Scene Modes are Program mode on steroids. They turn the whole job of exposure over to camera's CPU to not only make all of the relevant exposure choices—and maybe even ISO and color balance settings--but is biased toward specific shooting conditions. The Scene Mode you choose may even automatically pop-up the built-in flash!
The biggest secret about Scene Modes is that they seem to be a secret and few people seem to take advantage of them. Some cameras have a SCN setting on a control knob while others have them tucked inside the camera's menu structure but almost all point-and-shoots and entry-level digital SLRs offer some variation on the Scene Mode theme.
Nikon's icons: The mode dial on some cameras, such as the Nikon D40X, left, shows icons for various Scene modes, while others including the Pentax K200D let you select SCN (Scene Mode) and other options. In a recent survey readers where asked for their favorite Scene Mode. Some picked Aperture Priority (it's an Exposure Mode), and one said, “they are all useless.” I could not agree less with that statement.
Another one of the problems with (whatever you call) Scene Mode is that each manufacturer has decided there will be little or no standardization on what scene modes are offered are even what their names will be and so you will find similar features with different names in a camera from another manufacturer or it just may be missing. Over the next couple of days, I'll provide a simple round-up of some common ones.
Make a scene: After selecting SCN from the mode dial on top of the Pentax K200D, these Scene Modes show up on the rear LCD screen. When you use the camera's four-way controller, it not only selects the Scene mode but gives you some information about what each mode does.
Joe Farace is co-author of “Better Digital Available Light Photography” along with Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Barry Staver. It is published by Focal Press and is available in all the best bookstores, including Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.