Find Out How Long It Is Before Your Camera Will Die

Find Out How Long It Is Before Your Camera Will Die

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 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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Metin Yirtici's picture

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.

Paul Parker's picture

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...

Metin Yirtici's picture

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..
Thank you.

Paul Parker's picture

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!

Paul Parker's picture

Hey Metin, if you're interested this is the average shutter count for the 5D II from the website above.

Brett Wheeler's picture

Makes you wonder what Canon is hiding.

Mr Blah's picture

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...

Paul Parker's picture

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?

Robert Bell's picture

This info should really be more readily available. I'm sure many don't even give this a second thought when buying second hand.

Paul Parker's picture

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!

fk- fotoreportagen's picture

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.

Paul Parker's picture

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 : )

Paul Parker's picture

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...

Paul Parker's picture

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?

Paul Parker's picture

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! ;)

Dr Peter Howell's picture

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!


Paul Parker's picture

haha yes! I'm sure there are some Volvo equivalent cameras out there.

Hoping some of our readers will tell us!

Anonymous's picture

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.

Paul Parker's picture

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!

Ben D's picture

What about mirrorless? Do they have the same considerations?

Paul Parker's picture

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?

Ben D's picture

Thanks, I'll check.

Paul Scharff's picture

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.

Paul Parker's picture

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

Anonymous's picture

When shooting professionally, you should try to have a spare body on hand. "Two is one. One is none."

Paul Parker's picture

I hear you Sam. Great saying!

Paul Parker's picture

Thats a great point Bob. Three backups minimum for my pics!

Anonymous's picture

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.

Paul Parker's picture

Great point about the lenses too guys!

Paul Scharff's picture

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.

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