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.
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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