HDR modes are useful for photographing landscapes in which there is a wide difference between the bright sky and the land. Backlit portraits and scenes can also benefit from HDR shooting, which can brighten the foreground without causing the background to be over-exposed.  

These modes are best used for static subjects. Because they capture several frames, any movement that occurs between the frames will appear as a blur. Vivid colours may be suppressed and contrast reduced in scenes that are already rather flat.


Examples of in-camera HDR modes.  

Composite Modes

Other composite modes include Olympus’s Photo Story setting, which enables users to combine up to five separately-captured images into a single frame. The shots must be recorded in sequence but can involve quite different viewpoints.  

Users can choose different effects and aspect ratios and use in-camera frames to emphasise the separations between the images.

Composite shooting is also used for the hand-held night and anti-blur shooting modes. In both cases, the camera automatically records between three and six frames and combines them into a single JPEG frame with reduced noise and blurring. The results aren’t as good as using a low ISO setting and putting the camera on a tripod, but they’re acceptable at modest output sizes.

The OM-D E-M10 also includes a Live Composite Mode, which allows you to see previews of long-exposure shots as they’re being captured. The composite image is built up from images captured over a long period of time (up to three hours). As each exposure is captured, the camera will display the new composite image, enabling users to stop the recording at any time. This mode is ideal for recording star trails and similar subjects that combine very low light levels with very slow movement.


Three of the four framing options provided in the Photo Story mode. (Source: Olympus.)


Excerpt from  Compact System Camera Guide.