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Friday, May 11, 2007

Hall of Shutter Lag Shame

Eolake has found a page on, a digicam review site, that helpfully lists shutter lag times for a variety of digicams. As I hope I don't have to remind most readers here, shutter lag, a camera feature that is "hidden" from most nonphotographer consumers, is the measure of time between the button push and the actuation of the exposure. It's a basic aspect of camera responsiveness.

The page mainly points up how really awful most digital p/s shutter lag times really are. I'd consider any shutter lag time north of a quarter of a second to be unacceptable for any type of general-use camera, no matter how basic or inexpensive. To put you in context, a "standard" pro film SLR has a shutter lag of about .06 sec., an amateur film SLR about .125 or .150, a mechanical Leica .018, and a Canon EOS RT with the metering plate pre-fired, about .008! Autofocusing times have complicated this measurement somewhat, but Imaging-Resource pegs a pre-focused Canon XTi DSLR at .105 sec., and a pre-focused Nikon D200 at .057.

The Nikon Coolpix L3 has the dubious distinction of having the worst shutter lag of any camera listed by Between pressing the shutter release and the time the camera actually fires, the poor clueless buyers of this wretched excuse for a camera have plenty of time for a sip of coffee and a little idle conversation.

More than a half-second of shutter lag is really atrocious and makes photographing even slow-moving action a hit-and-miss affair, but the hall of shame awards go to the following woeful cameras: the Fuji Finepix A500, 1.6 sec.; Nikon Coolpix L3, worst of all at 1.8 sec.; Nikon Coolpix P3 and P4, 1.62 and 1.65 secs. respectively; Olympus FE-170, 1.62, and FE-270, 1.73; Pentax Optio S7, 1.61, and the Sony S500 at 1.08 sec. Educated consumers would drive these pathetic products right out of the market, so do your bit and continue to advise your friends and relatives about this too-often-overlooked aspect of camera performance.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON with thanks to Eolake Stobblehouse

Featured Comment by Hoainam: Coincidentally, the New York Times recently had an article about shutter lag. Hopefully raising awareness about the issue will make consumers demand less shutter lag and manufacturers will respond accordingly. (Sheesh, why does it sound like I'm trying to save baby seals or something?)


Blogger Ade said...

Oh dear. My mother is always trying to capture her granddaughter's playing with an FE-170; this explains why she fails more often than not. I had the chance to advise her pre-purchase but, merrily assuming that all digicams were equal in their shortcomings, I didn't do much to dissuade her. Sorry, mum.

By your standards, only a small minority of models come up to scratch. Given that this was a problem rarely seen in even the worst of film compacts, manufacturers really do deserve a sound thrashing for this stunning backwards progress. And what's the number one selling point of small consumer cameras? The ability to capture spontaneous moments. Tsk.

10:38 AM  
Blogger Victor J said...

The G7 came so highly recommended that I thought one I borrowed for a kid's party had wrong settings e.g. the face recognition.

It was unuseable - confirmed by 2 other old time shooters at the party. The lag was horrendous. Made my G3 feel snappy.

Well the figures now show that it is particularly bad.


10:46 AM  
Blogger ADias said...

You meant "Shutter Lag Hall of Shame," didn't you? :)

10:52 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Regarding shutter lag on consumer cameras... When I'm photographing I frequently offer to take pictures of tourists with their point and shoot cameras. It is almost embarrassing how many times I've pressed the shutter and handed the camera back to them only to find that I did not take a photo because I didn't wait long enough. (It has gotten so that I apologize in advance for being sort of clueless with their P&S cameras.)


11:12 AM  
Blogger amin said...

Mike, the list to which you linked provides shutter lag measurements which includie autofocus time, but in your post you site shutter lag for pre-focused DSLRs. Many if not most of the digital cameras on that list have a very short shutter lag when prefocused. The bulk of the perceived lag comes from autofocus time, which is of course heavily dependent on the lighting and contrast of the subject and whether the lens is at telephoto or zoom. Measurement of AF time is also apparently difficult and user dependent as determinations from one professional review site seem to vary quite a bit from those of another. Regards, Amin (

11:52 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"Given that this was a problem rarely seen in even the worst of film compacts"

Au contraire, unfortunately. Film point-and-shoots were often as bad. One of my validating moments came at a local arboretum when I found myself standing next to a young mother two was trying to get a shot of her small child jumping off some hay bales. I happened to overhear her say, "Huh. I keep pushing the button at the right time, but I don't think it's taking the picture till after he's landed" or words to that effect. Bingo, Mama!


12:21 PM  
Blogger yischon said...

New York Times just published an article on this very issue yesterday so perhaps it will get a little more mainstream publicity.

Curious about the 1.8 seconds (!) shutter lag of the Nikon Coolpix L3 on, I looked up what measured and they came up with 0.48/0.78 seconds shutter lag (autofocus on wide/tele).

I then looked at the shortest shutter lag on, the Sony DSC S600 at 0.12 seconds. measured 0.41/0.71 seconds (autofocus wide/tele).

The discrepancy between the figures are too much to ignore.

It would be helpful if provided a "By Shutter Lag" list like

1:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

I have an old Coolpix 990 that spends 95% of its life on a copy stand where shutter lag shouldn't matter much, and I have the exposure and focus set manually, and since I'm using it mainly for digitizing documents, the file size is set fairly small, and it still takes more than a second and a half sometimes to take the picture, and it's still as annoying as heck.

1:27 PM  
Blogger Dr Hiding Pup said...

The G7 figure came as a surprise to me too. My ancient Olympus XA2 is looking prouder by the second...

1:52 PM  
Blogger hywel said...

I wish my Rolleiflex had a longer shutter lag - I spent the last two weeks convinced I had one of the all time great pictures in the bag only to discover on processing the flim that I'd pressed the button half a second too early!

12:06 AM  
Blogger Wiedebas said...

Thanks for the link. Am thinking of buying one of those Canon's or Panasonic that feature 16:9 photo's and knowing shutter lag in advance is way important.

7:38 AM  
Blogger Ctein said...

Mike, what you said about film P&S's.

The original Olympus Infinity Stylus had terrible lag times. I quickly learned to not even try to photograph 'decisive moments' (in which I include people's animated expressions at parties) because by the time the shutter fired, it was way too late.

The next model, the Stylus Epic , cut the lag by about a factor of three. What a difference that made.

pax / Ctein

1:27 PM  
Blogger eolake said...

The manufacturers say (in the NYT article) that they can fix it, it will just cost more. I say: Fix it! We'll pay more.

6:52 PM  
Blogger Seungmin said...

The manufacturers say (in the NYT article) that they can fix it, it will just cost more. I say: Fix it! We'll pay more.

Yeah seriously, if any of the major manufacturers actually did that, they'd have a band of photo enthusiasts beating down their door. You could never buy the the kind of word of mouth something like that would generate. Sadly I think most of them would rather just point you to their dSLR line and be done with it...


8:00 AM  
Blogger nextSibling said...

What Mike said about lag on film compacts.... I once went and bought a Yashica T4 (early 90s), because of the rave reviews it got (for a compact). One of its first outings was a trip bowling with friends. Not an extreme sport, but plenty of action. Total waste of time and film with that camera. I think I might have ordered a round of drinks in the time it took to respond to the shutter release.

I've tried multiple film and digital compacts over the years and just about learned my lesson (I'm a bit slow). They're all crap in one way or another. The digital revolution has changed nothing, ironically enough. Admittedly, I've never splashed out on the very top brands, but that's not really the point of a small consumercam. I don't understand why it's so difficult to make a small camera that doesn't have an absmal viewfinder or lag measured in minutes, or controls so obtuse one has to carry the manual everywhere, or pinhole-like maximum apertures, or utterly useless ergonomics, or some combination of the above, but so it seems to go.

11:18 PM  

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