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I recently bought a new camera that has a choice between using a mechanical shutter or an electronic shutter. (A Panasonic FZ300 if it matters.) I tried taking a few pictures each way and I see no obvious difference. I presume if one or the other was unquestionably superior, they wouldn't bother making it a choice but would just use the better one. (Well, maybe not. Like maybe a new technology is clearly better but there are stick-in-the-muds who want to do it the way they did it 50 years ago. :-) So what are the pros and cons? Are their circumstances where one is better but other circumstances the other is better? Which do you prefer and why?

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    There are plenty of scenarios where one is "better" than the other for that particular use case. For what use cases do you plan to use your camera? Questions seeking open-ended lists are not a good fit for the Stack Exchange network. Would it be possible for you to modify your question to something like, "What are the pros and cons for taking pictures of ____ in a _____ environment illuminated by _____ light?"
    – Michael C
    May 12 at 17:19
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    @MichaelC Hmm, I get your point about open-ended questions. But can't a general question be answered with a general answer? If I knew the circumstances under which it made a difference, then I'd probably have a good clue what that difference would be. You seem to be saying that I'm not allowed to ask a question unless I already know the answer. If someone asked, for example, "When should I use a slow shutter speed versus a fast shutter speed?", I'm sure one could give very detailed answers for precise situations. But one could also give a general answer about motion blur.
    – Jay
    May 12 at 18:03
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    @scottbb My main issue is that it would take a very long answer to cover all of the bases about what kinds shooting situations would benefit from using one over the other, as well as for what shooting situations it wouldn't really matter. I've seen mods (though perhaps not our two current active ones) close questions with a comment to the effect that it would take an answer with book length proportions to adequately answer some very general questions.
    – Michael C
    May 15 at 21:53
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    @MichaelC counterpoint: some of PSE's highest-voted and engaged questions have quite long answers, some of which have been republished at sites like fstoppers.com. General questions often beget long answers, but that's not necessarily a linear indicator of off-topicality. It seems to me that "What are the pros and cons of mechanical vs. electronic shutter?" is precisely the type of Google term that Photo-SE is search engine optimized for.
    – scottbb
    May 16 at 4:25
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Fujifilm has a nice summary of the issues with each.

Electronic Shutters (ES) have some interesting characteristics due to the way the image is read out of the sensor.

Moving objects can be distorted, fluorescent/LED lights can leave light and dark bands across the frame, and ES can't usually be used with flash. On the plus side ES can have very high shutter speeds, are silent, and don't vibrate the camera.

Mechanical shutters (MS) can use flash and are better at freezing fast moving objects without distortion.

I use MS for most situations and switch to ES when I want a silent shutter or I'm doing macro work on a tripod.

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    Hmm, that "nice summary" describes rolling shutter effects with ES but claims that mechanical shutters expose the entire scene at one instant. That's simply not true. The propeller and oval effects described apply to focal plane shutters too! Ditto for flickering lights causing banding. It describes rolling shutter as the only downside of ES vs mechanical. That's simply not right.
    – JDługosz
    May 14 at 16:11
  • You have valid points. Is there a better way to answer the question?
    – BobT
    May 14 at 16:24
  • An answer would explain the cons of using the ES, at the very least. (not the cons of any rolling shutter)
    – JDługosz
    May 14 at 16:44
  • Noise & vibration levels seem like the only reasonable differences noted there.
    – FreeMan
    May 14 at 18:00
  • At least on the Fujis the top shutter speed for MS is 1/8000. ES tops out at 1/32000. If you need the speed and distortion isn't an issue then that would be another plus for ES.
    – BobT
    May 14 at 18:56
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One problem with electronic shutter is that it's sometimes combined with mechanical shutter, so that there's electronic first curtain (simple to implement, just gradually release the photosites at the same rate the second mechanical curtain would move) and mechanical second curtain. This results in odd-shaped background blur.

Pure electronic shutter today tends to suffer from more rolling shutter than purely mechanical shutter or electronic first curtain + mechanical second curtain. The reason is that they way the electronic shutter curtain is implemented, is that the photosites are read. They can't be read currently at fast enough speed. The first curtain has to match the second curtain too so it must also be artificially slowed down. This will surely change in 10-20 years or so: global electronic shutter will likely appear first in more expensive cameras and then in all cameras.

Electronic shutter can eliminate the camera shake from the mechanical shutter curtains, although electronic first curtain + mechanical second curtain will eliminate it well enough (the second curtain only causes very minor shake at the end of the long exposure, a small fraction of the exposure whereas the shake from mechanical first curtain can continue during the entire exposure).

Also the slow-moving second curtain means flash sync speed is so slow you can't practically use purely electronic shutter with flash.

Electronic shutter is completely silent. That may be a benefit. Also, electronic shutter tends to give you more frames per second, albeit with horrible rolling shutter.

The shutter speed with electronic shutter can be faster but do note you're fooling yourself: the curtains move very slowly and even though you may think fast shutter speed results in fast exposure, it does not due to the rolling shutter effect. So for example photographing flying birds where you'd normally use fast shutter speed is not recommended with electronic shutter due to the rolling shutter. However, photographing portraits wide open with a fast lens in sunlight where you also use fast shutter speed can be done with electronic shutter and the shutter speed benefit can be useful there. Also if both curtains are electronic the odd-shaped background blur effect doesn't appear.

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  • I remember some video cameras in the 1980s used to offer 1/1000 second LCD shutters. Would there be any problem with a camera offering such a thing as an option (perhaps attached to the front of the lens the way a filter would be)? In cases where adequate light is available and one wouldn't mind having a polarizing filter, such a thing would seem to offer many advantages.
    – supercat
    May 13 at 19:24
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No one else has yet mentioned that many cameras which offer both options reduce raw bit-depth when the electronic shutter option is chosen in order to increase frame rates beyond what the mechanical shutter is capable. This is typically from 14 bit to 12 bits and it results in a lowered measurable dynamic range, especially at base ISO, which is where most people concerned about maximizing dynamic range like to shoot.

How can an electronic shutter reduce dynamic range?

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In the beginning, all shutters were completely mechanical. There were no electronics involved at all. The advantage of a purely mechanical shutter is that there are no electronics components that can fail and the shutter can fire without batteries.

Purely mechanical shutters are typically limited to about 1/1000 second. Though some are faster.

The first electronic shutters used electrical magnets to fire the curtains. This made higher shutter speeds easier to achieve at the expense of electronic complexity and dependencies on batteries.

It might be clearer to call these electro-mechanical shutters. They readily achieve speeds of 1/4000 to 1/8000 second. They are often capable of arbitrary speeds such as 1/725 second to provide more precise exposure.

Electro-mechanical shutters were available on film cameras and are usually what is meant by “mechanical shutter” on a digital camera today.

A purely electronic shutter is possible with many digital cameras. No actual shutter needs to be involved, the sensor is simply activated and the data read out after the desired period of time. Such shutters are capable of achieving very high speed usually limited by practical considerations...there are not many ordinary situations where a shutter speed greater than 1/20,000 second is useful.

Each design consists of tradeoffs. And each is good enough for most still photography scenarios. Purely electronic shutters are very useful for video at 24, 30, 60 or more frames per second where common stills camera electro-mechanical shutter designs might struggle and purely mechanical stills camera shutter designs are unsuited.

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  • If you get into slow-motion video cameras (thousands of frames per second), that fast shutter speed is absolutely vital, of course. May 13 at 15:17
  • @DarrelHoffman I agree. However, video is off topic on this site. For high speed stills photography, strobe lighting is usually the way to go. YMMV. May 13 at 17:08
  • The history of shutters does nothing to answer the question!
    – JDługosz
    May 14 at 16:05
  • @JDługosz The answer clarifies the meaning of “mechanical” and “electronic” as they apply to shutters since each had two meanings these days. By its very nature, discussion of change is discussion of the past and present. Leaf shutters are mechanical. Electro-mechanical shutters are electronic. Photography is bigger than digital. May 14 at 17:49
  • My last six mechanical shutter DSLRs had minimum Tv of 1/8000 seconds, which is three full stops shorter than 1/1000 as you quote. Most of Canon's lower end DSLRs are capable of 1/4000, which is two full stops shorter than 1/1000. Since Canon alone sells roughly 45% of all ILC systems, it's hard to believe that current mechanical shutters, which is what is implied, are limited to 1/1000. Perhaps you could clarify that what you mean by "purely mechanical" shutters are those used in legacy systems that were replaced with electronically controlled mechanical shutters beginning in the 1970s?
    – Michael C
    May 16 at 19:04
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With a mechanical shutter, you can point your camera directly at the sun and nothing will happen for at least some time. For an electronic shutter, you will burn a hole in your sensor rather quickly. More details on the sun damage are here: Can the sun damage the camera sensor? Under what conditions? but generally, in outdoors in a daytime if you are not sure, then you should go for a mechanical or mechanical-electronic shutter to limit the risk of sensor over-exposure to sunlight.

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  • You can damage the shutter curtains, though. No camera manufacturer I know if has ever said, "You can point your camera directly at the Sun" without first placing a solar filter on the front of the lens. A blanket statement without qualification that this should not be done with lenses having longer focal lengths is reckless. Damage can occur fairly quickly under certain conditions even with mechanical shutters. A melting shutter curtain is also likely to damage the sensor behind it.
    – Michael C
    May 16 at 19:09

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