It’s OK to Use Program Mode with a DSLR

I’ve always assumed that other people used the Program mode on their cameras as I have but recently I’ve come to realize that there is some derision associated with using Program mode.  An amusing anecdote relayed to me was how someone misunderstood the P to be for Professional and they couldn’t figure out why they didn’t get better results with it.

Some people may tell you that you need to shoot in aperture priority or shutter priority or even manual mode if you are a serious photographer but I disagree.  If you are using a modern DSLR from almost any manufacturer you are using the most sophisticated metering systems that have ever existed.  I’m not advocating slavishly setting the camera to Program or some Auto mode and letting it do all the thinking but there is no reason not to take advantage of Program mode. 

Minolta X-700 Mode dial


My first SLR I bought for myself was the Minolta X700 which was also my first introduction to Program mode.  At the time it seemed wrong to turn over so much to the camera and I tended to use the camera in Aperture priority instead and only used the exposure compensation when I felt a scene needed it.  Now though I use Pentax DSLR’s and use them almost exclusively in Program mode.  I have the camera set to use what is called the MTF program line, what this means is that the camera attempts to select the apertures that give the best resolution results for the lens that is mounted on the camera.  I consider this the starting point, pointing the lens at a subject and metering, the camera will give you feedback about what aperture and shutter would give an average exposure.  Changing either shutter or aperture at this point results in a corresponding change in the other in order to keep the exposure the same.  If you think that there needs to be an adjustment to the exposure then a change to the exposure compensation will move the camera settings  to create an exposure that differs from the program line by the amount you select.  After taking a picture or when evaluating a scene for exposure you can then review the image and look at it’s histogram to see if your happy with what is essentially the data that you just captured. 

Pentax K-7 Mode dial

So what does this all really mean?  Well I see it as working together with the camera as apposed to believing that I always know what is best.  You should always be aware of what shutter speed, aperture and ISO are set at but there is no reason for general photography to not allow the camera to get things started.  Of course there will always be exceptions like when controlling depth of field or the shutter speed is of primary importance but even these can be done within Program mode.  With practice in what ever mode you choose will come the confidence to make changes and the freedom to create art without dwelling on the technical.  This should be the ultimate goal, to attain a level of proficiency so that the act of  photography doesn’t intrude into the image making.  If Program mode (I’m not referring to any sort of Auto mode) allows you to create good images then that is OK, after all it’s all about the results,  no one looks at a print and says “I think they had the camera on Program”.

P.S. It’s a good thing WordPress has a spell checker I need that more than I need a light meter.

3 Responses to “It’s OK to Use Program Mode with a DSLR”

  • duncan Says:

    I use the Professional(P) mode… some days I also use the Stupid mode (S).

  • Nathan Stitt Says:

    I have been using M on my K-7 since I first got it, just so that I could learn how to use the camera properly. I learned exposure (well everything really) on my K-7 and for the past month I’ve been thinking about finally allowing myself to use A mode or maybe TAv. Your post inspires me to try out P mode finally and use the Program Shift to select for DOF or stopping motion. Cheers.

  • Wallace Says:

    I’m glad you found it helpful, good luck and check your histograms.

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