Why I Dislike The PASM Dial (And Love The Fujifilm X100F)

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When I started out in photography there was no such thing as a mode dial, often called a PASM dial. My first camera, a 35mm Canon AE-1, was all manual. If you wanted to adjust the aperture, you did so by turning a ring on the lens. If you wanted to change the shutter speed, you did so by turning a knob on top of the camera. If you wanted to set the ISO, you did so by turning a wheel around the knob. Sound familiar?

The PASM dial became a standard feature as camera technology advanced. It’s hard to find a digital camera nowadays that doesn’t have it. Turn the dial to “P” for Program mode, turn it to “A” for Aperture-priority mode, “S” for Shutter-priority mode, and “M” for manual mode. It’s supposed to make it easy to move between the different shooting modes.

I was a digital photography holdout. I liked film photography and I thought it was better than digital. I could tell whether an image was captured with film or digitally just by looking at it. There was a quality difference. However, after a number of years had passed, things changed, digital technology made huge leaps, and I purchased my first DSLR, a Pentax camera, about 10 years ago. I’ve been shooting (mostly) digital ever since.

The digital learning curve was steeper than I ever imagined. Photography is photography, right? Wrong. I didn’t realize how much different digital capture was, how much different the cameras were and how the “darkroom” on my computer was nothing like an actual darkroom. It was as if I had to learn photography all over again.

I figured that things like the PASM dial were necessary byproducts of complicated technology. You can’t take something that’s complex and make it simple, you just have to learn how to handle all the features. It is what it is, I figured, and I better get used to it.

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Fujifilm happily proved me wrong, and demonstrated that PASM dials are completely unnecessary. They looked at old film cameras, and figured out how to make complex technology simplified for the user. It boils down to aperture, shutter and ISO. It always has. It’s always been simple, but camera makers moved away from placing it in a simple package.

With the X100F (and other Fujifilm cameras), there aren’t shooting modes. You can create whatever “modes” you want, but this isn’t a mode camera. It’s about controlling what you want to control. And the controls are right where you’d want them to be and operate as you’d expect them to operate. A ring around the lens for the aperture. A knob on top of the camera for shutter speed. A wheel around that for ISO. No PASM, simply set aperture, shutter and ISO to whatever you want them set to.

That makes perfect sense to me. It’s designed for people like me who learned on manual cameras. It’s very natural, simple and logical. But I realize that many photographers have never operated a camera that doesn’t have a PASM dial. Not having modes might be foreign to them. It might take some practice to “get” it.

To achieve Program mode, simply set the aperture and the shutter to “A” and set ISO to whatever you want. To achieve Aperture-priority mode, simply set the shutter (and, optionally, ISO) to “A” and set the aperture to whatever you want. To achieve Shutter-priority mode, simply set the aperture (and, optionally, ISO) to “A” and set the shutter to whatever you want. To achieve manual mode, simply set everything to what you want. For full auto mode, set everything to “A” and you’re there. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

I’m glad the PASM dial is nowhere to be found on my Fujifilm X100F. I don’t like it, I don’t need it and I don’t want it! I just want to control the things that I need to control without moving through unnecessary modes. One reason that I love my X100F is that it doesn’t have modes, and can be controlled simply and logically. I can change the aperture, shutter and ISO to whatever I want them set to without fuss. This is one aspect that makes the camera great.

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