Your digital SLR camera WILL die

It is true that your digital SLR camera has a life expectancy. If you are a casual shooter you probably shoot around 100 photos per month, so your camera might last you 10 years before it dies. Why? Because all digital SLR cameras, even mirrorless designs like the SONY SLT series, have a crucial moving part called the shutter. The shutter is that part which opens up the sensor to exposure of the light. The shutter is that click, besides the mirror flipping up, you hear every time you press the button on your dSLR. Though technology has made shutters very reliable, they are a moving part without which your camera cannot function.

How long do shutters last?

In general manufacturers design shutters for around 100 000 actuations (opening and closing of the shutter). This is variable and differs from manufacturer to manufacturer. I am happy to say that my backup camera, a SONY Alpha 230 (or a230 as it is commonly called) has done a little over 150 000 actuations without problems, but I know it will die eventually. Higher end camera bodies can do 300 000 – 500 000 actuations, but these are more expensive and casual photographers will never buy one. Most people settle for entry level dSLR cameras which are readily available from local electronics stores and probably will never experience a shutter death.

Why is this important?

With entry-level cameras becoming really cheap many people purchase one for themselves or receive one as a gift and try their hand at making some money with it. They charge very low rates as they do not consider the camera as a product which can fail. Then one day you hear a horror story… a wedding shoot the photographer did without a backup camera and they experienced a dead shutter during the ceremony! What to tell the bride and groom? They cannot continue the shoot and the bridal couple is left without those beautiful memories of one of the most important days of their lives! They push and push the button, but there is no click, or the click sounds a little strange and when they get home to check the shots they have a black line (usually skewed) across the top or bottom (half a shutter break).

A 100 000 shutter actuations will last me a lifetime!

Yes, if you shoot just a couple of photos a month, but not if you get into doing photography as a profession. I shoot an average of 8000 photos per month so I have to make sure I am ready to replace my main dSLR body every 18-24 months. I use a higher-end dSLR (SONY A55v) which is generally good for at least 200 000 actuations, but I prefer to be ready to replace the body before it reaches the safe limit even though it may continue working for years after that. The cost of replacing a body can be high and this needs to be added to the cost of photo shoots you do. If you are doing professional photography (ie. you do photography for a living) you must be ready for camera body replacement every 18 months. If your dSLR experiences shutter death today, will you be ready to replace or do you have a backup?

Even though I have only once experienced a shutter death on a SLR (old Minolta 300si film camera after many many shots over its limit) I have a backup camera to keep me going in case it should ever happen again.

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