Digital Life

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In camera land, what is PASM?

Children should enjoy photography unencumbered by technicalities.

THERE we were, talking cameras, and the friend says that she is thinking of giving her two granddaughters cameras for Christmas. She says the girls are already showing aptitude and interest, so it is just a matter of deciding what camera to buy.

The girls are both younger than 13, and our friend is of a mind to throw them into the photographic deep end. ''The cameras must have PASM,'' she says, firmly.

This acronym refers to the shooting mode selection on a digital camera.

''P'' automatically selects the exposure value by setting a shutter speed and aperture combination that the camera calculates to give the best results.

''A'' sets aperture priority - you set the aperture and the camera sets the shutter speed. ''S'' is the other way around - you select the shutter speed and the camera does the rest.

And ''M'' is for manual - you are on your own.


Digital cameras all have another ''A'' setting, often shown as iA, for automatic. The camera does it all, including setting the ISO sensitivity and the flash. In this mode, the camera is like a smart box camera.

Our friend's reasoning is that if the children are going to use a camera, they should understand how it works. We see her point and certainly share her exasperation with adult snappers who simply refuse to come to terms with the most basic photographic concepts and who subscribe to the belief that if it needs a manual, then it is not worth the effort. However, children are not in the same category as intellectually lazy adults.

When I was 12, I used a Kodak Box Brownie - and cameras don't come any more automatic than that. It had one shutter speed and one aperture diameter. I was fascinated by the image-capturing process - taking photos of friends, family and pets - and had no idea what the aforesaid shutter speed might be.

At 16, I was feeling restricted by the limits of the Brownie and bought a Kodak Retina 1b, a camera on which nothing is automatic, so I had no choice but to get to grips with shutters, apertures, ASA speeds and so on.

I didn't dare say it to our friend, but I reckon taking pictures should come first and understanding the mechanics and physics of the camera can wait until the new photographer starts to wonder what is going on in the picture-taking process. You don't want to inhibit the child's enthusiasm and experimentation with technical rules.