Shuttering the Mystery: How Does a Mirrorless Camera Shutter Work?

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Mirrorless cameras have burst onto the scene, taking the photography world by storm. They’re lighter, more compact, and faster than their DSLR counterparts. But what makes these cameras tick? In this article, we’ll answer the burning question: how does a mirrorless camera shutter work?

Before we delve into the nitty-gritty of how a mirrorless camera shutter works, let’s understand the fundamental differences between mirrorless and DSLR cameras.

Mirrorless vs DSLR Cameras

Traditional DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras rely on a complex system of mirrors, prisms, and shutters to redirect light to the viewfinder. When you snap a photo, the mirror flips up, allowing light to pass through and hit the image sensor, creating a photograph.

The revolutionary idea in mirrorless cameras is that they get rid of the mirror altogether, hence their name. The light from outside directly hits the sensor which is then processed and displayed on an electronic viewfinder (EVF) or an LCD screen. The lack of a mirror makes mirrorless cameras lighter and more compact.

Mechanical vs. Electronic Shutters in Mirrorless Cameras

Mirrorless cameras can have two types of shutters: mechanical and electronic.

  • Electronic Shutter: Electronic shutters are modern developments that doesn’t have any moving parts. Instead, it “scans” the sensor by turning it on and off to capture the image. This makes intuitive sense for mirrorless cameras since the light is already hitting the camera sensors even before the picture is taken.
    Electronic shutters have several advantages than the traditional mechanical shutters. Firstly, since there are no moving parts, these shutters allows photographers to shoot silently. Secondly, they can be much faster than mechanical shutters allowing for higher fps. However, electronic shutter might not be the best option to take photographs of fast moving objects due to its rolling shutter effect. This is explained in more details below. The drawbacks of using an electronic shutter is the rolling shutter effect, which causes issues when using flashes or shooting in fluorescent lights.
  • Mechanical Shutter: Due to the drawbacks of the electronic shutter mentioned above, most modern mirrorless cameras also include mechanical shutters. This type of shutter operates similarly to a DSLR’s shutter, with physical curtains opening and closing to expose the sensor to light. The major difference is that in mirrorless cameras, there is not movement of mirrors involved (since there are no mirrors to begin with).
    The main disadvantages of a mechanical shutter is that it’s slower, and due to the moving parts, suffer more wear and tear than its electronic counterpart.

Capturing Fast Moving Objects With Mechanical vs Electronic Shutter

Mechanical shutters, despite being slower than electronic shutters, excel at capturing fast-moving objects because they expose the entire image sensor to light at the same time, ensuring a cohesive capture of the scene. On the contrary, electronic shutters scan the scene row by row (a process known as “rolling shutter”), which may result in distortions if the subject or the camera moves significantly during the capture. This is especially noticeable in high-speed scenarios, where the object may have moved before the electronic shutter has completed its scan. Hence, despite their slower speed, mechanical shutters provide a more accurate and distortion-free capture of fast-moving objects.

By cmglee – Rolling shutter effect.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0

Mechanical Shutters in Mirrorless Camera – Step by Step

In mirrorless cameras with a mechanical shutter, there are typically two curtains: the first curtain (front curtain) and the second curtain (rear curtain). Here’s a play-by-play of how they work together:

  1. You press the shutter button, and the first curtain opens, exposing the sensor to light (the second curtain is already open).
  2. The sensor gathers light for the duration of the exposure.
  3. The second curtain closes and ends the exposure.
  4. The curtains reset, and the process starts all over again.

The reason for having two curtains is to make sure that each part of the camera sensor is exposed for the same amount of time.

Electronic Shutters in Mirrorless Cameras – Step by Step

Electronic shutters in mirrorless cameras are a whole different ballgame. Since there are no moving parts, their operation is more like a precisely timed light switch. Here’s how it works:

  1. You press the shutter button, and the sensor “turns on” to start the exposure.
  2. The sensor collects light, scanning from top to bottom, for the set exposure time.
  3. The sensor “turns off” to end the exposure.

Electronic shutters are lightning-fast and completely silent, making them perfect for situations where discretion is key.

Frequently Asked Questions about Mirrorless Camera Shutters

Now that we’ve unraveled the mystery of how mirrorless camera shutters work, let’s address some common questions that might be lingering in your mind.

Q1: Why would someone choose a mechanical shutter over an electronic one, or vice versa?

A: Each shutter type has its pros and cons. Mechanical shutters can capture fast-moving subjects with minimal distortion and are less susceptible to banding under artificial light. On the other hand, electronic shutters can shoot silently, are faster, and cause less wear and tear on the camera.

Q2: Can I switch between mechanical and electronic shutters on my mirrorless camera?

A: Most mirrorless cameras allow you to choose between mechanical and electronic shutters, giving you the flexibility to select the best option for your shooting situation.

Q3: Are electronic shutters better for video recording?

A: Electronic shutters are often preferred for video recording because they can provide a smooth, rolling-shutter effect that’s more pleasing to the eye. They also eliminate the noise and vibrations caused by a mechanical shutter.

Q4: Do mirrorless cameras with electronic shutters have a longer lifespan than those with mechanical shutters?

A: Since electronic shutters don’t have any moving parts, they generally have a longer lifespan than mechanical shutters. However, the overall lifespan of a mirrorless camera depends on various factors such as build quality, usage, and maintenance.


Mirrorless cameras have revolutionized the photography world with their compact design, fast autofocus, and versatile shutter options. By understanding how a mirrorless camera shutter works, you can make informed decisions about which type of shutter best suits your needs and shooting style. Happy shooting!

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