Mirror and Shutter-Induced Shock

High resolution DSLRs, and even mirrorless cameras like Sony's original Alpha 7R, have the potential for image shake from the vibrations induced by the mirror and/or shutter mechanism. We undertook a massive study to see how much such mirror and shutter shake affects image quality at a variety of shutter speeds across a number of cameras: the Nikon D810, Canon 5DS R, Nikon D750, and Sony a7R. We also took a look at the impact of optical image stabilization (IS, or VR) in lenses. Finally, Nikon and Canon offer different drive modes; in the case of the D810, exposure delay and electronic front curtain modes when shooting in Mirror Up drive modes. We take a look at all of these, and how they interact with one another.

About the setup: we first mounted the camera body and lens, with collar, to one solid rail to make the entire unit one rigid body. This stops either body or lens from pivoting around the connection to the tripod. The center of mass of the rigid body+lens rail was found, and that point was mounted to a tripod weighed down by 75 lbs of sand bags. The tripod itself was suspended on air to stop any building vibrations from entering. A tripod-based study was done to remove as many variables as possible from the testing process, but we follow up the tripod studies with hand-held studies to determine if problems encountered in these studies are mirrored in real-world, hand-held shooting.

For the D810, 'Single' drive mode conflates effects of both mirror and mechanical shutter, while '2 sec ED' is a mirror up mode with a 2s delay that isolates the effects of the mechanical shutter. For 'Mup + ED + EFC' we first lock up the mirror, then press the shutter again to initiate a 2s exposure delay after which the exposure is initiated electronically. This mode guarantees no softness-inducing vibrations. The 'On/Off' drop-down menu is for Vibration Reduction (VR), and the shutter speed drop-down menu covers speeds from 1/500s to 4s.

We encourage you to explore the various cameras, lenses, IS modes, and shutter speeds in our widget: it took us weeks of work to create. You can also read our Canon 5DS R findings in detail here. In-line blue text below changes the state of the widget above, so be sure to scroll back up as you click on them.

The D810's mirror and shutter mechanisms are pretty well damped, but do slightly soften images at 1/125s and below, recovering somewhere around 1/4s (of course, you'll have hand-induced shake before this recovery). The mirror, whose effects can be seen in 'Single' drive mode, appears to affect image sharpness at shutter speeds between 1/125 and 1/30 more than the shutter, whose effects can be seen in the '2 sec ED' Mirror Up drive mode. In other words, the mechanical shutter is already pretty well damped.

That said, both the mirror and the shutter negatively impact image sharpness - relative to using the electronic shutter (EFCS) - fairly significantly when VR is on, with the mirror being the bigger problem.

vs. D800E

This is an improvement over the D800E, whose mirror caused a good deal of blur. And while the D800E already had a well-controlled shutter, the D810 does show improvements with respect to shutter only induced shock as well. Again, the D800E mirror and shutter both show parasitic interactions with VR at certain shutter speeds, just like the D810.

vs. Canon 5DS R

When both cameras are set to their default, Single drive mode, the Nikon D810 outperforms the Canon 5DS R. However, switch the Canon to 'Silent Shooting' and we see a reversal, with the 5DS R catching up to the D810, and even slightly surpassing it with IS on, particularly at slower shutter speeds (~1/30s) where the D810 tends to suffer. Turning VR on doesn't help the D810; in fact, it makes matters worse, presumably due to parasitic interactions between Nikon's VR system on some lenses and the mirror/shutter actuation. Interestingly, we don't see this problem with all Nikon lenses, so your results may vary. Furthermore, Nikon's 'Quiet' mode did not particularly help matters like Canon's 'Silent' mode helped the 5DS R.

Half a solution...

Canon did something clever: the 5DS/R offer 'pre-delays' - user selectable between 1/8s, 1/4s, 1/2 s, all the way up to 2s - that help mitigate mirror and shutter impacts, though don't fully get rid of softening effects (Live View, which uses an electronic first curtain, is still the sharpest). That's because Canon's mechanical shutter still causes some blur. We mention this because it's funny that each manufacturer got half-way to a full solution: Canon pre-delays help, but the lack of an electronic shutter initiation in viewfinder shooting ultimately means you can't completely get rid of vibration artifacts until you switch to Live View. On the other hand, Nikon offers an electronic first curtain in viewfinder shooting, but cripples the implementation for everyday shooting by only offering it in Mirror Up mode, without the option for user-selectable short pre-delays that don't require a second shutter button press to take the shot.

These issues frankly make one appreciate how worry-free, and shake-free, image-making can be with the Sony a7R II - with its image stabilized, always electronically initiated sensor.

Problematic handheld VR results

70-200 F2.8 (EFCS) 70-200 F4 (EFCS) 300mm F4 (EFCS)
70-200 F2.8 (no EFCS) 70-200 F4 (no EFCS) 300mm F4 (no EFCS)

We actually undertook this massive study because we found many problematic, blurred shots taken handheld with the 70-200mm F4 VR and 300mm F4 VR on the D810. Nevertheless, after our massive tripod study, we knew we needed to verify that what we were seeing was borne out in handheld, controlled studies.

So that's exactly what we did. We present a few of the salient results in the rollover above, showing the results from problematic shutter speeds (~1/50s to 1/160s) for a few lenses with and without electronic front curtain (EFCS).

You can see the results can be shockingly poor in Single Drive mode with VR on ('no EFCS'). We shot EFCS hand-held here in Mirror Up mode (the only mode it's available in), with a 1s exposure delay. That required us to press the shutter button once to lock up the mirror and shutter, then press it again to initiate a 1s exposure delay (so that pressing the shutter button did not blur the image) after which the shot was initiated electronically. While that led to tack sharp shots, it is, frankly, a ridiculous way of working. Yet it is necessary to get sharp shots with these lenses at these shutter speeds with VR on.

That's unfortunate, because it could've been solved had Nikon made EFCS available in all drive modes, not just Mirror Up mode, combined with short, user-selectable delays - shorter than 1s. Ideally, we'd press the shutter button once to lock up the mirror and mechanical shutter,