How long can I hold my camera still without a tripod?
People on photography courses often ask us this question (usually after taking loads of blurry shots), and having taught thousands of people we think we have the answer. So here are our camera holding tips. Actually it’s an old rule of thumb but it seems to work:
You can hold your camera still for the length of the zoom in fractions of a second. Roughly. For most people. In average conditions.
So if you are zoomed in to 50mm, you can hold it still for about 1/50th. If you’re zoomed in for 100mm you can hold it still for 1/100th. If you were trying to hold the end of a stick still, it would be much easier with a short stick – the length magnifies any motion. We’ve seen a lot of people, and this seems to work. A surgeon on a course in Birmingham was no better at holding his camera still than a painter and decorator in Bristol. (The best student we ever had was a Royal Marine sniper on a course in Henley, honestly!) You may get away with twice the length, you won’t get away with ten times the length. You may even get really lucky once in a while, but it’s the old rule and it pretty much works.
74mm at 1/15th, blurry
74mm at 1/100th – just about hand-holdable
To complicate matters there is the issue of crop sensors, which rears it’s ugly head if you have long lenses. Unless you have really top-of-the-range cameras like the Canon 5D or the Nikon D4, you camera has a sensor that’s a bit smaller than the piece of film in a film camera. The view that you get with a non-top-of-the-range camera like the Canon 700D or Nikon D5200 is the view that you would get from the top cameras, but cropped in a bit. Hence the term “crop sensor” which tends to be used for these cameras. Canon cameras have a “crop factor” of 1.6, while Nikon, Sony and Pentax have a crop sensor of 1.5 . (We can hear you yawning at this point, sorry – there is a point to this!) So let’s explore these camera holding tips:
Although it’s not technically zooming in more (it’s more like electronic rather than optical zoom) in reality the effect is the same – a lens gives a 200mm zoom on a 5D will give a 320mm (ie 200 X 1.6) on the consumer Canon cameras. The important thing is that it makes the lens much more difficult to hand hold. So if you could hold a 5D camera for 1/200th, you’ll need to hold your camera for 1/320 nd. If you have a Nikon or Sony, it’ll be 1/300th. It makes little difference with short lenses (your 55mm lens will be a 80mm, no bit deal), but your 400mm could end up as a 600! So one of our camera holding tips is to be aware of the crop sensor of your camera. Often it just make sense to stick the ISO up when you use the long lens.
Luckily, most cameras have a mechanism to help – you can increase the ISO a bit. Going from 400 to 800 will halve the shutter duration. Setting your exposure compensation to -1 will have the same effect, so doing both reduces the shutter speed to a quarter. Give it a go! For many people a good camera holding tips is to increase the ISO when you use the long lens.
Another of our camera holding tips is to use the camera’s timer, rather than pressing the shutter button for long exposure shots. Then you can place the camera on a table, a windowledge or a car roof, and use the stability of the surface to get a clear picture.
Think like a sniper – press up against a tree or a wall, keep your elbows in, hold the camera underneath, breath out gently rather than holding your breath. All these rifle holding tips make good camera holding tips!
Worst of all, the screen on the back of the camera is so small often pictures look ok until you download them. So paying attention to these camera holding tips is important, as you might not realise it on location.