Mode dial

A rotary control dial used on a digital camera to change its settings or modes.

A mode dial is a rotary control dial on a digital camera used to change its settings or modes. Mode dials are found on DSLRs, SLRs, and even point-and-shoots. They change a camera's settings or modes. Most of these camera modes are locked by a device called a mechanical dial, which is toggled through its options when turned usually through the use of the thumb while gripping the body of the DSLR with fingers and palm. On DSLR cameras and SLR-like cameras, mode dials usually offer access to manual settings. The more compact point-and-shoot cameras, and cameras offering a great many modes, do not have mode dials, using menus instead. Some SLR lenses themselves offer control over things such as aperture, reducing the need for mode support in the camera body.

Location of the dial

On most DSLRs and SLR-like bridge cameras, the mode dial is located at the top of the camera, to one side of the flash/viewfinder hump. On point-and-shoot cameras, however, the mode dial's location is less standard. On many models, it is found on top like DSLRs. On other point-and-shoots, particularly those with a thin body, the dial is found on the back of the camera, often coupled with a menu navigation button. Some thin cameras use a slide switch rather than a dial.


Various camera types and specific cameras have different modes. The simpler dial in the top illustration has:

  • Manual modes: Manual (M), Program (P), Shutter priority (S), Aperture priority (A).
  • Automatic modes: Auto, Action, Portrait, Night Portrait, Landscape, Macro.

Most DSLRs have a few manual settings and a small sample of automatic modes. Most SLR-like cameras have manual modes and several automatic scene modes. On point-and-shoot cameras, all manual control may be condensed into one mode (e.g. ASP, for Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Program) or may be completely absent. Many compact cameras show a large array of scene modes. Point-and-shoot and SLR-like digital cameras usually have a movie mode to capture videos, and many modern DSLRs also support movie modes.

Detailed information found by users on the modes supported by digital cameras are to be found in the ongoing list of digital camera modes.

Manual modes

Manual modes include:

  • P: Program mode offers the photographer partial control over shutter speed and aperture.
  • A or Av: Aperture priority AKA "Aperture value" allows the photographer to control the aperture, while the shutter speed and ISO sensitivity are calculated by the camera.
  • S or Tv: Shutter priority AKA "Time value" allows the photographer to control the shutter speed, while the aperture and ISO sensitivity are calculated by the camera.
  • Sv: Sensitivity value allows the photographer to control the ISO sensitivity, while aperture and shutter speed is calculated by the camera (this is a Pentax DSLR feature)
  • M: Manual mode allows the photographer to control shutter speed, aperture, and ISO independently.
  • U: User mode (like program with preset)

Automatic scene modes

In automatic modes the camera determines all aspects of exposure, choosing exposure parameters according to the application within the constraints of correct exposure, including exposure, aperture, focussing, light metering, white balance, and equivalent sensitivity. For example, in portrait mode, the camera would use a wider aperture to render the background out of focus and would seek out and focus on a human face rather than other image content. In the same light conditions, a smaller aperture would be used for a landscape, and recognition of faces would not be enabled for focussing.

Some cameras have tens of modes, showing the majority only in the menu rather than on the dial. Many cameras do not document exactly what their many modes do; for full mastery of the camera, one must experiment with them.

In general:

  • Action or sport mode increases ISO and uses a fast shutter speed to capture the action.
  • Landscape mode uses a small aperture to gain depth of field.
  • Portrait mode widens the aperture to throw the background out of focus. The camera may recognize and focus on a human face.
  • Night portrait mode uses an exposure long enough to capture background detail, with fill-in flash to illuminate a nearby subject.

Other scene modes found on many cameras include Fireworks, Snow, Natural light/Night snapshot, Macro/Close-up, and Movie mode.

Mode dial
also known as
  • Camera dial
Adapted from content published on
  • Image By ML5 at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by ML5 using CommonsHelper., Public Domain — from
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