Modern digital cameras offer at least two basic shooting modes, manual and digital or automatic mode, but for the casual and even the semi-professional photographer, knowing when to use manual vs. digital mode on your camera is important for getting the most out of your camera, and can be as important as the decision between a DSLR camera or a digital camera.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Automatic modes are a good choice for casual photography, especially for subjects with a lot of movement or large crowd shots.
  • Manual mode is favored by professional photographers because it offers the most control over images when it comes to exposure, depth of field, and focus.
  • Automatic modes are often good at determining correct exposures and subject focus, but they may not agree with the photographer as to the intended subject or focus of the shot.

Differences Between Manual Mode and Digital Mode

Though the two basic modes can often include several other modes under one or the other, it’s most useful to compare the basic pros and cons of shooting with manual as opposed to automatic.

Creative Control

The main advantage of using manual mode on your digital camera is the amount of control it allows you in terms of shutter speed, aperture/exposure, ISO, and other settings- somewhat analogous to the differences between a large format camera and a digital camera. Giving you full control over these means you can tailor your settings as exactly as the scene demands, which is especially helpful to professionals who have the knowledge and experience to make the right adjustments.

Insider Tip

Automatic modes are often the best choice when shooting sports and other situations involving a great deal of movement.

Automatic modes that control shutter and aperture settings can often be very good at providing the correct adjustments for any given situation, making shooting quicker and easier, but don’t allow for any control beyond the basics.

Ease of Use

Manual mode on a digital camera requires some degree of knowledge of exposure, shutter speed, lighting, and other aspects of professional photography, so it’s not always ideal for casual photography unless the user is especially proficient.

Automatic mode allows for fast, no-brainer shooting that lacks the precision of manual mode but doesn’t require professional knowledge or setup time, making it by far the easiest shooting mode for both professionals and casual users.

Depth of Field and Focus

Automatic or Digital modes on cameras are designed to always find the “correct” depth of field and focus for any image, and while this is often good for ease of use and speed, the camera’s idea of “correct” may not be the same as the photographer’s. Often, this means the image that’s supposed to be in focus is blurry, especially at a low light level, and an image meant to convey depth and perspective will have a shallow depth of focus.

Manual modes, by contrast, allow the user total control over the image being produced, taking the camera’s digital brain out of the equation entirely- and cameras that offer a program mode can combine the advantages of both.

Casual Use

While it seems obvious that digital or automatic modes on a digital camera would be the best option for casual photography, keep in mind that even for casual users, a certain amount of control over your camera’s function may be desired sometimes- nobody wants blurry, shallow, or poorly lit images, even if it’s family vacation pictures.

So while automatic modes are definitely the go-to for casual users, having the option to dial in a more precise aperture setting and faster shutter speed is always a good thing, especially if the user has a little knowledge of photography and no access to professional photo lights.

Warning

Automatic modes will detect “proper” exposure and depth of field, but don’t always calibrate their settings for the subject the photographer is focusing on.

F.A.Q.S

What are the most common camera modes in digital photography?

Most digital cameras feature at least two modes: manual or automatic. Many cameras have several automatic modes, typically called Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Progam, depending on their function.


What are the drawbacks of Manual mode?

The main drawbacks of using Manual mode are the high learning curve for inexperienced users, and the extra time it takes to adjust your camera’s settings for specific shots.


When should I use Manual mode or manual controls?

While most professional photographers will use Manual mode most of the time, for beginners or casual users, situations where using Manual mode will be the most beneficial are when shooting Maco, crowded settings, and shots focusing on distant objects leaving close objects unfocused.



STAT: If there’s no “F” on a digital camera to indicate an aperture setting, it’s usually next to the shutter speed and will show values between 1.8 and 32. (source)

STAT: Digital camera sales have dropped 87% since 2010, likely due to the popularity of smartphones. (source)

STAT: Many professional photographers will use full auto or semi-automatic modes like shutter priority when shooting in situations with a lot of movement. (source)

Jed Smith

I'm a musician and recording engineer and live in Queens. I have a cat. Her name is Elsa. I love to write about consumer tech and musical instruments.

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