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What is shutter speed ? The aperture diaphragm of a lens (bigger or smaller values) AND timing (open and close) of the camera's shutter curtain - BOTH perform the tasks of regulating the amount of light entering the camera and expose onto the film. The shutter speed scales engraved on the shutter speed dial of conventional camera bodies with a shutter speed ring OR via some flickering digital numerals on the LCD screen like: 1/8000, 1/4000, 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1 or -1, -2 etc. are essentially indicators of the duration (timing) at which the shutter curtain opens up and closes during an exposure process. A 1/125 setting means the shutter curtain open and close within one hundred and twenty five of a second while 1 means an one full-second the shutter opens up during exposure to absorb the available light source onto the film to form an exposure.

Dial.jpg Illus.jpg  
The shutter speed dial provide the selection of shutter speeds, and indicates the timing of the shutter open and closes. A fast shutter speed such as 1/500 sec will close faster than, say 1/2 sec exposure time. In this case, the shutter curtain will close very fast and thus resulting in less light entering the film. Illustration used here is a older horizontal shutter design, more info is available by < clicking here >.

Nikon FE.jpg CanonA1.jpg
Most conventional SLRs have a shutter speed dial (or ring) on the top panel of the camera body to adjust shutter speed. But it evolves with the development of modern electronic SLRs.

Before the advent of LCD, multi-modes electronic SLRs such as Canon A-1 has a dual input dial for shutter speed (B) and aperture control (Green). But again it depends a lot on camera design. For an instance, ALL Olympus and mechanical Nikkormat SLRs have their shutter speed scales located just next to the lens mount, you have to make use of a grip designed to turn the scales (A) !

OM scales.jpg PentaxME Super.jpg Again, NOT all SLR cameras have shutter speed selected visible from the top or the front, instead, changes and selection can only be viewed inside the viewfinder. A good example is this Pentax push button that controls (C) the shutter speed.

But ALL these may not be applicable to a new wave of modern AF SLRs which use a different kind of input to control shutter speed in the camera. Most would have use thumb or finger wheel(s) such as illustrated earlier on the aperture control section. Well, it is hard to cover and satisfy everybody's desire all in a single page, and my prime interest is still to selling you the idea of how to make use of an old, cheap manual focus SLR of yesteryears. As for an modern AF SLRs, there are plenty of useful resource sites on the Net for you to browse through and gather such information. At this moment in time, I won't be able to offer too much of a help here in this site. But whatever it is, basic principle remains.

What does shutter speeds do ?

In principle, shutter speeds, like aperture value detailed on earlier section, contributing as the next half of the main components for any exposure process - the interval at which the shutter opens to allow a specific amount of light (also depends on the opening of the lens diaphragm) to pass through and expose the film inside..

Different selection of shutter speeds will yield different kind of visual effect on a final photograph. Generally, a fast shutter speed can freeze action while slow speed can blur your image. I am not indicating these are fixed rules. If you understand the nature of how various shutter speed(s) will affect an exposure, you may put them to creative use to enhance the effect - like other than freezing a fast action scene, a slow shutter speed can also put to good use in portraying movement. You can try on to "PAN" a moving subject by following its direction or simply generates a sense flow of movement. But MOST people relates SLOW means BLURRING AN IMAGE which leave little for them to select this alternative to try them out. Well, it is excusable because in most PR-type of photography (photo session on public relation matters like wedding, gathering, seminars, or personal domestic duties for some privileged group - includes your wife, mistress or girl friends..), who would appreciate a defocus or blurry images ? BUT - for the creative minded photographer, slower shutter speed sometimes may create a more powerful visual impact than images taken with action-freeze high shutter speed(s), say, a free flowing river, traffic, a flock of birds taking off or even speed-demons on a race track.. etc..

Nikon F2s.jpg

A basic mechanical SLR camera body like the Nikon F2S of the mid-seventies only offers manual exposure control. AE may require accessory such as DS-1 to transform it into an shutter priority AE camera.

A camera operating in manual mode or a mechanical camera requires you to set the shutter speed and aperture value on the lens manually. In an automatic camera, there is usually at least one type of automatic exposure mode is available. Because of complication of mechanism involves, most camera manufacturers offer only Aperture Priority AE or Programmed AE modes on their EARLY electronic camera models. A good example is Minolta and Canon with their MD and FD mount cameras and lenses while in some exceptional case, such automation was made possible using a mechanical device such as Nikon's F2 with their EE Aperture Control Unit.

However, by early '80 with development and refinement made on both cameras and lenses (Most would require a new series of optics), majority of them started to offer "Shutter Priority AE" and "Intelligent Programmed AE" as well.

OFF-TOPIC SUPPLEMENTS: "Shutter Speed Priority AE": An exposure mode with an automatic or autofocus camera that lets you select the desired shutter speed; the camera will then set the matching aperture value for a proper exposure. If you change the shutter speed, or the light level changes, the camera adjusts the aperture accordingly "Aperture Priority AE": An exposure mode on an automatic or autofocus camera that lets you set the aperture while the camera sets the shutter speed for a proper exposure. If you change the aperture, or the light level changes, the shutter speed will change automatically. Apart from the sport or action photography, aperture priority is the most common & effective automatic mode used in photography. It can also explained as: An automatic exposure process in which the lens aperture is set by the photographer, and the camera sets the shutter speed. It can also be used in the stopped-down mode with any lens that does not interfere with the metering system e.g. bellow unit or non-auto extension rings etc. "Programmed AE": An exposure mode on an automatic or autofocus camera that automatically sets BOTH aperture and shutter speed for a proper exposure. "Intelligent / Flexi-Programmed (flexible-Programmed Auto) AE": The camera's electronic circuit will determine based on the information gathered from the lens coupling to provide HIGHER shutter speed in a program mode if a long focal length lens is used to minimize chances of image blur caused by slow shutter speed. In most cases, Aperture Priority AE is usually represented by a "A"; Shutter Priority AE is represented by "Tv" or "S"; while Programmed AE is denoted as a simple "P" or "PH" in a high speed program AE mode.

speed demons.jpg Taking off 3rd action .....jpg Swan by David Hoftmann blurry takes off ...jpg

Picture courtesy of Vincent Thian, AP; Nick Kalatha, US and Swan pictures by David Hofmann, Germany

Selection of FAST or SLOW shutter speeds may yield different visual effect in a photograph

basically, it is FREEZE or MOTION CREATING. The FREEZE can also be use to minimize hand shake, the BLUR may be use for artistic effect; in some situations, you may use slow shutter speed because the permitting ASA/ISO range of the film in use or aperture on the lens are at their limit. The swan pictures by David was a very good example as side by side comparison between sue of HIGH shutter speed and LOW speed is used.

Beginning with some highly successful AE camera models that was very well received during the mid-seventies (a very good example is a shutter priority AE mode, Canon AE-1 camera that has sold more than 5 million units worldwide !), camera manufacturers realized the inevitably route to AE which resulted to a huge volume of automated SLR camera models flooding onto the market during the early seventies. These newer range of camera models usually came with all the essential automatic exposure control modes mentioned earlier within a single body, either fitted with buttons or with exposure information display through LEDs or LCDs panels.

With just a twist of a button, you can convert your camera into either shutter or aperture priority mode or a more sophisticated multi-programs AE. Such complexity in the exposure control also demands a new method of display essential exposure information and/or other camera functions. The conventional analog method was best represented with camera model such as Canon A-1 of 1977 (which has its aperture set on the dial instead of turning the aperture ring on the lens) or a refined method used in multi-modes SLR camera such as the Nikon FA in 1983. (See earlier Notes)

Beginning with the Nikon F3 in 1980, camera manufacturers found a new flexible and more power efficient way in LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) to handle the increasingly complex camera functions. An illustration below was from an autofocus Nikon F90x camera, the LCD display was in full display status (In practice, it will only show related information relates to an exposure or status quote of the camera in operation). The Canon T series models like the Canon T-70 at left has more than 5 automatic exposure modes with power film advance and rewind feature built-in. LED display is used in the viewfinder information display, while a large LCD panel is a top of the camera body.

Modern AF cameras, with a wealth of sophisticated features incorporated within, are more complicated, as shown is a full featured LCD screen. Substituting all conventional mechanical dial and levers by computer circuits. So, gone are the traditional shutter dial or ring on the camera. Highlighted part represents usual location (generally big and bolder numerals or figures) of the digitally displayed shutter speeds OR aperture values.

Some SLR cameras like the FD-mount Canon Canon T-80 even has LCD's "pictograph" to help the photographer in each of the exposure control mode or progress status. IF you owns a modern autofocus SLR camera, the display can even be more confusing (but most often the LCD willnot shown all the info except for related characters for any particular shooting modes used):



The camera is a professional grade
Canon EOS-1N. Others may or may not share the same form and appearance.

Confusing ?
No. As I said earlier the display system ONLY SHOWS related data directly associates with a particular shooting mode and exposure. Other info for adjustment may also be shown but it is less clustered as illustrated here.

Well, All you need to digest from this SHUTTER SPEED section is:

Shutter speed is, apart from aperture, the other main component required to form a proper exposure. It is control by the shutter speed dial. Shutter speed means timing and duration of opening and closing of the shutter curtain at the back of the camera. A fast shutter speed will freezes action while slower speed creates blurring effect. A shutter speed of 1/125 will allow one time more the amount of light to reach the film than 1/250, the amount of light is double on the next scale of 1/60 to 1/125 etc.

Since both the aperture and shutter speed control amount of light reaches the film for a exposure, there is a very strong relationship between the two:

  1. The aperture (how big or small the lens diaphragm inside a lens opens up) allows different amount of light falls onto film through the lens that attached on your camera body and;
  2. The shutter speed (the shutter curtain - duration and how long it opens up to absorb the amount of light falls onto film);

Although mechanically it differs in function and operation, but the objective is the same - both control and regulate light reaching the film plane to provide a proper exposure.

So, the next section, we will talk about exposure.

Introduction || about aperture || about shutter speed || about exposure || Glossary || Relative: Depth of Field


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