what's the deal with digital cameras and non-flash pictures?

Myself, and everyone I know who has a digital camera cannot take pictures with the flash off without getting a very blurry picture; it seems that the shutter stays open for almost half a second. Even using a tripod produces a little blur, and handheld shots are out of the question.

Is this some parameter that can be adjusted, or is it a built-in limitation of digital cameras?

I have never used a modern digital camera that exhibited this problem. Digital cameras provide settings for every shot. You may have to twist a few knobs or navigate through a few menus, but even a bargain basement model should take good photos under most common shooting conditions.

I suppose if you tied taking photographs flashless indoors under poor lighting conditions, the camera might overcompensate, increasing the likelihood of blurred photos, but all indoor portrait style snapshots have to be taken with good flash, and the built in flash on a typical point and shoot is good for 6, maybe 8 feet, tops. If the subject is poorly illuminated, the photo will tend to appear more blurry.

Some digital cameras allow more control via manual settings, but most should be capable of producing crisp images with the flash off.

What setting would one adjust - shutter speed?

I have this problem fairly regularly. Basically your camera decides that in the current conditions, without a flash, the shutter is going to have to stay open for 1/6 of a second to get a minimal amount of light in. So it does this. Since human beings are not steady as rocks, the camera moves during that time and you get a blurry picture.

Couple of suggestions:

  1. Don’t hold camera at arms length and use the screen, look through the viewfinder. This is an inherently less shaky position.


  3. Take lots of pictures, some may be blurry, and others may be fairly sharp.

  4. Set your camera into shutter priority mode. I know I can set my shutter to about 1/20 or 1/30 and hold my camera still enough to get a sharp pic. You may find the lowest you can go is 1/60. Your camera will do the best it can do with this amount of time. Increase the exposure compensation to help brighten the images up.

  5. Bump up the ISO to 200 or 400. However, this introduces more noise into the picture.

  6. Bring a tripod. You said you still had some fuzziness with a tripod… this may be from you pushing the shutter button and moving the camera. Your camera probably has an option for a 2 second pause. This will let you press the button and let the camera stop shaking before taking the picture.

These are all just hints. None of them are guaranteed to work. I just got back from taking pics in the Library of Congress with no flash… only about 1 of 5 came out sharp.

I’m sure your camera has all of these options, some options may be more buried than others.

PS. Don’t forget to change the settings back to normal when you walk outside… or those pictures will look bad too!

I run into this, too. What I usually wind up doing is trying to find something, anything, solid to brace the camera against (poor man’s tripod, basically). Pillars, doorframes, that sort of thing. Even if I’m still holding the camera, this helps a lot.

Apart from buying a better camera, one thing which I’ve found really helps is to hold down the shutter button and to not release it until you hear the shutter click. This way, you don’t get any jitter from releasing the shutter button.

Bring both elbows in until they are vertically aligned. Breathe slowly and take in a breath, hold, and then trip the shutter. Make the camera one with our body. 1/4 second exposures can be done with practice. :wink:

The actual reason for this is too much exposure and not enough gain. Basically camera software deciding to use the wrong parameters.

We have never experienced any such problems with our digital camera. Sometimes, I question why it thinks it needs the flash, but other than that…the pictures are excellent. Our camera is a Sony “Cyber-shot” 2.0 mega pixels, multi-point AF (written below lens) Sony lens and f=5.0 mm and 1:2.8 (whatever the latter figure means). This was bought at Wal-Mart, so I am sure it is low-end for Sony. Still, it does great!

What’s in your camera bag?

  • Jinx

Second whatHermitian says about setting a pause on the shutter. Your camera has a self-timer mode, right? Prop the camera on a ledge or tripod and use the timer. This way, the camera won’t be shaking from your finger pressing the button at the time that the shutter opens.

Basically, you want to do everything in your power to shorten the exposure time (shutter speed). The f-stop should be as low as possible, but probably already is. You can go to more manual mode and choose to underexpose your image using the exposure compensation settings. you will lose detail in the dark areas, but that may be acceptable. You can pump up the ISO setting, but that will result in more noise. Shoot at the highest quality, and you may be able to remove most of later that using software such as NoiseNinja. Stabilize the camera any way you can.

Blurriness may also be the result of bad focusing. Low light can cause this sometimes.

My favourite solution is bounce flash, but you need to spend considerably more money to go down that road.

And don’t forget that if you’re in a stadium, you need to use a flash to ensure the players come out okay in the snapshot.

There are three kinds of blur and you need to identify which you are getting. Out of focus, camera shake or subject motion.

All parameters in photography are a tradeoff. If you have plenty of light you can make a good image easily, this means sunlight or a flash. If you don’t have a lot of light you need to compensate with large lens apertures, long shutter times or poor quality from high ISO settings/film. Another way to make the tradeoff in your favor is to use a camera with bigger film/sensor. When you scale up the image size and everything else, lens and aperture you are using more light to make the same exposure. If I take a shot with 400 speed film in a minox or 110 camera at 1/30 second at f5.6 I’ll get a grainy little negative. If I take the same picture with the same film and exposure with a 4x5 view camera I’ll get a beautiful fine grained image. The same applies to digital by making the sensor and everything else bigger. I shoot with a Nikon D100. At ISO 1600 I get quite usable images. With my little Canon A75 I get garbage at ISO 200 and at 400 they look almost impressionistic. When I use settings appropriate for the A75 and the conditions I’m shooting in I generally get excellent results.

Note that I am talking about the physical sensor size not the number of pixels. More pixels past a certain point can often mean a worse image, not better. That’s why Nikon uses a four megapixel sensor in it’s professional photojournalist camera, the D2h to produce better imaes at ISO 3200 than are possible with the six megapixel sensors in the D100/70/50.

Please tell me you’re joking; unless you’re sitting on the 50-yard line, the players will be so far away that your flash completely useless.

(I always get a chuckle watching people trying to photograph fireworks with their camera’s built-in flash. Ain’t gonna work, folks…)

In the movie Mom and Dad Save the World Terri Garr is in the front seat of the family station wagon as they hurtle through the solar system. She tries to take a photo of her husband in the driver’s seat with Saturn (the big ringed planet, not the car) in the background as they whiz past. Jeffrey Jones tells her the flash won’t work but at the end of the movie she is vindicated when the shot comes out right.

This is correct and this method of using fill flash is often used to light foreground objects so they match background objects. I have used it myself when I want to capture a dusk sky in the background and don’t want people in the foreground to appear as silhouette. There is absolutely no reason it couldn’t be used correctly when photographing fireworks. With firworks exposure is determined by aperture and film sensitivity. Exposure time usually only determines the length of trails left by the fireworks.

A bit more about focus: Most digital cameras need a bright high-contrast feature to focus on. If there’s nothing in the middle of the picture to focus on, you’ll get an out of focus picture. In this case, you need to point your camera at a bright high-contrast part of your subject (say, a striped shirt) and press the shutter halfway down. An indicator light or something in the viewfinder should tell you whether it has focused correctly. (On my Canon, the little square in the middle of the viewfinder turns green.) Then point the camera back at the subject and press the shutter all the way down.

A couple other tips for reducing camera shake:
[li]Hold the camera firmly, but relax your index finger. Move only the index finger to press the shutter.[/li][li]Follow-through is important. In this case, it means keep holding the camera firmly until after the camera has finished taking the picture. [/li][li]I find that using the LCD viewfinder is more stable than holding the camera up to my eye. The trick is to press your elbows firmly against your body. [/li][li]If your scene includes small foreground subjects and a lot of dark background, your camera may be trying to use too much exposure. Try setting exposure compensation to -1 or -2. (It’s usually marked with a plus/minus sign.)[/li][/ul]

I think he’s joking about the fact that whenever you’re in a stadium watching a game, the stands explode with flashbulbs whenever something exciting happens.

Yes, I was joking.

I don’t think the (pro) D2h is really better than the (pro) D2x in terms of noise - and indeed the D2h is worse than many of the Canon offerings. However, the D2h is fast, and there’s not a lot of point photojournalists having 12.5Mp images anyway, if the pix are only going to be printed in newpapers and such.