Canon DSLRs have an option to shoot pictures when there is no card installed in the camera. This option is enabled by default, and it got me too many times before I realized it can be disabled in the menu.

I was wondering what is the use of such mode. The only one I could think of is when you shoot tethered. Are there any other cases where it would make sense to shoot without a card?


The main reason for this option is commercial - it allows the camera to be tried out in a shop and see the result of their test. Without this, you wouldn't be able to properly try out cameras. Normally, cameras allow just a small number of test shots to be stored.

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  • You can also fire a test shot which is stored so you can clean the sensor and fire another shot to compare the two. (Nikon, not sure about other manufacturers) – Graeme Hutchison Jan 9 '12 at 21:48
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    To add to this, historically memory cards have been very expensive. When digital cameras were first coming to market, a few hundred dollars on a memory card wasn't uncommon, and even the small capacity cards(at that time) were expensive. Camera shops don't want people to steal the expensive cards, and thus, this made it possible to 'test' without. – dpollitt Jan 9 '12 at 22:05

To check your camera is functioning properly before investing another $100 in a high-end card :)

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    You mean "to check that your $2000 camera is functioning properly before investing another $100 in a high-end card"? :) – a CVn Jan 10 '12 at 12:23
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    you got me right, ;) – Hasin Hayder Jan 10 '12 at 13:47

tethered seems the only viable option to me as well. That said, many old 35mm cameras would happily snap away all day without film loaded, sometimes leaving even experienced photographers with that "oh no, what have I done" feeling when they suddenly realised they've not changed film in hours. Maybe Canon did it for backwards compatibility reasons (the type of design document stating requirements as "should work identical to the previous model" and that one allowed shooting without film loaded because noone'd ever thought to block the shutter) :)

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    Besides tethering, it also allows camera shops to let customers try out cameras in store without having to have a stock of memory cards to hand. – NickM Jan 9 '12 at 9:00

I think the option exists because all images are written first to buffer memory. A separate process moves them out to the card, but that's independent of the image capture. If there is no card, there is no reason why the camera couldn't capture images until the buffer was full.

So it would be more a matter of why disable that ability?

Why would you want to use it? Apart from tethering, I guess if your card became faulty or you left it in your card reader and you wanted to capture a few shots you could do so.

Edit: see commment below - obviously if no cameras write to the card once inserted, you have no way of getting the image off the camera and my suggestion wouldn't hold water :)

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  • Does the camera write the files when a card is inserted? – Imre Jan 9 '12 at 10:16
  • Some cameras may, but not on my D90. If I do not have a card inserted, the image says "Demo" which backs Nick's comment. – MikeW Jan 9 '12 at 10:39
  • @Imre: Canons don't. Images captured w/o a card are displayed in the back LCD then thrown away. – Miguel Jan 10 '12 at 7:23

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