Best point-and-shoot digital camera for someone with shaky hands?
December 22, 2014 8:49 PM   Subscribe

90+% of the photos I take are blurry because of my hand tremors. Obviously a tripod would help (so I'll get one) but I'd still like to be able to take candid photos in circumstances where I don't have the time/space to set up a tripod. Are there any small, easy-to-use, inexpensive digital cameras with really good image stabilization? Thanks!
posted by Jacqueline to Technology (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I just have a cheap little Kodak camera, but I set it for sports/action shots all the time because it helps stabilize the shots - my hands shake all the time, too, and it's nearly impossible to get a decent shot without a tripod.
posted by aryma at 9:16 PM on December 22, 2014

I was going to say the same thing; I sometimes use the sports/action mode too because it has a very short "shutter speed". You might find you already have something like that on your current camera if it's recent.
posted by stellathon at 9:56 PM on December 22, 2014

Ok, I'm going to try to address this in two^H^H^Hthree parts, with the second being a practical experience, and the third being a distillation of what preceded.

Part One, or: my original response.
I can't think of an easy answer to this. We all deal with the same issues: motion blur and the rolling shutter effect. I don't know what type of tremor you're experiencing, but it sounds like you're experiencing the former and not the latter.

The best I can recommend is to find a camera with as fast a lens as possible, meaning one with a wide aperture, or low f-stop number. The smallest point-and-shoots will get down to f2.0, and some go to f1.8. Such a lens will let more light in.

I can't think of a modern digital camera that will require you to specifically look at shutter speeds and ISO ranges: most of them will suffice these days. Some outstanding exceptions include cameras that have a top ISO of 409,600 (which is ridiculously incredible, and allows for faster shutter speeds in lower light), or f1.4 lenses. Such cameras are not as small as small can get, and they're not cheap.

Most have optical image stabilization, but the most benefit from this is in low-light, low-shutter speed situations, where the camera is still relatively still. It cannot compensate for very much motion at all.

All the above goes into my first general recommendation: look for a camera that has a shutter-priority mode, where you can dictate the shutter speed. You may need to experiment a bit to find a suitable minimum shutter speed that will result in less blur, or put in another way: find a fast enough shutter speed to "freeze" a moment in time fast enough. When in shutter priority mode, the camera will futz with the aperture and ISO to figure out what it needs to do to take the photo at the set shutter speed.

My second general recommendation: shoot as wide as possible. All point-and-shoots I can think of have zoom lenses, and most have focal lengths beginning in the 24-28mm range. The more you zoom in, the more things will start to be affected by movement. The old adage for avoiding camera shake-induced blur is to never shoot slower than your focal length. Meaning: if you're shooting at 50mm, don't shoot slower than 1/50th of a second. What does this mean in practical terms? Well, if the average person is shooting at 24mm (wide angle), they can get away with shooting with a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second without getting a blurry shot. And if the average person is shooting at 200mm (telephoto, or really zoomed in), they should shoot with a shutter speed of faster then 1/200th of a second to avoid motion blur. This applies to hand-held shots, and is, of course, in theory.

Lastly, and what I think might be the most useful recommendation: try experimenting with your shooting position. Anyone is going to have more camera shake if they're holding the camera at arm's length. You could try holding the camera in different positions and with different grip styles, and different grip strengths, as close to the body as possible and with your arms fully bent to your chest. Of course, you'd lose the ability to look at the screen, but this disadvantage might be offset by shooting at wide angle and taking several shots at once.

For specific camera recommendation, I'd look at the Canon S110, as it's a) got a shutter-priority mode, b) has a lens that starts wide at 24mm, c) has a reasonably fast lens at f2.0, d) will go up to ISO 12800 with reasonable results, e) has optical image stabilization, f) has a giant ring in the front of the camera around the lens that lets you change settings like shutter speed in shutter-priority mode, e) is relatively cheap.

Part Two, or: I just whipped my S110 out and tried some stuff out.
The best settings I could think of included performing the following steps:
- set ISO manually to something over 1600 (the Auto ISO setting tops out at 1600)
- set camera to Tv (shutter-priority mode)
- take pictures at widest angle setting (no zooming in).

I took photos of stuff in a stairwell lit by a single 40w bulb, and was able to achieve reasonable results at f2.0, 1/200, ISO 1600 while moving my hands a bit. Reasonable, though the image is pretty noisy and not super-sharp if I zoom in. It's still pretty noisy if I hold the camera as still as possible at ISO 1600, but annoyingly so at ISO 3200 and above. But this is pretty dark, and a flash would be reasonable if you're ok with using a flash.

Part Three, or: forget all that, and do this.
What this tells me is that everything I wrote above might be useful to think about, but because there are so many other variables such as how you like to shoot, what you like to shoot, your threshold for acceptable image quality, and how you experience your tremors, I'd say to go for the following:
1. Buy a cheap SDHC memory card
2. Go to Best Buy or similar big-box electronics/retail store
3. Play with all the cameras, placing your memory card in each (might need to check ahead of time to see if their security mounts will allow you to insert the memory card)
4. Take pictures using different modes (eg: shutter-priority, setting different shutter speeds, changing ISO setting from Auto to something else, etc.)
5. Playback the images in the camera and zoom in to see if they're sharp enough for you
6. Maybe take notes with each shot and take a look at them at home on your computer.

It might take some time to figure out how to access all the settings, but I think you'll find that you'll be able to figure out how to get to the menus and settings of the different brands pretty quickly.

As a final, final anecdote: I've traveled with a DSLR and a point-and-shoot even smaller and less technically impressive than the S110. It had Optical Image Stabilization, sure, but is a few years older. I've still taken pretty nice shots at night with no flash, and nice pics of other people and myself in low-light settings with no flash, too, by setting the camera on a table, or rocks, or bridges, or anything else, setting it to 10-second timer mode, and making everyone else stay as still as possible. Even if such shots aren't as candid as whipping out the camera and taking a shot, they were still a lot of fun and allowed for spontaneity when everyone knew they had 10 seconds and a blinking signal light to do something, or make a fun expression.

That camera, and many others, also have a 2-second timer, which might come in handier.
Hope all this is of some help!
posted by herrdoktor at 10:21 PM on December 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

Regardless of which camera you buy, there are various ways to hold your camera that will help you eliminate shake during those times you aren't carrying your monopod or tripod. Try bracing your elbows against your body while holding the camera or bracing your elbow on your knee. My dad's hands are a little fluttery and he actually found that heavier camera bodies and lenses helped him reduce shake because they weren't as vulnerable to micromovements.
posted by xyzzy at 11:08 PM on December 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Generally speaking, most cameras should not be using shutter speeds so low that your shake matters.

If they are, you may be using the camera in places too dark for its capabilities. Does this happen during the day? There are two ways of addressing this :

1 avoid taking photos that aren't well lit by sunlight or strong lighting.

2 get a new camera with the biggest sensor and widest arpeture lens you can afford and are comfortable carrying. Specifically look for "bridge" cameras, or the Canon mentioned above, or the very small micro four thirds cameras like a gm 1. It's hard to address this without a price range and guidance of what you want.

Broadly speaking, image stabilisation doesn't work miracles, you will still get a degree of shake. Lens stabilisation is generally better than body stabilisation.
posted by smoke at 1:29 AM on December 23, 2014

I don't know anything about cameras really but I do have hand tremors, since birth, so I've had to adapt like using an immature grasp to hold utensils because it gives me better control so the food actually gets to my mouth. So my reccomendation isn't technical but that you play around with how you hold the camera. When taking photos with my phone I often cradle it partially with the palm of one hand since my fingers are more shakey than my palms it adds stability. As noted above, weight can also help.
posted by Aranquis at 4:07 AM on December 23, 2014

This is a difficult issue to comment on. You haven't told us what you know about cameras, what exactly is the problem you suffer from (how bad, how frequent, what helps/doesn't help), and what conditions you generally shoot under (or would like to shoot under).

Point and shoots are one end of a very big spectrum. They have their advantages, but also limitations. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, so you need to make sure that what you are asking is actually going to produce the results you seek. In this, camera salespeople, or internet advisors, are not a good guide, especially given our lack of information.

I suggest you get yourself to a camera club, and talk to the folks there. I think this is a situation where the face-to-face personal contact will get you the best advice.

Oh, you might try a monopod too, much easier to carry and quicker to use. Don't forget that with a tripod/monopod, most (all?) cameras require you to turn off the shake reduction.
posted by GeeEmm at 5:08 AM on December 23, 2014

Response by poster: This is a difficult issue to comment on. You haven't told us what you know about cameras, what exactly is the problem you suffer from (how bad, how frequent, what helps/doesn't help), and what conditions you generally shoot under (or would like to shoot under).

1. I know nothing about cameras. I haven't owned a standalone camera in almost 10 years. So while herrdoktor's comment was amazing, I only grasped about 25% of it. :(

2. I can't hold my hands and arms perfectly still no matter what. No idea what the actual cause of that is, but it also makes painting details with a tiny brush difficult-to-impossible as well. I also have very little grip strength.

3. I'd like to be able to take pictures of landscapes, animals, flowers, etc. in a variety of light levels, musicians playing in dimly lit bars, food in moderately lit restaurants, and my artwork under bright lighting.

Prior to this I've been taking pictures with my old Droid 4 smartphone. I have to take at least 10 to 20 photos to get one that isn't too blurry. I haven't noticed either camera settings or light levels making a significant difference in relative blurriness but maybe I'm just too inattentive to deduce a pattern.

Given how little I know about cameras, the ideal answer(s) to my question would be something like "my hands shake too so I got a [specific camera make and model] and now all my pictures turn out fine" so I can just go buy one of those (assuming that it's not too expensive). But if no such answer is forthcoming then I'll work my way through looking up the terms mentioned in the answers thus far and try to understand what specs I should be looking for when shopping for a camera.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:47 AM on December 23, 2014

When I get home from work I'll send you MeMail and maybe we can start a correspondence to spell things out more specifically.
posted by herrdoktor at 7:25 AM on December 23, 2014

You may want to get a camera with a viewfinder. This feature is, unfortunately, being phased out, but it can be hard to shoot with a camera that you have to hold in the air in front of your face. Being able to brace the camera against your nose while bracing your elbows to your sides will help.
posted by girlmightlive at 7:28 AM on December 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

First and formost I think you should list your budget.

Image stabilization in point & shoots generally steadies images by around 2 stops, so that if you're shooting at 1/60th of a second you get the benefit of holding at around 1/250th.

Interchangeable-lens cameras (overall more expensive than p&s cameras) can have better stabilization tech in them, either in the body or in the lenses (some cameras can provide 3-5 stops benefit). Nikon and Canon only put the stabilization on in the lenses of their DSLRs because they say the results are better, though in recent years we've seen some in-body stabilization advances by Olympus and Sony that I think are equivalent.

Point & shoot cameras usually have small sensors and therefore have more noise at higher ISOs (which you'd have to resort to in dimly lit bars).

Larger sensors let in more light (giving you less noise) so you could use lower ISOs, and the autofocus in larger-sensor cameras tends to be better as well. And interchangeable lens cameras let you choose faster lenses - a camera with an aperture that opens to f/1.8 (smaller number is larger) lets in 4x as mcuh light as a lens with f/4, letting you shoot a photo at 1/60th while the slower lens would make you have to shoot at 1/15th of a second, for example. (A speed that would make most peoples' images blurry.) But if you want a p&s for size reasons I understand.

If you want a non-interchangeable-lens point and shoot camera with a fast lens and image stabilization, the newly-released Panasonic LX100 would fit the bill, but it's $899. Last month gave it a comprehensive 13-page review and crowned it as a top advanced p&s. From the conclusion:

It should be apparent that we really liked the LX100.
It's not a small camera, but it's not that much bigger than
the likes of the Canon PowerShot G12, which people happily
carried around. And, importantly, it offers significantly better
image quality than pretty much any zoom compact ever made.
It's not a camera entirely without flaws but most of them are
so minor that it's unlikely they'll ever be more than slight
irritations about a camera you'll love.

Another option is a small interchangeable lens camera, with a fast lens attached to it. The Panasonic GX7 sells for around $450 right now (it's just been discontinued) and has built-in stabilization. Add a fast 20mm f/1.7 lens (equivalent to a 'normal' 40mm lens on a film camera) for $350 (or a slower Sigma 19mm f/2.8 for $200) and you have a small, high-image quality camera with stabilization.

If you're on more of a budget Fuji makes the tiny X30 ($600) with a built-in 28-110mm equivalent zoom. It however has a tiny sensor and you would encounter much more noise above ISO 400 compared to a larger-sensor compact like the GX7 or the LX100.

Another option is the new iPhone 6 Plus, which is the 1st Phone with built-in stabilization. I've seen some great images from that phone's camera, though it has a tiny sensor any might not be the best choice for low-light.

There are lots of possibilities at different price-points, so my recommendations can't really help (and may miss the mark completely) unless you can decide on a firm budget.
posted by skywhite at 7:34 AM on December 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's not quite as simple as "just buy Camera X". You ideally want to:
1. Find the right camera
2. Make sure you know how to set it up
3. Constantly think about the best way to keep it steady for the photo which you're about to take.

Turning to each of these in turn…
1a. Get a camera with image stabilisation. This will help a bit, but it's unlikely to solve the problem every time.
1b. Get a camera which you can permanently set to use a fast shutter speed. On a cheap camera this is typically achieved by using a high ISO (don't worry about the technical details of this, but just realise that the trade off for less blurry photos will be 'noisier' photos). Not all or even many cheap cameras will have manual controls (because cheap typically equals simple), and some cheap cameras won't have anyway to control this. At a minimum look for a camera with Sport mode, which will effectively achieve this for you.
2. Make sure you know how to turn Image Stabilisation on, and set the camera to use a fast shutter speed. No point having a capable camera if you don't know how to use it.
3. What can you do to hold any camera steadier? Joe McNally – a famous photographer who regularly has work in National Geographic - holds his big professional cameras in a most unusual way to minimise shake. His method won't directly apply to you, but you should also try to stabilise the camera whenever possible. Put it on a table, jam it against a wall, prop it on somebody's shoulder. As already mentioned above a camera view a traditional viewfinder that you can press against your face will be much better for you, but they're harder and harder to come by.
posted by puffmoike at 8:26 AM on December 23, 2014

Response by poster: First and formost I think you should list your budget.

Budget: I'd preferably not spend much more than I would on a basic point-and-shoot (~$75-$200), but if spending more would ensure that my photos won't be blurry anymore and it's a good camera that will last several years then I could go higher ($300-$400). However, I have no idea what decent cameras should cost so I have no idea if that's laughably low or ridiculously high or what.

My budget isn't really "firm" -- my goal is to find something that will work for me, then save up my tips until I can afford to buy it or put it on my wishlist to be a future Christmas/Valentine's/Birthday/Anniversary present from my husband.

I'm a satisficer* so I'm not looking for the best camera possible within a maximum price range, I'm just looking for the least expensive camera that solves my shaky hands/blurred photos problem while doing the standard basic point-and-shoot camera stuff. If it costs significantly less than the price ranges I listed above, great!

*My usual shopping strategy is to try things in ascending price order until I find something I like and then stop. For example, when I bought my recliner I went into the La-Z-Boy store and told the salesperson that I'd like to sit in his least expensive recliner, then the next least expensive, then the next etc. on up until I found one I liked. Turns out I liked the first one just fine so I bought it without sitting in any of the others. Everyone who has heard this story thinks that's nuts, but I'm happy that it only took me 15 minutes to buy a recliner instead of hours or days going from store to store trying out all the recliners and angsting over minute differences.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:30 AM on December 23, 2014

I can't recommend any specific cameras (I'm just not familiar enough with that end of the market), but I can try to help you prioritize features and decode some jargon. In order of importance your priorities should be:
  1. Good image stabilization.
  2. A "fast" lens with a large maximum aperture (given as ƒ/#, where smaller numbers correspond to larger apertures). Note that ƒ/1.0 is actually two stops† faster than ƒ/2.0 (ƒ/1.4 is the stop in between).
  3. Good performance at high ISO‡ ratings.
  4. After all those, you can consider zoom and megapixels.
Stops are photographer lingo corresponding to something called exposure value (EV). If you change one (and only one) of shutter speed, aperture, or ISO by one stop, you are changing the total amount of light recorded at the sensor by a value of 1 EV. For now it's less important that you understand exactly what an EV means, and more important to know that you have three ways of changing the total EV. Image stabilization is often referred to in reviews in terms of stops, which is a way of saying that with image stabilization you can use a shutter speed that is one or two stops slower than you can without IS. For your purposes those extra one or two stops would be very useful. Also while I'm referring to whole stops, most cameras allow you to adjust your shutter speed and aperture in fractions of a stop (usually 1/3 or 1/2 EV), which gives you a little finer control over exposure than whole stops would indicate.

‡ In the old days, ISO corresponded roughly to the grain in the film (higher ISO film was grainier but worked better in low light). In the digital age, ISO corresponds to amplification. The more you amplify a weak signal (such as the image detected by a sensor in low light), the more noise you introduce. Some cameras are better at this than others.

In short: a fast lens and high ISO will buy you some extra shutter speed that you won't get with image stabilization alone.

You may be better served by a camera with no zoom at all, or with only a very short zoom range. As herrdoktor said above, there's a rule of thumb that focal length and shutter speed are inversely linked. At 50 mm focal length, the minimum shutter speed for hand-held photography (under normal circumstances) is 1/50 seconds; at 100 mm, the minimum shutter speed is 1/100. The shorter the focal length, the longer the exposure can be. With your tremor you're going to have better luck at shorter focal lengths, since the multiplying factor of a long lens could multiply the impact of your tremor. A short focal length (e.g. 24-35 mm or so) gives you much more leeway on shutter speed than a long focal length (e.g. 80-100 mm or more) does.

You can probably maximize items 1 and 2 easily enough within the budget you specified, but good performance at high ISO ratings is generally a function of sensor size, and larger sensors mean larger and more expensive cameras. As a result, maximizing the first three criteria together will get expensive fast. Note that you won't be able to maximize all four of image stabilization, a fast lens, good high ISO performance, and a long zoom without going well over your budget. Given the choice between a long zoom and a faster lens, I'd tell you to get the faster lens every time.
posted by fedward at 11:00 AM on December 23, 2014

Perhaps a poor man's steadicam (or for even poorer) is something to consider. There are commercially available versions like the Steadepod.

(I occasionally use my camera for certain purposes which include architectural photography, using not just the mechanical zoom but digital zoom capability, and this results in a lot of tossed photos. I have considered building one, but at present don't have the need. The general concept is intended for video, but should provide the same sort of isolation from your hand movement issues.)
posted by dhartung at 12:19 PM on December 23, 2014

If you're coming from an old phone camera, virtually any camera from the last two/three years will satisfy you, easily. The issue here is a crappy phone camera, nothing to do with you.

You're in New York, right? Hie thee to BH Photography and do your "cheapest first" method. You will walk away satisfied, promise.
posted by smoke at 1:15 PM on December 23, 2014

"I'd preferably not spend much more than I would on
a basic point-and-shoot (~$75-$200), but if spending
more would ensure that my photos won't be blurry
anymore and it's a good camera that will last several
years then I could go higher ($300-$400)."

I'm afraid I am not experienced with that end of the p&s market, but that market segment is getting decimated by subsidy-priced cellphones with built-in cameras. (Around 110 million compact cameras were sold in 2010, but only around 30 million are expected to be sold this year, with that number expected to be cut in half by 2016. Camera makers are moving more to higher-priced cameras with higher margins in order to survive the cameraphone onslaught.)

Given your budget perhaps the best bang for the buck is a small, larger-sensor camera that's being clearance-priced or just recently discontinued. Right now you can get the Panasonic DMC-GF6KK 16MP Mirrorless camera with kit lens (28-82mm equivalent zoom, f/3.3-5/6) for $399 at

From the CameraLabs [REVIEW] ("Highly Recommended"):
Pic: 1/10th second w/ stabilization OFF
Pic: 1/10th second w/ stabilization ON

Any more typical p&s in that price range will likely have a sensor that's roughly 25% the size of the one in the above Panasonic, making the Panny a really good deal right now (and soon to sell out).

If you're shooting indoors you might want to consider a folding tabletop tripod. There are a bunch that sell for under $30 and come with a mini-ballhead so you can maneuver and compose easily. The cheapest one I like for small cameras is the Pedco Ultrapod #2, which sells for $18 at places like The 'poor man's steadicam' is also a clever and effective solution when you're out and about.

Finally, don't discount getting a new phone that has built-in stabilization - here's a list of 15 cameras that have it. For sharing and on-the-fly editing, there's a reason they're so popular, and the quality has gotten better every single year.
posted by skywhite at 4:45 PM on December 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have Essential Tremor (shaky hands). I've had good luck with the tiny Sony and Panasonic digicams -- look for "Optical Image Stabilization" as a feature. The fast shutter modes (i.e. Sports mode) help too.

Phone cameras didn't work for me until I got the iPhone 5S. Almost every picture I take with it is in focus, even though I still take 5 of each photo out of old habit.
posted by mmoncur at 4:46 PM on December 23, 2014

One other thing to consider (and please don't ignore previous advice about thinking about how you can hold any camera more steadily) is that modern iPhones (and no doubt other smartphones) can take bursts of photos. If you're somebody who is happy to edit later then taking 5-10 photos in a second and then choosing the best one might work for you.
posted by puffmoike at 5:08 PM on December 23, 2014

Let me amend my suggestion: Sony has been very aggressive in its camera pricing in the last couple of years. Right now it has on sale the a5000 interchangeable lens camera with 16-50mm kit lens (24-75mm equivalent, f/3.5-5.6) for just $298 at Amazon and B&H and Buydig right now. (All sellers I've used and recommend.) It was selling for twice that a couple of months ago.

[CameraLabs review]

It's got the same size sensor as in a typical Canon Rebel but in a tiny package - the body is around 2.5"x4.5"x1.5". It's got faster autofocus than the Panasonic I'd recommended and its sensor is about one-third larger. Like the Panasonic GF6 it has stabilization built into the lens and like the Panasonic it does not have a flash hotshoe or built-in viewfinder. For $300 this might be the camera to beat....
posted by skywhite at 6:10 PM on December 23, 2014

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