Some cameras say they have a silent shutter, but when you go use them you find that there's still a slight click. So it might be quiet--maybe even very quiet--but perhaps not truly silent. Even some mirrorless cameras, where there's no mirror slap, aren't as silent as you might expect.
In normal shooting, it's often not enough to worry about. But chances are that if you're looking to take photos silently there's a good reason. Maybe you're shooting shy wildlife, or a performance, or in a gallery where you just don't want to disturb others.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that when the Sony a7iii claims to have a silent shutter, it's really true. There's no click at all--at least from the shutter. The only confirmation that you have taken a photo is a momentary blackout through the viewfinder or on the back screen's live view.
Of course, there is a caveat. The shutter is silent, but you can still get some slight noise from the lens as the autofocus locks. How loud that is will vary from lens to lens, but for the ones I've been using--the 24-70 ƒ/2.8 and the 16-35mm ƒ/2.8--it's essentially imperceptible. It's certainly not loud enough for me to consider it a problem in even the quietest shooting situations. And if it was, you can prevent even that from happening by shooting with manual focus.
Making your Sony a7iii shoot silently isn't available in every shooting mode, and not every feature is available when you turn the silent shooting on (more on that below). Specifically, the silent shooting option is only available when shooting still images in the P, A, S, or M shooting modes.
Setting up the a7iii to shoot silently is a two-step process. It's not at all complicated, but I'm posting this here in the hope that it saves someone the amount of time I spent searching through the menu system for the options in the camera's settings.
It makes no difference which order you do these--but you'll want to do both of them.
Switch to Silent Shooting
There's a simple setting to toggle that enables the silent shutter. You find it under the tab with the camera icon and the number 2, then subpage 4/9 to the Silent Shooting option.
It's a simple toggle, on or off.
Turn Off the Focus Confirmation Beep
By default, the a7 iii has the beep enabled to let you know when focus has been established. It's usually one of the first things I turn off on any digital camera.
You can find the relevant setting under the camera icon with the 2 next to it. Then scroll right to the last subpage under that tab (9/9) and then the very last setting called Audio Signals.
Limitations of Silent Shooting on the Sony a7iii?
Enabling the silent shooting option does bring with it some limitations.
Firstly, the silent shooting mode only works when taking still images in the P, A, S, and M shooting modes.
When it's enabled, these functions aren't available:
- Using the flash
- Auto HDR
- Picture Effect
- Picture Profile
- Long Exposure NR
- e-Front Curtain Shut.
- BULB shooting
In addition, if you have the RAW file type set to uncompressed and you're shooting RAW images (either as just RAW or RAW+JPEG), you won't be able to use bracketing.
If you're shooting with a low ISO and point your camera towards a very bright light, you might get some highlights showing as dark tones on the back screen. It shouldn't affect the final image.
And, finally, there are two situations where the shutter sound might beep, neither of which come up in normal shooting:
- registering faces using the Face Registration feature.
- registering a reference frame when setting up a custom white balance.
Shooting Silently with the Sony a7iii
I like the way that Sony has implemented silent shooting on the a7iii and have been leaving the feature on even for general shooting when I don't really need to be especially quiet. The limitations of using it aren't ones that I run into in my usual shooting.
What would make the feature even better is if Sony found a way to incorporate into the shutter button the kind of subtle tactile feedback that the newest smartphones have been adding--not really a click, as such, but a barely felt tap that provides just enough feedback without creating any noise. That would be helpful as confirmation that you've taken the shot.
The Downside of the Fully Electronic Shutter
After I originally wrote this I learned from other shooters of a drawback of shooting with the fully electronic shutter. And that is that you can get banding in some circumstances when using it with some artificial light sources.
This isn't something I've personally run into. I even went back through my shots to try to find some examples of it but couldn't find any. It's not a fault in the camera--it's a limitation of the electronic shutter and the way it interacts with some artificial light sources (but not, apparently, constant LED light sources). Shutter speed also factors in.
So it's obviously not something that affects every situation and every shot, but it could potentially be a problem, so it's definitely worth keeping an eye out for if you're using the silent shutter setting in an important shoot.