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Shutterless cameras deserve good shutter sounds


Clicking the shutter of a camera to take a picture is one of the best feelings in photography. You get timeless, tactile feedback as you capture every decisive moment a satisfying aural “click” sound. But we are slowly losing this feature of taking pictures. Not only because smartphones are replacing full-size cameras for most people, but also because more and more cameras are being built without mechanical shutters.

Nikon’s flagship Z9 and newer Z8 cameras dispense with traditional shutters altogether, so instead of hearing and feeling a mechanical action, you hear nothing at all or hear the sound of a fake shutter. Nikon released it this week firmware 4.0 for the Z9which added a slew of new features including additional shutter sounds: a beep, a DSLR-esque chonk, a classic movie-era clack, and a rangefinder click. I like the idea of ​​being able to choose my own shutter sound, and bringing back some of the classics is a nice way to embrace the tradition of photography while taking advantage of the latest technology. But I’m a little disappointed if this is all we’re going to get. I think camera companies can (and should) do a lot more.

All camera companies should do better

First, where do these new Z9 shutter sounds come from? Were they modeled after specific Nikon cameras? I contacted Nikon and asked, but communications manager Geoffrey Coalter told me, “I don’t have the information if it’s a specific camera model, I’m sorry to say.” That’s a shame, because when I hear someone say “Nikon DSLR sound,” I immediately think of my old one D700 And D3. When I hear “Nikon film camera,” I think of my F5, FE2or the timeless F3 I used at school. And when you talk about Nikon and a ‘rangefinder style sound’ you better believe I want it to be pretty S2 which I have only seen in pictures.

All those old cameras have unique shutter sounds, and I’ll bet anyone who’s used them can recognize them (I know I’ve heard the sounds from a D700, D3 and different Leicas). Each is printed on you after thousands of shots and years of use. That’s why I think all camera makers should follow Nikon’s lead and get into it, while maybe also having some fun with it. Nikon Japan recently teased the idea of play cat meow as the Z9 shutter sound, but now it keeps things so generic and safe when it comes time to deliver the feature to $5,500-earned photographers. Come on, Nikon – professionals can have fun too!

Why don’t we get a little wild with it? Not only give us camera sounds based on real historical models, but also give us some quirky and other sounds. Have you ever tried to photograph a child and have them look directly into your camera? It’s a total pain, and you usually have to act like a weird fool to get a glimpse of their attention. I bet if you could conjure up a shutter sound that alternates between cartoonish beeps and booms, it would make it easier to draw their eyes to the camera while they’re being photographed.

Make my camera meow like a damn cat

Hell, if all that’s too weird for a straightforward camera company, let me upload my own sound effects to the camera so I can be as nerdy or as deranged as I like (although I’ll acknowledge that this is Pandora’s box for possible abuse by creeps and acorns).

Now before anyone tells me this is all pointless because the best thing about shutterless cameras is shooting without obscuration no sound not at all, I ask – is it? One of my cameras is a Sony A9 II, and it illustrates how weird it can be not to hear and feel a shutter. Unlike the new Nikons, the A9 II has a mechanical shutter, but the stacked sensor allows for full-time use with its silent electronic shutter. However, the only time I switch it over to e-shutter is when I’m shooting a quiet event like a wedding ceremony or my niece’s recent graduation from kindergarten.

Sony’s stacked sensor cameras, like the A1 (right) and A9s, are poised to one day ditch mechanical shutters like Nikon’s Z9 (left). That’s fine, but in return give me some good sounds and better-feeling shutter buttons.
Photo by Becca Farsace/The Verge

It’s useful to shoot completely silently in those scenarios, but it’s jarring not to get any feedback from the camera as you pan – especially as Sony shutter buttons are mushy and lack a clear point of actuation when bottoming out. (The number of accidental frames I’ve shot or mistimed in silent mode due to too much slack on the dial is maddening.)

If shutter-less cameras are our future in photography (and I think they are – and could eventually open up more computational potential), camera companies need to think more deeply about what we both lose and gain. Give us the fun of quirky and historic shutter sounds and put more effort into making those shutter buttons as tight and physically communicative as possible. Perhaps future cameras could have a little bit of haptic feedback built into the button or surrounding area, similar to what Apple puts in its iPhones – believing it won’t cause image blur. Or let me plug in a pair of Bluetooth earbuds so I can still hear the fake shutter sound myself without disturbing anyone.

We all know there is a continuing trend of photo enthusiasts returning to film photography and vintage cameras, and when you talk to them they usually talk about the joy of using a truly mechanical camera. If our new cameras continue to feel more and more like computers, let’s try to keep at least a little bit of that old-fashioned lineage. Things like shutter sounds and tactile feedback – even if they have to be faked – provide a tangible benefit that users shouldn’t miss one day.

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