Understanding Handheld Shutter Speed + Customizable Cheat Sheet

By November 10, 2019 February 1st, 2020 Uncategorized

Customizable Handheld Shutter Speed Chart Creator


Sensor Size
What type of sensor do you have?
Image Stabilization
Do you use image stabilization?
Focal Length
What focal lengths will you be using?

Downloadable Custom Chart

What is a Handheld Shutter Speed Chart 

The handheld shutter speed chart tells you which shutter speeds to use when shooting handheld for maximum sharpness.

When shooting handheld, the shutter speed setting you use will determine how much “camera shake” your image will have. A camera shake is a form of blur commonly seen in handheld images. It occurs when a camera moves while the shutter is still open, allowing the sensor to record the light from a single object across multiple pixels. 

The degree of camera shakes in images largely depends on your choice of shutter speed and the amount of camera movement that occurs when taking the photo. It can range from a slight blur to your entire photo being out of focus.

If you are unsure which shutter speed to use when shooting handheld,  refer to the handheld shutter speed chart above or create your own using our tool. I created both the chart and the tool to ensure that you get tack sharp images each time you press the shutter button.

Understanding the Hand-Held Shutter Speed Chart

There are three main components that affect camera shake while shooting handheld: focal length, sensor size, and image stabilization. 

Focal Length and Handheld Shutter Speed 

The focal length you are using will determine the field of view of the camera. At longer focal lengths, the field of view is narrower. On the other hand, at shorter focal lengths, the field of view will be wider. 

The field of view is important because it will determine the sensitivity of the sensor to movement.

At longer focal lengths (or a narrow field of view), your images will experience more camera shake. As a result, the rule of thumb may not always hold. That is, you may need to use a faster shutter speed than 1 divided by your focal length. 

This does not become an issue until using focal lengths above 300mm. Typically, if you are below 300mm, the rule of thumb produces sharp images. 

If you are above 300mm I recommend increasing your shutter speed by one to two stops to prevent camera shake. 

On the other hand, at shorter focal lengths (or wider fields of view), your images will experience less camera shake. As a result, you may be able to use a slightly slower shutter speed than the rule of thumb suggests. 

Sensor Size and Handheld Shutter Speed 

The size of your sensor will also impact the shutter speed you need to use when shooting handheld. Full-frame cameras can use slower shutter speeds and crop-frame cameras. 

This has to do with the crop factor and the field of view that each sensor experiences. Full-frame cameras do not have a crop factor meaning you can see the full scene. On the other hand, crop-sensor typically experience a crop sensor of at least 1.5 and sometimes larger. 

This is because crop-frame cameras restrict the field of view of the scene and only capture a cropped portion of it. When the field of view is restricted, you will need to use faster shutter speeds than if you were using a full-frame camera.

To determine the best shutter speed when shooting handheld there is a rule of thumb that most photographers follow. Below we will discuss the rule of thumb and how it varies based on sensor size. 

Rule of Thumb: Full Frame Cameras

For those of you using a full-frame camera, the rule is straightforward. The rule of thumb states that when shooting handheld, use shutter speeds equal to or faster than one divided by your focal length. 

That is when you are shooting handheld with a 35mm lens, you should use shutter speeds equal to or faster than 1/35 of a second. 

To clarify, a faster shutter speed means that the shutter speeds will have a denominator greater than or equal to the focal length you are using. 

You would be able to use any shutter speeds as long as the shutter speed denominator is greater than or equal to 35. 

Following this rule ensures that your images will be sharp when shooting handheld. 

Rule of Thumb: Crop Frame Cameras

If you are using a camera with a crop frame, the rule of thumb is a bit different. When using a crop sensor, you need to use the effective focal length rather than the actual focal length. The effective focal length of a lens is the focal length multiplied by the crop factor of your camera. The crop factor will vary based on the size of the sensor.

I’ve included some of the most common crop frames and their crop factor below:

APS-C: 1.5x

APS-C (Canon): 1.6x

4/3rds: 2.0x

1”: 2.7x

To calculate handheld shutter speed when using a crop sensor, first determine your effective focal length. The effective focal length is equal to focal length times the crop factor (EF = FL x CF). 

Once you have your effective focal, the minimum shutter speed you can use is one divided by your effective focal length. 

If we take the same example as above but assume that you are using an APS-C Canon crop frame, the effective focal length is 56mm (35mm x 1.6). Therefore, the minimum shutter speed when shooting at 35mm with a Canon APS-C is 1/56th of a second. 

Image Stabilization and Handheld Shutter Speed 

Image stabilization is a feature that corrects for the movement of a camera to eliminate camera shake. This feature is typically inside the camera body, the lens, or both.

This feature goes by various names, depending on the camera manufacturer. For example, Cannon uses image stabilization, while Nikon refers to the same feature as vibration reduction. I will refer to this feature as image stabilization for this article. 

The effectiveness of your image stabilization will depend on the camera or lens you are using. To find out how many stops of image stabilization your camera or lens is capable of reducing, check the manual, or do a google search for the specs. 

Most camera manufacturers will tell you the range of stops the image stabilization in their product is capable of reducing. 

This means that if you are using a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera, the recommended minimum handheld shutter speed is no longer 1/50th of a second. The recommended handheld shutter speed is typically  2-5 stops slower than 1/50th of a second. 

This is more likely to be between 1/30th of a second and ½ a second, depending on the effectiveness of the image stabilizer. 

Image stabilization can be beneficial when shooting handheld because it allows you to use much slower speeds than you would be able to otherwise. It is important to note that camera bodies and lenses with image stabilization will be more expensive than those without it. 

But, if you shoot handheld frequently or prefer not to use a tripod, image stabilization is a worthwhile investment.

How to Use The Shutter Speed Chart

First, determine if your camera or lens has image stabilization. If you don’t have image stabilization use the first table. On the other hand, if you do have image stabilization use the second table. 

If you are not sure if you have image stabilization and need a quick answer, use the first table to stay on the safe side. 

Once you determine which chart you need to use, find the focal length you are using. Make sure you are under the column of the sensor you are currently using. You’ll find the full-frame on the left and crop-frame on the right. 

As you move towards the right of the focal length, you will find shutter speeds. The colors of the boxes under each shutter speed will tell you if the shutter speed will produce camera shake. 

Green – Highly unlikely to produce camera shake, these shutter speeds will provide the best results. 

Yellow – This is the minimum shutter speed you can use before experiencing camera shake. Captures reasonable sharp photos when there is moderate camera movement. 

Orange – Camera shake is possible, but it can produce decent results if camera movement is minimal. Only use these shutter speeds if you can not change any of your other exposure settings. 

Red – Camera shake is highly likely, and I highly recommend avoiding these shutter speeds. 

Shooting Modes

There are only two shooting modes you can use to adjust your shutter speed yourself: shutter priority and manual. If you are using any other shooting mode, the camera will select your shutter speed for you. 

It is best to use one of these two settings if you want control over your shutter speed.

Shutter Priority

In shutter priority, you set your shutter speed and ISO while your camera sets your aperture for appropriate exposure. This shooting mode will give you full control over the appearance of camera shake and motion in your photo. 

Shutter priority is the most efficient way to shoot handheld while avoiding camera shake. You will be able to select the shutter speed to prevent camera shake while quickly achieving proper exposure. 

Shutter speed is ideal for those situations where the light is changing rapidly, and you are shooting handheld. 

Manual Mode

When shooting manual mode, you have full control over all your exposure settings: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. This mode will give you full creative control over your exposure, but it is the most time-consuming shooting method. 

Shooting manual requires you to have a good understanding of your exposure settings. If you need a refresher on exposure, read this article

Sharpness is Subjective

It is important to recognize that sharpness is subjective. The level of sharpness accepted by one photographer may be completely different than another photographer.

In either case, the rule of thumb will typically provide reasonably sharp photos if there is a moderate camera movement. If you plan to make large prints of your photos, I recommend using 1-2 stops higher than the rule suggests. This will ensure that you capture even the smallest details sharply. 

Remember that the rule of thumb is just a starting point for you to begin adjusting your shutter speed. If you feel that your image is not sharp enough, increase your shutter speed. On the other hand, if you think your image is sharp enough, you may be able to reduce your shutter speed a bit. 

Adjust the rule to fit your desired level of sharpness. If you feel at 1 divided by your focal length images are not sharp enough, modify the rule. 

For example, you can follow 1 divided by your focal length plus one-stop. This will ensure that you reach your desired level of sharpness while avoiding camera shake. 

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