The Benefits of using a Leaf Shutter: Ask David Bergman

By | February 26, 2020

So why would you use a leaf shutter, instead of a focal-plane? I’ll tell you on today’s episode of Ask David Bergman Hey welcome back to Ask David Bergman of course, as always David Bergman here answering your photography questions on Adorama TV. Don’t forget to go to, ask your own photo questions, I just might answer it right here on a future show. Today’s question is from Andy S, and he asked; What are the benefits of using a leaf shutter system and outdoor flash photography especially when trying to overpower the Sun Leaf shutters! Alright it’s a great question but before I get into that I’m going to talk about why you would want to use flash to overpower the Sun in daylight. We’re here in New Jersey and unfortunately today is an overcast gray day but if it was bright and sunny you’d think oh I’ve got plenty of light to make a picture, why would I use flash? Well there’s really a couple reasons why. The first one being you might want to add in a little bit of flash just to fill in shadows on somebody’s face If the Sun is overhead and it falls down on somebody you get these really nasty shadows and it’s just harsh, nasty light. So you can use some flash to do that. You could also even block the sunlight and then create your own nice beautiful soft light on your subject if you were doing a portrait. I’ve done different videos about both of those topics and I’ll put links to those down below. But really what we’re talking about today is the different ways to add flash in when using different kinds of cameras. Now the thing is, most people are using DSLR cameras and those have what’s called a focal-plane shutter. And what that means; There are two curtains inside the body not in the lens but inside the camera body that moved to expose the picture and what happens is if that moves really fast, if you’re shooting at a flat very fast shutter speed, it’s going to move too fast to get the entire flash exposure in the picture. So you’re gonna wind up cutting off the flash you might have seen where you try to shoot at a faster shutter speed and your camera actually won’t let you go faster than let’s say 2/100 or 2/50 of a second in that case that is your maximum flash sync that you can shoot with that camera each cameras a little bit different, but all focal-plane shutters and most DSLRs have that limitation for that very reason So, but the challenge with that is, it’s actually not a huge problem in many cases, but the challenge with that is if it was a bright sunny day let’s think about some exposures if I was photographing somebody, in front of Manhattan here and I had a lot of sunlight then I would have to, if at 100 ISO if I was at a shutter speed, my max shutter speed let’s say 2/50 of a second, the corresponding aperture to get the right exposure might be around f/16 maybe even f/22 on a bright sunny day. Here today because it’s so overcast we’re shooting at about f/8 to get the right exposure. Now that’s all fine but the challenge with that is a couple of things first of all at f/8, I need to get a lot more power out of my flash, so I’m probably gonna need to use bigger flashes or multiple speed lights and I’m really gonna, or if I do use one speed light, I’m gonna have to turn it up to full power it’s not gonna recycle very fast, and it’s gonna eat batteries really, really quickly so there are some other ways to combat the limitation of that max shutter speed, that max flash sync speed, but they involve things like high-speed sync or hyper sync and there are a few technologies to do that but those all have compromises if you use high-speed sync you lose a lot of power from that flash. So it will work if you can get the flash in really close and in certain scenarios it’s a great way to go but you have to give up a lot to be able to do that. So now let’s talk about medium format cameras, most of those cameras have what’s called a leaf shutter, Andy, which is what you asked about Now that shutter is not in the body, it’s actually in the lens itself and the way that opens and closes actually exposes the entire sensor all at once way faster than that moving slit does in a focal-plane shutter. So because of that it allows you to actually shoot with flash at any shutter speed the camera will allow you to shoot at. So for example I’m here with the Hasselblad H1D, 50C, which is a medium format mirrorless by the way this one’s from Adorama rentals thank you guys for letting me use this for the video and I’ve got a 90 millimeter 3.2 lens on here and this has a focal-plane shutter, the shutter is in the lens by the way that’s one of the reason medium format lenses are so much more expensive than DSLR lenses because they have shutter mechanisms inside of them instead of in the body. So here’s the thing if I expose, let’s bring in Andres. Come on in here buddy. Now get that jacket off I know it’s cold but you can make it. I’m wearing my jacket, but you have to take yours off for the picture. So um, so we’re gonna make some quick pictures here. Now I’m already set here to expose properly for the background. Which again as I said 100 ISO, let’s do it as if it was a DSLR 250th of a second at f/8. Now we can see what that’s gonna look like, so let’s shoot a couple frames here real quick. Good. Boom, awesome! Alright so that’s what f/8 looks like. Now it’s exposed properly the picture’s fine, but honestly that background, those buildings in Manhattan, it’s a little too in focus for me, I’d rather have it really more out of focus. I want to shoot wide open with this lens which is 3.2, now to go to 3.2 I have to bump up my shutter speed, and with a DSLR ,with a focal-plane shutter, I can’t do that, I can’t go any higher with my shutter speed, any faster. Luckily, because I’m using a medium format and a leaf shutter I can shoot at any shutter speed this camera will allow. So I can bump this up to 1,600th of a
second, at 3.2, at the same ISO, 100 ISO. Now one little note, gear that I’m using, I am using a Canon speed light inside the full tech soft lighter here behind me, and I’m triggering that flash using the PocketWizard+3, I have one on the flash and one on the transmitter on the camera. So the PocketWizard is actually only rated to trigger a flash up to 5/100th of a second but there’s an unknown/little-known feature for some reason that isn’t more widely talked about in the pocket wizard that allows you to shoot at faster shutter speeds. It’s called fast mode and all you have to do, there’s a couple little settings you have to change, the pocket wizard that’s on the flash itself, you have to change that to HSR mode and then you have to shoot above channel 17 and turn off all four groups A,B,C,D,E. Once you do that you’ll see a little F show up on that PocketWizard and that is fast mode and will allow you to shoot at faster shutter speeds than 5/100 of a second. So all I have to do, I’ve changed that, and I’m using that no problem, now I’m at 3.2 at 16/100 of a second, let’s make that change here. So I’m gonna change that in the camera. Boom boom, this is a touchscreen so I’m able to change it on here and 3.5 and 1600 I also have to adjust my flash setting I’m gonna bring that down, so I’m gonna turn that down to, 3 stops down, from where I was. So I’ve turned that down now 3 stops and let’s think about that for a second I’m using a speed light, I’m able to shoot 3 stops down that’s gonna give me a lot more availability of power out of this light. So I can use a speed instead of having to use a big strobe I can have a speed light at quarter power instead of a full power. So let’s see how that looks, Andres come on back in here and I’m gonna shoot a couple of frames here at 3.2, so you can see the difference. There we go I’m gonna shoot one more just so you can see how that looks. Excellent. Alright so you can see how that looks at 3.2. That’s really the image I wanted to make Now that picture I couldn’t make it with those settings on a DSLR again without using high-speed sync or some other technology that has a bunch of compromises in it, but with a leaf shutter inside this medium for my camera I was able to go up to 16/100 of a second bring my aperture wide open to 3.2 at 100 ISO and get the picture I really wanted to do. So now let’s think about this for a second, if you’re able to do that and shoot, I could shoot wide open which means, I brought the power down on that speed light I’m only using one little canon speed light inside of this giant 60 inch soft lighter and I’m able to get enough power out of that thing, even at quarter power, I’m all the way down at quarter power I don’t have to shoot at full power, I don’t have to bring a big studio light out here and because I’ve got this thing dialled down, the batteries are gonna last a lot longer it’s going to recycle a lot faster there’s so many advantages to being able to do that. So that’s the reason why I would use that. Andy thanks for asking that question, it was a great one, I hope that helps. Don’t forget if you have your own photo question, go to, fill out that form there, and your already right here on Adoramma TV, I hope you’re a subscriber, click the little button down below, make sure to subscribe if you’re not. There’s so much great free photo content here, every single week. Thanks joining me I’ll be back here next week with another episode of ask David Bergman

23 thoughts on “The Benefits of using a Leaf Shutter: Ask David Bergman

  1. PiDsMedia Post author

    @David, why choose Leaf Shutter over adding a VND to the focal plane shutter body?

  2. Gilbert Henri Post author

    Great video. Still can't afford a leaf shutter but I learned something new about the pocket wizard III. Thank you for your time and work.

  3. John Spurr Post author

    I should know the answer to this but I do not. With the EOS R, if I use the silent digital shutter mode what type of shutter is it using. Could that be used to emulate the effect of a leaf shutter. Can you eve use this mode with flash? I have no idea and I have never heard it mentioned or covered anywhere. JRS

  4. Adam Muise Post author

    This is an awesome video. I have cheated and used my Fujifilm x100f (leaf shutter) to get higher shutter speeds. Of course, that is only if you don't want to engage the ND filters or if they can't push your shutter speed down far enough. Follow up question for the video: what are the drawbacks of using ND filters? Autofocus? Image quality from light loss?

  5. Praveen Kumar Post author

    I don't think, Who Have Hasselblad, Don't Have HSS Flash 🤔.

    But Really Helpful topic For Me At least ( i Hope We could Get Leaf Shutter in Full Frame & APS-C Cameras As Well) .🤞

  6. Peter Lemke Post author

    Well explained David. Definitely the NYC skyline bests NJ.

  7. Kurt Ozan Post author

    In order to shoot above 1/500th all you have to is turn off groups, say an ancient prayer to the photo gods, and then hit A B A C A B B on your snes controller.

  8. Edwin Lam Post author

    Can you explain why did you need to adjust the speed light 3 stops down? I understand the need of adjusting down the power of light when using a wider aperture, but why 3 stops? Is it because going from f8 to f3.2 is approximately 3 stops?

  9. phynx2006 Post author

    All that for a little difference in the background bokeh, come on Dave hahaha just joking, great video as always.

  10. Dale-Anthony Hines Post author

    Lol @ pocket wizards
    didnt know that about leaf shutters though.
    the Fuji X-H1 is looking more appealing now

  11. Andreas Stolten Post author

    Thanks vom "Andy S." for answering my question. Well done.

  12. Brad MacMillan Post author

    I love how knowledgeable David is. Thanks for the tips, as always!

  13. Shane Baker Post author

    Thanks David. Very clear.

    At last – I know the advantage of the FP shutter! 🙂

  14. Brian Kenneth Kondas Post author

    Instead of investing $50,000 in a medium format camera you could buy a $200 high-quality ND filter for your DSLR camera and shoot at a wide open aperture and low flashpower setting the same as with the medium format camera. As a result, you save $49,800.

  15. krbenoit Post author

    A lot easier to do this with a Godox AD200 and X-pro trigger using HSS.

  16. Mr Dev Post author

    I think we are going to see more systems picking up on this idea

  17. Bobby Post author

    Would be nice if you would have shown a shot taken at say 1/4000. Leaf shutters are nice but they also have a limitation, their max shutter speed. The more expensive ones only go 1/2000. Also your strobe's flash duration comes into play.

  18. Matthias Wiegand Post author

    I learned two things I'd never have known about my own gear in just minutes!
    Do more about medium format please.


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