Lens Sharpness? Can handholding ever be as good as a tripod?

Nikon_Josh

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Yes I know what you are thinking... Dumb question?

I have never been a tripod hugger.. but I now have a tripod on the way.

My images have always appeared acceptably sharp to me, I practice decent handholding technique so this aspect poses no problem to me.

To get to the point of the matter.. will a tripod stabilized image always have superior sharpness to a handheld image? Seeing as I've mainly always handheld, have I been getting the maximum potential out of my lenses?

People obsess over MTF charts, but do MTF charts become irrelevant when not using a Tripod? Can you still get the maximum potential out of a lens when handholding? i.e. conditions where a very high shutter speed and small aperture is possible.

Yep, I know these sound like noob questions. But I just wanted clarification on the necessity of a tripod for getting the maximum potential out of my lenses. (Obviously at night time or in darker conditions, a tripod is a neccesity for getting the ultimate sharpness, I am referring to those times where you have alot of bright light to work with.)
 
I think it would depend on 2 things: shutter speed and method of actuating the shutter. You put your rig on the tripod but hit release with a heavy hand and you risk camera shake. Yet if you handhold shooting at 1/500 I'd think you can get the same clarity. Just my opinion based on zero scientific research. :)
 
I would not call that a noob question. You absolutely can get sharp pictures hand held. A general 'rule' is that shutter speed should at least equal or be greater than focal length when shooting larger than 100mm. IS/VC or whatever lenses allow for additional stabilization. What the tripod does is greatly expand the exposure settings available to you. This gives you much greater flexibility when deciding how best to capture your image. This is particularly useful with low light and/or slow lenses.
 
There are two parts to your question and one has nothing to do with the other... A lens' sharpness has nothing to do with whether or not you are hand holding your shots.

Next, although tripods are a must for a lot of photography, they are of no use for a lot of photography. :)

You have to know yourself, the kind of shooting you do, etc but there is nothing that says you have to have a tripod.

Cheers.
 
If the projected image at any given magnification is moving 1cm per second at the film plane, then the subject will be smeared across a 1cm area over a 1 second exposure time.

If the exposure was reduced to 1/2s then the subject would be blurred over a 5mm area.

If the exposure was reduced to 1/4s then the subject would be blurred over a 2.5mm area.

Eventually, with reduction in exposure time, the area of blur will decrease to the point that it is no longer significant or even to the point that the sensing medium cannot resolve it.

So yes, with a fast enough shutter speed, a non-stationary camera will be equally as sharp as a stationary camera, considering the rate which the projection of moving against the film plane.
 
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test for yourself.

Years ago we ran some test , everything remain the same except 1 was hand held, the next on a tripod and the third on a tripod with mirror lock up.

1 was sharp, the next sharper, and the last sharpest of all. Is it necessary to always use a tripod and mirror lock up? Depends, what is the subject matter, what is the intent and how good are your shooting techniques.
 
A tripod is not the be-all answer to camera stability. There are situations where a tripod can cause less stability than when hand held. For example in a steady wind you can often feel the legs vibrating. That vibration is transmitted to the camera. If image stabilization is enabled when using a tripod it will normally cause a less-sharp image than hand held.

My personal decision as to whether or not to use a tripod is normally experience. I know I can hand-hold my 70-300 at 300mm at a relatively low shutter speed most of the time, down to around 1/100 most of the time, so unless I'm in low light I don't worry with a tripod. My 150-500 is a much heavier and much bulkier lens and I know that I can't hand-hold it at much lower than 1/500 at 500mm so I normally take a monopod or tripod when I'm using that lens.

For me a tripod generally ruins mobility, even with a ball head. I cannot move the camera fast enough to keep up with fast-moving subjects.
 
Another interesting approach to exposure time control is the traveling slit. In this case blur is minimized but the image is distorted in the direction of travel:

lartigue-1.jpg

Slit-Scan Photography with Large Format Cameras

which can be used in some odd effects:
slitscan-1.jpg

Slit-Scan Photography with Large Format Cameras
 
I hate using a tripod and only do it when absolutely necessary. Most of the photography I do doesn't require a tripod.
 
If the projected image at any given magnification is moving 1cm per second at the film plane, then the subject will be smeared across a 1cm area over a 1 second exposure time.

If the exposure was reduced to 1/2s then the subject would be blurred over a 5mm area.

If the exposure was reduced to 1/4s then the subject would be blurred over a 2.5mm area.

Eventually, with reduction in exposure time, the area of blur will decrease to the point that it is no longer significant or even to the point that the sensing medium cannot resolve it.

So yes, with a fast enough shutter speed, a non-stationary camera will be equally as sharp as a stationary camera, considering the rate which the projection of moving against the film plane.

+1, with one added nuance. I agree with everything he said regarding shutter speed, but it's not the only factor. The amount of time that the sensor is exposed to the light source is the underlying factor. This can be influenced by shutter speed, but it can also be influenced by using a flash. In high speed photography, lighting is actually what freezes the motion, not the shutter speed. With a low amount of ambient and the subject illuminated primarily by a split second flash, images can be exceptionally sharp even with very low shutter speeds.

In any case, no, a tripod is not paramount to a sharp image, and there are many cases where it would make no difference whatsoever.(Like broad daylight with a shutter speed of 1/2000th or so. The shakiest of people can still get a sharp shot in those conditions.

What it does do is open up options for when hand holding is not viable....like a long exposure star trail, or lightning, or fireworks, or stacking a neutral density filter to take a several second shot of a landmark and have all the tourist disappear from the frame.
 
A tripod is not the be-all answer to camera stability. There are situations where a tripod can cause less stability than when hand held. For example in a steady wind you can often feel the legs vibrating.....

Wow, maybe you need to investigate upgrading your tripod, I have never had any vibration in wind with any of my tripods with anything from a 35mm/DSLR to an 8x10 camera on them.
 
^^ or you don't live in a very windy place. I agree that you shouldn't get much vibration from the tripod, but using a view camera is a pain in very windy conditions.
 

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