Pentax DSLR Shooting Modes Explained

K-3 Functional Modes: Single-frame to Remote Controls

By K David in Articles and Tips on Oct 3, 2014
Pentax DSLR Shooting Modes Explained

Have you ever been intimidated by all of the shooting modes that your Pentax DSLR offers, such as mirror up or exposure bracketing?  In this article, we'll explain all of those modes by taking a look at Pentax's most advanced camera, the K-3.  If you have an entry-level model, it will have a subset of these modes, but the modes themselves will not differ.

We've sub-divided shooting modes into two categories: "functional" and "creative". The logic behind the division was that the functional modes affect the manner in which images are captured. The creative modes are designed to provide creative effects that can only be achieved by those modes.  We will focus on the functional modes in this article, and cover creative modes in a follow-up post.

Functional Pentax K-3 Shooting Modes (Still)

Pentax's K-3 includes various shooting modes to help achieve photographic effects. This article lists each shooting mode, shows a screen capture of the shooting mode for reference, and describes some of the many ways these can be used.

Because modes are simply a function and not the electronic embodiment of creativity, this article does not present every possible use for the shooting modes. So please leave a comment with unique or creative ways that you use the shooting modes.

Single Frame

Single-frame operates as the name implies: push the shutter release button and the shutter actuates a single time. Holding the shutter release down has no additional effect. Each exposure you want to take requires a separate shutter release depression.

Single-frame shooting presents a good all-around, general use option. For beginners and general use, this is a great selection. Some good uses include general photography, flash photography, taking images for a stitched panorama or HDR image, reprographic work, and instances where you only want one photo.

Here are some shots I've captured in single-frame mode.

Continuous Shooting

Continuous shooting evolves from single-frame to multiple frames. Simply holding the shutter button down releases the shutter in sequence. The K-3 will shoot until either the buffer overruns or the memory card fills up. Think of the buffer as a clearing house. The raw image data is dropped into the buffer, the camera processes it into your selected file type, and then moves it to the memory card. The K-3's buffer is large and the processor fast, so the limiting factor in continuous shooting will be your SD card.

My default setting for almost all shooting is high-speed continuous mode. This allows me to take a single image by simply tapping the shutter release while also being ready for a burst in the event that I need it. Each of these modes will take a single frame if you tap the shutter fast enough. However, you need a very quick finger to do that in high-speed continuous mode.


This mode fires the shutter at 8.3 frames per second (fps). With a 95 mps card, expect about 4.3 seconds worth of images before buffer overrun. With a 45 mps card, expect about 2.5 seconds.

This mode is ideal for sports. Catching a batter connecting with a ball, a soccer goalie blocking a goal, or a tennis player's well formed backhand are all the fodder for this burst mode. Simply begin shooting beforehand and let the camera capture some added shots. This technique will help deliver some exciting action photos. Other uses include gathering images for an animated gif, portraits, and pet photography, wildlife, and candid photos.

When photographing people or pets, specifically for portraits, this mode gives you multiple shots. This eliminates the possibility that peoples' eyes will be closed in every shot. You will also have multiple smiles to choose from to make the best photo. If you're photographing a group, then everyone's eyes will be open in at least one shot and you can paste open eyes (and smiles) from one shot onto a generally better shot where someone is blinking (or frowning).

Creative Photography Tip: Use this mode to capture an image sequence. Then convert the sequence into an animated gif file. You can use individual shots as stills as well as in the animation.

Creative Photography Tip 2: If you shoot a long enough sequence, using Photoshop's Statistics Scrips, you can blend multiple images to create long-duration exposures. This is ideal for star trails, cloud movements, and removing people, cars, and blowing garbage from scenes.

Here are some samples that I've taken in high-speed continuous-frame shooting mode.


Medium works in the same manner as high speed but at a lower (around five fps) frame rate. This increases the amount of buffer time you have. With a 95 mps card, expect upwards of 20 seconds before the write speed slows. With a 45 mps card, around 10-12 seconds.

Medium-speed continuous shooting works well for slower events, such as slower sports. Curling, bowling, and other fun but slower-paced sports come to mind.


Low works, again, like high and medium frame rates but at around three fps. With a 95 mps card, expect to shoot continuously until the memory card is full. With a 45 mps card, expect at least 30 seconds of continuous shooting. Low-speed continuous shooting is good for very-slow sports, snail races and professional poker come to mind.


The self-timer works like any self-timer. The camera counts down, the light flashes, and then it takes a photo. This mode is good when you need the camera to wait before taking a photo. Self-portraits, reprographic, and macro photography are good and typical uses for this mode.

12 Second

This mode counts down from 12 seconds before taking the photo. This gives even the slowest of people time to walk in front of a camera for a self portrait or to be included in a group shot.

Two Second

This mode waits only two seconds, enough time for residual shake to get out of the tripod. This mode is ideal for macro photography (especially if the subject might move) and reporgraphic work. In fact, this is the only shooting mode I use when I digitize films in my slide copier. Here are some sample film digitizations I've done with my K-7, which has the same shooting mode.

In this mode, the mirror is locked up as soon as you press the shutter release to further minimize shake.

Remote Control

Single Frame

Single-frame remote control works in the same manner as single frame shooting, only you don't need to be at the camera. This works well if you're working with macro subjects and any movement from the shutter button being pressed can impair focus. This also works for subjects such as wildlife or hazardous locations where you want photos but don't want to be exactly where the camera is located when taking the photo. For instance, this greatly improves the safety of railroad photography.

Three-second Delay

This mode works just like the self-timer, but with a remote control. This method is also ideally suited for reprographic work.


This mode works by starting a continuous burst when you press the remote and ending the continuous burst when you press the remote button again. This is another good option when you don't want to be near a subject but want a continuous burst. For instance, in sports photography if you want to evaluate a batter's swing but don't want to risk being hit by the bat itself.

Here's a creative and secret use for this mode: star trails and time-lapse photography. Unlike the interval shooting described below, there's no two-second lag between frames in this mode. So in manual mode, for star trails, set your camera to a 30-second exposure, focus, hit the button, and walk away. This will prevent your star trails from having that dotted-line look that comes from interval-shot star trails. As long as you're shooting frames at 1/3 of a second or slower, with a UHS-I SD card, you will not overrun the buffer.


Exposure bracketing is an incredibly useful shooting mode. This allows you, with one shutter release, to take up to five images bracketed for different exposures. In fact, you can even adjust the bracketing amount in the shooting menu, simplifying the bracket selection.

Exposure Bracketing

Basic exposure bracketing is good for HDR photography and situations where you're not certain that the meter is correct, for instance high-contrast settings. Interested in taking a photo of your friend who is sitting in the shade of a cafe with a mid-day Eiffel Tower in the background? Well, if you meter off the Eiffel Tower then your friend will be in darkness. If you meter off your friend, then the Eiffel Tower will be washed out. So using bracketing you can take a series of images to try and find a good compromise or to allow you to splice two images together in post.

Here are some photos I've taken with exposure bracketing. The post work has included conversion to HDR and image splicing to obtain proper exposure throughout the image field.

Here's a creative use for this mode: Use it for reprographic work and pull added dynamic range out of negatives and prints. This allows you to pull highlight and shadow detail out of the same negative or print.

Here's another creative tip, planning a black and white photo? Bracket your color images and create a composite with appropriate color and key throughout, then you can pull more detail and improved dynamic range out of the image when you convert it to black and white.

Self-timer and Exposure Bracketing

This mode works the same way as bracketing but with a self timer. This is a good option if you'd like to take a photo of yourself in front of the Eiffel Tower but aren't sure how to meter for where you want to stand. Set the self timer and let it take five photos, one of them will turn out as planned.

Remote Control and Exposure Bracketing

This, again, works the same way as exposure bracketing but with a remote control. The advantage here is that you can bracket images without the risk of camera shake due to shutter button depression (especially important if you're bracketing for macro photography, microscopy, or scientific uses.) This mode can help your camera obtain different exposures of, for instance, the same laboratory tissue sample in one button push.

Mirror Lock-up Shooting


Mirror lock-up (MLU) locks the mirror in place prior to activating the shutter. This removes any chance that the mirror could cause camera shake during an image. Having once taken a star trails photo without using MLU, I speak from experience when I say that MLU is vital if you want to avoid camera shake in long-duration and high-magnification work, even with a solid tripod. Here are some photos I've taken with MLU (some were taken with other cameras, including my Pentax 6X7.)

Creative Photography Tip: MLU is one of the most useful features a camera can have. Combine MLU with bulb shooting in a dark room to isolate subjects with a flash. This can be people if you'd like to study motion, an smoke trails photo, or myriad other creative options.

Remote Control and MLU

This works just like MLU but allows a remote control to be used. This makes MLU even more powerful. This is very useful for microscopy as the MLU removes mirror-related shake and the remote control removes button-related shake. In fact, in any case where you would use MLU, using a remote control will almost certainly improve your results.

In the Next Article

The next article will focus on the creative shooting modes, such as multiple exposures and interval shooting.

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