Like most technology we own, our cameras will eventually stop working. Not only is this bad news for our bank balances, but if a camera were to die mid-shoot then it could potentially land us in a world of professional problems. Minimize these risks by knowing what to look out for and the kind of plan you need to have in place for when that inevitable disaster strikes.
For as long as I have practiced digital photography, I have had a persistent apprehension that my camera is on the brink of taking its final few frames. I think this complex came from shooting very high shot counts day in, day out in my first commercial studio job as well as owning several secondhand cameras early on in my career. This worry is justified by the fact that the shutter in a DSLR camera does not actually last forever and will eventually cease to function. For those who don't know exactly what the shutter in the camera looks like, this video is a fascinating watch and will help you to understand what we are talking about. In a nutshell, the role of the shutter is to allow light to pass for a determined period of time onto the sensor which captures the image. This shutter moves at some speed and force every single time you take a photograph and because of this the shutter will eventually wear out and kill the camera.
Depending on the camera you have, the typical life of a shutter can vary from anything as low as 50,000 shutter actuations right up to 350,000. Some photographers may get unlucky and find themselves on the lower side of those numbers while others may find their cameras are still going strong after 500,000 shots. For this reason, it's crucial you keep an eye on how many pictures your current camera has made and how many frames your particular model will be at when it reaches the end of its life cycle. Knowing these numbers is equally as important to be aware of when looking to purchase a camera secondhand. If something you find on eBay has already taken a lot of pictures it may not last as long as you hope or be as much of a bargain as you think.
Typical Shutter Counts for Popular Cameras
Even though the site is a little dated now, The Camera Shutter Life Expectancy Database is a great resource for camera shutter actuations and their life cycles. If you've had the same camera for a few years or are considering buying something secondhand, this website can quickly give you a ballpark figure. A quick Google will also return the typical life of a camera shutter for your particular body. Personally, I'd also drop a line to the necessary service center to get an official answer on a shutter's lifespan. In some cases, camera companies will replace a shutter if it fails before that particular number so it's well worth knowing if that is the case.
Finding the Current Shutter Count on a Camera
Hopefully you now have a rough idea of how long your camera will last, so it's now time to find out how many shutter actuations you have already made. Unfortunately, there is no universal way to perform this task as the camera manufacturers all do things slightly differently. Some cameras actually store the shutter count in the Exif data of every image you make. This means that it's possible to view the count information in Photoshop by going to “File Info.”
Once you are in the File Info menu, click on the "Raw Data" tab and use the search box to help find your count number. Depending on which camera manufacturer you use the wording will vary. Try the phrases “Shutter Count,” “Image Number,” or even “Image Count” to help direct you to the correct part of the code.
For those without Photoshop, there are also many handy websites like Camera Shutter Count, Nikon Shutter Count, and MyShutterCount.com which will read the Exif data on an image you upload and instantly display your shutter count.
If your particular camera manufacturer in their infinite wisdom has decided not to include the shutter counter figure in the Exif data, there are some third-party programs which can still give you the current shutter reading directly off the camera body when it is connected to a computer via USB. Both EOSInfo and Shutter Count from Dire Studios are very popular although I haven't used either so can't comment on their reliability. Canon users may also consider using Magic Lantern which is a free software add-on that you install directly onto your camera and unlocks many new features including an on-screen shutter counter reading when you visit the “Debug” menu.
If none of the above suggestions work for you then your camera manufacturer's service center may be happy to give you a reading off the camera. I seriously doubt they would do such a thing for free, but for peace of mind, it would be worth the financial outlay.
Preparing Yourself for the Inevitable
So now you have an idea of how long your camera will last and how many shots it has already taken, it's time to put a plan into place. If you are only an occasional photographer who makes 5,000 images a year, your camera body still probably has years of life left in it. If, however, you have purchased a secondhand camera with a six-figure shutter count on it, or like me you're a commercial photographer who can easily shoot 150,000 images per year, then you need to be keeping a closer eye on the numbers and for all important shoots be carrying a backup camera with you.
Thankfully it's not all doom and gloom as camera shutters can usually be replaced. You still need to plan for possible downtime while a shutter is being repaired as the turnaround for such a job is usually several days. It is also worth knowing that the price to replace a shutter from a camera service center can be anywhere from $300 right up to $600. It's probably a good idea to find out how much your particular camera will cost to fix now so you can budget accordingly. In some instances, the cost to repair may not be worth it and a replacement camera will need to be bought instead. If you keep an eye on your shutter count this won't come as much of a surprise though. Lastly, for those who are both thrifty and handy with a screwdriver, you could attempt to replace the shutter yourself, but it's a task not for the faint-hearted.
So there you have it, how best to minimize the risks of a failing camera. This article is not intended to scare you into shooting less with your cameras out of fear of wearing the shutter out, but more to make you aware that just like many things in life cameras don't last forever. By preparing yourself with the numbers and having a plan in place you can avoid any nasty surprises while shooting or when purchasing secondhand gear.
What sort of shutter actuations are your particular camera bodies currently on? Do you have any stories about a camera shutter going? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.
Lead image originally by Skitterphoto from Pexels.
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Hmm, strange. My camera, a Canon 5D MKII, doesn't put the shutter information in the file info. I tried Photoshop (see the picture) and I tried also the website Camera Shutter Count.
Hey Metin, the 5D II is one of many full-frame Canon bodies which doesn't include the shutter count in the Exif data sadly. Magic Lantern I mention above does work on a 5D II although it does involve installing a third-party software onto your camera body via a CF card...
Hmmm, thanks Paul. I was a little bit to fast with stopping with reading and trying the stuff you wrote. (I missed that peace about Magic Lantern). And I still doubting about Magic Lantern. I am sure it will work, but I don't know... Maybe it is time just to do it..
Hey Metin, your reservations about Magic Lantern are totally understandable. I have never installed it on a 5D II so I can't really comment.
I'm sure Youtube has some great videos on installing it safely. If you do decide to do it I'd love to hear how you get on.
All the best!
Hey Metin, if you're interested this is the average shutter count for the 5D II from the website above.
Makes you wonder what Canon is hiding.
That database is uselessly out of date so unless camera manufacturer are keen to give out when their camera are supposed to die, I doubt we'll ever know...
A lot of our readers may very well be looking at older second-hand gear as a way of getting into photography. I know that's how I started.
Sadly in recent years, obtaining shutter info has got much harder but it's not impossible to get. What camera do you shoot on?
This info should really be more readily available. I'm sure many don't even give this a second thought when buying second hand.
You're absolutely right Robert. If you take a look on eBay for preowned camera bodies you'd be surprised at how few mention the shutter count.
Some people are literally buying camera bodies blind!
I was so desperately hoping my shutter of the Pentax K5 would give up, as I was promising myself not to buy a new camera before that one dies. It ended up having 385k clicks and was still working... :-( I still hate Pentax for that one! ;-)
One of my Eos 6D gave up at 110k. At least up to 1/1000 shutter speed. Below that it was working fine and gave me correct exposures.
That might be worth mentioning: when your shutter dies, you don't loose your whole camera all at a sudden. But some shutterspeeds don't work anymore. Or in one out of ten photos, you are way too overexposed, as your shutter wasn't able to close fast enough. That is allways a good indicator that you have to give it to repair or get ridd of it.
Hey congrats on your 385K shots! That is the current record to beat so far.
You make a great point about shutters showing signs of failing at various shutter speeds long before they completely go.
Personally, I have thankfully only experienced a shutter going once and when it went it really did die without warning.
Thanks for the info : )
Hey Bob, a lot of our readers may very well be looking at much older second-hand gear as a way of getting into photography. I know that's how I started.
What camera were you looking for? I can try at this end...
Not only is their website dated but their search function isn't great either! Rather than typing a full camera name I found if I typed just a model number I got more results.
The website says the following:
Sony Alpha a6000 Shutter Life
Average number of actuations after which shutter is still alive: 69,757.1
Average number of actuations after which shutter died: 391,987.4
Is this the right camera?
You're very welcome Bob. The charts are a little confusing to me too.
By the looks of things, there is only 4 cameras logged at the 250-500k mark but also 3 cameras still alive at 1M-2M?!
This is the problem with crowd-sourced websites in that you're relying on the information which is fed into them. The Canon 5D II chart I mention in a comment above has considerably more results and feels more accurate in its shutter life predictions to me.
Let me know if your A6000 gets to 1 million! ;)
I have always equated this notion with the idea of running a car. Be mindful of the milage otherwise, you could be in for a very expensive shock!
haha yes! I'm sure there are some Volvo equivalent cameras out there.
Hoping some of our readers will tell us!
I just ran all of my Nikons through the database of alive/dead cameras. My shutter counts are about halfway through their expected life. Good information to know rather than get caught dead on a photo shoot. Thank you for posting this article as I shared it with my daughter who shoots professionally to check her camera's as well.
You're very welcome Christopher. Better to have a rough idea in your head than shooting blind. If I have a particular job which I know is going to be thousands of shots I may very well opt to use a particular body for that reason. I'm sure people do the same with cars too when they are worried about the mileage...
I hope yours and your daughter's cameras fall on the upper limits of these average lifecycle suggestions!
What about mirrorless? Do they have the same considerations?
Hey Ben, mirrorless cameras still have shutters. It will have either an electronic or a mechanical shutter inside, quite often it will have both.
Mechanical shutters will wear out like their DSLR cousins. Have you tried looking at the sites I mentioned above and see if your camera is on there?
Mirrorless cameras are not my specialty I'm afraid.
Hope this helps?
Thanks, I'll check.
The good news is that we all have backup cameras on hand at all time. I tend to push my shutters to about 110% of their rating and then during a slower period have them replace prophylactically.
Hey Paul, by back up camera do you mean our smartphones? If so, great point as long as you're not relying on strobes.
Sounds like you have a great strategy in place. Are you never tempted to see if you could push a camera way beyond the rating of 110%?
Thanks for your comment
When shooting professionally, you should try to have a spare body on hand. "Two is one. One is none."
I hear you Sam. Great saying!
Thats a great point Bob. Three backups minimum for my pics!
Sure. I would rather carry two and use the extra space (I have no idea what that is!) to carry an all-in-one lens in the case of an emergency. Cameras aren't the only things that fail.
Great point about the lenses too guys!
Paul, my backup is the same SLR as my primary camera. I always wondered about seeing just how far my shutter would go, but some more-than-usual critical shoot would be looming and I just didn't want to risk having it fail then.
Very fair Paul. As I said at the start of the article. If a camera fails you could land yourself in a world of problems.
People have to put a price on taking that risk. Personally, I wouldn't.
Glad to hear its working for you. : )
one of my 5dMk3's just won't die. 644.000 clicks and still going strong. all the knobs and rubber patches are falling off, but it just keeps working :')
Haha yes Fille! I'm a big fan of the 5D III so to see those numbers is great to see.
I really hope you make it to a million!
Unfortunately, Paul, the Shutter Life Expectancy Database is rather TOO outdated - it relates mostly to cameras which are likely nearing the end of their original shutter's life, and is of no help with newer cameras.
One thing that struck me as odd about this issue - a while back, I came across an article about a very popular cam with a manufacturer's shutter life expectancy rating of around 200,000 shots, which apparently was turning up its toes anywhere from around 50,000 onwards - and the author cautioned against placing too much reliance on the maker's rating. He did admit that the low figure (50,000) was uncommon, but added he was aware of a number of the cams that had failed somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000.
Having found myself stuck outside the capital city of one of the European nations I was travelling through, a couple of years back, because one of my memory cards refused to allow me to use the last 500 shots that should have been available, I can say it's no fun being in a remote area, if anything does fail and you don't have backup with you. I had to wait days, till I returned to the capital, to rectify that one, and even then it was extremely difficult - couldn't get another suitable compact card, had to finish my trip using the JPEG slot on my camera (and no more RAW shots !!!)
I agree the database is a little dated, which camera were you looking for?
I remember you telling me about a memory card not allowing the last 500 shots on it before. Are you sure it wasn't a fake card? They often will claim their capacity is bigger than they are at times and look identical to the real thing.
Shutter count is an incredibly crude method (in my opinion) to measure life of the camera. Its certainly an indicator, but not the entire story. The shutter assembly and mirrorbox are both presicon pieces of engineering, they dont take knocks, eg abuse. They will take the occasional time when you slam the camera into a wall. But repeatedly and things fall apart.
I had a s/h 50d, Bought it with 130k on the clock and within 2 days and 10,000 images it was dead. The camera itself was in a pretty shabby state in the first place. It was sent off to be repaired, and $200 later, we were back in business. Camera pulled another 350k before dying.
It’s replacement was a new 7D. That died the following summer on 836k. The shutter just flew apart one day. It’s replacement was another 7D currently sitting at around 300k as a guess and still going fine.
It’s replacement was a new 7D2 which died at 1.03m. Interestingly its shutter didnt die but the mirror had rather come apart. CPS replaced both the mirror assembly and shutter for $300.
But you have to consider that our 7Ds are babied. They are rarely put on hard surfacesas they live on soft surfaces or in the bag all the time. And they will average 7,000 per day for 100 days over the summer. No knocks, no bumps, no scrapes. The only reason we think the 836k 7D so early was because it fell off a car 2 weeks earlier.
Below is shutter count 2 days before the 7D2 had “health issues”.
Hey James thanks for the story and welcome to Fstoppers.
Great to hear such healthy numbers in the wild.
Although the numbers referenced are just estimates and averages it's handy to have a ballpark figure in your head so you can plan and prepare accordingly. We all do the same with cars and they are equally made precision pieces of engineering.
What the hell do you shoot to take so many frames per day? I thought the 1k I do in a fashion shoot was excessive...
1K per day isn't a lot by any standards if you shoot profesionally.
Small shoots often ends up with 600-750 photos, and that's around 3 hours of photographing with no rush. Working in fashion some time ago i was making around 1500 daily and if the shoot was big (3 models, 40-50 sets) that number grew into 7000-8000 pics.
I've changed shutter in my cameras three times, one was fuji x100 after 10K (it was well known issue), second was 40D at around 60K (it wasn't used for two years and after that i've made 10K in three days), third was my beloved 1DsIII at 180K.
I have a theory that if the camera wasn't used daily the shutter is more likely to fail due to it's age, and cameras that are used often gain massive shutter counts, as their mechanics doesn't stay in one place that often.
My 1D4 is like 400.000, 6D i had was 170K, 5D3 i've owned made 260K in two years, another 1D4 was like 500K.
My Nikon D7000 and my D7100 are both hovering around the 70-80,000 mark...I'm not nervous yet, but I'm getting there, lol.
Hey Jason, those numbers look healthy to me. The main thing is you're conscious of the numbers. Many are not!
You never know they may just run and run. Some of the users on the thread have some big numbers on their shutters...
All the best : )