Can We Regain The Lost Romance of a Camera’s Shutter Sound?

It’s gone, and it’s probably never going to come back.

*Click* The sound of a camera’s shutter is so incredibly iconic. I don’t believe I know a single photographer that wouldn’t agree. Actually, let me rephrase that. I don’t think I know a single camera lover that doesn’t have a favorite shutter sound. Passionate photographers come in all shapes, sizes, and professionals. But camera lovers really adore their products. And you can’t necessarily call them techies. Instead, they’re admirers in the same way that watch lovers appreciate a good automatic vs. an Apple watch.

The last shutter sound that I really fell in love with was the original Sony a7. It was so loud! Shooting with that camera audibly felt like I was operating a medium format SLR far larger. But years have progressed, and engineers have gutted the romantic language of a camera shutter out of their bodies. Instead, there’s a heavy emphasis on silent shooting. 

I’m not sitting here condemning engineers for giving professionals what they want. I truly believe that a silent shutter has its advantages. There’s nothing more irritating than a Canon 5D‘s shutter echoing through a church. Similarly, a Sony a7r camera’s continuous shutter slap can sound like a woodpecker–and frighten other birds. In these situations, the silent shutter is a practical, god-sent gift. 

Cameras have taken more and more of an advance forward. They feel a lot more like machines and computers stuck into a camera’s body. And part of this feeling can be changed by appealing to another one of the five senses. The audible sound of the Olympus EP1 made generations of photographers buy it up. These legions went to adapt their vintage lenses to it and spread them all over Flickr. Olympus, however, is notorious for short-lived passionate flames that fizzle out. The Olympus OMD EM5 was one of their most perfect cameras until they ruined it with the Mk II version. In some ways, it makes me nervous for another Pen F. All it needed was weather sealing, a better screen, and a joystick. 

But most cameras these days lack the romantic shutter sounds we’ve been used to for decades. Unfortunately, the manufacturers are robbing later generations of this same auditory experience. I’m sure some of you aren’t understanding it. But the sound of a camera’s shutter helps keep you in the zone. Think of it like listening to music as you do your favorite workout. Or throwing on your favorite slow jams as you cook. The camera should be a visual, tactile, and auditory experience beyond the little autofocus confirmation beep.

Maybe this is one of the reasons why so many people reach for vintage cameras. Have you ever tried a Mamiya RB67? The experience is one that no one forgets. Looking through the viewfinder to line up your shot can go one of many ways. If you have the top-down finder, then you compose one way. If you use the prism finder, you work in a totally different way. The shutter button is on the front near the bottom. Press it. Then you’ll need to manipulate a lever to recock the shutter. When that’s done, move your hand to the film back to advance the film. Then start the process all over again. It’s little things like this that keep a photographer focused and in the zone. As you become better, things don’t become difficult. You instead grow to take better shots. 

I think that the camera and lens manufacturers have a steep hill in front of them. They need to find a way to bring the romance of a camera back. And if anything, I think that the only companies really doing it are Fujifilm, Hasselblad, and Leica.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.