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Digital Camera Shutter Lag & Startup Time
One of the most frustrating problems some people run into with digital cameras is the characteristic known as shutter lag. How many times have you waited for the right moment to take a shot, only to spend the next second waiting for the camera to take the picture, if at all? Meanwhile, your perfect shot has vanished from view. This is shutter lag.
The time from when you press the shutter release button (ie. the trigger) until the camera actually takes the photo is known as total shutter lag. Total shutter lag is the combination of two processes at work: the autofocus lag and the shutter release lag.
- Autofocus Lag - As soon you press the shutter button, the camera generally attempts to search for an appropriate focus point. This autofocus mechanism is often very slow, and contributes most to the overall lag. In point and shoot cameras, the physical lens is focused back and forth with a motor until the camera determines that the focus is correct. Obviously since we have to wait for a motor to move in both directions, the delay is going to be considerable. With digital SLR cameras, an advanced closed-loop control circuit allows a fast estimate of appropriate focus distance, without having to slowly move the lens back and forth. Note that all cameras will take longer to autofocus if the environment is dark or the photographed object exhibits poor contrast (which makes it harder for the camera to lock-on to).
- Shutter Release Lag - Once the camera has determined the appropriate focus distance, the camera triggers the electronic or physical shutter mechanism. On some cheaper cameras this process can take a moderate amount of time, but it is usually not as significant as the autofocus lag. The shutter release lag is the time it takes to take the photo if one has "pre-focused" (ie. held down the shutter button half-way) or used manual focus mode.
- Total Lag - The sum of Autofocus Lag and Shutter Release Lag. This is the delay most often seen when "pre-focusing" is not done, or in times when one is trying to take a picture quickly (ie. without setting it up).
Obviously, the larger the total lag time for a camera, the more noticeable and frustrating the delay becomes. In purchasing a new camera, one should carefully compare the differences in total lag between different models, as some cameras are much faster than others in this respect. Make sure that you are comparing the time it takes to shoot the same object (as different objects will lead to different autofocus lag delays).
Comparison of Shutter Lag & Startup Delay
Values in the following table are in seconds. The references column will contain links to the sources for each data point. Where multiple references are used for the data, the average is shown, along with the range (min-max) in parentheses. It is very important to note that differences in measurement approaches and result precision make direct comparisons difficult. Therefore, comparisons between models performed by the same source should theoretically be fair, while comparisons between different sources may be less accurate.
More cameras will be added over time. Note that it is often difficult to test for shutter lag, and that there is some degree of variability in the readings that various sources might indicate. This is especially the case with total lag, as it is highly dependent upon the lens setup. Therefore, where mutliple total lag tests have been performed for a camera by the same tester, the fastest measurement is included.
NOTE: All times in the table below are in seconds (S). Multiply by 1000 to convert to milliseconds (mS).
|Canon||10D||0.091 (0.08-0.104)||0.189 (0.146-0.24)||2.355 (2.32-2.39)||***|
|Canon||1D||0.051 (0.039-0.056)||0.251 (0.201-0.3)||0.91||****|
|Canon||1D mk II||0.056 (0.054-0.059)||0.215 (0.2-0.23)||0.95||***|
|Canon||1D mk II N||0.04||0.2||*|
|Canon||1Ds||0.057 (0.055-0.059)||0.197 (0.093-0.3)||1.32||***|
|Canon||1Ds mk II||0.055||0.3||*|
|Canon||20D||0.076 (0.065-0.09)||0.195 (0.16-0.23)||0.22 (0.2-0.25)||****|
|Canon||300D Rebel||0.107 (0.06-0.142)||0.25||2.617 (2-3.09)||***|
|Canon||350D Rebel XT||0.098 (0.09-0.105)||0.219 (0.208-0.24)||0.253 (0.2-0.31)||****|
|Canon||400D Rebel XTi||0.1||0.2||*|
|Canon||PowerShot S60||0.082 (0.08-0.084)||0.84 (0.69-0.99)||3.59 (3.2-3.98)||**|
|Canon||PowerShot SD300||0.077 (0.073-0.08)||0.7 (0.62-0.78)||1.67 (1.5-1.84)||**|
|Fujifilm||FinePix E550 zoom||0.09||0.38||1.94||*|
|Kodak||DCS Pro 14n||0.125||*|
|Kodak||DCS Pro SLR/n||0.125||0.2||*|
|Konica Minolta||DiMAGE Z2||0.09 (0.09-0.09)||0.705 (0.59-0.82)||4.24||**|
|Konica Minolta||DiMAGE Z3||0.124 (0.11-0.137)||0.51 (0.47-0.55)||3.43 (3-3.86)||**|
|Nikon||Coolpix 5200||0.102 (0.08-0.124)||0.995 (0.82-1.17)||3.72 (3.34-4.1)||**|
|Nikon||Coolpix 8400||0.075 (0.07-0.079)||0.45 (0.41-0.49)||3.905 (3.5-4.31)||**|
|Nikon||D50||0.114 (0.113-0.114)||0.265||0.2 (0.2-0.2)||***|
|Sony||Cyber-Shot DSC-F828||0.009 (0.008-0.009)||0.475 (0.26-0.69)||1.25 (1-1.5)||**|
Sony Point & Shoot 9ms shutter lag?
Yes, as surprising as it is, Sony apparently has shutter lag delays of as little as 9ms! This value has been published on the Sony site with several of their point and shoot models under Specifications. One should always take manufacturer's performance specs with a grain of salt, but there may be some truth to this as another tester (Imaging-Resource) came up with the same figure. It is important to note, however, that this is without any auto-focus. Bringing auto-focus into the picture drops the total lag time more in line with a typical P&S digicams.
Sources for Digital Camera Testing
The following websites offer detailed testing of digital cameras, including shutter lag. The quality of the tests vary, but the test setups used in each of the following sites are reasonable for a starting point: