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I am told that certain (mostly older) DSLRs can sync (i.e. successfully work with flash) at shutter speeds faster than 1/250 of a second.

Which makes / models can do this?

Update

  1. Thank you for all your answers. Fantastic. Keep them coming.
  2. I am asking this because I want to be able to have more control of ambient light.
  3. I don't really care how a camera manages to sync at a higher speed - just the effect. (Some people seem to think I am only asking about electronic shutters, but I'm not: high speed sync is a great answer, as is anything else, no matter how esoteric).
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about 3, high speed sync doesn't help you overpower ambient as all it does is strobe the flash to act like like a continuous lightsource. So your options are electronic shutter or superfast mechanical shutter (which will set you back a lot as they're only found in pro bodies or some MF/LF lenses), you can also sneak past your sync speed by timing the flash just right, newer picketwizards allow this. –  Matt Grum Feb 10 '11 at 13:59
    
@Matt Grum, I don't understand that - if the shutter is faster, then surely I'm getting less ambient, regardless of what the flash is doing? Can you explain? Thanks. –  AJ Finch Feb 10 '11 at 14:19
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yes you are getting less ambient when you use a faster shutter with HSS, but because the flash is now a continuous source (albeit for only 1/250s at a time) you also get less flash, so your flash/ambient balance stays the same! –  Matt Grum Feb 10 '11 at 14:57
    
Right. With you. I think. Thanks. –  AJ Finch Feb 10 '11 at 15:32

6 Answers 6

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Firstly it's important to know why sync speed exists, basically when you use a shutter speed faster than the nominal "sync speed" the shutter starts to close at the bottom before it's fully open at the top. Thus at no single instant in time is the shutter fully open so if you fire a flash part of the image will be dark. For most DSLRs this speed is 1/250s.

There are a couple of ways to exceed the 1/250s with flash. You can make the shutter move faster so it exposes the whole frame at once even at high speeds, or you can use electronics shutter to turn the sensor on and off simulating an infinitely fast mechanical shutter.

I think whoever mentioned fast sync with old DSLRs was referring to electronic shutters, as these are no longer used on DSLRs (but are still found on compacts). Reasons for the demise of electronic shutters on DSLRs are varied and there's little consensus though issues with image quality and consistency are often cited.

Even if you're using a mechanical shutter you can sneak past the manufacturer stated sync speed by timing the flash very carefully. The "Hyper sync" function on new Pocket Wizards allows you to tune the flash delay for this purpose.

Here's a summary of the methods and speeds you can expect in practice:

  • Fast focal plane shutter (available on some film SLRs) 1/350s
  • Focal plane shutter + careful timing (with pocketwizards) 1/400s
  • Leaf shutters (found in some medium and large format lenses) 1/800
  • Electronic shutters (found in older mostly Nikon DSLRs) 1/1000s*

*Technically you can sync at any speed with an electronic shutter, however past 1/1000 the shutter duration is usually shorter than the flash duration so you start to lose power which halts your ability to overpower ambient.

The only models of DSLR I'm aware of with electronic shutters are:

  • Nikon D1
  • Nikon D1X
  • Nikon D1H
  • Nikon D70
  • Nikon D70s
  • Nikon D50
  • Nikon D40
  • Canon 1D

I'm sure someone here can fill any blanks from the other major manufacturers. It seems the only model from Canon with an electronic shutter is the original 1D, which is an ancient beast, though the newer 1D models can sync above 1/250s with mechanical shutters.

So in summary there are cameras with faster mechanical shutters / leaf shutters that can beat 1/250s but not by much. If you want crazy sync speeds electronic shutter is the way to go.

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There are also various non-SLR cameras that have this benefit, eg (to name just one) the Canon G9 (and likely other Gx series models), which I think start to fall off (with dimming, rather than banding) above 1/1000 of a second or so - at least with radio triggers. I could do some careful testing if anyone wants. –  lindes Feb 9 '11 at 19:32
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Sony Alphas with an external flash that supports High Speed Sync can use shutter speeds up to 1/4000. (I assume that's what you're asking about) –  TREE Feb 9 '11 at 21:06
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@TREE High speed sync isn't really flash, it's a just a way of turning a flashgun into a continuous lightsource, it doesn't have the ability to overpower ambient the way true sync at above 1/250s does. –  Matt Grum Feb 9 '11 at 21:10
    
@TREE, that's not exactly what I was thinking of, but it's a good answer. Why don't you put it in a proper answer below? it's great information. Thanks :) –  AJ Finch Feb 10 '11 at 9:47
    
@lindes, thanks for the info. Why don't you put that in a "real" answer below? It will make it easier for people to find it. Thanks again :) –  AJ Finch Feb 10 '11 at 9:48

There are (at least) three separate kinds of answers to this. One is a special mode for the flash, in which it produces a flash (or series of flashes) that last long enough to provide coverage as the "slit" in the shutter moves across the focal plane. It's mostly related to the flash rather than the camera though. AFAIK, Minolta was the first to introduce this; Sony continues to provide it since taking over Minolta's camera business. I believe Canon and Nikon now offer similar capabilities as well.

The second is simply shutters that move the shutter curtain faster to provide a higher sync with a normal flash. I believe there are really only two cameras with such shutters: the Minolta Dynax/Maxxum/Alpha 9xi and the Minolta Dynax/Maxxum/Alpha 9. Both of these provided X-sync at 1/350th of a second. They're both film cameras.

Finally, there are some medium format cameras (e.g., Hassleblads) that accept lenses with a leaf shutter. Unlike a focal plane shutter, a leaf shutter normally provides X-sync right up the top speed of which it's capable -- usually 1/500th of a second.

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There's another answer - electronic shutters, which I think is what the questioner is referring to –  Matt Grum Feb 9 '11 at 17:42
    
@Matt Grum is right, but really I'm just interested in anything that will give me another way to control ambient. (Plus the whole idea just kind of appeals to my geek side). –  AJ Finch Feb 10 '11 at 9:50

Not a direct answer, I know, but I think this should be pointed out :

You rarely need flash sync speed higher than 1/250[s]. When using a flash, the action is frozen by the flash duration, much more than by your shutter speed. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule ...

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that's quite true and important, and thank you for pointing it out. However, the main reason for wanting a faster shutter speed is not to freeze the action but to control the ambient light. ... I guess it would also freeze any action which was being lit by ambient light. –  AJ Finch Feb 10 '11 at 10:03
    
@AJ Finch: right, but when you work at 1/500, it means there is quite a lot of light. To make a difference, you'll need quite a powerfull flash. Not that this is never the case, but it is not the most usual setup ... –  Guillaume Feb 10 '11 at 11:51
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Note that when working near the sync speed, you're probably firing the flash at full power, and the flash duration will actually be quite close to the shutter speed. –  mattdm Feb 10 '11 at 14:01
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Actually, you don't necessarily need as much flash as you seem to think. Let's say you're shooting a subject 5 feet away at f/8 and 1/500s on a sunny day. With a -1EV flash (good enough to fill the shadows), you'd use the same flash power as shooting the subject with flash only at f/5.6 (shutter speed doesn't matter). That means that a flash with a guide number of 28 in feet would be good enough -- the pop-up on a DSLR could handle it. At ten feet you'd only need a GN of 56 to do the job. A Metz 45CT would fill for "whole family" wedding shot at high noon shooting VPS at 80mm on a 'Blad. –  user2719 Feb 12 '11 at 9:49

I know the Nikon D70/D70s is popular for this, a lot of action sports photographers keep them in their bag for this reason.

Also a lot of medium format cameras Hasselblad/Bronica etc.

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Thanks, @LC1983. Love your site, btw. –  AJ Finch Feb 10 '11 at 10:06
    
Cheers, it still needs a lot of work though. –  LC1983 Feb 10 '11 at 10:35

Have a look at this nice write-up by Ken Rockwell: http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/syncspeed.htm

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Hi Fons, thanks for your answer and welcome to photo-SE! Two quick things, there's no need to 'sign' your answers (so I removed your signature), and in general the community 'best practice' is when including a link, also summarize what is said at that link in your answer. The main reason for this is that the link may not always be 'good,' but if the author of the answer has summarized what can be found at the link then the knowledge will be preserved here on photo-SE, even if the other site is no longer available... –  Jay Lance Photography Feb 9 '11 at 17:43

Any of the compact and superzoom cameras listed on this page http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK can sync up to 1/60,000th second with their built-in flash duration. Some with even shorter flash durations up to 1/224,000th of a second. Perfectly synced with actual shutter speeds up to 1/40,000th of a second.

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[citation needed]. I've never heard of either a flash duration or a shutter speed of a quarter-millionth of a second. –  Evan Krall Apr 7 '11 at 1:46
    
The numbers come from here: chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CameraFeatures. The ¹⁄₂₂₄,₀₀₀th claim comes with the following footnote... –  mattdm Apr 7 '11 at 3:08
    
"... Later tests, however at f/8 and with full flash, show a 6-degree rotation on a dremel disk turning at 33,000rpm. A quick calculation shows 1/32,520 for the shutter time. At minimal flash, the disk is rotated by just 0.9 degrees, which means a 1/224,000 shutter/flash time. Someone might want to verify these values some time soon, as they look pretty extreme." –  mattdm Apr 7 '11 at 3:08
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This links to a comment saying he was observing a dremel disk which is a: extremely unpredictable and not at all guaranteed to be spinning at a precise speed and b: how does he know it didn't spin around more than once? –  rfusca Apr 7 '11 at 3:39
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The actual flash duration is not outside of the realm of possibility -- Harold Edgerton built an entire career on that sort of exposure, after all. It's even possible that real-time metering for durations that short can occur (a luxury Edgerton didn't have); a nanosecond is a lifetime in modern electronics. But "actual shutter speeds" of 1/40000s (or 1/600000s) are all-electronic, not mechanical, shutters, and it seems that it's the CCD shutter strobe and not the camera flash that is being controlled in these CHDK examples. –  user2719 Apr 7 '11 at 10:14

protected by jrista Apr 7 '11 at 5:33

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