Hand-holding Large Lenses vs Using a Gimbal Head

I recently bought the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR (see Nasim’s review) and took it out for my first field test. It turned out to be extremely poor light and rough snowy weather, but sometimes that’s when you get some great photos. I have some samples to show here and even though they are not tack sharp because the conditions didn’t really allow that, they are moody and show nature in its true beauty. I also wanted to talk about gimbals on tripods versus hand-holding on large lenses to get flying or action shots. I hear so many times you cannot hand-hold that 600mm, but I do and some of my best shots are because I hand-held.

Since the snowy owls have moved to the Seacoast of New Hampshire and Massachusetts because of a shortage of food on the tundra, we have been travelling down to photograph them and here are some sample images taken with the new Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR lens. This first photo is taken on a tripod with the Wimberley II gimbal, there was no real panning involved and the conditions for photography were pretty terrible. The light was low, the snow was in the way but I would try anyways because the Nikon D4 has shown me it can handle tough situations. It was captured at ISO 2000 @ f/5.6, resulting in 1/1000th second speed. I needed at least a thousandth of a second to stop motion as I was hoping for a landing pose:

Snowy Owl with Rodent Landing Shot

NIKON D4 @ 800mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000, f/5.6

I think the 800mm did an amazing job under these conditions and because there was no real panning involved, it was not really a problem shooting from a tripod and gimbal.

The second image put the 800mm to work – same poor light and snow conditions, but now we are panning as well. The owl was perched on an old, broken bird house and launched to grab a rodent from the marsh. I did my best to pan and track it with the gimbal head and while I did get a beautiful image, I was not able to capture it as good as I could have, because the gimbal was restricting my natural movement:

Snowy Owl hunting in Marsh

NIKON D4 @ 800mm, ISO 2000, 1/1600, f/5.6

The above image was taken at ISO 2000 @ f/5.6, resulting in 1/1600th shutter speed. I think the beauty of these images is not how sharp they are, but rather the mood and setting they convey.

So the 800mm handles these poor conditions very well. Shooting from a tripod is OK, but there are many situations, where hand-holding works best for me. I find it hard to pan on a gimbal, because it’s unnatural to me. You are trying to move around the tripod while panning, rather than naturally twisting when hand-holding. While the below image is not an action shot, it is taken with the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR hand-held:

Snowy Owl in Sand Dunes

NIKON D800 @ 800mm, ISO 400, 1/1600, f/7.1

I think it handled the situation excellently! Just look at the grass – it is blowing at about 16-20 mph, pushing my lens around and making it tough to stay focused on the eyes. I could have used a tripod here, but we hiked two hours to find this owl, so carrying a huge tripod with a gimbal head would have probably killed me.

So now a final note about hand-holding large lenses versus using tripods and gimbals. I think both have a place and not everybody can man handle a large lens. As soon as I get the chance, I will test the 800mm hand-held in good lighting conditions, although after using it in such harsh conditions and getting relatively good results, I am sure it will do very well…

So I was photographing another owl at Rye, NH and the light was even worse than shown in these images (and again snowing). This image was taken hand-held and I am glad I did, because I wouldn’t have gotten this shot. I had to rotate approximately 270 degrees as the bird flew – the tripod would have stopped me from having fluid motion. You judge for yourself – the photo is as sharp as I think I can get it under the conditions it was taken in:

Snowy Owl Flying in Snow Storm

NIKON D4 @ 600mm, ISO 800, 1/2500, f/4.5

Last, but not least, is another 600mm f/4 VR photo, also hand-held, but in much better light conditions that will allow better judgment of sharpness:

Snowy Owl Hunting in Marsh

NIKON D4 @ 600mm, ISO 1000, 1/6400, f/5.0

There is something you have to understand about this last image. We were originally photographing this owl at about 150 foot distance sitting in the marsh. The bird launches and flies towards me. It catches a rodent and circles around me. I am twisting my body at all sorts of angles to capture a shot hand held. I missed a lot of shots not because I was hand holding, but because the owl was moving so fast and at close quarters. There is no way in the world I would have gotten this image on a gimbal; the movement on a gimbal to me is slightly jerky and not fluid. Also you are moving around the camera and tripod, versus the camera and body moving “as one” while hand-holding.

Hand-holding large lenses like 800mm and 600mm is a challenge, but the rewards are high when it all comes together. There is a place for both methods, but whenever I can, I prefer to hand-hold for fast moving subjects like birds of prey. It is just more natural to me.

I will leave you with this one final hand-held shot with the 600mm and trust me, it is sharp!

Snowy Owl Hunting in Marsh

NIKON D4 @ 600mm, ISO 1600, 1/800, f/4.5

All images copyright Robert Andersen.


  1. 1) Muhammad Iqbal
    January 21, 2014 at 1:34 am

    Amazing stuffs!

  2. 2) dave james
    January 21, 2014 at 1:57 am

    Hi there
    Really great stuff considering the conditions you have coped unbelievably well,i reckon the back ground , snow etc lend another dimension to the subject.
    Brilliant stuff.

  3. 3) Alis Dobler
    January 21, 2014 at 2:09 am

    Amazing pictures!

  4. 4) WillockBoy
    January 21, 2014 at 2:26 am

    Thank you for a really thought provoking article.
    Clearly, to hand hold a 600mm lens requires both technique and stamina together with good use of VR (which some photographers swear by and others hardly ever use).
    My question is “When hand holding a long lens, during moments of tension (i.e. when a bird suddenly comes into frame), it can be easy to forget that there is a very heavy lens on the end of your very expensive camera body. Under such circumstances, it can be so easy to put additional stress on the body when that vital moment to press the release arrives. The steady hand moves unconsciously to the release button and the load dynamics can change so that supporting the lens alone is momentarily forgotten.”
    What technique do you use to ensure that the camera body is protected when hand holding?

    • January 21, 2014 at 9:25 am

      I can only handle the big lens for short bursts of time, then it get heavy and I have to lower and go again. I tuck my left elbow into my body and almost lock it in place, this helps support the weight and keep it steady. I press my face against the back of the camera to give additional support. When tracking a subject my whole body and camera move as one.

      Hope this helps

      • 4.1.1) Richard
        January 21, 2014 at 1:00 pm


        As you say: “I can only handle the big lens for short bursts of time”.

        This is the key to your use this way. It must be an intermittent subject situation that lends itself to this type of shooting.

        As a long time freelance photographer shooting a lot of sports and action situations, hand holding this size of lens isn’t practical for almost any venue I’ve been in. The last thing you want is muscle fatigue causing camera vibration. And because the cricital photograph may occur at any moment, the lens needs to be tracking the action pretty much continuously, particularly for sports like soccer where the longest lenses will often be used, and for many other action situations.

        So no matter what the circumstance, over many years of shooting a wide variety of action at a wider variety of distances, the more quality support available the better the image quality in almost all cases. How many times do you see sports photographers hand holding their equipment? Check out the photographers areas at any major sports venue. They almost all are using some kind of support. And as pros like Moose Peterson preach, quality support and shooting technique are the keys to the best wildlife photographs.

        Here is how I handle a variety of long focal length lenses from 200mm up.

        1] For anything at or under a 300 f2.8 lens, it’s either hand held or on a monopod, depending on the scope of the action. For instance in field and track, it would depend on the event. For the track itself, the monopod is best for stability, allowing all the panning necessary. For field events like pole vault, hand holding is best for the freedom to track the trajectory. And for anything above the head, like air shows, hand holding is probably necessary for freedom to track the action. An example is my use of the 300 f2.8 with TC17EII for acrobatic air show maneuvers. I can use it either totally hand held if for limited period os time shooting, or for longer events on a monopod with gimbal head for ground and low level shots, then lift it hand held for over the head shots. Again, the event and the venue determines the best support option.

        2] For anything over 300 f2.8, it’s either on a monopod, sometimes with a gimbal style head attached, or a tripod with a gimbal head, either a full Wimberly or a Wimberly Sidekick. In the case of the monopod with gimbal style head, it can be either the Sidekick or even a simple Manfrotto head that allows vertical action to compliment the horizontal movement available with the monopod.

        Hope this helps to put another perspective on this article.

        • Robert Andersen
          January 21, 2014 at 3:15 pm

          All perspectives matter, that’s why I wrote the article in the first place. The first two shots were on a tripod and gimbal because I knew I was going to be standing there a while. I think everyone has to find what works for them.


        • Peter G
          January 21, 2014 at 7:32 pm

          Got to disagree with you there. I used to shoot motorsport, and have 300mm f2.8 AF-S, 500mm f4 AF-I and 800mm f5.6 ( manual )… Camera bodies F3S, F3 and even D2Xs.

          When I shot with my 300mm f2.8 AF-S and 500mm f4 AF-I, I would ” Hand hold the camera and lens”.
          When using the 800mm f5.6, I just use a monopod. ( Carbon Fiber )

          No motorsport photographer ever uses a tripod…. They would be laughed out of the place !

          I haven’t seen the new 800mm f5.6 AF-S lens , but, I understand its gone on quite a diet compared to my 800mm f5.6 ….. . 6kg vs 4.6 kg for the new lens .


      • January 22, 2014 at 1:27 am

        Hi Rob,
        Great shots and interesting article.
        I have recently purchased the Nikkon 600mm f4 to go with my D4.
        And I would be interested to know what VR settings you use, both on and off tripod.
        And also, do you have any experiance with the 1.4 and 2.0 TC with this setup ??
        I know Arthur Morris uses Cannon and has great success with 600+2.0TC, but I am struggling to come across Nikon users who make sharp images with this combo.

        • James Stephens
          January 22, 2014 at 4:51 am

          I use the 600VR with the 2XIII at specific times and get some good sharp photos. I only use that combo in very good light that enables me to maintain a low ISO (200-800) and at least 1/1600 with the lens stopped down to 7.1 or smaller. In addition I use a Gitzo 5 Series tripod with a small sand bag hung down under the Wimberley. I’ve tried to learn the best long lens technique from the pro’s and try to apply it. With the D800E it will see any vibrations so near perfect technique is required.

        • Robert Andersen
          January 22, 2014 at 5:35 am

          To be honest the TC2.0 with Nikon is useless, but that is just my opinion – it just degrades the image quality too much for us – The newer release of the TC2 is supposed to be better but I still doubt you will get quality images

          The 1.4 is a great tele-converter and we will occasionally use it when we need the extra zoom


          • Richard
            January 22, 2014 at 4:28 pm

            As for TC’s, their performance can depend on the specific sample you purchase. I’ve found little if any variability among the TC14EII samples I’ve tested, with all being equally competent. But I found substantial differences between the 3 TC20EII samples that I tested when I purchased mine many years ago. One was simply optically better than the other two, and it’s performed well when I’ve used it with focal lengths 400mm and under. However, with the 500/600mm lenses, the newer the TC20EIII is much better optically, at least from feedback I’ve received from those that use it.

            Also, don’t dismiss the not often mentioned TC17EII, which I’ve found to be equal in all regards to the TC14EII, in spite of the additional focal length multiplication. I purchased mine while in California during an assignment there when I had missed packing my TC14EII. It paired beautifully with both my 200-400 and 300 f2.8 lenses, and I use it for both sports and special media events including even some NASA Shuttle events during media coverage of launches and landings; at least I used to. Sad to see those gone.

  5. 5) Gary Clark
    January 21, 2014 at 2:36 am


    Firstly i would like to say well done on some really nice photos of some really nice birds. I love birds if prey and would like to get some shots of them.

    Here in the north east of the UK we don’t get any owls during the day unless they are captive, I have seen wild owls as they live in the trees about 25 feet from my door but they are simply a tiny silhouette against an almost black sky!

    We do get kestrels, some hawks and very rarely you might get lucky and see a kite, there are ospreys here but they are mostly further north over northern Northumberland and Scotland.

    My big question is I have a D3200, you shot these at ISO 2000 and for my that would result in a very noisy image. Is there something wrong with my sensor? I can’t really pick much noise out on your shots so I am guessing I either have a problematic sensor or I am doing something wrong. I believe I have noise reduction set to off as per previous advice from PL but I will check.

    Many thanks,


    • 5.1) Patrick O'Connor
      January 21, 2014 at 5:20 am

      I’ve never shot with the D3200 but the D3000 I had some years ago was horrible above ISO 800. I’m sure the D3200 is better but I’m not sure by how much. In a more general way, you’re comparing your bottom-of-the-line (sorry) dSLR against his top-of-the-line D4. You don’t have to spend $6000 (US), though. My D600 is wonderful, with noise even up to ISO 6400 easily removed in Lightroom. I think the D7100 is supposed to be really good too.

      • 5.1.1) Gary Clark
        January 21, 2014 at 5:39 am


        I know my camera body isn’t even in the same league as a professional body, its still my first camera and I dont really have the experience to justify paying a small fortune for a camera.

        Maybe in a year or two I will though. I am always amazed by the quality of the shots I see on here and by the looks of it the ‘you don’t need an expensive camera to get great pictures’ rule is rubbish!

        Thanks for your reply and happy shooting in 2014,


        • Patrick O'Connor
          January 21, 2014 at 6:28 am

          Your question was regarding your sensor but, to expand on that, there are a lot of things you can do to circumvent your camera’s limitations. This applies to ANY camera. None are perfect. In any case, you’re wise to start with an entry level camera. This way you can discover which features are important to you to better inform your future buying decisions. And, lastly, I got some great photos of the Northern Lights with my D3000 so I can well imagine you’re getting some great shots!
          Have fun,


          • Gary Clark
            January 21, 2014 at 8:34 am

            I have managed a few but sometimes there is just not enough light or the subjects of my shot notice me and fly away!

            I tend to take it fishing and catch some nice shots there, I noticed some ornimental fish gathering near the surface on a lake I fish often on a very hot and sunny day last year so I stuck a poleriser on and got a few shots of them.

            Its a great little camera with a good sensor but it is an entry level piece of kit so it will only take me so far!

            Thanks again,


    • January 21, 2014 at 5:24 am

      Hi Gary,
      Say your message and thought I might be able to offer some advice.
      I too live in the UK, but in Nottingham, from about November through to March we have an influx of Short Eared owl’s (SEO’s). These come from scandinavia but also from moorland in the UK.
      SEO’s hunt during the day time, normally from about 1pm onwards.
      It is likely that you will have these in your area, look for scrubland where there are likely to be voles etc. Google SEO’s in your area, look on bird alert or local birding sights.

      With regards to your camera body, I doubt you have something wrong with your sensor.
      The D3200 is a crop sensor and as such does not handle ISO as good as a full frame camera.
      This was the reason I changed my D7000 to a D4.
      Keep noise reduction off in the camera, control noise reduction is post process with Noiseware (other software availiable)

      • 5.2.1) Gary Clark
        January 21, 2014 at 5:54 am

        Hi Ron,

        Cheers for the heads up on the owls, I live about 20 miles from the north Yorkshire moors national park, in fact I used to fish the river esk there for trout for a couple of years. I never spotted an owl but that’s probably down to the trout season starting in match and ending in October!

        I will look out for them and maybe get a new camera, as I said in my reply above, I don’t have the experience to justify spending a small fortune! I do have a nice lens for this job though, 70-300mm (i forget the max aperture) ED Nikkor. Its really good to use too, no stiff control rings and it auto focus motor is almost instant!

        Many thanks again,


    • January 21, 2014 at 3:19 pm

      Normally I would not go over 1600 iso with my camera, to me that is the point where the noise level is acceptable. The Nikon D4 camera is remarkable camera and noise is not as much of a problem as other cameras I have had. You have to see what you can accept for your camera and work with that, however sometimes you have to set whatever you need to get the speed you need, like it or not.


      • 5.3.1) Gary Clark
        January 21, 2014 at 3:27 pm

        Hi Rob,

        Maybe I should try to find a camera with a great sensor such as a D4 in the future, the slowest speed I can shoot at holding my camera in my hands is about 1/200s as I have a problem with my spine that resulted in 4 surgeries and some nerve damage, theedication I take for this means that I shake a little, some days I shake a lot!

        Something that can handle low light at 1/250s -1/500s using a higher iso setting would probably make me so much happier with my photography as the images would be crisper and not suffer so much noise.

        Unfortunately, due to my spine history I cannot work for at least another year so money is tight, I am sure that if I suggested trying to buy a £5800 camera to my girlfriend I would recieve less than a warm response for a month it two!!

        I need to find a competition or something that I can win to get one! Maybe a lottery win would do the trick!

        Many thanks again,


        • Robert Andersen
          January 21, 2014 at 4:08 pm

          You don’t need a D4 – Nikon has a couple of cameras with great low noise that will get you to 1600 iso with amazing low noise quality. We bought the D4 because we love our Nikon Toys, but more specifically we wanted the 11 frames for per second for Bald Eagles and such action photography.

          It might be your lens choices too, good glass makes a big difference on image quality


          • Gary Clark
            January 21, 2014 at 4:36 pm

            Thanks Rob,

            The lenses I use most include nikkor 50mm f/1.8, a kit 18-55 and a 70-300mm (all Nikon lenses).

            I will have to take a look around to see if there are any lower budget Nikon cameras that come with a low noise sensor, I am not too up on each model (and I am sure I couldn’t keep up at the rate new nikon bodies are released!). I will have to have a look around to see what I can find, there is always 35mm film if I get stuck!!

            Thanks again for your help, it is greatly appreciated,


            • Andrew Sible
              January 21, 2014 at 8:21 pm

              The D700 is one you will find used and is great at low noise, the D600 is a lower-tier model but newer so it’s also good at keeping noise down. It’s been replaced by the D610 to fix an oil spatter issue the D600 exhibits in the first 3k or so shots. Cleaning can make that all dandy after the 3k though.. I’ll probably pick up a used one in the future, perhaps.

              The D800 is the top tier camera under the D4, with a 36mp sensor, so your images will be huge and it will probably bring out imperfections in your glass, but for landscapes and cropping an image down it’s got incredible resolution.

              Hope that helps a bit, I’d keep searching for info but I thought I’d at least point you in some direction. If you want a crop sensor camera to get an extra 1.5x magnification and keep using any DX lens you have, the D7100 may be a good choice. It’s the upgrade to the D7000 which outclassed the D90. The D600/D610 is sort of a D7100 with a bigger sensor, in a way. build quality and features I believe are similar.

              The crop sensor will loose some high-iso low-noise capability but give you more reach. I’m not sure how capable the D7100 is compared to the D600 for the fast shutter speed high ISO you’d like to use or I’d fill you in. Plenty of comparisons online though.

              Also, have you tried a monopod to steady the camera a bit, along with VR? perhaps that could help you a lot.

              Good luck!

  6. 6) Tom Crossan
    January 21, 2014 at 2:47 am

    Thank you for a great article and images. A great read.

    Like you I have a Nikon D800 and use a Sigma 50-500mm lens while saving up for the Nikon 800 lens, and have found that the tripod with a gimbal head can be a bit of a handicap trying to shot eagles in flight, never mind hiking in the Australian bush in 35degree C and above.

    Tripod with gimbal is great for landscapes, but I find it not that effective when panning eagles.

    It took some time to learn how to hold the equipment, relax, breath, focus, pan and not fall over my feet all at the same time, plus watching out for snakes.

    But all worth it in the end.

    • January 21, 2014 at 9:27 am

      cool – a fellow Australian

      G’Day Mate – Onya for trekking in the bush, I haven’t been back in Australia for 12 years now :(


  7. January 21, 2014 at 4:32 am

    Thanks for a great article that really gives me a high goal to aim for. I just recently purchased the 800mm VR and find it a lot better for handholding than my past 600mm VR, although the weight is similar, due to better balance. At 64 years old and very average stature, I lift weights 3 time a week to enable me to better hand hold the 800mm. I find I can do a fairly good job for short bursts of 5 or 6 seconds. Upon getting the 800mm and hearing the sharpness of the lens from this site, and others, initially I was disappointed with the sharpness of the photos I was getting. As I was using a D800E on the lens and learning from this site the need for lens calibration, I checked the lens with the FocusCal system. Sure enough, after calibration and finding out I needed a -6 Cal number, I found the photos to be sharp beyond my expectations. By the way, with the 1.25 on the lens found I needed a -3 Cal number. Thanks again to this site for very valuable information provided.

  8. 8) Andrew
    January 21, 2014 at 5:10 am

    beautiful photos! my gosh. haven’t read it yet but surely will. I wish I could afford a lens that would possibly even need a gimbal mount (assuming they are mostly used with large zooms.)

  9. 9) Andrew S
    January 21, 2014 at 5:48 am

    I too have had a similar experience track with the Nikon 500 f4 on a D800. This is one of the lighter big telephotos but that is not why I prefer to shoot handheld. I like to do birds in flight and finding and locking on to the bird is the first and most difficult thing to do. I feel restricted with the gimbal head and find it much harder to locate the bird with the lens on a tripod. There is also a “doughnut hole” in the center of the movement area that does not allow for direct overhead shots since the tripod does not allow it.
    I suppose that you must be a “good shot” to take a good shot as you do have to track the bird smoothly for things to work. Pushing the shutter speeds up helps and having good light, as the article mentions, is very helpful for the autofocus to find its mark.
    Nice captures of the owls! We have them here in Michigan where they feel right at home in the Polar Vortex weather.

  10. 10) John H
    January 21, 2014 at 7:48 am

    I’d like your tips on how you carry large lens set ups for hikes of any length over rough terrain.

    I have a Nikon D3s and 500mm f/4 (usually with a TC 1.4) that I carry on a monopod with a RRS MH-01 monopod head. I find I can carry this combo several miles and still be ready to photograph quickly. I’m also able to hand hold the rig with monopod for quick bird in flight shots as needed, but still use the monopod to hold and steady the lens for most shots.

    However, with a 500mm with body over one shoulder, I don’t have both hands free for rough terrain. How do you carry a 600mm or 800mm for long hikes?

  11. 11) francoisR
    January 21, 2014 at 7:57 am


    Like all say, amazing shots. I know it’s not a long lens but it’s heavy and I hand-hold my 200 a lot with good results. I screw a cheap handle to the tripod mount and shoot everything everywhere. I like the big birds like pelican and planes ah ah ah since I dont have much reach. The VR helps a lot…

    Thanks for sharing!

  12. 12) jason
    January 21, 2014 at 8:41 am

    Perhaps a monopod would be the best of both worlds. You could easily pan 360º for flexibility but also gain a bit of stability.

    • January 21, 2014 at 9:31 am

      I just sold my mono pod to my friend – had it for 2 years and never used it. The reason for this is the monopod provided great upright support but easily allows left right movement, when comparing this to my hand holding I actually felt it was worse. I think everybody needs to find what technique works for them and refine it. If I had to choose between monopod and tripod with gimbal I would probably go the latter.


  13. 13) David
    January 21, 2014 at 8:43 am

    Nice photos and good article. The only thing that would make this a better article would have been to include a photo of a Gimbal Head and how exactly you held it (ie – against your body or partially in the bend of your arm, etc). Otherwise, good job!

  14. 14) mike
    January 21, 2014 at 8:45 am

    Awesome pictures. One question though how does using a monopod compare to handholding and/or using a tripod?

  15. 15) Kathleen O'R
    January 21, 2014 at 9:10 am

    Beautiful, beautiful shot!

  16. 16) Jeffrey Howarth
    January 21, 2014 at 10:23 am

    Haven’t we been taught that 1/500th of a second is the fastest we will ever need to stop action? Double that seems overkill.

    • January 21, 2014 at 10:40 am

      I don’t really have any hard and fast rules, but years of photographing and following the eagles I have set my own minimum for action shots at 1/800th sec – but all this is personal choice for each photographer

    • 16.2) Gearsau
      December 30, 2014 at 9:22 pm

      Normally, the” slowest shutter speed ” is equal to the focal length of the lens. That’s what used to be the rule, but, rules are made to be broken. I have a Nikon 800mm f5.6 manual focus, and used to shoot motor sport with it, using Kodachrome 64 ISO film. It was very hard work.. I did cheat, and rated the KR64 at 100 ISO :-)

  17. 17) Lynn O
    January 21, 2014 at 10:53 am

    Beuatiful snowy owl shots. Would really like to see the focusing settings / tips for capturing such tack sharp photos, especially hand held. ie-was this single point focusing or 3D tracking?

    • January 21, 2014 at 11:03 am

      Nikon Camera (D4) set to auto focus – continous

      Like I said it the reply above I have a personal minimum shutter speed target of 1/800 sec for action like this but it all depends on the light – I go for slightly higher shutter because I would rather be on the safe side than loose a shoot especially when hand holding and camera shake could be an issue

  18. January 21, 2014 at 11:19 am

    Don’t forget the other option, which I used for years shooting sports with a 600mm f/4— a MONOPOD.

    They work great, and since most of the unwanted movement is in the vertical axis, the monopod is often all you need. You can add a monopod head if you need to look up or down a lot.


    • January 21, 2014 at 11:21 am

      I think AcraTech and RRS make monopod heads too http://www.reallyrightstuff.com/s.nl/sc.26/category.570/it.C/.f

    • 18.2) Gearsau
      December 30, 2014 at 9:15 pm

      Exactly..Use a monopod.
      I hand hold my Nikon 300mm f2..8 AF-S, and Nikon 500mm f4 AF-I. I use a carbon fibre monopod with my elderly Nikon 800 mm f5.6 manual. I could hand hold it briefly, but, that particular lens weighs 6 KG ( 13.2 lbs) The new model has been to Jenny Craig :-)

  19. 19) Johan Truter
    January 21, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    Thanks for this article. I was in two minds wether to invest in a Wimberley because I have quit steady hands. I take for practise pictures of fast sports like hockey, boogie board, surfing and also Rugby with out a tripod. It taught me two things, to track the subject quickly and also determine the best focus settings. In wild life, bird life things tend sometimes to go very fast. I love the shots from the 800mm…always a challenge with the big glasses..Nice

  20. 20) Tom Crossan
    January 21, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    In my previous I forgot to say that I have a Cotton Carrier HAND STRAP attached to my D800 on a permanent basis. I have found this idea for carrying the D800 with the Sigma 50-500 or any lens for that matter. Less pressure on the hand and fingers while carrying and using the the gear.

    I also have attached the adjustable mounting slide to the D800 for use the gimbal head, so I if I have to use the tripod for any reason it is just a matter of slipping the D800 into the gimbal. Saves time and you know it always there when you need it.

    I have a monopod, but after a few uses, never use it now. Does not work for me.

    As far as shutter speed goes for shooting the eagles and other birds of prey, I have found that my best images are at around 1600 with 3D focusing. I also try and use the slowest ISO.

    Once these eagles starting moving you have no time to stuff around. When you are on a ridge line and they dive from thermal and come streaking down the valley it is just point , pan and shoot as fast as you can. Well it works for me.

  21. 21) Andrew B
    January 21, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Wow! amazing shots, hand-held or not. Great work.

    • January 21, 2014 at 5:33 pm

      Thank You Andrew – I appreciate the compliment


  22. 22) Arun D
    January 21, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    Wow, great work :)

  23. 23) Antonio Mario
    January 21, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    Dear Robert,

    Congrats on a set of fantastic shots! They are all worthy of the top equipment you have.

    I am not however quite sure of what the main point of the text itself if, if I may say it. It’s certainly quite an interesting read about your adventure trying to get the owl (all their species are, to me, the holy grail of the avian world).

    But I got a bit confused with some of your experiences with a tripod+gimbal. You mention ‘carrying a huge tripod’ and it not allowing you a fluid motion. I use a Gitzo 3542 tripod (also with a Wimberley II head) that is supposed to handle about 25 kg and yet it weighs only 2 kg; I find it very manageable. You certainly know that, properly balanced, you can move the combo smoothly barely touching it with your index finger.

    I’m probably not as experienced as you with BIF but I found the that setup quite nice on my first time around with it, while spending several hours in WI last spring when the birds were returning from South.

    Congrats again on your work!

    • January 21, 2014 at 8:25 pm

      Hello Antonio

      The main point of the text is I keep being told that hand holding is not correct technique and doesn’t result in sharp photos. I can guarantee you I have very sharp photos shot hand held. I have nothing against tripods and gimbals, I own and use them.

      I am trying to open up peoples mind that the technique that results in awesome photos for you is correct for you and don’t let anybody else tell you differently.

      When you have a bald eagle flying past you while you are standing in a 17ft dingy on a pond and the boat is bobbing up and down there is no way a gimbal will do the job and you won’t get the shots.

      There are times when hand holding gets the shots and it should be considered over gimbals. This actually also applies vise versa


      • 23.1.1) Tom Crossan
        January 21, 2014 at 8:42 pm

        Hi Rob

        I have to agree with you, and it is whatever works for the photographer. There are no hard and fast rules.

        There is not much time to get photographs of wedge-tailed eagles coming out off a high steep drive and screaming past you at eye level down the valley while you are standing on the ridge line at 90 degrees to them.

        Point, pan and shoot, while trying not to fall over your feet and watching out for those bloody Brown snakes that are around here in Canberra at this time of the year during our hot, actually it very hot, Australian summer.

  24. 24) MichaelG
    January 22, 2014 at 3:12 am

    Robert- those are some amazing pictures. We have red tail hawks nesting each year right near my home and I have never gotten pictures like that. I can appreciate the skill it took for you to do them.
    Thanks for the interesting commentary and helpful tips.

    • January 22, 2014 at 5:31 am

      Thank You Michael

      My wife and I love redtails, they used to hang near where we previously lived. Have Fun


  25. 25) Yoshi
    January 22, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    As with so many things in photography, and as infuriating as it can be, the answer really is ‘it depends.’

    If you want to shoot a whole sports game and the subjects are all within a fixed boundary then a gimbal is going to do better for you.

    If you’re shooting something that is going to be circling around and behind you then a tripod is going to get in your way. If you’ve got the strength to hold a lens like that then you should.

    Adaptability to conditions is just another skill a photographer has to learn, I’m learning!

  26. 26) jim
    January 23, 2014 at 8:02 am

    Very impressive.
    I find it hard enought to have more than a 60% success rate shooting with my Sigma 800mm mounted on a wimberly II. You have inspired me to try hand held once again.
    Perhaps you would be willing to write another article and share some of your long lens techniques.

    • January 23, 2014 at 1:56 pm

      I think the sigma might be heavier – I am not sure – I just didn’t people to get locked into “you can only use tripod thing” – if hand holding works great – if not refine your gimbal technique – Practice panning and anticipation – learn to look for signs the animal is about to do something :)


  27. 27) JamesVo
    January 23, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Wonderful pics. I’m a reasonably active guy who hikes, climbs and mountainbikes a fair bit. I battle to handhold my 500VR for more than a few minutes at a time so I have a lot of respect for the skill and endurance it took to get these great pics.

    When you handhold, do you use any type of grip or frame attached to the foot? Do you remove or rotate the foot out of the way? Holding the lens or the foot?


    • January 23, 2014 at 1:54 pm


      I can only hold for a few min too – If I expect I will be there for a long time – eg waiting for a launch or landing I will tripod it – If I am expecting a panning in flight thing I will handhold as I am more accurate hand holding .

      I have a carry handle that clips (arca) stype to my tripod foot (been replaced with low profile arca) and I turn it to the top of the camera.


  28. January 23, 2014 at 1:53 pm


    I can only hold for a few min too – If I expect I will be there for a long time – eg waiting for a launch or landing I will tripod it – If I am expecting a panning in flight thing I will handhold as I am more accurate hand holding .

    I have a carry handle that clips (arca) stype to my tripod foot (been replaced with low profile arca) and I turn it to the top of the camera.


  29. 29) Erich
    December 30, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    I’d hope the 800mm is sharp! It costs as much as a fairly new vehicle!!

    • 29.1) mikeschmeee
      February 3, 2015 at 10:24 am

      True but this lens does not consume gasoline and doesn’t leave a large carbon footprint :) heh

  30. 30) Achim Kostrzewa
    February 7, 2015 at 12:07 am

    Hi, Bob, what about VR? On or off?

    • February 20, 2015 at 7:24 am

      VR is always ON when hand holding – VR can cause problems when on a tripod and I generally turn it OFF – the 600mm does have a tripod VR mode I use when on a tripod.

  31. 31) Aris Houwing
    February 20, 2015 at 6:15 am

    This article’s heading should be “How I am able to take sharp pictures with my very exclusive 800mm and 600 mm lenses”. It doesn’t explain anything about handholding large lenses, techniques, positions or weigh balance.

    • February 20, 2015 at 7:22 am

      I think the core point of what I was trying convey in the article was: Lots of fellow photographers never consider hand holding because they class that as poor technique and say you can’t get sharp images. I was trying to convey that just isn’t true and there are many difficulties in trying to shoot photos from a tripod or monopod, mainly that it restricts your body’s natural motion. I find I get more photos when hand holding and can follow a bird in flight more naturally thus scoring shots I wouldn’t have if I shot from a gimbal.
      Yes the 800mm and 600mm are expensive and a little exclusive, but the point was about handholding being more natural choice for me, And most people don’t question hand holding smaller lighter lenses, hence my reference to those two larger heavy lenses.
      There are lens choices coming out now, giving long focal at an affordable price. I was just trying to convey that sometimes photographers need to consider hand holding as a choice and it may just get you some shots you might not have gotten otherwise.

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