Long Lens Sandbag Technique

In my previous post about the testing of various methods for reducing camera shake that can often degrade the sharpness of images, especially images taken with long focal length lenses. I reported that several professional photographers suggested using small sandbags resting on the camera and lens. I decided to put that assertion to the test.

I did not have quick access to sand but I did have a nearly full bag of granulated sugar. I put about one pound in each of three ziplock plastic bags and placed them on top of the lens and camera along with my iPhone to record the results. To make the comparison useful I repeated the test after removing the bags of sugar. Here are the results of a typical mirror-shutter cycle, the blue plot shows the bagged vibration and the green plot shows the vibrations without the bags of sugar:

sand_v_no_sandThese are very clear and very dramatic results, much more so than I could obtain using the face-plant hand-hold method. The bags of granulated sugar clearly dampened the vibrations very quickly and very effectively. For static shots the sandbag method is clearly the way to go and requires no special techniques. The face-plant hand-hold method might be more practical for tracking moving subjects, unless the bags could be firmly attached to the setup.

Secondly I’ve been thinking that filling the tripod legs with sand may also help to dampen vibrations. If this proves to be effective a cheap tripod with a lot of compliance, that is normally thought to be undesirable, would most likely be far superior to an ultra expensive rigid tripod filled with sand. Obviously the tripod would need to have tubular legs.

Additionally if any one reading this had a permanent pier mounted telescope I would be curious as to the results of filling the pier with sand in helping to dampen vibrations.

Stay tuned, I may be testing this concept in the very near future…

(update 2013-04-07):

I tried filling my Manfrotto 055XPROB legs with sand, it took about 5.6 lbs (2.54 kg), and it provided very little improvement from the results with no sand. I did retest the setup with three ziplock bags laid on top of the camera and lens, this time with a total of 5.6 lbs (2.54 kg) of dry sand. There was a measurable but small improvement from the 3.0 lbs (1.36 kg) of sugar in my first test.

Bottom line is that the tripod really does not provide any appreciable dampening from the mirror-shutter vibrations. However, doubling the weight of the tripod really made the setup feel much more stable. The dampening must be applied directly to the camera and lens itself. Now to find some good durable bags to put the sand in that won’t fall apart or leak in the field. It looks as if Gitzo has a few small bags that just might work…