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Infobank

Camera settings: Self-timer and timed exposures

Every EOS camera, film and digital, has a self-timer function. As the name suggests, this enables you to take photographs of yourself. These can be self-portraits or pictures of you with family or friends. After the self-timer is set, pressing the shutter release button provides a short delay before the shutter fires. This gives you a few seconds to move from the camera to a position in front of the lens.

The function is usually called a self-timer because it allows you to take a self-portrait. But it has other uses so ‘delay timer’ is a more accurate description.

Using the self-timer appears quite simple, but there are a few things you need to be aware of before you press your EOS camera shutter button to take a picture.

 

All EOS camera self-timers offer a 10 second delay; some also provide a 2 second delay. The number after the self-timer symbol is only shown on cameras that offer both modes.

Support the camera

This is fairly obvious, but the camera needs to be supported before you can use the self-timer. You must be able to look through the viewfinder to frame the subject; then fix the camera in position so that it does not move as you press the shutter button. A tripod is ideal for this, but is often inconvenient to carry. It is usually possible to improvise. A low wall or the top of a table are often suitable. A car roof or bonnet can be used, though you may need to put a coat or scarf under the camera to stop it sliding off.

Using the timer

If you take photographs of family and friends, the chances are that you rarely appear in the pictures. You are always behind the camera. The self-timer can change this. Fix the camera to a tripod or other convenient support and compose the scene through the viewfinder, making sure you leave space for yourself within the group. Set the camera to self-timer operation and press the shutter button. You will now have 10 seconds to move round to join the rest of the group.

The lens focuses and the exposure is set as the shutter button is pressed. Be careful not to stand in front of the camera as you press the button, or the picture will be out-of-focus and incorrectly exposed. Your camera has an audible or visual signal (or both) which sounds or flashes once a second for the first 8 seconds of the countdown. This signal speeds up for the last two seconds to tell you the shutter is about to fire.

 

Spot the difference. The picture on the left was taken without using the self-timer, which means that the photographer is missing. The self-timer was used for the picture on the right, giving time for the photographer to join the group.

Cover up

If you are not looking through into the viewfinder when the self-timer is started, there is a slight risk that bright light could enter the eyepiece and upset the meter reading. This will give an incorrectly exposed image. The risk is greatest when the sun is shining brightly onto the back of the camera. You can eliminate this risk by fitting an eyepiece cover. This useful little accessory usually comes free with the camera, attached to the camera neck strap, or in the centre of the shoulder pad. There are various types of cover, depending on the neck strap supplied.

 

The eyepiece cover, usually attached to the Canon camera strap, stops light entering the camera when your eye is not at the viewfinder.

Focus first

One potential problem when using the self-timer with self-portraits is focusing. The camera autofocuses as you press the shutter button. If you are photographing a group of people, and plan to join them as the time counts down, this will not be a problem. The camera will focus on the group. But if you are shooting a self-portrait, you won’t be in position as the shutter button is pressed, and the camera will focus on the background. The solution is to focus manually. There is a switch on the side of your EF lens. Move this from ‘AF’ to ‘M’ (or sometimes ‘MF’). Now you can turn the focusing ring of the lens to focus on the subject and this focusing will not change when you press the shutter button.

 

The manual focusing switch is found on the side of most EF and EF-S lenses.

Of course, you can’t be in front of the camera as you focus. If you are going to sit for the picture, put a chair in position and focus on this. If you are going to stand, use a chair to mark the position, and move it out of the way before the self-timer fires.

Alternatively, you can leave the lens set to autofocus and fire the camera with a remote switch.

Practical pointers

The procedure for setting the self-timer varies with different models – check your camera instruction booklet. To start the timer, press the shutter button. The countdown is shown on the camera LCD panel (if available), replacing the frame counter on film cameras for the duration. In One-shot AF mode, if the shutter does not fire at the end of the delay period, it is possible that the lens has been unable to focus – in this mode the shutter will only fire after successful AF operation. The self-timer remains active after each exposure. Remember to cancel it after use.

2-second delay

When you press down on the shutter button, there is a chance the camera might move slightly – even if it is fixed to a tripod. This is where the 2-second delay timer setting of some cameras is useful. The camera fires two seconds after you press the shutter button, giving time for you to move your finger away from the camera and for the movement to stop. Try this self-timer mode when you photograph landscapes or buildings. But remember to reset the camera before photographing sport!

Setting the camera for self-timer

EOS-1D Mark III, 1Ds Mark III, 1D Mark IV, 1D X, 40D, 50D, 60D, 5D Mark II, 5D Mark III - Press the AF-DRIVE button. Turn the electronic input dial until the 10-second or 2-second self-timer symbol appears on the LCD panel.

EOS 5D, 10D, 20D, 30D - Press the DRIVE-ISO (in front of the LCD panel). Turn the electronic input dial until the self-timer symbol appears on the LCD panel. Only a 10-second delay is available.

Mirror lock-up

There is another problem. Just before the shutter fires the reflex mirror inside EOS cameras swings up to let light through to the film or sensor. Although the action is well ‘dampened’, it can cause slight vibrations within the camera as the mirror hits its ‘up’ position. These vibrations are insignificant for most photography, but they can take the edge of the sharpness when you shoot extreme close-ups. Unfortunately, in self-timer mode, the mirror does not swing out of the way until just before the shutter fires.

However, a few cameras offer ‘mirror lock’ custom function: Here, the mirror swings up a few seconds before the shutter fires, giving time for any vibrations to die away before the exposure is made.

As soon as the mirror swings up, it blocks the focusing screen and the viewfinder blacks out. This means that you must have the camera on a sturdy tripod, so that you can frame the subject accurately before the shutter button is pressed.

Mirror lock-up is not needed if you use electronic flash for the main exposure, as the very short duration of the flash illumination will ‘freeze’ any camera vibrations.

Mirror lock custom function

Custom Functions are a range of settings available on professional and more advanced EOS cameras. They let you change various features and functions to suit your needs. For example, on some cameras you can choose to have shutter speed and aperture increments in full stops, or half stop increments. Change a number of Custom Functions and you could have a camera that operates differently to the same camera owned by other users. Quite a few cameras offer a mirror lock Custom Function, but they don’t all operate in quite the same way.

EOS-1D, 1D Mark II, 1D Mark II N, 1Ds, 1Ds Mark II, 5D, 10D, 20D, 30D
C.Fn. 12-1

Press the shutter button and the mirror will swing up. Wait a few seconds for any vibrations to disappear, then press the shutter button a second time to fire the shutter. Use a remote switch to operate the camera so that you do not introduce any movement as the button is pressed. Alternatively, set the self-timer. The mirror will swing up when you first press the shutter button and the shutter will fire a few seconds later. The mirror will swing down immediately after the exposure, or after 30 seconds if no picture is taken.

EOS 40D
C.Fn. III-7-1

Press the shutter button and the mirror will swing up. Wait a few seconds for any vibrations to disappear, then press the shutter button a second time to fire the shutter. Use a remote switch to operate the camera so that you do not introduce any movement as the button is pressed. Alternatively, set the self-timer. The mirror will swing up when you first press the shutter button and the shutter will fire a few seconds later. The mirror will swing down immediately after the exposure, or after 30 seconds if no picture is taken.

EOS 5D Mark II, 50D
C.Fn. III-6-1

Press the shutter button and the mirror will swing up. Wait a few seconds for any vibrations to disappear, then press the shutter button a second time to fire the shutter. Use a remote switch to operate the camera so that you do not introduce any movement as the button is pressed. Alternatively, set the self-timer. The mirror will swing up when you first press the shutter button and the shutter will fire a few seconds later. The mirror will swing down immediately after the exposure, or after 30 seconds if no picture is taken.

EOS-1D Mark III, 1Ds Mark III
C.Fn. III-15

Press the shutter button and the mirror will swing up. Wait a few seconds for any vibrations to disappear, then press the shutter button a second time to fire the shutter. Use a remote switch to operate the camera so that you do not introduce any movement as the button is pressed. Alternatively, set the self-timer. The mirror will swing up when you first press the shutter button and the shutter will fire a few seconds later. When C.Fn III-15 is set to 1 (Enable), the mirror drops back automatically after the exposure. When C.Fn III-15 is set to 2 (Enable: Down with SET), the mirror remains up after the exposure, allowing a sequence of exposures to be made (continuous shooting mode can be used). The mirror will drop down again when the SET button is pressed.

Timer Remote Controller

 

The Canon Timer Remote Controller TC-80N3 is an unassuming little device. With 60cm of cable ending in a plug, it looks like an oversize Remote Switch, but packed within this remote unit is a:

  • Self-timer
  • Interval timer
  • Long exposure timer
  • Exposure counter
  • Remote switch

Camera connection

The TC-80N3 uses the Canon N3 connection and is compatible with the EOS-1D, 1D Mark II, 1D Mark II N, 1D Mark III, 1Ds, 1Ds Mark II, 1Ds Mark III, 5D, 5D Mark II, 10D, 20D, 30D, 40D, 50D, D30 and D60 cameras. There is no adaptor that will allow compatibility with other models.

Battery power

Unlike other EOS remote switches, the TC-80N3 needs its own battery. It uses a lithium CR2032 button cell, which should last for about three years. There is no on/off switch – the LCD panel is always active. A small battery icon appears when the battery is close to exhaustion.

Operation

The TC-80N3 has just four buttons and one input dial. The large central button is the equivalent of the camera shutter release button. Like the camera release, the button is two-step – first pressure will activate the camera exposure metering and autofocusing, second pressure will fire the shutter. The button has a lock position for continuous firing.

One of the small buttons switches on backlighting for the LCD panel. This is very useful if you are working in low light, or even darkness (the timer is ideal for night photography). Next is a button that activates the timer once you have made the settings you require. The third button selects one of the four settable modes.

Once the mode is selected, the small input dial on the side of the Controller is used to enter the values you need. The dial turns in both directions, so you can start at zero and work up, or start at the maximum setting and work down.

Self-timer

Your camera already has a built-in self-timer, so why do you need another? Well, if you are happy with the 2 or 10-second delay given by the camera device, you will not find this mode on the TC-80N3 particularly useful. However, if you would like a longer delay before the shutter fires, this is how to get it.

It is unlikely that you will need the maximum delay time of 99 hours, 59 minutes, 59 seconds, but a 20 or 30 second delay might be very useful if you want to include yourself in a group portrait. You can set any period of time from 1 second up to the maximum, in 1-second increments, which gives you plenty of choice.

Interval timer

The Interval Timer is probably the most interesting feature of the TC-80N3. It allows you to take a series photographs at preset intervals. The interval can be from 1 second to nearly 100 hours, set in increments of 1 second. To take a series of a flower opening as the day progresses, you could set an interval of 90 minutes. The controller will then fire the camera every 90 minutes to take a picture.

You can use flash for these exposures, as the timer will activate the camera and wake the Speedlite up from its Save Energy (SE) mode one minute before the exposure is due.

The Interval Timer can be combined with the Exposure Count (see below) to limit the total number of exposures made.

It may sound obvious advice, but make sure your camera is safe and secure if you leave it running with the timer. Avoid rain and thieves by setting up your subject indoors.

Long Exposure Timer

Your EOS camera allows exposures of up to 30 seconds to be timed. If you want exposures longer than this, you must set the ‘Bulb’ mode. The Long Exposure Timer gives you precise exposure times while you are in this mode. Again, it is unlikely that you will want the maximum time of nearly 100 hours, but settings of up to several minutes might be useful for night photography.

Exposure Count

This mode allows you to limit the number of frames that will be exposed in a sequence. It is most useful when combined with the Interval Timer mode – for example, you could set it to expose six frames at 15 minute intervals.

If the Exposure Count is set at the same time as the Self-timer mode, there will be the preset delay before the shutter fires, and then the preset number of frames will be taken at 1-second intervals. Take three or four frames and you stand a better chance of everyone in the group smiling at the same time, especially if you don’t tell them that there will be more than one exposure!