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A week or two back I went to a nice spot for shooting the Quebec Citadelle and Chateau Frontenac (I’m not telling where, it’s a secret) and was firing off shots with my beloved Zeiss 100mm Makro-Planar f/2 and AF-S VR Nikkor 70-200mmf/2.8.  I noticed a problem that I could see through the viewfinder: there was some serious movement of the lens when the shutter was being fired, enough for me to notice while taking the shot.  When you are getting down to speeds of 1/4 second with a big lens, you might be asking a lot of your setup.  Or are you?  In spite of the difficulties, I managed to get off some decent shots and later found myself with a couple of keepers.  But, I couldn’t get over how much vibration I’d been seeing.  In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t much, but as someone who had invested in a decent tripod (Gitzo GT1542T) and what I think is an absolutely rock solid ball head (Manfrotto 468MGRC0) I was a little bit confused.  Mirror lock-up?  Check.  Cable release?  Check.  Tapping the rig with my finger lightly still managed to make the whole thing move.
Later I tried some similar low light photography with my travel kit (same tripod plus Arca Swiss P0) and had the same problem.  It wasn’t the foundation of tripod and head.  I locked everything down as hard as I could and start cranking on all the pieces to discover movement, tightening them as required.  It was at this point that I found the culprit, something some of you probably already knew:  the lens collar for the Nikkor is junk.  I found that it doesn’t matter how much you tighten it, there is still wiggle room.  So I set about looking for a replacement system, and a few google searches away, I found the Really Right Stuff replacement (http://www.reallyrightstuff.com/s.nl/sc.26/category.3620/.f) which is now in the mail.  Similarly, for the NIkkor AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED I am planning on buying, I am not going to waste my money on the Nikon collar, but I’ll probably just go with the RRS equivalent (http://www.reallyrightstuff.com/s.nl/sc.26/category.3619/.f) assuming everything goes well with the RRS replacement.

1) Get a good tripod, and don’t modify the head of the ball if there is an extension to do so.  Keep it flat against the top of the tripod.
2) Get an even better ball head (binary is the way to go!)
3) Replace your lens collar if needed.
4) Use mirror lock-up
5) Use cable release.
6) Protect yourself from wind, if there is any.

If after all of this you can’t get a sharp picture, you’ll need to diagnose the problem on your own!  As always, check out these pictures in the far superior Flickr format (https://www.flickr.com/photos/36354447@N00/)

D800 w/AF-S VR Nikkor 70-200mmf/2.8

Cruise ship in Quebec harbour, D800 w/AF-S VR Nikkor 70-200mmf/2.8

D800 w/AF-S VR Nikkor 70-200mmf/2.8

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City, D800 w/AF-S VR Nikkor 70-200mmf/2.8