Alley in Pisa, Italy

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I know there's lots of talk around here about 'noise' levels in photographs, but what about the actual sound that the shutter makes on an SLR? Is there anyway to silence it a bit, or is it just a reality that we have to deal with?

I currently have a Nikon D90 and find that in quieter settings (like a church) the noise from the shutter can be a bit distracting to people around me (i haven't had anyone mention it, but I'm guessing it's apparent). Do higher-end models have quieter functioning modes, perhaps?

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...but it's such a beautiful sound! :-( –  Jason S Sep 14 '10 at 23:24
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you should hear the Canon xxxD/Rebel series - like a cartoon. –  icelava Sep 17 '10 at 14:06
    
The Nikon D7000 is relatively quiet, but the D700, 800, 600 etc are loud. I don't know why this isn't a high priority to Nikon as it is very annoying when photographing acoustic music, theatre, etc. from the front of the stage. I have been scolded by performers and audiences many times. The so called 'quiet mode' is not quiet but actually has a double sound making it almost worse. –  user13329 Nov 1 '12 at 8:52
    
If you want a sound that even makes pro photographers a bit wet... get an old hasselblad :-) –  Darkcat Studios Nov 2 '12 at 8:49
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The loudest sound in a DSLR camera is probably not the shutter but the mirror moving up and down, called "mirrorslap". –  Esa Paulasto Aug 1 '13 at 6:08
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8 Answers 8

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Most of the noise is actually not the shutter, but the mirror folding up.

My camera actually have two different ways of reducing this noise somewhat:

  • It has a "quiet" mode, that lets you fold up the mirror and take the picture in two separate actions. Although that doesn't make less noise, you can separate the louder noise of the mirror foldup from the moment of taking the picture.

  • You can use live view for taking pictures. That folds up the mirror, opens the shutter and shows the image on the LCD screen. When you take an image the shutter closes, then acts normally for taking the image, then opens again for live view.

On some Canon DSLRs, the Live View trick requires one of the 'Silent Shooting' modes to be enabled (if disabled, it still flips the mirror up/down for exposure metering, rather than using the imaging sensor).

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Pay attention to the fact that live view exposes the sensor for a long time, increasing the long exposure noise as the sensor warms up :) –  AlberT Sep 15 '10 at 8:03
    
@AlberT: Good point. Each method of course have drawbacks, like that with the first method the viewfinder goes black once you have folded up the mirror, and with the second method autofocus is a lot slower. –  Guffa Sep 15 '10 at 9:49
    
I hadn't thought about using the liveview in that way - thanks for the suggestion –  newfie_coder Sep 15 '10 at 19:37
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The Canon 5D Mark III has a silent shutter mode. This reduces the mirror slap sound significantly, and is great in most situations. But it comes at the cost of a couple of frames per second if you're shooting in continuous mode.

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Unless you lock the mirror, it will make a noise, I would'nt start trying to modify the camera, but you could possibly try a waterproof housing (or modify that)

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Bear in mind that the shutter release/mirror slap noise sounds much louder to the photographer than it does to others.

This is because, in the first place, it is so close to your ears, and secondly the camera is pressed against your face causing some additional sound to reach your ears by bone conduction.

In practice few people expect silent cameras. I suspect that in many cases it is only the photographer who thinks it is too loud, for the reasons above.

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The real answer is the same as it was fifty years ago -- use a blimp. Naturally, constructing a blimp is a little more complicated than it once was, and you may have to forgo some features to get there (you can't as easily create mechanical linkages to all of the controls on a modern DSLR as you could on a film camera). If your autofocus and autoexposure are reliable, though, all you'd really need to link to is the shutter. As long as the sound is adequately damped at the body, the minor amount of leakage at the lens (from leaving the zoom ring exposed) shouldn't be enough to bother anybody except at a recording session.

If you can't find a commercial blimp, it's easy enough to construct one. Just be wary of overheating (something that wasn't a concern in the film days).

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You can try a WR lens. There isn't really a solution as it is a mechanical problem, mostly from the mirror slapping. One person has tried dampening it himself, but that probably messes up the mirror angle and is generally something you don't want to mess with.

No DSLR is aimed to alleviate this, save the K-7. Most shutters sound different, some more high frequency, some lower, etc. You can find a lot of videos on youtube to compare if it is a major factor for you.

K-7 vs A900 for reference http://youtube.com/watch?v=6SzFL1FoheM

If you don't mind shooting without an optical viewfinder, you can get a m4/3 or try LiveView (some cameras won't flip the mirror at all during shots)

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FTR, Pentax has kept this up with the K-5 model, which replaces the K-7. theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2010/… –  mattdm Apr 26 '11 at 20:05
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The Nikon D5000 has a "Quiet Mode", which Ken Rockwell claims is quieter than his Leica. The D300s also has a Quiet Mode, but apparently it is not as useful as the D5000's.

Aside from buying a new camera, I don't think there's much you can do to decrease the noise.

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I wonder if the new D7000 will have this feature? –  newfie_coder Sep 15 '10 at 19:38
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On the claim that it's quieter than a Leica, with no mirror and a cloth shutter: "How did I measure this? I used my ears! Fire a Leica M7 and then snap a D5000 in Quiet Mode, and they are about the same." Also, he then says "I'm actually much better in audio than I am at photography", a point which I will not contest. –  mattdm Apr 26 '11 at 20:52
    
The D7000 does have a "Quiet Mode", but it's just slower than the regular single-shot mode. I don't think it's that much quieter. –  Evan Krall Apr 26 '11 at 20:58
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Unfortunately since the shutter is a mechanical device on almost all DSLR, it is prone to making noise. There is no way to reduce this short of using an external case body to dampen the sound (I seriously doubt these even exist).

One potential work around is to consider using a compact digicam, or even a bridge camera with an electrical shutter, which can be silences via software when you need to shoot in quiet area's. This is not necessarily ideal, but it is better than not getting the shot at all.

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Actually sound proof enclosures do exist, they're expensive but they work and are used in areas where shutter noise absolutely must be eliminated, such as on a live set or classical concert: soundblimp.com –  Matt Grum Sep 15 '10 at 7:12
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