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Every digital SLR camera's shutter has a life expectancy rating given by the manufacturer which estimates how long the shutter should last. That number is usually at least 100,000 actuations (shutter flips/pictures) and can go up to 300,000 on higher pro-level flagship Canon 1Ds Mark III and Nikon D3 and D3s cameras. The reason they are so prone to dying is because as the only moving part in your camera, the vibration and nature of its motion eventually wears out. Just because you've reached the expectancy however, doesn't mean that your camera will fail. It's just merely the tested expectancy. And should you find yourself with a broken shutter, rest assured that it can be replaced for a few hundred dollars and save you from replacing the camera entirely. To find out the expectancy, check with the manufacturer. Additionally, if you are curious here is a database of camera shutter life created with data submitted by user reports.
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For a majority of older Canon cameras, checking the number of shutter actuations is very easy. You just need to download a small utility called EOSInfo created by AstroJargon. It reports the camera model, serial number, firmware, and shutter count. All you need to do is install the program and connect your camera to a Windows PC.
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This is the easiest since it's built into the camera.
- Turn on the camera and open the memory card slot door.
- Press the PLAY + OK buttons at the same time (Menu + OK on E400 series cameras).
- On the arrow pad, press WB (Up), ISO (Down), Metering (Left), and AF (Right).
- Press the shutter button (fully).
- Press Up (or Right on some cameras like the E-3 and E-510).
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Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, and Other Cameras Not Supported By The Above Methods
If your camera is not supported by any of the above methods, the only guaranteed way to check this information is by sending it in for service. The next time your camera is in for servicing, ask them to check the number of actuations. This is entirely doable with especially the newer Canon cameras like the 7D, T1i, and T2i which are not supported by EOSInfo.
It may also be very possible to find out this information, but if it is not listed here, I have not been able to find it.
Some cameras record the number of actuations in the metadata of each image it takes (EXIF). This can be viewed with EXIF viewers like Opanda IExif for Windows (XP/Vista/7) Simple EXIF Viewer for Mac OS X.
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If All Else Fails
If you don't have an opportunity to send it in for servicing, you can always keep track of it the old-fashion way by telling your camera to name your files sequentially. On my cameras at least, even if I delete a picture, it advances the naming by 1 number. This way it will start at 0001 and reset when it gets to 10,000 pictures.