Solving Shutter Lag! :: Digital Photo Secrets

Solving Shutter Lag!

by David Peterson 18 comments

It's always very frustrating! You have a great shot lined up, and press the shutter button. But your camera takes an extra second to think about the photo before it opens the shutter. By the time the photo is actually taken, your prefect shot has vanished!

What is Shutter Lag?

Shutter lag is the time between when you press the shutter button, and when the shot is actually taken.

It's the combination of two different processes:

  • Time To Autofocus. As soon as you depress the shutter button, the camera needs to find the correct focus for the shot. On most Point and Shoot cameras, this can be very slow as the camera moves the focusing lens using a motor until it finds the correct spot. On SLR cameras, it's quicker as more advanced technology is used to speed the motor up.
  • Time for the Shutter Release. This is the time the camera takes to open the shutter (either a physical or an electronic shutter), and prepare the sensor for the shot. It is a lot less time than the time needed to Autofocus, but on cheaper cameras is still noticeable.

The shutter lag is the combined time of the above. The Autofocus lag is the one we notice the most because it's the longest of the two.

Shutter lag time varies greatly from camera to camera. Usually the more expensive cameras have less of a lag than cheaper cameras.

Eliminating Shutter Lag

While shutter lag can't be completely eliminated, you can do a number of things to speed up the time between when your mind wants to take the photo, and when your camera actually takes it.

Depress The Shutter Half Way First

Almost all cameras have a two step shutter. If you press the shutter half way, the camera will perform the Autofocus step, but won't actually take the shot. When you are ready, fully depress the shutter button and the image will be taken.

On some cameras, your camera can keep tracking the subject's focus as you keep the shutter button depressed (called AI Servo, or Dynamic Area DF). This means that if you keep holding the shutter button half way your camera will keep sharp focus on your subject - even if they move towards or away from the camera.

Depressing the shutter release button half way is the absolute best way to reduce shutter lag because the camera can actually take the photo at the time you want the photo taken because the long focusing process is already complete.

Anticipate The Moment

On fast action shots, anticipate your camera's shutter lag by fully depressing the shutter slightly before your subject is where you'd like it to be. So by the time your camera takes the shot, you have a perfectly composed photo.

This takes some skill to master, but if you anticipate the moment and ensure you depress the shutter half way beforehand, you'll get some very good results.

Prefocus

This is where you prefocus your camera on a specific region where your subject will be in the future. Then when your subject is in the correct place, take the shot.

You can also turn off auto focus (if your camera allows you to) and manually focus on the desired spot. If your camera has a focus lock, this is another handy trick because you can lock the focus where you want it.

Take Lots Of Photos

The more shots you take, the more chance (particularly if you use the above tips) of you not missing the crucial moment. And in the digital age, you can simply erase the ones that don't work out.

Upgrade To A Better Camera

I don't often recommend this, because my philosophy is that you should be able to take great shots with the camera you have! But the only way to reduce shutter lag is to get a better camera. Almost all SLR cameras are much quicker at focusing, and if you prefocus there is almost no delay. Look for a camera with a shutter lag of less than 0.5 second. The quicker the better!

Shutter lag can be a big problem with digital cameras, but with a little pre-thought, can be almost eliminated!

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Comments

  1. Debopam says:

    Even in manual focus I experience shutter lag along with screen going fully dark in my canon rebel T3i when I half way press the shutter.Is this common or a problem ?

    • David Peterson says:

      Hi,

      It's not a bug. It happens because your camera doesn't have a live-view capability. When you press the shutter, it blanks the screen in preparation to take the photo. With these cameras, it's best to look through the viewfinder to compose your shot rather than using the screen.

      I hope that helps.

      David.

  2. Tom Berryhill says:

    Turning off that annoying red-eye-reduction will significantly reduce lag.

  3. Peter Evans says:

    I agree with Michael in that Fish Eye lens can be VERY expensive but I'm pretty sure that there is some one out there making lens/ converters that can be placed over the front of point and shoot cameras. Go see a good retailer.

    For shutter lag, if you have a camera with an exposure lock use it, then release the shutter.
    Happy New Year everyone :)

  4. Michel Tremblay says:

    A fish eye lens is a specialty lens with a focal lenght of usualy 16mm or less and extreme wide angle picture capability. It is an expensive lens only made for slr or digital slr cameras. The selling price is high, a few thousand dollars for the best ones.

    Manufacturers now list very low shutter lag time but they calculate the lag differently which does not reflect day to day use. Fiji now list digital cameras with 1/100 sec shutter lag time but regular mesurements show none doing better than .30 sec (30/100 sec), 30 times more than advertized.
    Read reviews and research before you buy.

  5. shutterbug says:

    I found that increasing the ISO helped when taking shots in dimly lit areas.

  6. pk says:

    like every living creature a fish has an eye ,how a prosumer camera like easyshare Z 7590 with a fixed lens can have one

  7. steve lavalle says:

    i agree with tacy, what is a fish eye used for. steve

  8. tacy says:

    CAN SOMEONE TELL ME WHAT A FISH EYE IS AND IF THE CAMERA KODAK EASYSHARE Z7590 SHOULD HAVE ONE

  9. Dennis says:

    Turn off auto white balance.
    It is really slow on many cameras.

    Setting the camera to manual usually speeds everything up.

  10. Zaid says:

    If you are going to use infinity focus then make sure that you are in a position where the subject will have the most light on it. Focussing speed is also dependent on the amount light available. Thus in low lighting conditions you may catch the subject but it is too dark or blurred due to the compensated shutter speeds.

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