Why Should Photographers Care About Shutter Count?
Shutter count, more specifically the shutter actuation count, is something that I think every photographer should know about. Now this isn’t something that will make you a better photographer. It won’t improve your image quality. So maybe some of you won’t find this episode very interesting, but I hope you will hear me out as to why I think shutter count matters.
Definition of a Shutter Actuation
Let’s start by defining what we actually mean by a shutter actuation. Kind of a funny way to word things, but that is the language used to describe the event of your pressing the shutter button on your camera that leads to the shutter inside your camera opening and closing. One shutter press makes one open and close happen.
For DSLRs this also means the mirror flaps up and down once, something that is also important to know. In fact, this can happen even if the mechanical shutter inside your camera wasn’t actuated since digital cameras have supported Live View (when you see the scene on the back LCD) and video recording for quite some time. Not only does that mirror flap up and back down every time the shutter button is pressed, it flaps up when you press the button to enable Live View and back down when you turn it off.
Same goes for shooting video using a DSLR. When you start shooting that mirror has to flip up and when you stop it flaps back down.
If you have never seen slow motion capture of a DSLR flipping the mirror up, releasing the shutter, and then flipping the mirror back down, you have to check out this excellent Inside a Camera at 10,000fps video from the Slow Mo Guys on YouTube.
I am amazed the mirror and shutter curtains work at all. It is incredible to me that we have engineering so competent to make these mechanical pieces move both quickly, precisely, and consistently.
Shutters Don’t Last Forever
As amazed as I am by the engineering feat of the shutter in our digital cameras, it is still a mechanical thing that moves and is therefore placed under stress every time you press that shutter button. Like everything mechanical that moves and is put under stress it will fail. Not a question of if, but when.
Some camera manufacturers include in the marketing information the number of shutter actuations the shutter in the camera is rated to support. I wish all of them did.
Like nearly everything mechanical this shutter count rating is based on the mean time before failure (MTBF). Testing shows on average how long the shutter mechanism lasts and that is the number they give us in the marketing materials when the camera is released.
Not all shutter mechanisms are created equal. Over the years the shutters in different camera bodies have been rated to support as few as 50,000 actuations up to as many as 500,000 actuations. Fuji doesn’t seem to publish this number for any of its cameras, but the others seem to make it available. You can find them doing a google search of your camera make and model followed by “shutter lifespan”.
Here are a few of the common makes and models and their shutter lifespan here in 2020:
Canon 90D: 120,000
Canon 5DM4: 150,000
Canon 7DM2: 200,000
Canon 1DX M3: 500,000
Nikon D3400: 100,000
Nikon D750: 150,000
Nikon D850: 200,000
Nikon D5: 400,000
Pentax K7: 100,000
Sony a6500: 200,000
Sony a7R3: 500,000
Sony a9: 500,000
Keep in mind, these numbers are the ratings of the shutter that each should reach on average. Some shutters may fail before that number, most seem to go well past that number. It doesn’t mean that if you look up the shutter count on your camera and it is a few short of this number
What Happens When the Shutter Fails?
There are two common things photographers may observe when the shutter in their camera fails. First is the sound and speed of the shutter is really different. After putting 100,000 shutter actuations on a camera a photographer probably has a really good idea of what the shutter sounds like and how fast it goes. If the sound of the shutter changes, or it starts to stick where it doesn’t go as fast in continuous shooting mode especially, it would be good to find out how many shutter actuations you have and get it in for service.
The second thing you might observe would be seeing the curtain in your photos. It would look like having inconsistent exposure across the frame. Black bars or white bars showing up inconsistently in your images. If you watched the video from the SloMo Guys above, you can imagine why this would happen. The shutter in your camera has to be extremely precise and if there is a mechanical part on that shutter that has failed, or even partially failed, the curtains will no longer be precise enough to keep the exposure even across the entire frame.
How To Check the Number of Shutter Actuations on Your Camera
You would think the shutter actuation count would be in the menus of the cameras. Many of the manufacturers publish the expected actuation count for the shutters in their various models, only makes sense that photographers would want to check the number of actuations that have been put on the camera. Like checking the number of miles put on a car.
Unfortunately, only cameras from Olympus and Panasonic have the shutter actuation count in the menus – though they are hidden service menus. Nikon, Fuji, Pentax, and Sony cameras do the next best thing where you can get the shutter actuation count from photos. Then there is Canon. Canon makes it really hard to get the number, but it is possible on most of their cameras.
Shutter Count From Olympus and Panasonic
Not officially a feature that is supposed to be exposed to photographers, most Olympus and Panasonic cameras will show the shutter actuation count in their hidden service menus. These are menus designed to be used by repair professionals, but they are accessed via button sequences so there isn’t anything preventing a photographer from doing the same.
The best resource I have seen to help you with this is from Peter Walkenhorst’s excellent https://www.apotelyt.com/. Peter started the website as he was doing extensive research and testing on Leica’s APO-Telyt range of telephoto lenses back in 2011, but he has expanded the site significantly and has a section dedicated to getting the shutter actuation count from cameras.
You can find the button sequences for getting the shutter actuation count from many Olympus cameras here: https://www.apotelyt.com/camera-find/olympus-mft-shutter-count
You can find the button sequences for getting the shutter actuation count from many Panasonic MFT cameras here: https://www.apotelyt.com/camera-find/panasonic-g-shutter-count and Panasonic L-mount cameras here: https://www.apotelyt.com/camera-find/panasonic-s-shutter-count.
Shutter Count From Nikon, Fuji (Some), Pentax, and Sony Cameras
I think the shutter actuation count should be made available to photographers in the camera menus, but the next best thing is what you can do with most Nikon, Pentax, and Sony cameras. Getting the shutter count from most of those cameras is as simple as taking a photo in JPEG format and reading the shutter count from the EXIF data of the photo.
Some Fuji cameras released since 2017 also put the shutter count in the EXIF data. Even if you shoot raw, I recommend temporarily switching to shooting JPEG for getting the shutter count because you are more likely to have it work. Some EXIF readers won’t work with raw formats.
There are a lot of tools photographers can use to pull the shutter count out of the EXIF data from a recent photo for Nikon, Pentax, and Sony cameras. There are several websites like:
I have tested all of these websites and they do indeed extract the shutter count using the EXIF data of a photo that is uploaded to their website. Again, I recommend you take a shot of no value in JPEG format for the purpose of uploading that image to one of these websites if you have a Nikon, Fuji, Pentax, or Sony camera.
If you don’t want to upload a photo to one of these websites, and you are willing to use a command line utility, you can also download a free EXIF reader from https://exiftool.org/. It is available for Mac, PC, and Linux. Once installed you can use a command line to read EXIF data from a huge number of raw formats, and it supports JPEG as well.
Notice that I have not said you can get the shutter count using the EXIF data for ALL Nikon, Fuji, Pentax, and Sony cameras. For Fuji it has to be a model released on or after 2017, and even then it doesn’t seem to be that all models put this in the EXIF data as I couldn’t get a shutter count from images I shot using a Fuji X-T3. If the Fuji camera doesn’t put the shutter count in the EXIF data, photographers are out of luck. I haven’t found any other option for getting the information from a Fuji camera that doesn’t put it in the EXIF data (except for the Fuji X100-series where it is right there in the menu!).
It looks like nearly all of the cameras from Nikon, Pentax, and Sony put the shutter count into the EXIF data of every photo, but there may be some models that do not and I obviously don’t have every model to test.
Shutter Count from Canon Cameras
Canon has not made it easy for photographers to get the shutter actuation count from their cameras. There was a brief period of time where a few models of Canon cameras put the shutter count into the EXIF data like Nikon, Fuji, Pentax, and Sony. It looks like there may be something like 9 models that put the shutter count in the EXIF data. There were all models released prior to 2011and it looks like if you have the latest firmware on one of those models it stops putting the shutter count in there.
Still, there is a way to get the shutter actuation count from Canon cameras. Though there are two big downsides to doing this with Canon cameras.
- You have to license an application you run on your computer and then you have to connect the camera to your computer via USB.
- Most of the software solutions seem a little sketchy. The software comes from international developers and there are no guarantees that the programs don’t have malware in them.
If you want to go through the effort it takes to get the shutter actuation count from your Canon camera, check out my article Getting Shutter Actuation Count From Canon Cameras.
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