At some point in the process of purchasing a camera, you may have wondered “how long does a DSLR last”. It's a logical question. Even if you're purchasing an entry level camera, it is still a fairly expensive item and you want to be sure it's a good investment. Although it could be argued (and probably rightly so) that the camera is secondary in importance to the lenses that are attached to it, it's still nice to know that the camera will last for a long time. This article will explore some of the things that may factor into to the longevity of DSLR cameras and whether you should be worried about it.
So here's the thing. That shiny new DSLR is most likely going to last many years. It is not likely that you will wear out the shutter, the mirror mechanism, or some other component of the camera. The most likely reasons for needing a camera repair or upgrade are dropping it, getting it wet, or the camera becoming outdated. In other words, just keep shooting, do your best to take care of the camera, and don't worry about the shutter count.
Every time the button is pressed on a DSLR, the shutter is actuated to expose the sensor and record an image. The shutter count is the total number of times that button has been pressed over the lifetime of the camera. Manufacturers perform rigorous testing of the durability of their cameras and provide shutter ratings. The shutter rating is theoretically the number of times a shutter can be actuated before it fails. Many entry-level DSLRs are rated at 100,000 shutter actuations while high-end cameras may be as high as 400,000 actuations.
Although shutter ratings are published for most DSLRs, that information is not always easy to find. The table below provides the shutter ratings for some popular DSLRs on the market today.
|Camera Model||Shutter Rating|
|Canon 7D Mark II||200,000|
|Canon 5D Mark III||150,000|
|Canon 5D Mark IV||150,000|
|Canon 1DX Mark II||500,000|
Does Shutter Count Matter?
No and yes. The shutter rating for a Canon 7D Mark II is 200,000 actuations. That doesn't mean the camera is dead as soon as the shutter count reaches that number. This is a case of YMMV (your mileage may vary). The shutter on one 7D Mark II may die after only 150,000 actuations. Another body may be going strong well beyond the manufacturer's rating. Don't get hung up on the shutter rating numbers. There are a number of other things that are more likely to be the cause of a camera failing or reasons to upgrade to a new camera.
I don't have the data to back this up, but I would venture to guess that most photographers don't use a camera long enough to wear out a shutter. The shutter on most mid-range DSLRs will last at least 5 years if you take an average of 30,000 pictures every year. Most of the time, probably even longer than that. A lot can happen in that amount of time to influence a decision to get a new camera anyway.
One of the times that knowing the shutter count on a camera is beneficial is if you are buying one on the used market. You can tell a lot from a close visual inspection, but it is nice to know just how heavily a camera body has been used. It would be nice if all camera bodies would keep track of the total count of shutter actuations, sort of like a camera odometer. Unfortunately, manufacturers don't provide this feature, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.
There are many ways that you can find out the shutter count on your camera. If you shoot Nikon or Pentax, the shutter count is probably embedded in the EXIF data of your images. Canon and Sony seem to make it a little more difficult, if not impossible, to find out this information. This website and this website seem to work across most Nikon and Pentax camera bodies, but only a few Canon DSLRs. There are tons of other ways that you can find out your shutter actuations. Magic Lantern, which is free software that can be used to unlock a host of features on Canon DSLRs, has a shutter count option.
What Should You Worry About?
Although the shutter count may not be a huge concern, there are other things that could go wrong with a DSLR camera. Many times, problems with a DSLR are due to user error. They are electronic devices, which are susceptible to damage from moisture and impact. There is nothing quite as disheartening as hearing your nice DSLR crunch as it hits the ground or splash into a stream or lake. These things happen and are much more of a concern than the shutter wearing out. One likely scenario is using your DSLR on a tripod on a windy day. A gust of wind at just the wrong time could tip the tripod over and send the camera crashing to the ground. The camera may survive without a scratch or it could be on its way to the manufacturer for some costly repairs.
Like most other electronic devices, DSLRs have evolved very quickly over the last 5 to 10 years. With these rapid advancements comes faster and more accurate focus, better low-light capabilities, more features, and better image quality. It's not that great photos can't be taken with the “old” camera anymore; quite often the same exact sensor is used for multiple generations. However, the marketing departments fuel our desire to want the latest and greatest camera bodies. Sometimes there are valid reasons to upgrade. Other times, it is a case of Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS). I've been there and done that…more times that I'd like to admit. Whichever the case may be, most photographers are likely to get a new camera before their old one wears out.
Let's say the shutter on your camera does fail. The option of getting a replacement is always open. The cost for replacing the shutter mechanism will vary depending on camera model, generally costing more for higher-end cameras. Shutter replacement will cost anywhere from $250 to $400, but may be more depending on camera model. It's really up to you whether or not it is worth the cost. Things to consider are how old the camera is and how much it would cost to replace with a comparable model. If the camera is 5 or more years old, perhaps it's time to upgrade to newer technology.
Just to reiterate, the shutter count is not likely going to determine how long your DSLR lasts. If you do wear out the shutter, good for you. That means you are doing a lot of shooting. The more likely scenarios are that your camera gets wet or is dropped and requires repairs or replacement. If that doesn't happen, it may be more likely that either you outgrow your camera or it simply becomes too “old”, necessitating the need for an upgrade. Pretty much any DSLR on the market today will last at least 3 to 5 years under normal use, and could possibly even go much longer than that. Either way, just keep shooting and don't worry too much about it. The camera is a tool that needs to be used to be appreciated.