Camera Symbols & Meanings: What Every Camera Symbol Is Telling You

Various Camera Symbols

With advancing technologies in digital cameras, camera manufacturers introduce new features to cameras all the time and most of these features are represented in the form of various symbols on the camera body or menu and beginners may find it hard to understand what they mean. On this page you can explore the various camera symbols and what each one means so you can confidently use your camera the next time you are out shooting.

Symbols on the Mode Dial

Manual Mode - This mode lets you manually control the aperture, shutter speed and ISO values. You have complete control over the exposure made. Click.

Aperture Priority Mode - This mode lets you control the aperture and the camera chooses shutter speed and iso based on the upper and lower limits you have set. Click.

Shutter Priority Mode - This mode is where you control the shutter speed and the camera chooses the aperture and iso values for correct exposure. Click

Program Mode - This mode chooses automatic settings for shutter speed and aperture based on light available, but lets you make changes to certain values like iso, white balance, flash on/off, exposure compensation, exposure lock and autofocus lock, etc. Click.

Auto Mode - This mode is where the camera has complete control of the exposure and sets all the values for you based on the light available. This is for beginners as the settings could mostly be random combinations making your images look either good or bad. Click.

Sports Mode - This mode will set the camera with a fast shutter speed which is required for sports photography and then make adjustments to aperture and iso values to get the exposure right. 

Night Portrait Mode - This mode may slow down the shutter to gather enough light for good exposure night time portraits. Slow shutter will cause blurriness, so you need a tripod or a very steady hand. Sometimes the flash may fire to compensate for low light. 

Macro or Close-Up Mode - This mode will prioritise focusing your camera on closer subjects than distant ones and also will choose an appropriate aperture value  for optimal depth of field, usually a shallow depth of field. 

Landscape Mode - This mode will close the aperture so you get all the areas in the frame in focus and then adjust the iso and shutter speed based on the light available. 

Night Landscape - This mode is similar to landscape mode but makes use of slow shutter speed to produce night landscapes. This setting has noise reduction turned on so as to reduce digital noise which may occur during long exposures. 

Portrait Mode - This mode assumes you have a subject in the foreground and will open the aperture so you get a creamy bokeh that gives a professional look to your portrait images. It will also use face or eye detection technologies if available and enabled in your camera. 

Kids' Mode - This mode will have a faster shutter speed than normal because kids are most of the time moving and you need a faster shutter speed to freeze actions. 

Video Mode - Some small cameras (usually compact and bridge cameras) come with a video mode on the mode dial and choosing this mode will let the camera know that you want to shoot a video. Other cameras, usually DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have a button or a switch that enables video mode. 

Scene Modes

When the mode dial is in the scene mode, you have a list of scenes to choose from. Rotate the command dial until the desired scene appears on the screen. Pressing the "info" button will show a sample of the selected scene and the camera makes adjustments for that specific scene. For all the scene modes below, the camera optimises settings required to capture the scene in the frame.

Party or Indoor - The camera takes into account the available indoor or ambient light that is available in the scene and makes settings to get the right exposure and colour. 

Beach or Snow - The camera makes adjustments to capture the bright lights in the scene, for example the sunlight and also takes into account exposure for the bright sand and snow areas. 

Sunset - The camera uses settings to preserve the blue and golden colours that are present during sunrise and sunset times. 

Dusk or Dawn - The camera makes adjustments to capture the low light scene and the faint natural light available during dawn and dusk. 

Pet Portrait - The camera makes adjustments for faster shutter speeds and based on that chooses aperture and iso values to get the exposure right because most of the time pets are active and moving around. 

Candlelight - camera makes adjustments to capture low light scenes in the candlelight and also takes care of the white balance settings to showcase the right colours. 

Blossom - The adjustments are made in the camera to capture the vibrant colours of the flowers or flower fields in the frame. 

Autumn Colours - The camera adjusts settings to capture the brilliant and striking red, orange and yellow colours of the autumn season. 

Food - The camera settings are adjusted to capture the vivid colours of the food that you photograph. 

Special Effects

This mode has a lot of other modes in the menu like night vision, sketch, miniature, selective colour, etc. You can choose the mode you want by rotating the command dial until the desired effect appears on the screen.  Pressing the "info" button will show a sample of the selected effect and the camera makes adjustments for that effect. Raw format is not available for the “Effects” mode, so images will need to be captured as fine quality jpeg.

Night Vision - This effect can be used to capture monochrome dark night scenes that require high iso settings. 

Color Sketch - The camera studies the scene and colours the outlines of the image to get a sketch effect. 

Miniature Effect - The camera captures a miniature effect of the scene that is photographed. This effect works well when shot from a higher vantage point. 

Selective Color - In this effect, all the colours other than the selected colour will be recorded in black and white. 

Silhouette - This effect is used when the scene is backlit and can be used to silhouette the elements in the foreground. 

High Key - This effect can be used to shoot bright scenes so you get a high key image that does not have dark shadows. 

Low Key - This effect is used when shooting dark scenes so you get a dramatic image with edges defined by highlights and shadows. 

Symbols And Other Camera Button Symbols On the Camera Body

Menu Button - Pressing this button brings up the camera menu where you can scroll through various tabs to set certain features and settings for your camera. 

Pv Button - This button helps to preview the depth of field while shooting. This way you will know what the final image will look like before taking a photo. 

Self Timer - This button allows you to delay the shutter release. This helps avoid camera shake or when taking self portraits. 

OK Button - Used to select a feature on the menu and in some cameras it helps to set the active focus point right at the centre when using single point autofocus. 

AE-L/AF-L - This button is used to lock exposure and focus. Press this button to lock exposure and focus will be locked when you press the shutter release button halfway through. 

Playback Button - Used to playback images and videos that you have captured on your camera on the rear LCD screen. 

Exposure Compensation - This symbol represents exposure compensation and this allows you to compensate for exposure, that is, to make the image brighter or darker than the exposure for a particular scenario. 

Metering Button - Pressing this button and rotating the command dial lets the user choose the desired metering mode without having to dig into the menu. 

Flash Mode / Compensation - This button allows you to set the flash compensation. Keeping this button pressed and rotating the command dial lets you choose the flash mode of your choice. 

LCD Illuminator - Turning this switch on (towards this indicator) will backlight the control panel for better viewing in the dark. 

Bracketing - Pressing this button will bring up the settings for setting exposure bracketing. You can set the increment and the number of shots quickly. 

Function Button - Depending on your camera or if you have assigned any function to your function button, pressing the function button will perform an action or allow quick access to predetermined menu options. 

Info Button -Llike the name suggests, pressing this button will display on the LCD screen the information with respect to shooting settings. Pressing this button when on live view will cycle through a few options like histogram, grid, level adjustments, etc. 

i or Q button - These are quick menu buttons when on live view or viewfinder mode provide a list of features to choose for desired shooting settings. 

Live-view Button - When Pressing this button, the mirror will be raised and the view through the lens will be displayed on the LCD screen. You will not be able to see through the viewfinder when on live-view. 

Zoom in or Magnify - Helps to zoom into the image on the LCD screen when previewing, so you can check for focus and other details in the image. Also helps to zoom in on the scene when in live-view so you can check for accurate focus. 

Zoom Out - Helps to zoom out if you zoomed in on scene or an image and in playback mode, allows you to display thumbnails of images on the LCD screen. 

Delete Button - Use this button to delete selected images. 

Focal Plane Mark - This is the film plane indicator which means it marks the position of the sensor on your digital camera. It is helpful especially for macro when you need to know the focus distance of lenses. This is where it is measured from and not the lens. 

Flash Symbols

Auto Flash - Choosing this will allow the camera to use the in camera flash that will automatically pop up when the shutter button is half pressed. This only works on auto mode and certain scene modes. 

Flash On or Flash Ready indicator - This symbol shows that the flash is on and is ready to fire when necessary. In auto mode, if the flash pops up automatically you can take photos only if the flash indicator is displayed. 

Auto Flash Off - This tells the camera to not fire the flash so you can shoot using natural or available light. 

Metering Mode Symbols

Nikon Cameras

Matrix (Nikon) - The light from the whole scene is taken into account and a balanced metering value is evaluated. 

Center Weighted Metering (Nikon) - Exposure is calculated taking the central part of the frame into account. 

Spot Metering (Nikon and Canon) - Exposure is calculated based on where the focus point is. The camera will calculate exposure based on the light in that spot. 

Canon Cameras

Evaluative metering (Canon) - The light from the whole scene is taken into account and a balanced metering value is evaluated. 

Center Weighted Average (Canon) - Exposure is calculated taking the central part of the frame into account. 

Partial Metering - This metering is found in canon cameras and is almost similar to centre weighted metering but the camera will calculate the exposure based on the light on your subject which can cause the background to become overexposed. 

Shooting or Drive Modes - Nikon, Fujifilm, Canon

Single Frame (Nikon, Fujifilm) - Setting the dial to “S” will let the camera take one photograph each time the shutter is released. 

Continuous Low (Nikon, Fujifilm) - Camera takes anything between one to few frames per second when the shutter is released. 

Continuous High (Nikon, Fujifilm) - Camera takes the maximum number of frames per second for that model of camera when the shutter is released. 

Quiet Shutter Release - Allows the photographer to click quietly by controlling mirror slap and muting beep sounds. 

Quiet Continuous Shutter Release - Allows photographers to capture a few frames per second in quiet release mode. 

Mirror Up Mode - Use this feature to reduce camera shake due to mirror slap. 

Single Shot (Canon) - The camera takes a single exposure when the shutter button is released. 

High Speed Continuous (Canon) - This is also known as burst mode where the camera takes a series of images per second based on the number allowed for each camera. 

Low Speed Continuous (Canon) - The camera takes a few images for example 2 or 3 when the shutter is released. 

Silent Single Shooting (Canon) - In this mode, the camera captures a single image when the shutter is released but the camera sounds are slightly lower compared to normal shooting. 

Silent Continuous Shooting (Canon) - In this mode the camera sounds are lowered and the camera captures a series of images when the shutter is released. 

Symbols In The Menu, Viewfinder and Live-View Screens


Photo Shooting Menu - Opens a list on the Menu to make various settings like image quality, white balance, noise reduction, interval shooting, and various others for shooting the image. 

Movie Shooting Menu -Opens a list on the menu for movie shooting like movie quality, frequency response, frame rate, microphone sensitivity and various others. 

Custom Settings - This opens up a menu for custom settings like metering, bracketing, autofocus, timers and various others. 

Retouch Menu - Retouch menu lets you make adjustments to your images in camera, like trim, colour balance, filter effects, resize, perspective control and many more. 

Setup Menu - Setup menu opens a list where you can save user settings, format the card, adjust settings for colour and brightness of the screen, and various others. 

Flash Indicator - Flash usually pops up automatically in auto mode if additional lighting is required, if you haven’t set it to not fire automatically. This indicates that the flash is raised and will fire when taking a photo. 

Bulb Mode - Shutter speed is set to bulb to facilitate long exposure shooting. The shutter remains open for as long as the shutter release button is pressed. 

DX based movie format - If you chose “Auto DX crop” in the shooting menu then this icon is displayed to show that a DX based movie format is selected. 

Single servo AF - The camera locks focus when the shutter release is pressed half way through and this is for stationary subjects. 

Continuous Servo AF - This feature is for moving subjects where the camera continuously focuses on a subject as long as the shutter button is pressed. The camera tracks focus for a moving subject. 

Auto servo autofocus mode - The camera uses single servo autofocus if the subject is stationary and continuous autofocus if the subject is moving. 

Image stabilisation - This icon denotes image stabilisation or vibration reduction. Depending on whether you are using a tripod, monopod or hand holding your camera, you need to turn this on or off. 

Raw file - Indicates whether you have chosen to shoot raw file format or other formats. 

Vignette Control - Choosing this option helps to reduce the vignetting for lenses that have vignetting issues. There are various settings like high, normal, low and off that you can choose depending on the lens used. 

Remote Control Mode - This mode allows the use of a compatible remote control for shutter release. There are various modes under this feature like delayed remote, remote mirror up and quick response remote. 

Multiple Exposure - Choose multiple exposure from the menu and make 2 or more exposures to be combined into a single image. 

Interval for Timer Shooting - This is used to set the interval between shots in interval timer photography. 

Card slot under use - If you have a camera that has more than one card slot, this icon represents the cards inserted and the card slot that is currently in use. 

No memory card - If you have not inserted a memory card in your camera, you will have an error displayed in the control panel. 

Wi-Fi - This icon flashes in the control panel when Wi-Fi is enabled and will become stable when a connection is established. You can use this to share data from your camera to your smartphone. 

HDR - Used to take a series of shots between 2 and 7 usually to combine so details in highlight and shadow areas are preserved. Displayed in the viewfinder when HDR mode is enabled. 

Red Eye Reduction - This feature is enabled when using flash for portraits. Before the flash fires, a red-eye reduction lamp lights up to reduce red-eye. 

White Balance Symbols

Auto White Balance (Nikon) - The camera will automatically set the white balance to somewhere between 3500 and 8000K depending on the light in the scene. 

Auto White Balance (Canon) - The camera will automatically set the white balance to somewhere between 3500 and 8000K depending on the light in the scene. 

Incandescent - The camera will have the white balance set for incandescent lights which is 3000K. 

Fluorescent - The camera will have a white balance value or various fluorescent white balance values for you to choose from depending on what type of fluorescent light you have in the scene. The values vary between 2700K to 7200K. 

Direct Sunlight - The camera will have a preset white balance of about 5200K when you choose the direct sunlight preset. Some cameras may have it as daylight. 

Flash - Camera has a preset white balance value of 5400K for flash. 

Cloudy - The camera has a preset white balance value of about 6000K for cloudy scenes. 

Shade - This is a preset white balance value in the camera for shade scenes and it is about 8000K. 

Custom white balance - This is usually done using a grey card where you set the white balance using the image with the grey card as the reference image. 

Preset Manual - Sometimes you may want to save a white balance value as a preset for a particular lighting scenario so you can use it in the future. Use the preset option to store a few of your own white balance presets. 

Kelvin Temperature - You can manually and accurately choose a colour temperature  depending on the light in the scene. This could be between 2500 and 10,000K. 

Battery Indicator

Shows how much charge is left on the battery. You can keep an eye on this while shooting so you know when it is time to replace with a charged battery

Battery Fully Charged - This symbol indicates that the battery is fully charged and you can use it for shooting. 

Battery partially discharged - This symbol indicates that part of the battery has discharged. 

Low Battery - This symbol indicates low battery. If the symbol flashes, then shutter release will be disabled and you will need to replace with a charged battery to continue shooting.