Wednesday, 22 August 2012

What is Shutter Lag and How to Avoid it

Shutter lag is one thing that is commonly miss-interpreted by many who are beginners in digital photography. When saying this camera has an annoying shutter lag, they are actually mentioning about the time it takes from pressing the shutter button to the moment the camera actually takes the picture.

Shutter Lag
Shutter Lag

But actually there are multiple delays or lags that occur during the process

Focus Lag – when you press the trigger the camera’s auto focus needs time to properly acquire focus in the desired area.

Exposure Lag – depending upon the brightness of the area of focus and the metering mode used the digital camera will set the exposure for the scene and this causes a delay which is referred to as Metering lag.

Shutter Lag – is the delay it occurs between pressing the shutter completely from the half pressed position to the fully pressed position and the actual image recording.

shutter lag
Photo By Cali2okie

For point and shoots and DSLR’s in live view mode the camera is actually taking in the scene as a continuous video and when the shutter is pressed it is capturing an image frame out of it. The transmission and storage of image data from the Sensor to the Recoding medium (mostly CF / SD) card takes some time, depending on the processing power of the camera’s chip. This is what causes Shutter Lag.

Shutter lag is present in every digital camera in varying degrees. In the case of DSLR’s they are seldom noticed as it’s much faster than point and shoots. DSLR cameras have a shutter lag of say 1/30th of a second where as point and shoot digital cameras have varying delays depending upon the make and model which could be as high as up to a second.

digital camera shutter lag
Photo By EugeniusD80

Shutter lag is not at all an issue when photographing subjects that are stationary. It is when trying to photograph moving subjects that it becomes a major concern. As most people who are beginners in digital photography find that their pictures are mostly taken at the wrong time, usually after the action or moment that they wanted to capture.

The first step in combating shutter lag is to perfectly understand how the shutter button in your camera works and how the camera responds to it. Firstly the shutter button has two modes, one at half click which tells the camera to acquire focus and set the exposure depending on the metering mode selected. And second is at full press position when the camera responds by actually taking the picture.

photography shutter lag
Photo By Owmya

There is no way for us to get rid of shutter lag as it is depended mostly on the capability of your camera hardware. But we could get rid of the other two delays namely Focus Lag and Metering Lag. And make our picture taking process much accurate.


“Pre-focus” is the term used for focal lock in which the photographer points the camera at the area / subject where the action is about to take place; half presses the shutter button so as to make the camera acquire focus and exposure and keeps the button in the half pressed mode. He / she then wait for the exact moment to fully press the shutter and take the picture. Here’s link to a previous article explaining how to do it properly – Shutter Release Technique.

point and shoot digital camera shutter lag
Photo By Kevbo

How to Combat Shutter Lag in Digital Cameras

In some digital cameras the Red Eye reduction function if turned on will considerably increase the delay so try turning it off.

For cameras that allow manual exposure and focus, shifting to fully manual mode and using manual focus will get rid of focus and exposure lags. Unfortunately not many point and shoot cameras have this option.

shutter lag in digital camera
Photo By Marwa Morgan

It is to be noted that when using pre focus technique, you could actually re compose your frame while the shutter is in half pressed mode for better framing.

Another method people successfully use to prevent missing precious moments due to lag is to use the continuous shooting mode and taking a series of pictures rather than a single shot.

In the next article we will discuss about Photography - Tips For Beginners - How to Clean a DSLR Camera Lens

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