See a Camera’s Inner Workings at 10,000 FPS

Have you ever wondered what goes on inside your camera when the shutter is released? Many of you curious photographers have probably experimented by removing the lens and clicking away at the shutter button. But, have you ever witnessed a camera in all its shutter-shifting glory at ten thousand frames per second? Now you can:

Unlike simple point and shoot cameras, a DSLR’s viewfinder provides us with a direct image of what is viewed through the lens. In order to give us that true perspective, a mirror is tilted 45 degrees, covering the sensor. We look inside the viewfinder down and out the front of the lens.

When we click the shutter button the mirror flips up and temporarily blocks the viewfinder. Then the shutter comes down, exposing light on the sensor. The mirror flips back down and opens up the viewfinder again.

Different shutter speeds have very different effects on, well, the shutter. A very fast shutter speed relates to only a thin sliver of the shutter staying open. This visually explains why so much light is needed for fast shutter speed images; only a small amount of light is actually hitting the sensor. Similarly, a longer shutter speed means the shutter stays open longer, allowing more light to get to the sensor.

inside a camera slow motion

The shutter being released at different speeds.

Because the mechanical shutter allows light in as it moves vertically down the sensor, it means the top part of your image is actually a fraction of a second older than the bottom part. The same goes for a camera set in video mode; the electronic shutter will take each line of pixels from top to bottom because it doesn’t have the power to take it all at once. This can create some interesting artifacts when filming; there can be two different moments in time photographed.

inside a camera slow motion

Two different moments in time: the cork leaving the bottle and the shadow after it has already hit the subject’s face.

“Almost any camera you use these days to shoot video will have a rolling shutter. That’s due to the frequency of CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) sensors used in DSLRs and pretty much every smart phone.”

This can be seen when taking a video outside the window of a moving car. Anything vertical, like a power pole, will be slightly warped on an angle.

inside a camera slow motion

Vertical objects appear on a diagonal when shooting from a moving vehicle, due to the CMOS rolling sensor.

There are pros and cons to both types of shutters. A rolling shutter, like that in Phantom Flex 4k, is typically used for movies and TV and produces results natural to the human eye. A global shutter, like that of a Phantom Flex, means every moment in the frame is taken at the exact same time. It is better when footage for more scientific purposes is required.

Our cameras are incredible pieces of machinery. So much history, science, and physics lie within those metal and plastic shells.

“This kind of stuff is fascinating to me. It makes me wonder how many people take for granted what’s happening inside their camera when they take a picture.”

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One response to “See a Camera’s Inner Workings at 10,000 FPS”

  1. Theresa says:

    Very interesting. Thank you

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