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The great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson spoke extensively about the decisive moment, that one particular moment that happens that is the perfect decisive expression of the scene or event that you're trying to shoot. Now, because he was a genius, he was often able to fire his camera at the perfect decisive moment. For the rest of us there's Continuous mode. In Continuous mode as you hold the Shutter button on your camera down, the camera will continue to snap frames one after another. Continuous mode is a great tool for shooting in fast-moving environments, sports, street shooting, nature shots; but it can also be ideal for portraiture, where a person's face is making lots of tiny, subtle changes and you're not sure which is the ideal expression.
However, you can't use Drive mode indefinitely. That is, you can't just hold the button down and expect the camera to always keep shooting. When you take a picture the camera has to move a lot of data around and do a lot of computation. You can take pictures faster than your camera can get them written to its media card, so your camera has a memory buffer that can hold a certain number of pictures. As you shoot, your images can be quickly thrown into that buffer, and then the camera can start the process of copying images from the buffer to the memory card while you continue to snap away. If the buffer fills then your camera will cease to be able to take pictures and you'll have to wait for it to empty out before you can start shooting again.
Normally, when you shoot with your D800, a press of the shutter button takes a picture. If you'd like, you can put it in Continuous mode, which is like having an automatic winder on an old film camera. I do that over here with this knob. Normally, this knob is locked here. To get it to turn I have to press this button right here. So I'm going to press this button, and I see my current setting here. It's on S for single. I'm going to switch it over to CL. That's Continuous Low-speed, and now as long as I hold the button down, the camera continues to shoot.
And it's clicking away there at about three frames per second. If I want faster, I can switch it over to Continuous High-speed and now I get closer to five frames per second. Note that in Continuous High speed if I'm plugged into an AC adapter rather than running off of the battery, I can actually get closer to six frames per second. Now you may be wondering, well, if I want to shoot continuously, why would I ever choose the low speed? Wouldn't I want to just always shoot as fast as I can? Not necessarily, because some subject matter moves faster than others, and if you really want a good amount of variation between frames, it might be more appropriate to shoot at low speed.
For example, Continuous mode can be very useful for shooting portraits because you can quickly capture some subtle change of expression, but you may find that low speed is giving you a nicer degree of variety than high speed, where you get five images that are mostly the same. Conversely, if I'm shooting let's say a bicycle race and there's a very particular moment that I want to capture, and it's going to just be one moment during a very short period of time, I may want to switch to high speed so that I get a very rapid burst through just one second.
Now when you shoot your camera grabs an image and then sticks it in a memory buffer so that it can be dumped out to the card. That buffer only has so much space in it, and once the buffer fills up, the camera will stop shooting until it has cleared out the buffer to the card to free up some more space to shoot. The D800 tells you how much buffer space you have left, or rather, how many shots you have left in the buffer. Right over here on your status display--and this same readout is mirrored inside your viewfinder-- you can see that right now I've got room for 16 shots in my buffer.
As I continuously shoot, that goes down, and shooting continues at full speed until the buffer is full. And you can see that it's-- it's skipping there because it's getting data written out to the card. There we go. So now I just got it to stop, and now as the buffer is emptying out, it's continuing to shoot, but I'm not getting the same speed that I had when the buffer was completely empty. How quickly the camera will be able to write out to the buffer depends on your card speed. So if you do a lot of burst shooting and you want to be sure that you don't get hung up by the buffer filling up, then you're going to need to go to a faster card.
You can customize the Continuous mode a little bit. If I go here into my menu and over here to my Custom Setting menu, down to the d category, Shooting/display, you'll see I have d2, Continuous Low mode shooting speed. This lets you choose the maximum speed for the CL mode. So you can see here, actually I'm at two frames per second, not three. I can bump that up to three if I want. This is very nice for fine-tuning the low speed for slower subject matter. Maybe you only need one frame per second. Maybe you're shooting a tree sloth or something.
Obviously, you can get it up to full speed and then it's five frames per second and then it's really no different than high speed. I can also go down here to the Maximum continuous release. This gives me a maximum number of shots that can be shot in a single burst. Right now, it's 100, which is probably far more than you would ever do. You could lower that if you find that maybe you have a tendency to get a little carried away in burst mode. You get home and realize you shot far more images than you needed in a single burst. You could lower that. This might also be useful if you're using a remote trigger of some kind, like a computer to control your camera.
A lot of remote triggers allow you to specify a time to hold the Shutter button down. So that doesn't really give you control of number of frames; it's just gives you a time that the button is down. This as a way of maybe fine-tuning that process a little more to ensure that in the time that the button is held down, you don't get more than a certain number of shots. Continuous mode is very handy for many different types of shooting, so you'll want to do a little experimenting with that to really get a feel for the difference between low speed and high speed.
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