What’s Old is New — Or, the Global Shutter Hype

There’s a lot of hype around a camera that Sony just announced: the a9 III (such an inspiring name, right? When will camera makers come up with more memorable—and, in turn, marketable—names?). What’s special about this camera is that it’s the world’s first full-frame stacked CMOS global shutter camera.

Global shutter? What’s that? Specifically, we’re talking electronic shutter, and not mechanical. Typically, CMOS sensors are read line-by-line, and not every line at once, which can cause problems like rolling shutter effect. This makes the electronic shutter less useful, as it’s more limited than the mechanical shutter; however, there are also several advantages to an electronic shutter, so sometimes it is preferable. With a global shutter, all the light sensitive sensor elements are read at the same time (not line-by-line), eliminating the disadvantages of the electronic shutter.

This is a significant step forward in camera technology, and I don’t want to diminish that, but at the same time the hype is a bit overhyped. Let me explain why.

One of the big advantages touted by those who are especially excited for this new technology is that it eliminates the need for flash sync speed. Use whatever shutter speed you desire for flash, including ultra-fast. Interestingly enough, this limitation doesn’t exist for leaf shutters, which are a mechanical shutter type found in some cameras, namely the Fujifilm X100-series. If you have a Fujifilm X100V and you are using the mechanical shutter, there’s no need to worry about flash sync speed. Granted, most cameras don’t have a leaf shutter, and leaf shutters are mechanical and not electronic; however, I found it interesting nonetheless that the global shutter solves a problem that isn’t always a problem, depending on your camera. If you don’t have $6,000 to shell out for a new camera, but you already own an X100-series model, you don’t have to worry about missing out, and you can let the FOMO rest for awhile.

Fujifilm X100F — Shutter 1/2000 — flash on

Did you notice all of the qualifiers for the “world’s first” designation? Specifically, full frame and stacked CMOS global shutter. Why do you think those needed to be added? Well, the first full frame camera with a global shutter was the Contax N, way back in 2002 (it was developed in 2000, but it took awhile to come to market). The first camera with a global shutter, in theory, was developed by Kodak in the 1970’s. You see, CCD sensors, which were common before CMOS, were technically global shutter sensors. They became outdated before advancements in camera technology allowed photographers to take advantage of that aspect of them, but, technically speaking, global shutters are far from new, they’re only new to CMOS. Actually, Panasonic made a global shutter CMOS sensor back in 2018; however, the technology is newly coming to the market just now.

The promise of the global shutter is that the disadvantages of the electronic shutter are eliminated, and the need for a mechanical shutter is reduced or eliminated. The mechanical shutter has served photography pretty well over the last 150-ish years, so it’s not exactly a high-priority item to replace (in my humble opinion), but perhaps having fewer moving parts in future camera models will extend the life of those bodies (maybe). If you have a leaf shutter camera, the advantages of a global shutter is much less significant, but if you don’t, it’s a bigger deal for sure. Of course, global shutters bring their own disadvantages (most namely, it takes more processing power to read and store everything all at once). I think it’s just a matter of time before global shutter sensors are common, and perhaps as a result mechanical shutters will be much less common in future cameras.

I’m not saying that the need for improved electronic shutters doesn’t exist, or that significant advancements in the technology shouldn’t be celebrated. I’m simply stating that what’s old is new. That the hype is a little overhyped. For most people, the Sony A9 III won’t be a game-changer, or a milestone model remembered for decades and decades to come (as some are suggesting). I’m certain it will be a great camera that many will love and it will sell quite well for Sony, but for the majority of people, the differences between global and non-global electronic shutters will make little or no practical difference to them and their photography. For some, however, it will be a big deal, and for those folks, it’s worth noting and celebrating. Don’t be surprised if the X-H3 or X-T6 has this technology (I have no idea, I’m just speculating). If you have a leaf shutter camera, such as the X100V, you’re already enjoying the benefits, at least when it comes to flash sync speed and (nearly) silent operation.

See also: Getting that ’90’s Film Look with Fujifilm Cameras


  1. rederik75 · 25 Days Ago

    Is there a reason why the leaf shutter is only on the X100 series? Why it’s not on XT00 or GFX series, or maybe another compact model like the X-PRO?

    • Marcin · 25 Days Ago

      X100 series cameras have leaf-shutter lenses integrated with the camera bodies. Detachable lenses rely on focal-plane shutters built into cameras.

    • Ritchie Roesch · 24 Days Ago

      Leaf shutters are in the lens, not the camera bodies. It’s easy enough to do in fixed-lens cameras that a lot of them have leaf shutters (not just X100, but also X70, Ricoh GR, etc.), but for interchangeable-lens, it has to be designed that way from the beginning. Back before GFX was officially announced and was “just” rumored, some people speculated that Fujifilm might do this with GFX (since leaf shutters are historically more common in medium format), but they didn’t.

  2. Carlos López (clopezi) · 25 Days Ago

    I think there’s a lot “types” of photography. Most Fuji users, for sure you and for sure me, love photography because many reasons, but we love to take some moments to the eternity.

    The new Sony camera it’s a high spec camera for professionals, like sport professionals, where the rolling shutter effect with electronic shutter it’s a big problem. This camera it’s for this kind of professionals, and I think will be a high milestone for them. X100V clearly it’s not for this kind of users.

    However, the problem is when the general public thinks that the product will be a big game changer for them, and clearly it is not.

    • Ritchie Roesch · 24 Days Ago

      My guesstimation is that the percentage of photographers who will greatly benefit from a global shutter is less than 1%. There are some others who will figure out that it can be beneficial sometimes. For the vast, vast majority, it won’t positively affect their photography in any practical way. However, the hyped-up hype will create a lot of FOMO, and many people who won’t benefit from it at all will shell out a lot of money because they think they need it (when they don’t). In a lot of ways, global shutter is super niche, but it won’t be marketed as such. I’m sure the technology will improve greatly and will become more mainstream over the next decade. In the meantime, the bragging rights of having the only full frame stacked CMOS global shutter sensor camera will drive a lot of sales. Still, it is a good step forward for the small percentage of people who will actually benefit from this innovation, and it will likely be a “game changer” for them, and that for sure should be recognized and celebrated, but it should also be kept in perspective (something few seem to be doing).

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. tabfor · 25 Days Ago

    Unfortunately, a noticeable part of substitutions in photographic engineering is only marketing.

    • Ritchie Roesch · 24 Days Ago

      That’s very true. There’s also a lot of “take something away, then give it back later as an innovation.” The X-T5 is a good example of that. The X-T series grew in size over the years, so Fujifilm shrunk it back closer to earlier models, now it’s a selling point. They gave the X-T4 a flippy screen, then took it away on the X-T5, and it’s a selling point. I could go on-and-on. So far, the marketing is generating all the buzz and then some that I’m sure the Sony marketers had hoped for.

  4. NathanPhotography · 24 Days Ago

    I’m a Fuji shooter and a Sony shooter at the same time, what you said sounds pretty salty as I don’t think that technology is overhyped, it is actually revolutionary and will set new standard for high end cameras in the market going forward. About the part of leaf shutter, not only does the x100 cameras got that type of shutter in them, Sony in fact made cameras with leaf shutter too, and that’s the counterpart of x100 of Sony named RX1 and RX1R series which are also fixed lens compact cameras with even full frame sensors equipped. IMO the way you put the old tech like leaf shutter on par with the revolutionary new global shutter on a CMOS full frame sensor is just not appropriate.

    • Ritchie Roesch · 23 Days Ago

      I don’t think I’m wrong, I do believe it is being overhyped, and by a lot (not just a little). I stand by that. It’s revolutionary only kinda sort of, just as I explained in the article. I think a very small percentage of photographers will find it to be a “game changer” (my guess is less than 1%) and for the vast majority, it will have little or no benefit. And it will be at the expense of noise and dynamic range and things like that, which I didn’t even get into (because I didn’t want to seem to be overly negative when that was never the point). I do believe that, like all innovations, it will improve with time, and as it does, it will find its way into more and more products. Eventually (in probably 10-15 or maybe 20 years), global shutter will (once again) be the standard found in most or all cameras. What’s old is new. But right now, it’s super niche; however, all of the hype will cause people who won’t ever benefit from it to drop a whole lot of cash on it, mostly for bragging rights or FOMO. It’s a great marketing scheme, I’ll say that—it’s certainly working.

      I never said that the X100-series is the only camera with a leaf shutter (heck, it’s not the only Fujifilm camera…). Leaf shutters have been around since the late-1800’s, they’re far from new, and many brands have used them and some still currently do. The benefits of a leaf shutter—at least for still photography—are quite similar to the benefits of global shutter; however, one benefit of the global shutter over a mechanical leaf shutter is that the top speed of a global shutter can be much faster (however, that causes it’s own issues when combined with flash, where the flash has to become brighter and brighter and brighter the faster you go because the shutter is too quick for it). I’m not the only one to point out this similarity (interestingly enough), so I suppose it’s not all that inappropriate to state after all.

      Aside from that, this is my blog, and I can say whatever I want, and I don’t really care what other people think about it. If they disagree, they are free not to read it. I never forced anyone to come here, and everyone is free to not come back. If you like what I write, great. If you don’t, that’s just the way it is. I can’t please everyone all of the time (as the saying goes), nor should I try, because that wouldn’t be authentic and everyone would be displeased. If you are looking for websites and such that drool over this “revolutionary” “new” technology, there are so many places that are doing just that right now. That’s not my opinion, so I’m not going to do that. And it shouldn’t be expected that everyone would have the same exact opinion, anyway.

      • Barry · 23 Days Ago

        It’s all beyond me, I just wanna go out and take photo’s, I don’t care about this shutter and that shutter as long as I’m happy with the end result that’s all I care about.

      • Ritchie Roesch · 23 Days Ago

        That’s definitely all that matters. The technical side is more gee-whiz than anything else.

      • Hao Peng · 23 Days Ago

        Sorry Ritchie, I don’t know you just wanna hear agreement, my bad, and btw you’re right only 5% photographers will be benefited from the tech because a9 is always for pros instead of casuals like you. But think about it, cameras were only for a very small group of people and riches in the very beginning, guess what now? We all have cameras in our hands, that’s called revolutionary, the same with the tech, let’s just see.

      • Ritchie Roesch · 22 Days Ago

        What I don’t understand is that whenever someone has a disagreement, they have to throw in a jab or dig or insult. For instance, Nathan said that my article was “just not appropriate”, which is to say that I never had the authority to write it, and it should be disregarded for that reason. You said “casuals like you” which is to say that I don’t have the authority based on how much I’m assumed to be earning from my photography (which is a big assumption since I keep that private). It’s all fine and well to disagree, but I don’t appreciate the digs that always seem to go with it. If someone disagrees, state the disagreements and why, and don’t resort to insults as a way to discredit the one making the argument.

        I don’t think that global shutters will benefit 5% of photographers, but less than 1%. By and large, it’s pretty extreme cases where it is truly beneficial, and gear already exists that works for those circumstances. The new Sony model brings what used to be limited to more specialized or niche gear to a more general-use camera, which is good for the most part (there are some disadvantages… it’s give-and-take), but it’s not something that will affect the vast majority of photographers. People, however, will drop a lot of cash for it because the hype will convince them that they need it or will miss out if they don’t have it, when in reality it won’t affect their photography at all.

  5. Philippe Debieve · 24 Days Ago

    Hello, I frequently encounter a problem when I shoot reports.

    It can be unpleasant to hear the operation of a shutter, especially during a performance (dance, contemporary circus, music…), a museum exhibition or a conference, for example. The use of an electronic shutter is very discreet and, in theory, provides the solution.

    Unfortunately, there is interference between the wavelengths of modern, energy-efficient lighting and the electronic shutter. This results in alternating dark and light bands on the images, making the photograph unusable…

    This phenomenon is crucial when several types of lamp with different characteristics are used, as interference can occur in only certain areas of the image.
    Technically, this is where I think electronic shutters need to be improved.
    Personal equipment: X100 V, XT3, Xpro3 / professional use.

    Thanks for your articles!

    With kindest regards, Philippe (Switzerland)

    • Ritchie Roesch · 24 Days Ago

      Yeah, the global shutter (or leaf shutter) is a great benefit for photographing a performance or event where quietness is essential. I always use my X100V (although not professionally) when in these situations because it is nearly silent. But for interchangeable-lens, global shutter would be most ideal, I think. Thanks for the input!

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