We investigated the efficacy of optogenetic inhibition at presynaptic terminals using halorhodopsin, archaerhodopsin and chloride-conducting channelrhodopsins. Precisely timed activation of both archaerhodopsin and halorhodpsin at presynaptic terminals attenuated evoked release. However, sustained archaerhodopsin activation was paradoxically associated with increased spontaneous release. Activation of chloride-conducting channelrhodopsins triggered neurotransmitter release upon light onset. Thus, the biophysical properties of presynaptic terminals dictate unique boundary conditions for optogenetic manipulation.