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 a few cameras eschew the mechanical shutter altogether!

Up until recent years, mechanical shutters were the standard. They were physically operated by the camera’s body and opened and closed like a pair of window blinds 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

Mechanical shutters consist of two ‘curtains’ that expose the sensor or film for a set duration. These dual curtains ensure uniform exposure across the sensor. The first curtain triggers the exposure, followed by the second curtain, which concludes it.

They work by using a spring mechanism to rapidly move the shutter curtains in front of and away from the image sensor. The duration that the shutter is what is called the shutter speed and it can vary from a fraction of a second to several seconds, even minutes. That said, most cameras are limited to 30 or 60-second exposure in an automatic mode. If you want a longer exposure you have to switch to bulb mode.

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 blind or 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 a 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, potentially making them ideal for capturing fast-moving action.

Whats’ more, electronic shutters are more reliable, as there are no 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.

Modern cameras switch to using their electronic shutter when they are set to silent shooting mode.

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

Nikon Z8 front/side
Like the Nikon Z9, the Nikon Z8 doesn’t have a mechanical shutter, only an electronic shutter

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 most new cameras, is no longer necessary in modern photography – provided that the sensor has a fast readout speed.

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. That’s because the data is read from the sensor pixels line-by-line. The solution to this problem is technological because it requires faster sensor readout speeds. The ultimate goal is what is known as a ‘global shutter‘. This is a sensor that is capable of reading out all the data from a shot at the same time. Currently, the Sony A9 III is the only consumer camera with a global shutter that has been announced.

Electronic shutters may also struggle with banding under certain lighting conditions and have limitations in flash synchronisation. Again, that’s because of the line-by-line data readout from the sensor. The short duration of a flash, or the flicker of some light, means that the exposure is different across the sensor.

Banding issues can often be resolved by adjusting the shutter speed to match the light source’s flicker cycle. Many cameras now feature Anti-flicker settings to counteract these effects during exposure.

While the mechanical shutter still has some advantages, the electronic shutter has become the preferred choice for some camera manufacturers. With its faster shutter speeds, silent operation and improved control over exposure, the electronic shutter has the potential to be 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, Nikon Z8 and Sony A9 III, no longer even have a mechanical shutter.

Electronic Front Curtain Shutter: A Hybrid Approach

Some modern cameras feature a hybrid shutter system, combining electronic and mechanical elements. TKnown as an electronic front curtain, this system starts the exposure electronically and ends it mechanically. While not silent, it offers a faster response and higher flash sync speeds than purely mechanical or electronic shutters. However, it can still be susceptible to banding and may affect bokeh at high speeds.

How to Choose Between Electronic and Mechanical Shutters

Opt for an electronic shutter for high-speed continuous shooting, silent operation, and capturing rapid movements. In outdoor settings with flash, or to avoid rolling shutter distortion, a mechanical shutter or an Electronic Front-Curtain Shutter is preferable.

Which Cameras have an Electronic Shutter?

The following currently available cameras have both an electronic shutter and a mechanical shutter unless otherwise stated:

Canon EOS R3
Canon EOS R5
Canon EOS R6
Canon EOS R7
Canon EOS R10
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III
Canon EOS 90D
Canon EOS 850D
Canon EOS M50 Mark II

Nikon Z9 – electronic shutter only
Nikon Z8 – electronic shutter only
Nikon Zf
Nikon Z7 II
Nikon Z6 II
Nikon Z5
Nikon Z30
Nikon Zfc
Nikon D6
Nikon D780
Nikon D850

Sony A9 III Electronic shutter only
Sony A1
Sony A7CR
Sony a7C II
Sony ZV-E1 Electronic shutter only
Sony A7R III
Sony A7 IV
Sony A6700
Sony ZV-E10

Olympus and OM System
Olympus OM-D E-M1 III
Olympus OM-D E-M5 III
Olympus OM-D E-M10 IV

Fujifilm GFX100 II
Fujifilm GFX100S
Fujifilm GFX50S
Fujifilm GFX50S II
Fujifilm GFX50R
Fujifilm GFX100

Fujifilm X-Pro3
Fujifilm X-T5
Fujifilm X-T30 II
Fujifilm X-E4
Fujifilm X-T200
Fujifilm X-S20
Fujifilm X-H2
Fujifilm X-H2S
Fujifilm X-100V

Panasonic Lumix S5 II
Panasonic Lumix S5 IIX
Panasonic Lumix S1H
Panasonic Lumix S1R
Panasonic Lumix S1
Panasonic Lumix GH6
Panasonic Lumix G9 II
Panasonic Lumix GH5 II
Panasonic Lumix G100

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