Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Silent Shutter of the Sony A7M3

Take pictures at a concert unobtrusively with the silent shutter function.

One thing I liked most about the Sony A7M3's technical specifications was the silent shutter. At weddings, speeches or at (classical) concerts, having a silent shutter can be a blessing. However, I've discovered two drawbacks to using it so far.

But first the good news!
It is indeed absolutely silent. Unlike the Sony RX100 series and most other point-and-shoot cameras which make a slight sound when capturing a scene, the A7M3 is as silent as your cell phone's camera (assuming you've turned off the annoying fake shutter sound!).
Furthermore, the silent shutter is as fast as the regular physical shutter. That can be tricky if you are used to hearing the shutter click and taking the sound as a cue to stop shooting. If you are in continuous shooting mode (as I was when I took my first shots with the camera), you can easily take 20 pictures before you realize what you've done.

My first photos with the A7M3. Set on silent shutter mode, I didn't realize I had taken 26 photos until two seconds later.
Now the bad news: There are two drawbacks to the silent shutter.
The camera can normally detect flickering fluorescent lights, timing the exposure to moments when the flickering will have less of an impact on the resulting shot. To quote from the help guide: "In continuous shooting mode, the shooting speed may slow down or the interval between each shot may become unequal." So if you are shooting at 1/80-1/250 in an indoor, florescent-lit setting using the silent shutter, you may see stripes on your photos (see below). To avoid this, turn off the silent shutter.
1/200 sec, at f4.5 and ISO 4000 (silent shutter ON)
Interestingly, the stripes are always parallel to the long edge of the frame and have nothing to do with the "light falling from above".

1/250 sec, at f5.0 and ISO 2500 (silent shutter ON)
The second drawback to using the silent shutter function will sound familiar to videographers and to those of you who read about optimal shutter speeds when filming. At a bird show last weekend, I panned the camera as I tracked an owl flying over the viewers' heads from its perch to the falconer's glove. When I viewed the pictures on my computer monitor, I realized that the heads of the audience members were skewed.
The first photo below was taken using the mechanical shutter. The heads of the audience members are all shaped normally. All three pictures below were taken at 1/640 sec.

The next two photos show two things: On the one hand, the A7M3 can track a fast-moving target very well, even against a complex background. On the other hand, the rolling shutter effect distorts things that are not moving at the same speed as the camera's lens.

Heads in the crowd are leaning suspiciously to the right, a result of the rolling shutter effect thanks to the silent (electronic) shutter.
My judgement on the silent shutter is that one should use it in situations where you don't have to move the camera quickly, or where your subject is not moving quickly (see Gordon Laing's video about this phenomenon here) - it is still perfect for speeches and weddings, though, where the lighting is other than florescent!

When you are using the LA-AE4 adapter with Alpha lenses, the shutter causes a click in the adapter because the mirror flips up. So it is then no longer totally silent.

Finally, I was riding atop a tourist bus in Luxemburg recently, shooting the interesting architecture in that city. There I didn't seem to perceive any problems with a rolling shutter, though I was shooting in silent-shutter mode. The camera was probably staying put on one object for just long enough to avoid slanted lines.

1/640 sec. at f6.3 and ISO 200 

1/1250 sec. at f7.1 and ISO 200

No comments:

Post a Comment