Silent Mode with EOS Mark III cameras

March 17, 2011

Silent Mode with EOS Mark III cameras
… silent mode also offers the option to delay any motorized sound until you’ve pulled your finger from the shutter release.

A terrific feature on Canon’s top-of-the-line EOS-1D Mark III and the EOS-1Ds Mark III is the option to shoot with camera sounds significantly quieter than normal. The so-called “silent” drive mode can be quickly and easily accessed, right on top of the camera. Once it’s set, the camera is limited to single-frame shooting — but it’s single-frame shooting with a difference.

Two types of single-frame advance:

First, be aware that both Mark III series cameras offer two distinct types of single-frame advance. Normal single-frame advance is marked by a single rectangular-shaped icon within the DRIVE area on the camera’s top LCD panel. In single-frame advance mode, the camera both fires the shutter and instantly lowers the mirror and re-cocks the shutter mechanism. This is the “whirring”, motorized sound you hear along with the click of the shutter in single-frame advance mode.

But when the silent mode is engaged, the camera behaves differently. There’s still the click of the strong, rotary-magnet shutter. But the motorized action is slowed significantly, to reduce its noise level. Mirror return is slower, and in particular shutter-cocking is both slower and much quieter.

Silent mode is engaged by pressing the DRIVE button and turning the rear Quick Control Dial, selecting the letter 'S' icon within the DRIVE area on the camera’s top LCD panel.

Delay all noise after the shot is taken:

Another option when the Silent mode is active is to shoot, and delay the mirror return and charging of the shutter mechanism. It’s easy — just continue to hold your finger fully down on the shutter button after you’ve taken a picture. Again, there’s the click sound of the shutter, but total silence afterward, until you lift your finger from the shutter button. Only then does the mirror return, and the camera re-cock the shutter mechanism. With the Mark III series cameras, this is only possible in the Silent mode (in standard single-frame advance, shutter cocking and mirror return always occur instantly after the 2nd shutter curtain has completed the exposure).

Benefits of the Silent mode:

Nearly any photographer can think of instances where it’s desirable to be quiet and inconspicuous. Whether you’re a wedding photographer shooting a live ceremony in a church, a corporate shooter taking candids in the executive boardroom, or even a sports photographer shooting a serve during a tennis match or a golfer’s back-swing as he or she tees off, Canon’s Mark III cameras make it easy to adapt the camera to the situation. It’s true, of course, that the silent mode doesn’t affect the shutter’s movement. As a result, there’s still going to be a noticeable click each time you shoot. But compare the overall noise levels of standard single-frame advance vs. the silent mode, and you’ll likely agree that this is a nice option to turn to when you need to “disappear” as a photographer.

And remember that silent mode also offers the option to delay any motorized sound until you’ve pulled your finger from the shutter release. This is perfect for those instances where you want to wait until after the golfer has driven the ball, the audience applauds, or even until you’ve had a chance to put the camera inside your coat or jacket to further muffle any shutter-cocking noise.

Silent Mode with original EOS-1D/EOS-1Ds, and Mark II series models:

Each and every EOS-1D or EOS-1Ds model has had some sort of silent mode option available to photographers. The functional benefits are the same as we’ve just outlined above for the Mark III series cameras. With any version other than the Mark III models, setting silent mode is a different, two-step procedure:

  1. If you haven’t already done so, connect your camera to a Mac or Windows computer using the FireWire (not USB!) cable, and activate Canon’s EOS Utility or EOS Viewer Utility software. Navigate in the software to Camera Settings > Personal Functions, and install Personal Function #21 into the camera.
  2. In the camera’s menu, call up Personal Function 21, and be sure it’s set to ON. Now, set the camera’s DRIVE mode to single-frame operation. Silent Mode will be active whenever you select single-frame operation; to return to standard single-frame shooting, go back to the camera’s Personal Function menu, and set P.Fn 21 to OFF.

What about Continuous Shooting?

While there is no true Silent Mode available for continuous drive, there is an alternative to the machine-gun staccato noise normally heard in burst mode: Mirror Lockup.

Locking the mirror up eliminates vibrations normally caused by the mirror moving up and down after each shot. This feature is typically used to prevent camera shake during long exposures, or when photographing detailed close-ups. But a happy side effect of shooting in continuous drive with the mirror lockup enabled is that it sounds noticeably quieter – though not actually silent.

EOS Mark III cameras offer two ways to achieve mirror lockup (note that when the mirror is up, the optical viewfinder will remain blacked-out):

  1. Shoot in Live View. Mirror lockup is the default operation when shooting in Live View Mode -- and this is clearly an ideal choice if you need to see what you are shooting. Set the camera's drive mode to Continuous (H or L). Then select Set-Up Menu 2 > Live View function settings > Live View shoot > Enable. Pressing the SET button will turn Live View on or off.
  2. For those who don't need a live preview, or prefer not to use Live View (i.e. to conserve battery power), you can take advantage of Custom Function III-15: Mirror Lockup. Select option 2: Enable: Down with SET – this will raise the mirror with a full push of the shutter button (you will hear a click). Then press the shutter button again to take as many pictures as you want. When you are finished, press the SET button to lower the mirror (you will hear another click, as the mirror goes down).


Sometimes, EOS users may ask what are the benefits of investing in the professional EOS-1D Mark III or EOS-1Ds Mark III, when compared to more affordable models in the line-up. There are a multitude of benefits the pro cameras deliver to photo enthusiasts, and the silent mode is one of them. Even if it doesn’t seem like a “must-have” feature when you first try it at a dealer’s sales counter, you’ll love it the next time you’re shooting important pictures and need to be as close to invisible as possible.

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