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Remote photography

Remote releases

A remote switch is simply a cable with a switch on the end. It duplicates the action of the shutter button − half pressure activates the exposure metering and focus; full pressure fires the shutter. The units differ simply in the length of the cable and the type of connecter plug used to attach the cable to the camera.

A remote switch will allow you to fire your camera without the need to touch it. This is very useful when the camera is fixed to a tripod or supported on a wall. It eliminates the movement that can be transmitted to the camera as the shutter button is pressed.

The name ‘remote switch’ can be a little misleading, since it is only supplied with a 60mm or 80mm cable. However, you can add an 10m extension cable if you want to move further away from the camera − useful for some types of wildlife photography.

Socket and plug differences

EOS cameras that are equipped with a remote release socket have one of three different types - T3 (left), N3 (centre) or E3 (right). The socket on your camera determines the type of remote release you need.

The early EOS cameras were fitted with the T3 connector socket, which dates from the T70 and T90 era − hence the name. It is attached with a screw thread locking ring, which ensures that it can’t be knocked loose accidentally.

Next came the E3 plug, which is still current. It looks like a smaller version of the 3.5mm mini jack plug you find on headphones. It is the most common remote switch connector, appearing on 20 EOS cameras (predominantly the consumer models).

The N3 connector replaces the T3, first appearing on the EOS 3 film camera. A quick-lock system which snaps the remote release into place makes attaching the remote release much easier and damaging the connection less likely.

The naming of the remote releases is logical. They all begin with RS for Remote Switch. This is followed by a number − either 60 or 80 − that indicates the length of the cable in centimetres. The next letter and number denote the connection type.

RS-80N3: 80mm cable with N3 connector for professional and mid-range digital EOS cameras

RS-60E3: 60mm cable with E3 connector for entry-level digital EOS cameras

RS-60T3: 60cm cable with T3 connector for early EOS models.

The TC-80N3 is a special remote release, which has a few extra features over and above other remote switches. As well as acting as a remote release, it also has a built-in self-timer, interval timer and long exposure timer, which can all be set in one second increments from one second to 99 hours. It also features an exposure count setting.

It has many varied uses, though it is most commonly used for accurately timing long exposures for night-time shots, or setting up time lapse sequences to take an image at regular intervals over time to show, for example, the growth of a flower.

The TC-80N3 has a 80cm cable with N3 connector.


If you have an RS-60T3, you can add a Remote Switch Adaptor N3 that allows you to use the remote release with your N3-compatible camera. However, since a new Remote Switch 80N3 costs the same as the adaptor, a new switch might be the better option.

There is no adaptor that allows you to use a N3 remote switch with an E3-compatible camera. This means that it not possible to use a TC-80N3 with any of the E3-compatible cameras, such as the EOS 350D or 400D.

Extension cables

In some situations, a remote release cable of 60 or 80cm might not be enough. You may need to be further away from your camera. If this is the case, there are two 10m extension cables available: the ET-1000N3 is compatible with N3 remote releases and the Extension Cord 1000T3 with the T3 remote release.

An extension cable allows you to set up a camera and then retire to a reasonable distance while still being able to control triggering the shutter. It can be especially useful for photographing timid subjects. An inanimate camera will be much more readily accepted by wildlife than a person holding a camera.

Long exposures

A remote release is essential when shooting with long exposures, even when the camera is supported by a tripod. Most EOS cameras have a maximum shutter speed setting of 30 seconds. If you need a longer exposure, you can either use the Remote Switch TC-80N3 or set ‘bulb’ mode (B) on the command dial. In bulb mode, the shutter remains open for as long as the shutter button is depressed. However, it is not practical to keep your finger on the shutter button for long periods of time − this is uncomfortable and can introduce camera shake.

With a remote release, once you have pressed the button you can lock it down by sliding the button forward. Now the shutter will stay open without you having to keep pressure on the button. This ‘running lock’ means you are free to work with very long exposures, limited only by your camera’s battery life. To close the camera shutter, simply slide the remote switch button back and let go.

Maximum exposure time

If you want to use very long exposure times, you need to know how long your camera shutter can remain open before the power in the battery is drained.

Four EOS cameras − EOS 10, 600, 620, 650 − have an unlimited exposure time. This is because they use power to open and close the shutter, but do not use any power while the shutter is open. The other models use power to hold the shutter open.

Digital cameras need power when the shutter is open to keep the CMOS sensor active. This means their maximum exposure time is likely to be shorter than that for film cameras.

However, there is another problem with long exposures on digital cameras − noise. This background electrical interference increases significantly with long exposure times. This means that you are unlikely to want to use exposure times up to the maximum allowed by the battery.

One way to reduce noise levels with long digital exposures is to use a cold camera. The CMOS sensor is more efficient and problem-free at low temperatures. We are not suggesting that you put the camera in the fridge and only bring it out to take pictures − this will lead to condensation on the lens and other surfaces. However, if you are interested in shooting star trails, you will reduce the noise levels in the images by shooting on cold winter nights rather than warm summer evenings.

There is software available for post-processing images affect by noise, but these generally give a 2 or 3-stop advantage, which may not be enough for images taken with long exposures.

Wireless control

Think of a wireless controller as a remote control for your camera − a bit like a television remote control. It means you don’t have to be anywhere near your camera to take a picture. This can prove invaluable, allowing you to shoot images that would otherwise be beyond your reach. A wireless controller not only acts like your television remote controller, but it also works in the same way − by infrared.

A wireless controller comprises two units − a transmitter and a receiver. The receiver is connected to the remote plug on the camera, and an extension cable can be attached if you need to be even further away. The unit can be mounted on the camera’s accessory shoe or a tripod, or even attached to a convenient tree or other suitable support.

The other part, the transmitter, is a hand-held unit that you aim at the receiver to trigger the camera. It works in exactly the same way as a television remote control, firing an invisible infrared pulse, which is detected by the receiver. As with most infrared devices, wireless controllers require an unobstructed line-of-sight between the transmitter unit and the receiver.

Canon has produced five wireless controllers since 1978. The LC-5 is the only current unit. The earlier models have all been discontinued, but you might come across them secondhand.

The LC-5 allows you to shoot close-ups from a safe line-of-sight distance of up to 100m. Far more than a wireless shutter release, this infrared remote provides the flexibility to control essential camera functions without intruding on the scene.

The Wireless Controller LC-5 attaches to a compatible camera’s accessory shoe or can be separately attached to a supplied bracket. It is connected to the camera’s three-pronged N3 remote socket with the supplied 0.5m receiver cable. Compatible cameras include EOS professional and mid-range digital models.

The receiver unit can be attached to the accessory shoe of the camera. However, this is not essential − no data is passed from the unit through the shoe contacts. The receiver can be turned forward or back, depending on where you will be positioned with the transmitter. You must be able to point the transmitter directly at the receiver.

If you do not have a line-of-sight view of the camera, the receiver unit can be moved away from the camera to a better position. If needed, 10m-extension cables are available.

The unit is triggered with a pocket-sized transmitter that sends an infrared pulse-modulated strobe signal to the receiver. The LC-5 can be powered by four AA alkaline batteries (giving approximately 4500 operations per set), or is also compatible with AA-size lithium, oxyride and nickel-hydride rechargeable batteries.

The Wireless Controller LC-5 has four operating modes:

1) Single-shot mode captures one shot each time the transmitter button is pressed

2) Continuous mode signals the receiver to keep firing the camera until the transmitter button is pressed again or until the camera’s buffer memory limit or maximum storage card capacity is reached, or you run out of film

3) Test mode illuminates a red LED on the receiver that confirms that the unit is operating properly before shooting

4) Delay mode fires a single shot approximately 3.5 seconds after the transmitter button is pressed.

Among the improvements offered by the LC-5 that were not available on earlier models is the enhanced one-shot release mode (1SR). This allows you to pre-focus the camera and then lie in wait − virtually indefinitely − for the subject to come into range. By pressing the LC-5 transmitter trigger fully, the LC-5 remote receiver can wake the camera from its energy-saving sleep mode and capture the image that you have been patiently waiting for. When not in 1SR mode, you need only depress the remote transmitter’s trigger button halfway to engage the camera’s autofocus before shooting.

Channel switching

A switch on the LC units allows you to select one of three channels through which you can transmit and receive. This avoids confusion if you are using the unit in a location where other photographers are also shooting wirelessly, such as at a sports event. Up to three photographers can shoot wirelessly in the same location and, provided each has chosen a different channel, they can be certain that they are setting off their own camera and not someone else’s. The LC-5 transmitter also has an ‘ALL’ setting, that allows you to have three cameras and receivers that can be fired individually or all at the same time.

The RC units

While the LC-5 is a good long-range camera trigger, if you don’t need such a long distance solution, several cameras can make use of a much smaller RC unit. There are several units in the range; they are the RC-1, RC-4, RC-5 and RC-6. These are all interchangeable, so if a camera can use an RC unit, it will be able to use any of them. They operate over a range of around 5m, using Infra Red transmission. The IR receiver is usually located on the front of the camera by the hand grip, and because IR requires line-of-sight to work, you need to point the remote to the front of the camera to trigger.

Since the launch of the EOS 5D Mark II, with HD Movie shooting capabilities, the RC units have been more widely used as they can start and stop HD Movie recording remotely, without touching the camera.

The Speedlite 320EX includes a built-in IR transmitter that functions in the same way as the RC units and offers the same features.

The table below shows which EOS digital cameras can use the RC units.

Camera RC unit
EOS D30 No
EOS D60 No
EOS 10D No
EOS 20D No
EOS 20Da No
EOS 30D No
EOS 40D No
EOS 50D No
EOS 60D Yes
EOS 300D Yes
EOS 350D Yes
EOS 400D Yes
EOS 450D Yes
EOS 500D Yes
EOS 550D Yes
EOS 600D Yes
EOS 1000D No
EOS 1100D No
EOS 5D Mark II Yes
EOS 5D Mark III Yes
EOS 7D Yes
EOS-1Ds No
EOS-1D Mark II No
EOS-1Ds Mark II No
EOS-1D Mark II N No
EOS-1D Mark III No
EOS-1Ds Mark III No
EOS-1D Mark IV No

Camera triggering from flashguns

The Speedlite 600EX-RT and ST-E3-RT both offer camera triggering functionality over the 2.4GHz radio frequency for much longer range. When using the Speedlite 600EX-RT with either the EOS-1D X or EOS 5D Mark III DSLRs, the trigger control will be sent through the hotshoe contacts of the slave flashgun mounted on the camera. With earlier models the accessory cable, SR-N3 attaches to the side of the flashgun and plugs into the N3 connector on the side of the camera. This allows you to trigger a camera remotely from up to 30m away without needing any further bulky accessories.