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Friday, December 22, 2006

More on SR/AS Unmeasurability

I don't want to distract commenters from Carl's question, but another idea regarding Shake Reduction came up in conversation last week with the guys at my local camera store. Unlike Carl, who was an expert competitive archer in his youth, I have always had trouble with hand-holding slow shutter speeds. In fact, I think I suffer from a form of what golfers call "the yips": a certain spasmodic tension that occurs just as I will myself too consciously to be calm—a tendency to get "shakey" precisely when—indeed, because—I'm trying not to. This isn't something arcane—I can feel myself doing it, and observe it in the viewfinder.

Oddly, this has shown up for me twice in objective camera-motion tests—but in an unexpected way. In the 1980s, following instructions in a Popular Photography article by Burt Keppler, I poked holes in a large sheet of black cardboard and lit it from the back, creating "points of light" that would show motion-blur very clearly. I then shot the setup with a variety of shutter speeds. I ran another camera-shake test in outdoor conditions using ND filters with a Canon EOS RT in the early '90s. In both cases, strangely enough, I did very well at hand-holding—in the second test, in fact, I was rock-solid to a half of a second! This is greatly at odds with my long experience as a photographer: I know I have trouble hand-holding 1/30th, and once, when shooting a perticularly upsetting assignment (the accident scene of a young black professional who had committed suicide by jumping from a bridge in Washington, D.C.), I had trouble hand-holding 1/125th. (Appallingly, the young man had jumped from right beside a non-working suicide hotline phone.)

So what accounts for my performance on both tests? I think it was simply that I was perfectly relaxed.

Because there was no picture, there was no pressure. Because there was no pressure, I was able on those two occasions to hold the camera steady at shutter speeds I am absolutely sure I can't hand-hold in real life.

So what does this have to do with Anti-Shake? Simply that this camera feature also helps make my "yips" go away. I don't worry any more about whether I can hand-hold a 30th, because I know the technology is helping me. So I relax—and hold the camera steadier.

This probably makes the technical feature work better for me, and increases the improvement the feature gives me. If I'm right about it—and I'm pretty sure I am, though only in my own case—it also underscores Carl's suspicion that the real, practical, in-the-field effect of anti-shake systems is not really possible to measure with perfect objectivity.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

7 Comments:

Blogger George Barr said...

Not only do we tend to get more shakey with age, a significant percentage of the population inherit familial tremour. In it's worst case this causes the head bobbing and shakey voice that some people have by age 60 but more commonly simply results in unsteady hands. In addition, a number of medications can induce tremour, specifically almost all of the modern antidepressants. Beta blocker drugs actually make you more steady, and for that reason are banned at the olympics in such sports as shooting. Add to this list of shakes a number of other disorders which tend to accumulate as we get older and shake reduction becoms a necessity rather than a luxury.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Robin P said...

Mike's theory that having the AS function makes him more relaxed and therefore goes part way to solving the problem makes sense.
There are a lot of different factors in camera design to consider as well such as mirror slap and how well it's damped, the overall weight of the camera/lens combination and the mechanics and direction of the shutter release.
I believe some of the mystique surrounding the performance of rangefinder cameras (implying Leitz glass here) is attributable to lack of mirror slap. The same goes for Zeiss glass on Contaxes - would the picture quality be as good if the cameras and lenses weren't so solid & heavy and particular attention paid to mirror damping & "real time" shutter buttons.

I suppose my next DSLR will have AS because soon the market won't tolerate missing it out as a feature but it's not on my list of priorities - certainly makes sense for those who habitually shoot in poor light without a tripod though.

Cheers, Robin

6:05 PM  
Blogger Robert Roaldi said...

I'm 53 and still have not acquired enough sense to avoid drinking too much coffee when shooting pics on cold winter mornings. I keep waiting for that wisdom that comes with age but it's not happening.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Robert,
Now that you mention coffee, there is a passage in "In Focus," Beaumont Newhall's autobiography, where he mentions that Cartier used to avoid coffee and go to bed early when possible, both to help him hand-hold very slow shutter-speeds. One never knows where Cartier is self-mythologizing and where you're reading unvarnished truth, but the implication is that he deliberately trained in order to be able to handle the physical demands of picturetaking.

--Mike

6:52 PM  
Blogger scotth said...

It's not the shakes that keeps me from drinking coffee when I go out to shoot in the morning, but how far I am going to be from a bathroom when its goen through me. Part of the ritual is stopping for a coffee and a cookie on the way home.

9:57 PM  
Blogger Marc said...

Indeed, Mike's theory works! I recently learned about the anti-shake feature in my Nikon D200 (which I didn't realize it had), and since then I've been able to get steady shots at speeds as slow as 1/2 sec!

(A friend told me I had been misinformed--that the D200 has no anti-shake--but I decided to ignore him.)

If you have a different model Nikon, or even a Canon, and wish you'd gotten the D200, let me know, and I'll be happy to confirm that your camera has anti-shake, too.

At your service...

--Marc

1:24 AM  
Blogger Martin Storz said...

Photographers do not die, they become only more and more unsharp.

3:31 AM  

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