Archive for the ‘Photo Equipment’ Category

What exposure time can I shoot from hand?

Friday, December 4th, 2009

The other day I had a wedding with a second shooter/assistant. She has a brilliant eye for images, and it’s been a joy to work with her that day. However, she is still rather blind on the technical side of photography. Many of her photos – most of them well composed and balanced – were not sharp due to camera shake. Eeeek! I looked at the EXIF data, and yep, no wonder this has not been working: 1/25 sec exposure time with a 135 mm lens does not work. You simply can not shoot this photo from hand. Doesn’t work. You need a tripod.

When I explained this to her, after the shooting, she understood well the reasons for this. But she asked the inevitable question: “So, Mark, what times CAN one shoot from hand without camera shake?”

And I had to admit, that I had never given much thought to this, because I have shot probably hundreds of thousands of photos in my life, and I pretty much got a “feeling” for what I can shoot from hand, and what not.

But the question is a very valid question from beginners, and I gave it some thought. Finally, I came up with “Marks Anti Camera Shake Formula”:

Now, what does this mean, and why this formula?

Let’s take a look at each part of the formula, from left to right.

In the old days you used 35 mm slide film (a “full format” sensor if you want). The resulting image with a 100 ASA slide film would be crisp and sharp. Using a professional slide scanner you could extract an image of about 10 to 12 megapixel in size from the slide before it got all grainy. The rule of thumb for photographers was that you could manually shoot up to the reciprocal value of the focal length. In other words: If you had a 100 mm lens, you needed to shoot at 1/100 sec or faster to avoid the dreaded camera shake. If you had a 200 mm lens, you needed to shoot at 1/200 sec. You get the idea. Now, this turned out to be a very good rule, and many photographers got along with it for decades. This is the first part fo the formula.

Enter digital cameras. All of a sudden, your trusted universe of 35 mm cameras became fragmented. You had cameras with all kinds of sensors and resolutions.

Take crop sensors, e.g. Canon’s 1D mark II N with a crop factor of 1.3 (compared to full frame sensors), or Canon’s 30D with a crop factor of 1.6. These crop sensors change the rules, because they “prolong” the focal length. A 100 mm lens on a 1.3 crop sensor behaves actually like a 130 mm lens (on a full frame sensor). Thus, you need to take into account that you should shoot at 1/130 sec or faster, not at 1/100 sec or faster! This is the second part of the formula.

Finally, you have cameras that have a much higher resolution than your typical slide film, e.g. Canon’s 1Ds mark III with its 21 megapixels. With higher resolutions you need to be faster than with slide film, because the old rule was based on a resolution of 10 to 12 megapixel, not 16 or even 21 megapixel. Where in the past the camera shake would “disappear” in the film grain, it now becomes visible in the digital image. This is the third part of the formula. Here, the formula is a bit shaky, because I did assume that in the past slide film had a resolution of 10.5 megapixel. Depending on the type of film and scanner, the resolution could be higher. I think 10.5 megapixel is a good value though, and as beginner you will be on the “safe side” using this value.

Now just try the formula for yourself. Try to calculate the maximum exposure time for a 135 mm lens on a 1.3 crop sensor with a 10.1 megapixel camera. It’s 1/200/1.3×10.5/10.1 = 0.003998476… Hmmm. Now, this is the exposure time in decimals, which is not very handy. On the calculator, just press the 1/x button to see a value that you can actually use: 250.09523. Bingo! With this lens/camera combination you need to shoot at 1/250 (or faster) to get rid of any camera shake.

So, when the time depends on the lens and the body, there seems to be no easy rule of thumb any longer, right? Right.

But wait! Mark comes to the rescue!

In order to make it easier for those of you shooting with DSLRs for the first time, I compiled a handy Excel sheet that lets you enter your camera values (in blue) and calculate the maximum exposure time. Please note that the resulting times are a little odd; you probably can not set your camera to shoot 1/62 sec, but that’s not needed anyway. In this cases I’d go with 1/60 and see what happens. After all, it’s still just a rough guide to what you can expect to shoot safely from hand. For your convenience, the sheet also provides you the estimated “rule of thumb” for that camera, i.e. how the exposure time relates to the focal length.

For those of you who are operating Canon cameras, namely the 1Ds mark III, 1D mark III, 5D, and 30D (like we do), I went a step further and rounded the results to the nearest exposure times that the camera offers. I realized that the 1D mark III, the 5D, and the 30D are very very close to each other. The crop factors and image resolutions average out almost exactly, so I put those three bodies into one rule:

So, the new rules of thumb -for our cameras- are:

  • 1Ds mark III – 2x the focal length (200 mm means 1/400 or faster)
  • 1D mark III, 5D, 30D – 1.25x the focal length (100 mm means 1/125 or faster)

And by the way, some of you may find that they can hold the camera more steadily and shoot photos without camera shake at slower speeds than indicated in the table. Congratulations! Go ahead and modify the list to cater for your style. The list is just meant as a starting point for those who wonder why the heck they can’t get any decent pictures from their brand new DSLR that was advertised as the best thing since sliced bread?

Hope this helps.

P.S.: Just realized that I did not mention lenses as part of the equation. The above rules are just valid for lenses that do NOT have an image stabilizer. Lenses with an image stabiler compensate for the camera shake considerably, and thus you might have to introduce yet another factor into the formula.

Hardware Update – Long Overdue

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

I was on the phone when the postman rang twice yesterday. I could not leave the phone conference, so I silently opened the door, pointed to the phone, and gestured to please put the parcel somewhere into the hallway. Then I put the phone akwardly between my neck and my shoulder and signed that dreaded electronic receipt. Then the postman (who was actually a woman) was gone.

The parcel had arrived. No, wrong. MY parcel had arrived. But I could not open the parcel with just one hand. Bugger! So I had to wait. Listening to the folks on the conference call, adding a few statements now and then. Seconds became minutes. Minutes became almost an hour. Then the call was over. Finally. My heart raced. Adrenaline was pumped into the body. Pure excitement.

I rushed to the kitchen to get a knife.

Then I opened it. My parcel.

Parcel containing 1ds mk III and 1d mk III
Mark Zanzig/zettpress

And indeed, just as the dealer had promised, the cardboard box contained my long overdue hardware update, sitting between hundreds of small styrofoam beans: a brand new Canon 1ds mark III, and its smaller, faster sister, the 1d mark III. Beautiful. Awesome. Breathtaking. Gorgeous. I am lacking words to describe these cameras. But I am getting carried away.

My main reasons for the update:

  1. Automatic sensor cleaning (unmissable, really)
  2. Color depth 14 bit (instead of 12 bit)
  3. 21 Megapixel (on the 1ds mark III)

Plus a few more nice details, like the larger display, the smaller batteries, or the improved viewfinder correction knob.

I am certain that my clients will also just love the images these new babies will crank out!

Having said that, despite Canon having changed the handling just slightly, I guess I will still need some time until the new handling will have sunk in. I think I am going to use the opening of the Oktoberfest next week for a first full fashioned test. I’ll keep you posted. :-)

Canon 1ds mark III
Mark Zanzig/zettpress

What’s in your bag, Mark?

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Some readers have asked me: “what do you use to carry your photo equipment, Mark?” The answer is: it really depends on the job. Normally, that is for short jobs in or around Munich, I take my trusted Tamrac Expedition 5 backpack. It’s quite stuffed with my most important (think “butter & bread”) equipment:

  • Two DSLR bodies (1ds mark II, 1d mark II N)
  • Two lenses (EF 24-70, EF 70-200)
  • Two 580EX flashes (one in the outside compartment)
  • Two replacement batteries for the cameras
  • 16 replacement batteries for the flashes
  • An airpump for sensor cleaning
  • Optical cleaning cloth
  • Two Stofen Omni bounce soft boxes
  • Six memory cards (in the outside compartments)
  • Job briefing, airline tickets, business cards, other documents

Here’s a peek inside:

Tamrac Expedition 5 with equipment

In case you’re wondering about the weight of the backpack with all that stuff – it’s 22.5 lb (10.2 kg). It’s slightly overweight for the handbaggage of most airlines, but you can always remove the flashes and batteries.

I use a second bag – an early model of the Tamrac Pro 12 5612 with a single shoulder strap. That bag takes my other lenses, filters, and chargers (and the camera manuals, just in case ;-). I’ve got this bag since my film camera days when you needed to take plenty of films for a job, and Tamrac had these “pop-in” pockets for the films. Since I went digital, I removed these pockets and use the bag just for bigger jobs like weddings or outdoor portrait shootings. Of course, the tripod has a bag of its own that also takes up the slim monopod.

Warning – Strength 2950 Ni-MH batteries

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

Just a quick word of caution for everybody considering the purchase and use of Strength 2950 mAh Ni-MH rechargable batteries. We have been using a couple of these AA Mignon R6 batteries for about a year now, and just the other day it happened to us, that two of the batteries were actually damaged during recharge.

As usual, the batteries got very hot in the charger (we’re using the Ansmann POWERline4), but after a while the LEDs for two of the batteries were neither blinking (indicating “charging”) nor constantly lit (indication “charged”) but off. I looked at the batteries in question, and they, too, were quite hot, showing visible damages to the outer mantle. Not good – and actually quite scary!

Damaged Strength 2950 Ni-MH battery
Mark Zanzig/zettpress

On one battery the mantle had just torn open, looking wrinkled instead of the usually smooth surface; the other battery showed even signs of burns in addition to the wrinkled surface! Jeez.

We used to use these batteries mostly with our flashes for wedding photography and news reporting. As the batteries also get quite hot after a couple of flashes, we have immediately stopped using these batteries. Our Canon Speedlites are too expensive to be actually ruined by some faulty battery that got too hot inside the flash. Even more important is the reliability of the batteries. They seem to have lost their stamina recently, so we had to exchange them quite often during a shoot if we wanted to be sure that a flash would actually fire.

For the time being, we have returned to using classical photo batteries for our flashes, especiallly when shooting weddings and news.