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Top Considerations When Buying A Microscopy Camera, PART 6: Global vs. Rolling Shutter

With microscopy cameras, the term shutter refers to the way the camera sensor transfers the data off the chip.  Global shutters read out the data from the entire sensor at the same time and this provides a snapshot of the sample at a single point in time (refer to Figure 13).  A rolling shutter reads off the data row by row, or by alternating rows.  Since each row takes time to read off, the image may show the effect of the slight time delay, resulting in a smearing of the image (refer to Figure 14).  It is important to note that the shutter type is built into the sensor by the sensor manufacturer and not an accessory.

Figure 13. Readout timing for rolling and global shutter, with readout on the y axis and time on the x axis. A) Rolling shutter, acquisition begins at the top row and rolls down to the bottom row for frame 1, then frame 2 begins at the top row after a delay. B) G lobal shutter, the entire sensor begins and ends exposure simultaneously.  Source: https://www.photometrics.com/learn/advanced-imaging/rolling-vs-global-shutter
Figure 14. A classic comparison of images captured with cameras featuring a rolling shutter (left panel) and global shutter (right panel).  Note the smearing of the fan blades in the rolling shutter example.  Source: https://andor.oxinst.com/learning/view/article/rolling-and-global-shutter

The difference between rolling and global shutter is visualized in captured images.  The caveat is that when viewing live images, framerate is more important than the type of shutter.

Here is our recommendation:

  • Static, non-living or dead samples (basically, not moving), you can choose a camera with either a rolling or global shutter, in which case base your purchase decision on other camera parameters. 
  • Moving (this includes scanning or stitching) or living samples, a camera with a global shutter camera will serve you better.
  • If live image viewing is your goal (e.g., instruction, inspection, etc.) or if your sample has a high degree of motion (e.g., flagella, swimming, etc.), choose a camera with a fast framerate.

Tune in next time for our next post in the series when we discuss connectivity to your camera (i.e., how you interface with the camera) and data transfer.