Tips and Tricks

Silent Photography Ⅰ, the Basics: Taking Photos Silently

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Narrated by YAMANO Yasuteru

The D850’s silent photography feature not only allows photographs to be taken silently and without vibration, but also offers additional benefits such as reducing wear by not engaging the mirror, mechanical shutter, or other mechanical elements. This feature, which is predicated on taking pictures in live view, can be used effectively in a variety of situations, and I recommend that you acquaint yourself with how it can be best applied in pursuit of your goals.

Enabling Silent Photography

    Enabling Silent Photography from the Photo Shooting Menu

Photo shooting menu > Silent live view photography
The Silent live view photography menu (D850)

01. Press the MENU button and select Silent live view photography in the photo shooting menu.
02. Select On (Mode 1) or On (Mode 2).

  Enabling Silent Photography During Live View Photography

Press the “i” button > Silent live view photography
The Silent live view photography menu (D850)

01. Press the i button during live view photography.
02. Select Silent live view photography in the menu that appears on the right side of the display.
03. Highlight 1 or 2.
04. Press the OK button or tap OK.

“Mode 1” Versus “Mode 2”

There are two options for silent photography: “Mode 1” and “Mode 2”. The differences between the two are not limited to pixel count but also include burst performance, rolling shutter effect, image area, and image quality, as summarized in the table.

  Mode 1 Mode 2
Effective pixels 45.75 million 8.64 million
Frame advance rate (approx.) CH: 6 fps CH: 30 fps
(max. 3 s)
Rolling shutter effect Mode 1>Mode 2
AF/AE Fixed at values for 1st shot
Other ----- Image area fixed at DX, Image size at 3600 × 2400, Image quality at JPEG Normal★

Although you’ll want Mode 1 when you need an effective pixel count of 45.75 million, Mode 2 is an option if 8.64 million pixels are enough. There are several additional factors that may influence your decision, such as your choice of subject and how the image will be used; these are summarized below.

  “Rolling Shutter” Effect

Silent photography is in principle prone to a noticeable rolling shutter effect that causes distortion in photos that include objects moving through the frame. The amount of distortion is less in Mode 2 than in Mode 1, making Mode 2 a relatively safe choice for subjects that move across the frame. Depending on your subject, you may notice no distortion in Mode 1, while on the other hand there may be noticeable distortion in Mode 2. Because the effect depends not only on the subject’s actual speed but also on the speed of its movement through the frame, factors that cannot be easily summarized in table, I suggest that you take test shots and check the results.

  Image Area

Mode 2 offers only the DX image area, making it a good choice when you want to increase the apparent focal length but limiting you to Mode 1 in situations that require the FX image area.

  Image Quality

Photos taken in Mode 2 are recorded in JPEG Normal★ format. Choose Mode 1 when you want to record images in other formats, such as NEF (RAW).

I default to Mode 1 when photographing stage performances or concerts where the subjects are comparatively slow-moving and the difficult lighting conditions require adjustments to contrast and color, as I prefer to shoot in NEF (RAW) format in these situations, while when photographing sports and other comparatively fast-moving subjects, I default to Mode 2 for the 30 fps frame advance rate and to keep the rolling shutter effect to a minimum; the choice, however, is one that must be made on the spot and cannot easily be boiled down to a few factors. Given this background, it’d probably be best if you were to try it out for yourself and decide based on your own goals and tolerances.

Keeping Camera Sounds to a Minimum

A situation where you’ll want to muffle camera noise: A concert
A situation where you’ll want to muffle camera noise: A concert

  Disabling the Live View Timer

Silent photography is available in live view. It follows that the mechanisms such as the mirror and shutter are not required, as you can start silent photography from live view and return to live view when shooting ends. This is an extremely useful feature for concerts and in other situations in which you do not want the camera to make noise, but there’s one precaution you’ll want to take in advance, namely setting the monitor-off delay to No limit.

The camera has a variety of timers to limit unnecessary demand on the battery, but the one that affects silent photography is Live view, which defaults to 10 minutes. While this is not a concern if silent photography can be completed within 10 minutes, in situations where photography might continue longer it may be safer to choose No limit as described below to prevent live view ending and the mirror dropping unexpectedly. This ensures that as long as the battery has sufficient charge, the mirror will not move after shooting until the Lv button is pressed.

Custom Settings menu > c Timers/AE lock > c4 Monitor off delay
The “Monitor off delay” > “Live view” menu (D850)

  Locking the Aperture Mechanism

Even during silent photography, if you bring your ear close to the camera you’ll hear the aperture mechanism in operation every time the shutter is released in programmed auto or shutter-priority auto mode. Although in my opinion such sounds are rarely a problem, they can be eliminated if desired by selecting aperture-priority auto or manual so that once you start live view the aperture mechanism will only be used when you adjust aperture during live view.

How to Not Be a Nuisance

  Lights Out

Many of the situations in which silent photography is desired include concerts or solemn occasions in which it wouldn’t do to create a disturbance. In such situations photographers must not only consider the noise produced by the camera but must also be aware of the annoyance potentially caused by the use of live view display required during live view. You might consider trying a third-party hood loupe, which can be highly effective in such situations and which in fact may, by example allowing photographs to be taken at eye level, make the camera easier to use.

Hood loupe
Hood loupe attached to camera

This chapter continues in “Silent Photography Ⅱ: Preventing Vibration in Landscape Shots”.

Tips and Tricks > Silent Photography Ⅱ: Preventing Vibration in Landscape Shots

Profile of YAMANO Yasuteru

Photographer and researcher of photographic techniques. Born in 1954 in Kagawa. Has been publishing photos and articles in astronomical journals since the 1970s. Has published many digital photos and articles relating to digital astronomical photography since the year 2000. Member of the Society of Photography and Imaging of Japan (SPIJ).

Violinist courtesy of KYO-GEI INTERNATIONAL LLC. 
ZACUTO Z-Finder Pro courtesy of Nobby Tech. Ltd.
SLIK Light carbon E83 FA courtesy of Kenko Tokina Co., Ltd.

Functions Used for Silent Photography Ⅰ, the Basics: Taking Photos Silently
View detailed information on the settings and procedures used.

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