Working Around Rolling Shutter

This article discusses some of the approaches that can be used when working around rolling shutter effect is required. As is often said, there is no such thing as a perfect camera. Everything photographic comes with some kind of trade-off. Some cameras are more prone to rolling shutter effects than others. So, if you experience some rolling shutter effects with your camera gear there are some things you can do to try to minimize these distortions.

Suffice to say that rolling shutter effect tends to be more pronounced when panning quickly with a camera when strong vertical lines are in the background. Photographing subjects with fast moving wings. Or using an electronic shutter rather than a mechanical shutter when photographing fast moving subjects. The image writing speed of your camera can also come into play.

Readers wishing to gain a full understanding of the technical reasons behind the rolling shutter effect can use the internet to source more in-depth information. Working around rolling shutter effect has always been more important to me than delving deep into the technical background of the causes of the issue.

To begin, let’s have a look at three consecutive images that I recently captured of a dragonfly taking flight. The second image in the run shows significant distortion from rolling shutter effect.

Note: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4349 pixels on the width, subject distance 2.5 metres

Obviously an image of a stationary dragonfly will not exhibit any rolling shutter effects.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4345 pixels on the width, subject distance 2.5 metres

In our next consecutive frame above we see some very dramatic and unsightly rolling shutter effects which make the photograph unusable.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4343 pixels on the width, subject distance 2.5 metres

In our third consecutive frame from the same image run we can still see some very minor wing warping, but this photograph may be deemed usable by many photographers.

When examining these three consecutive image we observe three important factors. Wing speed, shooting angle and wing position during a wing beat, can all affect the degree of rolling shutter effect that is visible.

Working around rolling shutter effect does not always eliminate this type of distortion, but some things can help.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/5000, ISO-800, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2677 pixels on the width, subject distance 5.7 metres

Know Your Camera

Each camera will have its own characteristics. Just because a certain approach works with a particular type of subject with one camera doesn’t guarantee it will produce an identical result with another. Taking the time to learn about the performance nuances of your specific camera is an important step when working around rolling shutter effects.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/14, -0.3 EV, 1/2500, ISO-4000, subject distance 35.6 metres, cropped to 3867 pixels on the width

Avoid Insanity

One definition of insanity is doing what you’ve always done, the way you’ve always done it, and expecting a different result. If your camera is very prone to rolling shutter effect when panning very quickly to capture fast flying birds when there are strong vertical lines in the background… then change your technique. No amount of complaining is going to magically have rolling shutter effects disappear when shooting under those conditions.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-800, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 3092 pixels on the width, subject distance 63.5 metres

In late fall/early winter we have opportunities to photograph mergansers, longtails and other ducks in our local area. One of the best locations is in a narrow canal proximate to the Burlington lift bridge that connects Burlington Bay with Lake Ontario. There are vertical supports clearly visible on the side of the cement pier. If these supports are included in the background of ducks in flight when a fast panning motion is used, they can appear as bent and angled in resulting images. This is visually distracting and can ruin photographs.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1000, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 3991 pixels on the width, subject distance 38.9 metres

Quite simply it is a waste of time for me to try to photograph incoming ducks that are too close to the pier with  a fast panning motion using my E-M1X. It is far more productive for me to identify a shooting zone where those strong vertical lines in the background can be avoided. I can then concentrate my efforts on incoming ducks that are in my preselected shooting zone.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, 1/6400, ISO-2000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2997 pixels on the width, subject distance 21.7 metres

Adjust Shutter Speed

Depending on the subject matter being photographed adjusting your shutter speed can sometimes help minimize the effects of rolling shutter. When photographing fast moving birds, or insects with fast moving wing speeds it can be helpful to experiment with various shutter speeds. When experimenting take notes on which shutter speeds produce the best results for different subject matter.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3581 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.8 metres

Shooting Angle

Quite often front quarter views or head on views of incoming birds and insects can result in noticeable rolling shutter effect. It can be beneficial to choose a shooting angle where the subject is at right angles to the focal plane of your camera.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/4000, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4078 pixels on the width, subject distance 1.7 metres

Accept Some Wing Blur

Every photographer makes their own assessment of the amount of wing blur that is acceptable in their images. Sometimes accepting a certain amount of wing blur does not necessarily hurt the impact of an image and can help hide rolling shutter effect.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, 1/5000, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3276 pixels on the width, subject distance 8.5 metres

Abrupt Mid-Air Course Changes

When birds and insects make abrupt mid-air course changes usually one wing will travel at a much faster speed than the other. This can sometimes result in the faster moving wing appearing elongated or stretched in a photograph due to rolling shutter. Observing the flight paths of subject birds and insects can help a photographer choose an appropriate shooting position that enables them to capture a predictable flight path where the subject’s wings are moving at equal speeds.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 381 mm, efov 762 mm, f/8.7, 1/5000, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3331 pixels on the width, subject distance 8.9 metres

There are also opportunities when photographing abrupt mid-air course changes as the body and wing positions of a subject bird can be quite dramatic. So, there are advantages and challenges when photographing subjects performing abrupt mid-air course changes. As long as we accept the potential risk of rolling shutter effect we will have realistic expectations that some of our images may not be useable due to rolling shutter.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 413 mm, efov 826 mm, f/8.8, 1/5000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4213 pixels on the width, subject distance 7.1 metres

Use Fast Frame Rates

Working around rolling shutter can involve using fast frame rates as this can produce a broader selection of images from a specific photographic opportunity. Some of the photographs in that image run may show rolling shutter effects, while others may be absolutely usable.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, -0.7 EV, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3721 pixels on the width, subject distance 2.4 metres

Avoid Unnecessary Camera Movement

Working around rolling shutter often includes avoiding the use of fast panning camera movements. Rather than trying to do fast pans with a subject bird it can be more productive to shoot shorter bursts of images. Allowing a bird to fly into your frame can be a useful technique. Using technology like Pro Capture H can help us capture a wide selection of subject wing and body motion without having to physically move our camera.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/5000, ISO-800, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3571 pixels on the width, subject distance 5.7 metres

Set Realistic Expectations

Depending on our camera gear, the speed of our photographic subject, and our choice of shutter type, we may run the risk of having rolling shutter effects in some of our images. For example, all of my bird and insects in-flight photography is done with the use of electronic shutter. I realize that I have a higher risk of rolling shutter effect than if I used mechanical shutter. That is counterbalanced by the benefit of potentially capturing images that would be difficult, or almost impossible to get, if I used mechanical shutter.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3122 pixels on the width, subject distance 16.9 metres

The Siren’s Song of New Camera Gear

No doubt camera manufacturers will continue to work hard to minimize or eliminate rolling shutter effects with their equipment. We need to remember that every piece of photographic equipment comes with some kind of trade-off. Chasing the notion of buying ‘the perfect camera’ can cost us a lot of time and money. Working around rolling shutter helps us get more performance from our current gear. And… helps make us better photographers.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 308 mm, efov 616 mm, f/8.5, 1/4000, ISO-1250, full frame capture, Pro Capture H, Subject distance 5.6 metres

Technical Note:

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard approach in post.  Images were resized for web use. This is the 1,195 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

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4 thoughts on “Working Around Rolling Shutter”

    1. Hi Stephen,

      Yes, one could use mechanical shutter, but that would mean that Pro Capture would not be available. I would rather run the risk of some rolling shutter effects than lose Pro Capture.

      Tom

  1. Just amazing captures! Timed just right. Excellent article. I appreciate you sharing your knowledge that makes me want to grab my MFT gear and go outside!

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