What Is Shutter Lag Time and How Do You Reduce It?

Don't let shutter lag ruin your photo

A camera phone held up to a bridge
Camera phones are susceptible to shutter lag time.

d3sign / Getty Images

Have you ever had the perfect photograph lined up and pushed the button only to have the camera respond a second too late? We have all been there and this is called shutter lag time.

Shutter lag time can be frustrating because that split second of hesitation often means that the subject has moved out of frame or the picture becomes blurry. It is a common problem with compact digital cameras as well as cameras on your phone.

What Is Shutter Lag Time?

Shutter lag time simply means the time it takes from when you press the shutter button to when the camera actually records the picture. Although the shutter lag time is often less than one second, that small amount of time can be just enough to cause the subject to move out of the frame and cause you to miss a great photo.

Modern DSLRs suffer far less from this problem, but some small traces of lag time can sometimes be noticed. Compact cameras, especially inexpensive ones, often suffer from shutter lag.

There are three distinct components of shutter lag, which results in problems with slow cameras.

Autofocus Lag

Autofocus lag refers to the amount of time between you pressing the shutter button halfway to when the camera finds an autofocus lock.

Autofocus lag can be affected by:

  • Moving objects are affected the most because some cameras cannot keep up and refocus on the subject as it moves across the scene.
  • In low light situations, the autofocus may have a difficult time finding an object to focus on. The red assist beam that many cameras have is designed to help with this issue.
  • Some cameras, particularly compact cameras and phones, simply do not have a quick autofocus function.

Shutter Release Lag

Shutter release lag refers to the amount of time it takes from when you fully press the shutter button — from an already half-pressed shutter button — to when the shot is recorded. In other words, it is the amount of time to record a shot that has already been pre-focused.

There is not much that you can do to correct for this because some cameras are simply slower at capturing a photograph than others.

Total Lag

Total lag measures the amount of time it takes from when you fully press the shutter button — without any half-press pre-focusing — to when the camera actually records the photograph.

It is only really noticeable if using the camera in a quick snapshot, where there is no time to press the shutter halfway to pre-focus the image.

How to Reduce Shutter Lag

Reducing the effects of shutter lag is something you can do with a little practice ... although it's much more difficult with an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera than with a nice interchangeable lens camera.

  1. Try shooting in good lighting to reduce the effects of shutter lag.
  2. If you have a moving subject, try shooting it as it moves toward you, rather than shooting as the subject moves across the camera's field of vision.
  3. Use the pre-focusing method discussed earlier, by pressing the shutter button halfway.
  4. Try pre-focusing on a nearby object that is stationary. If a moving object may move into the same space as the still object, this is a good way to have the focus set beforehand.
  5. Finally, if you have the option of shooting in manual control and manual focus modes, try it. This will often reduce the effects of shutter lag because the camera does not need to focus.
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