Quick Look: Effect of electronic first curtain

UPDATE: We now have a thorough, in-depth study of the blur-inducing effects of the mirror and shutter, and how electronic first curtain combats these issues, here. We're kept this page for its quick demonstration of the isolated effects of the mechanical shutter in the rollover below, but for a comprehensive study, please proceed to the next page.

We've taken a quick first look at the effect of the newly-introduced electronic first curtain and how it helps to avoid any shutter-induced shake. We found it difficult to get perfectly sharp images out of the D800E because of shutter-induced shock, so the newly-designed shutter as well as the introduction of electronic first curtain should, in principle, help you get the maximal image quality the high resolution sensor offers. Electronic Front Curtain, as Nikon calls it, can be engaged in option D5 of the Custom Settings menu.

While we're working on a more in-depth analysis of the effects of the re-designed mirror and shutter, for now have a look at how the electronic first curtain diminishes the deleterious effects of the shutter opening at the beginning of the exposure.

For this test we mounted a Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8G ED VR II lens on the D810, mounted the lens via its tripod collar to a sturdy studio tripod, then shot our typical studio scene (at 200mm) to assess the effects of shutter-induced shake on image quality. We found the negative effect of the shutter opening on image sharpness to be worst in and around 1/80s.

In the rollover below, we show 1/80s | f/4.0 exposures with the mirror up in all cases. This isolates solely the effects of the shutter opening (as this is what electronic first curtain is designed to address). Note we always waited 3s after the mirror went up to allow for the dampening of any mirror-induced vibration.

Mirror Up | VR On

Mirror Up | VR Off

(Shutter-induced shake)

Mirror Up | VR On/Off*
Electronic first curtain

'VR On' fares the worst; we suspect there's some compensation by the stabilization mechanism of the lens for the shutter-induced shock. 'VR Off' isolates solely the shutter as any potential source of shake, and although it fares significantly better than 'VR On', if you look closely you'll see some vertical motion blur that robs the image of pristine sharpness. Shots taken with an electronic first curtain fare the best, because there is literally no source of potential shake. This also means that VR has nothing to react to; hence, we saw the same take sharp results with both VR on or off.

A note on Nikon's implementation of electronic first curtain

A significant thing to note is that, unlike Canon and Sony's implementations, the D810's electronic first curtain is only available in Mirror Up mode on the D810. We think this is a very strange choice by Nikon. Perhaps they feel that the vibrations induced by the mirror flipping up will swamp any benefits an electronic first curtain might bring? Secondly, electronic first curtain doesn't reduce shutter shock unless a delay is added between the shutter opening & initiation of exposure via the electronic curtain (since the shutter has to open). Perhaps they were unwilling to add this delay.

But what makes least sense to us is Nikon's omission of electronic first curtain in its Live View shooting mode sans Mirror Up. In Live View, the mirror is already up, so it makes little sense to engage Mirror Up at the same time. Nikon's requirement of Mirror Up simply to engage electronic first curtain means an odd shooting experience in Live View: the first press of the shutter, which would usually raise the mirror, does nothing (since the mirror is already up), then the second press initiates the exposure electronically. When electronic first curtain is engaged in Live View, the first press of the button should initiate the exposure electronically - as is the case for many mirrorless cameras.

We feel this is likely an oversight on the part of Nikon, and hope to see a fix for it in a future update.

Conclusion

While the shutter opening is itself rather damped with very little effect on image sharpness (save for its deleterious effect in conjunction with vibration reduction), engaging the electronic first curtain completely eliminates all potential sources of 'shutter shock' that might degrade image quality.

*We've chosen to show the effect of the electronic first curtain with VR 'on' here, but the results are exactly the same with VR 'off'. You can verify this yourself by downloading the VR 'off' file here.