YANKING OUT STUMPS
By MICHAEL PERKINS
OVER ITS FIRST TEN YEARS, THE NORMAL EYE HAS TRIED TO REFRAIN from commenting on all but the most essential technical advancements in the making of photographs. This, as we’ve often stated, is a forum about intentions and ideas rather than gear. It’s one thing to offer thoughts on the transition from analog to digital, a shift that’s fundamental and lasting in its effect, while it’s quite another to write at length on the introduction of the latest gizmo or feature, faddish things that will age poorly if they are remembered at all over time.
With that in mind, the impending transition away from the mechanical shutter, something that’s been forecast and fretted over for nearly a decade, is a case of something that will be of substantial consequence to anyone with a camera for years to come. The reason the shutter was invented in the first place was because it improved outcomes for photographers and made the entire process simpler and more precise, thus meeting the criterion for any technical advancement, that it helps us get out of our own way and spend more time taking pictures and less time getting ready to do so. Cameras get better when we spot the stumps in the way of where we want to build the highway and yank them out.
At this writing, Summer of 2022, the Nikon Z9, the first professional camera to be manufactured without a mechanical shutter of any kind, has been on the market for less than a year, but is likely to be followed soon, initially in the premium-price class. Many current cameras have offered the choice of either mechanical or electronic shutters for several years, but the Z9 is the first to eliminate the mechanical option entirely. This can clearly be seen as the latest in a line of progression that began with mirrorless cameras, and their elimination of the bulk and complexity (spelled: fail-ability) of the SLR mirror box.
With the box gone, it was logical to assume that the mechanical shutter and eventually the physical shutter button itself would be next to march to the gallows, since they are the final two components that feature moving parts, hence parts that can wear out and render a camera obsolete years ahead of its time. More importantly, the remaining problems in sensors that had thus far justified a mechanical shutter have been solved, meaning sleeker cameras for which shutter systems can evolve from mere focus lock and click servos to a wide menu of programmable aids, all while saving space and keeping more cameras out of the repair shop.
The change will not be overnight, but the genie is definitely out of the bottle, and, if you are reading this post years from now from our archive, you might wonder why we were making such a fuss about something so obvious. Cameras work best when they present the fewest obstacles between What I See and What I Get. The shutter originally served this function, removing a lot of stumps on the road to better pictures. Now it’s time for it to hang up its jersey. Or curtains.
Hey, I just heard that. It’s “curtains” for the shutter.
Is this thing on?