So 2024 is here, and I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time. Why have I been so excited, you may ask? It’s because 2024 is an Olympic year, which is always a big deal for the camera world, and for the wider technology world. Olympic and World Cup years tend to herald the largest leaps in camera specs and features, as well as screen technology, because the games are the perfect opportunity for brands to show off what their kit is capable of.
Some of the most significant camera releases in terms of pushing technological boundaries have been released in the run-up to – or in the year of – global sporting events, including: the Nikon D3 (2008); the Nikon D4 and the Canon EOS-1D X (2012); the Canon EOS-1D X II and the Nikon D5 (2016); the Canon EOS R (2018); the Fujifilm X-T4 (2020); and the Sony A1 (2021).
This year, the digital camera world welcomes the headline-grabbing Sony A9 III, the world’s first hybrid full-frame stacked CMOS camera (that’s a lot of qualifiers) to feature global shutter technology. But what is a global shutter, and why does Sony and its many fans believe that this development is a ‘game changer’? Will we see a trend of global shutter cameras coming in 2024 and beyond? Let’s take a quick scan ahead.
A global shutter sensor is capable of reading all the pixels in its array at the same time. This eliminates visual imperfections such as the rolling shutter or jello effect from video. It also prevents distortion, banding and LED / light flicker from ruining shots of fast-moving action, crucially helping to deliver better images while capturing sports events.
This development going mainstream means flash sync speeds beyond anything that was previously capable; burst rates with full autofocus that defy logic; and no more pesky banding lines when you capture images indoors with flickering lights.
But global shutter technology isn’t new: many high-end cinema cameras use global shutters already. In fact, the first ‘global shutter’ sensors were introduced by Kodak in the Seventies; they were charged-couple device (CCD) sensors. Despite their technological advantages, CCD sensors struggled to compete with the more common CMOS sensors due to cost and availability.
In 2018, Panasonic announced the world’s first global shutter CMOS sensor. Its Organic-Photoconductive-Film (OPF) CMOS Image Sensor could deliver 8K resolution (36MP) with a maximum frame rate of 60fps and even had an electronically controlled variable ND-filter system.
Mind blown? Well, it shouldn’t be. Many of the biggest developments in camera technology are many years in the making. The fact that we’re only seeing global shutter sensor technology coming to hybrid cameras like the Sony A9 III now is a sign that the benefits are starting to outweigh the trade-offs that have to be made to implement it. Some of these include cost, of course, but they also currently see a reduction in dynamic range and noise handling capabilities compared with CMOS sensors at this stage.
However, now that Sony has fired the starting gun and you’re aware that Panasonic is also developing the technology, it’s only a matter of time before global shutters become as ubiquitous as silent shutters have been over the past few years. I can’t wait for Paris 2024 – I love Olympic years, what a time to be a photographer!