Why Do We Still Have Bulb Mode on Our Cameras?

Greeting from a train somewhere in the countryside between Bergen, Norway, and Oslo. We’re close to wrapping up 9-days vacation here (with my wife and daughter), and we’ve been having just a wonderful time (our first time here in Norway — incredibly beautiful place!). 

As you might imagine, we’re taking lots of photos (and Kalebra is shooting absolutely lights-out with her iPhone — check out her images on her Instagram account. She somehow managed to take control of all the seagulls in Norway, and they fly into position on her command. It’s eerie to see in person, but it makes for a great photo). ;-)

Anyway, with all this water I wound up pulling out my 10-stop ND filter quite a bit (though not as much as I should have), but it got me to wondering — why, after all this time, do we still have “Bulb Mode?” (The mode where you can keep your shutter open as long as you want by holding down the shutter button). 

On my Canon 5D Mark IV, normally the maximum my shutter can stay open is 30-seconds
…unless until I switch to bulb mode, and then I can leave it open all day long (well, for as long as I hold the shutter button down, or in my case, as long as I leave the button on my cable release locked). Since the main reason, you need bulb mode is for long exposures, why not just let us automatically be in an optional type of bulb mode once I choose an exposure beyond 30-seconds?

For example, yesterday I was doing a series of 2-min, 20-second long exposures. Why can’t I just set my shutter speed to 2:20 seconds? Why do we need to change modes? Beyond that, why don’t they just do away with us having to have a cable release in the first place — why not have an option to turn on so if you go beyond a 30-second exposure, pressing the shutter button waits for 5-seconds before opening the shutter to let any vibration from pressing the shutter dissipate. That does away with Bulb mode and the need for a cable release all in one. 

Now, there may already be some cameras out there that already have this exact feature (I don’t think it’s a Canon or Nikon, maybe an Olympus or Pentax), but this seems like one of those, “that’s the way we’ve always done it…’ type of things that have kept the “big boys” from doing, but perhaps there’s some technical reason why we need to have a separate bulb mode for long exposures that I don’t know, and if there is, I’m hoping somebody here will let me know. 

Anyway, this is the kind of thing you think of when you’re standing on the rocks shooting a long exposure waiting patiently for 2-minutes and 20-seconds to pass. ;-)

Here’s to a great week (and smooth flights home, wherever you may be). :)

All my best, 


P.S. This Friday I’ll be giving the keynote at the Out of Chicago Conference, and I’m pretty psyched about it. Heard so many great things about the conference, and I’m delighted they asked me to speak there this week. Looking forward to meeting some of you there. If you’re not going – you can still go! :)

  1. Nooo!!! Don’t get rid of bulb mode and cable release! That’s the mode I use to take fireworks photos. It’s really simple with bulb mode and a cable. When I hear the launch I press the button on the cable. After the firework has gone “boom ooo aah” I release the button. I can also hold it open for getting multiple fireworks in the same frame.

  2. For some photos, timing is critical. I shot a steam locomotive going past a heritage church at night in a snowfall – and the timing had to be exact. No way I could guess where the train would be in five seconds after I hit the shutter. For fireworks, I hold the shutter open and cover it with a lens cloth between bursts to block light – whip the cloth away for the next burst. I need cable and B for that, because I don’t know for sure how long and when I will keep the shutter open – I just kind of guestimate based on the brightness of the burst.

    So no, I would not want them to get rid of those two features. You don’t HAVE to use a cable if you don’t want to. There’s a two second timer feature on our canons already.

  3. Hi Scott,
    I always love to read your blog posts, Youtube videos and enjoy your Instagram feed.

    I use a Canon 7DII. In the “shoot4” menu tab there is this entry called “Bulb timer”. It is only active when in “Bulb”mode. In this entry you can specify how long (hh:mm:ss) the shutter will be open when the shutter button is pressed (and released).
    It looks like this is the feature you are looking for.
    I hope for you the Canon people included this also in your gear.

    Greetings from Belgium

  4. Scott,
    Perhaps what might be a better alternative is the creation of a separate ND filter mode. Shouldn’t be much of a problem with today’s cameras being mini-computers…

  5. My Canon 7D Mk2 has a bulb timer under options. You can select the length of the exposure (when in bulb mod) and then when you hit the shutter button it gives you that length exposure. Will check when i get home but I think it even has the 2 sec timer. If it’s on the 7D is must be on the bigger bodies.

    1. I was just about to write this as well. I have a 5D Mark IV, and it also lets you specify the length of time when in bulb mode. No more cable release needed!

  6. I looked this up because I was interested in buying that camera

    it’s in tab 4 – bulb timer – enable – press INFO – set your specific time.
    Bob’s your uncle…

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