Regeneration of visual pigments of vertebrate rod and cone photoreceptors occurs by the initial noncovalent binding of 11-cis-retinal to opsin, followed by the formation of a covalent bond between the ligand and the protein. Here, we show that the noncovalent interaction between 11-cis-retinal and opsin affects the rate of dark adaptation. In rods, 11-cis-retinal produces a transient activation of the phototransduction cascade that precedes sensitivity recovery, thus slowing dark adaptation. In cones, 11-cis-retinal immediately deactivates phototransduction. Thus, the initial binding of the same ligand to two very similar G protein receptors, the rod and cone opsins, activates one and deactivates the other, contributing to the remarkable difference in the rates of rod and cone dark adaptation.