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Most of the time people recognise a photo is being captured when they hear the trademark CLAP-CLAP sound of the moving mirror. The sound (regardless of its source) is even useful for the photographer who then knows the camera really worked when (s)he pressed the shutter release. Many compacts make the sound electronically if the camera is otherwise too quiet to hear.

Mirror-slap is not the only source of sound. The question is, what makes sound in a DSLR camera, for having a list of all sources of sound that a DSLR creates.

Other questions have been asking about specific sounds, for example:

Curiousity to these noises rose from a question (in Flickr) where a surprised new owner of a Sony SLT A77 asked about the loud sound he hears when taking a photo. The sound soon turned out to be coming from the lens he used, not from his camera. There sure is a lot of things in motion when we take a photograph.

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Your phone's camera is probably silent (when speaker is muted). Flash whistling sound question has been answered here: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/5832/… –  bRad Gibson May 6 '13 at 7:23
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If you need a quiet camera, you have to look for a camera without a mirror and with an electronic shutter like Panasonics GH3. –  ceving May 6 '13 at 8:35
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The Fukifilm X100s is getting rave reviews for its silent operation. It has a control for an electronic sound that can mimic a loud shutter, because the actual camera is silent. Thus, the real answer is don't use a DSLR. –  Pat Farrell May 7 '13 at 4:37
    
DSLRs have lots of big parts that move and make noise. The mirror is the worst. I've never seen a credible way to lower the real noises that keep the full functionality. So for quiet shooting, don't use a DSLR. The noise from a flash recharging its cap is the vibrations of the switcher circuit that converts 5v to 300v that the main capacitor needs. –  Pat Farrell May 7 '13 at 20:13
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2 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Very briefly, in a typical SLR camera with lens, the noisemaking parts are:

  • AF motor
  • diaphragm (aperture) control,
  • movable mirror (quiet mode may delay and/or slow the return of the mirror)
  • mechanical shutter--both release and cock (quiet mode sometimes separates these and may slow the latter)
  • optical stabilization (gyroscopes and actuators)
  • flash (if present)
  • speaker (if present)

Other than using your camera's quiet mode (if it has one), or muffling the sound by wrapping the camera in something, your only option may be to switch to a quieter system. Systems with fewer of the above tend to be quieter, eg. rangefinder cameras and mirrorless cameras.

Edit: Some users are reporting that some Sony lenses have surprisingly loud aperture actuation; to isolate and listen to your lens' aperture (any brand), you can set the lens to a setting other than wide open and press your camera's depth of field preview button. The sound you hear will be that of the aperture stopping down but nothing else.

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If someone is considering a Sony SLT camera with one of the reasons being its relative silentness, they might be surprised how much noise can aperture blades make. More sound from some lenses, less from others. I never thought aperture blades might make any sound at all, but obviously they do. In my film-SLR the mirror slap blankets all other sounds under it. –  Esa Paulasto May 6 '13 at 9:00
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Esa, one can hear the amount of noise the aperture makes by setting the lens to something other than wide open and pressing the depth-of-field preview button. The only sound heard will be that of the lens stopping down. –  bRad Gibson May 6 '13 at 14:16
    
Good advice! Now that you mentioned it, I remember hearing the sound. It is a mechanical button in my old SLR and I never paid much attention to the sound. Might be nice to include this testing method in your answer. It is not so obvious sound imo. –  Esa Paulasto May 6 '13 at 14:33
    
@EsaPaulasto - Using electronic front curtain shutter with the SLTs about halves the residual shutter noise. I just tried getting rid of stop down noise (preview, manual, both, other) with an A77 but it does not seem to want to play. Shooting wide open should fix that :-). –  Russell McMahon May 6 '13 at 14:52
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To order these from loud to soft (on an average DSLR), I'd probably go mirror/shutter (either might be louder), then AF, aperture, flash, optical stabilisation. Speaker can be turned off or set to any volume. –  thomasrutter May 7 '13 at 4:48
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The vast majority of the sound comes from the mirror movement. The shutter is generally the second loudest by a significant margin.

Aperture adjustment, image stabilization and focusing are going to depend on the lens, but they are virtually silent on a good modern lens. You can hear them if you are operating the camera in a quiet environment but otherwise not so much.

The flash is probably the second or third noisiest part depending on how much and how rapidly it is being charged and will make noise both while charging and while firing.

A speaker could really be the loudest part if the volume isn't turned down, but can easily be silenced in any decent camera.

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Though this is a photography site, can you say if image stabilising (in lens) makes enough of noise to carry onto a video recording if/when external microphone is not used? Some cameras don't have a connector for ext mic. –  Esa Paulasto May 6 '13 at 14:15
    
@EsaPaulasto - honestly, that is going to depend entirely on how the mic in the camera is setup. I could see it going either way, though it would likely not be that loud and it's usually a consistent background noise. Personally, I recommend against using DSLR audio though. If you don't have an input and need video, use an off camera device like a Zoom H4n or similar multi-track recorder. It'll generally do a better job even if you have an external mic connection, though it does require syncing in post. –  AJ Henderson May 6 '13 at 14:22
    
Right, of course. For myself these very low background noises are off anyway. Got ringing in both ears for the last 20+ years. All current Sony SLT models have a connector for external mic. –  Esa Paulasto May 6 '13 at 14:42
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