Camera Shutter Count – The Heart Of a Camera

Camera Shutter Count – The Heart Of a Camera

The heart of a camera is the shutter mechanism and it is activated every time we take a photo. The camera’s EXIF data, amongst other information, records the number of times the shutter is activated.

The shutter count is like the odometer of your motor vehicle which tells you how old the vehicle is in mileage terms; the camera’s shutter count tells you how old the camera is in terms of shutter actuations.

In this post I go into a bit more detail about shutter counts; determining a particular camera’s shutter count, how they impact when buying or selling a camera, when and how to replace them etc.

Is The Camera's Shutter Count Important?

A camera’s shutter count tells you how much the camera has been used – as opposed to how old it is.  Some people use their cameras way more than others so the shutter count will be higher. 

There are very few moving parts in modern DSLRs and in mirrorless cameras even fewer moving parts. The shutter is the one thing that is actuated each time the shutter is fully depressed.  Other than external bodily appearance there is not much else to indicate a camera’s age.

A camera Shutter Count is Like an Odometer

Take the car analogy again. If 2 cars were bought on the same day; one by a sales rep who travels extensively and the other by a senior citizen who uses it mainly to go grocery shopping once or twice a week, the first car will clock up a lot more mileage as the second over any given period.

Not everyone is aware that there is even such a thing as a shutter count but it’s good to know about it in case you are ever buying a second hand camera or selling your camera.

What is too high a shutter count and what is a very low shutter count?

This is a really good question and the answer my surprise you … read on to see the average life expectancy of a camera’s shutter and when you should be concerned.

What is the Life Expectancy Of A Camera's Shutter

The average life expectancy of most modern digital camera’s shutters is around the 150,000 – 200,000 mark, that’s a lot of photographs.

This is an average expectancy and the shutter can fail  before this or way after – there is just no way of predicting if your camera’s shutter is a good one or a bit of a lemon. We do have a lot of assurance through warranties and manufacturer’s quality control.

Generally speaking if you use your camera regularly and it gives no problems during the initial 2 year warranty it should go the distance. Conversely not using it much could result in an under utilised shutter that sticks (not common but known to have happened).

How long will it take you to get to 150,000 actuations?

The short answer to this is probably much longer than you think.

From my own experience …

My first DSLR was a Nikon D5100 (loved that camera) and I used it daily for 2 years, snapping at everything that moved and most things that stood still.  After 6 months I heard that a good way to improve your photography is to do a 365 challenge – where by you take and post at least 1 photo a day online. 

After I had owned the camera for about 2 years I heard about this thing called “shutter count” and thought it would interesting to know what my D5100’s count was.  I was expecting a lot but no-where near as many as the 20,000 that it was!

That set me back for a couple of days until I really gave it some thought as by this stage an upgrade was in my mind.

Then I got to thinking along the following lines:

Okay so I had used up roughly 1/7 of my camera’s life expectancy in 2 years. That meant if I carried on at the prodigious rate I was going I could expect another 12 years of use out of it. What was I worried about?

Since then (4 years ago) the Nikon D5100 has become obsolete; having been replaced with the D5200, the D5300, the D5500 and now the Nikon D5600.  Each progressive model being less expensive than my original D5100.

In my experience worrying about a shutter count is pointless other than if you were considering a very old camera to purchase.  And even then a purchase like that could be an inexpensive way to test the waters.

An Incredible Shutter Count From Canon - 850 K and counting ...

Camera Shutter Count of 850,000

Here’s a true story about a shutter count from a Canon camera – if my memory serves me correctly it was a Canon 1DX.

A customer came into the shop I was working in and asked us to send his camera in for a full service and a thorough going over as he had just bought it second-hand off a professional photographer.

Externally the camera was in mint condition and had clearly been well looked after.

We sent it off to Canon here in New Zealand who contacted us a few days later to update ourselves on the camera’s progress as it was going through their workshop.

What transpired was the shutter had a count in excess of 850,000 and they made the customer an offer that was hard to beat: 

  • They would either replace the shutter “while they had the camera in pieces” for a cost of about NZ$500.00 (note it was still working but made sense to replace it while they were giving the camera a complete service) or
  • They would replace the camera with the latest version of that model, a 1DX Mark ii – for FREE!!! 

They were happy to offer him a brand new upgrade if they could retain the old camera for marketing purposes.

We had one very happy customer and Canon got a lot of good mileage out of this wonderful gesture.

How to Check the Shutter Count of Any Camera

With a couple of clicks you’ll soon now what the shutter count on any camera is.

Camera Shutter Count Checker Results

Checking a camera’s shutter count is very simple as the information is retained in the EXIF data

Simply take a photo with your camera in JPG, or any other format supported by the software you use.  In the above example Nikon’s NEF, Pentax’s DNG and Canon’s CR2 as well as Jpeg are supported. 

Now head over to Google and type inn “What’s my shutter count”.  Google will come up with a range of sites that can do it for free. 

One such site is www.shuttercounter.com – used in the example above.

Upload your photo to the site and within seconds you will know the shutter count on your camera.

Can A Camera's Shutter be Replaced?

Yes – replacing a camera’s shutter is way cheaper than you may expect and can be as little as a couple of hundred dollars.  With a new shutter assembly unit you will virtually have a brand new camera.

Check with your local supplier or directly with the manufacturer.  It could be well worth it but be sure to check latest camera prices as advances in technology bring prices down pretty rapidly.

The following video shows how to replace a shutter – not something I would attempt at home.

Watching this video made me realise that the technology behind these machines is very complex – to a layman like me anyway.  Note that the shutter is at the heart of the camera and virtually every component has to be removed to get to it – which is why I said the shutter is the heart of the camera.

Conclusion

While the camera’s shutter count is a useful tool for telling us how much the camera has been used there is not much to gain from knowing this information – except of course when buying or selling a second hand camera.

Most camera’s shutters will last beyond the average photographer’s use of them and in any event it is seldom an issue as you are probably going to upgrade along the way.

Have you ever had a camera’s shutter fail on you, or know anyone who has?

I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.

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