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Choose an Exposure Mode on Your Nikon D5200

The first picture-taking setting to consider on your Nikon D5200 is the exposure mode, which you select via the Mode dial, shown in this figure. Your choice determines how much control you have over two critical exposure settings — aperture and shutter speed — as well as many other options, including those related to color and flash photography.

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Your exposure mode choices break down as follows:

  • Fully automatic modes: For people who haven’t yet explored photography concepts such as aperture and shutter speed — or who just aren’t interested in going there — the D5200 offers the following point-and-shoot modes:

    • Auto: The camera analyzes the scene and tries to select the most appropriate settings to capture the image.

    • Auto Flash Off: This mode, represented by the icon labeled in the figure, works just like Auto but disables flash.

    • Scene modes: The D5200 offers 16 automatic modes geared to capturing specific types of scenes: portraits, landscapes, child photos, and such. The five most commonly used modes — Portrait, Landscape, Child, Sports, and Close Up — have their own positions on the Mode dial; they’re the ones represented by the pictographs and labeled “Primary Scene modes” in the figure.

      You access the others by setting the dial to Scene and then rotating the Command dial to choose the scene type.

    • Effects: This mode works like Auto except that the camera applies one of seven special effects to the image as it writes the picture data to the memory card.

    For any of these modes, understand that because they’re designed to make picture-taking simple, they prevent you from accessing many camera features. You can’t use the White Balance control, for example, to tweak picture colors.

    Options that are off-limits appear dimmed in the camera menus and Information display. If you press a button that leads to an advanced setting, either nothing happens or the monitor displays a message telling you that the option is unavailable.

  • Semi-automatic modes: To take more creative control but still get some exposure assistance from the camera, choose one of these modes:

    • P (programmed autoexposure): The camera selects the aperture and shutter speed necessary to ensure a good exposure. But you can choose from different combinations of the two to vary the creative results.

      For example, shutter speed affects whether moving objects appear blurry or sharp. So you might use a fast shutter speed to freeze action, or you might go the other direction, choosing a shutter speed slow enough to blur the action, creating a heightened sense of motion.

    • S (shutter-priority autoexposure): You select the shutter speed, and the camera selects the proper aperture to properly expose the image. This mode is ideal for capturing sports or other moving subjects because it gives you direct control over shutter speed.

    • A (aperture-priority autoexposure): In this mode, you choose the aperture, and the camera automatically chooses a shutter speed to properly expose the image. Because aperture affects depth of field, or the distance over which objects in a scene remain acceptably sharp, this setting is great for portraits because you can select an aperture that results in a soft, blurry background, putting the emphasis on your subject.

      For landscape shots, on the other hand, you might choose an aperture that keeps the entire scene sharply focused so that both near and distant objects have equal visual weight.

    These semi-auto modes give you complete access to all camera features. So even if you’re not ready to explore aperture and shutter speed, go ahead and set the mode dial to P if you need to access a setting that’s off-limits in the fully automated modes.

    The camera then operates pretty much as it does in Auto mode but without limiting your ability to control picture settings if you need to do so.

  • Manual: In this mode, represented by the letter M on the Mode dial, you select both the aperture and shutter speed. But the camera still offers an assist by displaying an exposure meter to help you dial in the right settings. You have complete control over all other picture settings, too.

One important — and often misunderstood — aspect of the exposure modes: Although the Mode dial setting determines your access to exposure and color controls, as well as to other advanced camera features, it has no bearing on your focusing method. You can choose manual focusing or autofocusing in any mode, assuming that your lens offers autofocusing.

However, some options that let you adjust the camera’s autofocusing behavior are available only in P, S, A, and M exposure modes.

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