Monday, June 11, 2007

Keeping Count

I started a post about finding the number of shutter actuations about a month ago, then shelved it when I realized Canon doesn't let you get at the number of shutter actuations in their low and mid-range cameras. No idea why, maybe they just don't want us to compare our cameras to Nikons? So, I forgot about it until a post on DPChallenge brought it back up like my daughter's dinner when she has a cold.

Oh, was that too graphic? Sorry... Yes, it is a sad fact that my daughter, if she has dairy products when her phlegm is running, throws up. Anyway, back to shutter actuations...

All cameras have counters inside them that keep track of how many times the shutter has been actuated. Just like the odometer on a used car, a shutter counter can be useful if you are buying a used camera. Except... for Canon cameras, it doesn't always work. Apparently only a qualified tech can really read out the information with special machines. Forgive me, but I'd love shutter count to be a menu option, it'd be handy to know what I was getting into when buying a used camera (For Sale: Used 20D with only 15,218 actuations).

The basic theory is this: many cameras will place the shutter actuation number inside the EXIF data in each image file. So, if you want to see the mileage on your camera, shoot a JPEG image and load it into software that lets you view the shutter actuation data in the EXIF. Voila, you have the number of shutter actuations!

For instance, here's a forum discussion at Sportshooter which describes the process with Opanda's IExif and some results. IExif is a freeware program which is very easy to use. Apparently it works on Nikons, but I couldn't find an appropriate field on my Canon 350D (and others have tried too). If you try it, make sure you use a file straight from the camera; editing and resaving will rewrite the EXIF data.

But, you can view it on Flickr. Upload an image (again, which hasn't been edited) and then in the lower right you'll see a line that says: Taken with a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT and below it More Properties. If you click on More Properties, it will bring up the EXIF information, including shutter actuations.

For my camera, an image from 12/23/06 (right after I got it) read 15,118 actuations and an image from tonight read 20,745. Except, wait a second, another from today didn't even have the shutter count field. So I took another just now, and it read 20,745 again. I think Flickr is mis-interpreting shutter count. To back that up:

  • Here is the Flickr thread which describes the process for finding actuations and the inconsistent results people have been getting.
  • Here is a DPReview post that says it is secret information. Check the replies to the message I linked, that's where the meat is. Also, note how the first reply mentions using the file counter (more on that later).
  • A thread on FenceCheck (aviation photography site) that talks about how long shutters last. Really long, but lots of useful tidbits.
  • POTN post reinforcing the notion that Canon doesn't supply the needed info.
But, there's another way referenced in JimH's post on DPReview:

If you've kept track of your actual shots or have never reset the count by inserting a CF card that had a higher number (thus resetting the counter), then you can know.

For example, I know my shutter count (to within a few frames) simply because I've never allowed any CF cards to be inserted into my camera that I wasn't sure of and I've always left the camera set to "continuous" numbering.

Except for one time when I purposely reset everything and shot a frame for a guy to test with to see if he really COULD determine the number of frames on my camera - he couldn't. I then reset the camera back to where I left off by inserting a CF card with the appropriate folders and files still on it. In that case, the camera sets itself to take the next picture as the next possible number.

Since I never use other cards and I've never reset the counter (or let my battery go dead), I can say with confidence that my shutter count is 9,273 in a little less that six months. My first photo is IMG_3221.JPG and my last photo (as of two minutes ago) is IMG_2494.JPG. I might also be able to assume that the camera only had 3,220 actuations on it when I got it, unless B&H or someone else stuck in a card with images on it.

The moral: if you shoot Canon and want to know your shutter count, manage your cards and image numbers so you can keep track. If you are trying to buy a used body, you're pretty screwed unless you want to pay a Canon tech to look at it.

Ok, back to the original link.

Apparently Oleg Kikin has set up the Camera Shutter Life Expectancy Database which allows users to log how many shutter actuations are on their camera and whether it has died yet. Interesting idea, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired because it is way to easy to enter bogus data. With a proper management system (program to automatically extract relevant EXIF data from submitted photos?) it might turn into a useful resource.


Anonymous said...

To count the actuations of the Canon 350D, Flickr seems to use the tag 0x0093 of the exif file. It should be extract with a exif tool (I used exiv2 on linux). It seems that the third number, according to Flickr, is the number of actuations: 8203 in the example bellow.

0x0093 Canon 0x0093 Short 16 32 8203 64 0 0 0 65535 65535 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

I really don't know if it is accurate.


Sean said...

Yeah, I read that too, but when I looked into it with iExiv 2, the field was pretty much garbage.

As far as I can tell, Canon hides the information for some reason.

Ashley Pomeroy said...

"It seems that the third number etc"

I've tried this with a piece of freeware software called Exif Reader.

At first it seems to work. If I take consecutive pictures, the third digit of 0093 increments by one.

But it can't be the total number of shutter actuations, because in my case the most recent number is 178, and I have taken more photos than that. In fact I have taken more photos than that on the card.

Anonymous said...

Here's a workaround for those who know how to add and/or multiply. As long as you have your Canon camera set to "continuous file numbering" (it's in the first tools menu on my XTi), you can easily tell the total number of actuations. When you access the files on your CF card on your computer, you will notice that they are in a folder named 101CANON, 102CANON, etc. The file names are the format IMG_XXXX, where the four-digit number runs upwards continuously. The camera automatically generates a new folder when the file names reach 9999. So, for example, I'm on folder 102CANON, which means I have filled an entire previous folders with roughly 10,000 images (or twice that if you use JPG + RAW format, as the two files will have the exact same number). Do a little math, and you should have a pretty good estimate of your total actuations. I'm up to around 10,208, give or take. The nice thing, the camera continuous the file numbering regardless of whether or not you switch CF cards, so you don't even have to figure that into your calculations. Wow, math is so useful!

Marco: said...

On my EOS 400D
100Canon means 1-9999
101Canon means 10.000 and up
102Canon means 20.000 and up

@Anonymous: Looks like you're off by 10k ;)

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