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Michael Erlewine

LENS VIBRATIONS: STIR, BUT DON'T SHAKE

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Lens Vibration: Stir but Don’t Shake

 

One of the problems with getting increasing sharp lenses (and extending them) is a smaller version of what long-telephotos have – everything shakes!

I have a small studio on the second floor of our home. I am in the process of emptying out and selling my larger studio because it is too far away, about half a block. LOL. But getting me out of the house in winter and down there is very difficult, although it is a 40x40 foot building with two and a half floors and huge space and high ceilings. But that’s just me.

Anyway, the problem is that I live in an old-ish house and the floors are not steady. With finer and finer lenses and especially at higher magnification ratios and especially-especially if I magnify focus, the world shakes like a leaf on a tree, which is terrifying for a photographer doing still photos. Ouch!

 

What to do? It is so bad that, even if I am just standing quietly and not moving in the room, my breathing (or whatever) causes the subject to slightly shake – just being there! At first I could not believe it. Nothing was moving, including me (as best I could), yet still there were these nano-quakes going on! The bottom line is that this is not good for taking photos. Yes, I get somewhat decent phots, but somewhat decent is not what I have to get out of these lenses.

 

And of course, I tried building little buffered pads for me to stand on, hopefully isolating ME from the floor, but it seemed to me like instead of isolating, it only “features” me as the shake-dancer. LOL.

 

So, floor treatments (aside from rebuilding the entire room) with cement don’t work. Then I had a bit on an idea. The floor shakes, but the foundation of the building does not, or only minutely. What not hang a heavy shelf off the walls to hold my subjects. I did and it works great to isolate the subject. I used this for a while and it isolated the subject, but still left me, myself, and I as the culprit. Just out there standing in the room, even holding my breath, the vibrations found their way up the tripod (which is on the floor, of course) all the way to the camera and lens. And they shake!

 

I tried all kinds of ways to isolate the tripod feet, including the astronomical pads, many kinds of isolation pads, gooey-stuff, and on and on. No matter how I piled the isolation pads, there was still movement.

 

Next, I tried hanging a second shelf off the wall and put both the subject and tripod on a large board. That helped some, but mostly succeeded in transferring the camera shake from me touching it to focus to the subject being photographed. As they say, “Close, but no cigar,” well, closer.

 

My next attempt was to build a second shelf unit (again, off the wall), but isolated from the unit with the subject. So, in the middle of the night I built second set of two shelves, again them hanging off the wall, but not touching the floor. And on this I put a second board, one just for the tripod, but, as mentioned, separate from the subject.

 

By Golly, this works! The subject, which is hanging of the wall on a shelf does not move. The tripod shelf, also hanging off the wall on a board supported by dual shelves does move, except when I touch the rig to focus. I can move around on the floor now (and breath, which is healthy) and there almost no transfer of vibration.

The penalty, which is there anyway, is that with each touch of the focusing, there is an after-shake, as we might expect. I have to wait a few seconds for the whole thing to calm down and then take the photo.

 

I am already using the silent-shutter on the Nikon D850, so there is no mirror-slap, only the vibrations that stem from touching the focus barrel. However, if you are stacking 100 or so photos, that is a lot of wait-time, but that’s the price I pay for removing the shake.

 

So, now I can move around the floor and do the stuff I have to do without affecting the subject or the tripod/camera with added vibrations. I do find myself sitting down to photograph, since extending the tripod legs adds to the shake-component. Take this particular rig outside into the Michigan winds? Not likely!

 

Here is a quick photo taken with the Nikon D810 and the newish Nikon 8-15mm Zoom of the system. That’s a Nikon D850 sitting on a Novoflex focus rail with an rail knob that allows finer movement. On the D850 is the Schneder Macro Varon 85mm lens, with two PK-13 Extensions tubes (55mm total), and three K-3 rings as a hood. That sits on the Arca-Swiss Cube, sits on a Series 3 RRS tripod.

 

And the whole thing, as mentioned sits on a board held by two 20” steel shelves extending out from the walls. And the subject, an African daisy sits on two separate shelves that hold a thin board. Sorry about the mess, but that’s usual with me, stuff all around. There are also a couple of paper-wrapped bricks and two video sandbags on the wide board, just to see if they help.

Any suggestions on dampening the tripod/camera from when I touch to focus would be appreciated. That is where all the vibration comes now. I have a 3-second delay on the camera, after I decide it has calmed down enough to chance that.

 

This is a partial stack. Look at the area inside the blue ellipse. That’s about as good as this lens will do. I will do a large portion at some point. There ARE other lenses too that should not be shaken. 

 

Why bother with all of this? Well, why bother anything? LOL.
 

_8500205-2-MV85-Marked.jpg

_81A0990-8-15mm-Zoon.jpg

Edited by Michael Erlewine
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Our house also has suspended hardwood floors which make everything wobble, so if I ever got this involved in high detail work I would have to migrate downstairs to our laundry (basement) which has a concrete slab floor. I'm not planning any high tech stuff like this! :D 

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An old problem.... I never had a stable darkroom floor in any of the places I worked or in my own darkrooms over the years (it's same problem when projecting an enlarged image from a neg onto paper over many seconds, the slightest vibration definitely affecting the final image). When I moved here 23 years ago into the oldest building I had ever lived in, and which had obviously been built without much thought of what few building codes may have existed in 1880, I went to lengths to site was to be the darkroom's internal wall directly over the stone foundation under the wooden floor, and had a row of heavy studs placed 2" apart behind where the wall mount for my Durst Laborator 1200 point light source enlarger was to be mounted, so along with the baseboard fastened to the enlarger column the whole thing became one integrated unit fastened effectively to Mother Earth herself. The net result of this was the first darkroom I ever had where I could actually walk around while a print was exposing, even though the rest of the place trembles in anything other than the gentlest of breezes.

jiz3l0J.jpg

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I've often wondered why brick and concrete houses are so few and far between in North America, especially given the propensity for natural weather disasters. We don't have wooden houses here - the termites would destroy them in a matter of weeks. 

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Dallas, I believe that the America’s also have a termite problem so it’s deemed necessary to treat all wooden structures! 

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Interesting Michael... 

 

Re: focusing shake... You might like to try a foam finger

 

Locate gloves with foam liners cut two fingers off, turn inside out & put on you focus fingers

 

The friction from the foam will turn the lens instead of compression bond, thereby isolating shake

 

The fingers have a duel purpose; they can also be used as a drivers aide when someone cuts you off

 

Rags 

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Well, how’s this for amazing:

 

This morning I went to our basement and set up my system to see if there is camera shaking on cement. There was no shaking. I could turn the knob on the focus rail to advance it and it was all smooth. That was expected, but still interesting.

 

Then I went to the main floor and did the same in the kitchen and living room. Almost no shaking and what was there died out almost immediately. I told myself I may have to do more shooting around the house and not in my little studio.

 

And so, with a sigh, I marched back up the narrow stairs to my tiny studio, where all the shaking lives. And just for kicks, I placed the tripod on the bare floor, ignoring the floating panel suspended from the walls. And, to my ASTONISHMENT there was very little shaking that died out quickly, mostly my moving around. What’s going on here?

 

I then went to my floating panel and set up there and there was all the kinds of shaking I have been talking about. The only explanation I could figure was that perhaps some days the whole house shakes in the wind or... something.

 

And so, I tore out the floating panel and all the work I did on it. And I had just finished binding the panel to the supports with heavy bolts and wing-nuts. LOL.

 

So, as they say around here, go figure.

 

I may just pay more attention to shake and put some shutter delay on when I detect any shakiness.

 

I spent a day or so building it up and then tore it down in ten minutes. Thanks for all the help. At least, I am MUCH more aware of all this than I used to be.

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Here is an image with the Nikon D850 and the Schneider Macro Varon 85mm ...with no shake.

_8500239-2-MV85-777.jpg

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Despite the common misconceptions, the ground isn't "rock steady' and it doesn't only move during certain moments of ecstasy.  Even within the field of geotechnical engineering, the understanding of ground vibrations is full of misconceptions and over-simplifications.  I suspect your problem may well come from well beyond your the walls of your little studio.  The theories for ground vibration are similar to those in other fields, such as audio, and Michael, I believe you have a good understanding of audio, so will also have a reasonable knowledge of things like resonant frequency and amplitude.   The whole issue is further complicated by human perception of vibrations, which can vary with not just the amplitude, but also the frequency, direction and whether the person is standing, sitting or lying down.

 

I've been involved a little bit in ground vibration monitoring, one example, many years ago, I was responsible for measuring the vibrations due to blasting in a new sewer tunnel.  Unfortunately, one day, I got into trouble for missing the blast - a van had driven up over the curb to park on the footpath and that had triggered the monitoring equipment and I couldn't get it reset in time to record the actual blast vibrations.  Other times, I have been involved in seismic surveys, which have involved trying to detect the vibrations of a heavy sledge hammer blow along a 100m long line of geophones.  

 

Hopefully, Michael you haven't been too quick in dismantling your new shelves.  I've had a look at a map of Big Rapids and the only obvious source of large ground vibrations would be the Interstate to the west, but there could be other smaller scale industrial sources too.  From your post, I'm guessing that your vibrations seemed to disappear on Sunday morning?  Is it just that Sunday mornings have less traffic or the industry is shut down and come Monday morning your vibrations will be back.  Your suggestion of wind could also be a cause - was there much change in the weather in the last few days.  I suspect Alan's comments about enlarger vibration could also come from the fact he has moved from suburban Melbourne (and I think he once mentioned that he worked near Ormond, which was the intersection of a busy road and a rail line) to rural Tasmania.

 

As for Michael's problems, there is the issue of identifying the source of vibrations and for example, if it is traffic, timing your work to times when traffic vibrations are low.  As for your house, given that shelfs attached to the wall beams seemed to reduce the vibrations, it could be simply that the resonant frequency of the floor timbers is close to that of the vibrations (or a harmonic thereof).  A change in the type and thickness of the timbers could help reduce the problem, changing the span of the timbers (which would be a more complex task) could also change the resonant frequency of your floor.  Another factor is that the upstairs location will experience a greater amplitude of vibration due to effectively being the free end of a vibrating column.  

 

If you really want to get to the bottom of this, you could get yourself a geophone and then I'm sure you could apply some of your audio knowledge to measuring the vibrations (a geophone is really just a sensitive microphone) and then working out the best way to avoid or get rid of the vibrations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Very interesting, Chris! Actually, just last week there was a story on Jeremy Vine's BBC Radio 2 program about people who were experiencing terrible problems in their new houses whenever they ran their washing machines. Apparently it would cause the whole house to shake, in some cases even making people ill. 

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Vibrations are everywhere and often from the most unlikely sources. The only thing that can come close to eliminating them in a photographic situation is to make the subject and camera as contiguous as possible - that's the principle I tried for with my enlarger setup, making the enlarger head, support bracket and baseboard all one solid unit, with the mount to the wall also being as solid as possible, and the wall itself sited over a solid sandstone foundation.

 

Unfortunately it's not so easy when a camera and tripod that need to be re-positioned is concerned - tripods themselves have often been traced as the source of vibrations cycling long after it would be thought that things had had ample time to settle down. Then there's the shutter - first curtain electric is good for a single exposure, but rear curtain closure starts up vibrations again which can become a problem when doing a stack.

 

I remember going to see an early exhibition of the development of laser holography in the early '70's where they had a scale model of the first studio setup. Aside from the whole original set being constructed in a sealed warehouse with a solid concrete floor, the set itself was entirely suspended on a complex array of shock absorbing and dampening devices on that concrete, as even the slightest vibration could wreck the interference pattern formed by the split lase beam on the large sheet of photographic film which, when developed and illuminated by a similar laser beam caused the fully three-dimensional holographic image to appear mid-air behind the film in the spot where the original laser-illuminated object had been. Apparently the problem of vibration was identified early and the expense and time it took to work out a solution almost had the researchers give up on the project (which took place in France, if I recall correctly).

 

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A lens with extensions and in magnified view shows perfectly any vibrations, however minute. I am going to monitor the situation and see what I find out.. 

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21 hours ago, Michael Erlewine said:

A lens with extensions and in magnified view shows perfectly any vibrations, however minute. I am going to monitor the situation and see what I find out.. 

 

Hopefully you can get them under control without too much reworking of your house or finding your shooting restricted to Sunday mornings.

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Hehe, nice story, Michael. From years of lens-testing I know that you even have vibrations on concrete floors in a house - if I happen to walk around during (a longer) exposure. So today I sit still whenever I do test-shots.

Ever thought about hanging/suspending your gear from the ceiling like from an inverse tripod? You might not like working with the camera upside-down though...

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Another option would be to get one of those CamRanger things and do the work in another room via remote control with a tablet or laptop hooked up to the CamRanger. 

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When in college,  my friends father had his stereo turntable suspended by 4 long thin springs  in an adjacent closet.  Best stereo I ever heard.

 

My main photo mentor was a metalurgist and the company moved next to a busy tollroad.   The scanning electron microscope had to be placed on an anti vibration support.

 

Principle is clear.  Get subject and camera to vibrate together.

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