Forgotten in its old age

by Aditya

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When looking at used camera bodies, a question that comes up a lot, is "how many shutter actuations, or clicks, does it have?"

What I am wondering is, how many is too many. In other words, is there a reference for knowing when a sensor is more likely to go? How should I judge a camera body with 20000 vs 5000? Is that a significant difference, or is that not even relevant.

Obviously this might something that is dependent on model, so if there is some information based on model that would be even more interesting.

One of the guys at Canon Tech Support said that this is completely irrelevant for the Rebel series cameras, but he is obviously slightly biased. :)

Thanks!

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I really had no clue what tags to use for this, so if I missed one, go ahead and fix it. –  BBischof Oct 7 '10 at 20:37
    
"is there a reference for knowing when a sensor is more likely to go?" - it is not about the sensor really but the shutter life –  kristof Oct 8 '10 at 10:57
    
I am quite surprised at the actuation count myself as I own a Canon 450D which I have put 20k on in a few months and have a Sony A55 which has over 170k. The Sony is 10 months old and it will have 200k actuations before the end of November 2011. I wonder if the warranty stands if it breaks down with this many actuations on it. Every time I go out I end up rattling off anywhere from 500 to 2000 shots. –  user7132 Nov 1 '11 at 22:32
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Keep in mind a dead shutter is not necessarily the end of a camera's life. For a low end Rebel it might not be worth it to spend $300-400 to replace a shutter. But on a $6,000 1D X or a $3,500 5DIII it certainly would be. –  Michael Clark Jun 19 '13 at 15:36

5 Answers 5

up vote 26 down vote accepted

A great resource for looking at camera bodies and shutter life is the Camera Shutter Life Expectancy Database. For those that have DSLR's, spread the word and submit your #'s!

Different camera bodies have different MTBF ratings. Some more important factors are how the person cared for their camera and the typical environment. Regular dust cleaning, for example, helps a lot.

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This is very interesting, thanks for the link! The 450D section is very heartening. :) –  BBischof Oct 8 '10 at 1:36
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I have accepted this answer for the following reason, this is a much more scientific approach to the question than what Canon puts out, and I am a scientist. Many of the other answers were good, and even great, but I have to pick one. –  BBischof Oct 8 '10 at 3:47
    
Perhaps, but that database surely has a great deal of sample bias. I would hope Canon is doing some sort of controlled testing to come up with their numbers. –  Reid Aug 27 '11 at 17:24
    
yup, and some of the numbers are just off the chart. Looked at the range for the D200, one user was listed as almost 2.5 million actuations and no failure, another listed as under 2000 and no failure. The first is clearly bogus, the second useless data. –  jwenting Nov 2 '11 at 7:21

A Word About Shutter Ratings

Shutter actuation counts are computed in a similar way to hard drive "mean time before failure" ratings. It is impossible, practically speaking, to physically test a hard drive under normal usage until it physically dies enough times to actually get statistically useful results. If a company tried to, they would spend some 11 years testing out hard drives that needed to have an MTBF of 100,000 hours. Instead, they perform an accelerated test on a high sample count of hard drives by putting them under high stress, and compute an average, statistically useful MTBF based on the failure times of all the drives in the test.

Shutter actuation counts are computed in the same way. A high number of shutter samples from a batch are tested in continuous tests until they fail, and the average failure rate from the whole set of sample shutters is computed. A shutter rated for 100,000 actuations came from a batch that failed at around 100,000 actuations during testing, which is a pretty average number for most entry and mid level DSLR cameras. A shutter rated for 300,000 actuations came from a particularly good batch, or a batch manufactured with more stringent specifications.

Face Value

You should take a shutter actuation rating at face value. First off, they are computed to be statistically accurate. While there are always flukes in any set of statistics, and you may end up with a shutter that lasts half as long or twice as long as its rated lifetime, generally speaking they should last for as long as they are rated. Second, statistical ratings like MTBF or shutter actuation counts tend to be pessimistic, rather than optimistic. I guess this alleviates legal pressure from those who like to sue over petty things, and gives more weight to the rating.

Usage and Enviromnent

Your personal experience with shutter lifetime may be dependent upon how you use it. If you put an entry-level DSLR through professional-grade usage, with continuous burst shots of sports or wildlife action in rugged, dirty, or moist environments, then you could quite likely get consistently less use out of a shutter than its rated at. On the other hand, if you put a highe end professional camera through more mild use and take extremely good care of your gear, the shutter could last considerably longer than its rating. A shutter rated for 300,000 actuations (i.e. the ones used in a Canon EOS-1Ds MkIII series body) is not only manufactured to a higher spec, but tested by continually activating a sample until the shutter fails. At worst, you may continually activate a shutter for a couple hours at a time, after which the camera is stored until its next use.

If you are looking into buying a camera with a lower shutter rating, say 20,000, make sure that you understand how you intend to use it. I bought my first camera ever, a Canon Rebel XSi (450D) about 18 months ago. I burned through 5000 shots in the first two months with it, and have over 10,000 shots on it so far. I expect this body to last me at least a few years, and if it only had a rating of 20,000 shutter actuations, it would probably be done by the end of this year. When it comes to most DSLR's, I think the lowest shutter rating is 100,000, so generally its not a problem. I can't say for P&S cams, though, but I would say that a shutter rating of 5000 is not going to go very far at all, and something along the lines of 20,000 actuations would be more reasonable. This assumes it has a shutter...many P&S cameras use electronic shutters.

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These are some very good points. –  BBischof Oct 8 '10 at 1:20
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A word about reliability testing. Fortunately it is possible to get meaningful estimates of expected lifetime without testing for the full lifetime. The technique is known as sudden death testing and typically can get results in only 25% or less of the time to do full testing. The following reference explains the technique weibull.com/hotwire/issue5/hottopics5.htm –  labnut Oct 8 '10 at 13:18

Different camera shutters are rated for different numbers of actuations as you state so that should influence how many is too many.

Also actuations will roughly correlate with how well used the camera is, so that might indicate wear or the mount / body / battery. Battery wear is probably most significant.

Having owned SLRs that have had shutters fail from overuse, the first thing to go is the high speeds. First you get black frames when shooting 1/4000, then at 1/1000, then it gives up.

Canon DSLR manufacturer stated shutter life expectancies:

  • Canon EOS Digital Rebel XS / 1000D 100,000
  • Canon EOS Digital Rebel T1i / 500D 100,000
  • Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi / 450D 100,000
  • Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi / 400D 50,000
  • Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT / 350D 50,000
  • Canon EOS 70D 100,000
  • Canon EOS 60D 100,000
  • Canon EOS 50D 100,000
  • Canon EOS 40D 100,000
  • Canon EOS 30D 100,000
  • Canon EOS 20D 50,000
  • Canon EOS 7D 150,000
  • Canon EOS 6D 100,000
  • Canon EOS 5D Mark III 150,000
  • Canon EOS 5D Mark II 150,000
  • Canon EOS 5D 100,000
  • Canon EOS 1D X 400,000
  • Canon EOS 1D Mark IV 300,000
  • Canon EOS 1D Mark III 300,000
  • Canon EOS 1D Mark II N 200,000
  • Canon EOS 1DS Mark III 300,000
  • Canon EOS 1DS Mark II 200,000

source: www.the-digital-picture.com

AS this shows, the results for the cheaper models are becoming very respectable, either the quality of manufacture is getting better or more testing is leading to less conservative estimates (I suspect the latter). I've seen shutters go way past the expected life so the shutter count is not the be all and end all, if the Camera is visibly in good nick I wouldn't worry unduly about what's under the surface.

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I suspected this relationship. –  BBischof Oct 7 '10 at 22:33
    
Thanks for the added info! –  BBischof Oct 8 '10 at 1:20
    
I suspect both are true. As manufacturing of shutters becomes cheaper, it's less expensive to put the same shutter you put into a (semi)pro body into a consumer body as well (with maybe different actuators, the more expensive body getting faster actuators to give better response times, though that can be controlled in software as well). So internally the cameras may well be mostly identical except the software on the lowend body prevents the camera from making full use of its potential. –  jwenting Nov 2 '11 at 7:24

I have shot over 100K photos with my Rebel T1i. I do sport shooting and will shoot between 2K and 3K worth of photos a game. With just under 3 years of shooting and some 20 games a season as well as other life events I am surprised how well it has held up.

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welcome to Photography on StackExchange. Thanks for sharing. I edited your answer a bit to focus in on the relevant information. Thanks for contributing and I hope you'll stick around with the community. –  AJ Henderson Sep 17 '13 at 16:53

Most camera manufacturers will publish information on the average shutter life. For example with Canon, I believe the rebels are rated for 10,000 activations, the 40D, 50D, 60D units are rated for 50,000 activations, and the higher-end units for 100,000 activations.

These are ballpark figures... a camera with an "average" life of 50,000 activations might fail at 20,000 or it could be good for 70,000.

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These numbers are frustratingly low. I would have expected them all to be much higher, in particular the Rebels are pretty sad :/ –  BBischof Oct 7 '10 at 22:34
    
The 1D(s) series are 300,000 for the later models 200,00 for the earlier models and the 5DmkII is 150,000. I can't seem to find any definitive information about the digital rebels. –  Matt Grum Oct 7 '10 at 23:29
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The Rebels are rated for 100,000 actuations, as are the 50D and 60D. I've had my Rebel XSi for just a little over a year, and have done well over 10,000 shots. That number would be ludicrous for any DSLR. I can see point and shoot cameras having lower actuation counts, but when it comes to DSLR types or maybe micro3/4, 100,000 is probably the lowest you should find these days. For reference, see the chart about 2/3rds of the way down on this page: the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/… –  jrista Oct 7 '10 at 23:40
    
Regarding the "average" activations, thats what the rated numbers are. If a camera has a shutter lifetime of 100,000 activations, that is the average expectancy for that particular kind of shutter, not the absolute maximum. This is based on accelerated high-volume tests, where thousands of shutters are continually activated for a fixed amount of time, and the failure rate is computed across the full set of shutters in the sample. If you have a shutter rated for 100,000 actuations, then you should expect to get about 100,000 actuations out of it under normal use. –  jrista Oct 7 '10 at 23:45
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-1, are there any sources confirming those beliefs or are the numbers wrong? There seem to be sources giving higher numbers. –  Imre Nov 2 '11 at 8:18

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