How to Avoid Taking Blurry Photos with Film Cameras

We’ve added a new thing to the store – when you order, you can enter your Instagram username in the “More comments” box, and I’ll give you a shout-out on the Buy Film Canada Instagram Story when your order is being packed.

A returning customer took advantage of this the other day, and added that all of her photos of flowers on IG were taken with film from Buy Film Canada. I wrote back saying that the pics looked great, and she mentioned that she had run into trouble a few times, and that a lot of the photos looked good in the camera’s viewfinder while framing them, but came out blurry in the end. She was using a Mamiya RB67, which worked fine for most shots, and these close-up shots of flowers at night were the only time that she ran into problems.

I started to write back to her, but then decided this would be good content for this blog haha! I am not 100% sure why her specific photos weren’t coming out, but I do have a lot of ideas that might help anyone in a similar situation.

One Consideration: Camera Shake

If you don’t have an actual macro lens for close-up shots, a great alternative is to use a cheap lens extension tube. These just extend the distance between your camera and your regular lens, and make it easier to get close-up shots. The downside is that they cut down significantly on how much light enters the camera.

I’m not familiar with the bellows that is built into the Mamiya RB67, but I think it must have the same effect, to some degree at least. So, if less light is coming in, there’s going to be more possibility of camera shake, and this may be especially pronounced when taking shots in the evening or night.

Solutions:

If possible, using a tripod should help in a big way. If that’s not possible (like in this case, due to the flowers being very low to the ground), then trying to hold the camera in a more steady way might help.

Any time you can brace yourself against a wall, for instance, that’s always something to try, but if you’re taking photos of something on the ground, maybe just sitting down instead of leaning down could help.

Another Consideration: Shutter Shock or Mirror Slap

When you take a shot with an SLR camera, the mirror has to move out of the way before the shutter can open and close. On some cameras, this doesn’t affect things much, but on others, it can make the camera vibrate quite a lot, even once the mirror has been moved and the photo is being taken.

Solutions:

I feel like I’ve seen this mentioned in relation to the Mamiya cameras like the RB67 and RZ67, so I did a quick search, and sure enough, Nicolas Llasera has a great, short video about how to use Mirror Lockup on a Mamiya RZ67. He mentions at the start of the video that this may work on the RB67 too.

I was also going to recommend using a shutter release cord. This is a cheap accessory you can get that will release the shutter without having to directly touch the camera. This is another great way to eliminate any amount of vibration to the camera. I was going to explain how they work a bit more, but after checking out Nico’s video, I saw that he demonstrates how to use it very nicely, so check that out.

Another Possibility: Lens Aperture

I’m not sure that this would be the problem in the case that the customer described, but every lens has certain apertures that make photos come out sharper, or less sharp.

Most lenses that I’m aware of will be less sharp at the very widest and narrowest apertures, and then have a “sweet spot” somewhere in the middle. It seems like most sweet spots are in the f8 or f11 area, or at least that’s what people commonly say.

Having said that, if you do shoot at the f8 – f11 sort of range, it could be quite tough get certain effects (shallow depth of field, for instance) that you might want, and sticking to just those apertures may actually increase your camera shake if you’re shooting in dimmer conditions without a tripod, so this is just something to consider.

Also worth noting, there also lenses that are very sharp at basically all apertures, so if you have some incredible Leica or Sigma Art lens on your camera, probably not worth getting too tied up with this.

Another Possibility: Exposure Time

This ties into camera shake a bit. So of course, the longer your shutter is open, the more time there is for the camera to shake. If you’re taking handheld shots, then the faster the shutter speed, the better. One thing I read about once though (and now unfortunately have no clue where I saw it), is that if you’re using a tripod, there’s a certain little window where camera shake makes a bigger difference.

The theory was that if you take a fast shot, you avoid camera shake anyway, and if you take a long exposure on a tripod, any short amount of shutter shake will wind up being a small percentage of the actual exposure. However, if you have the shutter open for a medium amount of time, maybe 1 second or so, and you have a camera with bad shutter shake, the actual vibration of the camera may still be occurring for a long part of that exposure. I’m having trouble describing this correctly, and would also love to hear from anyone who has thoughts on this effect, but that’s it basically: Short exposure good, Long exposure (with tripod) good, but medium exposure (with camera that’s prone to shutter shake/mirror slap) not good.

I hope this article helps someone, and let me know in the comments if you have any questions or thoughts. Close-up and macro photography can be a bit more problematic than just shooting scenes in more common settings, but they’re also really fun, and the results can be so great, they more than make up for any hassle.

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