Behind the CLICK: the anatomy of a camera shutter

Most of us have put away, given away, or thrown away our old film-based cameras. No more 35 mm film canisters… now we have sleek solid state digital cameras. Except that the shutter, as ever, is still a tiny clockwork marvel of gears and levers.

You press the button on top of your camera and it goes CLICK. But what happens during that click is surprisingly complex. It’s especially complex for the shutter on a Single Lens Reflex (SLR) digital camera. For instance, consider this puzzle. How does a shutter mechanism that can only operate at 1/300 of a second nevertheless provide an effective shutter speed of 1/3000 of a second?

Derek Miller of put together a great piece explaining how this is possible along with many other fascinating details. Here’s the post: Camera Works: shutters, flashes, and sync speed. Don’t miss one of the resources that he points to, Jeffrey Friedl’s presentation of some high speed photos taken of a lens-less SLR in action. You won’t believe all the craziness that happens in 87.8 milliseconds every time you take a picture.