We’ve all faced situations when we had to shoot hand-held in quite poor lighting conditions using slow shutter speeds, in order to capture a photograph. This challenge is further complicated when using a non-EVF camera since we loose our third anchor point, not being able to bring our camera up against our eyebrow. During a recent photography field-work trip to Nova Scotia I was faced with some very challenging lighting and took the opportunity to use quite slow shutter speeds (and high ISO) with one of my non-EVF Nikon 1 J5 cameras. The objective of this article is to discuss a few of the techniques that can be used when shooting hand-held at slow shutter speeds.
All of the images in this article should be considered as ‘sample test shots’. I suppose the first thing that should be defined in this article is what could be considered a ‘slow shutter speed’ in terms of shooting hand-held with a non-EVF camera.
I’ve been shooting for about 16 months with Nikon 1 J5 non-EVF camera bodies. Like any camera as one becomes more familiar with it, the ability to shoot at slower shutter speeds tends to improve. As a result I routinely shoot my J5s at shutter speeds as slow as 1/30th of a second. For the purpose of this article I’ve defined shooting hand-held at a ‘slow shutter speed’ to mean anything slower than 1/30th of a second.
Getting your camera to acquire good focus, maintaining a high degree of physical control of your own body’s movements, and exercising a high level of mental concentration are the three most important factors when shooting hand-held at slow shutter speeds.
Other factors such as the VR/IS performance of your camera lens or body, and physical conditions such as wind can certainly impact results as well, but in my mind are not as important as the first three.
Finding solid objects such as door frames, walls or large, heavy objects against which you can brace your body can help to minimize your own body movements. In many indoor venues it is often relatively easy to find this kind of bracing.
In other venues, such as the Canso Museum: Whitman House where these images were captured, it can be more difficult to find large objects or structures for bracing purposes.
I should clarify that I do not consider placing one’s camera on a table or some other solid object as ‘shooting hand-held’. Placing one’s camera down on any kind of solid surface is akin to using a tripod.
When preparing to capture an image the first thing I do is select a high contrast area in my potential photograph to use as a single focusing point for my camera. I want to give my camera gear every opportunity I can for it to acquire good focus.
When shooting at slow shutter speeds I only use VR-equipped lenses. When possible, I try to shoot at the shortest possible focal lengths (i.e. widest angle) to minimize the magnification from my lens, thus increasing the chances of a successful image capture.
Using your body to create a solid physical platform for your non-EVF camera is critical. Different people will no doubt have specific techniques that work for them, and my approach may not be something that works for you. I change my stance considerably when using a non-EVF camera, as compared to using one with a viewfinder. I position myself as squarely as possible to my image subject, with my feet shoulder distance apart. I do not lock my knees, keeping them slightly flexed instead. This helps me avoid inadvertently swaying slightly when capturing an image, as my slightly flexed knees act as shock absorbers.
I always lock my elbows in tight against the sides of my body. Adjusting the viewing angle on the rear screen of my camera gives me a shooting angle range from just below my waist to about collar bone height. If I need to position my camera up higher, I move my elbows to the front of my body and press them tightly back against my rib cage. I never shoot at slow shutter speeds with my elbows positioned away from my body.
Shooting from low-to-ground angles may necessitate me getting down on one knee. If I’m holding my camera with two hands in this position I typically can only get good captures shooting down to about 1/30th of a second. If I need to shoot at shutter speeds slower than that I find that I need to drop down to both knees. On occasion I do balance my camera on one knee.
Maintaining good control of my body movements includes changing my breathing. As I’m preparing to capture an image I take in slow, shallow breaths to minimize any kind of inadvertent chest movement. Often I will breath through my mouth for added breath control. I never hold my breath while capturing an image as this can cause a very slight body tremor which can translate into arm movement.
Once I have my image framed in my viewfinder and I’m ready to press the shutter, I focus every ounce of concentration I have on maintaining a still body posture and executing a very slow, measured shutter-press finger movement. As I begin to prepare to press the shutter I do not look at the potential image in my camera’s viewfinder at all. Instead, I lock my gaze on my shutter finger only and concentrate fully on depressing it slowly while trying to maintain absolute stillness of my camera body.
While it would be unrealistic to expect to capture consistently ‘tack sharp’ photographs with each and every frame when shooting hand-held at very slow shutter speeds using an non-EVF camera, it is possible to create some usable images for use on social media, or for prints that are only modestly enlarged. I captured two test photographs for most of the subjects featured in this article. For some of the slowest shutter speed scenes I captured three sample images.
For many photographers, extending the shooting capability of their gear by shooting at slower shutters speeds is reason enough to practice their slow shutter speed, hand-holding technique.
Prior to buying a pair of Nikon 1 J5s about 16 months ago I had never owned, or even contemplated owning, a non-EVF camera. Two years ago if someone would have told me that I would actually prefer using a non-EVF camera for the majority of my photography work I would have told them they were crazy…but that’s where I find myself today.
All photographs in this article were captured hand-held in available light using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO OpticsPro 11, CS6 and the Nik Collection.
Article and all images are Copyright 2017 Thomas Stirr, all rights reserved. No use, adaptation or duplication of any kind are allowed without written consent. Photography Life is the only approved user of this article. If you see it reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use. Readers who call out websites that steal intellectual property by posting comments on offending websites are always appreciated!All images and article are Copyright 2017 Thomas Stirr.
While it’s true that using a lens of shorter focal length can help, it’s also true, at least from my experience, that longer focal length=more light gathering ability. Therefore, you should be able to use a quicker shutter speed. However, I’m afraid that this doesn’t improve light gathering ability enough. If anyone has more knowledge about this, please enlighten me.
A screen loup helps a lot.
But it is a large accessory for a small camera…
I made myself a folding screen loup of cardboard, duct tape and a simple loup with f~10cm.
Folded it’s the size of a small phone. Once in a while I have to replace the tape strips that fasten it to the camera.
( Thin metal plate would be better than cardboard, and with magnetic fastening, but I don’t have the tools.)
Sounds like a very creative solution Kristian! I’ve tried using my Zacuto with my J5… and as you noted it is a large accessory for a small camera. Do you photograph birds-in-flight? I’m wondering how your creation would work for that application.
No, I don’t. Mostly stills, often details with the long end of the EF-S 55-250mm IS STM.
( The Canon EOS-M has its limits, although with Magical Lantern it’s quite useful.)
But I’ve found that the screen loupe helps stabilizing a little better than a viewfinder, probably as it gives a longer lever.
I built the screen loupe for my Fuji XF1 (now broken) and now use it on the EOS-M when I want a small package, otherwise a fixed metal screen loupe.
I have not read the full article and all the comments. I hope I am not repeating something which has already been said (if so, feel free to suppress my comment). What I do when the camera has no viewfinder is (1) have the strap around my neck, (2) pull the camera strongly away from my face, so that the two sides of the strap are as tensioned and straight as possible (because my hands tremble a bit, this additionally helps me ensure horizontality), (3) very slightly move my body forward when firing the shutter, thus minimizing lateral movements.
Thanks for sharing your technique Luis!
I have been intrigued by your use of the Nikon 1 system. Your online images seem to have be pretty high quality. I assume that you also print a number of your photographs. How large do you feel comfortable printing with your Nikon 1 system. Thanks for your articles. The professional use of small sensor photography needs more exploration, especially given the quality of some of the images I have seen.
Over the past few years I have done quite a few enlargements with V2 images and they hold up reasonably well as long as they were captured at lower ISO values. I regularly printed images 12″x18″ and on occasion went a bit larger…about 21″‘ to 22″ on the long end. I haven’t really tried anything larger than that with V2 files as I never had a need to do so.
Nikon 1 J5 enlargements, due to the camera’s 20.8MP BSI sensor, do better than V2 files as the J5 has noticeably better dynamic range and colour depth. I haven’t printed a huge number of files, but I haven’t had any issues going to 16″ x 24″. I would be willing to go larger than that…but thus far I haven’t had the need to try. I’m not a pixel peeper though so it really depends on viewing distance of the print and quality expectations.
Since my business has continued to skew heavily towards industrial video work I haven’t printed many enlargements over the past year or so. I recently realigned my priorities so I could put more focus on my business posters (safety, bullying, wellness and respectful workplace) and a collection of photography-related eBooks that I have under development. As a result I removed all of my photographic prints from my website about a month ago.
You may find this article of some interest: friedmanarchives.blogspot.ca/2017/…laugh.html
Really enjoyed another well written article Thomas. Thanks for sharing.Do you use a grip with the J5? I find that the camera a little small for my hands. I tried the grip for my V1 on the J5 . That made it easier to hold. I’m still thinking I’ll buy one because of the sensor and all the great features, I’m just waiting for the next model to come out so the price will go down.
Glad you enjoyed the article Gerry! I don’t use a grip for the J5 as I find it very comfortable to use.
I am curious why you haven’t started using a Sony Rx100 with a larger aperture for your photography
I suppose the best answer to your question is detailed in this article:
After shooting with Nikon APS-C and full frame DSLRs and a brief flirtation with M4/3, I have found that the Nikon 1 system best meets my business and personal needs.
HI Tom, I like the the old machines like the typewriter and cash register. They have a certain classy style to them. I noticed that most of the images were shot at between 10 and 30mm. I was wondering if the 10-30 lens would be a better choice. I think it would make for a bit less weight on the front of the camera.
You’re right that a 1 Nikon 10-30mm lens could have been used for most of the images in the article. When on a ‘photography tour’ I travel with a pair of Nikon 1 J5s and a Nikon 1 V3. I have the 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm mounted on the V3. On one of the J5s I mount the 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm and on the other one I mount the 1 Nikon 10-100 non-PD. This provides me with an effective shooting range from 6.7mm-300mm (efov 18mm – 810mm) without having to change lenses. I can just grab the body I need, capture my images and move on without any delay. The three bodies fit very nicely into a Tenba shoulder bag so I can travel small and light.
If I brought a 1 Nikon 10-30mm lens instead of the 10-100m non-PD, I would also need to bring a 30-110mm to have an ‘unbroken’ focal length range. It would also necessitate switching out some lenses from time to time. When on a ‘photography tour’ I like to work very quickly.
Why can’t you bring a non EVF camera up to your eyebrow?
It is physically possible to do that…but the rear screen would be almost touching my eyeball and I would be unable to focus my sight on what is in the frame…so there’s no point in doing that.
I’m not following this? I can hold up my D800, D810 D850 to my eye and shoot through the finder with it up at my eye and eyebrow?
Your eyes must focus better than mine…I can’t see anything with a digital viewfinder up against my eyebrow as it is far too pixelated. It needs to be about 8-9 inches away for the view to be useful.
Tom, but you said a non EVF camera? A non EVF camera is to my mind a camera with an optical finder, ie like the cameras I listed and hold up to my eye all the time?
An EVF camera is equipped with an Electronic Viewfinder…like the Nikon 1 V3. A non-EVF camera (like a J5) only has a rear screen with which to compose images.
I think the title if your article IMHO should have been shooting with a camera w/o a view finder and only a rear LCD screen. I thought you were talking of of the difference BTW, EVF in my Fuji XT20 and OVF in my Nikon D7100.
Exactly why I was confused, a non EVF camera could mean an OVF camera ie a normal DSLR.
Sorry for the confusion guys!
Good Article anyway Tom, I just could not figure out what that meant. I think of OVF and EVF. If someone says non EVF I think OVF.
Thanks for reminding us of a hidden advantage of small-sensor cameras: appropriate depth of field when it’s needed. I loved shooting with a V1 and 6.7-13 ultrawide (18-35 eq.). There are times when bokeh is NOT welcome, e.g., shooting in school classrooms where you want a student prominently filling most of the frame but also to reveal the context in the background. I’m shooting with a full-frame camera now (Canon 6D) but I do find that the wonderful 24-105 gives me decent DOF even at F4. Wide all the way and eff bokeh!
The most important thing for each of us to do is find and use gear that best suits our needs. Sounds like the Canon 6D with the 24-105 is a great solution for you!
George, Small-sensor cameras do not, and cannot, provide us with increased depth of field compared to large-sensor cameras. I’ve illustrated this important point several times in my comments on Photography Life articles, and I shall reiterate it each time I deem it necessary…
The notion that smaller sensors provide more depth of field (DoF) is another widely-propagated myth. DoF is an object space parameter, not an image space parameter. Depth of focus is the related image space parameter, which does change with sensor size but this change is irrelevant to DoF.
For any given scene, the position of the lens entrance pupil in 3D object space determines the perspective; and the diameter of the lens entrance pupil determines both the DoF and the level of diffraction. Here’s an example of two camera formats which will produce identical 12×8 inch prints in terms of: perspective; subject-to-image magnification ratio and angle of view; DoF; and diffraction…
135 (FX) Format Camera
sensor: 36 x 24 mm
circle of confusion: 0.03 mm
lens: 50 mm set to f-number 22
Tiny Format Camera
sensor: 3.6 x 2.4 mm
circle of confusion: 0.003 mm
lens: 5 mm set to f-number 2.2
Subject distance = 2 metres
DoF near limit = 2m − 0.67 m
DoF far limit = 2m + 2.02 m
Diffraction will be noticeable and it will be identical in both prints.
The entrance pupil diameters are identical: 50/22 mm = 5/2.2 mm.
To make the prints also identical in terms of scene motion blur, the shutter speed used on both cameras must be the same. Therefore, the photon shot noise and the overall image-space signal-to-noise ratio delivered to the camera sensors will be identical. If there is a visible difference in noise between the prints then it is caused by nothing other than differences in sensor quantum efficiency and/or read noise.
If the myth that smaller sensors provide more depth of field was true, it would break two of the fundamental laws imposed by our universe: 4D space-time and quantum mechanics!
Using a DOF calculator it is easy to see that a smaller sensor will give you more depth of field than a larger sensor, if you use lenses with equivalent field of view and the same aperture. That could for instance be an 18.5 mm lens on Nikon J5 and a 50 mm lens on Nikon D810 using the same aperture.
In pratical use it has always been clear to me, that a camera like the J5 provides much more Dof than an FF camera.
Using your example of an 18.5 mm lens on a J5 (crop factor 2.7), at the same f-number as the 50 mm lens on a full-frame camera, a DoF calculator will indeed show a greater depth of field on the J5, what the DoF calculator has failed to show you is that the level of diffraction in the J5 image will be 2.7 times higher than that of the full-frame camera image.
If you set those two lenses to the same aperture [the same entrance pupil diameter], not the same f-number, then the two images will have the same DoF and the same level of diffraction.
E.g., we know that using f/22 on a full-frame camera will show noticable diffraction: the same level of diffraction will occur when using a J5 at circa f/8 (f‑number 22 ÷ crop factor).
Pete, allright and thanks for clarifying. Always interesting to learn something new.
I haven’t been able to discover where the myth originated. I first became aware of it many years ago simply because one of the medium format camera manufactures produced a technical document to debunk it.
I always enjoy Tom’s articles because they are so interesting to read and his images give me a strong sense of actually being in the scene rather than looking at photos of the scene. I’ve never been able to understand why the Nikon 1 system isn’t one of the most popular camera systems because it’s versatile and, in the hands of knowledgable photographers it, delivers stunning images.
Thanks for adding to the discussion with your detailed comments! I’m glad you’ve been enjoying the articles and I appreciate your positive words!
I’ve also scratched my head a few times over the years trying to understand why the Nikon 1 system is reviled by many people. The only things I can put it down to are sensor size and the system’s somewhat limited native lens selection.
I apologize if I totally missed the point of this article. May be because I am a novice…what is the issue here? Non EVF or the EVF? Is one better than the other in terms of low light, hand held and longer exposure photography? Given the choice, I think, EVF is better since you don’t rely on LCD and also has WYSWYG advantage.
Given the choice between using a camera with an EVF or OVF versus a camera with a viewfinder most folks would choose a camera equipped with viewfinder as it provides some additional functionality. Shooting hand-held with a camera not equipped with a viewfinder is a bit more difficult to do, and the point of the article was to provide some commentary on techniques that can be used when using this type of non-EVF camera.
I shoot with Nikon 1 gear and there is a difference between the V-Series cameras I use and the J5s in my kit. The V-Series have viewfinders, but the sensor in the J5 has better dynamic range and colour depth than the sensors in the V-Series models. The trade-off is that the J5 does not have a viewfinder. I do most of my still photography with the J5 for the improved sensor performance.