History of camera shutters

In the past to make an image you needed a camera, a lens and some film. In the 1900s film was not as sensitive as in the 20th century. therefor a lens cap was sufficient for opening the lens and closing the lens as the shutter speeds were more than 5 seconds. Later on, films became more sensitive and shutter speeds tended to drop from seconds to parts of a second and this could not be done by hand. Clever engineers developed a number of ways to make shutter open and close faster than a second. and thus the camera shutter was born.


Central Shutter

One of the first kind of shutters was the ‘ luxurious’ lens cap that opened the lens and closed it at 1/30th of a second or Bulb. This look like the Luc shutters below. It was screwed onto a lens and operated by an extended shutter release cable.

This opened like an iris from the middle to the outside. This kind of shutter is nowadays very sought of because of the revival of the old printing technics like wet plate collodium and ambrotype, tintype and ferrotype. These techniques have very long shutter speed thus needing shutters with one or two settings.

Cloth Shutter

This is a wooden shutter with a clockwork mechanism top open and closes a cloth shutter that rolls up and shuts again in a very fast fashion. It can have shutter speeds up to 1/75th of a second.

however, they are not very reliable and need constant maintenance.

Packard Shutter

A Packard shutter is a bit like the Luc Shutter but with the difference that it has a slit opening mechanism, that opens the shutter one part to the left and one part to the right. It was operated by an air piston with a hose and a bulb. When you squeezed the bulb, air would pass through the hos to push the piston up and thus opening the shutter. The one you see in the pictures is typically mounted behind a lensboard, which contains a mounting flange for a lens. The piston is made heavier to ensure its return to a closed position. This is a shutter that’s behind a lens.

Accuracy in shutters

In the early 1920s, central opening shutters for faster shutter speeds were being produced. The American Betax shutters as simple but accurate and easy to repair. many of them survived till today, I self use them on a regular basis for my 8×10″ camera. The European Compur and compound shutters are made to be as accurate as the American shutters only they have a metric screw mount. The Americans have and imperial crew mount so European lenses will not fit American shutters, as well as American lenses, will not fitt European. The company SKgrimes in the USA fixes shutters and adapts lenses professionally to old shutters.

Shutters Today

For large-format photography, no matter old techniques or digital cameras we still use separate shutter systems. The best known are the Sinar shutter and the copal shutters, both can be made in different sizes as the lenses vary in size.

In the shop


At vintagelens.nl we try to seek these shutters and have them fixed and CLA’d (Cleaned Lubricated and Adjusted). We have them is the shop so go and visit our shop to see them. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me through the contact form.