At some point in a DSLR camera’s lifetime, the mechanical shutter is likely to fail. It is a precise and delicate mechanical part of the camera that has to perform perfectly with every shot.
We get some odd looks when we tell clients that cameras should be regarded as a consumable item! But the reality is exactly that. It’s always wise to have a spare around, and if you can find one, a T3i can be had for as low as $450, and the T5i about $700 or so.
The Error Message and Indicators
If you’re using a Canon DSLR, then you’ll likely see one of two things occur that indicate the shutter is failing. The blades of the shutter will start showing in the image itself (the right image, below) and/or you may get an error message on the camera lcd, “Err 20”. In either case, you’ll need to have it repaired by Canon. The cost for repair varies depending on the camera, but is typically between $200 and $300.
Error message on Canon T3i and photo with shutter blades blocking the image.
How long does a shutter last?
That is a great question that only a politician can answer. Canon doesn’t have specific specifications that we are aware of, but the general expectations in the photography community is that a consumer camera (such as a Canon T5i) may get between 100,000 and 200,000 photos before the shutter fails. A professional grade camera may get between 250,000 and 500,000 photos before the shutter fails. In practice it varies. We’ve seen a Canon T5i get over 400,000 photos but not all the time. And we used 5D MIII cameras (loaned to us by Canon!) and each shot over 200,000 exposures in 3 days and we sent them back after the loan in working condition.
For regular photographers, they are unlikely to reach a photo count this high on a single camera. But for photographers shooting multi-image panoramas, time-lapse, and gigapixel photography, the shutter failure is inevitable. Really, have a spare handy!
Why Not Get a Mirrorless Camera?
Mirrorless cameras still use mechanical shutters and have some limitations. For example the Sony a7 series cameras do not have mirrors, but do have mechanical shutters. The Panasonic Lumix GH4 is one camera that we know of that has the ability to disable the mechanical shutter, but there are limitations to what it can do in this mode. For example, flash exposures cannot be made when the mechanical shutter is disabled. Back to a regular DSLR. We’ll keep looking, and trying out new models in the search for Nirvana.
Gene is a creative innovator and developer with a passion for developing scientific tools, exhibits, and educational programs that provide new ways of exploring the world both literally and figuratively.
Photography is a common thread in his life and work, which has come a long way since childhood years experimenting with unique perspectives, angles, filters, and time-lapse exposures.
He founded GIGAmacro to build robotic devices capable of capturing gigapixel photographs with microscopic detail and developing new visualization tools for comparison of complex imagery for research, science, and education.