shutter speed/tripod reciprocal rule

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EASmithV

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If your shutter speed is slower than the reciprocal of the focal length of your lens, you must use a tripod.

Is this only for 35mm? If I use a 152mm lens on a 4x5, I can still prouduce tack sharp prints at 1/50th.
 

Doc W

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I don't even understand the rule. What is the reciprocal of a focal length? Can you try that again? I must be dim today.
 

removed account4

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i believe the rule suggests
that if you have a lens of a certain focal length "X"
shutter speeds 1/"X" and all those below 1/"X" require a tripod
for optimal results.
 
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I don't see hand-held large format use too often.
In terms of 35mm, if your lens is 20mm and your Tv is 1/15 to around 1/30, that's roughly the reciprocal — around the same f/n as your lens. Many people can hand-hold for low Tv shots, though I've never seen it for large format work. My own work is almost always shot at low Evs and long Tv values it's always done with the a tripod e.g. 24mm lens with <1/30 down to +15 sec.

Is your 4x5 on a tripod or are you hand-holding? Not a bad skill to master for the larger format!
 

PeteZ8

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I don't even understand the rule. What is the reciprocal of a focal length? Can you try that again? I must be dim today.

It's a rule of thumb for 35mm format shooting. As longer lenses magnify movements, higher shutter speeds are needed to obtain a sharp image as the lenses grow longer. For example, if you're shooting with a 50mm lens you should keep the shutter speed above 1/50 of a second for hand holding. If you are shooting with a 500mm lens, you should 1/500 or above.

From there the rule is often applied to effective focal length relative to 35mm, or more correctly similar field of view, for larger or smaller formats. For a digital with a cropped sensor, for example, you would magnify the lens length by the "crop factor" for your shutter speed. So a Nikon body with a crop factor of 1.5 would mean your shutter speed should be 1.5 times more than your focal length. So for a 50mm lens on a digital body, you would want to shoot a 50mm lens at 1/75 or faster.

In the case of the original poster, a 150mm lens on a 4x5" camera has roughly the same field of view as a 50mm on a 35mm film camera, so he is asking if a 4x5 can be shot handheld at 1/50th.

Obviously this is just a rule of thumb and is subject to interpretation to some degree. Some people can handhold a 35mm camera to 1/15 with no problems, while others with less steady hands may need to double this rule. Ergonomics play a part too. A lightweight 35mm camera is a lot easier to handhold than a boxy 4x5 that may not have an ideally placed shutter button.
 
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For formats a modifier must be introduced to get an, more or less, accurate approximation to use the rule in a different format. Lets use 35mm and 4x5 as examples. The diagonal of a 4x5 negative is just over 160mm (4" squared + 5" squared = diagonal squared). That of a 35mm neg is 43mm. This would make your circle of coverage required for 4x5 at just under 4 times that needed to cover a 35mm negative. So, take the focal length of your 4x5 lens, divide by four and get the reciprocal. ie. 8 inch (204mm) divided by 4 would be 51mm so you might want to keep your 4x5 on a tripod anything under 1/60th of a second.

Now, the reality is that no one other than Ole Tjugen handholds a large format camera. They're bulky and unwieldy and it is difficult to keep it from juking and bobbing all over the place because your arms are burning from the strain of steadying it in the first place. So this modifier would be problematic at best. Just for argument sake, I suppose. Nothing better to do and all. You know. Yup.
 
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jeffreyg

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What do you consider sharp? How far are you from the print when viewing? Why waste time and film, use a tripod. Even sports photographers use a monopod with 35mm.
 

David A. Goldfarb

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It's a rule of thumb, and I would say that it will get you acceptably sharp prints for many purposes, but I wouldn't exactly say "tack sharp." Shoot a 35mm image at 1/60 sec. with a 50mm lens with and without a good tripod, and even with excellent handheld technique, the shot made with the tripod is going to be sharper on close inspection, barring anomalies like a tripod that resonates with the frequency of your shutter sound. To translate it to other formats, think in terms of the approximately equivalent focal length for the 35mm format.
 

Mike1234

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I could once hand-hold a 135 camera with a 50mm lens at 1/15th with "never" a failure (due to my movement) and "sometimes" to 1/4th sec. I'd be lucky today to succeed at 1/30th. Tripods are an absolute "must" for me now below 1/60th with 50mm lens on 135 or FF DSLR.
 

Q.G.

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I'll be the grumpy old man telling you all that tripods are a must, always.
Sometimes it's just impossible to use one.
But there will always be a discernible difference between handheld shots and 'tripod shots'. At any speed, no matter how fast or slow.
 

billbretz

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"Even sports photographers use a monopod with 35mm"

But not for sharpness (99% of the time) - handholding a 400 gets old, quick.
 

RalphLambrecht

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I'll be the grumpy old man telling you all that tripods are a must, always.
Sometimes it's just impossible to use one.
But there will always be a discernible difference between handheld shots and 'tripod shots'. At any speed, no matter how fast or slow.

When he's right, he's right!

What's attached are the results of the best of five exposures at five different setups. If sharpness matters, always use a tripod! If having an image matters more than having a sharp image, and a tripod is not an option, take the shot without a tripod.
 

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polyglot

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It depends what you call sharp. If you mean "sharp in a (small) print" then only the relationship between field of view, camera rotation rate and print size matters. In which case, you can happily handhold a 4x5" at 1/50 with a 200mm lens on it if you only expect to contact print.

However if you mean "as sharp as the lens is capable of producing", i.e. no motion blur bigger than the lens' resolution limit or the film's grain, then the original rule of thumb pretty much holds. The focal length defines how fast the image moves across the film for a given rotation rate and it doesn't matter how big your film is. So if you can get a grain-sharp image on 35mm with a 200mm lens at 1/200, then you can do the same with a 200mm lens on a 4x5. You can probably do better because you don't have any mirror slap and the camera is heavier.

Another thing to consider is that it's all a bit probabilistic. The rule of thumb says "you'll probably do OK at that speed". Some people can get sharp shots 90% of the time going twice as slow as the rule of thumb, some people can't get a sharp shot at all unless they're shooting at twice the speed implied by the rule of thumb. Different people have very different levels of steadiness. Here's a whitepaper on testing image stabilisation which goes into the detail required as to different people's differing steadiness.
 

jeffreyg

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Listen to Ralph -- he is right. Use a tripod unless it is impossible or sharpness is unimportant or not the effect you want.
 

phenix

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Like many others said, without a tripod there’s usually (for exceptions see below) some blur. But if you can’t use a tripod, than this rule can help a lot. But, it is a rule for 35mm SLRs only (not sure if it can extend to MF SLRs too). The fact is that the slap of the mirror is the main cause you cannot go for longer exposures than the rule suggests. In the second place there’s the weight of the lens – with a heavier telelens if the camera can hold it in console (so you only touch the camera with your hands), you could go for double the exposure of this the rule. From my experience, it worked up to 300mm.

But, if the telelens is too long, the rule doesn’t apply anymore. I have a 600mm reflex (old Sigma which originates from Ricoh) with a tripod mount on it, but I couldn’t use a tripod mounted to the lens, even with mirror lock-up, because the shutter’s blades made it vibrate even at 1/2000s. So, my only chance was to use it in console, but it was too heavy for the camera to hold it this way. Finally, I took of all the tripod mount system of the lens, and it become a lot lighter, so I can use it now in console. With the camera handheld, I can go now up to 1/250s with very satisfactory results, and with some luck I can go even to 1/125s. But if I mount the camera on the tripod, with the lens in console this time, even using the mirror lock-up, it still vibrates from the shutter blades. And I have a tripod made for MF. It seams that handholding is far better than using a tripod in this case. So, none of the rules mentioned in the beginning does apply for this combo, but their opposites work very well.

Now, if I use a 50mm lens, I can handhold a SLR up to 1/30s. If I use a 28mm lens, I can handhold the camera also up to 1/30s. It seams that below the normal focal length the rule stops to apply either. Here, the exposure time is given by the capacity of the camera to absorb the mirror’s vibrations by its weight, the bumper, the mirror’s weight and acceleration. Although, my hands can stay still mostly up to 1/15s with normal lenses – see below.

Another example: the range-finder or the TLR with leaf shutters. With these, I can go down to 1/15s with very satisfactory results. I cannot go below because no matter the lens length, or the camera weight, my hands cannot stay still for longer laps of time. No rule applies here, other than my hands rule.

So, these rules, even that one recommending a tripod, are only approximations. But again, the rule considering the relation between the focal length and the exposure emerged for 35mm SLRs equipped with lenses starting at 45-60mm and (I would say from personal experience) up to 300mm (and less for wideangles).
 

Doc W

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Thanks for the explanation, folks. Now someone needs to tell me what "Tv" means.

Ralph is absolutely right about sharpness (and leave it to Ralph to provide actual empirical examples!). If sharpness is a primary concern, then go with a tripod. Period.

However, "acceptably" sharp is another thing. I have never used 35mm with really long lenses so I cannot comment on that. However, you also need to take into account what happens when you "click the button" so to speak. A medium format rangefinder, like a Mamiya 7, is a lot easier to hand-hold at lower shutter speeds than an RB67. In fact, any rangefinder will be sharper at lower speeds because it has no mirror slap. Some of my Leica friends swear they can get decent shots hand-held as low as 1/15. I have my doubts, mind you. I can't hold my RB67 at speeds lower than 1/125 (without propping it against a fence or railing) and get acceptably sharp results. I suppose I should do some tests to see just how sharp it is at 1/125.

And don't forget that new photographers regularly shot with 4x5 cameras at a maximum shutter speed of 1/100 and usually lower. Not all press cameras were Speed Graphics. They were not after maximum sharpness of course, but simply needed to get the shot.
 

Lee L

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Now someone needs to tell me what "Tv" means.
Tv means you were raised on automatic cameras.

It's the setting mark used for the shutter speed priority automatic mode on many brands. Something along the lines of "Time value" or similar.

Lee
 

Doc W

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Lee, I can't tell whether you just gave me a compliment or called me an old fart. But thanks for the explanation. :D:D:D:D:D
 

Sirius Glass

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I could once hand-hold a 135 camera with a 50mm lens at 1/15th with "never" a failure (due to my movement) and "sometimes" to 1/4th sec. I'd be lucky today to succeed at 1/30th. Tripods are an absolute "must" for me now below 1/60th with 50mm lens on 135 or FF DSLR.

Great that it works for you. But for most that is not the case. Come back is 20 years or 50 years and tell us how it works for you then.

There is someone who posts on APUG with a Rollei and claims to handhold it at 1/2 second to 1 second. That is what I would call apocraphal.

Steve
 

Sirius Glass

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For what is its worth:

When lighting conditions are bad the need to a tripod is inversally proportional to the distance to the tripod squared multiplied by the weight of the tripod. :wink:

Steve
 

Lee L

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Lee, I can't tell whether you just gave me a compliment or called me an old fart. But thanks for the explanation.
Sorry. I'll be more clear. If someone says "Tv" as the equivalent of "shutter speed", chances are that person was raised on automatic cameras.

I'm an older fart myself, but was still selling cameras when the "Tv" markings started to show up on some automatic mode setting dials. Full aperture TTL metering was the last SLR advancement that really piqued my interest.

As for the actual thread topic, shutter speed of 1/focal length is a guideline for beginners, not a rule for folks who know themselves and their gear well enough to have established their own working parameters, which as others have already pointed out, varies well to either side of the general guideline. The very first thing I taught my customers several decades ago was how to hold a camera, which helps with the slow shutter speeds. At that time it also put all the controls at your finger tips with decently designed cameras.

Lee
 

Doc W

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Full aperture TTL metering was the last SLR advancement that really piqued my interest.

I am with you there. One of the things that I find irksome about dig**al is the proliferation of "options" - there are simply too many. This is the product of electronics which allows for increasing numbers of features which, in my opinion, make a tool more difficult and not more easy to use. Dig**tal cameras are not the only offenders, for sure.

I also play guitar and my musician friends and I have long referred to such ... "extras" ... as "voodoo knobs and mojo switches." They are a PITA, they get in the way, and usually break. Give me simple and robust any day.
 
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