Static actuators for shutter release

Discussion in 'Beginner Questions' started by brians., Jan 17, 2011.

  1. I have often wondered if any camera mfg ever tried using a static actuator (like the buttons you sometimes find in elevators) to trigger the shutter release instead of mechanical means. I ask this because a lot of camera shake comes while pressing the shutter release button down. Of course there would be a problem holding the button half way down, but it might eliminate a lot of trouble for jerky shooters. Just a quick tap and viola your shutter's released. I suppose you could end up with an inadvertent shutter release or two, also. Still, it seems like something to try if it hasn't been done before.
    This may not be a beginners question but I couldn't see anywhere else to ask it. What do you thing?
  2. As far as I know, only old mechanical cameras have mechanical shutter release buttons. Are you referring specifically to this type of camera?
    Modern digital cameras all have electrically controlled shutter releases. Presumably, this is what you mean by the term "static actuator". If not, could you provide the URL of a website or two which either defines or uses this term in context.
    Tom M
  3. Thanks for your response Tom. Sorry, I have no reference to offer -- just my idea. Static actuators have no mechanical throw in the switch at all, not even in the button. The switch is actuated by your body's normal static charge. The actuator senses this minute electrical discharge and provides an electrical trigger for other activities. The most common use, that I am aware of, is on elevators that do not have common buttons, but sense the presence of your finger.
    Egad, I just googled elevator buttons and it seems there are many kinds. In my area there are many non-mechanical types triggered by static, as I have said. In the past, my friends have referred to these as static actuators, but more research may be need, as you are suggesting Tom. Thanks. Still the basic premise seems fair: a static actuated shutter release. I'll post more if I can find it.
  4. Ah, now I understand what you mean.
    FYI, actuators typically convert electrical energy into mechanical motion, whereas sensors of the type you are thinking about convert mechanical motion or proximity into electrical signals.
    Sensors used for elevators typically are not based on static charge detection, but capacitance. It's an interesting idea. I know of no camera with this type of shutter release button.
    Tom M
  5. Thanks for indulging me Tom. I was beginning to doubt my sanity since I can't fine any reference to this kind of elevator button, and there are hundreds of elevator buttons shown online. Still, these kind of switching devices are out there, I just can't remember where else I've seen them. I guess you are saying these are capacitance discharge systems, not static detection -- I'll go with that. The main thing is that they're non-mechanical, thus relieving the reflex jerk that many people experience pressing the shutter release. I hope it's an idea that has some merit and might be looked into by manufactures. I hope others will weigh in on this. Thanks Tom.
  6. As Tom pointed out, these switches are not static detection as I thought, but are capacitive in nature. There are several references to this technology online: . These detectors are used in a wide array of products from lamp switches to motion detectors. Again, could this type of switch be used practically to release the shutter of a DSLR?
  7. Hi Brian - Rather than a capacitive discharge, using a high frequency AC signal and what amounts to an AC Wheatstone bridge, they detect the change in electrical capacitance as a finger touches the surface of the button.
    That being said, the basis of your idea is interesting as a way to reduce camera motion caused by pressing the shutter release button. OTOH, many people would be very disconcerted if there was no tactile feedback. I think that most modern camera mfgrs have minimized the force required to trigger the button while still providing enough tactile feedback to tell the photographer that they actually did something. ;-)
    Tom M
  8. Brian: I think you could do it, but I'm not sure you should. It's too useful to have tactile feedback when it comes to knowing exactly when the shutter button will be/has been pressed. Brushing a capacative contact point while ensuring that your finger isn't in contact with it to start with is tricky - you have to suspend your finger fractionally away from it, then make contact with the lightest of touches so as to avoid shake, while ensuring the contact was detected. It feels, to me, much harder than accurately maintaining pressure against a shutter release button and varying the pressure fractionally to trigger the release. To be fair, my main experience of a capacative shutter release has been on camera apps in cell phones, but it's been pretty painful (although not as much so as with a resistive screen). Even then, it's better using a point-and-shoot (so you can see your finger) than an SLR (where you can't).

    It's an interesting thought, but I don't think it would be an improvement on proper shutter release technique - and that's before we consider false shutter actuations. If anyone really cares, there's always a cable release.
  9. Andrew, your points are well taken: It's hard to know if there is a real benefit to something like this, it may simply be different and not an actual advancement. I suspect that some kind of a ledge to rest your finger over before touching the button would be necessary. I think these things can only be worked out by building prototypes and trying them. The articulated view screen seemed to be a scrofulous accessory at first but has gained popularity recently. You surely may be correct, that we need the resistance of a mechanical switch but until someone builds one of these capacitive actuated releases, who knows? And yes, what's better than a cable release? But then this would be a convenience item for hand-held shooters I suspect. Thanks Andrew.
    Pardon me, I feel a little defensive of the idea... but I really enjoy exploring where this may go.
  10. Brian - sorry, I'd not meant to sound so dismissive. It would be interesting to see it tried; when I said I "wasn't sure" you should do it, that was genuine - I'm not sure you shouldn't, either. You're entirely entitled to be defensive of your idea - even if there are reasons not to do it in the general case, there may well be cases where it's useful.

    If we're talking exotic shutter release sensors, how about putting an infrared proximity sensor on the top of the camera? Then you wouldn't actually have to make contact with the camera at all, to trigger the release. The problem, as with the capacative option, is that timing the release accurately might be tricky, but it might be an interesting option - especially if the proximity sensor used to detect eye-at-viewfinder could be borrowed so it didn't need extra hardware. Assuming the shutter is in the normal place, using this on a DSLR might be even more awkward in terms of detecting where to put your finger, but practice might do it; you could always put a bright IR LED on the top of the camera so your finger feels warm when it's in the right place!

    I don't know how many of the existing cameras with touch screens can use the touch screen itself for shutter release. It's not quite the same thing as having a touch button - mostly because you're usually at the worst possible angle to see when you're about to touch the screen, whereas you can see more clearly the relationship between your finger and the top of the camera, at least on a compact - but it might be a comparison point.

    As an aside: capacative screens famously won't work through (most) gloves. I'm not sure how much this would be an issue.
  11. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    I was once told that those elevator buttons were heat sensitive and the heat of the finger is what made them work and the button light up. I was told that one of the reasons not to use the elevators to evacuate during a fire was that the heat of the fire would activate them and the elevator would go to and open on that floor. I once tried pressing the button with a pencil and that would not activate it.

    Anyway, I think that type of shutter button would not be good for me and most older photographers. I am use to having my finger on the button at all times when looking through the viewfinder. I suppose I could learn to have my shutter finger pointed to the sky at all times, the same as I have my pinkie finger when drinking tea but I would rather not.
  12. I had a minolta in the 80s that would activate the light meter when you lightly touched the shutter button. So the
    technology is not difficult. I agree with some of the others, I wouldnt want my shutter release to be so sensitive.

    Most all of them use capacitive technology, not static electricity or heat.
  13. If the actuator is remote from the camera, it doesn't matter how much shake the operator induces, it won't be transferred to the camera.
    Nikon (and presumably other manufacturers) offers electrical cable releases for their cameras with functions that duplicate those of the release button, i.e. you push the remote button halfway down to actuate the auto-focus and metering systems.
    These have been around for a long time.
    There are two types of electronic sensors in common use: capacitive and resistive. Neither operates on any type of "static" or "discharge" principle.
    The capacitive sensor measures the change in capacitance between the sensor and its environment when your finger (or other conductive object) is a short distance away. A resistive sensor measures the resistance between the sensor and its environment when you actually touch it.
    These are the same technologies used on computer touch-screens.
    - Leigh
  14. I find the capacitive touch shutter release button on the touch screen of my smartphone almost impossible to use without moving the camera. I prefer to use the mechanical button on the edge of the case instead, but it's not much better.
  15. In a way there is such a means to avoid motion of trigger finger induced camera shake. Setting the timer and holding the camera still is a work around if finger movement is a concern.
  16. Wow, thanks for all the feedback on this idea. There seems to be a resounding negative opinion however. I appreciate the clarification of switch technology also. I especially liked Andrew's thoughts that expanded the possibilities to include proximity to the camera or other incidental triggers (what about detecting a blink?).
    For everyone who pointed out that there are plenty of ways to prevent camera shake already, of course there are, but they generally require of a tripod. I purchased a remote viewer/shutter release last Fall but it's awkward to use without a tripod.
    My bottom line in this is overcoming the major source of camera shake, activating the shutter release. It would be nice if we could hear from Canon or Nikon R&D if this (capacitive switch) or anything similar has been tried on a DSLR.
    The difficulty of activating the shutter release on a touch screen is a good point -- that certainly would not be an improvement. It seems your finger would have be guided in a slot, or other touch feature, to insure pressing the right spot. And if wearing gloves would prevent the switch from actuating then that would kill the idea for many photographers -- I, however cut the tip off the trigger finger of my glove.
    I suppose if a company wanted to champion the capacitance switch idea it might find favor with some "shaky" photographers. Only testing could tell. I have friends with rock-solid hands who never need vibration control, but I also talk to many who find current vibration control inadequate. As people age they are more likely to need some kind assistance, and most are not ready to lug a tripod around. Of course I'm not talking about pros. So I feel there is room for further exploration of vibration elimination technology.
    Thanks everyone for taking an objective look at something that seems to be a relatively new idea. I hope the discussion doesn't end here. I played with the idea of a hand-held gyro-stabilized camera mount for awhile -- still might be possible. Perhaps curling your big toe would be a good way to trigger the shutter release -- who knows? Thanks again.
  17. My bottom line in this is overcoming the major source of camera shake, activating the shutter release.​
    I don't agree that the shutter release is "the major source of camera shake", or even a significant contributor to same.
    I've been shooting film since the mid 1950's, and never had a problem with camera shake. The manual shutter releases required significantly more pressure and travel than modern digital camera buttons. You're not supposed to hit the button with a hammer.
    Capacitive technology isn't used because it falses too easily, which would result in many unintentional exposures. Also, there would be no way to implement the "half press" functionality that's commonly used to activate various camera features.

    Resistive technology isn't used because it's very easily contaminated, rendering it inoperative. It would be also very difficult to implement "half press" features with this system.
    Neither capacitive nor resistive technologies would work with gloves or weather-tight camera housings.
    - Leigh
  18. I'm envious Leigh -- you guys with the rock solid fingers. I'm good about 70% of the time but eventually I develop a jerk to my click. Perhaps this is because I've only gotten serious about photography since digital emerged and never developed that kind of fine tuning. However, I still contend that shutter actuation (on the camera) is the main source of camera shake.
  19. I'm going to agree with Leigh that the shutter button isn't the biggest cause of camera shake, depending on the camera design. After all, there's little difference between a cable release and squeezing the trigger with your finger - you're likely to be pushing the camera up at the same rate as you push the camera down, so the overall movement should be tiny. It depeends a lot on the camera - it'd be hard to shake a D3 or a 1Ds even if you wanted to (partly because the grip is solid, partly because of the weight); a small compact held in fingertips at arm's length is another matter. If you're hand-holding the camera anyway, hand steadiness will be an issue regardless of the shutter release (although a cheap pull-cord gyroscope for the tripod socket isn't a bad idea; I now wonder whether I've seen one already - there was a time I was thinking of one as a monopod accessory... if someone makes a fortune out of that idea, please send me a donation?)

    I always thought that if the shutter release was a major issue, camera manufacturers would be daft to keep putting it on the top of the camera. A button on the front or back (yes, I know this is where Rolleiflexes put theirs) would confine most of any shake introduced to be a movement of the focal plane, which I suspect is usually less critical than vertical camera movement. The corner of the camera is about the worst place for it.

    FWIW, my experience of resistive touchscreens (bearing in mind I'm a software, not hardware, engineer) is that they work by the resistance across them changing as you deform them. This means that they have to be (slightly) soft, but that it doesn't matter what you touch them with (e.g. a stylus). They should work with gloves, at least if my phone's ability to answer itself in my pocket is anything to go by. You'd still have to poke the camera to make it work, though, and they're inherently a bit fragile. At least with a capacative screen you could touch it really gently.

    I like the blink (at the viewfinder, as opposed to face-detection in the scene, which some compacts already have) idea, at least if you had to prime it by holding the camera a certain way - I don't want a gust of wind in my eye making me fill an memory card!
  20. Andrew, you covered a lot. But first I'd like to say that an underlying theme seems to be sustained here, "Is there a need for more camera shake stabilization?" When you have lens stabilization to 4 stops and many remote actuators to choose from is there a real need for more technology in this area? Of course my answer is yes, but I don't think anyone else here is as sure about it. It's another reason I wish a manufacturer could weigh in on this -- they would have the data.
    I don't think anyone in this conversation realizes there are many people who do not have the subtle motor control to press the button smoothly. For them, there is a huge difference between a cable release and pressing the camera button. And this is true even when the camera is braced properly against the body.
    Your point Andrew about camera size and weight seems quite valid to me. Unfortunately, the trend seems toward lighter cameras. Perhaps a weighty grip would make a huge difference. Personally, I've never owned a camera bigger than a D90 and the extra size over earlier cameras is noticeably positive. I suspect the down is that fatigue might eventually make motor control even less smooth. This is the first time I've ever heard of a larger heavier body an answer to camera shake, however. And in case anyone's wondering, I've tried the bunggy chord thing, and I think it's a joke -- it only made matters worse for me.
    The gyroscope thing isn't new, but it's usually mounted in a gimbal for large video cameras. There are some YouTube videos of guys experimenting with non-gimbal gyro-stabilization. There's lots of references online:
    I'm sure it would add a lot to the price of a camera, but with mass-production, who knows?
    I agree that the position of the shutter release button is important. I've always assumed that manufactures gave a lot of thought to this, but I often wish for a more front mounted button so you had a pulling action rather than a pressing down action. But then, until you try some of these ideas it's hard to know.
    When it comes to causes of camera shake, except for external forces like wind or walking, mirror lock up is the only other source of camera shake that I'm aware of -- that's why I think pressing the shutter release button is the main culprit and so important.
    I feel like we're explored a lot in this discussion. For me, it's been a lot of fun. Thank you everyone! The subject has been on my mind quite awhile and getting good feedback is encouraging. Thanks again.
  21. Brian - just to clarify, I agree that camera shake is (still) a problem, but I've generally put it (mostly) down to holding the whole ensemble steady (vs natural hand tremor) rather than the action of pressing the button - or at least, the button press seems to be a relatively minor component. It depends a lot on the camera - if I'm hand-holding a 500mm lens on a DSLR, I'd be far more worried about the lens wobbling than the camera itself. I certainly can't hand-hold a telephoto lens to keep the view perfectly steady in the viewfinder, whether or not I'm pressing a shutter. A big camera and (especially) lens certainly helps, though - I'm much steadier with my D700 or F5 than I was with an Eos 300D, and the weight of a 135mm f/2 means I can use shutter speeds around the same as a 50mm f/1.8 even though it's longer; VR or not, my 200 f/2 is really easy to hold steady (although not necessarily easy to hold). My cheap compact, on the other hand, wobbles all over the place, especially since I can't brace it against my face.

    Part of the jerkiness of the shutter release is the need to get over the increased resistance between a half-press and a full press. You don't get this (apparently) on a Leica M3, which might mean smoother shutter release. On the other hand, unless you move your finger quickly, it's hard to know exactly when the shutter release will happen - people really like being able to have a "hair trigger". It'd be possible to make this behaviour switchable (think of computer mice for which the stepping action of the mouse wheel can be turned off), but it might be complicated. I'm sure the shutter release is designed not to introduce more shake than it has to, but I'm not going to claim it's as good as a non-notched solution would be. Then again, I sometimes wonder how the designers use their cameras - I've never understood why the (low end) Canon DoF preview button or the Nikon AF mode selection are designed to be inches from the nearest finger.

    As for gyroscopes, I'm aware of the big, powered video solutions (which are crazy expensive). I was more thinking of something like the Powerball exercise gadgets - a small but heavy gyroscope, accelerated by string-pull (you could power it, but I suspect it'd suck a lot of juice). Have a couple of concentric ones to offset precession, stick it on a monopod and try really hard to stop high-frequency vibration, and it might be quite a neat gadget. Also implemented as a vertical grip on the tripod mount, instead of filling it with batteries, although stopping to wind it up every few seconds might get more annoying if you can't brace the camera roughly in position. I doubt building it into the camera would work - the added weight wouldn't be popular. Whoever makes one as an accessory, I'll have one in black, please.
  22. Yes, incorporating a set of gyroscopes in a grip would be great. I envisioned a hand-held unit you would mount the camera on. I even bought a gyroscope that was motor/battery driven but it wasn't precise enough to be usable -- it actually induced vibration. I don't have the patience or money to go any further with that, however.
    You're really doing a good exploration of the causes of camera shake Andrew. I certainly agree with everything you're saying. Still, since you've never experienced the knee-jerk kind of finger action I'm referring to I don't think you understand that pressing the button can move the whole camera body -- albeit slightly, but it's enough to ruin a good photo, especially if you're using a telephoto lens. I have a friend who can take rock solid photos using a P&S with no stabilization, and she only goes out a few times a year (no practice). But there are some, many that I have talked to, like myself, that are not so lucky. I suspect that much of this has to do with age, I'm 65, and most of those I've talked with are older too. But from what I've read in forums younger people have similar trouble. I've been reluctant to mention that because it's easy to say, it's only a problem with older people. But if that's the case there are lots of photographers getting older all the time, and there is/will be a continuing need for better camera stabilization.
    Ok, I'm getting off my horse -- really, I'm not trying to champion a cause. Thanks again Andrew.
  23. It's interesting to have a think about these issues - besides, I can do thought experiments at my desk at work, whereas wandering off and actually becoming a better photographer would get commented on. My point isn't really that camera shake isn't a problem - I have plenty of it (too much caffeine, I doubt being 36 has much effect in my case) - but that I'm surprised that, no matter the steadiness of the hands, pressing the shutter causes a noticable amoun of vibration compared with the amount of ongoing hand tremor from just holding the camera. I've no evidence to back this up though, and you may well be right that the contribution is not as negligible as I assume.

    My reservations aside, if someone does produce a product with a shutter release that works without requiring physical button motion, I'll be very interested to read reviews of how much it helps.

    The gyroscope's just a pipe dream - I have a lot of ideas which might make interesting products, or might be complete failures, and have no time, money or enthusiasm to make my fortune from them. If someone else does, though, I'll gladly get one once the bugs are ironed out. (Although, now we've discussed it again, I am quite tempted by the idea of playing with a couple of powerballs [ah, the things you shouldn't say on the internet] and some hard drive anti-vibration mounts. If I ever get around to it, I'll report back, probably with my abject failure.)
  24. That's why I wish a factory person would weigh in... I'm sure they have real data on photographer demographics and habits. Still it's fun to explore the possibilities -- maybe they're at least listening (reading). All the best to you Andrew -- have a good one.
  25. To you too. We can but hope that some engineers trawl the forums and pick up ideas!

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