The phrase "photo playback" has about 35k Google hits, especially in production descriptions, but is it correct English?

It seems that “playback” can be used with video and audio, because we can play a video or play a record, cassette, CD, etc. However, we cannot “play” a photo, and therefore cannot play JPEG etc.

If “photo playback” is incorrect as a description of the function, what expression would be better?

  • 1
    There certainly is no grammatical error. You have also demonstrated that the phrase is prevalent. The worst left to say is that it's informal. But that is the voice used by most people most of the time. How, then, could it possibly be "incorrect"?
    – MetaEd
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 5:12
  • Did you check the context in a few of the "about 35k Google hits?" That should have given an insight. Let us know.
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 5:39
  • If you want to be safe against nitpicking, the term is slide show playback.
    – SF.
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 10:13
  • 1
    @SF: to nitpick, the things that are being shown are not slides, they're photos. Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 13:41

5 Answers 5


The term photo playback, while perhaps not perfectly accurate on its own, is not necessarily incorrect. It is usually used in relation to cameras which often also support video playback. For reasons of consistency, the term playback is used to represent the function of viewing captured images and videos. Furthermore, the photos are often presented in galleries which can be played as slideshows. In this sense, the use of play and playback is well established.


No, you can’t play a photo, but you can play a series of photos. For example, if you have a folder of photos on your computer, you might wish to execute "photo playback" on this folder, thereby displaying each photo with a one-to-five second interval. At least that would be my interpretation of the phrase.


Yes, it is true that a photo can't be played. But "photo playback" can refer to a series of photos and as per my knowledge it is a feature of any device that can carry photos.


You can’t play a photo but you can play a group of photos as slideshow.


“Photo playback” is the closest term to a slideshow which is pertaining to a group of pictures. You can never play a picture (notice the "a").

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