When To Use A Cable Release and Remote Shutter Release :: Digital Photo Secrets

When To Use A Cable Release and Remote Shutter Release

by David Peterson 5 comments

One of the least expensive tools in your photography tool box can also be the handiest. Ranked high up there on my list is the cable release or remote shutter release. Professional photographers know that to take the best photos with the least amount of camera shake involved, a tripod mount and a cable release or remote shutter release are must haves. That combination takes the movement of your body out of the equation when you're shooting photos. Today, I’ll break down the difference before diving into how they’re best used and why one might be better than the other in certain situations.

A cable release is just what it sounds like, a cable that plugs into the side of a camera and has a trigger on the other end that when fired, it controls the shutter release.

A remote shutter release is an infrared “clicker” that when pressed, remotely sets off your shutter release. Being wireless, it has advantages that the cable release doesn’t, but it also has some disadvantages, both of which I’ll address.

Take Your Finger off the Shutter

Before comparing when to use a cable release and when to use a remote shutter release, let’s look at the reasons why you’d want to use either one first.

Very simply, camera shake is the number one reason you want to use a remote or cable release. Any time your camera is on a tripod is a good time to use either one of them because if you’re using a tripod, you’re already thinking about stability. What’s easy to forget is that when we depress the shutter release with our fingers, we’re putting pressure on the camera that can result in camera shake, and therefore, blurred images.

For tack-sharp images, the combination of a tripod and remote or cable release are just about required.

Typical scenarios when you’d want to use this gear are; low light, such as sunset or later or sunrise or earlier; moon (full or otherwise); moving water that you want blurred; indoors where there are no lights, such as in a barn; candlelight; fireworks; group photos, such as at a wedding, party, or other event; and landscapes.

With all of those possible scenarios, it’s good to be prepared and any photographer Girl or Boy Scout should have a tripod, cable release, and a remote shutter release handy.


The constant of the three is the tripod. Whether you go with a cable release or a remote shutter release, a tripod is a must. Of course there will be exceptions when you’re winging it and may need to lay your camera on a stable surface if you don’t have your tripod with you. Regardless, you’ll want your camera to be stable.

Cable Release

The cable release, as noted above, plugs into the side of your camera and has a trigger on the end that lets you release the shutter.

Lengths: The usual length of the cable is around 12", however you can get shorter and longer versions. Those who defend the short (less than 12”) cables state that the long ones get in the way and if you’re a klutz, tripping is likely. Those who defend the long (12” or longer - i.e. up to 40”) cables boast about the distances from their camera that they can go... they can hide behind a bush while capturing a bear catching salmon in the river. Naturally, there are those who option for both lengths and use them accordingly and then there are some who settle on one 20” cable to suit most needs. A lot of this decision comes down to personal preference, but you ought to know that all types are available.

Remote Shutter Release

Remote shutter releases are an inexpensive solution to not having to press the shutter button, risking camera shake. An average remote release gives you approximately 5 meters / 16.4 feet leeway from your camera.

Find a model that works for your camera, and not all cameras support wireless shutter releases.

Not Just for DSLRs

Amazingly enough, the new iPhone 5 has cable release capability built in through its headset! With the iPhone 5, Apple added the ability to use the volume up button on the headset as a shutter button for the Camera app. All you have to do is plug in the headset, bring up the Camera app (or third-party Camera+ app), and squeeze the volume up button on the headset. Voila! Photo captured. Using something to hold the iPhone steady on a tripod and then using the headset as a cable release can give you some nice and steady photos.

The cool thing is that you can take bursts of photos more easily with the "cable release", and that some Bluetooth headsets can also be paired and used as wireless remotes for taking photos. My hope is that this greatly cuts down on the number of extended arms shown in selfies!

Note that older iPhones that have been upgraded to ios5 will also work. Carry on with the cable release!

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  1. Barrie Marshall says:

    A very interesting article, useful, I have releases for all my cameras, I just bought a used Samsung NX1000 and the first accessorie I bought was a cable release, just for the sake of interest some Fujifilm cameras can still use the traditional cable release as the sutter button is threaded for one.

  2. LV says:

    This post contains quite some useful information here, but did you forget to talk the pros & cons of those two methods? I still don't see the wireless remote having any disadvantage compared to the wired one. Maybe it's just some kind of nostalgia that makes people stick with the old tech? I got into photography not so long ago and have always used remote for on-tripod shots. To me, though might be minimal, using cable release still has some risk of shaking the camera, as does any physical connection between you and the whole setup (such as the cable). Running on a battery (that can die) could be considered a weak point, but since about everything in the bag depends on all sorts of battery, bringing a tiny spare one for the remote should not be too much of a hassle ;)

  3. Ron says:

    I like the article but feel that you could add the 2 or 10/12 sec delay setting on the camera for those who do not have or can afford a remote control release. Regards Ron

  4. Roy Chávez says:

    Thanks, I got my , both, items long before your article, but your writing help me in passing the knowledge to the grandkids, it gives me more ideas. Thanks.

  5. Gary says:

    I am so happy to see you have written this as I have just recently found my long lost set up for my Nikon 5100. But not the booklet, so I consider this article as pure gold.

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