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Shutter Modes & Continuous Shooting Modes: When to Use Which?

What’s the difference between a mechanical shutter, electronic first-curtain shutter, and full electronic shutter? What kind of scenes are the ‘High-speed continuous shooting +’, ‘High-speed continuous shooting’ and ‘Low-speed continuous shooting’ modes most appropriate for? Read on to find out how to choose the best mode for the scene and shoot more effectively and efficiently! (Reported by: Kazuo Nakahara, Digital Camera Magazine)


What’s the difference between the shutter modes?

Whenever you take a shot, your camera controls the exposure timing by opening and closing the shutter. But did you know that there are three possible ways to do so?

Mechanical shutter: The physical shutter blades open for the first curtain (start of exposure) and close for the second curtain (end of exposure).
Electronic shutter*: The physical shutter blades are locked open, and both the first and second curtains are conducted electronically by the camera reading the image sensor pixels.
Electronic first-curtain shutter*: The physical shutter blade moves only for the second curtain.

Read in depth about shutter behaviour here.

*On DSLR cameras, these are only available during Live View shooting.

Most of Canon's recent camera models offer at least two out of the three shutter modes. 

Know this:

- On some mirrorless camera models, the full electronic shutter mode might be known by another name such as 'Silent Shutter mode' or 'Silent SCN mode'. (This is different from the 'Silent mode' on DSLR cameras, which still use the mechanical shutter.)
- Depending on the camera model, the electronic shutter might be available only for single shots. Check your manual for more information.
- On DSLR cameras, the electronic shutter is available only for Live View shooting, and is not supported for OVF shooting
- The EOS R5 and EOS R6 are the first mirrorless camera models to offer all three shutter modes for continuous shooting during both EVF and Live View shooting. 


What are the pros and cons of each shutter drive mode?

Mechanical shutter
Advantages Disadvantages
- Lower risk of rolling shutter distortion. - Possibility of camera shake due to mechanical shutter shock.
- Bokeh doesn’t get disrupted when shooting at fast shutter speeds near maximum aperture. - Release time lag is longer than for electronic first-curtain shutter/electronic shutter.
Electronic first-curtain shutter
Advantages Disadvantages
- Quieter than mechanical shutter. - Bokeh might get disrupted when shooting at fast shutter speeds near maximum aperture.
- Lower risk of rolling shutter distortion. - Possibility of uneven exposure especially with third-party lenses.
- Less release time lag compared to mechanical shutter.  
Electronic shutter
Advantages Disadvantages
- Can achieve the highest continuous shooting speed on the camera (e.g. up to 20 fps on the EOS R5/R6). - Risk of rolling shutter distortion.
- Silent shooting (no mechanical shutter sound). - Cannot set shutter speeds slower than 0.5 seconds.
- No camera shake caused by mechanical shutter shock.  

On the EOS R5 and EOS R6, the shutter drive mode is set to ‘Electronic 1st-curtain shutter’ by default. However, design improvements have resulted in almost no mechanical shutter shock. For the best image quality, it’s probably a good idea to use as ‘Mechanical shutter’ as your base mode and switch to ‘Electronic 1st-curtain shutter’ or ‘Electronic shutter’ where appropriate.

For a faster way to toggle between the different shutter modes, assign a button to do so or put the menu option on MyMenu.


Rolling shutter distortion: Why the electronic shutter isn’t necessarily the best choice

Train with rolling shutter distortion

In electronic shutter mode, the image sensor pixels are exposed row by row from top to bottom, which takes more time. This can cause very fast subjects to appear distorted, especially if they take up the entire image frame. If this happens, switch to the mechanical shutter or electronic first-curtain shutter modes.

Learn more about the rolling shutter effect here


The different continuous shooting modes

Shooting everything in ‘High-speed continuous shooting +’ mode may seem to be the most fool-proof way to go, but it isn’t necessarily the most efficient or effective. You might end up with missed shots if your buffer fills, and it can be tedious to have to sift through countless burst shots to identify the best one.

Here are some examples of how you could differentiate your use of the continuous shooting modes.


Example 1: ‘High-speed continuous shooting +’ to capture fleeting expressions

Walking girl

EOS R5/ RF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 79mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4, 1/640 sec, EV -1.0)/ ISO 800/ WB: Auto

Modes used:
- High-speed continuous shooting +
- Electronic 1st-curtain shutter
- One-Shot AF
- 1-point AF

More than just for shooting fast-moving subjects

The ‘High-speed continuous shooting +’ mode lets you shoot up to the cameras maximum burst shooting speed, which is up to 20 fps (electronic shutter) or 12 fps (mechanical shutter) on cameras like the EOS R5 and EOS R6, and up to 14 fps (mechanical shutter) on the EOS M6 Mark II. Besides shooting fast-moving action, it is also ideal for capturing blink-and-you-miss-it facial expressions, gestures, and moments in time.

You may think that shots of walking people like the one above don’t require a very high burst shooting speed, but in fact, you need at least 10 fps to capture the subtle differences in the shape of the person’s legs and in the unique, expressive shadows nearby. For this shot, I pre-focused on the pavement with 1-point AF, held down the shutter button in ‘High-speed continuous shooting +’ mode, and chose the best shot.

Also see:
How to Use High-speed Continuous Shooting to Freeze Moments Skilfully


Example 2: ‘High-speed continuous shooting’ for vehicles in urban areas

Train at urban railroad crossing

EOS R5/ RF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM/ FL: 89mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/2.8, 1/1000 sec, EV +0.3)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto

Modes used:
- High-speed continuous shooting
- Mechanical shutter
- Servo AF
- Face Detection + Tracking Priority AF

Sufficient for the majority of moving subjects

On cameras like the EOS R5 and EOS R6, ‘High-speed continuous shooting’ mode achieves speeds of up to 6 to 8 fps, which is just enough for most moving subjects including trains nearing railroad crossings.

Having fewer shots in one continuous burst also reduces the time required to process and write the images to card. This means that your camera will be ready to shoot the next sequence of continuous shots sooner rather than later, making it easier to handle unfamiliar scenes or those with unpredictable action.


Example 3: ‘Low-speed continuous shooting’ for airplanes at takeoff or touchdown

Plane taking off

EOS R5/ RF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM/ FL: 200mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/2.8, 1/3200 sec, EV +0.3)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto

Modes used:
- Low-speed continuous shooting
- Mechanical shutter
- Servo AF
- Large Zone AF (Horizontal)

Take longer burst sequences without worrying about the buffer

A continuous shooting speed of around 3 fps will probably be too slow for most moving subjects, but it is suitable for subjects that require you to take longer bursts, such as planes at takeoff and landing. Using ‘High-speed continuous shooting +’ for such scenes could fill the camera’s buffer mid-shoot, especially if you are using a slower memory card. Low-speed continuous shooting lets you take consecutive shots all the way till the end of the sequence without having to worry about the camera lagging due to a full buffer.

Inspired? Have fun with 3 Creative Ways to Use Your Camera’s Continuous Shooting Mode!


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Kazuo Nakahara

Kazuo Nakahara

Born in Hokkaido in 1982, Nakahara turned to photography after working at a chemical manufacturing company. He majored in photography at the Vantan Design Institute and is a lecturer for photography workshops and seminars, in addition to working in commercial photography. He is also a representative of the photography information website studio9.