Why Do I Have Camera Shutter Lag And Other Delays? :: Digital Photo Secrets

Why Do I Have Camera Shutter Lag And Other Delays?

by David Peterson 6 comments

It’s a huge drag. You just want to get the shot, but every time you press the shutter, there’s a delay. Your friend does something amazing, and you keep missing it because you can’t line your shot up with the action. What is going on?

The digital cameras of today are much more complex than their film cousins. In the old days, the shutter button was directly linked to the shutter mechanism. If you wanted to take a picture, you pressed a button and, snap, it was done. These days, pressing the shutter sets off a cascade of electronic events that finally leads to taking the actual picture. If you want to avoid delays, you have to learn how to sidestep some of these processes.

The one mistake everyone makes

Oops! Junior walked out of
shot before it was taken.

Let’s start with the most common digital SLR action shot mistake. Have you ever pressed the shutter button to take an action shot and heard a repetitive clicking noise while the camera takes an entire extra second to take the shot? If this sounds familiar, you have the following problem. Your camera is trying to focus before taking a picture.

This is exactly what I mean when I’m talking about the “cascade of electronic events.” Your shutter button connects to an electronic system that “tries” to automatically focus the shot before it actually opens the shutter. It won’t take the picture until it “knows” the camera is focused.

There is a simple solution to this problem. Pre-focus your shot where the action is about to occur and then use your camera in manual focus mode. There are good and bad ways to pre-focus a shot. It’s best to use your automatic focus to find a spot, focus on it, and then switch back to manual mode before taking the actual shot. When looking for a spot to focus on, try to find a place where you are 100% sure the action will occur. This is really easy for sports like mountain biking and skateboarding, but it can be complicated when you are shooting team sports and don’t know where the action is going to take place. Focus on areas like goal posts and use your intuition when you aren’t totally sure.

Always take action shots in manual focus mode. If you don’t, your camera will “try” to focus before taking the shot. It also helps to set your camera to continuous fire. This setting is usually under the main menu and depicted by a little icon with multiple frames. If your camera can take shots at 3 to 5 frames per second, you can simply hold the shutter down while the action is happening. You won’t miss a thing.

Don’t let your camera fall asleep

This is the second most common mistake. Many digital SLR and point and shoot cameras have a built-in sleep function that shuts down some of the electronics in order to save battery power. Whenever you wake a camera from its slumber, it’s likely to add a few extra seconds before taking the shot.

What’s the solution? Simple. Just press the shutter button every now and again to get the camera out of its sleep mode. If you are about to capture an action sequence, and you know it will happen soon, press the shutter halfway down. Your camera will be ready for you when the action happens.

Always hold the shutter halfway down

It’s also a good idea to hold the shutter halfway down before taking every shot. This primes the camera to release the shutter. If your camera is still on automatic focus mode while you are shooting, it will find a spot, attempt to focus, and then it will take the picture when you press the shutter button completely down.

As a last bit of somewhat grandmotherly advice, be patient. Every camera model is a little different. They all have their quirks, and you will be the best at capturing the shot when you know everything there is to know about yours. After having used my digital SLR for years, I have a very intuitive understanding of its little delays. When you know the length of the delay, no matter how short or long it is, you will always get the shot.

If you really feel like the delays are too much to handle, you might want to upgrade your camera to a model with faster electronics. The cameras at the highest end are designed to minimize delays so you can pick up your camera and take a shot whenever you want.

Good luck out there. I know you’ll nail that next great shot!

Most people think this post is Awesome. What do you think?


  1. Robert Herald says:

    Not good enough. I always hold the shutter down halfway until I hear the double chirp indicating "in focus." I then press the shutter and wait. And wait. And wait up to 15 seconds. Then I give up. What's wrong?

  2. David Peterson says:


    It's probably a bit of both. Some cameras do take a while to focus correctly, but if you follow the techniques I outlined in the article, you'll be able to get the camera to focus BEFORE you need to take the photo so when you press the shutter, you won't get any lag.


  3. Noah says:

    My wife just got a brand new Nikon Coolpix P520, wanting to take action shots at our girls' basketball games. Now she is convinced it is a piece of crap Because of the "shutter lag." I know a thing or two about cameras And so far I have not been able to prove her wrong. I'm shooting indoors with no flash and I've tried shooting in manual modes and automatic mode with the half-press-in-advance, even tried turning off the auto focus. Still the camera does not seem to be able to keep up with the action. I've used a similar looking camera (a Panasonic Lumix) with great results. The specs seemed good on the Nikon, but I just don't seem to be getting as good results. Is it possible that this camera is just not up to the task or is there something more I can do to capture action shots with this camera?

  4. JackieR says:

    I'm reading about the shutter and understand a bit more or should I say it makes more sense. However, How do you get your camera to take several shots with out refocusing and missing some of the important shots. I'm using a Sony but I can't get the camera to take several shots one after the other without stopping and waiting for it to get up to speed.

  5. czmnxvb says:

    I guess you have to take the bad with the good. ,

  6. Patty says:

    It also halps to anticipate shutter lag even when you are in manual mode. There is always a slight (sometimes minimal) delay between pressing the button and the shot being taken. The trick I learned when I was for example taking lots of tennis shots, where getting the ball in the frame made the difference between a mundane shot and a brilliant one, was to watch carefully every single second and press the shutter just before the ball comes into view. This takes practice and of course some knowledge of the sport. The ball travels very quickly and following it to try to take the shot the split second you see it hit the racquet doesn't often (if ever) work. You have to focus on the racquet, 'learn' the timing from hearing the other player hit the ball, and press just before it comes into view! It's a little easier trying to get the ball on the racquet just as someone serves, because then you are watching and not listening to, just one player. You do get some great shots like this though. And of course you don't waste miles of film with failed shots these days.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *