In my experience, most (at least) older digital cameras take some time -sometimes even a second or so- from the moment you pressed the button to the actual taking of a photograph, especially when compared to any analog camera at all.

My 2001 Cybershot S-85 certainly had that issue, but my logic said that as technology evolved, manufacturers would eliminate it. My 2006 Powershot G7 is actually slower than the Cybershot, especially in automatic mode. This does not follow this logic, and has since baffled me.

I have gathered that this has something to do with autofocus, although I might be mistaken. Can anyone explain if that is true and why?

More importantly, is there a way to tell, by looking at the specifications of a camera, whether it takes a long time to shoot or if it can shoot instanteneously, with automatic settings?

Are there, possibly, settings on some cameras for the automatic mode to be actually made faster, even if that sacrifices picture quality? Also, if this is autofocus issue, is there any way to have the photograph take a picture in auto mode without having to tell the camera to autofocus first?

  • What's the zoom range like for those cameras? – BBking Jul 31 '14 at 2:06
  • Some cameras have a pan focus mode which sets the lens to the hyperfocal distance in which case it no longer focuses when the shutter is half-pressed. All cameras with a Manual-Focus mode will not focus in Auto mode when MF is engaged. – Itai Jul 31 '14 at 2:35
  • possible duplicate of Determining lag between pushing the button & taking a shot – Michael C Jul 31 '14 at 3:01
  • 1
    I'm not so sure that complaining that 2006 did not improve on 2001 is very relevant in 2014! – mattdm Jul 31 '14 at 3:02
  • @mattdm perhaps not, but that entails the question: has 2014 improved on 2006 in this respect? – surfmadpig Jul 31 '14 at 10:55

Some camera review sites will test "shutter lag" and shot-to-shot times, and those specs may be helpful in measuring what you're concerned with.

However, assuming that newer technology will speed shutter lag is not necessarily a good assumption to make. There are quite a few different factors at work that can delay the time from shot-to-shot and some of these affect even dSLR shooters, and not all are surmountable by advancing processor or sensor technology.

Achieving autofocus lock is one of the main factors in shutter delay, as some cameras are set not to trip the shutter until focus lock is achieved. If you try and forego autofocusing, chances are very good you will have a blurry picture. And the time to acquire focus varies, depending on lighting conditions, whether the subject is moving, how closely the lens is already set to the focus distance needed, how fast the lens elements can be shifted, etc. This is not a constant. And even dSLRs have a hard time acquiring focus in low-light conditions. If you want to minimize this time, shooting in good light, controlling where the camera focuses, and setting the focus point or prefocusing using the shutter button half-press before taking the picture can help.

Another issue is how fast data can be read off the sensor and onto the card. This can depend on the write speed of the card, the size of the buffer in the camera, and how data is read off the sensor by the processor. And the higher the resolution of the sensor, the more data there is to shuttle around.

Another factor is that when the image sensor is also used for metering, that's another task that has to be performed and finished before the shot can be taken. This requires a lot of calculations, and the more data there is to chew through (again: think how much higher sensor resolutions have gotten), the longer this takes.

Another factor is that when the image sensor is also being used to feed the liveview on the LCD on the back of the camera (or in an electronic viewfinder), the charge from that data must be cleared from the sensor to avoid image ghosts appearing in the taken image.

Automated modes are also going to take more time than full-manual ones, because the camera typically has to gather some sort of data, and process it to make a setting, whether it be ISO (which setting is optimal?), white balance (finding out the color temp of the sensor data and then adjusting/shifting it), exposure (evaluating the light/dark values of the sensor data and then adjusting to place things along the dynamic range appropriately and by which settings), or focus.

Choosing a preset white balance, pre-focusing, and setting the iso, aperture, and shutter speed manually, may help speed things up a little, but since focus hunting is likely to be the largest possible delay, simply pre-focusing is liable to yield you the most speedup.

But compact digital cameras are nearly always going to have shot delays of some kind. If you really want to get around this, using a dSLR instead might be your best choice, budget allowing.

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