Learn the Terms > Continuous Drives

Continuous Drives

Never miss a moment of action

A continuous drive on a digital camera let you take multiple photos rapidly one after the other. You just hold down the button that takes a photograph and the camera will keep taking photos until the memory runs out of room.

Why a Continuous Drive is Useful

Continuous drives are only useful if you are going to be taking a lot of actions shots. They are ideal for kids and pets when they don't want to sit still for the camera. With a continuous drive, you can take photos in quick bursts. This increases your chances that at least one of the photos you take will be a keeper.

One-shot Mode vs. Continuous Drive

When digital cameras are set to their one-shot mode, you push the shutter release button to take a photograph. If you hold down the shutter release button you will still get just one photo.

In continuous drive mode, the camera will keep taking pictures until it's internal processor runs out of room. At that point the camera stops taking photos in order to process and save the ones you've taken. Once it gets done processing, then it is ready to take some more.

There are two variables that affect the performance of a continuous drive on a digital camera: frames per second and the camera internal memory buffer.

Frames Per Second (or Frame Rate)

A frame equivalent to a single photograph, so the frames per second is the number of photos that can be captured by the camera in one second of time.

For example, one camera might have a frame rate of 3 frames per second (FPS). Another might have 5 FPS. The higher the number, the more photos you can capture in one second when holding down the shutter release.

Camera Memory Buffer

Digital cameras have a limited amount of intenal memory to store photos. They need this memory to temporarily store a photo while it is being processed and saved to the memory card.

If the camera has a small amount of internal memory, you may only be able to take 5 photos in rapid succession before the camera stops. This has nothing to do with the frame rate. You can have a camera with a frame rate of 10 FPS, but if it only has a maximum buffer capacity of 5 frames, then the camera will have to pause after 5 shots before it's ready to take some more.

This is only a problem if you miss a moment of peak action and want to start taking more photos. The amount of time it takes cameras to save everything to a memory card varies, but if you fill the buffer, it can be 15 to 30 seconds before the camera will let you take another photograph.

Here are some examples of different frame rate and internal memory buffer combinations:

Frame Rate (FPS)Continuous Photos
2.6 fps6
2.2 fps12
8 fps40

Pay special attention to this last one. This is a camera for the die-hard action photographer (or someone with a lot of kids and pets). If you do a bit of math, you will figure out that this camera lets you take the digital equivalent of almost 2 rolls of regular 24 exposure film in about 5 seconds.

The Basic Rule of Thumb

If you are going to be photographing a lot of fast-moving subjects, find a camera with a good frame rate and a high number of total frames. This will let you take many photos quickly. It will also ensure that your camera doesn't stop taking photos to process right when you're set up to get the shot of a lifetime.

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