Digital photography may be a wonderful technology, but it can’t conquer time…yet. Whether you shoot with an inexpensive compact or a top-of-the-line DSLR, any number of functions of your camera require some amount of time, albeit brief, to operate. From auto-exposure to auto-focus to various shooting modes, a process must occur for you to use these capabilities. Many of them have mechanical motors that must move; one of which, for example, will drive the adjustment of the elements in the lens when you use auto-focus.
Another time-related function of a digital camera is shutter lag, or the interval of time from when you press the shutter to the image actually being registered on the sensor. This time period is short, but significant, and is more likely to affect photographers with compact cameras. What typically happens to beginner or casual photographers is that they frame what they perceive to be the picture they want, press the shutter and discover that the picture they recorded was just after the moment they thought they captured. Shutter lag can be controlled, but it takes a bit of understanding of the concept and some experimentation and practice.
Why Shutter Lag Occurs
Whenever the word “digital” was first placed in front of “photography” was when many photographers began to think that it would all be automatic and instantaneous. Much of the technology is automatic, but not instantaneous. In the case of shutter lag, the “advanced” technology that records an image on the sensor of the camera is responsible for this unwanted period of time you must learn to manage. The image-recording chip doesn’t “snap” a still image; it is reading the scene or subject as a picture in motion, like a movie, which is the view you see through the screen or viewfinder.
It’s only when you press the shutter that the chip captures the individual frame that becomes the photo. The chip must process so much information with this “moving-picture” method that it requires a substantial amount of time. The good news is that technology is always advancing, so as faster imaging chips are developed, future camera models should create less shutter lag.
Taking Control of Shutter Lag
Shutter lag is not an insurmountable problem, but to control it, even overcome it, takes some effort on your part. You’ll find the investment of your time is well worth it, however, as understanding this concept will lead to better photos and more confidence in your skills as a digital photographer.
There are essentially four proven methods you can use to address shutter lag: stop it, reduce it, prepare for it or disregard it. Because shutter lag is most prevalent in pictures of people or objects in motion, the fourth option can be explained very quickly. Shutter lag can be disregard if most of your photography is of stationary subjects and objects. It has no effect, so you will never notice it.
Stopping Shutter Lag
As mentioned above, shutter lag is more of a problem in compact cameras (and how people use them), but it essentially vanishes with a professional-grade DSLR. Its traditional mechanical shutter produces no lag, but the tradeoff is that you don’t see the image being recorded by the imaging chip as a “moving picture,” as you do on a compact. With a DSLR, you must frame your picture through the eyepiece.
Reducing the Effect of Shutter Lag
Specific settings and shooting modes also require time to operate; and some, such as the anti-red eye flash setting, require even more time than the recording of the image. This particular setting triggers the built-in flash to fire a succession of flashes before the image is registered.
The lag produced by the camera to select and set exposure and focus, for example, can only be eliminated by using these functions manually. This, however, defeats the purpose of buying a camera with so many automatic features.
Read Part 2 of this PhotographyTalk.com article for more essential information about shutter lag and how you can control it.