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Electronic Shutter Vs. Mechanical Shutter | Pros & Cons

In the heydays of film, there was only one kind of shutter, the mechanical shutter. They came in two flavors, focal plane and leaf shutter, but both of them served the same purpose; they block light from reaching the film when closed, and move out of the way to let light accumulate on the film while open. Like most things now, the shutter has gone digital, and now includes two more options to control the amount of light: hybrid shutters (electronic first curtain) and fully electronic shutters.

One of the first things that comes to mind when looking at mirrorless cameras is that the sensor should just be able to turn on and off electronically. Why is the shutter even needed? Is it? A few modern digital cameras operate an electronic shutter in a way where the cameras simply power-on the digital sensor for a selected amount of time (think shutter speed); this is called a global electronic shutter.

[REWIND: CANON TO DEBUT NEW ‘GLOBAL SHUTTER’ TECH INTO UPCOMING DSLR?]

Many more cameras like the DSLR/Mirrorless in your bag, to the phone you may be reading this on, incorporate a different method called a rolling electronic shutter. In a rolling shutter, the camera activates one row of pixels at a time across its width. If your camera has Live View functionality, it has an electronic shutter.

Some cameras only use the electronic shutter for live view and video, while others, like the Fuji X-T2, can use it for still photos along with the mechanic shutter. Realizing that some cameras have all-electronic shutters while others have mechanical shutters, it’s obvious that there are pros and cons to both designs. In the video below, Robert Hall talks about some of the advantages and disadvantages of electronic shutters using a Fuji XT-2.

Thoughts

Electronic shutters are usually boasted by still-camera makers as a means to shoot quietly, without the noise of a mechanical shutter. While it might not be the subtle click of a leaf shutter like the one found on cameras like the Fuji X100T, I find it hysterical when people mention the ‘loud’ noise that the shutter in mirrorless cameras make. For photographers considering that noise as “loud” would the mirror slap of a Hasselblad 500CM would be deafening to them?

One of the first tings I did when I owned a Fuji X-T1 was to disable the electronic shutter. To me, the benefits of a silent shutter and insanely fast 1/32000 shutter speed were out weighed by the fact that I could not use flash. Even on Fuji’s spec sheet, it mentions that the electronic shutter is not suitable for fast moving objects, so the fast shutter is a moot point.

If you are a product, macro, or high volume photographer the reduced vibrations and near unlimited shutter lifetime would be beneficial to you, but if you rely on freezing fast moving objects or use flash, it might be best to stick to mechanical shutters – at least for the near future.

About

Justin Heyes wants to live in a world where we have near misses and absolute hits; great love and small disasters. Starting his career as a gaffer, he has done work for QVC and The Rachel Ray Show, but quickly fell in love with photography. When he’s not building arcade machines, you can find him at local flea markets or attending car shows.

Explore his photographic endeavors here.

Website: Justin Heyes
Instagram: @jheyesphoto

Comments [2]

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  1. Bing Putney

    The electronic shutter was one of the biggest reasons I bought my Sony A7R ii.  I shoot on-set stills for TV and movies, and the silent shutter mode is a game changer for that type of work.  To use a DSLR on set, you need a massive sound blimp to dampen the shutter sound, which is a huge pain, and gives you access to exactly one button, the shutter itself.  I still see photographers with their blimps and I want to scream “There’s a better way!”

    That being said, whenever I’m shooting anything other than on-set work, I use the mechanical shutter (with electronic first curtain).

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  2. Josh Leavitt

    Mechanical shutters will continue to be the mainstay of professional photographic exposure until 2019, or perhaps 2020. But not much longer thereafter. Canon has revealed they’ve created a global CMOS shutter for their 2/3″ sensor, and the Fuji-Panasonic venture in organic CMOS sensor development is anticipated to enter mass market by the end of the decade. These new sensor technologies solve both the current issues plaguing e-shutters: 1) rolling shutter, and 2) flash sync. 

    The global e-shutter capability, be it Canon’s CMOS tech or Fuji/Panny organic CMOS, is perhaps the most innovative and revolutionary technology the digital photography world will see this decade. Namely because flash sync will be possible at speeds as fast as 1/32000 second, battery life and camera longevity will be improved without mechanical constraints, and image quality will be improved from lack of vibrations. Also, cameras will be smaller, lighter, and less expansive without the need for a mechanical shutter.

    Mechanical shutters are great now, and it’s truly amazing they’re capable of reaching speeds as fast as 1/8000 of a second. But their days are certainly numbered.

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