Q and A: How do digital cameras handle shutter lag?
QUESTION: Your recent digital camera recommendations were interesting but left out one very important subject -- shutter lag. I have an older Olympus ultra zoom camera, which does some things very well but has a horrific problem with shutter lag....
QUESTION: Your recent digital camera recommendations were interesting but left out one very important subject -- shutter lag. I have an older Olympus ultra zoom camera, which does some things very well but has a horrific problem with shutter lag. I have missed many shots because the camera was "thinking" about it for a while after I pushed the shutter button. Even my Nikon D70 SLR has a problem now and then, although it is much faster than the Olympus. I'd be interested to hear how compact interchangeable lens cameras like the Olympus E-PL1 and Sony NEX-5 do with shutter lag and how they capture action.
--D.R., Contra Costa County, Calif.
A. Shutter lag is not an issue at all. Compact interchangeable lens cameras use the same kind of shutter as SLRs and will fire immediately once focus is achieved and the shutter button is fully depressed. Focusing and ergonomics are what separate the two classes of camera in overall shooting speed and action capturing ability.
SLRs still reign supreme in focusing speed though some of the compact interchangeable lens cameras are very close. Please note that user skill plays a role in how quickly a camera focuses, as does available light and the subject itself. If photographers know how to pick an area of the subject with good contrast for the camera to focus on they will achieve focus much faster than someone who simply points the camera at the subject and lets it hunt until focus is achieved.
I've used most of the compact interchangeable lens cameras on the market and can provide a practical yardstick of their focusing speed. First, let's establish a scale of 1-10, with 1 being your pokey old ultra zoom camera and 10 being a typical digital SLR. Early versions of compact interchangeable lens cameras like my Olympus E-P1 rated about a 6.5, maybe a 7. The new E-PL1 rates a solid 8.0, and the Panasonic GF1 and Sony NEX-5 are a 9.
Then there is ergonomics. Most compact interchangeable lens camera users compose with the large screen on back of the camera, which means the camera is held out from the body. This is less than ideal for action photography, especially compared to holding a digital SLR up to your eye. Some compact interchangeable lens models have built-in or accessory electronic viewfinders, but they are smaller, dimmer and less sharp than the optical viewfinder of an SLR, which provides an immediacy and clarity that no electronic viewfinder can match.
Adding it all up, a digital SLR can be operated more quickly. In the column you refer to I said, "Please note that compact interchangeable lens cameras are still not quite as flexible as SLRs." You have nailed one of the ways they are not quite as capable as an SLR and if you want to shoot a lot of action or sports an SLR should be your choice.
My recommendation to true lovers of photography is to own one of each! Get a digital SLR for the wide variety of lenses and overall flexibility, and a compact interchangeable lens camera for travel and general photography. Horses for the courses, as they say. Besides, by buying two cameras you will help the economy and have more fun.