HOW TO... Electronic shutter vs mechanical shutter: differences explained

Nikon Z9 review

One of the questions we’re often asked by readers is, What’s the difference between an electronic shutter vs a mechanical shutter in a camera? As mirrorless cameras have become the standard in recent years, you’ve probably noticed in press announcements how these cameras can achieve one frame rate with their mechanical shutter and a faster frame rate with their electronic shutter. And some cameras eschew the mechanical shutter altogether!

Up until the last several years, mechanical shutters were the standard. They were physically operated by the camera’s body and opened and closed to control the exposure time. In contrast, electronic shutters use electronic signals to control the exposure time. They do not require physical movement of any parts and are, therefore, faster and more accurate.

In fact, an electronic shutter is not a shutter at all. Read on, and we’ll explain how both an electronic shutter vs mechanical shutter work and why you should embrace this new technology.

How a mechanical shutter works

A mechanical shutter works by opening a physical gate in front of the camera’s sensor for a specific amount of time, allowing light to reach the sensor and create an image. They work by using a spring mechanism to rapidly move the shutter curtains in front of and away from the image sensor. The speed at which the shutter opens and closes is what is called the shutter speed and can vary from a fraction of a second to sometimes 60 seconds.

How an electronic shutter is different and more efficient

An electronic shutter isn’t actually a shutter in the traditional sense. There is no physical opening and closing of a gate. The electronic shutter is in fact just a different way of saying that the camera’s sensor exposes itself to light and then doesn’t. When we say that a camera uses its electronic shutter, what we mean is that it uses a fast electronic signal to turn on and off the light-sensitive pixels in its sensor. This allows for a faster and more accurate exposure, as there is no physical movement to introduce vibration or lag.

Advantages of an electronic shutter over mechanical shutter

Electronic shutters are more accurate and provide more control over exposure time. They also have a higher maximum shutter speed, allowing for faster exposures, making them ideal for capturing fast-moving action.

Whats’ more, electronic shutters are more reliable, as there are fewer moving parts that can break or wear out over time.

One of the other main advantages of electronic shutters vs mechanical shutters is the lack of noise. Mechanical shutters are noisy because of the physical movement of the shutter curtains, whereas electronic shutters are silent because the image sensor is electronically controlling the exposure to light.

Shutter noise won’t bother most photographers, but if you’re a photojournalist or a wildlife photographer and you need to be quiet and blend into the background, the silent photography an electronic shutter provides can be crucial to getting a shot.

Why a mechanical shutter is no longer needed

With the advancement of technology, electronic shutters have become the norm in modern mirrorless cameras. They offer a more accurate and efficient means of capturing images and provide greater control over exposure time. The mechanical shutter, while still a component in some new cameras, is no longer necessary in modern photography.

Disadvantages of electronic shutters, and how to improve

One of the main disadvantages of electronic shutters is the “rolling shutter effect,” where a moving object can appear skewed in an image because the exposure is not simultaneous across the entire sensor. This can be improved by using higher refresh rates or by using specialised sensors that minimize the rolling shutter effect.

But while the mechanical shutter still has some advantages, the electronic shutter has become the preferred choice for camera manufacturers. With its faster shutter speeds, silent operation and improved control over exposure, the electronic shutter is a much more efficient and useful tool for capturing images.

As technology continues to improve, the mechanical shutter will become increasingly obsolete and the electronic shutter will take its place. Already we are seeing that some cameras, such as the Nikon Z9, no longer even have a mechanical shutter.


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