The Legendary Canon Camera Behind the Iconic iPhone Camera Sound

A side-by-side image featuring a close-up of an iPhone with three camera lenses on the left and a Canon AE-1 film camera with a lens cap featuring the 1976 Montreal Olympics logo on the right.

Despite the ubiquity of the iPhone camera sound, with trillions of photos shot on iPhone every year, many people don’t know the fascinating analog origins of the camera app’s digital shutter sound. The trademark “click” on iPhone traces its roots back to the legendary Canon AE-1 35mm film SLR released in 1976.

The Canon AE-1 was the first SLR to sport a microprocessor, creating a nice through-line from the old analog camera to the relative supercomputers people carry in their pockets. It was also significant due to its sheer popularity, with the camera selling nearly six million units during its eight-year production run. It was a runaway success for Canon and helped mold the brand into the photographic powerhouse it remains today.

But how the heck did the AE-1’s shutter sound find its way into the iPhone, and is it truly just the AE-1’s shutter that creates the iPhone “click” that has been heard by billions?

Edutainer Phil Edwards (@philedwardsinc) recently created an Instagram reel that covers the history of the iPhone’s shutter sound, including its connection to the Canon AE-1.

While much of what Edwards says is accurate, and some of it is worth digging into a little further, there is one rather significant caveat. The iPhone’s shutter sound is not the shutter sound from a standard Canon AE-1 but rather the sound of the AE-1 with the optional Canon Power Winder attachment. Michael Glass shared a video of this spectacular sound nearly four years ago.

There it is. That’s the stuff.

It’s also very similar to the Canon A-1 camera with its optional Canon Power Winder, as shown by Alex Calde.

These analog cameras and their electronic attachments create a warm, cozy sound. And Apple has been using this sound effect for much longer than it has been selling the iPhone.

The camera sound originally entered the Apple ecosystem through the screenshot function on macOS, which has been part of using a Mac for decades. While the screenshot sound comes equipped with more bells and whistles than it used to, the basic Canon sounds are still in there.

Photographers have Jim Reekes to thank for this. Reekes worked as a senior software architect at Apple Computer for nearly 11 years, from 1988 through 1999, during which time he worked on QuickTime, macOS, and hardware. Reekes is best known for his contributions to the audio side of software, including the creation of the famous Mac startup sound, the Sosumi beep, and, of course, the screenshot and now iPhone camera sound.

Reekes created the shutter sound with his own Canon AE-1, which, as some people point out online, had a bit of “Canon squeal” due to failing internal parts. After all, Reekes started at Apple in the late 80s, more than a decade after the AE-1 was released.

“You are also hearing the sound of an unserviced Canon AE-1! That fantastic whine and squeal noise is so classic on failing canons that it has its own name, the Canon Squeal,” writes dskorupa_photo on Instagram. “It comes from a specific gear losing lubrication, and if left unchecked for too long can prevent the mirror from returning down in the mirror box. So not only are we hearing his camera, we’re able to diagnose what’s wrong with it, all these years later.”

Image credits: Featured image created using an iPhone 15 Pro image from Apple and a Canon AE-1 image captured by Charles Lanteigne — Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0