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I'm doing panoramic HDR photography for work using one of those stupid cheap mirror balls mounted on a tripod (not my decision!) and I am noticing on my longer exposures that sometimes I'm getting blurred images. I am using mirror lock-up and a 2 second delay. SOMETIMES on my 2 or 3 longest exposures the image is blurred when I view it in Photoshop. I am using a Canon kit lens with a +2 magnifying lens mounted on the front, and I'm SURE I'm not touching the tripod at all. The only thing I can think is causing this is the image stabilizer which is pretty much kept on at all times. Can anyone think of anything else that might cause this behavior?

EDIT: I might add that it's not ALL of my longest exposures. It's one or two, sometimes 1, sometimes NONE, but usually it's the 2nd longest exposure. The tripod itself is a sturdy Manfrotto. Now that I think of it, I usually have to bring all my images into Photoshop first before merging to HDR because they all seem to be out of alignment by up to 4 or 5 pixels. The way the panorama head works on this contraption is that there is a head mounted on the tripod with a screw for mounting the camera, pointing up at the mirror lens. The plate that the camera sits against can be adjusted up or down by millimeters so that different camera/lens configurations can be used.

UPDATE: Ok, after reading all your comments/suggestions, let me give you guys some more info. For those of you wondering, the mirror ball contraption is used for when you need a 360 panorama of your subject (in my case it's a room inside a condominium) in one shot (the system is used a lot by realtors who need quick shots of a whole room using a cheap point and shoot). You get a low-res pic since you are shooting a reflected image of the image, but for quick solutions to real estate photography it does its job. What you get is a large round image that you then stick into the software for this particular mirror ball manufacturer and you can either 'roll' the image out into a panoramic cylinder image or you can use it to turn into a 'virtual tour' for showing on the web.

Here is a picture of what they look like mounted to a camera (tho my setup is mounted on a tripod and looks a little different): GoPano mirror ball system

Here is the image that these things produce: GoPano image

Here is what I get sometimes--note that it looks like camera shake: blurred image

Here is the exact same shot taken right afterwards to ensure at least one of the exposures comes out sharp:

sharp image

I have mirror lockup enabled, and am using a delay before shooting, so there is no issue with me touching the camera and accidentally causing blur once the shutter opens, or the mirror causing vibrations. Because this sucker takes a picture of the WHOLE room at once, I can either choose to stick it on a 10 second delay and leave the room or sit underneath it with a smaller 2 second delay. Since an HDR series takes me about 15 pictures, it is not expedient for me to leave the room for 10+ seconds at a time, and a shutter release cable (or IR remote) isn't necessary if I'm using a timed delay (and if I used it it would be in the shot unless I was still sitting underneath the tripod). I am not using auto bracketing but manually dialing in each stop. The building is rock solid, well away from the road, and is built to withstand hurricane force winds. I am not walking around during the shot, but sitting underneath it. I make sure no part of my body is close to any element of the tripod before I press the shutter, and hold my hand away from the camera until the timed delay passes and the camera takes the picture. I have taken to taking two shots of each of my exposures that are more than 1 second as inevitably at least one of them will be completely blurred. The others will maintain their sharpness.

So, somehow, even tho the building is solid, the mirror is locked up, there is a timed delay, I'm not touching the camera or the tripod and the tripod is sturdy, I am getting camera shake. Because these mirror ball images are EXTREMELY sensitive to vibrations and I am positive I have eliminated any human reasons for shake, I gotta wonder if the only thing that's left is the IS?

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Are you doing Macro Photography HDR? If so, that might be part of your problem...at macro scale everything is magnified considerably, including the slightest vibrations or movements. Since HDR requires multiple exposures, subject movement between frames could be contributing to blur. –  jrista Apr 5 '12 at 15:24
    
No, I'm taking a panoramic picture of a room, there are no moving subjects and manual focus is being used. –  huzzah Apr 5 '12 at 15:36
    
Also, @jrista, the entire picture is blurred, it's not just a part of the picture or a subject moving. It looks like camera shake or the tripod got nudged. I am starting to believe the culprit is either the IS in the lens or the tripod is slowly but surely failing. –  huzzah Apr 5 '12 at 15:47
    
I'd love to know how a mirror ball mounted to a tripod is usefull, can to share a pic of the setup? –  Paul Cezanne Apr 5 '12 at 16:31
    
@HeatherWalters: We really need some example photographs with the blur in them, and possibly a shot of your tripod setup, to help us answer this question. –  jrista Apr 5 '12 at 16:57

8 Answers 8

up vote 1 down vote accepted

(1) As others have noted, any "antishake" / IS must be turned off for tripod exposures.

IS works by deriving an error signal from desired and actual positions and driving the system to minimise the error. Where there is essentially no error the system noise will predominate and the system may try to minimise noise and create motion to do so. Arrangements can be made to 'ignore' noise under a certain level but his can result in step changes when boundaries are reached or poor sensitivity to real motion.

  • Added: Heather subsequently reported that turning IS off solved her problems and that the occasional 5 pixel step change in sequentil images vanished. It's likely that the 5 pixel step is the step change I mentioned, due to the IS setting a lower limit below which it declares the image steady. Exceed that limit and it moves one unit to compensate. If there is enough noise or image variation it may mistake it for movement and jump this one unit to compensate.

(2) How rigid is rigid?

I recently set up a tripod to attempt to photograph the "super-moon" situation. Thin continuous cloud cover made he results useless. But I got a chance to use the focus magnifier with a 500mm mirror lens + 1.7 x teleconverter on a 1.5:1 crop APSC camera = 500 x 1.7 x 1.5 = 1275mm equivalent at 35mm.

I used the focus magnifier to attempt to get the mountains that can be seen side on on the Moon's rim as sharp as possible.

I tried a 2 second delay and found that using the above arrangement the picture was "singing" wildly at 2 seconds. Using a 10 second delay was acceptable. That was on concrete, but I have no doubt that in a building with other than a stone or concrete floor you'd get some visible motion.

That's an extreme case. But actually testing your Manfrotto results with focus magnifier after various delays may be instructive. So -

I just now set up the camera on a kitchen floor, wooden framed building.
Placed a rigid support under camera to raise about 200mm above floor and focused on about 8 point text at about 6 metres (~ minimum focus). Fixed f8 mirror so used ISO 50 to give about 0.7s exposure. Focus magnifier gave 'tack sharp' focusing - text half fills screen height.

Took shots with 2 second delay and 10 seconds delay using A77 Sony - NO mirror movement - used electronic "front curtain" so only movement in camera is rear curtain shutter. This is potentially important as eliminating the front curtain removes the tiny kick at the very star of exposure which MAY make a difference. Repeated a few times. Camera not touched or moved after delay started and no walking on floor.

Result: 10 second delay shot is substantially sharper than 2 second. Even the 10s delay shot is less sharp than I'd expect at faster shutter speeds.
Granted, this is an 850mm (1275mm effective) lens - and a sample of few - but the fact that a solid base rather than a tripod allows a visible difference in result with a 0.7s exposure suggests that some rigidity testing without the mirror ball would be useful to see how good a result you can achieve.


Getting desparate:

A rigid tripod with 3 widely spread support points such that radius of support circle is ~~~ = tripod height (within 2:1 say) will apply a horizontal motion to the camera ~ equal to any movement across the vertical plane in the floor. You MAY be able to get superior results either by

  • Making a support system that extends the reach of your tripod out sideways so it makes contact on 3 points on a FAR larger radius than before.

    A variant of this for testing would be to find the largest possible table and support the camera rigidly on that without a tripod so that the table legs are effectively a widespread tripod (or quad-pod). Shims under 3 legs of a 4 leg table to convert quad-pod to tripod may or may not make things better. Obviously a table is not going to work when taking actual photos - but you may learn a lot. Or not.

or

  • Just the opposite - pulling the tripod legs in so that you have a tall thin arrangement - vertical floor movement will tend towards making vertical camera movement rather than horizontal camera movement. Murphy will want this to fall over.

    A variant would be to have a vertical support rod with an "L" bracket on the bottom say about 300mm square and place something dense and heavy on the plate to maintain the support vertical. The smaller the plate the less you convert floor undulations into camera horizontal movement.

I'm aware that you could happily argue for or against any of these schemes with suggestions about how floors vibrate, arguments about levers etc. Trying it would be easier. In each case the aim is to try to convert or retain any floor motion into/as vertical movement rather than letting it swing the camera sideways.

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All excellent points. I'm jealous you got to use a 500mm lens to shoot the moon! –  huzzah May 16 '12 at 18:27

One of the Great Truths of photography is that for every camera/lens/tripod combination, there is a range of shutter speeds that you need to avoid. At faster shutter speeds, the exposure is completed before the system's physical resonance has a chance to blur things; at slower shutter speeds the system has damped out before the exposure is complete, and the majority of the exposure occurs when the system is essentially motionless. That is true of any lens/camera/tripod, but the problem is usually difficult to notice except on a very high-resolution system.

It's the speeds in the middle, where the system is in motion for the majority of the exposure, that you need to find and avoid. Mirror lock-up can only help a little, since the action of the shutter can be enough to initiate the resonance. Since you are experiencing this problem on only one or two exposures out of a three-shot sequence, I'd be willing to bet money that the shutter speed is what you're changing between exposures and that the problem is occurring consistently in a range of shutter speeds.

In this situation (with the one-shot 360° lens attachment), the problem is exacerbated by the inherent springiness of the mirror stalk. (There are more stable designs, but then you're generally shooting through a cylinder of polycarbonate that's a real sonofabee to keep meticulously clean and unscratched.) Just find out which shutter speeds are causing the problem, and adjust your exposure settings to avoid them. You may want to find the best (least blurry) speed and sharpest aperture, then base your bracket on a varying ISO instead.

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I think this is the closest I'm going to get to an answer. I think that one of (the very many) major design flaws in having to use a mirror ball system is that since you are focusing so closely that the tiniest amount of vibration will cause a camera shake in the picture. In this case I think that the shutter itself is causing just enough of a vibration to upset the 'stillness' of the image being captured. –  huzzah Apr 5 '12 at 20:11
    
That said, with these systems, when initially setting up your system you are supposed to find the 'sweet spot' that lets you get the maximum depth of field in each shot and STICK with it always (in this case it's F20), and use the lowest ISO possible (in this case ISO 100). So unfortunately some shutter speeds that I am having trouble with are unavoidable (the shake seems to be hit/miss as you can see from my example above). I guess I will just have to continue taking multiple exposures of the same shutter speed to cover my butt. Thank you for your insight! –  huzzah Apr 5 '12 at 20:15
    
Also, the ISO must remain steady throughout, and you want to stick with ISO100 as trust me, HDR photos are VERY unforgiving when it comes to noise. –  huzzah Apr 5 '12 at 20:22
    
@HeatherWalters -- with a reasonably modern camera, going to, say, ISO 400 isn't a major loss. If you're doing a three-stop bracket, shooting at ISOs of 100, 200 and 400 ought to do the trick quite nicely without too much extra noise—and a good noise reduction utility like Topaz DeNoise can help a lot. You may find it profitable to use an ND filter in the stack to get you out of the "danger zone"—let's face it, you can't degrade the quality much more with a filter. –  user2719 Apr 5 '12 at 20:26
    
Stan, it's a 13-15 step bracket that can span (depending on how light/dark the room is) the entire range of my camera's shutter speeds (Canon rebel xsi). ISO400 has very noticeable noise on this camera (it wreaks havoc in the shadows of my merged series). If I have 5 exposures that are over 1 second, between 1 and 3 of those exposures will have shake. However, if I take two exposures of each of those stops, one of them will be sharp while the other won't. It's hit and miss, but those exposures are unavoidable. I am also going to play with leaving IS off. –  huzzah Apr 5 '12 at 20:39

A few thoughts:

  • Turn off Image Stabilization if you're on a tripod. It won't provide benefit and might cause some issues.
  • You might need a more stable tripod/head. Given that you referred to it as a "stupid cheap mirror ball", it sounds like you might already be aware of this...
  • Even with a good tripod, sometimes movement can happen, especially in a windy area. If they tripod has a hook on the center column, you can hang something heavy (like a camera bag) off of it to help provide stability.
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@HeatherWalters, when inside, don't move. Walking around can cause the floor to move just enough to introduce vibrations. –  Dan Wolfgang Apr 5 '12 at 14:13
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I would definitely agree to turn off the IS when on a tripod. It can cause issues. –  Mike Apr 5 '12 at 14:20
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Busy road outside? –  Dreamager Apr 5 '12 at 15:30
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Is the tower tall enough to be swaying in the wind? ;) –  Dreamager Apr 5 '12 at 16:06
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I'm definitely going to turn off IS. On my regular still HDR pics of the room, I have no shake in these longer exposures, but the focusing on the mirror contraption makes the tiniest vibration gigantically noticeable so I am going to eliminate IS as another possible culprit. Thanks for the tip! –  huzzah Apr 6 '12 at 15:33

I'd go with a remote shutter release so you don't have to touch the camera at all, and you can be several feet away from the camera so you're even less likely to cause any vibration in the set up.

You should be able to use the delay as well just to be sure.

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On some Canon cameras the mirror lockup only works on the first of the three exposures if you are auto-bracketing. Try turning the auto-bracket off and manually using mirror lockup for all three. Yes, not fun at all!

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I am not using auto-bracket but that is definitely good to know! –  huzzah Apr 5 '12 at 20:18

Ok, I tested with IS off, and, guess what? ALL blur problems and series images being off by 1-5 pixels (causing me to have to align the images in photoshop before merging them beforehand) went away. It was the IS after all, even using a 2 second delay. As a poster noted above, they got significantly better results on a 10 second delay when dealing with a system where visible camera shake could be caused by the most insignificant vibrations. Bottom line for this type of situation: turn off IS, tack on as long of a delay as you can, enable mirror lock-up, and be vewwwy, vewwy quietttt....

Thanks to all who chipped in a LOT of sage advice!

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This is often good advice: "be vewwwy, vewwy quietttt...." –  Pat Farrell May 16 '12 at 22:39

Just a thought, but are you sure it is camera shake, and not simply a bit out of focus?

It could be that with the camera mounted vertically like you have it it would make the weight bearing down on the lens either shift the focus marginally after being set or alter the zoom level slightly which might make it look the same.

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I have actually had trouble with some lenses that creep out of focus because they were too heavy, and if you have the mirror mounted directly to the camera this is a big issue, but my mirror is mounted to a tripod and the camera is mounted pointing up towards it (not touching the mirror contraption at all). Also, if it was lens creep it would happen in every one of my long exposures. It's very hit and miss. –  huzzah Apr 5 '12 at 20:18

I too noticed some minimal shake and blur with long exposure shots using the IS (Image Stabilizer on my lens). I was testing out night shots using a tripod and realized that turning OFF the IS solved all blur problems.

I also never click the shutter button by hand, I always use the camera's self timer to take the picture to avoid any further "human manual shake". Try 3 or 10 seconds with the self timer and let the camera do the shooting. Problem solved...

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Yeah, I had tried that too with setting the self timer. No good. it was the IS all along. Turned it off and haven't had a problem since! –  huzzah Aug 7 '12 at 19:12

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