In modern cameras with focal-plane shutters is there a custom as to which direction they move – whether horizontally and vertically – and on which side they start?

To the extent there is consistency in this feature on the market, what is the reason?

Citing a source from 2000, Wikipedia says:

Most modern 35 mm and digital SLR cameras now use vertical travel metal blade shutters. These work in precisely the same way as the horizontal shutters, but because of the shorter distance the shutter blades must travel (24 mm as opposed to 36 mm), the shutter blades can travel across the film plane in less time. This can result in faster flash synchronization speeds than are possible with the horizontal-curtain focal-plane shutter, and the shutter can reliably provide higher speeds....

Makes sense, but wondering if this is still the case.


Yes, digital cameras with focal plane shutters generally move vertically across the film plane.

In contrast, most 35mm film cameras with focal plane shutters moved horizontally. The unexposed film came from a roll at left, and exposed film spooled up at right. The mechanical system to cock the shutter was simpler and smaller when that cocking motion was in the same direction as the film winding and towards the user-activated lever for that purpose.

The user's mechanical action of advancing the film also cocked the shutter by pulling it towards the winding knob. During the exposure, the shutter would traverse the film plane right to left by spring action.

In digital cameras, there is no film to move and no mechanical input from the user to advance to the next picture. The shutter is completely controlled electronically, so is free to be designed in whatever direction makes sense for other reasons. The most compelling other reason is to have the shutter travel across the image rectangle along its minimum dimension, thereby allowing a shorter overall travel and a shorter X-sync time given otherwise equivalent shutter mechanisms.

  • My Konica FS-1 has a vertical electronically controlled shutter. The FS-1 was introduced at Photokina in 1978 and was the first 35mm SLR with a built-in electric film winder. My mid-'90s film EOS camera has a vertical shutter in it. So did most other late film era cameras that no longer required the user to manually advance the film with a cocking lever.
    – Michael C
    Jun 6 '16 at 12:40

The overwhelming majority of modern cameras with focal plane shutters go from the top to the bottom in the light box. Since the image projected by the lens onto the sensor is inverted, this means the landscape picture you view later was exposed from the bottom to the top. With portrait orientation all bets are off, since it depends on which way the photographer turns the camera. If the camera has a battery grip with vertical controls that forces you to rotate the camera 90º counter-clockwise (as viewed from behind the viewfinder), the portrait orientation photo when you look at it will be exposed from right to left.

  • 1
    I supose the reason for going top to bottom is that it is easier not going against gravity. Althoug the mechanism is verey lightweight.
    – Rafael
    Apr 8 '15 at 1:41
  • 1
    Perhaps, but space for the internal mechanisms might also play a role. The prism for the viewfinder demands all of the space directly above the light box so shutter mechanisms typically use one side and some of the space below the light box.
    – Michael C
    Apr 8 '15 at 3:09
  • Focal plane shutters do move vertically now, because travel across the short dimension is faster. But it seems arbitrary if they move up or down. The Nikon D300 and D800 shutters move in opposite directions from each other. The sync "black band" is at top of D300 image, and at the bottom of the D800 image.
    – WayneF
    Apr 14 '15 at 22:36
  • Which one moves bottom to top physically when held in the normal orientation? I think the difference could be more related to whether the sync signal is connected to the movement of the first or second curtain, but I haven't looked at the nuts and bolts aspects of Nikon products in quite a few years.
    – Michael C
    Apr 15 '15 at 1:51
  • And one particular Nikon model probably doesn't alter the validity of the phrase, "The overwhelming majority..." There will almost always be exceptions to any rule. The vast majority of current cameras with focal plane shutters do move from the top to bottom of the light box.
    – Michael C
    Apr 15 '15 at 1:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.