What is the TC-80N3? Simply put it’s part cable release and part intervalometer. Ultimately it’s Canon’s solution for long- and repeated- exposure needs.
The TC-80N3 is compatible with most of Canon’s mid and top end EOS bodies that support a remote release socket. The exception is the entry level (Rebel) line, which uses a 2.5mm TRS connector instead of the proprietary N3 connector—though they do have a cable release of their own.
The 33-inch long (0.85m) cable on the TC-80N3 is easily flexible though not so much that it feels weak or fragile. Moreover, the proprietary N3 connector provides a positive lock when connected to prevent accidental disconnection. Intentionally disconnecting the cable is easily accomplished by pulling on the gray sheath on the connector. All told, the N3 connector is both secure when attached and easy to remove when needed. Finally, the N3 connector used is a right-angle connector that directs the wire for the release forward; this has the added benefit of reducing the profile of the connection.
When it comes to making sharp exposures at shutter speeds of 1/30th and slower, the list of required tools is short, a sturdy tripod, a good tripod head, mirror lock-up, and a cable release.
Why use a cable release instead of the built in timer mode? Control.
While the timer release mode can be used to reduce mirror slap induced vibration, it has nowhere near the level of control. What to start the frame exactly when the wave crashes ashore, click the mirror up and wait for the wave, then click the shutter open.
Canon’s cable releases—both the TC-80N3 and the RS-80N3—provide the same shutter release functionality as the on-camera shutter release. Half pressing the button on the cable release activates the image stabilization and autofocus systems, and a full press of the cable release trips the shutter.
Additionally the cable release has a manual lock that will hold the shutter release in the fully depressed for long exposures. This lock can be used with the bulb exposure mode to keep the shutter open for very long exposures or combined with the continuous release drive mode and faster shutter speeds to fire a burst without having to interact with the camera—though buffer limits still apply.
While the intervalometer functionality requires a battery to function, the cable release functionality is completely passive and works all the time.
The second function of the TC-80N3 is the intervalometer. The intervalometer enables the remote to programmatically trigger the camera in a rather large number of ways. The intervalometer functions of the TC-80N3 requires a CR2032 battery and one is provided in the box. That said, the power requirements for the TC-80N3 is vanishingly small, even without a way to turn it off, it will run for years on a single battery, even with regular use.
The display on the TC-80N3 is a segmented LCD panel similar to what you’d find on a digital watch, it even has a watch like blue-green backlight for programming or checking the settings in the dark.
The intervalometer offers 4 programmable settings, self, int, long and frames. All the timing modes (self, int and long) can be set up to 99 hours 59 minutes and 59 seconds, the frame setting can be set between 0 and 99 exposures.
Self-Timer (self): The self-timer setting controls the amount of time the intervalometer waits before taking the first frame.
Interval Timer (int): The interval setting controls how long the intervalometer waits between successive frames.
Long Exposure (long): The long exposure setting controls how long the TC-80N3 will hold the shutter release closed.
Exposure Count (Frames): The frames setting controls the number of exposures that will be made before the intervalometer automatically stops running.
Programming the TC-80N3 is done by stepping though the 4 modes by pressing the mode button and using the click/scroll jog wheel on the side to step though and set the various timers. Each timer is broken into 3 steps, seconds, minutes, and hours, to facilitate easier programming.
The real tricky part of dealing with the TC-80N3 starts when you start combining multiple settings to get more control and varied results. One of the best resources I’ve found for the TC-80N3 is Canon’s own Digital Learning Center download on it.
Two additional things worth pointing out, first, the TC-80N3’s intervalometer will “half press” the shutter release several seconds before the image is captured. There’s more than enough time for an IS system to settle, focus to be achieved, and metering to be done. Secondly, the only time the manual release on the TC-80N3 doesn’t work is when the intervalometer is holding the shutter closed (i.e. during a long exposure), at any other time when the intervalometer is running, the shutter release on it (or the camera) can be pressed to expose a frame, though doing so doesn’t reset the timer.
Below are the two most used setups I use with my intervalometer.
Time-lapse photography is probably the easiest to setup, only the INT setting needs to be specified. The minimum interval is 1s, for many things I find 5-10 seconds works very nicely. Though obviously the more frames you have the smoother the composited video will be.
Remote Event Capture (self + long)
I’ve used this on occasion to free my hands to run another camera; moreover, I’ve known other photographers to use this setup to shoot events that will occur at a known specific time in the future. This is done by pairing the self-timer and long-exposure timer with a camera set to continuous release. The self-timer is set so the camera starts shooting shortly before it’s necessary and the long exposure time insures the camera will continue firing for however long it’s set to.
The Canon TC-80N3 is not the most used item in my bag, but when it’s needed, there’s really nothing else that can take its place. If you’re sure you won’t need the intervalometer functionality, the Canon RS-80N3 remote switch is a cheaper alternative for just having a cable release, the RS-80N3 is also slightly smaller.