Camera symbols and their meaning: a complete guide
There are a loooooooooot of icons on your camera’s LCD and viewfinder. So many, in fact, that it can be overwhelming if you don’t know what they mean. The good thing? They provide critical information about your exposure, camera status, and important settings. Do you know the meaning of all of them? If not, we’re here to help. Here is a list of all the camera symbols you can find in your camera’s LCD and their meaning. Just in case you were curious. There is also a similar guide for SD card symbols if you are in a symbols binge.
Camera symbols: The basics
Camera mode, shooting mode, and exposure modes mean the same thing. This set includes A for auto, M for manual exposure, and anything in between. If you are accustomed to checking the dial at the top of the camera, consider keeping your eye on the frame. This would save you two seconds of time looking away from the viewfinder.
Just don’t get stuck on the auto or manual modes for no reason. Aperture priority mode (often written av), shutter priority mode (often written tv, for time value), and program mode (often written p) can all be great at saving you time and effort. Depending on your situation and lighting conditions, of course.
Don’t be confused with settings like portrait mode or landscape mode. While these are camera modes as well, they aren’t at all like your classic modes. While the former affects only exposure, the latter may adjust additional settings, including autofocus or even some post-processing features. I suggest staying away from these, as most of them are taking away some of your control.
You already know what this does: it tells you how much battery you have left.
The bread and butter of manual photography. This is where you’ll find your Shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. These settings affect many things in your image, but above all, they affect the exposure of the image.
The exposure itself can also be monitored by the camera’s reflective light meter, which is typically next to the settings themselves. In Sony cameras, its value can be seen next to the M.M. (metered manual) icon.
We already covered how each of them works, so I recommended checking the linked articles if you want to learn more.
In most cases, you can leave the white balance on auto. This setting dictates how “cold” or “hot” your photos will be. Modern cameras usually nail this one pretty well, so unless you want a specific look, just leave it on Auto.
Drive mode symbols
This setting controls the amount of pictures you’ll shoot once you press the shutter release button. Do you want to shoot only one image at a time (single shot)? Maybe instead, you would rather shoot multiple at a time (continuous shooting)? – Drive mode is where you would control this setting. Use the single mode when you only want a single shot or one of the few burst modes. Most cameras have high and low burst speeds.
If you choose faster burst modes, your pictures might be limited in their quality and image data. Some modern cameras, like the Nikon Z8, give you details on such limitations inside the menus. Sadly, you can’t just press the info button whenever you’ve got a question about your camera; we’re not there yet.
This is also where you find alternative modes like timer or bracket shooting.
Camera symbols: advanced settings
Metering mode symbols
This is an important setting, which you should not ignore. The metering mode setting affects how your camera examines the scene. Center weight mode will care more about the brightness in the center of the image, while matrix mode will try to average the entire frame.
If you’re using exposure compensation, choosing the right metering mode can be critical. The light meter can stop you from under or over-exposing the image, but for it to be accurate, you need to make sure you are metering the right thing in the scene.
Personally, I would still suggest using a histogram when photographing complex exposure compensations. Compared to a light meter, it gives you more context on your picture’s exposure. Gotta be careful not to get the highlights too bright, nor get the shadows too dark, you know?
Many cameras give you some kind of an optional dynamic range boost. Sadly, you can probably achieve a belloer look by post-processing the photo yourself, so you’re probably better off leaving this off.
It can also be called something like a picture profile (or film simulation if you’re on Fuji). This is where you get to choose the look your camera will “bake” into the final image. If you are shooting RAW, then this setting has little meaning. You will be able to adjust the RAW file in your editing software.
If you are shooting jpeg (which you should not), this feature is critical for you. It is also critical if you are shooting video in any format other than RAW.
Camera symbols: focus symbols
Autofocus mode symbols
Most of the time, you can just leave your camera on a mode like AF-C (continuous autofocus). But, if for one reason or another, you need to – you have other focusing modes. You can choose AF-S (a mode where autofocus only activates in response to a button press). Or you can just use to use the “ol’ reliable” manual focus. Some cameras have extra modes, but these are the most common ones these days.
This adjustment is more specific than adjusting the autofocus/manual focus modes. It tells the camera in what manner you want your autofocus to work.
Depending on what camera you’ve got, you can choose between modes like face detection, animal detection, zone, and many more. They do exactly as their names suggest.
Camera symbols: additional info
A simple and useful one. The card info usually shows if the camera recognizes your memory card (or cards, if your camera has two card slots). It can also give you an estimate of how many shots or minutes of recording you have before that card fills up.
Picture mode and quality
These are often combined in camera monitors. It’s where you can see if the camera is set to RAW, JPEG, Both, or anything else you might’ve chosen. It’s also where you’ll see the quality of the file, i.e. What resolution you’re shooting at: High-quality files, compressed files, extra fine, and so on. For some cameras, you will also see the image ratio (3:2 in the screenshot below).
In movie mode, you’ll find your video resolution, frame rate, and codec here instead. ( 4k25p H265, for example).
Camera symbols: extra features
Most professional cameras today come with in-body image stabilization, or IBIS for short. It may have a different name, like “steady shot” or “shake reduction”, but IBIS is still IBIS nonetheless. It moves the sensor in response to shaking and movement to try and keep the footage stable. (Of course, if your camera lacks IBIS, there will be no icon for it).
A similar feature is OIS – optical image stabilization. Instead of working inside the camera, OIS works inside the lens, and it is something else entirely. That said, it is good to pair with IBIS for extra stabilization.
Try either or both, in live view or in the playback mode. You’ll be surprised by the impact that even one type of stabilization has.
Location/NFC/Bluetooth/Touch screen controls/wifi symbols
These sound like they come out of a smartphone menu, but they are also relevant for your camera. Touch controls usually allow you to control your screen like a smartphone instead of using buttons and dials. Bluetooth, depending on your camera model, typically allows for some remote control operation with a phone or a dedicated remote. Chances are, you will not be able to control your camera with a console’s remote controller. The same can be said for NFC.
The location feature is a bit different from phones. Interestingly, it’s not used for navigation; instead, some cameras give you the option to record where a photo was taken. The camera then saves location data as a part of the image data.
As the industry moves from DSLR to mirrorless cameras, more information appears on the screen.
Icons for bulb mode, grid options, the focal length of the lens, and so many more can appear in your camera, but they may not appear in others. Each company has its own unique menus, and even within the same company, different cameras may have some icons unique to themselves. If we were to cover each of them, we would be here all day.
But, after reading this list, you should be ready to tackle just about every camera in the market today.