When buying a used DSLR, one of the first question asked by prospective buyers is the shutter actuation count.

The problem is: How much is too much?

While manufacturers provide certain numbers, these are just numbers: it is not because a DSLR has reach it that the shutter is going to fail suddenly or that it will need a special maintenance. It just means that in most of their tests, the shutter was able to last this number of shots without having any issues. It is not the average count of actuations before failure.

While  manufacturers dont say to which percentile this number correspond to, it is safe to guess that is it over 50% which means most DSLR can go over this number without issue.

In practice

When looking on the web, it is easy to find shooters who passed way over their shutter limit by a factor of 2 or 3x. Most of these shooters do either time lapses or sport photography. Of course, there are people who had to have their shutter replace after only half or even a quarter of this number, but these are exceptions.

And if it breaks?

The good news is that even if your shutter need replacement, it is a relatively cheap operation (less than 500$ in most cases).

Should I buy it or not?

As a general rule, unless you are planning to shoot sport or time lapses, you should not worry about getting a camera that has less than 50% of its rated actuation already used. Actually, getting a camera used that much may be a good thing because a lot of potential buyers are turned off by these, which means a better price for you!

I have also seen people specifically hunting for highly used cameras to buy them at a discount and then have the shutter replaced.

Note that most shutter actuation counts don’t include the number of times the user was in ‘video mode’
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chief astronomer at planet5D LLC
Mitch "planetMitch" Aunger is the creator and mastermind behind planet5D.com — which covers every aspect of HDSLR cameras (and a whole lot of other cameras as well). A lover of photography since his early days, he graduated to selling stock photos to make a little bit of spare cash. It wasn’t much, but it allowed him to upgrade to better cameras as well as computers, and it wasn’t taking money away from feeding his family.
He loves the stories that the still image can tell. In the summer of 2008, he read a story written by Arnold Kim called “I Quit My Job” — Arn is the owner of macrumors.com. He started macrumors in 2000 as a hobby, and by 2008 he was making more money with the site than he was on his day job, so he quit. The surprise to the story is that he was a doctor making more than six figures! Right then and there, planetMitch dreamed about doing the same thing.
September 2008 rolled around, and Canon announced this new version of the incredible 5D — the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. It was the first Canon DSLR to shoot full HD video and the earth moved! (It really was a huge deal in the photography world.) planetMitch knew if there was ever a chance to ride a wave of something he was really passionate about, this was it — and the blog at planet5D.com was born. It is now one of the most popular HDSLR blogs on the planet, and he is making a full-time living from blogging. He couldn’t be happier!
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