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The Poor Man's IS

by Richard Harris, 2003


One of the best things about digital cameras is that they allow a lot of experimentation due to the lack of processing costs and the instantaneous availability of results. It becomes extremely easy for the user to test out ideas, and technical exercises are easily carried out.

These factors led me very quickly to stumble upon a novel method of getting sharper hand held photos from my EOS 10D, this method is not limited to this particular model or brand of camera however and can in fact be used with any camera that can take a rapid series of continuous frames.

In fact, this particular technique has always been possible, however I have never heard it mentioned anywhere despite reading avidly about photography for a number of years. If you have seen this before, please accept my apologies. I do believe that it is far more convenient with a digital camera, not only because of film costs but also because with digital it is very quick and easy to identify the sharpest image, as will become clear later.

The technique itself is very simple: simply compose your image in the viewfinder and take a series of consecutive frames – as many as your camera will allow or is economical. On my 10D I take a burst of nine frames. Now while this may sound simple to the point of being totally obvious, there is a twist. My handholding technique is fairly poor, I can barely use the 1/focal length rule and have in fact resorted to shooting a least a stop higher than this “rule” in the past after discovering that any less would sometimes result in soft photos in my case, as clearly my technique is lacking.

However after trying out the method outlined above I have not only been able to get consistently great results at the 1/focal length setting, but in fact can also get very good results two or more stops slower, which is comparable to the results people have been getting with IS lenses – but without IS and with all types of lenses, including the shorter focal lengths that IS isn’t designed to cater for. As an aside I have found that the 1/focal length rule doesn’t seem to be affected by the DSLR cropping factor, in my case anyway.

As I mentioned earlier, with digital files it is extremely easy to quickly identify the sharpest frame in a burst: simply look for the largest file size in the sequence. In a series of JPEG’s taken in sequence the one with the largest file size is invariably the sharpest. This must be down to the way that the image compression works, whatever it is I have found this rule to be consistently true. If you shoot RAW it is worth extracting the embedded JPEG’s in order to determine the sharpest file before doing any RAW conversion.

I believe that there is nothing more to this trick than simply maximising your odds of getting a sharper image, and by taking 9 consecutive frames you are simply increasing your chances 9 times. Having said that, I do find that firing a continuous burst is more effective than taking 9 individual frames, probably because I relax more when firing a burst and the shutter is only depressed once which also helps to minimise movement. Besides, firing a burst is obviously a faster and more convenient way of getting the 9 shots.

To demonstrate the technique I have done a test, which is detailed below. Each sequence consists of a shot first on taken a tripod, then as a single shot hand held using my best technique, and then finally a burst of nine was taken and the best frame from it was compared to the two control shots. In the images below you may examine the results, in each case the first image on the left is the tripod shot, the next is the single hand held shot and the third image is the best shot from the burst of nine.

The camera was set to manual and auto white balance, the images below are 100% crops taken from the centre of the image. No processing whatsoever was done to the images, this is the output straight from the camera, shot in JPEG mode.

First up was my 17-40 F4L, set to 17mm:

1/15 @ F11

1/15 @ F11: At this focal length and shutter speed there is very little difference between any of the shots.

1/8 @ F16

1/8 @ F16: Again not much in it, shorter focal lengths are pretty hand-holdable it seems.

1/4 @ F22

1/4 @ F22: Diffraction has softened the lens itself at this point, but the shot from the 9 frame burst is visibly much better than the single hand held one, although not quite as good as the tripod mounted shot but that is hardly a surprise. This is definitely a usable shot, which is only slightly softer than the one from the tripod and is pretty remarkable for this shutter speed, especially when you consider that with the DSLR crop the effective focal length is actually 27.2mm.

Next I zoomed to a focal length of 28mm:

1/30 @ F8

1/30 @ F8: Here you can see what I mean about my hand-holding technique, the single hand-held shot is clearly soft and in a real world situation I would have been disappointed with the sharpness of the image. The shot from the burst though is pretty indistinguishable from the tripod mounted one.

1/15 @ F11

1/15 @ F11: I think this illustrates my point about probabilities, the single hand-held shot at this shutter speed is actually sharper than the one taken at 1/30. This isn't surprising really when you consider that hand-holding is a hit and miss affair even at the best of times. The shot from the burst is sharper though, and pretty hard to distinguish from the tripod mounted one.

1/8 @ F16

1/8 @ F16: Again, the tripod mounted shot is obviously the clear winner, with the single hand-held shot being very soft. The shot from the burst is usable though, albeit visibly softer than the tripod shot.

Next I fitted my 50 1.8 to the camera:

1/45 @ F8

1/45 @ F8: Not much in it, but the tripod mounted shot has a slight edge, followed by the shot from the burst and then the single hand-held shot. All are acceptable.

1/20 @ F11

Similar results to the last sequence but this time the single hand held shot is slightly softer still.

1/10 @ F16

1/10 @ F16: Here again the benefits of this technique are pretty obvious, the image from the burst is slightly softer than the tripod mounted shot but still perfectly usable, and streets ahead of the single hand-held effort. Again, considering the effective focal length of 85mm and the shutter speed this is a pretty good result.

Finally I decided to mount my 300 F4 L, which sadly does not have IS, and put it to the test:

1/250 @ F4.5

1/250 @ F4.5: Again not much in it at this point, and the result is similar to others in that the tripod mounted shot is sharpest, followed closely by the one from the burst and the single hand-held shot is the softest.

1/125 @ F6.7

1/125 @ F6.7: Here the results are more conclusive, the single hand-held shot is soft while the one from the burst is almost as sharp as our tripod control shot.

1/60 @ F9.5

1/60 @ F9.5: Again a very conclusive result, the tripod mounted shot is the sharpest but the one from the burst is almost as good. The single shot is awful. Again considering the effective focal length of 480mm this is a very good result.

Conclusion

Of course this method has many limitations, and isn’t as convenient as having an Image Stabilised lens, but I do think it can have it’s uses and may help you to get the shot in a pinch. It is obviously only really suited to static subjects, and can only realistically be for occasional use unless one has an awful lot of storage capacity. On my particular camera model there is no way of knowing the size of particular files and I don’t find the LCD useful for judging critical sharpness, which means that the images need to be compared on a computer in order to sort out the sharp from the soft. On a long trip I can imagine that it would be very easy to accumulate hundreds if not thousands of images if one were to rely too much on this method, whereas with an Image Stabilised lens this would not be an issue.

I am also curious to see whether these results could be improved if used in conjunction with an IS lens, however since I do not own one I have not been able to put this idea to the test. Maybe someone else could carry out such a test and report back.

With the excellent high ISO performance of current DSLRs, this technique does offer the ability to get hand holdable images in very low light, or can also offer the possibility of keeping the ISO setting lower rather than higher in marginal light and give better quality results.

As an example of this technique put to some real world use rather than shooting the block on the other side of my road, this is an image taken in Exeter Cathedral with my 17-45 set to 35mm (effective focal length 55mm) and taken at 1/20 second at F5.6 and ISO 800. The full size file is pin sharp.

Exeter cathedral

©Copyright 2003 Richard Harris

[Editor's note - you can check out the real IS lenses on photo.net's "EZ-Shop" page]

Article created 2003

Readers' Comments


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Bob Atkins , July 08, 2003; 11:49 A.M.

A very interesting set of results!

Something simiar has been used by nature photographers using long lenses, where a burst of 3 shots often results in the 2nd or 3rd shots being sharpest. Of course with film this not only gets expensive, but if you shot 9 frame bursts you'd only get 4 different images before having to change film!

The basic idea is that the first frame is often blurred because the photographer is tense and the initial push of the shutter disturbs the camera. For the 2nd and 3rd frames the photographer is more relaxed plus the shutter is just held down and so there's no "jog" of the camera. Obviously then if you just play statistics, the more frames you shoot, the better your odds one of them will be sharp.

The only caution I'd have is that the shutter life on any camera isn't infinite. I don't know of any tests on the 10D, but I think the projected life is around 50,000 shutter cycles. I know the EOS-3 has a projected life of 100,000 cycles, but in actual tests performed by Chaseur d'Image magazine it went for almost 450,000 before failure. Some shutters will fail early, some will fail late, you just don't know. With film and 450,000 shutter cycles you'd have to shoot 10 rolls of film a day, every day, for about 3.5 years to wear out a shutter. With digital and 50,000 shutter cycles and enthusiastic shooter firing off 9 frame bursts could get there pretty fast!

I believe shutter replacement costs are around $200-$250 - though I've personally never had to have one repaired (yet..)

Gary Berg , July 08, 2003; 12:18 P.M.

This is the same technique that Nikon uses with their "BSS" setting on their Coolpix series, isn't it? I believe Nikon uses a 3-shot burst and takes the best/largest.

Still, it is a very effective technique to improve sharpness, and this shows an easy way to do this with almost any digital camera.

Leonard Richmond , July 08, 2003; 02:32 P.M.

Similar results can be obtained using the self timer. Using the 2 second on my p&s digital allows me to avoid the inevitable movement coming from squeezing the shutter release and greatly increases the length of time I can have the shutter open. Perhaps combining the 2 methods, 2 second self timer plus a burst of several frames, would give the best of both worlds.

Leonard Richmond , July 08, 2003; 02:32 P.M.

Similar results can be obtained using the self timer. Using the 2 second timer on my p&s digital allows me to avoid the inevitable movement coming from squeezing the shutter release and greatly increases the length of time I can have the shutter open. Perhaps combining the 2 methods, 2 second self timer plus a burst of several frames, would give the best of both worlds.

Carl Smith , July 08, 2003; 05:26 P.M.

Good point Bob.

Personally, my preference is to better technique. :) Roll the finger across the shutter button, don't mash it in and the like. There's a number of "proper techniques" that do work but not everyone can manage and those with shakey hands such as my father is could benefit from this. Although he usually steadies the camera against his face and avoids the shaking problem that way.

W J Gibson , July 08, 2003; 10:59 P.M.

One other area where the burst mode may help --- a family of geese and goslings on my shore - lying down behind a retaining wall - Coolpix5700 with digital zoom on, and zoomed out just slightly not much beyond 1.0 - hand held burst shots. I got a few good frames using this technique. Much better results than I have had using a bit of digital zoom with single shots.

Adrian Bratt , July 09, 2003; 04:34 A.M.

The Poor Man's IS?

That would be a TRIPOD. :-)

Adrian

csab' józsa , July 09, 2003; 04:53 A.M.

I agree with Adrian,above:) practicing this with a film camera, you'll *become* a poor man quickly. However, I used this technique(well...i was happy with 3 shots in the burst) in cases when the light was really low and i *really* wanted to be sure that I'll get one decent, sharp frame. It worked.

Chris Combs , July 09, 2003; 06:19 A.M.

Nikon's BSS allows you to take as many frames as will fit in the buffer; on my 995, I believe this is either 8 or 10 frames.

richard harris , July 09, 2003; 08:54 A.M.

Well, I guess I should have said it in the article, but I also totally agree with the tripod comment - I always use one where possible, it's always the best option. This is just for those few times when it isn't possible to use one.

Regarding good technique, just out of curiosity Carl (and whoever), with your best technique what sort of results are consistently achievable? Can you go 1 or 2 stops beneath the 1/focal length rule? Personally my technique is certainly not up to that but I would be curious to hear what others can do.

Derek Stanton , July 09, 2003; 10:00 A.M.

This is semi-interesting, but i have a question about part of this process that seems to have been accepted by all.... The image with the greater sharpness will be a larger file size? Because of the compression? I was of the impression that the digital camera creates a file size based on the parameters of the image grade selected. Based on the pixel dimension. I'm astonished to hear that a sharper image provides more information. I would think that within a 2200x1600 frame, it wouldn't matter what was depicted, nor how blurry.... Similarly, would this mean that a photograph of clouds or moving water would be a smaller file size than a photograph of something highly detailed ("praying mantis on a brocade sofa")?

Paul Elliott , July 09, 2003; 10:39 A.M.

Image detail is what increases the file size. If you take a 512x512 image that is a solid color and save it as a highest quality JPG, then add heavy noise and save as a highest quality JPG, you'll see this effect taken to extremes.

(So yes, measuring the level of compression is a good indicator of how sharp the image is when comparing a sequence of shots of the same scene)

Hisham Atallah , July 09, 2003; 11:20 A.M.

I heard somebody claim that the battery grip can buy him an extra stop handheld. Has anybody tried this?

Jay Scott , July 09, 2003; 11:23 A.M.

I know two image processing ideas for improving images that suffer camera shake. 1. For a single image, if you can make reasonable mathematical assumptions about the nature of the image detail, it is possible for software to estimate from the image data a model of how the camera moved, and to use that model to find an improved image that could have been created if the camera had been steady. This is relying on the fact that when the camera shakes, every pixel of the original scene is smeared into the resulting image in a predictable and consistent way. I have seen research papers about this, and I was astonished when I could not find a Photoshop plugin that does it. 2. If you have a set of images, typically each of those conveys some information about the original scene which the other images in the set do not. A suitable algorithm can combine the images into a new one that includes all the information, and is sharper than any single image in the set. I have seen this done as a way to "beat the camera's limitations" for things like landscape photos, but never as a way to reduce the effects of camera shake. By combining this with idea 1, it should be possible to get an image which is considerably better than the best image in the set.

Nathan Whitaker , July 09, 2003; 11:54 A.M.

Can anyone point me (and others who are trying to improve their technique) to any resources explaining the best handholding techniques?

any advice would be appreciated

Peter Langfelder , July 09, 2003; 12:32 P.M.

Poor man's IS? Let's see - either you use a $1500 digital camera (plus several hundred $ more for required accessories) or you burn 5-10 times as much film as you would otherwise. Neither sounds like a solution for a poor person to me.

I have tried the technique a few times when I didn't have my tripod with me, and to some degree it works - but a cheap $40 tripod is still a far better and cheaper solution.

Dean G , July 09, 2003; 03:38 P.M.

This is a technique I'm unfamiliar with, and despite the drawbacks which apparently preclude frequent use, it seems like a great tool to have in your back pocket when you can't or don't want to use a tripod. For my digital P&S in particular where ISO choices top out at a noisy 400, and that I use as a pocket/street camera, I plan to experiment at that and some lower speeds. In most low light cases with the 10D, I would still prefer to use a tripod and/or the higher ISOs that are quite usable on this camera. Thanks for posting this article.

Ans Beaulieu , July 09, 2003; 06:14 P.M.

I am often travelling on business trip where a tripod would be out of the question, so I came up with the same technique on my 10D. I'm even getting good pictures at 1/2" exposition hand held (Chicago Tribune). I've also experimented hand held with the timer trigger and the remote with no tripod, but the easiest and most convenient with digital camera is burst shooting.

Image Attachment: 00031_RT16 .jpg

Mike Kelly , July 09, 2003; 06:20 P.M.

Jay - Your proposed algorithms describe what I believed digital image stabilisation does, as commonly found on digital video cameras, and cheaper digital still cameras. I think that IS lenses use a mechanical / optical solution. Don't know whether this is inherently better quality, or just a legacy from non-digital SLRs. Given that the software does exist out there in other devices I wonder why it isn't an option on a camera like the 10D.

This quote from dpreview (http://www.dpreview.com/learn/Glossary/Optical/Image_Stabilisation_01.htm) doesn't explain why:

Important footnote: Only Optical Stabilisation will work for digital still cameras, digital image stabilisation (seen on some "lesser" digital video cameras) works by pixel shifting the image (not something that will work for a digital still camera).

Igor Ivanov , July 09, 2003; 10:52 P.M.

Interesting, and has a scientific explanation :-). When the camera shakes, its movement is approximately periodical and you have points of zero and maximum speed. Hitting the shutter release several times, you are more likely to get closer to a moment when the speed is zero.

An alternative image enhancement technique is using several shots of the same scene and special software. The resulting image is sharper than any of the originals.

The real value of your finding - if you are the first - is that it is very simple and you have formulated it. Congrats.

Igor

Der Jan , July 10, 2003; 01:37 A.M.

On a 6x7 medium format and a 120 film that would be one photo per film ;-)

Tomaz Levstek , July 10, 2003; 03:23 A.M.

I use this technique often, when I don't have tripod and need a shot at low light. I just didn't know about the file size. It's logical but didn't quite put two and two together. :) Thanks.

Axel Farr , July 10, 2003; 08:19 A.M.

Not really an IS,

but what you describe in your article has a very simple background: Most of the shake, additional movement and vibration comes to a still camera exactly in the moment, when you take the image. You press the shutter, the camera moves the mirror upwards and the shutter is opened. The second and third can not be influenced by the cameraman, but the first can. There are some things to avoid for good, sharp handhold images:

1. you have to control camera shake. This means, holding the camera firmly gives sharper images than holding it with rather loose grip. To a minimum of camera shake, a good stand and e.g. the arms rested on your body or on a tree etc. are further improvements.

2. you have to press the shutter in a soft and smoth movement. Most shutter releases are designed that way that the release is done _before_ the button is in its mechanical end position. So with a smoth move, the camera will have its image taken bevor your finger reaches the mechanical stop of the release movement, so extra disturbing is avoided.

If you doing series shots, than the chances are not bad that you can have one or two of the images taken in a moment of relative rest, but you still can improve your images with a better hand-hold technique.

I have a lot of shots taken with twice the inverse of focal length, beeing sharp enought to be viewed in a slide projection. Maybe not totally sharp, but getting a good handhold technique is always good even for cases when the "1/f"-rule is perfectly matched or far bypassed by the lighting conditions.

Greetings, Axel

Joe Garrick , July 10, 2003; 08:20 A.M.

My hands shake more than Shakira's backside, but my tripod is rock steady, and doesn't waste film or burn through shutters. Use a monopod where a tripod isn't convenient.

Ans Beaulieu , July 10, 2003; 12:31 P.M.

I have a tripod, a monopod, steady hands, I use rocks, walls or anything that can steady my aim but frankly, I still use burst shooting very often. Even when you control your breathing and the way you push on the shutter this technique is still useful to "push the limit".

Tripod and monopod are great but there is a lot of occasions where it is not practical or even prohibited to use them. Have you been in a crowded city where shoplifting is a national sport? Have you been in museums, aquarium, music shows, bars or special event? Have you travelled light and with minimal gear where photography was not the purpose of the trip? So for all the "pro" out there, kindly stop saying tripod this and monopopd that, you are missing the point. This technique is for when you don't have anything better and believe me it has it use.

Peter Foiles , July 10, 2003; 11:58 P.M.

Just to note that if you are shooting raw you do not need to extract the jpeg to check for size as a measure of sharpness. The size of the raw file itself changes in the same way (it is compressed losslessly). I was just doing some lens tests and the raw file size consistantly increased as I stopped down the lenses.

Todd Roseman , July 11, 2003; 03:05 A.M.

Tip: To compare the frames in-camera, zoom in to max zoom on preview screen and then use the Main Dial near the shutter release to go through the burst images. The preview screen keeps the zoom location for each. Pick the best and discard the rest.

(in case someone didn't catch this in the manual, like me)

Todd MacDonald , July 11, 2003; 04:36 A.M.

Maybe everyone knows of this, but as a newbie I thouht it was a pretty good addition to the "poor mans" IS bag of tricks. Everyone knows resting a camera on a unipod adds some degree of stability, but what if you reverse the force....pull up instead of push.

In other words, attach the camera to a line to the ground and pull up. I found (from the grandfather of a Swiss friend of mine) that wrapping a line around your lens, (or attach it to a quick release on the camera's bottom) standing on the other end of the line and pulling up adds a nice degree of stability. I've created a simple setup with bungey and 1.5 inch webbing that works pretty well. Since I don't always have my tripod but always my bag and line, I've always got a little extra help.

Happy Hunting

Gordon Richardson , July 11, 2003; 01:24 P.M.

That fact that Jpeg sizes increase when there is more image detail is well known, though I don't know of any written sources that refer to this method. As mentioned above some digital cameras already use a "best-shot" mode - it is possible that this method is used.

If the original scene is an astronomical photo the file-size could get larger! Point sources of light would be smeared out across several pixels.

One downside of this method is that Jpeg is not the best format for images - Raw or Tiff would give better quality. Given the limitations I would suggest that this tevchnique is unlikely to be used often!

I wrote an article on Jpeg Compression in April this year (http://www.photo.net/learn/jpeg/).

Carl Smith , July 11, 2003; 01:36 P.M.

Proper technique can allow you to shoot at slower than 1/focal length. But for me it sometimes takes a moment to prepare myself, I can't usually just shoot from the hip at very slow speeds. Can't do it when your heart is racing and your sweaty and shaky. You know, common sense. :)

Although this man is sometimes a walking, talking Nikon advertisement I know a number of people who have improved their technique based on his recommendations here. The link given is for short lenses but it has a link on how to handhold longer lenses as well. The link is here.

Jeff Green , July 11, 2003; 01:50 P.M.

Todd's idea is a good one. I have used this for years, with a screw eye into the tripod socket and a string attached to it. It is very small and light and slips in your bag well. Just step on the end of the string and pull up to stabilize.

Also, if you don't have the time to screw in the string, just lower your vantage point, and step on your camera strap and pull up.

I always look around for something to prop on and possible use the self timer. There is almost always something .. .

Zibadun -- , July 11, 2003; 08:44 P.M.

Todd's and Jeff's idea is pretty good. If you look at some older camera manuals you will see similar technique described with things like rolleiflex strapps: put it around your neck and pull. Although with waist level finder this is much easier...

Jay Scott , July 12, 2003; 05:54 P.M.

Mike - I always supposed that digital image stabilization consisted of simply shifting successive images so that they change as little as possible. The complicated algorithms I was suggesting could be used too, but I'm sure it's beyond the state of the art to run them in real time on portable hardware.

Digital image stabilization actually is a technological possibility for digital still cameras. Imagine a future image sensor which dedicates silicon to fast readout circuitry instead of to storing a wide range of image brightnesses. Then what the camera user thinks of as one frame of 1/100 second could internally be many subframes which are added together, possibly with additional processing such as digital image stabilization. Another advantage is that the theoretical dynamic range increases with the exposure time; night shots could be incredible. In the meantime, until this wonderful sensor is available, I'll be satisfied with the burst shooting technique.

Alan Davenport , July 13, 2003; 12:42 A.M.

The most consistent result seems to be, "Poor man's IS" = "tripod."

Ron Chappel , July 13, 2003; 10:44 A.M.

One technique i read about from a sports photographer is to hold the end of your long lens.I'm surprised it's not more commonly known

Oliver S. , July 14, 2003; 09:06 A.M.

The strap technique has been well-known for decades. But thank you, Todd, for reminding us of it!

Holding the end of a long lens? Even a 180mm doesn't allow me to keep my left elbow in contact with my upper body then. Ron, are you sure the sports photographer wasn't referring to use of long lenses on a monopod or even tripod? With a really "long" lens, additional suppport makes lots of sense. There are even self-made pentapods for precisely that purpose out there.

Wrt to hand-holding technique:
Place your left hand under the lens and keep it there, even if you're using a very short lens; (then cradle ring and small finger under the camera body.) I see so many photographers who eagerly ignore this; don't and most of your hand-holding problems are gone. For additional help:
Keep your elbows in contact with your upper body.
Compose, focus, breathe in, breathe out, press the shutter button.
If you're using a really long lens, consider placing the left hand under the lens with your thumb on its right side. (Look at .22 target rifle shooters and you'll understand what I mean. They often grip the foreshaft with their fingers at its left and the thumb on its right side when standing position is required.) Your left elbow then touches your torso near the centre rather than at the side.
For advanced handholding, get used to expanding your diaphragm and your belly, not your chest, when you breathe in.

Financial cost of all this: zero.
Practise a steady stand: knees very slightly bent, feet approx. 1' apart sideway and 1' in shooting direction, left foot forward-pointing, right foot at 45º outwards. [For ving tsun disciples: both feet pointing inwards, of course :-) ]

That's poor man's IS! :-)

Martijn Leensen , July 14, 2003; 12:07 P.M.

Reading the tips in this article I was asking myself: is it beneficial to use the mirror lock up also when not using a tripod? A main reason of making a couple of pictures seems to be the movement of finger and mirror when making the first picture. Using MLU, one does not need to make the first picture(s) which are unsharp. Only one picture might be enough to get a decent result. One does not have the possibility off course to choose from, let's say 9, pictures. On the other hand, 9 frames per 'picture' is not a poor man's solution.

Dean G , July 14, 2003; 04:27 P.M.

The target shooting analogy is very apt. I used to do quite a bit of 10 meter slow fire air pistol target shooting, as a hobby, and to a degree a sort of meditation. Anyway the breath control and small motor control required to squeeze rather than "snatch" the trigger is exactly applicable to holding a camera steady. Also what one learns in target shooting is to slow the breathing and whole system down and let the shot happen. Don't mean to sound "new age" here, these are simply practical matters.

Another good reason to cradle something like the 10D with the left hand under the lens, is that if you don't you'll soon wind up with a very sore right wrist!

Gus M , July 14, 2003; 04:41 P.M.

That technique is also useful for another purpose. When I got my digicam, I was very disappointed with the shutter lag, especially when taking photos of my baby. With an SLR, I could usually see a good smile from her and take the photo. With the digicam, I'd see a smile, hit the shutter, and have no smile in the picture.

By taking bursts of pictures, you don't have to worry about the "right" moment. Push down the button until the buffer fills and hopefully, she'll have a good expression in one photo.

Yakim Peled , July 16, 2003; 04:07 A.M.

Are we talking about AI servo ? The word never came up though it seems logical.

Christian Deichert , July 17, 2003; 10:43 A.M.

This just seems foolish. The author suggests that taking 9-shot bursts and hoping for the best is a good photographic technique. My opinion, this does nothing but promote laziness and sloppy technique.

What's even more ridiculou is that the author insinuates that this will work for the "poor man." I have a paying job now, but when I was a law student living on $400 a month, I had to make every dollar count. For photography, that meant making every shot count, so I used a tripod. I couldn't afford to waste film by handholding and taking 3 shot bursts and hoping one came out OK, and I certainy couldn't afford a $1500+ digital camera.

For that matter, I couldn't afford to buy a camera that would support IS -- I went with a 20-year-old used manual focus SLR. Fortunately for me, it's a great camera that's part of a great system -- I still have it and use it frequently.

Ben Lanterman , July 18, 2003; 12:39 A.M.

I have a 1D and use IS lenses whenever possible. And yes, even with IS I find that I can make a blurry photo. The 1D is a fine camera but it is lacking in a review zoom setting that will allow judgements of whether or not the shot is in focus. What if that were the only one that I had taken? Someday I hope to be able to shoot one photo and know with full confidence that it is going to be perfect, until then why not let technology help with the process.

I enjoy taking photos of small birds and airplanes. In general there is always time to study and use exacting technique to set up the equipment to take the photos. However the exacting technique approach does not allow for those little random factors that can occur - if you get them recorded by taking a series of shots you have a chance to find a photo which is just a little better.

Taking many photos will not destroy your photographic vision, it might even help sharpen your discrimination.

Consequently I fire away and take hundreds of photos and thoroughly enjoy the experience when I find a really neat photo occassionally.

Vince Resor , July 18, 2003; 10:40 A.M.

I am fascinated by the relationship between file size as expressed by JPEG compression and image sharpness. Assuming this is indeed the case, and assuming that Nikon has alreaded included this feature in their digital P&S cameras in the Best Shot Selector mode, why then wouldn't it appear in a firmware update on their dSLRs? Come on Nikon engineers, are you reading this? How is your auto-notification profile configured? Just about every keyword in this article has been included (D100, D200, D1h, D1x, D2h, VR, etc.). Am I missing something? Does the same relationship exist with NEF? NEF may be a no-loss format unlike JPEG, but does it not include some compression relative to uncompressed formats like TIFF? If Nikon has decided that no one serious enough to drop $1700-$5000 on one of their dSLRs would save images as JPEGs, then they have missed the marketing boat. I for one would love to see DVR (digital vibration reduction) as a selectable feature on the next D100 firmware update, wouldn't you?

John Marsden , July 19, 2003; 08:14 A.M.

Great posting. Thank you.

Just another point. Heavy cameras are much easier to hold steady. Inertia and all that. An old clunker can be good for this. However my Canon 1v with motor drive weighs a ton and seems to attract heavy dark matter as I carry it out on long bush walks. However it does seem to take sharper pictures with the motor drive than without.

As a note you can set the motor drive options on the 1v to shoot only so many frames. So I'll set it at 5 for now and if I do use this technique its not really that expensive. It is good to consider as a standby.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention and putting such a detailed posting to go with it.

PS if you use this with IS lenses (which I also have) you may be able to get even slower speeds for some shots.

This may explain why I once got an image to come out sharp at 135 mm at 1/8th of a second f5.6 (28-135 IS). (It was a mistake I was so absorbed in the event that I'd left it all in aperture priority !!! I was quite amazed when I checked the data collection later from the camera.)May have been helped by using grainy B&W film too Delta 3200 rated 12800).

Which also raised another poor mans IS. Use faster film !!

Enough - I just like the original posting. Thank you.

Klaus Sailer , July 19, 2003; 06:17 P.M.

To return to Bob's first comment...

Many users of digital cameras will not consider the shutter life as important as film users. I mean to say, almost always a digital camera is obsolete before any mechanical or electrical problems can arise, and it's considered normal practice to get a new one.

Nothing that a poor man could afford anyway.

Jordan Viray , July 21, 2003; 01:56 A.M.

A few issues with some of the responses: As for digital photography being out of the poor man's reach: I bought my EOS D2000 Digital camera in July of 2002 for $600 off of E-bay. So far, I've taken over 1500 photos over the course of a year. Assume it costs $10/36 exposure roll for film and development. 1500 photos is about 41 rolls or $410. 41 rolls over 12 months averages to a little less than a roll a week. So with fairly minimal use (~ 28 photos a week), the net cost of the D2000 is less than $200 in film-camera terms. I argue, then, that an older generation Digital SLR is well within a "poor man's reach"

As for shutter blade life: the D2000 is rated at 100,000 cycles which is the norm for other high-end Digital SLR's, so shooting a series of shots is a moot point. Not all photos will be semi-low light handheld ones needing a battery of frames to obrtain a sharp image.

As for laziness in technique: this method of gaining image quality has analogues in other parts of photography: flash exposure bracketing, plain ol' bracketing, white balance bracketing etc. . . Since Digital SLR's have histograms, lots of exposure latitude, and preview LCD's, normal bracketing isn't as important as it used to be. What these cameras can't do (yet) is compensate for camera shake. With this in mind, I think that the author's technique is *more* valuable than even traditional bracketing. Regarding laziness, how about white balance bracketing? Now THAT'S lazy!

As for using a string in a tripod socket, fastening it to the ground, and pulling up: Don't pull too hard. I found this out the hard way.

Thanks to the hard evidence from the article, I'll be using this technique a lot more (though probably in smaller bursts since machine-gunning a camera usually gets curious responses).

Andrew Robertson , August 02, 2003; 08:15 P.M.

I would also argue that digital is the most economical way to shoot photos ever invented. I have had my 10D since April, and have shot over 5,000 frames with it. Velvia 50(my preferred film) is about 8 bucks per roll (36) and about five bucks for processing, so some quick math tells me that I've shot 1805.55 worth of film so far with it. It's paid for itself and the 100-300 f/5.6 L that I got off eBay so far. I've probably shot 10 rolls with the 1n since April, btw (pretty much only in torrential downpours b/c of the weather sealing).

I truly can feel definite progress and feel my technique improving at a faster rate than ever. It's simply because I'm shooting more pictures.

Giampi . , August 06, 2003; 12:05 P.M.

GOOD ARTICLE-thanks! I agree with Igor about the workings of this techniques. When shooting more pix in burst mode you have a better chance to catch the camera in "mid air" (i.e. that point of the shake in which the camera is in almost neutral 'gravity' so to speak). Locking the mirror of course (when possible) would also help.

And yes, the best way to improve is to take more pix and with digital you can finally do that without breaking your bank!

Bill Tuthill , August 08, 2003; 03:02 P.M.

One bugaboo is that some digital cameras alter JPEG quality so filesize remains relatively constant. If your digicam does so, this IS method may fail.

Nick Kiest , September 23, 2003; 09:22 P.M.

I am now using this technique on my D30, and it works wonderfully. Using the 28-135 IS lens, I can reliably get 1/30th of a second on the long end with IS and three exposures. 9 out of 10 times the second or third image is the sharpest one. It works fine for RAW, as others have attested. I wish it were possible to view the file size on the camera though (unless I have missed it). Good hand-holding technique is vital though.

Many say to use a tripod, and I use when I can, and I always get the best images that way. But I often travel with family, and they won't put up with me setting up my tripod. Also security guards approach me when I use a tripod and hassle me, as no "amateur" would use one.

Nick Kiest , September 23, 2003; 09:28 P.M.

I might add that my father is a surgeon, and using a Powershot S50, he can handhold 1/6 or 1/4 second exposures, and get them razor sharp on the first try. Unfortunately I did not inherit his hands. It more goes to show that with training, anything can be done.

Paul Chaplo , September 29, 2003; 12:03 A.M.

I admire your perceptive observation! A few additions: if the files are close in size, check to see if the framing is slightly different between frames (shooting hand held may results is minor changes in the view, and hence different sized files), also, this works with whole roll scans for film. It's interesting that file size can vary, even when shooting with a tripod! Gee, this could be applied to even a rich man's IS -- I'd like to hear from an IS shooter who compares multiple frames with lens IS "on" -- there still could be an application for a truly crucial shot!!! Excellent job! - Paul

Ray Pfeiffer , October 30, 2003; 12:51 A.M.

Richard.. Your suggestion indeed does what you have observed. I have been shooting both camera and other pointed opticals for a few years. I retired my film Canon body 3 years ago to experiment with digital and became addicted. A few months ago, I purchased a Canon 10D and a 100-400mm (650mm) IS lens with 2x and 1.4x teleconverters. I shot the moon eclipse and in the recent few days the solar flares. Being mentally a tad on the extreme zoom side of the photo equation I shoot a great many of on and off tripod and other experimental large zoom shots in the attempt to find the 'limitations' of the equipment and environment, along with my steadiness. Being a hunter in a previous life shooting with scoped rifles at great distances is not that much different in acheiving success. I have indeed used your suggested method and without doubt it works to degrees regardless what mode I am shooting. Generally, I like to simply shoot several shots when time permits 'one shot' and reassure focus as well. While it may only make sense to some that the more shots you take the greater chance for success and in that respect correct. As we would say on the hunt, 'shoot between heart beats and squeeze the trigger'. I have shot bursts of the sun's solar flares through double black filters with both teleconverters stacked attempting to match SOHO results (in my dreams) on tripod and shooting a series of several shots will yield varying levels of success for various reasons even on tripod. Even at lower zoom levels that normally can be shot hand held I have shot bursts of 'one chance' opportunities and generally find that one or more shots are sharper. Probably for all the good reasons that have gone on here since your July article introduction. No mystery or voodoo. Your observation is a sound concept for my money! If the shot is somehow special... shoot it several times. NOT suggesting hunting with a machine gun (it's not quite the same), you certainly should be rational but many of my friends shoot good opportunities once with one bad result.

Erin Boyd , December 11, 2003; 07:43 A.M.


Hockey

The burst theory that the author of this article proposes is a good enough technique for static subjects, along with the various good practices mentioned by other posters (breathing, shutter release, arms tucked in, left hand supporting lens ,esp heavy ones, etc. I have been a press photographer for many years, and a tripod is not part of the equipment,too awkward to lug around, yet sharp photos are a requirement of the job. At present I use a D60 and 10D Canon for general and sports work. The frame rate (3 frames per second) is far too slow to capture an action sequence, or two shots of a single maneuver. The technique I use is one shot, Same as using a single barrel shotgun. With a Digital keep the camera awake by tapping the shutter button frequently. If not using the manual prefocus option, lock the AF on as the action is approaching and follow focus. Take a few images (3-4) for safety, (pic in the can) At the spot you have chosen to take THE image, gently depress the shutter button, and continue to follow through with the camera. Sure with a semi pro type camera such as the 10D or D60 you will miss a few such action shots, but you will always come home with enough clean sharp ones to keep the boss and yourself happy.

Erin Boyd , December 11, 2003; 07:47 A.M.


Hockey 1

And one of the safety pics taken seconds before of the same action flow

Steve Armstrong , January 14, 2004; 08:52 A.M.

Has the occupant of flat 9 been suffering from paranoia since the completion of your test?

Steve nicholson , August 01, 2004; 02:21 P.M.

I wonder just how poor this "poor man" has to be. With the Canon Powershot S1 is, available for as little as 370 pounds in the UK I bit the bullet and would highly recommend it. Waiting to afford the latest, smartest, newest model on the market will never get you anywhere.Buy now, reap the benefits now is my motto.


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