When is the Best Time to Use a Mechanical or Electronic Shutter?

Crop sensor cameras, advantages of full frame camera vs crop, APSC crop frame vs full frame, mechanical and electronic shutter camera
Mechanical and Electronic Shutter camera

Were you aware that there are advantages and disadvantages to a mechanical and electronic shutter in your camera? In fact, many photographers may not even be aware their camera has the option to switch back and forth. It’s okay if you didn’t, in fact, I purchased a Canon RP and didn’t realize it only had an electronic shutter! So, let’s cover this topic once and for all.

Mechanical Shutter

This is the shutter of your parents and their parents. A mechanical shutter is just as it sounds. It is a physical barrier that opens and closes to allow light into the camera body to expose the sensor. This is most often a curtain or leaf style, but that is another blog all together!

Any pictures taken prior to the DSLR age was captured with a mechanical shutter. So these shutters are fully capable to take any picture, any time; however, the invention of electronic shutters have made some scenarios much easier and leave less room for error.

Electronic Shutter

An electronic shutter is the newer kid on the block and requires no moving parts. In this mode, the camera just turns off the sensor to act like a shutter closing. This may seem perfect for any and all photography, but there are actually several disadvantages to this style shutter. But between the two, electronic shutters offer speeds that mechanical shutters could only dream of. Many cameras today only offer an electronic shutter, so just because your camera makes the cool shutter noise does not mean you are in mechanical shutter mode.

When to use which shutter mode

A mechanical shutter is a moving part within the camera body and therefore, can cause slight vibration. Even when on a tripod, this vibration can cause the slightest movement and reduce sharpness. This is especially true on long exposure shoots where total stillness is vital to your image quality. Since an electronic shutter has no moving parts and can freely open and close without any movement, this is the perfect mode for those long exposures.

When complete silence is vital to your shooting like with candid street photography or wildlife, only an electronic shutter can offer you this benefit. A mechanical shutter makes that awesome click because that is the sound of the mechanical shutter opening and closing. Electronic shutters add this sound so you know a picture was taken, but you can easily eliminate it with the click of a button.

Electronic shutter downsides

 When it comes to moving subjects, mechanical shutters are king. Because of how an electronic shutter turns off the sensor in a “line by line” fashion, this can cause a strange distortion to your images. However, mechanical shutters are the tried and true method for movement and only rely on shutter speed to capture movement or freeze movement perfectly every time. So if movement is involved, especially fast movement, opt for the mechanical route. But remember that electronic shutters offer much faster speeds, so if there isn’t movement involved but you are in really heavy light, that electronic shutter might become your best friend!

The other major disadvantage of an electronic shutter is flickering lights. Sometimes, artificial light is flickering and we can’t even tell with the human eye, but at higher shutter speeds, your camera can. A mechanical shutter is going to let in light and close the shutter… no problem. But electronic shutters expose rows on the sensor separately. This is happening faster than we can contemplate, but it still can create a banding effect if you aren’t careful. If you see lines across your image (bright, dark, bright, dark) switch to your mechanical shutter and make your life much easier. To this point, many electronic shutters now have options for these types of lights that you can set to prevent this issue.

Conclusion- Mechanical and Electronic Shutter

There it is, advantages and disadvantages to two types of shutters. Now you can feel empowered to head out on your next adventure utilizing every tool at your disposal. If you aren’t sure which options are available on your camera, just check your owner’s manual or drop us a comment. We are always happy to help.

Until next time, God bless and happy shooting everyone!

Also check out The difference in crop sensor and Full frame cameras!

Written by Jon Frederick, Lead Photographer for Seven11

Jon Frederick

I am an internationally exhibited fine arts photographer, blog contributor, and published Christian author. Along with my wife, Kathleen, we are the founders of Seven11 Photography and co-authors of “Immersion: An Inspirational Christian Photography Collection”. “Immersion” is the first devotional of its kind to combine “faith-inspired” photography with individual messages of Christian encouragement, creating a more immersive study you can read, see, and spiritually feel. Our goal is to help fellow Christians deepen their relationship with God by creating studies that go beyond written words. If a picture says a thousand words, our unique approach reaches deep into your thoughts, memories, and emotions, through visual engagement, to deepen your study and actively strengthen your relationship with Jesus Christ.

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