Photo Tip: Using Vibration Reduction (VR) On A Tripod

We’ve had a great first couple of days at my workshop here in Washington state with Bill Fortney and gang. We started off in the Palouse area and did a sunset shoot from Steptoe Butte the other evening. I’ve been up to Steptoe before, and it’s been REALLY windy. The other night wasn’t as bad as I remember it, but there was definitely some wind.

(click to see the photo larger)
MJK_9266-2

Having been to Steptoe before, I realized that long lenses tend to work really well there. So I borrowed a 200-400mm lens and started shooting. Almost immediately, I could notice the camera shaking and blurry photos. I tried everything. I was on a solid tripod, I used my bag to help steady my tripod, I was using mirror lock-up to shoot – and still… blurry photos. In fact, I could almost see it moving while looking through the camera. But zoomed out to 400mm (plus the lens shade on), this huge lens almost turns into a sail, and tends to be more affected by the wind.

I mentioned it to some one else in our group (Miles) and he said that he tried turning VR (Vibration Reduction as it’s referred to on Nikon lenses) on and got better results. VR on a tripod? I’ve always known to turn off VR on a tripod. But I gave it a whirl and the first photo was instantly sharper. That did it. And it does make sense when you think about it. VR helps when the lens is moving. Even though it was on a tripod, the lens was indeed moving, and VR locked it into place.

Here’s a zoomed in Before/After and I think you’ll agree the After is a lot sharper than the before:

For the most part, I’ll still leave VR off when I’m on a tripod. If things are locked down, steady, and your equipment isn’t moving then VR should be off. But if you find yourself out there in some windy or unstable conditions, hopefully this little tip can help save you from some blurry photos.

Wish me good luck (or sleep) for the rest of the week. The sun rises at some ungodly hour of 4:45 here, so there’s plenty of early mornings ahead. :-) Have a good one!

  • crisdarocha

    It makes sense … if it’s vibrating due to wind, VR/IS should improve the results!

    Matt, have you even made this kind of comparison in a no vibration situation? Does VR/IS really degrade the image when you don’t need it?

  • AvishaIF

    Nice One! I never thought of using VR on a tripod… But I guess you are right!

    Great photo!!

  • Mitchell Sacks

    Why not just leave VR on whenever you’re on a tripod? Can VR have a negative impact on an image?

    • AvishaIF

      It can, because it makes the lens move a bit to compensate for your movement. But on a tripod, the lens is solid and the movement the VR makes moves it for no necessary reason.

      • Timothy Grady

        Why would VR move the lens if the lens is not moving on a tripod? Maybe Nikon/Canon would like to pipe in here…

        • AvishaIF

          That’s the thing… That’s why you don’t need to use VR on a tripod.. Except for in this kind of situation like in the post..

          • Timothy Grady

            So it does no harm to leave it on?

          • AvishaIF

            It does no harm to leave it on when you are hand-holding the lens. It helps.

            But when on a tripod, it does harm unless the tripod is moving like in the post above.

          • Timothy Grady

            What harm?

          • AvishaIF

            It moves the lens and of course that makes the photo blurry.

  • Dennis Zito

    Matt, you are one traveling dude! Man, to you ever sleep! :-) Fantastic photo, by the way. I have the opposite problem … I can’t remember to turn IS off! It takes me a few shots to realize I have IS still on. Us old folk just have memory issues. :-) Have a Great time and keep us update with photos!

    Dennis

  • http://www.quiettime.org/ Catherine Martin

    Good to know Matt, about trying VR in high wind situations – great that Miles gave it a try. I discovered the need to turn off VR on the tripod when I watched my camera move in the first of 3 bracketed exposures. I thought my camera was broken, then realized it was the VR. Turned it off and no movement on the tripod. Wish I could be there in Palouse with Bill, you, & everyone else – it was so much fun when we were in Monument Valley etc. You’re going to have a great week!! Blessings to you all!

  • Mitchell Sacks

    I think we need to do some testing on this. I’d like to see images taken on a tripod indoors with VR on and off and see if there really is a difference. If I have time tonight, I’ll give this a try and post my results.

  • http://www.quiettime.org/ Catherine Martin

    Mitchell, I wouldn’t have believed it either. But there’s no question, with my Nikon D7000 set to 3 bracketed exposures on a 2 second timer, I watched my camera jump with the first exposure. When I looked at the 3 exposures in Bridge, the first one was missing the lower part that the other 2 had. I was still able to pull them together in Photomatix, but thought there must be something wrong with my camera. Then, in a Q & A with Trey Ratcliff, in answering one of my questions, he said that if I have VR on, the camera will move. He said I have to take it off VR when it’s on the tripod. I turned off the VR and my camera didn’t move. Mystery solved. Of course, high winds change everything when it comes to stabilization. So I’m interested that Miles & Matt found that VR helps in those situations. The other thing is that my tripod is a Gitzo Traveler which is more lightweight, so maybe the VR has more impact for me on the tripod.

    • Mitchell Sacks

      I’ve never seen that happen, VR cannot move the camera. If you were using a zoom lens, I’d likely attribute this to zoom creep.