Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Tripod: A Force for Good or Tool of the Devil

CommentaryIn this article, Japanese Scientists Say Tripods Increase Camera Shake, posted by Ron Brinkman on Twitter, it states that:
"... putting the camera on a tripod can actually make things worse ... as the mirror flips up to let light onto the sensor of film, it shakes the camera and — according to the Nishi Lab — lowers resolution by up to 75%."
It also says that the tripod they tested weighed less then 3.3 pounds. Out of all the info in this article, I feel that this is the most important tidbit and also just goes to show that 'you get what you pay for' when purchasing your tripod.

I have a heavy Bogen/Manfrotto that I was looking to update to a carbon fiber model for weight considerations. Better on the back but maybe slightly worse on the image quality, if this information is to be believed. Tripod weight being the main factor in shutter vibration.

I feel that the majority of camera shake on tripods comes not from the fact that they may be light, but rather when they are at their max extension - especially the center shaft. If you can at all avoid going to the limits of your tripods legs and center column, you will have a better end product. Now, obviously, a heaver product will provide better movement cancellation with its greater mass but I still do not recommend pushing your tripods to its height limits - heavy or not.

Many companies manufacture products that are designed to help remove tripod shake but most are built on the same design. That of adding weight to the tripod via bags. Either ones filled with sand or water. Both will work well but are really only good if you are taking shots by your mode of transportation. After all, I do not want to lug sand or mass quantities of water on a photo-hike. My gear bag weighs enough.

A little trick I use to reduce shake when I do have to go to the tripods limits and am not going to be by my ride is to take two things. A medium length bungee cord and a screw in dog tie-out.
Dog Tie-out
With these two items, you can either bungee the bottom of your tripods center column to your camera bag (if you only need a little weight) or screw the tie-out into the ground and bungee to it.

On the latter, a note of warning. Of you have a tripod of a lesser build quality and you have the bungee putting a LOT of down-force on the center column, it could pull it down, even if it is tightened fully. The other thing is: the amount of down-force could possibly bend lesser tripods legs, especially if they are set to a wide stance. To avoid this you may want to carry a couple bungees of different lengths as a choice for different tensions.

I hope that this bit of info will help you to take better, sharper and cleaner images. Now, go out and shoot!

Was this info useful or do you have a alternate method to help in stabilization, let me know by commenting below.