This week, I acquired a shiny new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, which surpasses all cameras in its class when it comes to speed. This is thanks to the advanced silent electronic shutter mode. And this got me thinking, will there come a day when the electronic shutter will ever fully replace the mechanical shutter? And do we want it to?
There are clear benefits to using an electronic shutter over a mechanical one, mainly speed and silence. The EM-1 Mark II captures 20-megapixel raw image files at up to a lightning-fast 60 fps when using the electronic shutter and 18 fps in Continuous Auto Focus mode. Mechanical shutters top out at around 1/8000 s for high-speed capture, but the electronic shutter in the E-M1 Mark II can reach 1/32,000 s. The sharpness of your images will also be increased by the lack of vibrations made inside the camera from the mechanical shutter. And since there is no moving shutter, there is no sound. Perfect for when you need to go into super stealth mode with your photography.
Technology still has a way to go before the electronic shutter can outperform the traditional mechanical shutter on all fronts, with the main issues being the rolling shutter effect and lack of sync with a flash. Some image sensor manufacturers for video, like Blackmagic, have adopted an electronic global shutter in their cameras, while stills sensor manufacturers believe this is where the answer lies to enhance their performance. Darin Pebble, Senior Marketing Manager of Imaging at Panasonic, explained to Photo District News the problems with this, but also goes on to predict the future of the electronic shutter:
The Magic of the Mechanical Shutter
Whilst it may sound like I am championing the potential demise of the mechanical shutter, there is one huge drawback to the electronic shutter. The tactile response of a mechanical shutter is something I fell in love with the very first time I picked up a “proper” camera. Like the kickback of a revolver, the feeling of a mechanical shutter is one of trustworthiness and contentment.
In six weeks I will be utilizing the E-M1 Mark II’s stupendous electronic shutter on safari in South Africa. I’m encouraged by the great leaps in sensor technology that manufacturers like Olympus are adopting into their stills cameras, especially when certain situations demand extreme performance. There may be a day when advances will render the mechanical shutter obsolete, but for the sake of all the romantics out there, please don’t let us lose the magic of the mechanical shutter.