City skylines and bridges at night are popular subjects that benefit from long exposure photography. Even if the landscape is bright enough to shoot hand held, camera stabilization for time exposures offers definite advantages. A low ISO setting and smaller aperture will maximize image quality.
Use Long Exposures and Panorama Stitching
Such subjects often benefit from a panorama treatment that stitches two or more photos together. This creates a wide angle view to take in more subject than your widest angle lens can cover. Again, camera stabilization is an advantage since a tripod or alternative support makes it easier to keep successive photos aligned with each other.
Panorama software such as Serif Panorama Plus will automatically align photos and some cameras will do the same internally. But a reliable camera support will maintain perfect alignment for best results.
The photo at top is an example of such a panorama. It is two photographs taken at f8 for eight seconds. The ISO setting was 200. Obviously such an exposure could not be hand held. The camera was supported on a HandlePod attached to railing on a pier. The photographs were stitched together using Serif Panorama Plus software.
San Francisco Bay Bridge and full moon panorama.
The photo above is another panorama consisting of two 30-second exposures at f14. Again the camera was supported on HandlePod secured to a barrier wall.
Such supports are readily available for urban night landscapes. They provide solid support for long night exposures using HandlePod.
Some type of steadicam equipment has almost become a requirement for motion tracking video. People have become accustomed to seeing video from a camera that seems to float on air. Camera shake from obviously hand-held equipment screams “amateur” and “unprofessional”.
There is an abundance of camera stabilization equipment available, much of it in the “Do It Yourself” category. The one thing most of these DIY solutions have in common is a complex camera mount that requires the purchase of dedicated equipment or hours of building complicated systems to provide the necessary camera movement. The reason is the need to balance the camera on the steadicam.
The HandlePod DIY steadicam supports most cameras from a DSLR to a smartphone.
HandlePod solves the problem by providing an instant camera mount with all the movement necessary to balance any camera on a simple DIY steadicam made from PVC pipe. The HandlePod steadicam will support a DSLR, a palmcorder or a smartphone with only minor variations in the construction.
Three-axis rotation plus a slotted camera mount with 2.5 inches of front-to-back movement makes it easy to balance the camera. It is the ideal solution to the often difficult problem of balancing the camera on a DIY steadicam, especially one with a gimbal and roller bearing.
HandlePod is a Versatile Camera Support
HandlePod attaches to the PVC steadicam in seconds with the elastic shock cord. It releases just as quickly for all the other uses HandlePod serves—hand-held stabilization against any solid support, firm attachment to support objects with the elastic cord, mini-tripod support on any flat surface. It is the most versatile camera mount device for the simplest DIY steadicam design available.
Keeping a camera stable while shooting hand held video is a challenge that requires some kind of mechanical assistance. There are a number of devices to accomplish this, many of them are DIY projects that can be done for very little money. Most of them fall into three basic categories:
- Shoulder supports and hand grips. These provide a shoulder rest and extended handles that support the camera and offer a better grip like the DIY shoulder rig shown here.
- Counterweighted supports. These are basically a shaft with the camera on top and a counterweight on the bottom. Holding the device at the balance point between the camera and the weight allows steady motion and shake free video.
- Gimbaled supports with roller bearings. This is a more complex system that includes a gimbal and roller bearing at the balance point to totally isolate hand movement from the camera as in this DIY device.
Build a DSLR Steadicam
DSLR on a DIY steadicam mounted on HandlePod.
All DSLRs will shoot video and many of these stabilizing devices are intended for the DSLR. HandlePod will also accommodate the DSLR as part of a DIY steadicam that can be built for almost nothing using PVC pipe. Previous blogs described how to do this as a simple counterweighted support as well as adding a gimbal and roller bearing. Those articles featured use of the HandlePod steadicam with a light weight video palmcorder.
Using a DSLR with the HandlePod steadycam involves some modification, mainly having to do with weight and balance. The heavier camera requires the addition of more counterweight material to fill the PVC pipe. Nuts, washers or any inexpensive metal pieces will do the job. In the photo at right, the pipe was also extended slightly to provide more counterweight.
Balancing the DSLR
Balance is the key to success with the gimbal and roller bearing rig. There should be slightly more weight on the bottom to keep it from tipping over but not enough so that rapid horizontal movement will cause it to pendulum. The steadicam should remain upright regardless of hand motion. Start by adding too much weight then remove a little bit at a time until perfect balance is achieved.
Once the proper weight distribution is achieved, balancing the camera on top of the steadicam is where HandlePod proves its worth. Other DIY steadicam devices require complex mounts or special tripod heads to allow sufficient movement to balance the camera. This can be a difficult process. HandlePod has the necessary movement built in with forward and back motion on the slotted mount and left to right movement of the mount itself. It is a relatively simple process to position the camera to achieve a perfect upright balance.
Of course such fine tuning of the balance is not required with a simple counterweight rig. Just hold the steadicam lightly at the balance point and move as smoothly as possible. It may not be quite as steady as the gimbal and roller bearing rig, but it works remarkably well. Either way, HandlePod is the centerpiece that makes the DIY steadicam inexpensive and easy to build.
Hand held is the common practice for the vast majority of digital photographs taken today. Cameras have built-in stabilization technologies to minimize blur from camera shake. Depending on their type and effectiveness, these image stabilization electronics allow a slower shutter speed of two or three stops and still deliver sharp hand-held images. This technology, combined with a wide aperture lens and a high ISO setting can make hand held photography possible in almost any light.
The Tripod Isn’t Dead
Does this mean that camera supports like tripods and alternative devices are no longer necessary? Not by a long shot! Camera stabilization is still essential in low light conditions for a number of reasons. You may be able to crank up the ISO to the point where you can shoot hand held by candlelight. But what about the inevitable noise? For maximum quality keep the ISO setting low and use a reliable camera support.
Long exposure photography offers creative opportunities that are not available when the camera is hand held. Traffic trails on a busy street at night is one example that is impossible to shoot hand held. Billowy smooth water flowing over a cascade or through rapids is an effect that takes a long exposure that should be stabilized. Want to shoot star trails? Ditto. Time lapse video is another technique that is impossible to shoot hand held.
Most Cameras Can Use Stabilization
The need for stabilization is not limited to DSLRs, mirrorless or other high end cameras. Most cameras today, including some point-and-shoots, offer manual settings with exposures up to thirty seconds. This provides the opportunity to get out of “Auto” mode and experiment with longer exposures and greater creative control—provided you have dependable camera stabilization.
Tripod Alternative Easy to Carry and Use
The type of camera support you choose depends on what you are willing to carry. A sturdy tripod is always the best gear. But cameras have gotten smaller and lighter. If the camera weighs four ounces does it make sense to carry a three-pound tripod? Yet the smaller the camera, the harder it is to grip firmly and hold steady. This is especially true of smartphones that are taking over the point-and-shoot market. If a tripod is not in your kit, consider a light weight alternative like HandlePod—firm hand-held grip, reliable stabilization on any solid object and hands-free attachment to many supports.
San Francisco waterfront. Three second exposure taken with HandlePod braced on a railing.
Cityscapes at night offer fabulous photographic opportunities. But many people do not photograph at night because of its difficulties. Exposure, white balance, focus and especially camera stabilization present challenges that many prefer to avoid. Yet night photography yields the most impressive images when done carefully and with proper technique. There are two approaches to shooting at night depending on whether or not you have some means of camera stabilization, preferably a tripod or alternative support.
Hand Held: Possible But Limited
If no support device is available and you must shoot hand held, the camera setting choices are limited. In order to keep the shutter speed brief enough to be hand held you must open the lens to the widest available aperture and crank the ISO to a high setting.
Fortunately, modern cameras have good low light capability with an ISO of 12,800 or more. This makes hand held night photography possible but at the cost of increased grain or noise. And the aperture must remain wide open and can’t be closed for better sharpness and wider depth of field.
- Golden Gate Bridge at night. Eight second exposure, camera supported by HandlePod.
Stabilization is Best
A tripod or other support eliminates these issues. A low ISO setting, narrow aperture and long exposure times become possible with reliable camera stabilization. This opens up a world of possibilities for high quality night photography without the limitations imposed by hand held photography.
Yet carrying a tripod and taking the time to set it up and break it down is a commitment many people are not willing to make.
HandlePod solves the problem with a light weight, pocket size tripod alternative that is fast and easy to use. Just press it by hand against any available support or tie it with the elastic cord and long exposure night photography is a snap.
The photo at right is an eight second exposure done without a tripod by holding HandlePod against a railing.
Solid Two-Handed Grip for Your Smartphone
Hands are shaky, especially when holding something small like a smartphone. Not a problem when texting or surfing the net, but shake is a big problem for still photos in low light or video. It is difficult to grip a smartphone firmly enough for low light photos and shake free video.
Grip your smartphone firmly with both hands.
HandlePod solves the problem with a firm grip and plenty of leverage to prevent shake and provide smooth video. It is also self supporting on a level surface and acts like a mini-tripod. Hold it by hand against any solid surface for rock solid, tripod-like stability. And you can attach it to many objects with the elastic cord.
HandlePod puts blur-free stills in low light and smooth, shake-free video at your fingertips. But using a smartphone on HandlePod or any tripod device requires an adapter. There are a number of smartphone tripod adapters ranging in price from a few dollars to almost fifty.
Choose the Right Tripod Adapter
Selecting a tripod adapter involves several considerations in addition to price. Will it open wide enough to accept any smartphone you will use. Does it hold tightly and securely (an important consideration if you are to attach to a moving vehicle)? Will it take any phone no matter how thick without having to remove the case?
The adjustable Dot Line smartphone tripod mount holds any smartphone securely.
One product that fills all of these requirements is the Dot Line Smartphone Tripod Mount available from B&H Photo for $7.95. It features an adjustable screw that allows it to open as wide as four inches (10cm), more than enough to accept any available smartphone. The soft rubber grips that hold the phone extend ½ inch so a case is no problem. And the adjustable screw can be tightened to hold the phone securely.
The combination of HandlePod and the Dot Line Smartphone Tripod Mount provides a cost effective handle grip and tripod-like stability for low light stills and shake-free video on your smartphone.
The previous blog detailed characteristics of digital cameras that have an effect on camera stabilization. One is ultrazooms on compact cameras with a range of 60x or more. This extreme zoom makes it very difficult to hand hold video that is not shaky and nausea inducing. Zooming in that far requires a fast shutter speed to avoid camera shake when shooting stills in low light. At such extreme zoom range, night photos are nearly impossible without camera stabilization.
Eyepiece Viewfinders Are Disappearing
Another casualty of the digital age is the eyepiece viewfinder. The DSLR is the only camera today that has an optical eyepiece viewfinder. All others have an electronic eyepiece viewfinder if there is one at all. Most still cameras and all video camcorders have abandoned the eyepiece viewfinder in favor of the LCD monitor.
Monitors work fine most of the time but they are difficult to see in bright daylight. And the mechanics of holding the camera a foot or more from your face and watching a three inch screen is different from holding the camera up to your eye. With the camera held against your face, your head, eye and camera move together as one. This makes it easier to concentrate on what you are shooting and follow fast action. It is not as easy to do while holding the camera at arm’s length and watching a three-inch monitor in bright sunlight. I once tried shooting the Blue Angels with a camcorder and got mostly sky and clouds while searching for the fast moving jets in the monitor.
Add a Hood or Magnifying Loupe
One approach to the problem of camera monitors in bright sunlight is to add a hood to shade the monitor and make it easier to see. A variety of these are available for camcorders from Hoodman. This solves the bright light problem but does not bring the monitor closer to your eye.
HoodLoupe from Hoodman eliminates glare and turns the monitor into an eyepiece viewfinder.
A better, though more expensive solution is the HoodLoupe for 3.2-inch monitors. These include a magnifying glass and can be held up to the eye. Models range in price from about eighty to one hundred dollars and can be equipped with a strap to attach them to the camera. The HoodLoupe turns the monitor into an eyepiece viewfinder, making it easier to see and follow fast action.
Small cameras with an extreme zoom range can benefit from the improved grip and stabilization that HandlePod provides. Add a sun shade hood or a loupe to create an eyepiece viewfinder and following the action of your child’s soccer game becomes smooth, easy and jitter free.
Small cameras and small tripod alternative supports go together like hand in glove. Cameras are definitely getting smaller, lighter and easier to carry. Even DSLR models have shed considerable weight, at least in the consumer models and some come in at just over a pound. At the other end of the spectrum is the point-and-shoot which is usually pocket size and weighs just a few ounces. In between are the compact or bridge cameras and mirrorless cameras.
All Cameras Need Stabilization
HandlePod offers improved leverage and a better grip for hand holding small compact cameras.
No matter what camera you use, all can benefit from camera stabilization in low light. HandlePod will support any camera from a consumer DSLR with a kit lens down to the smallest point-and-shoot. The smaller the camera, the greater the need for stabilization in low light. HandlePod offers three methods to stabilize cameras of any size: 1. It’s a handle for a firmer grip and better leverage for hand held shots. 2. It provides tripod-like stability when pressed by hand against any solid support. 3. It attaches to support objects with an elastic cord that is strong and completely reliable.
Eyepiece Viewfinder or LCD Monitor
Other factors typical of cameras today influence the need for camera stabilization. One is use of an LCD monitor as opposed to a viewfinder. Film cameras all had an optical viewfinder so you could brace the camera against your head, a much more stable position.
Today many cameras have done away with the eyepiece viewfinder altogether and rely completely on the monitor. Holding the camera a foot or more away from your eyes to see the monitor is a much less stable stance. Camera movement is more difficult to avoid and can cause blurry low light exposures and shaky, less stable video. The improved grip and leverage that HandlePod provides yields sharper low light stills and more solid, shake free video.
Compact cameras with extreme optical zoom lenses, sometimes called ultrazoom, also could use more stabilization than hand holding alone provides. These cameras are extremely difficult to keep steady when zoomed in at 60x or more. This is especially noticeable when shooting video. But zooming in that close for stills in low light demands stabilization to avoid blur from camera shake. HandlePod provides a significant measure of stability for cameras with such extreme zoom ranges.
The pocket size, four-ounce HandlePod is the perfect tripod alternative for today’s smaller, lighter cameras, especially those with extreme zoom and no eyepiece viewfinder.
HandlePod serves a variety of uses.
Camera stabilization for low light photography and shake free video is the reasoning behind HandlePod. This unique tripod alternative serves multiple functions. It is a handle for improved stability when shooting hand held. It attaches securely to support objects with the supplied elastic cord. Its unique feature is the ability to hold it comfortably by hand against any solid support for dependable camera stability.
Secure Attachment to Moving Vehicles
The supplied elastic cord guarantees solid, dependable attachment. Try it on your car’s rear view mirror to make an awesome car cam. Most vehicles have some part where you can attach a HandlePod. Examples include ATVs, race cars, motorcycles, hang gliders and so on.
Duct Tape Will Secure it to Large Supports
Use duct tape to mount HandlePod to a wall, door or any large object when you don’t want to hold it in place with your hand. Slap a strip of tape across the handle and press it firmly against the support. This works best with small cameras or phones, but be sure to test adhesion first. A C-clamp can also be used to attach it to any thin flat object.
Instant String Pod Improves Hand Held Stability
Extra stabilization for hand-held shots can make the difference between a super-sharp exposure and one ruined by camera shake. HandlePod provides the advantage of a solid grip and added leverage to minimize blur. But for additional hand-held stabilization it’s easy to add a length of string to create an instant “stringpod”. Just slip a length of 1/8 inch nylon cord into the slot on the HandlePod, stand on the other end and pull up to create tension. This provides an added measure of stabilization that can make all the difference.
There are many on-line articles dealing with low light photography. All of them recommend using a tripod as the primary defense against blur from camera shake. But if no tripod is available, HandlePod can make the difference between a tack-sharp low light photo and one ruined by camera shake.